“Those in the forefront of the Tamils’ agitation for devolution of power have always been vague, deliberately or unconsciously, in the terminology used in their arguments, and the distinction between provincial autonomy, states’ rights in a federal union, and a separate state have been blurred by a fog of verbiage, and obfuscation K. M. de Silva ”
In this essay I will try to give an account of how the “Federalist” politics of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi is seen by me, an outsider who had no real access to the main players, except indirectly. In my reading, it is incorrect to claim that Federalism or Eelam was the clear aim of the 1949 Maradana resolution. Both tendencies existed. The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) name was deliberate, and satisfied the separatist ginger group of the ITAK, while the “Federal” name in English satisfied the moderate politicians from Colombo-7. Mr. V. Navaratnam is representative of the important separatist group inside the ITAK as he was the early theoretician of the ITAK. He wrote the then well-known book “Ceylon Faces Crisis”, with an Eelam Map distributed in 1957 . A Separatist Postage stamp was designed by Navaratnam in 1956, and issued in 1961 .The ‘separatists’ were not a fringe group inside the ITAK, but its veritable visionary driving force, while the smaller number of Federalists were the restraining force that wielded power initially, purely because of the ‘status’ of the Colombo-7 leaders. The militant group pushed forward the tarring of the Sri number plates, and the distribution of wooden pistols among the Sathyagrahi’s on Galle Face in 1957-58. Thus Satchi Sathiyanandan, a modern commentator on these events, does not spare the ITAK leaders . Every militant act of the ITAK hardened the attitude of the Sinhalese politicians. Enraged mobs and opportunist looters did the rest . These weakened the moderates in the ITAK, and inexorably drove the ITAK towards an unambiguous separatist policy.
The tussle between moderates and hardliners: Already by the middle of 1935 there were two well-defined groups of Tamil politicians, viz., the hardliners, and the moderates. Ponnanmbalam was the hardliner and opponent of Universal Franchise, while Mahadeva and others working with DS Senanayaka were the moderates. There was also a “Kandyan Lobby” demanding independent political recognition. Ponnambalam claimed that (a) the British, using the Sinhalese in the state council discriminated against the Tamils in Jobs and government employment. (b) He claimed government discrimination in Education, (c) He claimed discrimination in health pointing to the hospitals in Colombo (d) He claimed discrimination as there was no port in Jaffna comparable to the Colombo port. (e) He objected to restoration of Anuradhapura and other ‘Sinhalese’ archaeological sites claiming discrimination (f) he objected to the Buddhist Temporalities act and clauses in treaties giving `special’ privileges to Buddhism (g) Ponnambalam claimed that Senanayake’s agricultural policies of tank restoration etc were for the ‘colonization’ of Tamil lands. G. G. Ponnambalam’s solution for the country was to give equal representation (50-50) to the sinhalese and the Tamils who included the minorities with them, instead of the 15 seats that the Tamil constituency would get, according to demographic ratios .
Ponnambalam was already known for having triggered the first Sinhala-Tamil riot by an inflammatory speech that he gave in Nawalapitiya, in July 1939 . At the time he was the Tamil ‘Enfant terrible‘. Both Ponnambalam and SWRD had been called ‘pocket Hitlers’ by their admiring supporters, at a time when Hitler’s name had not yet become demonic.
Senanayake used the clever scheme of forbidding any young militant Sinhalese politician (like SWRD) from going before the Soulbury commission and attacking Ponnambalam, to prevent the matter going out of his control and causing public riots. DS enforced a “boycott” of the Soulbury Commission in public, and wooed it “behind the curtains”. This should be compared with the mishandling of such hot topics by less adroit politicians like John Kotelawala and SWRD who let the “genie out of the bottle”, irrevocably. Soulbury used the full research power of the Civil Service to demolish the (a)-(g) arguments of Ponnambalam completely and with detailed statistics. I remember reading D.S. Senanayake’s inauguration speech of the first parliament of Sri Lanka. for the first time in the 1970s, in the company of a young Historian  who also remarked that DS already recognized strong centrifugal threats to the “Ceylonese nation”. It was the genius of Senanayake that prevented an ethnic split in the quest for Independence.
The ‘two-nations’ concept: When the Soulbury team rebutted GGP and totally destroyed Ponnambalam’s political platform, DS Senanayake gave him a hand and took him into the first Cabinet. That was when SJV declared that GGP is a “Traitor to the Tamil cause” and took over the mantel of the hardliner from Ponnambalam. SJV was a supporter of the extreme nationalist “League of Tamil Federations” of the 1940s which distributed a history book claiming that the Tamils had ruled Sri Lanka from time immemorial . Unlike Ponnambalam’s platform which was based on claims of discrimination of the Tamils by the Sinhalese-controlled state council, the ITAK based its claims to ‘Arasu’ on the Concept of Traditional Homelands ruled by the Tamils since time immemorial. Even today, many political commentators do not seem to understand the great difference in principle between Ponnambalam’s position and that introduced by Chelvanayagam.
It has been said that the Indian citizenship act was drawn up largely by Sir Kandiah Vaithiyanathan and his team who were determined, among other things, to leave no room for Bracegirdle-type Marxist power politics in the Tea-Estates. However, Chelvanayagam and the ITAK began to use it against D.S. Senanayake and GGP, claiming that it was an act to discriminate against the Tamils. The act required continuous residence for 7 years for citizenship. This is less draconian than what is (and was) required in many western countries, in naturalizing immigrant workers.
In an article entitled “Regarding some basic beliefs of Tamil Nationalism which have misled the Tamils”, the dissident Tamil writer Sebastian Rasalingam writes (Sri Lanka Guardian  as follows: “Chelvanayakam and others proposed the two-nation concept (instead of the failed fifty-fifty approach). One aspect of this proposal was to regard the Sinhalese as invaders of the Tamil homeland which had already begun to be defined, for example, with the formation of a society calling itself the “All-Ceylon Aboriginal Inhabitants of Jaffna”, coming into being in May 1940 (Hindu Organ, May 13, 1940). The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) hoped to use the example from India, where the mass Satyagrahas finally drove out the British, as the weapon to unleash against the Sinhalese. This policy required a deliberate attempt to discredit the Seananayakas and others who stood for the “one-nation of Ceylonese”concept. Collaborators with the Sinhalese automatically became traitors or “thurogis“. Thus it was how GG. Ponnambalam was declared a traitor by the ITAK. With this turn of events, the ITAK was not a pan-Ceylonese party even for appearance’s sake. Its task was to destroy any bridges which existed between the two communities, and insist that the Tamils, with their grander history and destiny, are utterly different from the Sinhalese, and should seek its own “Arasu“.
Sebastian Rasalingam, as judged from his own writings, had come from a highly oppressed “lower caste”. He presents a rare but important point of view regarding Tamil politics. However, his views may need to be moderated as the ITAK was not by any means a monolithic organization in its thinking. However, unlike what was reflected in the English newspapers, those who have examined the Tamil-Language newspapers from about 1935 to 1975 have noted the ever-growing strong separatist trend in Northern politics, with Tamil politicians claiming that the Tamil youth do not have jobs because “all the jobs are taken by the Sinhalese in the South”, and presenting the vision of a rosy traditional homeland “run by the Tamils for the Tamils”. Of course, in the South, the Sinhalese politicians claimed that all the jobs have been taken by the Tamils!
In reality, there were many structural reasons for the stagnation of the North. These were, climate, the sparse population in the North (except in the Jaffna area), malaria, refusal of Tamil politicians to upgrade roads, causeways etc., as they feared that this will make “low-caste villagers uppity”, and similar caste politics  playing a role in the stagnation of the North. Furthermore, as Tamils in the North prospered, they moved to Colombo, and if possible to greener pastures abroad. Even the fact that most of the political leaders of the North lived in Colombo had a role in debilitating the North. Although GGP claimed that the ‘Sinhalese government’ prevented the development of Jaffna, he himself opposed the upgrading of Jaffna from an urban council to a Municipal council as his land-owning political class did not wish to pay higher taxes for their properties in Jaffna! Those old debates about the building of causeways, upgrading of urban councils etc., are very revealing, as reflected in the Hansard records of that period, where Tamil delegates were at each others’ throats [12,13].
In my opinion the ITAK of the 1949-1970 period had a majority of separatists who were not very powerful and based in the North, while a minority of more moderate Colombo-based anglicized Federalists remained powerful. But the power inside the ITAK moved from the hands of the Federalists into the hands of the Arasu group, with S.J.V. and E. M. V. Naganathan being more with the Arasu group but increasingly disagreeing with Navaratnam’s direct move towards Eelam as they felt that the Jaffna electorate was not ready for it. However, the glittering vision of an independent “Tamil Nation” must have been more attractive and infectious than the cautious approach to Federalism supported by the moderates in the ITAK.
Thus the ITAK tactics were not designed at any stage to win the heart of the Sinhalese majority, but more to inflame the ethnic divide. On the other hand, most leaders of the Sinhalese parties always assumed that the “Tamil question” could be manipulated for their short-term political advantage, and often assumed that they can `bulldoze their way through’ and in the end force the Tamils to accept their political platform. We see this duplicity in the politics of Mrs. Bandaranaike, and much more blatantly in J.R. Jayawardene, Chandrika Bandaranaike as well as in the politics of the Marxist parties.
The Marxist parties and their “principled stand” for Parity: The LSSP supported “parity of status for Sinhala and Tamil”, and many of us who were young people at the time were impressed by their “principled stand” which appeared heroic as their policy seemed electorally suicidal. Thus many of us became fellow travelers of the Left, as the Left seemed likely to provide a non-emotional solution to ethnic saber rattling as well as to many economic woes.
SLFP and Leftist leaders enjoy symbolic burning of copies of the District Council Bill, circa 1967 –Pic from Irvin Weerackody
However, much later, two members of the LSSP central committee  explained to me independently of each other that their policy was designed for strategic reasons and had nothing to do with “bourgeois principles”. The trade unions controlled by the LSSP in the 1950s were comprised of members who were Sinhalese and Tamils with perhaps a Tamil majority in some unions. Thus Parity of status existed de facto in the unions. The LSSP expected to succeed Bandaranaike ‘the Menshevik analogue’ within a short time, using the unions as their revolutionary instrument, rather than the electoral process. After the revolution, they hoped to capture the support of the Tea-plantation workers who are also Tamil speakers. Hence the “Parity of status policy” was part of the strategy of the revolution and not a case of “principles”. In fact, by the 1970s the expected revolution had not occurred, and the demographics of the unions had changed, as a Sinhala Senior School Certificate had become sufficient to join the government clerical service. Furthermore, the Tamil leaders had consistently rejected the LSSP and other Left parties which were labeled as the NPPs (“Nalavar-Pallar Parties”) – the UNP was always their favoured Sinhala party. Not surprisingly, and now concerned with electoral tactics, N. M. Perera and Colvin R. de Silva moved to a different strategy in joining Sirima Bandaranaike. Their republican constitution, drawn up mainly by Colvin, had no hint of the “two languages, one nation” proposition so eloquently presented by Colvin only a decade before!
The Sinhala and Tamil Languages have had (officially, but not in prctice) parity of status since 1988. K. M. de Silva writes : “Modifications initiated between 1956 and 1978, through political necessity (in 1958) and a realistic adjustment to life in a plural society (1978), all but conceded parity of status to the Tamil language with Sinhala. The clauses on language in the constitution of 1978 reflected a recognition of an existing reality. The explicit reversion to parity of status to the two languages, which came in 1987 and 1988 as a part of a political settlement brokered by the Indian government, was also a recognition of this.”
Demographics and power politics: The fact remains that although the Tamils have been a small minority, they have been as powerful as the majority during many important historical decades, under the British and after independence. The percentage of Tamils is smaller than the 18% Hispanics in the USA, or the similar high percentage of Arab speakers in France. These minorities have no rights what so ever in comparison to the Tamils of Sri Lanka – the French Arabs would never dare to ask the Marseillaise to be sung in Arabic, and similarly, no US Governor of Hispanic extraction will dare to propose to sing the US anthem in Spanish. Thus, the recent singing of the National Anthem in Tamil as and its sporadic use  until 2010 can be presented to USA and France, pointing out that Sri Lanka is, and has been, far ahead of them in respecting minority rights!
In Canada the demographic ratio is close to being more even for French and English, and a very different political history applies. At independence the Tamil population in Ceylon may have been 10 to 15% (given as 12.5% by K. M. de Silva ) depending on how you define `Tamils’. But their economic and administrative clout at the time was much much higher than the demographics would indicate, and remains so even today. In my view, political planners have to take such factors into account.
The current division in the TNA, with Wigneswaran moving to take up the mantel of the hardliner, there by undermining Sampanthan is a repeat of what happened in Tamil politics since the days of the legislative council, and then in the State council. It is also a matter of personal hubris. For Ponnambalam and SJV, being challenged for kingship by the other was a personal affront; and today, perhaps there is a sense that a Wigneswaran does not want to play second fiddle to a Sampanthan for ever.
Federalism as a still-born vision: Reconsidering the issue of Federalism from a completely a-historical, rational point of view, one can argue that Federalism is the optimal solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic confrontations. However, such reasoning is only of academic interest. The past determines the future and we cannot be a-historical when the Sinhalese and the Tamils insist on histories that read so differently, although there is a great common ground of co-existence and assimilation and also a few epic wars.
Almost all federations (e..g, Swiss, Canadian, etc) started from independent units WANTING to get together (i.e., a centripetal political force). In Sri Lanka, it is a wish to get away and separate (a centrifugal force) that drives the ITAK initiative. Most steps taken by the ITAK seem to have been designed to create fear in the minds of the Sinhalese, instead of reassuring them. That is why Federalism has failed, and will continue to fail to become a reality by popular vote. Perhaps it may be achieved by political manipulation, and then we will have years of “border warfare” to deal with.
Imagine a scenario where, in 1957, SJV offering to collaborate with SWRD to make Swabhasha the language of government, and even offering to join his government and supporting him against Philip Goonawardena’s attempt to pull him down by daily strikes at the Colombo Port! At that time the Marxists regarded SWRD as the analogue of Menshevik, and naively believed that their turn to form a government was immediate, as deemed by “historical materialism”. If SJV had followed “Sinhala Marikkar” (Minister of Posts in the SWRD Cabinet)’s tactics, or Thondaman’s tactics, SJV might have had a very different reception from the Sinhala public – but he would have been disowned by the Navaratnam hardliners! He would have been declared a “thurogi”. Meanwhile, SWRD would be facing the wrath of JR Jaywardene and others who agitated against the Banda-Chelva pact!
Instead of comprehending the true nature of the 1956 revolution, political actions of the ITAK antagonized the Sinhala public and polarized the ethnic divide . Meanwhile, the tactics of JR Jayawardene and KMP Rajaratne would have dismayed the moderates in the ITAK, while making the hardliners happy. Wigneswaran’s recent demands to change the place-name ‘Nagadeepa’ to ‘Nainative’, or the NPC’s charge of ‘Genocide of the Tamils’ by all the governments since 1948 will have the effect (wittingly or unwittingly) of enraging the Sinhala public. However, the push to change the place-name is within the ideology of the “traditional homeland”. Ironically, while Ptolemy’s 2nd century map gives the name as “Nagadiba”, Mr. Wigneswaran did not sponsor the classical Tamil place-name “Nakatheev” or “Nakanadu” . The colloquial form “Nainatheev” ( நயினாதீவு) seems to have been brought into vogue by the large Moor population and fisher community that existed in Jaffna at the turn of the 19th century (as recorded by Captain Percival  who lived in Jaffna during that period) !
However, It is reported that after the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil on the Independence day in 2016, Mr. Wigneswaran had, for the first time, visited the Nagadeepa Buddhist temple, and made conciliatory gestures.
Think of the political process that led to the joining of Newfoundland with Canada. Here were two British-Empire English units without the recent bitter history of Sinhala-Tamil relations, and yet the going was very very tough. What is in store for Sri Lanka today is much tougher, and indeed tougher! It will take another 15-20 years for another crop of youngsters to grow up in the North, and there is a possibility that the saber rattlers will hold sway, which means that 2030-2035 period may herald a new spree of Terror that will further debilitate the Tamil population. However, before that could happen, there is a large group of young Sinhalese who have been kept away from the Wijeweera-JVP-type activities as they have been conscripted members of the army. The TNA and the “civil society” have asked for the de-conscription of the armed forces and the termination of their employment in hotels, retail shops and other activities. Such de-conscription will create a large pool of militant youth who will definitely rise against the present rulers, given current grim economic prospects. Hence, is Sri Lanka going to face the rounds of JVP-type terror and anti-terror that occurred in the 1986-1990 era, from about the 2020 onwards? It seems as if history has come full circle!
One cannot talk of Federalism under such conditions, without prior formation of inter-communal bridges.
Constitutional amendments:Given the historical circumstances, the 13th amendment is probably the most that can happen, and that too had to be imposed by external fiat. There are strong arguments for scrapping the 13th amendment and to look for something better, more efficient and more representative. But this seems to be impossible as the PCs have become an ingrained part of local politics for nearly three decades. Every parliamentarian is beholden to his provincial counterparts for ‘grass-roots’ support, and no party leader will agree to cut the branch that he is sitting on. Sirisena’s current dilemma with the local election show the power of the PCs. So we need to make the most of the 13th amendment as is.
Perhaps the constitution should be modified to abolish the present legislature, and make the elected members of the provincial councils (which remain intact) subject to a powerful central apex body. The latter should be made up of two delegates (say, the Chief Minister and his deputy) from each provincial council, together with an equal number of independently elected national delegates based on professions, business and agriculture, elected from the professional organizations, rather than from the regions. The latter step will ensure 18 well-educated non-parochial non-political legislators in the apex chamber, together with the 18 provincial politicians. The apex chamber will also form the (small) national cabinet elected from among its members, and replace today’s parliament completely. It will also simplify the present mess of multiple levels of power with local councils, provincial councils and a parliament, with their parasitic hangers on, and with no one really responsible for anything in the existing set up. The development of rapid public transport (electric-train communication and not highways) between different parts of the country is the sine qua non for better economic integration and economic parity of the regions. Economic parity is essential for political parity.
It should also be mentioned that the “language problem” is today a non-problem that has simple technical solutions that have come up due to advances in information technology. The ease of translation of a language like Sinhala to a kindred language like Tamil, or vice versa is also important. Hence, although all administrative officers and service professionals should strive to be trilingual, pursuing the chimera of trying to make every child trilingual is bound to fail, as we see in the failure of bilingualism in Canada In Canada, after half a century of pushing bilingualism, immersion classes in schools etc., and an expenditure of trillions of dollars, 80% of the anglophones are still monolingual!
Minority language inplementation has not been successfully even in India..
I have outlined in a previous article how we can solve the Sinhala-Tamil language barrier via mobile-phone technology. Incidentally, using modern technology, anyone can “hear” the National Anthem in any language he pleases. Then, when the National Anthem is sung voicelessly as a bit-manipulation process in a computer chip, a Sri Lankan, be he Sinhala, Tamil, Malay or a Lankan-Chinese, he should be able to “switch on” to hear the national anthem in the language that he is emotionally linked to, via his handset!
This should be enough for any one to understand that the “human-rights” concept is often misunderstood. The “equal rights” that every one should have are “equal opportunities” in education, health, housing, justice, legislative representation, etc., but all are not equal in every circumstance. Unfortunately, no society can provide every service to every body equally, and also to every group equally, unless the groups are equal.
EDITORIAL EMBELLISHMENTS … with details for first three images being located in Roberts: Potency, Power & People in Groups, Colombo, Marga Institute, 2011
 See Satchi Sathiyanandan: http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2008/10/excellent-and-timely-feature-on-tamils.html
 Tarzie Vittachchi, Emergency 58: The story of Ceylon race riots. Andre Deutsch, London (1958). Unfortunately, no commission of inquiry was launched to evaluate damage, compensate victims, or learn from the event.
 An authoritative study of this era is found in Jane Russell, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947. Tissara Publishers, Sri Lanka 1982)
 A summary of this, with references to newspapers of the era may be found in http://dh-web.org/place.names/riot1.htm
 Russell 1982, pp 156-157.
 Janice Jiggins
 Mentioned by S. Rasalingam, Ref. 11, quoting ‘Hindu Organ’, 13-05-1940
 Hansard, 1935, Columns 4015-4028
[13} Bandaranaike’s attempt to make Jaffna a municipal council was abandoned in 1945.
 Dr. Osmund Jayaratne, and Eng. C. B. Wijedoru.
 D. B. S. Jeyaraj, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/45154
 Robert Percival,An Account of the Island of Ceylon, Containing its History, Geography, Natural History, with the Manners and Customs of its various Inhabitants, (1803) https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=8gpXAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA20 It provides detailed information on the coastal areas, several important maps and charts. The the last chapter describes roads in detail.
- Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014 …ISBN 978-955-665-230-7 ….. 423 pages
- Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: 2014 Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014 …. ISBN 978-955-665-231-4 …. 293 pages incl. of 164 pp of images
… for the simple reason that both books contain pictorial illustrations and the latter ends with the full text of the Resolution presented by the ITAK at Maradana in 1949 … though the latter is also reproduced within THUPPAHI as “The Federal Party emerges seeking self-determination, 18 December 1949,” … at https://thuppahis.com/2014/04/10/the-federal-party-emerges-seeking-self-determination-18-december-1949/