G. G. Ponnambalam

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G. G. Ponnambalam

ஜி. ஜி. பொன்னம்பலம்
G G Ponnambalam.jpg
Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries[a]
In office
3 September 1948 – 22 October 1953
Preceded byC. Sittampalam
Succeeded byKanthiah Vaithianathan
Member of the State Council of Ceylon
for Point Pedro
In office
Member of the Ceylonese Parliament
for Jaffna
In office
Succeeded byAlfred Duraiappah
In office
Preceded byAlfred Duraiappah
Succeeded byC. X. Martyn
Personal details
Born(1901-11-08)8 November 1901
Died9 February 1977(1977-02-09) (aged 75)
Political partyAll Ceylon Tamil Congress
Alma materFitzwilliam College, Cambridge
EthnicityCeylon Tamil
  1. ^ Minister of Industries and Fisheries from June 1952 to October 1953.

Ganapathipillai Gangaser Ponnambalam (Tamil: கணபதி காங்கேசர் பொன்னம்பலம்; 8 November 1901 – 9 February 1977) was a Ceylon Tamil lawyer, politician and cabinet minister. He was the founder and leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), first political party to represent the Ceylon Tamils.

Early life and family[edit]

Ponnambalam was born on 8 November 1901.[1][2][3][a] He was the son of Gangaser, a postmaster from Alvaly in northern Ceylon.[4] He was educated at St. Patrick's College, Jaffna and St. Joseph's College, Colombo.[4][5][6] Ponnambalam joined Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge on a government scholarship, graduating with a first class degree in natural sciences tripos.[4][7][8][9] He also received MA and LL.B. degrees from Cambridge.[5]

Ponnambalam married Rose Alagumani Clough.[4] They had a son (Kumar) and a daughter (Vijayalakshmi).[4]



Ponnambalam was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn.[10] He returned to Ceylon, via France, in 1927 and started practising law as an advocate.[4][7] An outstanding debater, Ponnambalam became one of the leading criminal lawyers in the country and was made a King's Counsel in 1948.[4] Ponnambalam appeared in several high-profile legal cases during his legal career. He was one of the defence lawyers in the 1954 Ranjani taxi cab case at which his cross examination of fingerprint experts resulted in the acquittal of all four accused and changes to finger print law.[2][11] As his popularity began to decline in the late 1950s Ponnambalam gradually moved his legal practice to Malaya, only returning to Ceylon to contest elections and take part in high-profile cases.[12]

In January 1976 the Union Government of India dismissed the state government of Tamil Nadu, accusing Chief Minister Karunanidhi of corruption, and imposed President's rule.[2] Ponnambalam represented Karunanidhi at Supreme Court justice Ranjit Singh Sarkaria's commission of inquiry.[2][13] Karunanidhi was cleared of the corruption charges.[2] On 21 May 1976 several leading Tamil politicians (A. Amirthalingam, V. N. Navaratnam, K. P. Ratnam, M. Sivasithamparam and K. Thurairatnam) were delivering leaflets when they were all arrested on government orders.[14][15] Sivasithamparam was released but the others were taken to Colombo and tried for sedition.[14] All the defendants were acquitted on 10 February 1977 after a famous trial at bar case in which around 70 leading Tamil lawyers, including Ponnambalam and S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, acted for the defence.[16][17]


Ponnambalam became the political leader of the Ceylon Tamils following the deaths of P. Arunachalam (1924) and his brother P. Ramanathan (1930).[18] He contested the 1931 state council election as a candidate in Mannar-Mullaitivu but failed to get elected to the State Council.[4] He had been unable to contest in his home constituency of Point Pedro due to the boycott organised by the Jaffna Youth Congress. The boycott ended in 1934 and Ponnambalam contested the ensuing by-elections in Point Pedro.[4] He won the election and entered the State Council.[4][18] He was re-elected at the 1936 state council election.[4][19]

The Board of Ministers established after the 1936 state council election consisted entirely of Sinhalese members, excluding minorities who together made up 35% of Ceylon's population.[19] This was one of the drivers which led Ponnambalam to make his infamous 50:50 demand in a marathon speech to the State Council on 15 March 1939.[20] He repeated the demand when he gave evidence to the Soulbury Commission in February 1945.[2] Ponnambalam wanted 50% of seats in Parliament for the Sinhalese, 50% for all other ethnic groups.[21][22]

In August 1944 Ponnambalam formed the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), the first political party to represent the Ceylon Tamils, from various Tamil groups.[2][23] He was elected president of the party.[23] Ponnambalam stood as the ACTC candidate for Jaffna at the 1947 parliamentary election. He won the election and entered Parliament.[24] The ACTC swept the poll in the Tamil dominated Northern Province, winning seven of the nine seats in the province. The United National Party (UNP) became the largest party Parliament but it did not have a majority.[2] Ponnambalam presided over a meeting at the house of Herbert Sri Nissanka (the Yamuna Conference) at which an unsuccessful attempt was made to form a government without the UNP.[2] The UNP subsequently formed a government with the support of independent and appointed MPs.

Following independence in February 1948, Ceylon's Sinhalese dominated government set about disenfranchising the 780,000 (12% of the population) Indian Tamils living in Ceylon by introducing the Ceylon Citizenship Bill.[25][26] Ponnambalam and the ACTC opposed the bill.[2] The bill prompted Ponnambalam to describe Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake as a "racist".[27] The bill was passed by Parliament at its second reading on 20 August 1948, a day Ponnambalam described as a black one for Ceylon.[27][28] Shortly afterwards Ponnambalam decided to join the UNP led government.[27] He was made Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries on 3 September 1948.[4][27][29] Kankesanthurai Cement Factory, Paranthan Caustic Soda Chemical Factory and Valaichchenai Paper Mill were opened during Ponnambalam's ministerial tenure.[4]

Ponnambalam's decision to join the UNP led government in 1948 caused a split in the ACTC.[27] Eventually, in December 1949, the ACTC dissidents, led by Chelvanayakam, C. Vanniasingam and E. M. V. Naganathan, formed the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK, Federal Party).[27] As Ceylon's two main parties, the UNP and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), introduced policies, such as the Sinhala Only Act, which further discriminated against the country's minorities, ITAK's Tamil nationalism became more popular than the ACTC's conservatism. At the 1956 parliamentary election the ITAK overtook the ACTC as the most popular party amongst Ceylon Tamils.[30][31]

Ponnambalam was re-elected at the 1952 parliamentary election.[32] His cabinet portfolio was changed to Minister of Industries and Fisheries in June 1952.[27][33] In October 1953 newly appointed Prime Minister John Kotelawala forced Ponnambalam to resign from the government because Ponnambalam was a supporter of former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake.[2][5]

Ponnambalam was re-elected at the 1956 parliamentary election but lost his seat at the March 1960 parliamentary election.[34][35] He tried unsuccessfully to re-gain his seat at the July 1960 parliamentary election.[36] He was elected at the 1965 parliamentary election.[37] After the election the ACTC joined the UNP led national government and Ponnambalam was offered a ministerial position which he declined. Between 1967 and 1969 Ponnambalam led Ceylon's delegation to UN General Assembly.[38] Ponnambalam lost his seat again at the 1970 parliamentary election.[39]

Ponnambalam died on 9 February 1977.[3][38][b] A commemorative 75 cents stamp was issued on 22 May 1986.[4]

Electoral history[edit]

Electoral history of G. G. Ponnambalam
Election Constituency Party Votes Result
1931 state council Mannar-Mullaitivu Not elected
1934 state council by[40] Point Pedro 9,319 Elected
1936 state council Point Pedro Elected
1947 parliamentary[24] Jaffna ACTC 14,324 Elected
1952 parliamentary[32] Jaffna ACTC 12,726 Elected
1956 parliamentary[34] Jaffna ACTC 8,914 Elected
1960 March parliamentary[35] Jaffna ACTC 5,312 Not elected
1960 July parliamentary[36] Jaffna ACTC 6,015 Not elected
1965 parliamentary[37] Jaffna ACTC 9,350 Elected
1970 parliamentary[37] Jaffna ACTC 7,222 Not elected


  1. ^ Another source gives Ponnambalam's date of birth as 8 November 1902.[4]
  2. ^ Another source gives Ponnambalam's date of death as 9 December 1977.[4]


  1. ^ "Directory of Past Members: Ganapathipillai Gangaser Ponnambalam". Parliament of Sri Lanka.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Vinayagamoorthy, A. (8 November 2003). "103rd Birth Anniversary today : G. G. Ponnambalam – Founder of ACTC". Daily News.
  3. ^ a b Ponnambalam, G. G. (2001). G.G. Ponnambalam: The Marathon Crusade for 50-50 (Balanced Representation) in the State Council 1939 (PDF). Manimekalai Prasuram. p. xxxvii.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Arumugam, S. (1997). Dictionary of Biography of the Tamils of Ceylon (PDF). p. 141.
  5. ^ a b c Rajasingham, K. T. "Chapter 15: Turbulence in any language". Sri Lanka: The Untold Story.
  6. ^ Dwight, Richard (12 October 2010). "I come from the land of the Buddha". Daily News.
  7. ^ a b Ponnambalam, Kumar (4 February 2007). ""Fifty-Fifty" my father's cry". The Sunday Times.
  8. ^ Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam (2000). Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. C. Hurst & Co. p. 66. ISBN 1-85065-519-7.
  9. ^ Dissanayake, T. D. S. A. (2005). War Or Peace in Sri Lanka. Popular Prakashan. p. 9. ISBN 81-7991-199-3.
  10. ^ Dissanayake, T. D. S. A. (2005). War Or Peace in Sri Lanka. Popular Prakashan. p. 2. ISBN 81-7991-199-3.
  11. ^ Sameer, Firoze (27 August 2006). "New Books: The other side of the Sathasivam case". The Sunday Times.
  12. ^ Hoole, Ratnajeevan (17 February 2013). "Who Will Speak For Tamils at UNHRC?". The Sunday Leader.
  13. ^ Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (15 June 2003). "Anandasangaree notches seventy today". The Sunday Leader.
  14. ^ a b Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (9 June 2002). "Life and times of Sivasithamparam". The Sunday Leader.
  15. ^ Rajasingham, K. T. (26 August 2005). "Amirthalingham Era – A book review". Asian Tribune. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016.
  16. ^ Sumanthiran, M. A. (28 October 2012). "13A: To be or not ..." Ceylon Today. Archived from the original on 29 March 2016.
  17. ^ Rajasingham, K. T. "Chapter 24: Tamil militancy – a manifestation". Sri Lanka: The Untold Story.
  18. ^ a b Rajasingham, K. T. "Chapter 7: State Councils – elections and boycotts". Sri Lanka: The Untold Story.
  19. ^ a b Rajasingham, K. T. "Chapter 8: Pan Sinhalese board of ministers – A Sinhalese ploy". Sri Lanka: The Untold Story.
  20. ^ Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam (2000). Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. C. Hurst & Co. p. 69. ISBN 1-85065-519-7.
  21. ^ Singh, Mahendra Prasad; Kukreja, Veena (2014). Federalism in South Asia. Routledge. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-415-73595-7.
  22. ^ Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja (1986). Sri Lanka—Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy. University of Chicago Press. p. 188. ISBN 0-226-78952-7.
  23. ^ a b Rajasingham, K. T. "Chapter 10: Lord Soulbury and his soulless report". Sri Lanka: The Untold Story.
  24. ^ a b "Result of Parliamentary General Election 1947" (PDF). Election Commission of Sri Lanka.
  25. ^ "Statelessness in Sri Lanka". UNHCR in Sri Lanka. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009.
  26. ^ Khan, Gerrard (October 2001). "Citizenship and statelessness in South Asia" (PDF). United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. p. 6.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g Rajasingham, K. T. "Chapter 14: Post-colonial realignment of political forces". Sri Lanka: The Untold Story.
  28. ^ Peebles, Patrick (2015). Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka. Rowman & Littlefield. p. xxxi. ISBN 978-1-4422-5584-5.
  29. ^ Gunasekara, S. L. (22 April 2001). "S. L. Gunasekara takes on A. Vinayagamoorthy M.P." The Island.
  30. ^ Reddy, L. R. (2003). Sri Lanka Past and Present. A. P. H. Publishing Corporation. p. 85. ISBN 81-7648-449-0.
  31. ^ Ross, Russell R.; Savada, Andrea Matles, eds. (1988). "Chapter 25: Tamil Politics". Sri Lanka: A Country Study. Library of Congress.
  32. ^ a b "Result of Parliamentary General Election 1952" (PDF). Election Commission of Sri Lanka.
  33. ^ Ceylon Year Book 1951 (PDF). Department of Census and Statistics, Ceylon. pp. 27–28.
  34. ^ a b "Result of Parliamentary General Election 1956" (PDF). Election Commission of Sri Lanka.
  35. ^ a b "Result of Parliamentary General Election 19 March 1960" (PDF). Election Commission of Sri Lanka.
  36. ^ a b "Result of Parliamentary General Election 20 July 1960" (PDF). Election Commission of Sri Lanka.
  37. ^ a b c "Result of Parliamentary General Election 1965" (PDF). Election Commission of Sri Lanka.
  38. ^ a b Vinayagamoorthy, A. (9 February 2003). "Appreciation: G. G. Ponnambalam QC". The Island.
  39. ^ "Result of Parliamentary General Election 1970" (PDF). Election Commission of Sri Lanka.
  40. ^ Russell, Jane (December 1982). Communal Politics Under the Donoughmore Constitution 1931–1947. Tisara Prakasakayo. p. 75.