S.J.V.Chelvanayakam: Respected “Gandhian”Tamil Political Leader was a Christian by religion and a Hindu by culture.


D.B.S. Jeyaraj

(This article was first written in 1997 for a special volume commemorating the birth centenary of Tamil political leader SJV Chelvanayakam. It is being reposted with slight changes to denote his 126th birth anniversary on March 31)

On September 6th 1977, Lalith Athulathmudali, then Minister of Trade said in Parliament “Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayakam was born in Ipoh…. ..Ipoh is known as the cleanest City in Malaysia. Perhaps it was in the fitness of things that Mr. Chelvanayakam’s life was marked by a cleanliness unknown in contemporary politics.” Athulathmudali was speaking on the vote of condolence for SJV Chelvanayakam then.

JR Jayewardene then Prime Minister also spoke on the vote of condolence for the FP and later TULF leader. He said “I have not met anyone in my community or any other community who said that Mr. Chelvanayakam would let you down” These sentiments were merely endorsing what veteran journalist Mervyn de Silva had written in 1963 “For all his physical frailties he is known as the uncrowned King of the North. Chelvanayakam’s antagonists will willingly testify to his integrity”.

Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam was born in Ipoh Malaysia on 31st March 1898. His Birth centenary year begins tomorrow. He was from Thellippalai in Jaffna. His father Visvanathan Veluppillai was a businessman in Malaysia. SJV’s mother Harriet Annamma’s maiden name was Kanapathippillai.

When Chelvanayakam was four years of age the family with the exception of his father moved back to Thellippalai so that the children could obtain a good education.SJV a protestant christian attended Union College Thellippalai, St. John’s College Jaffna and finally St. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia (located at Mutwal then) Later his first cousin Anandanayagam became Warden of the same institution. At STC Chelvanayakam was a contemporary of SWRD Bandaranaike with whom he was to cross swords politically many a time later.

Chelvanayakam first graduated as an external student of the London University. He got a B Sc. He then began teaching at ST. Thomas’s College Mt. Lavinia. Later he moved to Wesley College as a teacher. While teaching he pursued studies in law and soon enrolled himself as an Advocate of the Supreme Court. He confined himself to Civil matters mainly and built up a lucrative practice. He became a respected civil lawyer and took silk in due course.

In 1927 he married Emily Grace Barr Kumarakulasinghe the daughter of RR Barr Kumarakulasinghe the “Maniaghar” (Administrative Chief) of Thellippalai. He donned the Tamil national dress Verti and Salvai at his wedding instead of western attire as was customary of the English educated Elite then.

Chelvanayakam’s love for the Tamil language and Tamil culture was not an artificiality constructed for political purposes. It was more a deep-seated natural emotion. Even before entering politics he would always refer to himself as a man from Jaffna. He wore the Verti at home as far as possible. Except on legal or official business or at mixed social gatherings he always conversed with fellow Tamils in Tamil. Although not a scholar he was also familiar with ancient Tamil literature. Chelvanayakam was also extremely appreciative of Carnatic music and Bharatha Natyam.

What is remarkable about this affinity for Tamil culture on the part of Chelvanayakam was his equally committed conviction and adherence to his Christian beliefs and faith. He was a practising member of the Church of South India, Jaffna Diocese. In Colombo he attended the Anglican Church but after the CSI opened a Church in Wellawatte opted to worship at that Church more. His Christianity inspired his political mission.

Although his Christian names were Samuel and James the Biblical figure that had great impact on him was Moses. Chelva saw himself as some kind of latter-day Moses whose mission was to deliver his persecuted people from political slavery into the promised land of milk and honey.

In fact at Chelvanayakam’s memorial service at the CSI Church in Wellawatte Bishop DJ Ambalavanar delivered a moving Eulogical sermon under the text”Let my People Go”. The Biblical verses invoked were from the Old Testament pertaining to Moses, Pharaoh and the Israelites in Egypt.

Chelvanayakam’s political colleagues have noted that at times of doubt and indecision about certain political issues Chelva would retire quietly for meditation and prayer. This strengthened his will and reinforced his resolve. Once he arrived at a decision after prayer he would stick to it firmly and would not yield to any compromise thereafter.

Despite this Christian Conviction he had also absorbed much of the Hindu ethos having grown up in a predominantly Saivite environment. Also many of his close relatives were Hindus. His attachment to Tamil culture also nurtured an affinity towards the Hindu Ethos. This enabled him to claim to those near and dear to him that he was a Christian by religion and a Hindu by culture.

Again it must be emphasised that this was not an affected position caused by political expediency. SJV Chelvanayakam’s Parliamentary constituency Kankesanthurai as well as the Sri Lankan Tamil people in their entirety were predominantly Hindu. Although Chelvanayakam had an empathy towards his fellow Hindu Tamils it was not something cooked up to cultivate political support. This was something inculcated in him long before even thinking of embarking on a political career.

The reality was that he never compromised on his religious principles for political gain. His “ Christianity” was used against him by political opponents time and again. His Tamil political rivals raised the religious cry overtly and covertly many times on both electoral and national levels. He was portrayed as the Christian outsider trying to usurp rightful Hindu leadership. In 1952 it was stridently harped upon when the Federal party first faced the hustings. After 1956 no Tamil politician of any standing dared to raise the anti-Christian cry against him openly but covert whisper campaigns were afoot.

The only exception perhaps was Prof C. Sunderalingam during the elections of 1970. Sunderalingam had spearheaded the anti-temple entry movement at the historic Maviddapuram Kandaswamy temple in 1968. His role had gained him the support of many caste conscious upper caste Hindus of the area which fell under the Kankesanthurai electorate.

SJV and the Federal party had generally kept aloof of the controversy but had extended moral support to those so-called low caste Tamils demanding the right of entry into the temple. Sunderalingam hoped to cash in on the resentment in conservative Tamil circles over Chelvanayakam’s non-involvement in the issue despite being the MP. So he whipped up a nakedly anti- Christian campaign against Chelvanayakam.

An aggressive aspect of that campaign was Sunderalingam driving up to any group of bystanders in the electorate and exhibiting a silver “VEL” (a javelin like weapon in the hands of Lord Muruga) and a wooden cross. He would hold them aloft and ask loudly “Vela?Siluvaia?” meaning do you want the Vel (Hindu) or Cross (Christian) The overwhelmingly Hindu voters of KKS elected Chelvanayakam that year in a fitting reply.

Chelvanayakam held the Kankesanthurai constituency from 1947 to 1977 with two breaks in between. The first was from 1952 to 1956 when he lost to S.Natesapillai of the UNP. The second was from 1972 October to Feb 1975 when he resigned his seat and challenged Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government to hold a by-election as a means of testing whether the Tamil people accepted the 1972 constitution or not. After postponing the elections for a long time the Government held it finally in 1975 where the Kankesanthurai voters re-elected Chelvanayakam with a thumping majority of more than 16,000 votes.

Chelvanayakam’s only electoral defeat was in 1952. The Federal Party had just emerged and the Tamil voters were not that enamoured of its policies then. GG Ponnambalam a minister in the UNP government was still the dominant figure in Tamil politics.Chelvanayakam as the leader of the fledgeling party was constrained to campaign more in other electorates where the party fielded candidates than in his own.

Moreover it was an open secret that Natesapillai if elected was certain to become a UNP Minister. These were all reasons in favour of Natesapillai (son-in-law of Sir P Ramanathan) being elected. In addition to this the religious card was also used against Chelvanayakam publicly and privately.

During the campaign all Federal Party candidates went to the Nallur Kandaswamy temple for a special pooja. SJV also went and waited bare-bodied with respectfully folded hands. Former Kayts MP V.Navaratnam wanted Chelvanayakam to be photographed as accepting the “Kalanchi” a sign of Hindu religious adherence.

This was a bid to diffuse anti-Christian tensions in the electorate and portray Chelvanayakam as a man who observed Hindu rituals despite being a Christian. Chelvanayakam refused saying that while he respected the Hindu religion he would not stoop to pretensions of worship. He would lose the election rather than winning through such a ruse he said. So lose he did.

Yet the same man whose religion proved a handicap in 1952 went on to win six more elections in KKS continuously in 1956,1960 Mar, 1960 Jul, 1965, 1970 and 1975. This he did without compromising on his religious principles or resorting to religious charades.

There were also efforts made to undermine the Federal Party credibility by political rivals who raised the Christian bogey questioning Chelva’s right to lead the Hindu majority Tamils.Chelvanayakam’s able “Hindu” lieutenants countered this type of propaganda effectively.

Chelvanayakam’s spate of victories in Kankesanthurai (83% Hindu 16% Christian) were all the more remarkable from another point of view too. Chelvanayakam was not the conventional MP attending to the day to day needs of the people. He concentrated more on the overall problems of the Tamil people.

Later deteriorating health kept him away from the electorate too. Despite all this the KKS Voters continued to elect him. Former Senator and Ex-Chairman of the Jaffna DDC S. Nadaraja was of yeoman service and more or less functioned as the unofficial MP for Kankesanthurai.

The Federal Party continued to be the dominant political force among the Tamil’s notwithstanding Chelvanayakam’s religion. Subtle anti-Christian attempts however continued. One was the Tamil Congress demand for a Hindu University in Jaffna as opposed to the FP demand for a Tamil University in Trincomalee. This was a blatant move aimed at embarrassing the FP and Chelvanayakam on religious and regional lines. It was also a manouevre calculated to appeal to the Hindu Jaffna voter.

Even as Tamil political rivals attempted to undermine or replace Chelvanayakam’s leadership certain Sinhala sections also sought to question his leadership credentials. They attempted to discredit him on the grounds that he a christian was not the proper representative for the Hindu majority Tamils. Yet Chelvanayakam was sure of his ground as he had been elected continuously without having to compromise on religion. These victories were also a tribute to the basically secularist attitudes of the Tamil people and the essence of tolerance prevalent in the Hindu religion.

A case in point was the reply proffered to a letter written by the Ven. Hewanpola Ratnasara Thero in the “Ceylon Daily News” of 3 oct 1970. Chelvanayakam wrote” You referred to my religion as Christian and therefore I had little in common with Tamils who were mainly Hindus by religion. It stands to the credit of the Hindu people that they have not forced me or other Christians to change our faith before we lead them”. This was an obvious reference to the “Donoughmore Buddhists” phenomenon when some Sinhala Christians became Buddhists to improve their electoral chances after universal franchise was introduced under the Donoughmore Constitution. There was some communication on these lines between Chelvanayakam and the Government in the 1960-65 period too.

It should be noted that the anti-colonialist nationalist revivals of the Sinhala and Tamil people had certain similarities and differences. A moot point was that of religion. Revivalism initiated by Anagarika Dharmapala and Arumuga Navalar was religion oriented and revolved around the Buddhist and Hindu religions respectively.

The continuation of this revivalist process in the post Independence period however saw a major difference.Sinhala political discourse continued in the same vein with Sinhala Buddhist nationalism becoming the dominant ideology among the Sinhala people.

In the case of the Tamil people who saw themselves as the victims of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism the reaction was different. Their response was basically linguistic and not religious. When Tamil nationalism arose in defiance of Sinhala nationalism it became more secular. It was not a Tamil Hindu nationalism.

There are many reasons for this but two significant causes contributing to this were SJV Chelvanayakam and Rev Fr Thaninayakam the Tamil Catholic Scholar. Father Thaninayakam spearheaded a Tamil cultural revival by promoting a world wide interest in Tamil studies. This made the Tamil proud of his or her glorious heritage.

Chelvanayakam led the Tamil political movement against the imposition of Sinhala. His presence as the great helmsman of the Tamil ship saw him charter a course of secular Tamil nationalism centered around language. The assertion of linguistic nationalism was successful enough not only to embrace Tamil Hindus and Christians but also include the Muslims too at a particular period under the concept of “Tamil Speaking People ”.

The man who advocated Tamil rights with a missionary zeal was not one who engaged himself in politics willingly.

Chelvanayakam’s ambition was to mount the Supreme Court Bench.Circumstances beyond his control or in his view God’s plan for him led him to politics. Later an opportunity arose where becoming a Supreme Court Judge was very possible. This was when DS Senanayake sensing that Chelvanayakam was going to be uncompromising in his political position sought to remove an obstacle through the offer of Judicial office.Overtures were made through two emissaries. Chelvanayakam sensing the motive behind the offer turned it down thereby turning his back on his lifelong ambition in order to pursue a lofty but cumbersome political ideal.

During the tumultuous Donoughmore era Chelvanayakam while observing political developments keenly kept aloof of Tamil politics. He first showed an open interest in politics in the forties when he accosted GG Ponnambalam at the Colombo Law Library and voluntarily affixed his signature to a memorandum being sent to Whitehall on the Tamil question.

Thereafter Chelvanayakam began involving himself more closely with Tamil Political affairs and became active in the Tamil Congress. Sivasubramaniam the father of former Kopay MP Kathiravetpillai was instrumental in persuading him to enter active politics. Chelvanayakam was part of the delegation led by GG Ponnambalam that made representations to the Soulbury Commission. Soon Chelvanayakam began immersing himself in Tamil Congress activities and by 1946 was considered the”vice-captain” of Ponnambalam.

Jane Russell describes this development in her book “Communal politics under the DonoughmoreConstitution” in the following manner-

“The emergence of SJV Chelvanayakam, a christian and a Colombo Lawyer as Ponnambalam’s second-in-command was significant. Unlike Ponnambalam who was concerned largely in satisfying his personal ambitions for power, Chelvanayakam was seriously concerned with the political effect of the Sinhala Buddhist cultural resurgence on the future of the Ceylon Tamils.”

“ Chelvanayakam was a thoughtful man; as a politician he displayed the integrity which Ponnambalam lacked. His Tamil communalism was not the froth of an opportunist but a deeply-felt and considered judgement backed by an appreciation of Tamil culture which amounted to blind loyalty. Chelvanayakam’s attachment to the Ceylon Tamil culture came much closer to a true Tamil nationalism and his gloomy views and oracular attitude proclaimed him the heir to the aged Ponnambalam Arunachalam who had turned in his bitterness from the ideal of a united Lanka to the concept of a Tamilnad or Pan-Tamilian state in his solstitial years.”

“ Although SJV.Chelvanayakam did not present a differentiated policy to that of GG.Ponnambalam in 1947, his political approach augered a radical change in the tone and demeanour of Ceylon Tamil politics in the post-Independence period”

In 1947 the Tamil Congress contested elections to Parliament and won seven sea seats, Chelvanayakam himself contested and won Kankesanthurai polling 12,126. He defeated both Nagalingam of the LSSP and Natesapillai of the UNP. Soon political differences began erupting between Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam over the future course of the Tamil Congress. Prof. A.J. Wilson, son-in-law of Chelvanayakam in his book “SJV Chelvanayakam and the crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947-1977” describes the situation thus

“Ponnambalam interpreted the mandate of responsive cooperation” with progressive-minded Sinhalese parties, received at the general election of 1947 as an authorisation to the ACTC by the Tamil electorate to secure portfolios in the cabinet, where a Tamil presence would enable Tamil problems to be aired and benefits obtained for the Tamil areas.”

“ Chelvanayakam for his part preferred to use Tamil cooperation as a lever to obtain an acceptable resolution of Tamil concerns relating to citizenship rights for the Indian Tamil plantation workers, parity of status for the Sinhala and Tamil languages, an acceptable national flag for the new State and the cessation of state-aided colonisation of the Tamil speaking areas with Sinhala colonists. He wanted these pre-conditions satisfied. Most important he wanted a constitutional assembly convened to determine the Island’s future constitutional structure. Ponnambalam did not obtain these guarantees”

Even after Ponnambalam became a minister and voted with the government on Citizenship issues . Chelvanayakam did not break away immediately. Instead he dilly-dallied as to whether he should remain within Tamil Congress ranks and fight it out with Ponnambalam or whether he should form a new political party. Finally he broke away with Kopay MP Vanniyasingham and Senator EMV Naganathan. The Federal Party or Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi in Tamil was launched in 1949 December.

Chelvanayakam and his party ushered in an Ideological shift in Tamil politics. He formulated Tamil nationalism on linguistic lines and channelled that into a clearly demarcated territory thereby providing a territorial dimension. The Northern and Eastern Provinces were the traditional homelands of the Tamil speaking people. These provinces would form an autonomous Tamil State (Thamil Arasu). This state would come into a federal arrangement with the residual Sinhala state and remain within a Ceylonese union.

The party sought equality of status for both the Sinhala and Tamil languages. This demand was not for the Ceylon Tamils alone but for all Tamil speaking people such as the Muslims and The UP-Country Tamils. The party was also against the demographic structure of the Tamil Traditional homeland being altered through Sinhala colonisation.

In 1952 the fledgling party did not fare well and won only two seats Vanniasingham in Kopay and Rajavarothayam in Trincomalee. Another FP backed independent won in Batticaloa and crossed over to the UNP the following day. Chelvanayakam as mentioned before lost too.

SJV’s views on the dangers facing the Tamil people did not find a responsive chord in the community then. But as Sinhala Buddhist Nationalists began gaining ground in the South a corresponding Tamil nationalism too gathered momentum in the Tamil areas. Soon the increasingly alarmed Tamil People began to look upon Chelvanayakam as a prophet who predicted this impending doom and felt that he was the saviour who could lead them at this critical juncture. The meek and mild Chelvanayakam was becoming the single-most popular mass figure in Tamil Politics.

1956 was the watershed! SWRD Bandaranaike swept the polls in the South on the Sinhala Only platform while the Federal Party won six seats in the North and Four in the East.

The Federal Party under Chelvanayakam began a new culture of political protest. This was “Non-violent agitation” modelled on Gandhian Philosophy. The first major demonstration was the Satyagraha launched on Galle Face Green when Parliament was debating the Official Language Act. Thugs and hoodlums backed by politicians in power set upon the Satyagrahis and mercilessly assaulted them while the police watched with their “hands Tied”.

Chelvanayakam’s son himself was assaulted in front of the Father while SJV sat unflinching. The Tamil poet Kasi Anandan immortalised that episode through a poignant poem

Other non-violent activities such as protest marches, black flag demonstrations, hartals, boycotts.letter writing campaigns, non compliance of administrative regulations.tar brush campaigns Satyagrahas etc were continuously launched along with political mass meetings, processions, rallies and Conventions.All these activities made the Tamil People a highly politicised community.

Chelvanayakam was now described as “Thanthai Chelva” and “Eelathu Gandhi” by his followers. “Thanthai” came from the Dravidian movement where the father of the Dravidian movement EV Ramaswamy Naicker was called “Thanthai” Periyar. “EElathu Gandhi or the Gandhi of Eelam was from the Indian Congress culture. Chelvanayakam’s opponents ridiculed him as the”Kaatsattai Gandhi” (Trousered Gandhi). Most Party followers referred to him as “Periyavar”. Chelvanayakam had now acquired cult status and was almost a “Venerated” figure.

Among the agitations conducted by the Federal party the most notable ones were the anti-Sri tar brush campaign and the mass Satyagraha of 1961. Chelvanayakam himself was jailed in Batticaloa in 1958 over the tar brush campaign .In 1961 the Northern and Eastern Provinces were administratively paralysed when Tamil Satyagrahis campaigned opposite Govt Secretariats. The Campaign reached its climax when a separate postal service was set up and a Stamp issued. Finally the Army was called in, Curfew imposed and Tamil leaders including Chelvanayakam detained and placed under house arrest. Chelvanayakam along with FP leaders had been detained in 1958 too.

Chelvanayakam’s strategy when dealing with the Governments in power had been that of agitation cum negotiation. In fairness to the Federal Party it had despite it’s rhetoric and non-violent campaigns been more than willing to talk to the governments in power and arrive at a political settlement.

In order to achieve political accommodation Chelvanayakam and the FP compromised to a great extent on their original positions. For instance they were amenable to regional councils and district councils instead of a formal federal set-up. They were ready to settle for special provisions regarding the use of the Tamil Language instead of rigid Official Language Status.

Yet, sadly agreements entered into with two Prime Ministers were honoured in the breach in the face of mounting Sinhala extremist pressure. The Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam pact of 1957 as well as the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam pact of 1965 if implemented may have resolved the Tamil problem long before it assumed such violent proportions. Likewise if Tamil grievances had been redressed when articulated in non-violent form through leaders such as Chelvanayakam armed violence need not have risen among Tamil Youths.

In spite of Chelvanayakam’s apparent failure to resolve the Tamil problem through negotiations the Tamil People did not consider it his fault. The Tamil People perceived it as the fault of Sinhala leaders who had betrayed Chelvanayakam and by extension therefore the Tamils. Thus Chelvanayakam and the Federal Party could continue to win the bulk of Tamil Parliamentary seats. 10 in 1956,15 in 1960 Mar, 16 in 1960 July, 14 in 1965,13 in 1970.

The FP always justified the contesting of Parliamentary seats on the grounds that Parliament was the supreme forum to articulate Tamil grievances. It also stated that Tamil Unity was essential to prevent divide and rule tactics by the enemy. More importantly it stated that Tamil MP’s by forming a bloc would hold the balance of power in a keenly contested Parliament. It could therefore bargain from a position of strength.

These tactics succeeded to some extent in the 1960 March and 1965 elections where the Parliamentary clout of the FP became a crucial factor in the making and unmaking of Governments. The FP however was politically impotent when governments in power had strong majorities. The Federal Party itself reached the zenith of it’s Agitation cum Negotiation strategy in 1961 and in 1965-1968.

In 1961 the Satyagraha which paralysed the North-East had demonstrated clearly the depth of feeling in the Tamil community over their legitimate grievances and the wide-spread support for the Federal Party. Yet the response was not political accommodation but the use of force to crush a democratic non-violent movement.

If 1961 was the high watermark of the FP’s agitation strategy the negotiation strategy reached it’s peak in 1965. In 1965 the FP became a constituent partner of the National Government under Dudley Senanayake. An FP nominee Senator M.Tiruchelvam became the Minister of Local Government in the cabinet. The expectation was that some form of de-centralisation would be implemented through the District Councils.That attempt too failed.

In that sense the FP had exhausted it’s strategical options by 1970 and when in that election the Sinhala electorate polarised heavily in favour of the UF government the possibility of bargaining within parliament too was removed. SJV expressed his frustration when he said in a statement that only “God could save the Tamils now”.

Measures like Standardisation.the new constitution etc only aggravated the sense of alienation felt by the Tamils. The Political path pursued by Chelvanayakam no longer seemed relevant or worth emulating. Chelvanayakam’s health too began deteriorating. (suffered from Parkinson’s disease) He still remained the Supreme leader but Tamil political thought was moving rapidly in a different direction. The new “Manthras” were Thamil Eelam the separate state and Ayutha porattam or armed struggle. A helpless SJV too seemed caught up in the rising tide.

At a protest march led by SJV the police banned it from proceeding further. Chelvanayakam directed his followers to sit down on the road itself and commence Satyagraha. Many obeyed him but a lot of youth refused and wanted to march on and confront the Police. Amirthalingam had a very hard time persuading the youths to sit calmly and finally they obliged for some time. Soon many youths broke out from the Satyagraha and began staging an unauthorised procession in many streets of Jaffna. They were ready to confront the Police but the police “ignored” them. That incident was symptomatic of the growing Youth rebellion and the increasing irrelevance of the old guard.

Chelvanayakam’s greatest electoral achievement occurred in the twilight of his life. He resigned his KKS constituency in 1972 Oct and challenged the Govt to an election on the question of the Tamil People accepting or rejecting the new constitution. After considerable delay the by-election was finally held on 3rd Feb 1975. Chelvanayakam obtained an unprecedented 25,927 defeating V Ponnambalam of the Communist party by a majority of 16,470.

In 1971 a loose alliance of Tamil political parties was formed. It was called the Tamil United Front. In 1976 the TUF renamed itself as the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Chelvanayakam, Ponnambalam and Thondaman were elected as a triumvirate of leaders. The demand for a separate Tamil State was formally adopted. A new phase had begun in Tamil Politics.

Chelvanayakam too espoused the demand for Tamil Eelam. He said that establishing Tamil Eelam was a difficult proposition but the Tamils had no choice if they wished to survive as a nation. He also went on record that only the Tamil youths could through their courage and sacrifice achieve Eelam.

The proponents of Thamil Eelam and the armed struggle considered these statements as the last will and testament of Chelvanayakam. They interpreted it as proof that the Tamil Gandhi too was for armed struggle and that Tamil Eelam was his uncompromising position. Some years ago LTTE spokespersons flabbergasted the public of Jaffna when they told a press conference that they were only following the footsteps of Chelvanayakam by conducting an armed struggle for Eelam. They quoted Chelvanayakam in support of their argument.

The question of Chelvanayakam’s position on Thamil Eelam and the armed struggle is debatable and subject to the vagaries of various interpretations. What he would have done in the present context too remains hypothetical so many years later. Persons close to him feel that he may have used the Eelam demand as a bargaining ploy to achieve Federalism and that he would never ever have extended support to an armed struggle. No one however has a definite monopoly of the truth in this case and the issue would remain a topic of unresolved academic interest.

SJV Chelvanayakam died on April 26th 1977. He had a bad fall some weeks before his death and remained in a coma until his demise. His funeral was an exhibition of a genuine outpouring of collective grief never before seen in Jaffna. The greatest tribute to his memory was however the landslide victory of the TULF three months later in July. The name of Chelvanayakam and his political legacy was evoked to a very great extent in the election campaign.

All shades of political opinion mourned his loss and the views expressed by Jayewardene and Athulathmudali are but a few indicators. These views contrast considerably with earlier views expressed by Sinhala political leaders which were quite uncharitable.

“He is a lean and hungry looking man whom I cannot trust” said DS Senanayake of Chelvanayakam. SWRD Bandaranaike’s comment on Chelvanayakam was “He is surely one of the most dangerous types of human beings in the world, quite in his own way an idealist sincere, in his own way an idealist, but having no idea whatsoever of reality and the practical side of things. Very dangerous people, such people”.

This then was the sad state of affairs that prevailed then. The man who espoused non-violence and displayed the positive attribute of willingness to settle for something far short of his original demands was portrayed as untrustworthy and dangerous. No meaningful attempt was made to settle the problem peacefully with Chelvanayakam then.

Today the memory of Chelvanayakam has practically faded. The Younger generation thinks that the struggle began with Prabhakaran and does not even know that this man Chelvanayakam led a non-violent struggle for Tamil rights for nearly three decades.

They do not know that this was a leader who was revered as an incorruptible, sincere man who would not let the Tamils down.

They do not realise that if Chelvanayakam had not led the struggle in his own manner there would not have been a Tamil nationalist base for a future armed struggle

The days of Veluppillai Chelvanayakam and his weapons of non-violence are gone and all that remains are memories of the days of Veluppillai Prabakaran and his arsenal of deadly weapons.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com