Maradana – The Birthplace Of Tamil Nationalism Part II
Posted on December 1st, 2014

By H. L. D. Mahindapala –

Part II

One of the oddities that casts a slur on the Tamil nationalist movement is the fact that it was not launched in Jaffna – the holy peninsula hailed as the heartland of the Jaffna Tamils. Instead, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, picked the Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU) Hall in Maradana to launch his separatist movement. Why was an event of such historical and political  magnitude launched in Maradana and not in the heartland  of the Tamils? The Jaffna Tamil leadership was not in exile. They had all the freedom and facilities to launch their nationalist” movement on the soil which they consider to be their homeland.

Jaffna should have been  the natural habitat for the birth of a Tamil nationalist movement. But of all places it was launched in a trade union hall of government servants which was located in the grimy, seedy quarters of Colombo. Why? Chelvanayakam did not even want to buy a house in Colombo like other Tamil professionals fearing that it would alienate his children from the roots of Jaffna. He feared that the cosmopolitan culture of Colombo would pollute the minds of his children. So why did he pick the GCSU hall in Maradana to launch his separatist movement?

S J V Chelvanayakam: 31 March 1898 – 26 April 1977

There are several reasons for this decision. First, he selected the most influential section of the Jaffna Tamils who were predominantly in government service to plant his seeds of separatism. Anybody who was somebody in Jaffna was either in the professions – legal, medical, academic, etc – or in the government service. Prof. A.J. Wilson, highlighting the significance of the inaugural meeting of ITAK held at the Government Clerical Service Union in Maradana states: In this organisation Ceylon Tamils clerical employees were a sizeable component; hence it was a significant venue.” (p.70 – S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, A. J. Wilson,  Lake House Bookshop, 1994).  The Jaffna Tamils also had a craze for clerkship” (p.72 – Ibid) in government service. They were attached to secure, pensionable public service employment”. (p.72 – Ibid). A popular saying among the Jaffnaites proclaimed that even if you want to raise chickens do it in government service,. The clerk mentality” was ingrained in them. Another common saying that described the Northern culture said: The son shines in Colombo while the father reaps the harvest in Jaffna.”

Second, Chelvanayakam craftily picked the GCSU hall in Maradana because he could  focus primarily on the English-educated, Saivite, Jaffna Vellahlas (ESJVs) – the casteist elite that proved to be the most powerful, just not in Jaffna but in Sri Lankan national politics. The role of the Vellahlas has never been factored in as one of the most dynamic forces in Sri Lankan politics. Reams have been written on the  Sri Lankan scene, focusing essentially on the south leaving out the critical input of the Vellahlas. It can  be argued that Vellahlaism was the single most force that bedeviled and destabilized post-independent politics more than any other competing force.

From the shadows of feudal times they roared into the limelight to dominate post-independent politics with a vengeance. The politics of the Tamils was none other than the politics of the Vellahlas. It was the assertive, aggressive and demanding politics of the most privileged Vellahla caste in Sri Lanka that was projected as the politics of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. Northern politics were linked mainly to language, jobs,  land, and Tamil culture –   issues that emerged from the socio-economic interests of the Vellahlas and not from the Tamil-speaking peoples as such.  This will be demonstrated in due course.

But they managed to camouflage their caste/class interests by projecting it as the collective demand of the Tamil-speaking people. For instance, none of the issues touched  the oppressed and deprived low-castes of Jaffna who had no stake in language, land or jobs in the government service. They were oppressed – almost as slaves – and not allowed to rise in the hierarchical order ruled by the oppressive Vellahlas. The Vellahlas virtually monopolized the English education – the only  means for upward mobility — by burning low-caste schools and blocking the passage to higher education. This monopoly gave them the privilege of dominating the political and administrative decision-making processes in the British colony. The Vellahla battles, projected as Tamil nationalism, was essentially a movement to retain their feudal and colonial privileges. When they cried discrimination they meant the erosion of the feudal and colonial privileges held exclusively by the dominant Vellahlas.

Influential  and decisive forces were generated and driven only by the Vellahlas who dominated strategic places in the political, professional, commercial and administrative fields, both inside and outside the peninsula. Nothing moved in Jaffna without the final consent of the Vellahlas. They constituted the only  community which had  risen to the  highest rung in the power pyramid,  occupying strategic places to influence and manipulate decisions that steered politics within the peninsula and beyond. By the time the British colonial masters left the shores the ESJVs had reached the peak of the colonial pyramid  through the power of English-education, colonial patronage and the inherited Vellahla casteist prestige and power sanctified by Hindu religion.

Take, for instance, the government service. Prof. Wilson wrote:  On the whole, the Tamil Vellahlas have dominated the government service and the professions, with the occasional member from the minority castes.’  (p.140 – Ibid).  The fact that Chelvanayakam’s separatism, disguised as federalism, was a Vellahla-driven force and not a mass movement is confirmed by Prof. Wilson who wrote: :”The Tamil public gave Chelvanayakam and his lieutenants a careful hearing – their meetings were well attended – but, apart from government servants and the Jaffna farmers (read: Vellahlas) many sections of the community remained dormant and apathetic or preferred to ‘wait and see”, hoping for the best; many too were plainly indifferent…..”( p.71 – Ibid).

Third, the dominance of the Vellahlas in politics, commerce, land and even Hindu temples ensured that Jaffna politics was held firmly in the palm of the Vellahlas. Every significant decision and act was initiated, directed and managed exclusively by the Vellahlas. They were the power-brokers and nothing moved inside peninsula without the advice and consent of the Vellahlas. Clearly, Chelvanayakam’s separatist movement was essentially a movement of the Vellahlas, by the Vellahlas, for the Vellahlas. The masses were roped in later. This explains why he decided to preach his divisive dogma to the Vellahla government servants at the GCSU Hall in Maradana and not in any part of Jaffna.

Unlike the anti-British religio-cultural movements of the South which evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries into a mass movement of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism that peaked in 1956 the Northern separatist movement was not propelled by a well-defined, organized or rationalized anti- colonial nationalist movement of the Tamil masses. In fact, the nationalist movement in the south began and developed as a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic force working collectively against British colonialism. Initially, the Tamils not only joined  this movement but also played a constructive role in promoting non-racial nationalism. The English-educated Tamil youth of Jaffna were in the forefront of this common front. Even those Tamils who broke away from the growing nationalist movement – Ponnambalam Arunachalam and even G. G. Ponnambalam – did not articulate any doctrine / ideology of a separate state to assert their ethnic identity. Tamil nationalism” was not a part of their political vocabulary.

The definitive expression of the Tamil homeland theory” gained its final shape and form in the Vadukoddai Resolution passed on May 14, 1976 in the post-independent period as a movement against the Sinhalese. Until then the Tamil homeland theory had neither nationalistic underpinnings nor direction except in the rough outline drawn by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam in his Maradana statement in 1949 – the first of its kind. .

The absence of a viable and credible ideological thrust is demonstrated in the role of the then acknowledged leader of the Tamils,  G. G. Ponnambalam who was the first to lead an anti-Sinhala-Buddhist movement dragging peninsular  politics to the penultimate stage of  mono-ethnic extremism. The ultimate stage was when his successor, Chelvanayakam, dragged Jaffna politics into separatism. Though Ponnambalam pioneered anti-Sinhala politics based on cries of discrimination when he entered politics in the 30s he was not leading a nationalist campaign promoting separatism. Northern Tamil politics was focused essentially on getting a percentage of power weighted in favour of the Northern Tamils. The main objective was to maintain their feudal and colonial perks, privileges, positions and prestige in government and professional services. Of course, the divide and rule politics  of the colonial masters gave them a disproportionate share  of power in the legislature and the administration.

At the heart of Tamil politics was the aggressive and arrogant claim of a minority pretending to be on par with the majority. This led to the politics of percentages demanding a disproportionate share of power, positions and perks in the government service. Politics of percentages was sponsored by G. G. Ponnambalam who was noted for claiming 50% share of power for a 12% minority of Sri Lankan Tamils. His formula, as proclaimed by him,  was for the minorities (Jaffna Tamils, Batticoloa Tamils, IndianTamils, Malays, Moors and Burghers which constituted 25%) to grab a share of 50% from the majority which constituted nearly 75%. There was no consolidated movement  of Tamil  nationalism arising  from  a collective will of the  Tamils of  the north  who were divided bitterly on casteist lines.

Neither the British who were controlling  colonial politics nor the other minorities fell for the percentage politics of the Northern Tamils. Besides, the cry of 50-50  demonstrated the absence of a cohesive, united or inspiring ideology for the Tamils north to galvanize a collective mass movement of nationalism leading to a separate state. Politics of percentages collapsed totally when the British handed over power to a democratically elected government based on universal franchise. Accepting the new reality Ponnambalam joined the government led by D. S. Senanayake, the founding father of the nation, as its Minister  of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries on July 1948 – five months after gaining independence. At this stage Ponnambalam realized his folly and distanced himself from any tendencies of separatist politics. As stated later, in opposing the District Development Councils proposed by Dudley Senanayake and accepted by Chelvanayakam’s ITAK,  Ponnambalam came down heavily on separatism. He said that the principles of this (District Development)  Bill, as we seen  in the White Paper, are bad for Ceylon and worse for the Tamils.” (Hansard, House of Representatives – Vol . 78, 1968, Col. 3100).

Reflecting on the prevailing Tamil ideology at the time of independence Prof. A. J. Wilson wrote: Ponnambalam’s decision was  not unique to him; it was a collective act on the part of Ceylon Tamils who advocated cooperation, at the elite and middle-class level, between Sinhalese and Tamils….The whole episode indicated the absence in the Tamil community of a consistent and coherent political philosophy or a sense of  its goals…..(H)e represented, as we have seen a sizeable body of the Ceylon Tamil thinking at the time. (p.17 –  S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, A. J. Wilson,  Lake House Bookshop, 1994).

But Chelvanayakam, driven by the Vellahlas,  defined  the Vellahla agenda as the new idea” of the Tamils who feared that their feudal and colonial privileges  will be eroded under the rising democratic forces in the post-Donoughmore constitution. They also feared  the undercurrents of the anti-Vellahla caste movement in Jaffna that went as far as stoning the statue of Arumuka Navalar, the father of Vellahla casteism, when it was taken from Udippidy to Jaffna. The anti-Vellahla movement challenged  and clashed with Chelvanayakam’s new idea”,  threatening to derail his movement as a united front of Jaffna. The anti-Vellahala movement  peaked in  Maviddipuram Temple entry case. It is  the Sinhala-government” that had to send reinforcements to protect the Vellahla interests.

Chelvanayakam’s tactic was to divert attention to the bogus cry of discrimination against the Tamils by the Sinhalese. The Soulbury Commission which heard Ponnambalam’s 9-hour  presentation on discrimination, dismissed it as stuff and nonsense. To cover up the oppression and denial of human rights to their own people by the ruling casteist elite of Jaffna  Chelvanayakam took to mono-ethnic extremism which  dragged  Jaffna to the point of no return.  After that there  was nowhere  else to go other than Nandikadal.

Chelvanayakam  is rightly hailed as father of Tamil nationalism” which was, in reality, a cover for Vellahlaism.  Consequently, he should accept responsibility for dragging his people, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, all the way to Nandikadal. The Maradana speech was the first ideological stone laid by Chelvanayakam for his traditional homeland” of the Vellahlas. They made it their homeland because Vellahlaism never took root outside Jaffna – not even in Batticoloa.

Maradana  was the decisive  point where  the Vellahlas found a leader and an  ideology to go with their political agenda.  With it Chelvanayakam was aspiring to be the Jinnah of Jaffna. No other speech of any Tamil leader had argued so vehemently for a separate autonomous state as Chelvanayakam did at Maradana. As stated by Chelvanayakam, it was a new idea”. which was opposed by Ponnambalam. He was a bitter opponent of Chelvanayakam’s divisive politics when it emerged as District Development Councils. Quite prophetically, Ponnambalam said that Chelvanayakam’s divisive politics, as contained in the District Development Councils, was bad for Ceylon and worse for the Tamils”,..

Neither Ponnambalam nor Chelvanayakam lived to see this prophecy come  true in Nandikadal.

10 Responses to “Maradana – The Birthplace Of Tamil Nationalism Part II”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Ven Sobitha will RUE the day if and when President Mahinda Rajapaksa is defeated, and a UNP+TNA dominated traitors government captures power in a subsequent General Election!

    He can FORGET about Sinhala-Buddhist rights for SEVERAL DECADES at least, because non-Buddhists and Eelamist Tamils will RULE the land!

    The BAD OLD DAYS when the SLFP and UNP had Sinhala votes split nearly equally between them, and the Federal Party (ie., ITAK = TNA) was the kingmaker that determined who would rule, based on who could be blackmailed more to serve its Separatist agenda, will be resurrected in Mother Lanka if the UNP+TNA prevails.


    These MUTTS living in their LALA Land may prove to the WORST ENEMIES of Mother Lanka!

    ‘Many Sinhalese too unhappy with Rajapaksa’

    ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Dec 01 (Hindu) It is not just the Tamils, but a wide majority of Sinhalese too are disillusioned with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, according to Sobitha Thero, leader of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) in Sri Lanka.

    In an interview to The Hindu on Sunday on the premises of the Nagavihara Buddhist temple near Colombo, he said: “From the police force to the judiciary, the President has everything under his control. People who are corrupt are protected by the government and people are suffering.”

    Executive presidency posed a serious threat to democracy and rule of law, he said, making a strong case for constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka.

    Perceived as an influential religious leader, the 73-year-old Buddhist monk is one of the chief architects of the campaign for the abolition of executive presidency in the country. With the common opposition platform adopting the issue as its central agenda for the presidential elections scheduled on January 8, 2015, the monk’s pet theme is now in spotlight.

    “We had told the government that if they don’t abolish executive presidency, we would have to field a common candidate to challenge him.” Sobitha Thero — along with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe — now backs Maithripala Sirisena, who recently defected from Mr. Rajapaksa’s party to be named the common candidate. The senior monk’s support to the common opposition platform could potentially dent Mr. Rajapaksa’s Sinhala-Buddhist support base.

    “The fact that he [Mr. Rajapaksa] rewrote the Constitution to allow himself a third term created a serious problem for the country,” said the monk, referring to the 2010 amendment removing the two-term limit on presidency.

    On whether the Sri Lankan Tamils were likely to support him, he said: “The support of Tamils will be crucial for us in abolishing executive presidency.” Fair negotiations were crucial in addressing the Tamil question, he said, adding that the government needs to constitute a credible parliamentary select committee before insisting that the Tamil leadership come for talks.

    “We need a government that will look after the interests of not just the Sinhalese, but also those of Tamils and Muslims. There cannot be any discrimination based on religion, caste or ethnicity. “

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    ‘Many Sinhalese too unhappy with Rajapaksa’

    A FACTUAL statement.

    In my view Sinhalese are the most neglected people after 2010.

    e.g. YARL DEVI debacle. From end to end Tamils occupy these trains. Now they are demanding to make it EXPRESS from Vavuniya to Colombo!

    No harm anyway. No one can get in after Vavuniya as it is packed to the toilets.

  3. SA Kumar Says:

    No one can get in after Vavuniya – why can not run a new services between Mathavacchi to Colombo !

  4. Wickrama Says:

    SA Kumar Says:
    December 2nd, 2014 at 4:01 am
    “Mathavacchi” ??

  5. Wickrama Says:

    “The fact that he [Mr. Rajapaksa] rewrote the Constitution to allow himself a third term created a serious problem for the country,” said the monk, referring to the 2010 amendment removing the two-term limit on presidency.”

    Hamuduruwane, that amendment was passed in the Parliament with 2/3 majority. The current “conman candidate”, and the others who have crossed over, including JHU MPs, voted infavour of the amendment !! Didn’t those idiots think it was a serious problem for the country at that time??

  6. Lorenzo Says:


    Colombo is the craddle of Tamil racism. Good we are FINALLY realizing this TRUTH. Now we have to do something about it.

  7. SA Kumar Says:

    Mathavacchi” ?? WHERE THE HELL IS THAT?
    Wickrama- You know where it is , you know where is Jalpanam / Kathirhamam/ Hambanthoddai / Kandy ???

  8. SA Kumar Says:

    FYI, I Know where is medawachchiya /Japanaya / nuwara /hambantota !!!

  9. SA Kumar Says:

    also you know where is kilinochchi? I know you want to got to toilet Now !!!

  10. SA Kumar Says:

    Colombo is the craddle of Tamil racism. Good we are FINALLY realizing this TRUTH. Now we have to do something about it.- send them back to NP (Saiva TE) or EP (Muslim TE).

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