Volume #26 - 153.|
RELATIONS WITH INDIVIDUAL COUNTRIES
CEYLON: POLITICAL SITUATION
High Commissioner in Ceylon|
to Prime Minister
July 24th, 1959|
My dear Prime Minister,
I am very glad to be able to give you a slightly better picture of the situation here in Ceylon than I was in my previous letter.
Then (December 1958) we were still under the state of emergency. As the year wore on, it became more and more apparent that Mr. Bandaranaike could not carry on with a Cabinet as bitterly divided as his was.
Finally his ten right wing Ministers revolted and laid down the ultimatum that unless he was prepared to fire the two Communist Ministers they would all resign which would, of course, have brought down his Government.
Finally, after some obvious mental anguish, the Prime Minister acted, and threw out Philip Gunawardena and William de Silva. He then realigned his various ministries - adding to some and taking bits and pieces away from others - and also his Cabinet members.
As could be expected, the cause of the deposed Communist ex-Ministers was vigorously espoused by all the left-wing elements in the country and the Communist unions began a series of crippling strikes. The most serious was in the port of Colombo which once again came to a standstill, thus making impossible the import of food (at a time when food stocks were down to a 48-hour supply only!) and making impossible the export of tea, rubber, and cocoanut products, on which the whole economy depends.
The Prime Minister at once began a series of personal interventions, but again the right-wing Ministers intervened with the result that he made a statement to the effect that he would not have further negotiations until the strikers returned to work. The armed forces were then ordered out and put into camps in and around Colombo and set to work in the port unloading food cargoes.
It was soon obvious, however, that trained soldiers could not be kept at this labouring work too long and the Prime Minister then began to recruit what has been called the "Pioneer Corps." This consisted of unemployed men who rushed to Colombo from all over the country in the hope of getting some work. The race course, which you will remember is opposite my house, was one of the recruiting centres and at one stage I watched these men climbing the race course fence in their anxiety to get work. Those selected were sent to the port and those not selected, after a mild riot, were conveniently got out of the way. Applications to join this new Home Corps brought home to the Government the seriousness of the unemployment situation here.
The strike went on for over three weeks but fortunately this time the Prime Minister remained firm and finally it petered out. The victims, of course, are the wretched workers who have been made the cat's-paw of their Communist leaders. Now the Government faces the very difficult problem of what to do with the Pioneer Corps now that the strikers are back at work. The situation has by no means entirely settled down. The Communists are furious at the Prime Minister's turn to the right. I understand that Moscow was informed by its mission here that the Communist Ministers would win, and when they did not, there was consternation in communist circles. Moscow is very angry with the officers of its mission here and has recalled many of them.
With all his faults, which, as you well know, are many, I cannot help feeling sorry for Bandaranaike. He was called upon to work with an almost impossible coalition. Anyone with political experience could have told him that it was bound to fail, you cannot compromise with Communists. He seems to have learned a lesson from the trials and tribulations he has had to endure since his M.E.P. coalition came to power. I think he now realises that Communists have no interest in ordered progress, their ultimate objectives are radically different. However, whether from sound conviction or mere expediency, he has now turned definitely to the right.
Today he is a very lonely man, and does not seem to have any real friends anywhere. I want to suggest, my dear Prime Minister, that at this stage, a gesture from you would be really helpful to the situation. I am sure, that a friendly personal letter from you would not only be appreciated, but would be of the utmost help. To write Bandaranaike such a letter would cost only a small amount of your time and it would give him the feeling that after all the Commonwealth connection, and the democratic way as we understand it, is safer and better than the hope that he seems to have had that Communists can be made to behave decently. I think if he could receive at this stage such a letter of sympathy from a senior Commonwealth Prime Minister it might tend to give him moral support just when he needs it and help to dispel the feeling that he is all alone in an extremely difficult political world. Ceylon is important to our side strategically and in other ways.
I feel that in spite of all the difficulties in which the country is still embroiled, Ceylon might now begin to make a little progress. Some of the Cabinet Ministers are very weak sisters. Nevertheless, when they think at all, they do so now more or less along the same lines, whereas before the reorganization, the whole Cabinet was torn by dissension. If I might suggest the type of letter from you which would be the most helpful, I would say that all that is necessary is to tell him that you have been watching the political scene here with great sympathy and interest; that you hoped that the Cabinet reorganization would make his task easier, and that you would continue to take a sincere interest in the progress of his Government from now on. Wish him good luck and ultimate success. Something along these lines would, I feel sure, do much good coming from you.
I was delighted to see that whilst there was no increase in Canadian Colombo Plan aid to Ceylon, nevertheless no cut was made. Under-employment and unemployment are both rife in the country. Driving home a few nights ago from one very late official affair, which my wife and I had to attend, we were travelling along that road which you went in your processions to and from the airport, we counted no less than thirty-one wretched human beings, both male and female, sleeping in shallow doorways on a night when it was pouring with monsoon rain.
There is an increasing number of hungry people here in Colombo and its suburbs. The situation in the villages is no better, as the following little story will illustrate.
You will perhaps remember that Mrs. Diefenbaker was taken into the country to see some of the results of one of Mrs. Bandaranaike's charitable societies. My wife also works in this one and went along with Mrs. Diefenbaker. She was on a similar visit to a village recently and this place has been adopted by the society to be made into a model village. A very poor woman came up to my wife with a very obviously starved baby. Finding that Mrs. Cavell could not talk to her in Sinhalese, she went away and returned with a girl teacher who knew a little English.
To cut a long story short, what she said was that the village people were grateful to the organization for making theirs a model village, building them better houses, etc., but she said, "We cannot eat houses. We would sooner have food and sleep under the trees than be hungry as we are now." She went on to say that owing to lack of food for herself she was unable to feed her baby, which she was trying to keep alive by boiling roots, etc., for it. Could the lady, she asked, not find some work for their husbands rather than make them a model village? And so it is, Mr. Prime Minister, all over the Island. The preoccupation of this Government with doctrinaire socialism, with socialistic schemes of one kind or another, which are discussed ad nauseam, and never come to anything, is one of the curses here, as it is today in so many South and South-East Asian countries. I was impress-sed recently by something said by that wonderful Belgian Monk, Father George Pire, who was given the Nobel Prize for his work with refugees.
"It's better to get one little apple tree well planted, than a thousand trees in a dream orchard."
I have been reading those speeches of yours in which you have mentioned the necessity of declaring the objectives of the West at this important time in the affairs of Asia. Recently I was reading a report which was made by Chester Bowles on the floor of the U.S.A. House of Representatives. Bowles, as you know, spent some time in India as American Ambassador and was popular and useful. In one part of his speech he said, "What is needed is a new statement of our purpose." He felt that this was necessary both to galvanize the thinking of his own people as well as to let the East and those responsible for its destinies, (such for instance as Mr. Bandaranaike) know that in accepting our help and our aid they are NOT moving along the road to a resurgence of colonialism as the Communists tell them, but are taking their part in the building of a new democratic, free world in which they will have a great part to play.
I often mention to my Ceylonese friends here the Bill of Rights which you are proposing to introduce in Canada and point out to them that if we feel the need for such a safe-guard, perhaps they should give thought to something along the same lines at this time when they are planning for the future.
Our aid is still accepted without criticism, which means that we can exert an influence perhaps stronger than that of our friends south of our border, whose motives seem to be more suspect than our own, and for these reasons I again suggest that a friendly letter from you to Mr. Bandaranaike at this moment could do no harm and might well do much good.
On the whole it seems to me that the overall situation in South and South-East Asia is somewhat better. There is no doubt that, just as Hungary galvanized Europe and North American thought once again against the inhumanity of Communism in practice, so happenings in Tibet have caused the countries of South and South-East Asia to stop and take another look at Communism in practice. Unquestionably Chinese repression and brutality in Tibet has brought all the Buddhists in the world up with a sharp jerk. Burma has hardened her attitude towards the Communists, and here, the six million Buddhists have been shocked, particularly when their leaders tried to approach the Chinese Embassy here only to have the gates of the compound clanged in their faces.
One effect has been to call into question the constantly reiterated cry of the Communists that their creed and form of government is inevitable for Asia, so why not join now and take advantage of early membership? Their propaganda along this line, of the inevitability of their cause has unquestionably in the past had considerable effect on some leaders. Now they wonder.
You will be familiar, Mr. Prime Minister, with what is happening today in Kerala in Southern India, where a Communist Government was elected. The Communist hope was obviously to take over the whole of South India and then to add on Ceylon - Hungary, Tibet and Kerala have all played their part in showing Communism up in its true colours.
What we of the West have always to keep in mind is that you can only defeat an ideology with a better one. Ours is unquestionably a better one and it is this fact that we have somehow and other to get over to our Asian friends, and here, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to say a word or two about such schemes as the new Commonwealth scholarship one, which is receiving well deserved attention at the moment. But I do want to point out that such schemes, valuable as they are, are really only the icing on the cake. Here in South-East Asia we are concerned with millions (and that is not an exaggeration) of hungry people whose lot is not going to be bettered except by better economic conditions which will create jobs and thereby fill empty stomachs. Eventually we are only going to better the lot of these people and thus keep them on our side of the iron curtain, by filling their stomachs through finding them employment. This is the crucial problem. This is what we have to lick.
I think schemes such as our fisheries scheme here, into which Canada has put money, are along the right lines because we are trying to better the lot of the actual poor fisherman. Although it is a drop only in a very big bucket, it is at least an actual apple tree and better than the dream orchard.
I still say, my dear Prime Minister, what I said to you personally when you were in Ceylon - the West has practically all the cards. In the first place, we have the advantage of language over the Communists. The Russians who are here, for instance, working on a sugar scheme for this Island, huddle together, cannot talk to the Ceylonese with whom they work, and obviously would be afraid to do so even if they could! We have no such fears.
The colonial powers of old, as they are called, did do one thing. They implanted ideals of democracy and freedom which will not be easily obliterated. The West has many of the best cards and what we still have to do is to learn how to play them to our utmost advantage so that we can win most of the games. It is still possible to do this. I will never admit the inevitability of Communism for Asia but we have to do more than we are doing, not in terms of money, but in terms of telling contacts.
I am sure that you, more than most men, my dear Prime Minister, realize that you only influence people with whom you can get into contact. The Communists are in contact by nefarious means we would never adopt. We must find our own means of better contacts with Asia. More Commonwealth conferences in this region; more expressions of understanding and sympathy with the Asian struggle for better living conditions; more knowledge amongst our own people of the ultimate effect of the rise of Asian industrialization on their own standard of living; the fact that our Colombo Plan contribution is, in fact, only a small premium on the security of our place in a future world which will in time be predominantly Asian by sheer weight of numbers.
I apologise, my dear Prime Minister, for taking so much of your time. I can only say, that by putting all this before you, I am not wasting your time. Asia and its future, whether we like it or not, is vital to us and our future.
With kindest regards,