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A man who belonged to the whole country

Ponnambalam Kandiah was a man who did not belong to Jaffna alone but to the whole country as his thinking and heart had the greatness to embrace all communities during his lifetime. He demonstrated that his political credo was to bring unity among all people of the country.



 Ponnambalam Kandiah

They say the good die young. One could be very sure there was some truth in that though there are some good people who live to ripe old age. He died young, at only 46 years. He was tall, at least six feet. Yet he stood even taller with his intellectual standing, sensitivity and empathy to all people of his times. Yet for all his achievements and position his humility, the hallmark of the true intellectual never deserted him.

Ponnambalam Kandiah was a man who did not belong to Jaffna alone but to the whole country as his thinking and heart had the greatness to embrace all communities during his lifetime. He demonstrated that his political credo was to bring unity among all people of the country.

In 1958 addressing a public meeting at Peradeniya he said the Tamil people and the Sinhalese people at the ordinary man's level did not know each other well. The farmers of Jaffna or Batticaloa did not know the farmers of Galle or Matara but only the capitalists among the Sinhalese and Tamils were united. Therefore, the common people of the north and the south should get to know one another to achieve national unity.

The majority of politicians of the north who followed Kandiah's generation of the north had deserted the noble path that people like him trod on. Most of them had taken to extol the virtues of the terrorist groups and want only to divide the country. Listening to the Tamil political `thambys' even in parliament today one begins to wonder whether most of them possess humanist or animist traits of character.

Kandiah was one of the first politicians from the North to propose devolution of power as one of the factors that could achieve unity among the north and the south. He was a kind, soft spoken man, not cut out to be a politician bawling atop platforms, a scholar who had the patience to engage in research.

The very first time we met him in Colombo was in 1957 teaching a group of working class people at the Workers Centre, Slave Island. The subject he taught was economics and banking. Of course he did not charge for his classes.

It was an honorary exercise and a service for the working class of Colombo.

His next labour of love was reorganizing the Colombo public library that was so disorganized that it could take anything between 15 minutes and one hour to find a book in it. Kandiah volunteered to help the Colombo Public Library and reorganized under the methods of library science that he had also qualified in library science. After he reorganized the public library in the late 1950s it became a real library not a building with book racks in disorder.

P. Kandiah who had his schooling at Hindu College Jaffna, and after completing his school education he entered the university of London and later earned a master's degree in economics from the Cambridge University. It was during that time he met the Sri Lankan students Pieter Keuneman. S. A. Wickramasinghe and others who too were fascinated with the marxist ideas. In 1943 after his return to Sri Lanka he joined the other young leftists and was one of the founders of the Ceylon Communist Party.

He was very active among the working class and he spent almost all his time in Colombo working among people of all three communities as all of them were his comrades.

One could not forget that he was never ruffled or hasty but very patient and thoughtful when he taught others what he had learned. At the budget debates he was even more skilled than even Dr.N.M.Perera or most others in the opposition.

During the budget debate of 1957 Kandiah proved in Parliament that the statistics provided by the then Finance Minister were wrong and he produced the corrected statistics to the amazement of the Speaker and the House. He said the budget did not have a plan and was a reflection of a sad state of affairs of a government without a plan. But it was 14 governments in one. Each minister is a government!

However, critical or incisive his speeches were, he was uncompromising on the unity of the working class for whom he worked and lived. For him there was no racial or ethnic division but the motivation to unite all communities. The good die young. Ponnambalam Kandiah was only 46 years old when he died in September 1960.

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