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Home > Sathyam - Truth is a Pathless Land > Human Rights & the Tamil Nation > Somasunderam Nadesan > On the National Flag, 1948
Speech in the Senate on 19 January 1948
[see also Nadesan's Dissent in the National Flag Parliamentary Select Committee Report, 27 February 1951 and
Sinhala Lion Flag imposed by Sinhala Majority]
I wish to make a few observations on this motion. I am constrained to make these observations for the reason that obviously the Hon. Minister of Justice has misunderstood the purport of this motion, or at any rate he seems to be having considerable misgivings with regard to whether the lion flag conforms to the requirements of this motion.
So far as this motion itself is concerned, it says:
“That this House is of opinion that the National Flag of Sir Lanka should be designed so as to be acceptable to all sections of the people, and to be in keeping with the ideals of the present age”.
I would like to ask the Hon. Minister to consider whether he is not of the view that the National Flag of this country should be acceptable to all sections of its population. I think that it is common ground among all Hon. Senators, as well as among the general public, that the National Flag should be acceptable to all sections of the people. That is one of the things that distinguishes a National Flag from a party emblem; that is the criterion by which one judges whether a flag is a National Flag or not. It is a matter of sincere regret to me that this is the one country in the world, where in recent times the question of the National Flag has been the subject of a debate. Not in any other of His Majesty’s Dominions has the question of the National Flag has been a matter of controversy.
The motion that has been brought up by the Hon. Doctor Senator is one that could be accepted without any debate. We could all as one man accept it, for the reason that the motion does not seek to raise any controversy. It raises two principles with regard to what the National Flag should conform to. The first is that it should be acceptable to all sections of the people; the second is that it should be in keeping with the ideals of the present era. Those are the two principles which he has laid down. All that we ask Hon. Senators is whether they are also of that opinion. Can any Hon. Senator say that a National Flag should not be acceptable to all communities? If anyone asks us what sort of flag we would like to have, will we not with one voice say that the National Flag which we should have for our country should be a flag acceptable to all sections of the people? That is the first essential. We will say that for the simple reason that we are aware of the fact that such a flag is absolutely necessary for the purpose of the unity of the entire country; we will instinctively say that.
The next question we are asked is, should such a flag be in accordance with the ideals of the modern age? I do not think there is anybody who will say nay. After all, 1815 is not very far removed from 1947. It may be considered a modern age. We are not talking of the modern era or the present century; we are speaking of the present age. Surely the flag should be evolved in line with the ideals of the modern age. If we are asked to express an opinion as to what the National Flag should be like, I dare say even those protagonists of the National Flag in this country will say that it should be in accordance with the ideals of the modern age.
I was wondering, when I listened to the Hon. Minister of Justice, whether he had some doubts in his mind as to whether the Lion Flag would conform to the requirements of this motion. If he had doubts in regard to that aspect of the matter, then one can possibly understand his endeavour to side-track this motion by referring to the second motion with regard to a Select Committee.
With regard to the motion for the appointment of a Select Committee, this is a matter which we cannot decide. After all, the Select Committee appointed by this Senate is not going to finally adjudicate and decide upon this matter. Truly this is a matter which should have come before this Chamber in a totally different way at the proper time.
An Ordinance or act should have been introduced in the other place, or an amendment to the Constitution embodying the National Flag should have been proposed in the other place. The matter should have been properly considered, if necessary by a Select Committee, and a decision arrived at thereafter, and then the matter should have come up for consideration by the Senate so that we ourselves might make any amendments. No useful purpose will be served by our now referring this matter to a Select Committee to collect evidence and consider these matters. The Hon. Doctor Senator said that he was perfectly willing to withdraw his second motion if it was not going to be any assistance whatever in resolving matters.
But so far as this motion No. 4 is concerned, we are expressing certain opinions with regard to what the National Flag should be. I feel that it is but right that we should express our opinion on this matter, which has been a subject of public agitation; and so far as it has come before Parliament for decision, it is but right that we should express our views with regard to what the principle should b so that the proper parties concerned, inclusive of prominent Members of the Cabinet, might take note of our opinions and, if they are so minded, give heed to our opinions in any proposals that they might put forward in regard to the evolution of a flag.
After all, the primary function of the Senate is to express opinions on matters of interest which come up in due time, so that they might help in the proper formulation of policies; and in a matter like this, in regard to the establishment of a proper National Flag.
I venture to submit that the Hon. Doctor Senator in his enthusiasm possibly imagined that the Senate would appoint a Select Committee; that this Select Committee would call for documents, evidence, and records, and thereafter come to a certain decision; and that this decision would somehow have some sort of weight in the consideration of this matter. It may lead to more confusion, for the reason that some other Select Committee might come to some other conclusion and there would be these two Select Committees competing with different views.
The Hon. Doctor Senator has stated to me that he does not wish to proceed with the suggestion to appoint a Select Committee if it will serve no useful purpose. But it is necessary on an occasion such as this, in an Assembly like the Senate which is not altogether dependent upon an electorate and can certainly look at matters from a detached point of view, to express our opinion.
I was watching the Hon. Leader of the Senate during the course of the speech of the Hon. Senator (Dr M.G. Perera) when he made those remarks about the sentiments of the masses of the population, about possible riots and the possible increase of the Police Force. The Hon. Leader was feeling very uncomfortable, because he was saying to himself that the time was coming when the Police Force should be doubled! This sort of blood-curdling remarks (Mr President) are suited to a different place. I thought that the Senate was a place where we were expected to consider matters in a far more detached way, without reference to the anxieties and emotions of turbulent mobs, but in accordance with reason, so that we might give disinterested advice with regard to what should be done, (what should be) accepted, or (what should be) rejected.
It is proper that we should express our views, our opinions, after dispassionate consideration of the whole problem, and looking at it from that point of view, is it not incumbent on us to express our views and opinions on this important question? We do not want to assert what the design of the National Flag should be. That will not be very useful, because the matter will have to be finally decided by another place whose views naturally are the views of the various electorates. So far as we are concerned, we will give due weight to their views; we are expected to deal with the matter from a different angle, as men of the world who can weight things without any consideration of what is going to happen to anyone of us when we face the electorate the next time. I submit that if we do not, on an occasion such as this, address our minds impartially and faithfully to a proper consideration of a resolution such as this, and express our views and opinions then the Hon. Senator seated on my right side (Mr D.W.J. Perera) will be perfectly justified in moving his resolution in regard to the abolition of the Senate.
I understood that it is the intention of the Government, in course of time, to have a National Flag designed. I do not understand why the Government has not intended or the Hon. Prime Minister does not intend, to have a suitable National Flag designed which will be acceptable to all sections of the people of Ceylon, and in accordance with the ideals for the present age. All that is stated is that the evolution or the preparation and the designing of such a flag will take some time, that it may be done after the Independence celebrations, a particular flag should go up. But Mr President, once it is conceded that there is the necessity to design a National Flag for Ceylon, and once it is conceded that steps are going to be taken to design such a National Flag, I wonder what harm there is in our expressing our opinion with regard to what the design of that flag should be.
I do not propose to give any design. All that I say is that the National Flag of Ceylon should be designed so as to be acceptable to all sections of its people and to be in keeping with the ideals of the present age.
The position is that already the Prime Minister and some Members of his Cabinet intend to have a National Flag designed for Ceylon. Already statements have been made on the Floor of this Chamber that even a Select Committee is going to be appointed for the purpose of designing the National Flag. Once that is the decision that has been made, it is all the more incumbent, on this Chamber to express its opinion with regard to the principles which we are of opinion should be observed in the designing of the National Flag. That is why I say that now is the time for this Chamber to consider the principles and give an expression of opinion so that the proper authorities, when they come to design the National Flag, may give proper consideration and due weight to the views that have been expressed by us. That is why I feel that there is absolutely no reason why any Hon. Senator should think that anything wrong is being done by subscribing to a resolution of this nature at this juncture. That is something which I cannot understand.
It is one of two things. Either it is the decision of Government that there is no necessity for designing a National Flag as we already have a National Flag, or that no National Flag is going to be designed acceptable to all communities and in accordance with the ideals of the present age. When this is so there is absolutely no reason why we should not express our own views with regard to the principles, and why those views hold not be communicated to the Prime Minister and to the Members of the Government, so that they might give heed to our views. The Select Committee itself which may be appointed elsewhere in another constitution may take into consideration our views in evolving the flag, and that is why I say that I cannot understand the objection to this motion that has been raised by the Hon. Minister of Justice.
In another place I was told that when a substantive resolution was brought up with regard to the actual design of the National Flag, so far as the Government was concerned, it allowed its Members to exercise a free vote. I trust that in respect of a motion such as this, which lays down general principles, the same procedure would be adopted so far as this Chamber is concerned, so that each individual Senator may be enabled to express his views irrespective of what the views of the Government Members may be.
I have been made to understand that so far as the Government of this country is concerned, it has no views with regard to the question of the National Flag. That is the belief, and that is the position that this Chamber put forward on behalf of the Government; and that was the reason why in another place, instead of the Government sponsoring a motion with regard to the National Flag, it was left to a Private Member’s motion and, therefore, it is clear that, so far as the Government is concerned, the Government has not decided upon this question of the National Flag.
So far as Hon. Senators are concerned, they are free to exercise their vote according to their conscience, in respect of a resolution of this nature which is a resolution to which they can quite easily subscribe for the reason that it only lays down the general principles with regard to the National Flag and nothing more than that.
I propose to deal with one or two other matters. It has been stated that there is hardly any time to design a National Flag, because some flag has to be hoisted on 4th February at Kandy. That may be so, and I do not propose to deal with that aspect of the matters - as to whether there is time or not, or why the Government did not take proper steps in due time to have a National Flag or why they had to wait all these months without taking the necessary precaution of having a National Flag designed. I do not desire to take up those aspects of the matter, and enter into any questions which might at this stage create any kind of bad feeling.
All that I say is this: an expression of opinion by us does not tie down anybody to any particular period of time within which a certain flag should be designed. I dare say, so far as the persons responsible are concerned, if they feel that since the Senate has expressed its opinion, they should hurry up and get on with the matter and design the flag, we certainly shall be very pleased and happy that such deference should be paid to the opinions of Hon. Senators. It may be that they may take a little longer, but, so far as the resolution is concerned, it does not tie down anybody to take any steps at indeed surprised that this should be the attitude taken up. It disheartens me quite a great deal to see that there should be any objection to an expression of opinion on a matter such as this, and in these terms, as if such an expression of opinion is something obnoxious and is something that is going to be done by the Government of this country.
It can only proceed on the basis that the Government at present has certain designs with regard to the National Flag, and that those designs do not conform to the principles laid down in this motion and, therefore, it is uncomfortable for the Government that this motion should be passed. From all that I have been able to gather, and from all that I have heard, that is not the view of anybody. Apparently all are agreed that those principles should apply and, so far as the various flags that have been discussed are concerned, everybody has proclaimed, that those flags should be suitable for the people of this country and, what is more, it should also be a flag acceptable to all sections of the people. That is what has been stated. It is not suggested from the Government Benches or by any Hon. Senator that a particular flag - for instance there is the Lion Flag to which references has been made by the Hon. Minister of Justice - is acceptable to all sections of the people. On the other hand, the Hon. Minister of Justice has proclaimed how a Tamil king lived under this flag, how the country lived under this flag and how this very flag was quite acceptable to the people.
Reference was made the other day by an Hon. Senator to the fact that some Tamil Congress mischief-makers are responsible for creating some sort of agitation. Is it their case that the Lion Flag is a flag which is acceptable to all sections of the people and is in accord with the ideals of the present age? It has been argued by a good friend of mine that the ideals of the present age are the ideals of the sword, and that the design of the Lion Flag is in keeping with the ideals of the present age. That may be so; he may be right and I may be wrong; my views may be slightly different.
But the position is this: no one has stated - even the protagonists of that subject do not say so - that the Lion Flag does not conform to this resolution. I am, therefore, rather amused at the fear that is engendered in the minds of certain people when they say that they cannot accept this resolution. My submission to Hon. Senators, whether they support the Lion Flag or whether they support any other flag, is that none of those questions has anything to do with the particular resolution as it has been placed before the Chamber today. As far as we are concerned if we do not express our opinions with regard to the National Flag of a country in these terms, there would be something really wanting in us. There should be no one standing in the way of our expressing an opinion in such a simple straightforward manner.
I do not propose to deal with the various other observations made by the Hon. Senators regarding various flags. I need only say (so far as I am concerned) that I have the greatest respect and veneration for the Lion Flag of my Sinhalese brethren, and nothing will give me greater pleasure than to see that flag hoisted, on Independence Day and thereafter, in the hill capital where that flag was hauled down. But it is a matter for consideration as to what the position should be with regard to the Parliament Building and the rest of Ceylon. This is a matter which has to be looked into very carefully, and I have not the slightest doubt that the question can be resolved with goodwill on all sides.
With regard to that problem, therefore, I do not propose to say anything just now which may possibly stand in the way of effecting a complete and sincere agreement on the part of the leaders of the country, and for that reason I desist from making an observation on that score. But before I conclude, I wish to observe that it is no use arguing and talking about the history; one has to relate things to present realities. It is no use trying to rouse the sentiments of the people by telling them about how a Tamil king waved this flag in Kandy.
Afer all, the Kings of England are German; George I was the first German who became King of England. That is no reason for wanting to hoist the Union Jack in Germany. It is no use telling the German people: “Look here, the German King of England has the Union Jack as his royal standard; therefore we wish to have the Union Jack as the royal standard in Germany”.
I am explaining the difficulties, not in any sense of making carping criticisms, but because I can understand and sympathise with the views of a certain section of the people. After all, it is rather difficult for Hon. Senators, who happen to be something in their own country, which has its own history of which they are justifiably proud, and the history of whose flag goes down to 2,500 years, really to appreciate the position, understand the difficulties of people like us, who happen to belong to different communities and who ourselves have a history of our own which we are proud of, and to sympathise with our feelings in matters such as this. It may also be rather difficult for us to understand their feelings in these matters. That is where a compromise is absolutely essential. It is in such matters that one should give and take, and on Independence Day, when this flag goes up, it is but right and fitting that all communities in this Island should with one voice acclaim that flag.
I therefore (venture to) submit (with very great respect) that those Hon. Senators of the majority community who happen to be present in this Chamber will pardon us (will forgive us) if we appear to be rather keen on having a common National Flag and are not able to give to their own flag that love and affection which the National Flag of this country can possibly command. It is not something which we are doing wantonly, it is something that comes spontaneously from our hearts. If our hearts do not respond, it is not because we are not willing (we would be the first to be willing to acclaim that flag as the National Flag) but because we have our own difficulties. We have our own masses, our own people, to whom the lion flag does not mean anything, and it is for that reason I appeal (not for anything else).
It is not that we want to stand at all in the way of the majority community hoisting this flag. In fact, if a common National Flag is evolved (I for one, and I know) a large number of my community as well as I, will be the first to travel to Kandy if necessary, to participate in the celebrations when the Lion Flag goes up in the same citadel where it came down. There should be a common National Flag round which the people of the country can rally. It is not that we are insensitive to the sentiments of a certain section of the people when we talk of a National Flag. I would, therefore, earnestly beg of the members of the majority community to bear with us with regard to this matter.
But none of those matters arises for consideration at this stage and in respect of this motion. This is only an indication with regard to the future National Flag of this country, and the opinion that we have to express in respect of that National Flag. If indeed we have to rely upon the statements made by the Hon. Prime Minister and other responsible Members of the Cabinet, that it is their intention to have a National Flag acceptable to all sections of this country, and in conformity with the ideals of the present age, it is right (and proper) that we ourselves should see, apart from individual opinions in that connection, that the entirety of this Chamber is behind that view and holds the same opinion. So that it may yet be possible, once we have expressed our opinions, to evolve a National Flag round which, under whatever circumstances, every Ceylonese, irrespective of class, creed or community, can rally as one man.