State Councils – elections and boycotts
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, September 22, 2001
In 1930, a delimitation commission was appointed to demarcate the boundaries of the 50 electorates for the proposed State Council. The Tamils agitated for seven seats to be allocated in the Northern province. The Commission, as usual, rejected the request and the electorates were carved out on the basis of one per 100,000 population. Thereby, the Tamils received five electorates in the Northern province and two in the Eastern province.
On April 15, 1931, the Order in Council to introduce the new State Council was published. One former Governor of Ceylon described the new constitution as one, “Conceived in a delirium and born at a state of coma”. –Asian Prime Minister’s Story by Sir John Kotelawala – page 51.
On April 17, 1931, the Legislative Council was dissolved and the elections to the first State Council through universal franchise began, scheduled to be held from June 13 to 20. The last day for filing nomination papers from candidates who intended to contest the election was May 4.
Earlier, at the annual meeting of the Jaffna Youth Congress, held in April, presided over by Sivapathasuntharam, the principal of Victoria College, while in the presence of the chief guest, the Indian politician Kamaladevi Chattopadhya, a relative of Sarojini Naidu, attorney T M Suppiah proposed a motion demanding the boycott of the constitution and the elections, since they did not confer dominion status on Ceylon. Political observers described the call similar to one made by the Indian National Congress, in 1928 to boycott of the Simon Commission.
Later, the Youth Congress held a seminar at the Jaffna Vydheeswara Vidyalayam, presided over by Vaithilingham Duraiswamy, where participants unanimously agreed to boycott the elections and appealed that no-one from the Jaffna region contest them.
The Jaffna Youth Congress had been inaugurated in 1924. In the beginning, leading members included educationalists and others who commanded respect and regard among Tamils, such as Handy Perinpanayagam, J V Chelliah, “Kalai-Pulavar” C S Navaratnam, A E Tambar, “Orator” Subramaniam, I P Thurairatnam, attorneys at law, M S Ilayathamby and T M Suppiah, Bishop S Kulendran and P Nagalingham (later a Senator). The Congress displayed its national consciousness by electing P G S Kularatne as President, a Sinhalese principal of Ananda College, Colombo, at its second Annual General Meeting.
The Jaffna Youth Congress was the first organization to openly declare that the people of Ceylon do not want to remain under British colonial rule and they agitated for full independence, publicly burning the Union Jack. They did yeoman service in attempting to eradicate caste discrimination and social injustices across the Jaffna peninsula. They invited Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was later the Prime Minister of India, C Rajagopalachary, later the first Governor- General of India and Mahatma Gandhi, who still remains the Father of the Indian nation, for public lectures.
The Congress worked towards a national culture, economic prosperity, social unity and Swaraj the complete independence of Ceylon. The Jaffna Youth Congress stood for a free Ceylon and it expected similar Sinhalese organizations to follow their lead. Unfortunately, the conservative Sinhalese leadership failed to accommodate these wishes and they went on with their electioneering campaigns.
By the last day for filing nominations for the elections, no candidates had done so for the four seats in the Northern province, apart from the one located in the Northwest of the province – Mannar-Mullaitivu. In the mean time, nine constituencies in the heart of the Sinhalese areas returned candidates uncontested. Sir Baron Jayatilaka, D S Senanayake, S W R D. Bandaranaike, Sir Alexander Francis Molumre and Periannan Sundaram – an Indian Tamil origin – were a few noteworthy candidates who were returned uncontested. Elections for the remaining 37 contested seats were fixed for the week beginning June 13, 1931.
E R Tambimuthu, who was an elected representative in the 1924-30 Legislative Council from Batticaloa, adhered to the call for a boycott and did not file his nomination. Consequently, Maccan Markar, a Muslim candidate, was returned from the Batticaloa South electorate. T B Jaya, another prominent Muslim leader who contested the Colombo Central electorate was trounced by the emerging communal firebrand A E Goonesinghe. S P Vythilingham, another Tamil of the Indian origin, emerged victorious from the Talawakelle electorate in the upcountry region, while Sir Ratnojothi Saravanamuthu was returned from the Colombo North electorate, Mudaliyar Mylvaganam Subramanian was victorious at Batticaloa-Trincomalee in the Eastern province and Mudaliyar Anantham Seemanpillai won the Mannar-Mullaitivu electorate – the only electorate in the Northern province, where candidates filed nominations despite the boycott demand.
On June 26, the Governor nominated another eight members to the State Council: four of them were Europeans, two Burghers, one was a Tamil of the Indian origin – Diwan Bahadur Ignatius Xavier and one Malay Muslim – Mohamad Khalid Saldin.
The ceremonial opening was held on July 10, but three days earlier, Sir Alexander Francis Molamure had been elected as the Speaker. In addition, the State Council elected the seven Executive Committees by secret ballot, and these met separately to choose their Chairmen.
Accordingly, the Chairmen of those Committees were announced as Ministers: Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka – Minister of Home Affairs, Don Stephen Senanayake – Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Tikri Banda Panaboke – Minister of Health, Charles Batuwantudawe – Minister of Local Administration, Sir Haji Mohamed Macan Markar – Minister of Communications and Works, C W Kannangara – Minister of Education, and Perannan Sundaram – Minister of Labor, Industry and Commerce.
The opening of the State Council was an impressive ceremony. A message from King George V (1910-36) the British King was read to the council. “On the occasion of the opening of the State Council, I desire to convey to my people in Ceylon through their elected representatives,an assurance of the interest with which I shall watch the inauguration of the Constitution which on the recommendations of the Special Commission over which Lord Donoughmore presided, it has been my pleasure to grant them.”
“The constitution, which accorded to the island a large measure of self-government, embodies many novel features, for which there is no exact parallel in any dominion. I am confident that the people of the island will approach their new duties with a full sense of grave responsibility which is being laid upon them, so that the establishment of the constitution may conduce to the best interests of the island and of my people.”
Lord Passfield, the Secretary of State for Colonies, in his message said, “The domestic interests of Ceylon will now for all practical purposes be in your keepings.”
While communal conflict begin to rear its ugly head, on January 2, 1933, G G Ponnampalam, Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva and several other prominent Tamils in the Jaffna peninsula held a conference and resolved to end the boycott of the elections to the State Council. Subsequently, a date was fixed for the four electorates in the Northern province. Waithilingham Duraiswamy and K Balasingham, who were two leading advocates of the boycott of the elections, did not contest the elections.
At the elections, held in the early part of July 1934, for the four vacant Tamil seats, G G Ponnampalam triumphed at Point-Pedro, defeating Sri Patmanathan, the nephew of Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam. At Kankesanthurai, Subbaiya Natesan, the son-in-law of Sir Ponnampam Ramanathan was successful, while in Jaffna Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, the son of Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam was victorious. In Kayts, Nevins Selvadurai was elected, and they all made their entry to the Council on July 17, 1934.
After 1931, the country witnessed the emergence of those who were to hold sway in the country’s political arena for the next 50 years and more. D S Senanayake was already in politics and by 1924 he was an elected member of the Legislative Council. He subsequently became the first Prime Minister of Ceylon. Other new faces were Sir John Kotelawala and S W R D Bandaranaike, who were also destined to become prime ministers.
After the death of Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam and his brother Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, there was a Tamil leadership vacuum. Gradually, a great orator, who was also a renowned criminal lawyer, G G Ponnampalam, emerged to fill it. At the same time, among the Sinhalese, there emerged another orator, S W R D Bandaranaike, who was the father of Chandrika Bandranaike Kumaratunge, the present President of Sri Lanka.
Yasvine Goonaratne, a member of the Bandranaike clan, when tracing the origins of the Bandaranaikes, in her book Relative Merits writes, “An officer ‘of high standing’ who, serving under the kings of Kandy and bearing the name of Neela Perumal, was made high priest of the Temple of God Saman, and commanded to take the name of Nayaka Pandaram (chief record keeper) in 1454. If this tradition has truth in it, we may surmise that the Indian name Nayaka Pandaram came in time to adopt the form of Pandara Nayaka. By the time it had turned into the Sinhalese Bandaranaike, the Hinduism of its bearers had been replaced by Buddhism; just as we know, from written genealogical records dating back to the early 17th Century, that Buddhism was itself replaced in the family by Christianity in its Catholic and later Protestant forms. However, the occupation of the scribes seems to have descended in the family down the centuries, together with a tradition of service to the court.”
Meanwhile, R L Dias Bandaranaika, in his Genealogy of the Family of Dias Bandaranaike of Ceylon wrote that the first known ancestor of Bandaranaike, who hailed from South India, migrated to Ceylon in the early 16th Century.
Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, was born on January 6, 1899 the son of Maha Mudaliyar Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike K C M G. After completing his higher education he returned from Oxford University in 1925, and apologized for not being able to speak in the Sinhala language to a delegation that had gathered at his Walawu, at Horagolla, Veyangoda, where he had his ancestral home. (The word Walawu probably takes its origin from the Tamil word Valavu, meaning house or household premises, which Dutch-influenced Sinhalese land-owners applied to their houses in the 18th Century. – Yasmine Goonaratne in Relative Merits )
He came from a Westernized family that had been converted from Hinduism to Buddhism and again to Christianity, and finally to Buddhism. He told the people who came to receive him, “The first thing I must do is to apologies to you for speaking to you in English. Owing to my long absence [only six years] from my country, I am not sufficiently fluent in Sinhalese to be able to address you in Sinhalese at length. I can assure you that my heart is Sinhalese to the core.”
S W R D Bandaranaike was an Anglican Christian by birth. Canon Samuel William Dias Bandaranaike, one of S W R D’s ancestors, was the first to translate into the Sinhala language the Book of the Common Parayer. He was the Sinhalese Colonial Chaplain at the All Saint’s Church at Hultsdorp, Colombo.
The Bandaranaikes were alleged as “lackeys of the British, and flunkeys at the Governor’s Court”. – K M da Silva and Howard Wriggins, J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka Vol 1, page 17. Bandaranaike played a leading role in the politics of the country and his wife Srimavo followed him and later his daughter Chandrika Kumaratunge, who is the present President, and his son, Anura Bandaranaike, who is presently the Speaker of the National Assembly – the Parliament.
A F Molamure, the Speaker of the State Council, resigned in December 1934 for personal reasons and was succeeded by F A Obeyasekera, who defeated G K W Perera by 28 votes to 27.
In 1932, E W Perera introduced into the Council a series of seven resolutions condemning various features of the constitution, out of which six were adopted. These sought the reduction of the governor’s reserve powers and the diarchy created in the Board of Ministers by allotting important administrative functions to officers of the state; abolition of the Crown’s power to legislate by Orders-in-Council; the replacement of the Executive Committee system by a Cabinet system of Government. The Government rejected the seventh resolution, which condemned the system of the Executive Committees.
This initiated a new reform movement and discussions between Sir Greme Thomson (1931-1933) and the board of ministers, but with no results, with the Governor saying that he was opposed to any fundamental changes in the constitution as premature. The State Council resolved to send a deputation of five members to meet the Secretary of State in London, but they were refused.
In the last Legislative Council, the Donoughmore Report was adopted with the flimsiest majority of two votes. The majority of the minority communities’ representatives voted against the adoption of the Report. This voting pattern clearly indicated that the Report was not accepted by all sections of the population. Despite this, the British colonial masters foisted on the country a Constitution that was not widely acceptable and which many feared would lead to their destruction as a race.
When there was no consensus during the adoption of the Donoughmore Report, the British government should have thought twice before introducing the Order-in-Council, but it neglected the basic principle of flexibility with matters connected to the future of a section of humanity. Unfortunately, Tamils today are paying the price with their lives.
The new Constitution paved the way for the majority community to easily overrun the Tamils. Elections to the State Council brought about the Sinhalese majority in the house, which was portrayed in a big way as “the political conquest over the Tamils”. Suddenly, the Sinhalese Buddhist identity began to emerge, which fed the myth of chauvinism and racial superiority.
Sinhalese political leaders, for the sake of their survival in politics, began to promote the Sinhala language and Buddhism, when the country was a plural society, where religious and ethnic tolerance was required to integrate people into a composite nation. The parochial approach of the Sinhalese political leaders laid the strong foundation for the future ethnic conflicts, dissension, and the threat of disintegration.