Chelvanayakam’s Maradana speech (1949) paved the path to Nandikadal (2009) Part I
Posted on December 1st, 2014

H. L. D. Mahindapala

December 18, 1949, which happened to be a Sunday, has been ignored by social scientists who should have evaluated it critically, at least for its bloody consequences which ended eventually in Nandikadal.  It was the day on which Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK , Tamil State Party disguised as Federal Party) was launched officially. It was the day on which S. J. V. Chelvanayakam delivered his presidential address of the newly formed Tamil separatist party, expressing fears of the Tamils being wiped out by the majoritarian rule of the Sinhalese, thereby setting the tone and the future  direction of Tamil politics. These fears expressed in his speech will be examined  in detail later in another article..

It was the day that Chelvanayakam set out officially to carve out a political career of his own after he broke away from G. G. Ponnambalam, the acknowledged Tamil leader of the day heading the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC). That was the day he laid his imprint on the sands of Jaffna aiming to be the  Jinnah of Jaffna. More importantly, it was the day on which Chelvanayakam spelt out publicly his separatist ideology for the first time to the Tamils as a manifesto of his divisive politics.

The new ideology of separatism contained in Chelvanayakam’s speech  signaled the climax of mono-ethnic extremism of the Vellahlas that has been creeping up incrementally in the 20s and 30s. Resistance to break up a nation is inevitable in any political context. Separatism and violence are inseparable. In the  historical context of Sri Lanka it was an ideology that could be pursued only through violence, as proved by the  evolving events. And the Maradana speech which contained all the seeds of separatism exploded eventually in inevitable violence, particularly after it was revised and directed towards militarism in the Vadukoddai Resolution of  May 1976.

Though the Maradana speech claimed  to have laid down reasons and the conditions for a federal state it was couched in deceptive ambiguity, leaving  it wide open for little now and more later” policy enunciated by Chelvanayakam  (p.128 – S.J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, A. Jeyaratnam Wilson. Lake House Bookshop, 1993).. The leap-frogging that went from one extra seat in the 20s to 50-50 in the 30s and to federalism in the ‘40s confirmed the  ”little now and more later” policy  of the Jaffna manipulators aiming at separatism.  The next step was separatism (Eelam) which came predictably in the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976. The decisive leap into separatism, disguised initially  as federalism, was taken  on December 18, 1949 which deserves serious attention, considering that it opened up a whole new chapter in Jaffna Tamil politics.

Chelvanayakam’s Maradana speech was published by ITAK as Booklet Series No.1”. The cover presented the speech as the Presidential Address of Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, K.C., Member of Parliament, delivered at The Inaugural and First Business meeting of THE ILLANKAI TAMIL ARASU KADCHI (The Federal Freedom Party of Tamil-speaking People of Ceylon) on 18th December, 1949 at the G.C. S. U. Hall, Colombo – Price Cts. 50”. Chelvanayakam’s calculated speech contained merely the seminal  outline of Tamil separatist politics which was to blow up later into a devastating movement, marginalizing even the Marxist revolutionaries of various shades – from Trotskyism to Maoism.

However, at the time it was delivered it fizzled out as  a non-event as far as the mainstream media reportage went.  On the evening of Monday 19th December, 1949, only the Times of Ceylon ran a couple of paragraphs in one of its inside  pages recording the event at Maradana. Then on page 5 of The Times of Ceylon of December 27th 1949 the following letter was published in response to Chelvanaykam’s speech:


Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, K.C., M.P., seems to be in great fear that the Tamil community will be wiped off the face of Ceylon.

It should be clear to all, who have the well-being of the Tamils at heart, that such a catastrophe can  never happen. I would refer Mr. Chelvanayakam to the Civil List, the General Clerical Service Seniority List, and other similar publications. They show the exact position. What more does he want?

(Signed) Friend of Tamils.

This letter refers to the disproportionate share of jobs that the English-educated Tamils of Jaffna held in government service. It was the biggest growth industry of the time and Tamils of Jaffna – mainly the English-educated Vellahlas – formed a formidable force in the ranks of government service. It was also meant to indicate that the Tamils were a privileged community holding not  only disproportionate share but also key jobs in the upper echelons of government service and the fears expressed by Chelvanayakam at Maradana were contrary to stark realities of the day. The cry of discrimination, based essentially on the share of jobs in government service, (this will be examined later) was one of the main issues on which Chelvanayakam raised his fears to drive Northern Tamils to the extreme point of separatism.

Chelvanayakam’s launch of ITAK, it must be noted, was also a non-event in the political landscape. Nor was it an earth-shattering event in Jaffna. By and large, the public was indifferent to the first public outburst of separatism led by Chelvanayakam. It was a time when the Marxists were the most vociferous and dominant force both in trade unions and electoral politics. No one expected the Maradana event staged by Chelvanayakam to be the cataclysmic force that exploded in the post-Vadukoddai violence.

The Maradana speech was the prelude to the Vadukoddai Resolution which was adopted unanimously by the Jaffna Tamil leadership on May 14, 1976. The Vadukoddai Resolution fleshed out the overall framework of peninsular politics adumbrated earlier in Maradana. It is the Maradana ideology that eventually wound its way to Nandikadal. The road from Maradana (1949)  to Nandikadal (2009), which was repaired and reinforced in Vadukoddai (1976), ran through rivers of blood. It ran for sixty years – years spent in futility when non-violent paths were open for the Tamils of Jaffna to achieve their reasonable demands in the democratic mainstream.

The events that unraveled from the Maradana speech have proved that neither separatism nor its concomitant violence was necessary, as seen in the conduct of other  minorities who managed their differences with the majority Sinhalese through non-violent politics. The self-destructive Tamil violence originated from their  ill-conceived, ill-fated decision taken at Vadukoddai to declare war against the nation.

After the total collapse of the armed separatist movement in Nandikadal (2009)  the leaders of the Tamil community are now proclaiming that they have abandoned separatist politics and they are for a united Sri Lanka with, of course, 13 plus.  If, after taking the violent  route from Maradana to Nandikadal,  they have returned now to square one plus 13, why did the Tamil leaders, including the present  leadership in TNA, back the Tamil Pol Pot who was their chosen instrument to implement the Maradana-Vadukoddai declarations? Doesn’t it make the violent phase  of Tamil politics the  work of misguided Tamil leaders who overrated their power to dictate terms  to the nation?

All the machinations of the Jaffna political elite culminated in producing Velupillai Prabhakaran, a pathological killer” (Prof.James Jupp, Australian  National University). Ironically, his victims were mainly Tamils. Tamil leaders are on record saying that Prabhakaran killed more Tamils than all the others forces put together. What is more, the Tamil elite were happy to follow his lead and surrender their rights to Prabhakaran’s one-man rule without questioning. The few who dared to resist him were either eliminated or hunted relentlessly by his trained assassins. Despite their claim to be intellectually superior to others the entire Tamil leadership embraced the brutal violence of Tamil Pol Pot who came out of the Maradana-Vadukoddai political culture. Prabhakaran was hailed by the Tamil elite, particularly by those in the Catholic Church and the Diaspora,  as the  legitimate flag-bearer of the Maradana-Vadukoddai ideology.

Tragically, the fog of ideological myths blinded them to the grim realities facing the Tamils. They literally refused to read, understand and grapple with the realities of the times. They implicitly and slavishly relied on the  invincible  power” of a single fanatic who knew only how to kill and not to negotiate with a flexible skill to achieve his goal. . They put all their eggs in one basket and the violence generated by the Maradana-Vadukoddai ideology boomeranged and crushed them in Nandikadal.  There is no one to blame except the Tamils who have an unquenchable thirst to believe  in their myths manufactured to chase elusive mirages (e.g: Eelams) that were doomed to perish before their own eyes.

Maradana and Vadukoddai proved to be fatal to the Tamils. They were hoisted by their own petard.  They thought that they were riding a winning political horse that would take them to Eelam. But the wild, unmanageable horse they rode took them to Nandikadal instead. The sagacity and the capacity of the Tamil leadership to lead their people responsibly and non-violently would have been confirmed if they avoided the turns they took to mono-ethnic extremism in Maradana and Vadukoddai. But in hindsight it is now obvious that the English-educated Vellahla leadership, obsessed by an unwarranted sense of arrogance, intransigence and superiority, took the wrong turns in Maradana and Vadukoddai.

In Maradana Chelvanayakam took the first wrong turn to nowhere. In Vadukoddai, unaware of the frightening forces of terror he was unleashing, he went through the wording with a fine comb and endorsed violence, blaming the Sinhalese and declaring  war  after, mark you, having gain(ed) some rights, if not all of what we experienced, throughout the method of cooperation,” as stated by S.M. Rasamanickam, in his 1969 presidential address to the Federal Party.(p. 111 – Ibid, Wilson).  Rasamanickam was summing  up the political experiences and the positive outcomes gained by the Federal Party in joining  the Dudley Senanayake government. Prof. Wilson went further and concluded that the period of Dudley Senanayake’s ‘National Government’, 1965 – 70, marked the golden years of Sinhala Tamil reconciliation.” (Ibid – p. 111).  This gives the lie to the Tamil separatists’ claim that there was no political space for them to win their rights within the democratic mainstream of Sri Lankan politics dominated  by the Sinhala majority. (More of this later.)

Prior to December 18, 1949 the Tamils of the North had no cohesive nationalist movement / ideology aimed at achieving a separate state. There were vague rumblings but there was no organized political structure, nor a formidable movement  or a  defined ideology, even vaguely,  to divide the nation on ethnic lines. A movement that could move the masses against another community needed an ideology. Jaffna needed a bonding ideology to unite the internal fissiparous forces coming  apart on casteist lines. Jaffna was threatened by internal caste divisions that were beginning to raise its head, slowly but surely, against  the crumbling Vellahla ancien regime clinging on to their feudalistic and colonial privileges. And there was none, other than the 50-50” cry raised by G. G. Ponnambalam, the acknowledged leader who shot into prominence in the ‘30a exploiting anti-Sinhala-Buddhist racism.

Ethnic politics rose to a new level of intensity when Ponnambalam formed his All-Ceylon Tamil Congress in 1944. This political organization reinforced the rising forces of mono-ethnic extremism in the north. He had escalated the demands of the Tamils from one extra seat in the Legislature carved out from the Sinhala-dominated Western province, in addition to the seats given to them in the Tamil-dominated north, to a fifty per cent share of power to the 12% Tamils in the north. Though he disguised this demand to represent all the minorities – the  Tamils in the Eastern and Central Hills, the Burghers, the Moors the Malays and even the Europeans who were considered a part of the minorities at the time, – none of them fell in line with him on this demand. So it remained essentially as a 50% share for the 12% Tamils of the north.

Besides, at a time when colonized countries were battling for independence on the  rising waves of nationalism Ponnambalam led campaigns focused on giving weightage to the minorities on a percentage basis. The futility of this campaign of percentage politics was highlighted by Prof. A. J. Wilson when he wrote: G. G. Ponnambalam spearheaded the demand for balance representation for the minority communities (known as ‘fifty-fifty’), this implied a communally based legislature with 50 per cent of the seats for all the minorities – Ceylon Tamils, Indian Tamils,  Malays, Moors, Burghers and Europeans – and 50 per cent for the Sinhalese. However, this was not supported beyond a large section of the Ceylon Tamils of the Jaffna peninsula and Colombo. The Eastern Province Tamil representatives  in the State Council were not in favour of it, and the Indian Tamils were not definitely committed. The Muslims under T. B. Jayah’s leadership expressed qualified approval, but other prominent Muslim leaders did not accept the  formula as a solution. Finally the Governor Sir. Andrew Caldecott, in his Reforms Despatch to the Colonial office in 1938, refused to endorse it, It received a mortal blow when one of the fifty-fifty group, Arunachalam Mahadeva, broke ranks on being elected to the Donoughmore Board of Ministers and declared that, as far as the imperial government was concerned, it was” as dead as a dodo.” (p.12 — Wilson ) .

The refusal of other communities to tag along with Ponnambalam’s fifty-fifty” led to the natural death of his campaign which never really got off the ground. Eventually Ponnambalam joined the first national government led by D. S. Senanayake and forgot about his outrageous” demand for a share of fifty per cent to 12% Jaffna Tamils.  Like Chelvanayakam’s Eelam movement it was doomed to fail. The two acknowledged leaders of the Jaffna-led movements failed to take Tamils anywhere near their promised  goals. While other Tamil-speaking minorities – the Indian Tamils and the Muslims – cooperated with the majority and resolved their differences, the Tamil leadership went berserk, believing  in myths manufactured by them to prop up their mono-ethnic fantasies. .

The fifty-fifty” claim was essentially a political ruse by the Tamil leadership to grab a disproportionate share of power to the casteist elite of the  12% minority of Tamils in the North.  This obsession to grab an undue share of  power to an elitist  majority of the Jaffna Tamil minority has been the bane of inter-ethnic relations that led to the Maradana speech and finally to Nandikadal.  All Tamil politics, driven by the Jaffna Tamil leadership (unlike the other minority leaders), has been bedeviled by a refusal to co-exist with the  other  communities in the democratic mainstream. Obsessed by the arrogance of ethnic superiority (Jaffnaites considered themselves to be superior even to the Batticoloa Tamils and the Indian coolies” in the  hill country) they insisted perennially on a disproportionate share of jobs in government service, seats in the legislature, political power and territory.

More importantly, when the waves of nationalism rising against colonialism  were sweeping Afro-Asia in the post-World War II period the Tamil leadership was with the Sinhala nationalists / memorialists jointly campaigning for national independence. The Tamil separatist ideology was manufactured late in the day, after Sri Lanka gained  independence. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam acknowledged the absence of a nationalist  movement in his Maradana speech. He said : The solution by way of a separate autonomous  state for the Tamil speaking areas was a new idea to which people had not given much thought.” (p.283 – Tamil Person and State,  Pictorial, Michael Roberts, which reproduces the full text of the original Presidential speech of Chelvanayakam at the inaugural meeting of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, (ITAK)  held at the Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU) Hall, in Maradana, Colombo — Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014.)

Even at this late stage, the separatist movement launched by Chelvanayakam in Maradana did not catch fire  as a passionate nationalist movement – ideologically, organizationally/structurally or demographically — to achieve goals of separatism. In other words, the idea of nationalism remained as an alien concept to the Tamils in 1949.  Chelvanayakam’s aim to be the  Jinnah of Jaffna received a severe blow when he lost his seat in the parliamentary elections of 1952. But in his Maradana speech he had laid the seeds that were to steer Jaffna politics to Nandikadal.  At Maradana his aim was to mobilize thee English-educated, Saivite, Jaffna Vellahlas (ESJVs) elite to mono-ethnic extremism. He succeeded in that. There was no returning back to sanity from Maradana.

It gathered a momentum of its own and raced to its nemesis in Nandikadal. From its origins in the 20s to grab an additional seat in the Western Province, on top of the seats allocated to the Jaffna Tamils in the North, it morphed into a claim of 50-50” in the 30s. In the forties Chelvanayakam took it to the extreme of demanding a separate state (disguised initially as federalism) in his inaugural speech at Maradana. He restructured the Maradana outline to a more broader concept of Eelam in Vadukoddai in May 14, 1976. At Vadukoddai he decided to opt out  of  the democratic stream and take up arms. This so-called Gandhi of Jaffna went all out to embrace militarism.

The rest, of course, is history written in the blood, sweat, tears and graves of the Tamil people.. They paid the price for his misguided politics that took them nowhere.

10 Responses to “Chelvanayakam’s Maradana speech (1949) paved the path to Nandikadal (2009) Part I”

  1. cwije Says:


    Your efforts and my small effort are lost now because MahindaR gave 13-A ladder to TNA. Instead of past history we now have to think how to get the 13-A abolished.

  2. Senevirath Says:

    is there any politician who wants to scrap 13a and palaath sabhaa as far as I know now nobody is talking about it. has any body questioned about it from these candidates.?

  3. Independent Says:

    At the moment only JHU still have this intention. If you listen to Champika’s and Ratana Theros talks I posted elsewhere.
    President has already given 13A fully (note police powers are illegal according to supreme courts decision) , waiting the election win to give them PLUS to satisfy Modi to escape from war crimes (even though he did not do any war crime) .

    I read this 13 A recently. It does not explicitly say this area is Tamil Homeland. But it says Tamil Language shall be sued as official language in North and East. This sentence should be removed.
    But it also say the if some one request Sinhala they have to give them Sinhala. But recently when බැලුම්ගල​ called the East Palaathsabha they pretended not knowing any Sinhala. They said Tamil only.

  4. Vimutti Says:

    Senevirath – Now we have the EVIDENCE that Maithripala will retain and “build on” the 13th amendment to devolve power to the North and East.

    In a New Town Hall meeting with doctors over the weekend, Maithripala says if elected he intends to implement ALL of the recommendations of the LLRC, including this recommendation:

    “- A good-faith effort should be taken to develop a consensus on power devolution, building on what exists [13th Amendment] – both, for maximum possible devolution to the periphery, as well as power sharing at the centre.”

    So Lorenzo’s speculation that Maithrapala will abolish the 13th Amendment and is not interested in dividing Sri Lanka into small parts as desired by the Tamil separatist crowd is plainly false.

    I already knew this was the case based on the actors who are sponsoring the Maithripala candidacy, but now we have it straight out of Maithripala’s mouth.

    And, no, Lorenzo – JHU is countered by the TNA, Ranil, and Chandrika (known devolution backers) in the MS camp, and these are much more radical elements in favor of separatism. JHU is narrowly focused on the executive presidency, even though they SHOULD know that the Sri Lanka constitution does not allow MS to abolish the executive presidency (can only be done with 2/3rds majority of parliament and referendum) even if by some miracle he got elected as president of Sri Lanka.

  5. Lorenzo Says:


    No. MS will not entertain TNA demands. He has not done so until now. For MOST Tamils, the ONLY thing that matters is to get rid of MR. They know they CANNOT BARGAIN. If MS disagrees, they still vote for him because they KNOW otherwise MR will have it easy. So don’t expect MS to bend down their demands. MOST Muslims also want MR out at ANY COST. These DESPERATE desires make them easy to bargain with.

    There is NOTHING MORE to give in 13 amendment. MR has given everything. Land powers are ANYWAY out because the SC decided against land powers. Police powers cannot be given because our police is NOT organized by province.
    Compare the two camps for 13 amendment.

    The MOST ANTI-13 – JHU with MS.
    The MOST PRO-13 – Dayan J, DBSJ, KP, KA, GLP, etc. with MR.

    On the 13 front, MS has won already.

    But MR still has time. If he gets his parliament to SCRAP 13 amendment, he will win. NOT otherwise. MR cannot save both Endia and SL.

  6. Christie Says:

    The writer always try to lead us to believe it is all Tamils doing it to themselves, but then Tamils are Indians.

  7. Independent Says:

    You said “For MOST Tamils, the ONLY thing that matters is to get rid of MR.”. But since he is good for them, may be votes shifted to him by another 5-10% is my guess.

  8. cwije Says:

    1. 13-A cannot mention Tamil homeland. How it is done was: 1987 agreement says it and 13-A is a result of 1987 agreement.

    2. MaithreepalaS MOU does not speak of 13-A for obvious valid reasons. It does not want 13-A controversy upset the MOU of several parties. They agree on items they can agree, that is how MOUs are done.

    3. If JHU also joinde with this MOU later they can help Maithreepala to convince Ranil to abolish 13-A and created Jana Sabhas.

    4. BBS and Ravana Balaya blundered by taking a hasty decision. They should have waited like the way JHU is waiting.

    5. War crimes fear is a beggar’s wound for MR. There is no such threat. The threat is self-created. Promises given by MR to Banki Moon and Indian Singh. Giving TNA a platform with NPC elections.

    6. Domestic mess and ugly behavior created by MR and BR. Mismanagement.

    Please think of all sides and not just your bias mind.

    7. If MR agrees to abolish 13-A he can still win. Otherwise, this time he is in big trouble. In 2010 he did not have a bad record of mismanagement and corruption against him. In 2010 SarathF was a lose cannon. Now the old SLFP is rising against MR because MR allowed Namal etc to play havoc.

    8. See the tears of Janaka Bandara in you tube. That SLFP will not vote for MR. Besides women like CBK despite all her defects. After all the crook of CBK, PB Jayasundara is now MR’s cashier!!!

    9. MR govt is exUNPers govt!!!

    Think about these….

  9. Lorenzo Says:

    I agree with CWije.

    Had MR a few of these people around him, he would not be in this mess.

    I’m very sad how it all ends for MR. Such an opportunity he lost trying to fill the Tamil aspirations BLACK HOLE with Sinhala money.

    From what I know Sinhalese are very nice easy going people but if you fool them they become really nasty with NO soft corner for you. I don’t think they will forgive MR for some blunders.

    The YARL DEVI blunder is playing big havoc. New trains have been added but they too start from Jaffna!! What’s the point.

  10. SA Kumar Says:

    they too start from Jaffna!! – No Jal Devi start from Colombo fort (Maradana) & returning from Japa padina.
    New service running between Jalpanam & Kilinochchi ( in NP- Saiva TE)

    Mahaveli or Kalu ganga will come to Iranamadu kulam ( If MR elected 3rd term).

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