Banda-Chelva Pact: JR’s Kandy march for Sinhalese & a New Constitution
Political opportunism and opportunist politics has been a curse to the country. Looking back we can only conclude that our politicians have failed the people and the nation with their opportunism and greed to remain in power at any cost. Sadly, another trait is that there are no lessons learnt and mistakes not repeated. We are entering another major misadventure and faux pas if we allow the passing of this new constitution. Leaving matters to the politicians alone has proved a futile and dangerous adventure. The people need to now rise and not allow the destruction of our island to continue.
It is very important to know the background to the incidents to understand the larger picture of things.
The UNP had been in power from 1947 lost elections in 1956 to the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP coalition) led by SLFP leader SWRD. UNP 9year reign came to an end and SWRD became the 4th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1956. UNP had only 8 seats in Parliament. ITAK led by Chelvanayagam won 6 out of 9 seats in the North and 4 out of 7 seats in the East.
The 1956 election campaign was significant mainly because it was the first time that the election propaganda centred on reverse discrimination and concentrated on what the Sinhalese had been denied. That many did not wish to highlight the disadvantages and discriminations faced by the Sinhalese over 400 years was seen in the manner many have reacted to the enforcement of Sinhala as the official language.
The propaganda revolving around this Act completely ignores some ground realities.
· How many are aware that just 10% of the Tamil minority were enjoying the best of jobs in the Government service even after independence?
· How many knew that the language of administration was English throughout colonial rule and when power were transferred to the local elite (comprising Sinhala, Tamil & Muslims who were also educated in English) who comprised hardly 10% of the population. It was impossible for this 10% to run a country using only English (when 90% did not know English).
· The most interesting thing is that S.W.R.D could not read or write Sinhala while it is quite possible Chelvanayagam suffered same in Tamil – both together were flogging communal politics to remain in power! So where was the sincerity for language by either party!
· What gets purposely hidden is that Tamil never enjoyed official language status whereas Sinhalese was used prior to the foreign invasions since 1505. Therefore, in reversing the discrimination and reverting to the language used prior to foreign invasion no one should complain about.
· The demand to reverse the discrimination was to restore the confiscated rights that Sinhalese had been denied for 443 years. Why are these realities never discussed?
· Also omitted is the manner that ITAK carried out an anti-Sri campaign on 19 January 1957 tarring cars that bore vehicle number plates with ‘Sri’ and replacing with ‘Shree’. Counter campaigns started only AFTER the ITAK action! Cars would not have existed before colonial arrivals however, why didn’t Tamils object to the English letters on vehicles too using the same logic!
· Also omitted from mention is how ITAK called for action against ministers visiting the northeast for official purposes. Cabinet Ministers Dahanayake, M Marikkar were attacked in Batticoloa, M P Siriwardena who went on a mail train to Jaffna had his path blocked by Amirthalingam’s youth!
The FP also called for a boycott of government ministers and deputy - ministers
This was the background behind the Official Language Act making Sinhala the official language in May 1956.
Tamils protested against the Sinhala Only Act with a satyagraha launched on 5 June 1956 at the Galle Face. These protests were nowhere near to the manner Tamils protested when the Social Disabilities Act was introduced in 1957 enabling low caste Tamils to gain education that they had been denied.
The background to this is also important because of the hype against Sinhala Only totally ignores the discrimination that Tamils were suffering under Tamils!
Sir P Ramanathan leader of the Tamil elite was also upholder of the caste system. When Donoughmore Commission wanted to grant universal franchise to all persons (male & female) above 21 years in 1931, he objected and even got 79 village headman to plead with the Governor of Ceylon to not give low castes the voting rights!
Sir P Ramanathan also demanded separate carriages to low castes when the railway service from Colombo to Jaffna was launched.
It was the Tamil Workers Association who opposed the caste-based differential seating & differential serving food at schools in 1930s. However, caste structure was such that Tamil low castes could not enjoy tea or food or even go to the temple or move about in public places as equals to Tamils. Not many are aware that on 21 October 1966 over a 1000 Tamil youth started a “Mass Movement for the Eradication of Untouchability’.
There are two kinds of Tamils – the elite and the low castes. This saw minimal changes with the 1957 Social Disabilities Act brought by SWRD.
With the background to the Sinhala Only Act clear, shouldn’t everyone be asking why a supposed issue with language ended up with a Pact that promoted devolution? Incidentally, the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact was signed on 26 July 1957 giving ‘Reasonable Use of Tamil as a working language’. Important to note that it was signed over a year after the Sinhala Only Act but immediately after the Social Disabilities Act which the Tamil elite including Chelvanayagam were against.
In short, Tamils opposed the removal of the caste structures far more than the Sinhala Only Act. This needs to be clearly and openly brought to the discussion table.
Political opportunism and opportunistic politics has ruined Sri Lanka’s progress. UNP opposed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact calling it a sell-out of the Sinhalese.
UNP tore Chandrika’s devolution package in 2000 inside Parliament and burnt it as everyone watched over television. This same party is now going further than SWRD or CBK by introducing a new constitution that devolves powers to the provinces that cannot be revoked or taken back! Is this not a sell-out of the Sinhalese given that this is the exact autonomy that the LTTE and racist Tamil leaders had been aspiring for in different language & mediums?
If SWRD was accused of playing the communal card to enter power wasn’t JR & UNP doing the same and this was the reality behind the march from Colombo to Kandy claiming that Bandaranaike was betraying the Sinhalese by signing the B-C devolution package creating Northern and Eastern Provinces Regional Councils (Regional Council Bill)
The insincerity behind the proposed march from Colombo to Kandy by the UNP in October 1957 eventually did not last 2 days. The initial plan to march to Anuradhapura was shelved claiming it was too long. Incidentally, the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter was to assist by requesting people to assembly in Kandy on 8th October 1957 and to take a vow before the sacred tooth relic that the UNP would prevent the division of Sri Lanka.
The walk was led by JRJ, Dudley Senanayake, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Anandatissa de Alwis, Dr. M V P Pieris, M D Banda. Eventually from over 1000 of people the march ended up with just 100 people and the march was called off at Imbulgoda. The meeting in Kandy on 8th October which was a poya day went as planned. The attendance was poor. Though the walk was a failure, Bandaranaike abrogated the pact unilaterally.
Opportunist politics and political opportunists have destroyed unity amongst the communities.
According to C V Vivekananthan, Bandaranaike after returning from studies at Christ College, Oxford in 1925, formed a political party called Progressive National Party and advocated a Federal State instead of a Unitary one. Dr. T. James Rutnam was its General Secretary but Rutnam was against SWRD’s federal formula and supported an unitary state!
Advocating federalism in the 1920s, 1930s & 1940s it was decentralization advocating provincial council system and this changed to a different tune to come to power using the Pancha Maha Balavegaya Sanga-Veda-Guru-Govi-Kamkaru, [‘Budhist clergy, aryuvedic physicians, teachers, peasants & workers’ which brought him to power in 1956.
Was SWRD’s Indian ancestry the reason? Yasmin Gooneratne in “Relative Merits: a Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka’ traces his ancestry to Neela-Perumal an Indian officer migrating to Sri Lanka in 16th century serving the Kandyan kings. Neela Perumal was made high priest of the God Saman temple and given the name “Nayaka Pandaram’ in 1454, the name became Pandara Nayake and the P was later substituted with B to make ‘Bandara Nayake’ which later became Bandaranayake. Pandarams are Brahmins in India & record keepers of the royal court.
Incidentally, the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact promulgated “Provision is to be made in the Bill to enable two or more regions to amalgamate even beyond provincial limit” wasn’t this what the Indo-Lanka Accord & 13a eventually implemented?
The Pact also included “Further provision is to be made in the Bill for two or more regions to collaborate for specific purposes of common interests” notice these are the sentiments presently canvassed by Chief Minister Wigneswaran and the TNA all of which are components of confederal systems.
Another provision in the Pact was “Provision is to be made for direct election of regional councilors” – another demand being incorporated into the new constitution!
Powers to be devolved in the Pact included “regional councils should have powers over specified subjects including agriculture, co-operatives, lands and land development, colonization, education, health, industries and fisheries, housing and social services, electricity, water schemes and roads.” Others included “regional councils shall have powers of taxation and borrowing”
Are these not the same as those TNA are demanding? How can citizens of a country colonize their own country?
If you take the BC Pact, Indo-Lanka Accord, the 13a, the PC Bill, regional councils proposed by Neelan and GL Pieris, the ISGA & PTOM demands against the present proposals you can see how similar the demands are but worded differently.
SWRD who initially promoted federalism in the 1920s gave a lame excuse in the 1950s that he had ‘changed his mind’. It is these petty foibles by politicians that have created unnecessary divisions in society and among people who have lived and want to live peacefully without nomenclatures and political ideologies thrown before them for the gain of politicians only.
As the nation braces a very vulnerable and uncertain future, the people need to seriously wake up and remove allegiances to political parties even politicians and realize the dangers at stake. Do we want to knowingly walk into a destable future? Are we opening doors to enemy traps, what are the outcomes of some of the detrimental proposals that have been put forward in the past but luckily rejected, if they are to be cunningly passed now? Should we knowing the hidden agendas agree to these proposals are just some of the thoughts that should now be working on everyone’s mind.
“a society whose citizens refuse to see and investigate the facts, who refuse to believe that their government and their media will routinely lie to them and fabricate a reality contrary to verifiable facts, is a society that chooses and deserves the police state dictatorship is going to get “ Ian Williams Goddard
Shenali D Waduge