We will begin our narrative of this momentous day in Singapore, not only because the sun rises earlier there than in Colombo, but also because it is time we introduced some more characters. It is not that they are of any very great importance, but they do have a part of some consequence to play at this particular point in the story. In any case, we have not yet met any politicians opposed to the government, and this is a situation that must be remedied if we are to understand the cry for separatism that is held to have provoked the riots with which we began.
There were altogether seven members of parliament belonging to the Tamil party that had as its rallying ground the demand for a separate state for the Tamils. They were no longer members of parliament by the time they arrived in Singapore, for they had refused to take the oath that Tom had prescribed for members of parliament and arrack renters and insurance brokers and other such practitioners of occupations that should have been the sacred preserve of the Sinhalese. Nevertheless, having fled to India together at the very beginning of the riots, and having stated forcefully there the case for their oppressed brethren in Ceylon, there was no question but that they were, in international eyes at any rate, the most respected members of their community, and those best entitled to put its case before CARP.
Since there were seven of them, they were known as the Seven Dwarfs, both collectively and individually. Chief amongst them, on ground of seniority at any rate, were Sneezy and Sleepy. They were thus called because they both usually looked confused and not altogether there, but it was well known that in one case at least, though no one was ever quite sure which one it was, this phlegmatic exterior masked a mind as sharp as a razor. Then there was Bashful, who hailed from what was considered an inferior caste, although he came from the North, and Dopey who came from the East, although his caste was quite respectable; neither of these was considered of any importance whatsoever, not even by themselves. Grumpy on the other hand had thought himself important from the moment he got into parliament, and by dint of his conviction on this issue had got the majority of the party to come round to this view. He was young and energetic and was considered a strong proponent of violence, whether provoked or not, as a result of which his house had been burned down on several occasions by the security forces. This had made him even more grumpy than before, and he was liable to burst into torrents of incoherent expletives at the drop of a hat, or of any thing, which he promptly assumed was a hand grenade.
Very different from Grumpy was Happy, who was a Chartered Accountant and a Tax Consultant, and had made a great deal of money from the free trading and wheeling and dealing that had flourished under Tom’s regime. Indeed it was even held that he was not really in favour of a separate stage for the Tamils, inasmuch as the main sources of his income lay in Colombo and the Free Trade Zone nearby. Another school of thought however averred that he was unshakably loyal to the cause, for what he desired most of all, an eminent possibility if the wrangling went on, was a Free Trade Zone centred on Trincomalee with an entirely independent administration which would be headed by himself. His close contacts with the government were motivated entirely by his eagerness to encourage this possibility; but since it would arise only in terms of a compromise, his more strenuous public efforts were devoted to making a reality of the independence of the North and the East from the rest of the Country. Whatever the reality, the majority of his party continued to have a lot of faith in him, the more so because his great fortune was unquestionable evidence of a tremendous capacity.
Finally there was Doc, who had qualified as a doctor in Colombo, and then gone on to Cambridge, in Massachusetts naturally, where he had received what he termed a real doctorate in political science. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it was only recently that he had got involved in active politics and the hurly burly of representing, albeit generally at the safe remove of Colombo, a constituency in the frenetic North. For some time before that, however, he had been gradually moving towards the centre of the stage, for he had been closely involved on behalf of the Tamil party in negotiations with Tom. He was indeed considered the person best able to negotiate a settlement for, though neither side trusted him at all, each believed that the other did. That, along with his theoretical expertise in the field, provided him with a great deal of influence everybody, as a result of which he was now a director of several limited liability companies.
Apart from the Seven Dwarfs there was, for CARP believed strongly in balance and fairness, also representing the Tamils at the conference in Singapore Snow White. She, for this was a lady, and also a doctor, and a virgin to boot, was the leader of the Tamil party that was opposed to separatism. As a result, although she was as vociferous as the Dwarfs about the deprivation suffered by the Tamils, neither she nor any members of her party had been elected to parliament. She had however achieved some prominence recently when, the Dwarfs boycotting the election, she had run against Tom for the Presidency, and had achieved some success in the North where her father had been renowned as one of the early champions of the Tamils. Bashful indeed had appeared with her on a platform and, though censured for this by his party, had defended himself on the grounds that Tamils had a duty to stand by their hereditary leaders. Tom too had been most impressed by her, the more particularly as her stance had ensured the failure of the attempted boycott in the North, so that he was able to claim that he had been chosen by the suffrages of all his people. He had invited her to tea once or twice since and, especially after he had heard that she was still a virgin, had been extremely charming to and about her. She for her part had found him not unsympathetic; and, though she was naturally most upset by the riots, and did not intend to hold any brief whatsoever for the government, she was quite determined at CARP to make it clear to the Dwarfs that they were largely responsible for what had occurred, and she had told them so.
She did nor get much of a chance for this at the opening session of the conference. Apart from her and the Dwarfs and Harry and Veronica, there were also present the Maoist and the Che Guevarist, who had made their way to Singapore by various devious means, and were determined to state as vociferously as they could their own case, and that of the imprisoned Stalinist and Trotskyist, and also that of the missing Leninist who they assumed had been liquidated. Veronica, who was feeling somewhat guilty since she had forbidden the Leninist to come, ostensibly because she didn’t want to get involved in forging passports and so on, but in reality because she thought he would have been a terrific nuisance on the journey, felt obliged to support the Maoist and the Che Guevarist wholeheartedly in their onslaught against the erosions of political freedom perpetrated by Tom’s regime. Grumpy too launched a vehement diatribe against Tom, and what he described as his troops and his minions, from a very revolutionary standpoint, and he was supported in this by Sneezy and Sleepy, who had been shocked by the riots and felt their control of the party and its younger members slipping in the aftermath. Snow White was altogether quite shocked by the proceedings, which she felt were disrespectful and indeed irreligious. She had only come, she told Happy and Doc during the tea break, finding that they shared her views, because she had thought the conference was organized by Christians and would therefore be a decent affair; but now she found herself obliged to listen to Marxist claptrap. She had half a mind to take the next flight back.
Ceylon Today 24 Oct 2014 –