wish to tender my claim for the record of reporting
the ‘Peace Talks’ for over 50 years. If anyone else
has a better claim I am prepared to withdraw mine.
I reported the Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam talks of
1957. I was then a cub reporter at Lake House. I was
sent with senior reporter R. Sivagurunathan to cover
that historic event. We went to Prime Minister
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s ancestral house at Horogolla
in early May to cover the first round of the talks.
I still remember the Prime Minister helping the
ailing Federal Party leader S.J.V. Chelvanayakam to
get out of his car. We were not permitted to be
present during the talks. But later we were briefed
about the proceedings by the participants.
We were told that the Prime Minister made the
opening statement. He told the Federal Party
delegation about his inability to discuss the
setting up of a Federal State or regional autonomy
or take any step that would abrogate the Official
Language Act. Chelvanayakam, we were told, expressed
his inability to abandon the federal demand or the
demand for official status for the Tamil language.
We were told that both sides decided to explore the
possibility of adjustment while not abandoning their
respective positions. Prime Minister had suggested
to the Federal Party to examine the government’s
Draft Regional Council Bill.
Chelvanayakam told him that it lacked “teeth”.
Prime Minister asked Chelvanayakam to send him a
draft on Regional Councils with “teeth.”
The meeting ended on that happy note. I was assigned
to follow up the story. I reported the developments
on a daily basis. I got friendly with Dr. E.M.V.
Naganathan and V. Navaratnam who drafted the new
Regional Councils Bill.
They prepared the draft within two weeks. It was
based on the Northern Ireland Constitution. It
proposed the establishment of a regional council for
the northern and eastern provinces. It mentioned the
subjects reserved for the Central Government and
vested the rest with the regional council. The
subject of law and order and land were allocated to
the regional council. It suggested that the Central
Government should have a Minister of Tamil Affairs.
My editor asked me to cover the second round of
the talks which was held in the first week of June
by myself. The meeting was held at the Prime
Minister’s Office in parliament. Federal Party’s
draft was considered. The Prime Minister said he was
not in a position to accept the proposal to set up a
single council for the north and east. Chelvanayakam
agreed to work out an alternative. The Prime
Minister also told the Federal Party leaders to
avoid using words that carried the connotation of a
The revised draft was considered on June 27. The
discussion commenced at 7:00 p.m. at Prime
Minister’s Office on the first floor of the Senate
We reporters waited at the foot of the staircase.
Prime Minister, Chelvanayakam and others came down
at 9:00 p.m. We jumped up with the question: What
Prime Minister: We came down to have tea with you.
They went up in half an hour. We waited.
They came down at 2:15 a.m.
Prime Minister started: My friends! I am sorry to
have kept all of you awake.
But it is a historic night for you, for us and for
Ranji Handy of the Observer cut him short: Tell us
Finance Minister Stanley de Soysa: We have reached
Prime Minister turned to Chelvanayakam and said,
Chelva! They will not believe till they here from
Chelvanayakam: We have reached an agreement. Prime
Minister will hand over the copies of the agreement.
The Prime Minister handed us copies of the historic
Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam Agreement with the
comment, “This will usher permanent peace to our
That was not to be. UNP’s new leader J.R.
Jayewardene saw to that. The Kandy March and the
satyagraha at Rosemead Place forced Bandaranaike to
abandon the agreement.
Eight years later, on March 24, 1965, I covered the
Dudley Senanayake talks. It was a hurried political
The parliamentary election was held on March 22,
1985. The results were out the next morning. UNP won
66 seats against 56 by the SLFP led coalition. The
Federal Party won 14 seats. The UNP needed the
support of the Federal Party to form a stable
government. Lake House editorial director Esmond
Wickremesinghe advised Dudley Senanayake to obtain
the support of the Federal Party. He telephoned
Naganathan and conveyed Dudley’s desire to meet
Chelvanayakam to discuss the formation of the
Chelvanayakam flew to Colombo from Jaffna that
evening (March 23). Chelvanayajam met Dudley
Senanayake that night. Dudley Senanayake made the
formal request for support. Chelvanayakam replied:
“We will support you if you are prepared to solve
some of the problems of the Tamil people.” Dudley
Senanayake agreed but did not ask about the matters
that needed to be solved.
The next day when Wickremesinghe met him
Chelvanayakam told him about his disappointment.
Wickremesinghe arranged another meeting that night
At that meeting four issues were raised: the
position of the Tamil language, the establishment of
Regional Councils, state aided colonisation and
problems of the Tamil government servants.
Dudley Senanayake was reluctant to establish
Regional Councils. “I have opposed it all these
days. How can I accept it now?” he said. Just then
he received information that Sirimavo Bandaranaike
was trying to win the support of the Federal Party.
He wanted to beat Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Then he
agreed to establish the Regional Councils. But he
wanted the name changed to District Councils.
I covered the signing of the Dudley
Senanayake-Chekvanayakam Pact on the night of March
24. But Dudley Senanayake did not implement it for
three years and then told the Federal Party that he
was not in a position to implement it. When I asked
Chelvanayakam for his reaction he said, “Dudley has
let us down.”
Since then I have reported the proceedings of two
All Party Conferences and two Parliamentary Select
Committees and the All Party Representatives
Committee. I can safely say that UNP should take the
blame for this long delay. At every turn it played
politics. And now, young Gayantha Karunatilake,
UNP’s spokesman, has come out with another delaying
strategy. He wants the government to consult all
political parties, religious leaders and