Divisions in the Body Politic
The prospects for an economically robust, fully
participatory, and manageable democracy looked good during the
first years of independence. In contrast to India, which had
gained independence a year earlier, there was no massive violence
and little social unrest. In Sri Lanka there was also a good
measure of governmental continuity. Still, important unresolved
ethnic problems soon had to be addressed. The most immediate of
these problems was the "Indian question," which concerned the
political status of Tamil immigrants who worked on the highland
tea plantations. The Soulbury Commission had left this sensitive
question to be resolved by the incoming government.
After independence, debate about the status of the Indian
Tamils continued. But three pieces of legislation--the Ceylon
Citizenship Act of 1948; the Indian and Pakistani Residents Act
No. 3 of 1948, and the Ceylon Parliamentary Elections Amendment
Act No. 48 of 1949--all but disenfranchised this minority group.
The Ceylon Indian Congress vigorously but unsuccessfully opposed
the legislation. The acrimonious debate over the laws of 1948 and
1949 revealed serious fissures in the body politic. There was a
cleavage along ethnic lines between the Sinhalese and the Tamils,
and also a widening rift between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian
In 1949 a faction of the Ceylon Tamil Congress (the major
Tamil party in Sri Lanka at the time) broke away to form the
(Tamil) Federal Party under the leadership of S.J.V.
Chelvanayakam. The creation of the Federal Party was a momentous
postindependence development because it set the agenda for Tamil
exclusivity in Sri Lankan politics. Soon after its founding, the
Federal Party replaced the more conciliatory Tamil Congress as
the major party among Sri Lankan Tamils and advocated an
aggressive stance vis-à-vis the Sinhalese.
Data as of October 1988