Brief tenure of a cultured statesman | Daily News
Suntharalingam from Vavuniya fought for Indian Tamils in Central Hills

Brief tenure of a cultured statesman

Chellappah Suntharalingam was born on August 19, 1895. He was an academic, mathematician, politician, lawyer, Member of Parliament and government minister.

Educated at St. John's College, Jaffna and St. Joseph's College, Colombo, he entered the London University from where he graduated in mathematics. He then went on to Oxford for a double first in mathematics.

Suntharalingam had four eminent siblings: C. Nagalingam, a Supreme Court judge; C. Panchalingam, a medical doctor; C. Amirthalingam Director of Fisheries; and C. Thiagalingam also a leading lawyer.

Ending his academic and legal carrier, Suntharalingam became interested in politics in 1940. He contested two by-elections to enter the State Council in 1943 and 1944 but was unsuccessful. In 1947, as an independent candidate contesting Vavuniya he won and entered Parliament. At the invitation of D S Senanayake he joined the United National Party led government and in September 1947, he became the Minister of Trade and Commerce in it.

The Prime Minster introduced the infamous Ceylon Citizenship Act a year later which deprived the Indian Tamils their citizenship rights under Indian and Pakistani Residents Citizenship Bill. They who comprised five percent of the nation's population were left stateless and disenfranchised.

When the second reading division was called, Suntharalingam walked out of Parliament in protest. Instead of answering a call for explanation he resigned from the Cabinet to become a champion for the rights of Indian Tamils in the plantations. He declared that “if the Buddha were to come to Sri Lanka today, He himself would be disfranchised and deported.”

Use of Sinhala only policy

Suntharalingam’s most vital role in politics; his clear and serious role as a public personality engaged in pursuit for justice and fair play; he comes into eminence with the involvement of the Indian Residents’ Citizenship issue. The plantation labour had made Sri Lanka their home for two centuries, and contributed hugely to build the nation's economy. Other top Tamil politicians from Jaffna, like GG Ponnambalam supported Government’s move. Suntharaligam frankly stood up for fair and cultured treatment of residents who had been brought in early 18/19th Century to build the wealth of this nation.

As an Independent Member of Parliament for Vavuniya, the former Cabinet Minister, C. Suntharalingam proposed an amendment to the Throne Speech of SWRD on June 24, 1956 voicing grave displeasure with new government’s policy on the use of Sinhala Only for governmental purposes and in higher education.

He said, it would lead to a demand for “the creation of a separate autonomous state of ‘Tamil Ilankai’ composed of all Tamil speaking peoples in the island. He stressed that if the disturbing amendments to language use did not please Tamils, they would insist in a separate State.

Participating in a Parliamentary debate he said, “one time the Prime Minister of Ceylon had most diabolically disfranchised the Indian Labour population, without whose efforts the government could not run a single day. If they organised a hartal, the government would be on its knees in a fortnight.”

During Bandaranaike rule in late fifties, speaking in the House he referred to those freedoms under that government, he wanted them to consider one simple example under the freedom of association.

“Whatever might be the views of the UNP, they had the right to march to Kandy. But the hoodlums of the government had obstructed them; the Police had looked on, and had banned the march.

Would such a thing have happened under the Brithish rule? Make no mistakes, we have not exchanged British rule, for Sinhala rule, or British imperialism for Sinhala Socialism.

At no time we have succumbed to a foreigner, or have we betrayed our people as Ehelepola did in 1815.

We will go down only fighting, we will lose our rights only on the battlefield,” he declared. “DS knew and appreciated what democracy was and lived up to it; not like cut-throats we have now, who keep changing their minds. DS did not do anything without first consulting me.”

Philip Gunawardene -: Awissawella:- that was his blunder.

C Sunderalingham -: Some blunder resulted in the member for Awissawella occupying a ministerial seat. Unwillingly I made that mistake. Forgive me. Do you hold the same view of independence today, as you held at the Independence Day meeting when you addressed it?

Philip Gunawardene:- Yes of course.

C Sunderalingham:- I thought he was a fine and sincere revolutionary. He is the most dangerous “kuthu karanam” politician of the worst type.

Interruption:- what about you?

C Sunderalingham:- I challenge any one to point out one single matter in which I committed “kuthu karanam”, I have not done so, because I study every matter and discuss it fully before I make up my mind on it. And once I made up my mind no one can make me change it. - Hansard - Nov. 7, 1957.

Professor of Mathematics

Suntharalingam became an outstandingly brilliant intellectual who decorated the chair as Professor of Mathematics.

Suntharaligam renounced the routine duty of the civil service, however superior it was and instead chose the relatively more challenging duties and demanding responsibilities as a higher university don.

The Professor was quite compassionate to undergraduates whose shortcoming he endured in a broad minded way. A celebrated and respected scholar and accessible counsellor, he was truthful and never faltered to promote the cause of students against British trained stern authoritarians who headed these establishments of higher learning.

Suntharalingam protested against the adoption of the national flag; in fact he resigned his seat in Parliament too in 1951. However, he won the bye-election comfortably bringing him back to Parliament. He won again at the 1952 parliamentary election. Suntharalingam strongly opposed the attempts to make Sinhala the sole official language.

All Ceylon Tamil Congress candidate T. Sivasithamparam defeated Suntharalingam, the independent candidate at the parliamentary election in 1965; which was repeated in1970 by Federal party candidate and leader S. J. V. Chelvanayakam when he contested Kankesanthurai seat as an independent. Suntharalingam spent his retirement in home town Vavuniya until his death in February 1985.

He formed a singular Tamil movement called, ‘Tamils who would not be subjugated Front’, calling for equality with majority in treatment in a multiracial nation in every respect. Failure to meet his reasonable demands resulted in so much chaos and disorder to Sri Lanka and its people.

“Most countries have only few honest politicians and this is just like having a body with only few good organs functioning!”

- Mehmet Murat ildan

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