Sunday, August 26, 2007

Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam QC: A tribute to an intellectual by Prof AJ Wilson

The 29th death anniversary of Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam, former Minister of Local Government and Solicitor-General took place recently. We reproduce a tribute written by Prof. A. J. Wilson of the University of New Brunswick, Canada in 1981.
It is a curious phenomenon in recent Ceylon Tamil social life that some families have tended to give rise to two famous persons at a time from their ranks.
The Ponnambalam brothers, Ramanathan and Arunachalam; the Saravanamuttus, Sir Ratnajothi, Colombo wartime mayor and Paikiasothy the civil servant who handled our tea and rubber quite successfully; C. Vanniasingham, the parliamentarian and C. Balasingham, his reputed civil servant brother and in present times, Murugeysu Rajendra, a distinguished former Secretary to the Treasury and the late Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam, eminent Queen's Counsel, a very honourable Minister of Local Government and the supreme political strategist, par excellence, of all time in Tamil politics.
Senator Tiruchelvam was in every way, but in name and blood relationship, the son of my father-in-law, the late SJV Chelvanayakam.
I came to know him in 1952 and was his close and admiring friend throughout this phase of his life until his sad and premature demise in 1976. My father-in-law regarded him with love and affection, chided him at times as if he were his own child, and implicit father in him.
Tiruchelvam for his part reciprocated this confidence and trust and never ever uttered a word of criticism against my father-in-law. Such was the bond that held these two men together.
In part, the close ties were due to the fact that as a boy Tiruchelvam was sent to Ceylon to attend secondary school at St. Thomas's by his parents, and his ward, guardian, and foster father from then onwards was Chelvanayagam. He learned his law and imbibed his nationalism from his mentor but he was also in his own right a civilized and cultured man - he learned history and completed his degree in that discipline at the then University College.
It is difficult to write about Tiruchelvam without the feeling of intense emotion. He had the capacity to evoke such attachment and it was principally due to his humane and lovable ways; he could strike the right chord in certain human beings. He had the will to survive and to triumph, to outmanoeuvre adversaries, and as my father-in-law once remarked in a different context, to display that rare quality of good generalship in times of adversity.
When I was once despondent about the fate of my brother and his family after the great cyclone in Batticaloa district in 1959 Tiruchelvam gave me encouragement when he said that I should not despair; that human beings had a tremendous capacity to survive. He brought this philosophy into politics.
Long before most other men (in the post-1947 period), Tiruchelvam showed evidence of intense devotion to the cause of nationalism. He was Sir Alan Rose's (Legal Secretary under the Donoughmore Constitution and later Chief Justice) junior in drafting the Soulbury Constitution and Rose accepted the junior's view that care was needed in the work of that Constitution.
On Independence Day, 4 February 1948, Tiruchelvam boldly had the Nandi flag flying in his car, not paying attention to the consequence that could visit him. As one of the crown's most skilled lawyers, he did not seek to conceal his nationalism for petty gain or rapid promotion.
In his profession, he was clever beyond comparison. His involvement in history enabled him to see the law in a clearer perspective and he had more than the capacity to split hairs. He could, like the English metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century, fuse disparate, relate distant and different things to each other, win argument by matching far fetched examples, all due primarily, in my view, to his successful training in another discipline. He had a mind that cerebrated nimbly.
That mind was formidable asset to the country in the post 1956 years.
Tiruchelvam's wide horizon and agile imagination enabled him to make three noteworthy contributions to the Tamil community. It was he who with the cooperation of J. R. Jayawardene steered the Federal Party into a coalition with Dudley Senanayake's "National Government' of 1965, thereby providing the Tamil people with the much needed opportunity to recuperate from the harsh and severe treatment accorded to them by the 1960-65 SLFP government headed by Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike.
He envisioned and was guiding spirit of the Jaffna University Movement. There were others whom he involved in the movement but it was he who received instructions, advice and political direction from Chelvanayakam.
Between 1965-70, when he was Minister of Local Government, he could at any time have obtained a university, almost overnight, for the Tamil people within the precincts of the Jaffna peninsula but he preferred to go along with my father-in-law's desire to have the institution sited in Trincomalee. The people of the Eastern Province were not going to be let down by the Federal Party.
It can nevertheless be said that it was due to his pioneering zeal that there is today a university in Jaffna.
As Minister of Local Government, he framed the Tamil Regulations of January 1966 under the provisions of the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act of l958. He consulted me on the political implications of the regulations.
And he made the excellent legal paint that "prescribed purposes" as provided for in the 1958 Act could mean either everything or specific matters. He chose the former and thus laid the foundation for the Tamil language becoming the language of administration in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
He gave of his best in the framing of the District Councils Bill of 1968, a document which may well stand the test of time, a compromise which may have deflect the demand for Tamil Eelam had it been implemented. He was virtually its sole draftsman and his health perhaps suffered not a little in this deathly labour of love.
It must also be mentioned here that he played a leading role in the trial-at-bar case involving prominent politicians of the Tamil United Liberation Front. In all this he played the sacrificial role. And he was to Chelvanayakam what Liaquat Ali Khan was to Jinnah.
In 1976, the cruel hand of fate took him away from the country, an irreparable loss from which the country can never recover. A versatile man of such rare accomplishments can emerge only once in awhile.
History, law and politics proved an unbeatable amalgam and it made him make history. As a person he remained youthful to the end, he could communicate freely with younger people, he was the complete liberal, emancipated and free from bias.
He had a puckish sense of humour that together with his mordant wit sent his listeners into peels of laughter. More than everything else he was a loyal friend and a reliable ally. He gave himself unstintedly to the cause though in the process he was buffeted by strong winds.

This tribute by the late Prof. AJ Wilson appeared in the Sunday Observer on April 23, 2006.

Tiruchelvams - Distinguished Father and Son by Saleem Altaf

When Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, MP was named a President's Counsel in February 1998 it marked a unique achievement in the political and legal history of this country. It was only the fourth occassion that a father and son had received Silk. Neelan's father Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam was a Queen's Counsel, who was once the Solicitor-General and a Cabinet Minister.
The other members of this elite father and son combination are EW Jayawardene KC and HW Jayawardene QC, HH Basnayake QC and Sinha Basnayake PC, as well as Nariman Choksy QC and Kasi Choksy PC. Unlike in the other cases, both Tiruchelvam senior and junior were legislators. Not only did they receive the highest honour that lawyer is eligible for, but they were both law-makers.
The circumstances under which the father and son had received their cherished honours could not be more different. In the late 1950s when the elder Tiruchelvam received Silk Ceylon had the trappings of plural, liberal democratic state. Human rights were respected and inter-ethnic amity was the norm. The Queen was the Head of State and colonial honours were sought after. Plaintiffs had the right to appeal to the Privy council in London .
One would be indulging in some post-lapsarian fantasy ignore the disenfranchisement of the Indian Tamils in 1948/49 and the pogrom of 1958. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the 1950s was decidedly peaceful, inclusive and democratic. The conferment of silk on Mr. Murugeysu Tiruchelvam was hailed by the Colombo elite and the Tamil professional classes.
In 1998, when Neelan Tiruchelvam was named a President's Counsel, Sri Lanka had descended into a pitiful morass. Sri Lanka had become a metaphor for violence and abuse of power. The country had disposed of colonial honours as part of the misguided patriotism associated with the adoption of a Republican constitution in 1972. The honour Queen's Counsel had been replaced by President's Counsel, summarized by the curious acronym PC (often confused with polyester cotton and police constable). In line with the countrys decline, PC did not have same resonance and status as QC. In fact, Neelan, a lifelong opposition politician, was nervous that the conferment of PC would associate him too closely with the then President.
By 1998, a culture of violence, communalism and authoritarianism had become the norm. The 1983 pogrom and the civil conflict that ensued are the most glaring symptoms of this phenomenon. They are not the sole symptoms. Since the 1970s, successive governments have sought to both abuse power and human rights. The 1971 JVP insurrection was responded to with arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings. Earlier this month, an innocent remand prisoner was allegedly tortured to death while in custody. In 1982, the term of parliament was extended through an allegedly fraudulent referendum.
The state was not alone in violating civil liberties. Insurgent groups such as the Tamil Tigers and the JVP had shown the same callous disregard for civil liberties. In their protracted struggle, the Tamil Tigers have been blamed for serial assassinations, child conscription and civilian massacres. Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, a passionate human rights advocate, fell victim to them in July 1999.
One of the most touching tributes to Neelan Tiruchelvam was delivered by the Indian scholar Dr. Veena Das in 2001. She said that Neelan would have been among the first people to lament the death of his unnamed and unheralded suicide assassin. Neelan valued the lives of all citizens in Sri Lanka s tragedy. In one of his last parliamentary speeches he said "We cannot glorify death, whether in the battlefield or otherwise. We, on the other hand, must celebrate life and we are fiercely committed to protecting and securing the sanctity of life, which is the most fundamental value without which all other rights and freedoms become meaningless."
With the countrys appalling descent, the idealism of the Tiruchelvams, father and son is the need of the hour. However, opportunism is plentiful and leadership is in short supply. Bickering between the political parties, notably the UNP and SLFP has effectively ended any hope of constitutional reform. All-Party conferences, Commissions and parliamentary committees have been convened, only to end in failure. The state apparatus has a communal feel to it. A single ethnic group comprises over 99% of the armed forces. The constitution awards to Buddhism the foremost place, making the non-Buddhists feel that they are strangers in their own home. Again, the Sri Lankan government is not the sole villain. Both protagonists in the civil conflict, the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers are given to ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism. If the idealism of the Tiruchelvams should come to the countrys rescue, it will have to be in a very high dosage.

A Tribute to Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam QC

The 30th death anniversary of the late Minister M. Tiruchelvam, QC took place recently.
Mr. Murugeysu Tiruchelvam QC and former Minister of Local Government and Solicitor-General belonged to a band of men with a vision and a mission. His political sagacity, robust patriotism, practical wisdom and great administrative skill made him one of Sri Lanka's great statesmen. In the political field he was a Cabinet Minister, a Member of the Senate and a leading figure among the people of this country.

Mr. Tiruchelvam, who was born in 1907, grew up in Malaya, where his father Mr. V. Murugeysu was an officer in the British colonial administration. Soon after the first world war ended in 1918, Mr. Murugeysu sent his two elder sons Tiruchelvam and Rajendra to St. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia.

This move was recommended to Mr. Murugeysu by the son of one of his friends - Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, an old Thomian who was then pursuing a legal career in Colombo. It was felt that St. Thomas was superior in academic standing to any institution at the time in Malaya, even the famous Victoria Institute. St. Thomas College had an exalted reputation at that time, having been dubbed the Eton of the East.

Mr. Tiruchelvam entered politics in the early 1960s after a long and distinguished career as a government legal officer. Having reached the high office of Solicitor-General, he set his sights on contributing to the greater good of the country as a politician.

Mr. Tiruchelvam was the chief advisor and principal political strategist of the founders of the Federal Party. Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, QC. Mr. Chelvanayagam, who was nearly a decade senior to Mr. Tiruchelvam, had played a leading role in shaping Mr. Tiruchelvam's educationl career and legal career. He was the guide and mentor to Mr. Tiruchelvam's foray into politics.
His early years were shaped by struggle and civil disobedience. In 1961, a mass satyagraha was staged by the Federal Party to protest against the Sinhala Only Act. Mrs. Bandaranaike's government jailed Mr. Tiruchelvam and more than 30 other leaders of the Federal party in Panagoda for over six months.

Today, the mass incarceration of so many political prisoners would be met by international outrage. But the world was different in 1961 and this cruel act of oppression went largely unnoticed. In 1965, the UNP and Federal Party entered into a coalition pact, after the Senanayake Chelvanayagam pact. The famous press magnate Esmond Wickremesinghe was the mediator between the two parties.

Mr. Tiruchelvam entered the Senate and was named in Dudley Senanayake's Cabinet as the Federal Party nominee. During his tenure as the Minister of Local Government, Mr. Tiruchelvam played a leading role in administrative reforms.

He was also instrumental in the passage of the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act and the creation of the Jaffna University. In September 1968, due to the inability of the UNP government to implement the Senanayake-Chelvanayagam pact and a dispute with the Prime Minister, Mr. Tiruchelvam resigned. Incidentally, Mr. Tiruchelvam's deputy Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa (who later became President) succeeded him as Minister of Local Government. Mr. Tiruchelvam had great confidence in the potential of the youthful Mr. Premadasa. Mr. Tiruchelvam continued in the Senate till its abrogation in 1971.

His last years were spent in the context of the worsening ethnic relations in the country, particularly in light of the 1972 constitution. Despite the worsening situation, Mr. Tiruchelvam was resolutely in favour of a united and plural Sri Lanka. He was opposed to the 1976 Vadukkodai resolution that demanded a separate state of Tamil Ealam and advised Mr. Chelvanayagam against it.

He died suddenly on 23rd November 1976 at the age of 69. His passing away was a loss to the whole country, because he was a strong voice for peace and moderation.
(This appeared in the Ceylon Observer on 24th December 2006)
Senator M Tiruchelvam QC, former Ceylon Minister