Real factors behind SL’s independence
Posted on February 4th, 2015

Janaka Perera

Before 1939 the British were in no great hurry to grant self-rule to their colonies, despite all the heroic freedom struggles, notably in India, and the campaigns for constitutional reforms in countries like Sri Lanka. It fact British leaders like Winston Churchill wanted to keep forever the empire on which the sun would never set.”

Meanwhile in the Far East the Empire of the Rising Sun was in the making. By the late 1930s Imperial Japan had already colonized the whole of Korea and occupied a good part of China.

To counter Japan’s aggressive moves the United States began a steadily escalating campaign of economic sanctions.  And by the summer of 1941 Japan was no longer able to purchase any materials from the U.S. This was a major blow for the Japanese, particularly because Japan was completely dependent upon U.S. imports for its oil supply.  As a result Tokyo was compelled to look for oil and other raw materials elsewhere, if necessary through military means.

The dark clouds of World War II were now beginning to appear on the horizon. It did not take long for the British and other Western colonial powers to wake up from their slumber. The Japanese onslaught in the Pacific that began in December 1941 with the surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Fleet in Pearl Harbour – two years after the outbreak of war in Europe – marked the beginning of the end of the European colonialism in Asia.  Until then the transplanted European life-style in the colonies had virtually isolated the rulers from the natives.

Japan’s success in humbling the United States, Britain, France and the Netherlands in the early days of the Pacific War dealt a mortal blow to the white man’s ego and image in South-East Asia. The quick Japanese victories in 1941-42 showed the natives that Europeans were not superior to Asians. Japanese propagandists claimed that they were waging war to secure Asia for Asians.”  Tokyo called it the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.

On September 5, 1939 (two years before Japan entered the war) Leader of the State Council and Home Affairs Minister Sir D.B. Jayatilleke had introduced a loyalty motion in the House assuring His Majesty the King and the British Government of Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon) wholehearted support in the prosecution of the war.

Now Britain and other European colonial powers were fighting with their backs to the wall.  The possibility of natives collaborating with the enemy and of sabotage could not be ruled out. Already, Asian Nationalists like Subhas Chandra Bose, Aung San and Soekarno were collaborating with the Japanese. (Years after the war, President J.R. Jayewardene revealed how he and Dudley Senanayake had met the Japanese Consul in Colombo to offer their cooperation shortly before hostilities began).

In early February 1942, the Venerable Gunaratane Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, the Venerable Sri Dheerananda Thera of the Malwatte Chapter and the Venerable Jinananda Thera, Secretary, Udunuwara Udapalatha Sangha Sabha, in order to allay the Colonial Government’s fears, pledged their loyalty to the British at a meeting of the laity and the clergy in Udunuwara in the Kandy District. They also agreed to render whatever assistance towards an Allied Victory in the war. The speakers at the meeting assured the authorities that Buddhism being one of Japan’s major religions did not affect their loyalty to the British crown. At that time the Japanese Military Government had made Shintoism (the country’s native religion) Japan’s State Religion.

Nevertheless when Japan conquered the Far East, Sir D.B. and other national leaders, as a precautionary measure, secretly advised the Buddhist clergy to get into laymen’s clothing and go into hiding in the event of a Japanese landing in the island. Sir D.B. and others had got wind of a possible move by the Colonial Government to arrest bhikkus in the light of events in Buddhist Myanmar, where a 30,000-strong Myanmar Independence Army was fighting the British on the side of the Japanese.

However an event which occurred when Japanese carrier-based aircraft raided Colombo and suburbs on April 5, 1942, boosted the image of Sinhala Buddhists in the eyes of the British Authorities. During a ‘dog fight’ that morning over the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, a Japanese Zero fighter shot down a British fighter plane.  When the pilot bailed out, the Japanese aircraft circled and came back diving at him with cannons blazing. But in the nick of time a young bhikku in the Vihara dragged the British pilot to safety, covering him with the monk’s yellow robe. The bhikku’s brave act earned high commendations from the Colonial Government.

With the loss of Malaya (Malaysia) and Singapore to the Japanese the ports of Colombo and Trincomalee became vital to the British war effort as a link between Europe and the Far East. Sri Lanka also played a crucial role as a rubber producer for the Allies during the world war. The island’s importance for the British was such that the Allied South-East Asia Command (SEAC) under Admiral Earl (later Lord) Louis Mountbatten was shifted from New Delhi to Kandy in 1944.

Fr. S.G. Perera in his ‘Ceylon History’ stated that the unstinting support of Sri Lanka’s conservative leaders to the cause of Britain and her allies was a key factor in the demand for Constitutional reforms.

This was in contrast to India, where the patriots were in a dilemma. According to Indian Author Kushwant Singh the crux of it was whether to go all out to aid Britain and then demand freedom for themselves or insist on a declaration of independence and then put their full weight behind the Western Allies. To the British, India’s loyalty was crucial to winning the war. Indian soldiers played a major role in the war against the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan).

A section of these troops, however, had joined the fiery Indian Nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose who formed the Japanese-backed Indian National Army to fight the British. Some of them also served in the Indian Legion which the Germans had formed at the request of Bose. Next to Mahatma Gandhi, Bose was the most popular Indian Leader at the time.

Meanwhile, the Quit India Movement – a sporadic outburst of anti-British consciousness – was shaking the British Administration in many parts of the subcontinent. Under pressure from the Opposition within the British National Government, London sent Sir Stafford Cripps to India with an offer of a Constitution-making body after the end of hostilities.

World War II left Britain a battered and impoverished nation and not all the rhetoric of Winston Churchill could disguise it. Despite the defeat of the Axis Powers the war was the final blow to the British Empire. But the British were realists and knew their game was up. Prime Minister Clement Atlee went ahead with what Churchill would not and drew plans to liquidate the empire on which the sun would never set.”

On September 2, 1945 a historic agreement was signed at SEAC Headquarters in Kandy, Sri Lanka, heralding the independence of Myanmar. The agreement was concluded between SEAC Commander Admiral Mountbatten and General Aung San who broke ties with the Japanese on condition that Britain gives full independence to Myanmar.   Two years later Aung San, fell victim to a political murder conspiracy, on the eve of that country’s independence.

Sri Lanka gained independence a year after the British left India in August 1947.

One Response to “Real factors behind SL’s independence”

  1. R.M.W Says:

    How did Ceylon Get independence without firing a shot!!!

    Thanks you, I was not aware of this part of the history.

    But this I must add; President Roosevelt supported independence of India and pushed for independence to India as a precondition for their aid under WW II, but as usual Churchill manipulated the situation. No wonder he lost the election held just after the war!

    And Indian freedom movement was getting out of control and the British could not contain it and Gandhi too!
    So they rushed it through with the Muslims and Hindu conflicts gaining momentum. If the British would not have given Independence I fear, those Hindu – Muslim massacres on division of India would have been directed at the British Colonialists! So they had to get out of India fast, and keep their prestige intact!

    Indeed why did Lanka get it so easily without killing a soul? Because the Catholic Church controlled the country. This through the Heads of the Armey, Navy, Air force and The Police was as usual in the hands of the Holy Church.
    It is with the coming to power of SWRD and later Mrs. B only the Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinist stated to get a voice! But they controlled it thorough characters such as Ranil for Mr. R is disguised as Buddhist and trying making a celebration for 500 hundred years of landing of the Catholics in The Island by 2003!

    A Hindu Tamil a friend of mine told me, (he got his qualification from a Moscow University). He wanted to get a job and understood who had the power! He wanted to outwit the Tamil Catholic action, so met a Tamil Catholic Priest and acted as a he is moving towards Dravidian Christianity … For his efforts he received a letter from the Priest.

    The letters simply stated “I know Ratnas…;” and requested him go to any big firm and show this letter and you would definitely get a job! The year was 1967!

    Event today the All of the English News papers are controlled by the Catholic action? Indeed may I query from the Author of this piece, can he put this piece in the Daily News or The Observer even today?

    Mahinda Weerasinghe

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