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 Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam 

In office
1972 – 1977
Succeeded by Appapillai Amirthalingam

Leader of the Federal Party
In office
1949 – 1972

Deputy Leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress
In office
1944 – 1949

In office
1947 – 1952
Succeeded by Subaiya Nadesan, UNP
In office
1956 – 1977
Preceded by Subaiya Nadesan, UNP

Born March 31, 1898(1898-03-31)
Ipoh, Malaysia
Died April 27, 1977 (aged 79)
Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Political party Tamil United Liberation Front
Spouse(s) Emily Grace Barr Chelvanayakam
Alma mater Union College
St. Thomas College
Profession Lawyer
Religion Christian

Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam (March 31, 1898 - April 27, 1977) was a Sri Lankan politician and leader of the Tamil community.


Early life

Chelvanayakam was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, but returned to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) at the age of four. He studied at Union College, Tellippalai, and St. Thomas' College. At age 19, he had a bachelor's degree, and by 25, was called to the bar. He married Emily Grace Barr Kumuarakulasinghe two years later.

Political career

Chelvanayakam became active in the All Ceylon Tamil Congress during the drive for independence, becoming the party's deputy leader. He was elected to Parliament in the 1947 elections.

The ACTC was torn between Chelvanayakam and G.G. Ponnambalam, who pushed for greater cooperation with the United National Party government. Chelvanayakam broke with Ponnambalam in protest over the latter's support for the denial of citizenship to the estate Tamils in 1949. He went on to found a new, more aggressive party, the Federal Party.

In the 1956 election, the Federal Party emerged as the leading party in the Tamil regions, but the new prime minister, Solomon Bandaranaike, pushed through the Sinhala Only Act, which met with stiff opposition from the Tamils.

Chelvanayakam led a satyagraha protest against the new law. The campaign succeeded at first in swaying the government, which negotiated the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact which agreed to provide government services in Tamil and devolve powers to a set of provincial councils. Bandaranaike abandoned the pact after stiff opposition from Buddhist monks.

After his fruitless experience dealing with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party governments of 1956-65, Chelvanayakam turned to the UNP. After that party's victory in the 1965 election, the Federal Party joined the government of Dudley Senanayake. He signed the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact which also provided for Tamil services and district councils.

Senanayake's regime failed to implement the Pact and as a result, Chelvanayakam and the FP left the government in 1968.

By the 1970s, Chelvanayakam had grown bitter over his failure to win any meaningful concessions from the Sinhalese, and became sympathetic to the cause of Tamil separatism. The FP and other parties merged into the Tamil United Liberation Front towards that end, with Chelvanayakam as their leader.


His health was increasingly poor; he had suffered from Parkinson's disease and growing deafness since the 1950s. In 1961, Chelva underwent surgery in Edinburgh to relieve the stress from Parkinson disease at the hands of a neurosurgeon, Francis John Gillingham and the operation “proved successful.” Despite the success of this operation, he died in 1977 at his home and was buried in Jaffna.


Chelvanayakam was a beloved figure to Sri Lanka's Tamils, to whom he was known as "Thanthai Chelva" or "Father Chelva". He was called as Eezha Thahthai Selva in Tamil Nadu .He was sometimes compared to Mahatma Gandhi due to his reliance on nonviolence and, even at the end of his life, his commitment to use only peaceful means to achieve his political ends. Chelvanayakam's political biography was published in 1994 by his son-in-law and political science professor A.Jeyaratnam Wilson.


  • I.D.S.Weerawarana. Ceylon General Election 1956. M.D.Gunasena & Co, Colombo, 1960, pp.179–205, 219-224, 240-241.
  • S.Ponniah. Satyagraha - The Freedom Movement of the Tamils in Ceylon. Valvettiturai, Jaffna, 1963, 197pp.
  • A.Jeyartnam Wilson. The Break-Up of Sri Lanka - The Sinhalese-Tamil Conclict. Hurst & Co, London, 1988, 240 pp. ISBN 1-85065-033-0.
  • A.Jeyartnam Wilson. S.J.V.Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Nationalism, 1947-1977. Hurst & Co, London, 1994, 149 pp. ISBN 1-85065-130-2.
  • Sri Kantha S. Parkinson disease of ranking lawyer and legislator S.J.V.Chelvanayakam; a hypothesis. Ceylon Medical Journal, December 2003; 48(4): 133-135.

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