Partisan intellectuals betrayed the nation

By H.L.D Mahindapala

The utter failure of our intellectuals to grasp the turbulent historical and political undercurrents that destroyed all possibilities of peaceful co-existence has been one of the main contributory factors that prolonged and sustained the 33-year-old ‘war’ launched officially by the Tamil leadership on May 14, 1976 at Vadukoddai.

It ended on May 19, 2009 in the murky water of Nandikadal. The Vadukoddai Resolution began by outlining its own historical and political reasons for declaring ‘war’ and concluded by calling upon “the Tamil nation” and the Tamil youth to take up arms against the democratically elected state. The ageing Tamil leadership, some of whom were ensconced in the parliamentary seats, including S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the TNA, deliberately decided to commit the crime against peace in the Vadukoddai Resolution by legitimising violence officially as a political instrument of the Tamil community to achieve their political goal of Eelam, a separate state exclusively for the Tamils.

Declaring ‘war’ was the biggest gamble of the Tamil leadership. There was no guarantee that their violence could win. Violence could go either way. Despite investing their best political, intellectual and financial resources, it didn’t go their way. It ended in Nandikadal. It was a futile ‘war’ that boomeranged on the Tamil aggressors. The failure of the Tamil leadership to recognise the new realities is a major obstacle to reconciliation.

Even after Nandikadal they are flatly refusing to accept responsibility for their miscalculated political gambit. They declared ‘war’. They waged ‘war’. They financed it. They directed it. They legitimised it. They internationalised it. They theorised to justify their violence. They glorified every massacre and destruction as a victory for the creation of Eelam. They manufactured excuses to justify the killings of the Tamils by the Tamils and other civilian non-combatants. They hailed the forcible recruitment of under-aged Tamil children into the futile ‘war’ as heroic sacrifices of the committed Tamil youth. They backed to the hilt the Tamil Pol Pot who led the ‘war’ on their behalf. They even elevated him to the divine status of Surya Devan. And when they failed, they blamed the Sinhala-Buddhist, as usual, for the ‘war’ they declared and lost.

Separatist forces

The reaction of the state to combat the aggressive separatist forces was inevitable. Separatism and violence are inseparable. Besides, the seasoned Tamil leadership knew the consequences of going to war with the state. Rightly or wrongly, no democratically elected state would agree to divide a nation to gratify the political aspirations of an aggressive minority, sacrificing the interests and aspirations of the other communities which formed the majority. By 1976, Tamil politics had come to the end of their tether and was determined to declare war – the last remaining political weapon available to them to achieve Eelam.

The calculated declaration of war by the Tamil leadership was a challenge that no elected state could accept lying down. So, at the end of the Vadukoddai Resolution, the Tamil leadership declared war, urging the Tamil “nation” and the Tamil youth to take up arms. The Resolution said: “This Convention directs the Action Committee of the Tamil United Liberation Front to formulate a plan of action and launch without undue delay the struggle for winning the sovereignty and freedom of the Tamil Nation;

“And this Convention calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam is reached.”

Considering the internal political pressures pushing the Tamil leadership during this time, the declaration of war (“throw themselves into the sacred fight for freedom and flinch not”) was, in a sense, inevitable. The Tamils had come to the end of the road of Tamil extremist politics. The declaration of war to achieve a separate state was the last option available to them in their desperate pursuit of Eelam. Their long journey on the road to Nandikadal, the futile end of Tamil extremism, began in the early 20th century. It began in the 1920s with the Tamil leadership demanding one extra seat in the Western Province. This was in addition to the seats allocated by the British administration to the Northern Tamils in the Legislative Council. The Oliver Twistian craving for more and more power in the administration, legislature and the economy has been a pathological condition in the Tamil psyche. Led by the Vellalas, it has been a chronic and incurable condition that dominated Tamil politics.

50 percent of power

The two communities went apart with the Tamil leadership escalating their demands each step of the way, from decade to decade. From the base of demanding one extra seat in the twenties, the Tamil leadership led by G. G. Ponnamabalam jumped to demand 50 percent of power for 11 percent of Tamils in the thirties, crying “discrimination” when, mark you, the British were ruling Ceylon, as it was known then.

The British were the first to dismiss the accusation of “discrimination” as unsubstantiated fiction. In the forties, Tamil demands escalated from 50 – 50 to federalism with S. J. V. Chelvanayakam breaking away from Ponnambalam and forming his Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) in 1949. From federalism, the Tamil leadership leapt to separatism in the fifties onwards.

In the fifties, it became increasingly clear that “federalism” meant separatism in Tamil. The Tamil leadership marketed their increased demands as “federalism” in English, but in Tamil, the phrase Arasu Kachchi was used to convey the concept of a “separate state”.  It culminated in declaring war in the Vadukoddai Resolution. After declaring war to achieve a separate state, there was no other higher political goal left for them to negotiate. Separatism was, of course, non-negotiable.

However, what is significant is the Southern reaction to the escalating demands of the Tamils of the North. When the Tamils demanded an extra seat in the South in addition to seats given to them in the North, the Sinhala leadership agreed, after controversial disputes, to grant the seat to Sir. Ponnambalam Arunachalam. But, as revealed in the magisterial monographs on the break-up of the Ceylon National Congress and the rise of Tamil separatism, Prof. K. M. de Silva, Sri Lanka’s foremost historian, revealed that Sir. Ponnambalam rejected the offer.

The Northern Tamils then blamed the Sinhalese for not keeping their word given to Sir. Ponnambalam. That is the first time that the Tamils arrogantly rejected the offer to heal the North-South conflict. Second, when G. G. Ponnambalam demanded 50-50, he was offered 45 percent. He rejected that and insisted on 50 -50.

Colossal blunder

As pointed out by political scientist Prof. A. J. Wilson and historian Prof. Sinnappah Arasaratnam, it was a colossal blunder.

These two major events prove that there was always willingness on the part of the South to accommodate the North.

The final proof came when Chelvanayakam, the father of separatism, discovered that there was ample room for peaceful co-existence through cooperative politics.

The best period for inter-ethnic relations was when the Tamils worked jointly with the Sinhalese. Prof. Wilson wrote: “Yet for all this (unfulfilled promises) the period of Dudley Senanayake’s ‘National government”, 1965 -1970, marked the golden years of Sinhala-Tamil reconciliation. The President of the FP, S. M. Rasamanickam, in his presidential address to the annual convention of 1969, spoke of the rewarding relationship: “During the past four years we were able to gain some rights, if not all of what we expected, through the method of cooperation.”

FP parliamentarians for once had the opportunity of participating in Government and of benefiting from belonging to the Government parliamentary group. They had endured a period of tribulation when the Bandaranaikes were in office in 1956 – 1965 and the 1965 – 1970 phase had been the much-needed breathing spell.”


This is a telling piece of evidence, coming from the highest Tamil political sources, which debunks the political myth that the Sinhala-Tamil relations were irretrievably irreconcilable because of the intransigence of “the Sinhala Governments” to negotiate with the Tamils and accommodate the Tamil needs.

Clearly, there were “golden” opportunities for both sides to negotiate within the non-violent democratic framework, despite the sporadic ethnic explosions and complaints of discriminations. As stated by Rasamanickam, there were always means of achieving political goals through “the method of cooperation”, though dilatory. But the Tamils opted for the Vadukoddai formula which meant war. Each mishap was exploited by the Tamil leadership to crank up hate politics and demonise the Sinhala-Buddhist South as the enemy of the Tamils that had to be defeated.

Tamil extremism was escalating hate politics to a violent pitch. The Sansoni Commission report documents how the Tamil leadership spoke of non-violence in Parliament and stoked violence in Jaffna. For instance, it records the evidence of how two Tamil leaders, A. Amirthalingam and T. Sivasithamparam, openly condoned the killings of “the boys”. Quite brazenly, without any moral compunction, they encouraged the killings of the “boys” promising to defend them in courts. That is the fundamental difference in the politics of the North and the South: the South had no organised militant units based on hate culture to launch racist attacks targeting those perceived to be the enemies of the state, including dissidents. In the South, the sporadic violence fizzled out almost soon after the outburst.

The North had numerous militant units organised specifically to pursue politics of hate to the extreme end. According to Taraki, (pseudonym of Dharmeratnam Sivaram), a leading Tamil journalist, there were 37 militant units in 1983, the largest and the most effective being the LTTE and PLOTE. There were no such killing machines organised at the grassroots level to target the perceived enemy systematically in the South. The South had sporadic mob violence which invariably was knee-jerk reactions to Tamil provocative violence.

The ruthlessness of Tamil violence exhibited its brutal face when the LTTE assassinated Amirthalingam and Neeelan Tiruchelvam – two of the leading intellectuals who manufactured legal and theoretical excuses for the violence of the “Iyakkum” (movement). It was their lethal ideological bullets that ricocheted and hit them.

The “Sinhala state”, on the contrary, protected the Tamil Parliamentarians who had sworn allegiance to Velupillai Prabhakaran, the enemy of the state. In short, the “Sinhala state” was giving protection to the enemies of the state. The “Sinhala state” was also commended by the UNICEF for being the only state that provided essentials – food, medicine, welfare facilities – to a rebel-held territory. If by any chance there was a short supply of the essentials or delay in delivering due to bureaucratic bungling, there was a huge cry by the intellectuals, particularly in the NGOs, accusing the “Sinhala state” of the using food and medicine as weapons of war.

The role played by the Tamil MPs was like that of other peaceniks: both used their accusations, theories and cries for peace to tie the hands of the “Sinhala state” and strengthen the hands of Prabhakaran to prolong his war. Every mishap, misstep, misstatement, was used by them to justify the refusals of Prabhakaran to negotiate. The intellectuals failed to recognise that it was their excuses that emboldened Prabhakaran to prolong the war. He knew that the intellectuals were there behind him to justify his war-mongering tactics.

A glaring example is that of the three intellectuals – Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Charles Abeysekera, an NGO apparatchik, and, most of all, Bishop Kenneth Fernando – who sat at the feet of Prabhakaran, drank his Orange Barley, (a fizzy drink), chewed his biscuits and came back to Colombo from Vanni, to glorify him. With his two fellow-travellers on both sides, Bishop Kenneth Fernando told a press conference that Prabhakaran is “humane”.

Indiscriminate killer

It was logically impossible for an indiscriminate killer of dissident Tamils and non-combatant civilians to be “humane”. He demanded total obedience to his one-man regime and had no reservations about liquidating dissident Tamils. It is incredible that a Bishop of the Anglican Church would justify the indiscriminate massacres of non-combatant civilians as “humane”.

The other two intellectuals who flanked him gave their consent with their silence. The mendacity of our leading intellectual is execrable. It is our intellectual who gave oxygen for Prabhakaran to pursue violence with a vengeance. He knew that there are professors, Churchmen at the highest level, and intellectuals in organised centres of research, who were willing to suck his toes just for a glass of Orange Barley served at this table.

Among partisan intellectuals, it was a common practice to lie on behalf of Prabhakaran and his regime. Take the case of Jehan Perera, the head of the National Peace Council. He referred to Anton Balasingham, the theoretician of the LTTE, as “Dr.” Balasingham, knowing that he never had a doctorate. When I asked him why he conferred a doctorate on Balasingham knowing very well that he had not earned one, his reply was that others too do the same.

Our conversation didn’t stop at that. In the end, he promised not to use it. But he never did. He continued to lie misleading the public. Why did our intellectual deliberately lie? Answer: Simple. They are biased. They are out to justify, and sometimes even glorify Tamil violence. Lies are told to cover up the crimes and the only way crimes can be covered is by lying.

Lies are told because your sympathies are with those who had committed the crimes. Lies are also told to elevate the criminals to a higher status of respectability like conferring doctorates to those who have not earned it. In short, our intellectuals were complicit in the crimes committed by the Tamils. Uyangoda and Jehan are two intellectual scavengers who were ever ready to clean up the blood spilt by the Tamil killers.

The scales of their pretentious political morality were always weighted in favour of Tamil violence. The worst offenders were the Tamil intellectuals. The common morality of the Tamil intellectuals was to defend Prabhakaranism as a liberating force. As the success of Prabhakaranism depended on pure violence – it never relied on diplomacy, negotiations or compromises – their intellectual energies were focused on defending Tamil violence. Justifying and/or glorifying Tamil violence was an indispensable political strategy.

Rationalising violence

The success of Prabhakaran, for instance, was measured by the corpses he buried. His war chest increased in proportion to the new widows he left behind. It was his power to kill that elevated his status to Surya Devan. His early military success raised the hopes of the Tamil intellectuals. Rationalising violence became a specialised intellectual activity among the Tamil intelligentsia.

A high water-mark in Tamil society, particularly in the Tamil diaspora, was to receive recognition from Prabhakaran. Tamil intellectuals were craving to receive honours from Prabhakaran. Prof. Jeyam Eliezer, the leader of the Australian “Iyakkum”, for instance, thought it was a great honour to be awarded the title of Mahamanithar (Distinguished Person) by Prabhakaran, the worst killer of Tamils banned by the international community. He celebrated this honour in January 1998. It was a time when Tamil violence had reached divine status: Prabhakaran was worshipped as Surya Devan.

By 1976, the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist politics of the North had reached a point of no return, demanding a separate state or else……….? At this point, the Tamil leadership was stuck. There was nothing to aspire to beyond the demand of setting up a separate state. The next step was to declare war to achieve it.

Separatism had led them to violence. In passing the Vadukoddai Resolution, they had painted  themselves into an ineluctable corner. Declaring war was the only option left to fight their way out of the corner. So, separatism led to the declaration of war in the Vadukoddai Resolution which dragged them all the way to Nandikadal. The incremental Tamil extremism, driving Tamil politics all the way from demanding one seat in the Western Province in the 20s to Vadukoddai declaration of war in 1976, determined the ill-fated and short-sighted politics of the North. They dug their own grave by pursuing extremist politics that escalated incrementally from one seat in the Legislative Council to separatism in Vadukoddai. The rest, as they say, is history.

This incontrovertible sequence of events that unravelled incrementally driving the North to the end of mono-ethnic extremism in Vadukoddai is recorded in history. But it is precisely this sequence that has been brushed aside by the intellectuals in surveying the North-South conflict. The partisan intellectuals invariably begin their history from 1956 – the critical year in which the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hate politics stoked in the North clashed head-on with the nationalist forces of the south.

Starting from 1956 is, however, advantageous to Tamil politics because it leaves out a whole chunk of history that had gathered momentum in the North from the twenties. Northern history was throbbing and waiting for an opening to come sweeping down to the South like a juggernaut destroying everything in its wake.

Nationalist Movement

It is at this point that the intellectuals stepped in forcefully to demonise S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. Tamil attempts to block the nationalist movement to gain independence had failed. On November 20, 1947, G. G. Ponnambalam, the then acknowledged leader of the Tamils, cabled Whitehall “asking for the right of self-determination for the Tamils” (p. 30 – Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its origins and Development in the 19th and 20th centuries, A. J. Wilson). This was the year in which Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam were fighting each other for leadership in Jaffna.

Chelvanayakan had called for a plebiscite on self-determination for Tamils. Besides, the low-castes were also getting restive. The threat of Jaffna fragmenting on caste lines was a possibility. Vellala casteism which ruled Jaffna had lost its power to retain its supremacy. There was no ideology for the Vellalas to hold Jaffna together under their hegemony except the Tamil language. As a last resort, they latched on to the language issue to save their skin. The Sinhala Only Act was the gift that Bandaranaike gave Chelvanayakam to overthrow Ponnambalam and take over the leadership of Jaffna.

In the South, the English-speaking elite of all three communities ganged up against Bandaranaike. They were the ruling elite of the nation. They also constituted the intellectual elite. The “1956 wave” busted the supremacy of the minority (6 percent) English-speaking rulers. The hostility to linguistic democratisation was essentially an elitist resistance.

With great foresight, Bandaranaike had redressed the historical imbalances. He was not anti-Tamil. Nor did he overthrow Tamil. The Sinhala Only Act overthrew only English and the English-speaking elite who never forgave him. They too joined the Tamils in demonising him as a reactionary racist.

Not surprisingly, the English-speaking intellectuals too joined them and distorted history to demean and ridicule the Sinhala-Buddhists. This, in brief, is the history that brought us to where we are today. (To be continued)

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