By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
A high level delegation comprising seven members of Parliament from the Tamil National Alliance(TNA)was in New Delhi last week from October 10th -14th on an invitation extended by the Government of India. The TNA team led by Trincomalee district MP R. Sampanthan consisted of Jaffna district MP’s “Mavai” Senathirajah,”Suresh” Premachandran, A. Vinayagamoorthy, Batticaloa district MP Pon. Selvarajah,Wanni district MP “Selvam” Adaikkalanathan and National list parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran.
News reports in sections of the media prior to the TNA’s visit to India speculated that the Indian Govt would exert pressure on the party to participate unconditionally in the Parliamentary Select Committee(PSC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The PSC is expected to discuss and arrive at an agreement over issues of power sharing aimed at redressing legitimate grievances and accommodating valid aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamil people in particular and the Island’s minority ethnicities in general. The PSC however has not started functioning mainly due to the TNA’s refusal to participate in it without adequate guarantees or arrangements.
Sri Lanka’s premier Tamil political formation that was engaged in bilateral discussions with the Government wants to continue those talks until agreement is reached and then enter the PSC on the basis of such decisions. President Rajapaksa who abruptly terminated the bilateral talks and appointed the PSC has been insisting that the TNA join the Select committee first.
This has resulted in a political stalemate. It was against this backdrop that the TNA was invited by India for a series of meetings with Indian leaders and officials chief among whom was Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was expected that the Indian PM would personally request the TNA to participate in the PSC without any preconditions.
This however has not happened. Contrary to media speculation both the Indian Govt and more notably the Prime minister seem to have understood and appreciated the TNA stance on this.
According to a report in the “Daily Mirror” TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran has told the newspaper that his party briefed the Indian leaders about the circumstances that led to the stalemate in talks for the evolution of a political solution.
Sumanthiran reportedly told the “Daily Mirror”that the government should agree to have bilateral talks with his party to reach a consensus on the proposed political solution and pointed out that the government, as agreed earlier, should pursue such talks based on the five documents, which have been prepared earlier on proposals for power sharing.
The Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Report, three documents prepared in 1995, 1997 and 2000 by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Administration and the majority report produced by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC)expert panel have been agreed upon for consideration as the basis for talks.
“We can participate in the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) only if the government agrees to continue with bilateral talks. Any agreement through such talks can be put forward for consideration by the select committee,” Mr. Sumanthiran said to the “Daily Mirror”.
The TNA is elated that fears of Indian pressure have proved to be liars and that the Indian Govt had not urged the party to enter PSC discussions unconditionally. The party is very happy that it was able to convince the Indian Premier and senior officials of the correctness of its position on the PSC. The TNA is pleased by the fact that Manmohan Singh has gone on record that the party would be the chief interlocutor in bilateral discussions with Colombo aimed at enhancing and implementing the 13th amendment to the Constitution.
The Tamil delegation is very satisfied and impressed by the consideration and courtesy extended to them by Manmohan Singh. The Indian Prime Minister’s pointedly demonstrative gesture in walking out with the TNA to their vehicles and bidding “Namaskar” is viewed very positively.
( Ironically the expansion of the India bound TNA delegation to seven was by itself an attempt to pacify internal dissent on this count.Four of the seven MP’s who went to New Delhi are from the ITAK while the other three are from the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) )
Though the TNA has returned home happily after their passage to India future prospects for the party do not seem to be bright even if not entirely bleak. The primary cause for this is the recurring phenomenon of internal dissension. This is a malady that has continuously afflicted Tamil politics in the past and present and is likely to do so in the foreseeable future.
The chief constituent of the TNA is the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) that was known earlier in English as the Federal Party (FP). The TNA a loose alliance of different parties has been contesting under the ITAK symbol of the house since 2004.There are several bones of contention between the ITAK and other parties in the TNA .An important issue causing friction is that of the ITAK being the dominant entity within the alliance.
Ironically the expansion of the India bound TNA delegation to seven was by itself an attempt to pacify internal dissent on this count. Four of the seven MPs who went to New Delhi are from the ITAK while the other three are from the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO). The delegation’s composition was broadened to satisfy all constituent parties represented in Parliament in a bid to avoid charges of ITAK hegemony. Some in the TNA who insinuated that Sampanthan going to New Delhi was a sell out had no qualms in accompanying him to the Indian capital as part of a larger delegation.
The internal turmoil within the TNA did not go unnoticed in New Delhi. Much concern was evinced by Indian PM Manmohan Singh himself. Indian leaders and officials emphasized the imperative need for unity at this point of time where India and important players from the International community perceive and regard the TNA as the accredited and accepted representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. With the TNA being expected to lead the political struggle for greater devolution through democratic norms within an undivided Sri Lanka, internal schisms may prove detrimental to the party at this juncture.
The wisdom gleaned from the Delhi oracles may help contain the dissension for a while but it is certainly likely to surface again because the causes of the troubles are complex. It would only be a matter of time before voices of discord are raised loudly and publicly.
In order to fully comprehend the scale and scope of the simmering tensions within the TNA one has to re-examine the political background and reasons leading to the formation of this alliance. Roots of the current TNA crisis lie in the not so distant past. This column has in previous articles traced the evolution of the TNA and would draw upon them again to provide a clearer perspective on what is happening now.
“To understand the currents, countercurrents, undercurrents and crosscurrents within the TNA waters, a brief examination of its evolution and growth is necessary. Contrary to popular belief the TNA at the beginning was not a Tiger creation. It was formed independently with cautious indirect backing by the LTTE. Thereafter the LTTE took it over and controlled it.
The origins of the Tamil National Alliance lie in the East. The factor that triggered it off was the October 10th 2000 Parliamentary election. The results in the North-East sent shock waves to the Tamils in general and some Tamil parties in particular.
No Tamil was elected in the politically sensitive Trincomalee district. In Batticaloa only two Tamils from the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) were elected. Another Tamil won from the ruling People’s Alliance (PA).In Amparai district a Tamil Independent backed by the EPDP was elected.
The Wanni district with six seats saw Two Sinhala(from PA and UNP) and one Muslim MP being elected. Two Tamil MPs from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and one from the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) were elected.
Jaffna with nine seats saw the EPDP getting four including the bonus seat. The TULF got three. The Tamil Congress got one.The United National Party got one. The UNP won in Jaffna after 48 years. In 1952 Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s son-in-law Suppiapillai Nadesan had won. Now Thiyagarajah Maheswaran was returned.
No Tamil party got enough votes entitling it to a national list seat. 2000 saw the Tamils being under-represented in the North-East. Moreover Sinhala dominated National parties and Tamil parties like the Govt affiliated EPDP had done well. One reason for the non-governmental Tamil political party debacle was disunity, fragmentation of Tamil votes and the lack of an imaginative or inspiring political agenda.
The seriousness of the situation was acutely felt in the ethnically heterogeneous East rather than the near homogenous North. A seminar analysing the situation was held at the Eastern University. It was chaired by former “Daily Mirror” columnist Dharmalingam Sivaram alias Taraki. Several academics, journalists, teachers, professionals, social workers, undergraduates and political representatives participated.
It was resolved at this conference that the different Tamil political parties in the opposition should unite under an umbrella organization to prevent fragmentation of votes. It was also felt that such an organization should be broadly supportive of the LTTE. It was also decided that the LTTE’s approval for the move be obtained. A steering committee with three joint chairs was formed to coordinate the implementation of this task.
This task consisted of three aspects. Firstly the approval and implicit support of the LTTE. This required guarantees of safety and security by the LTTE that it would not assassinate Tamil politicians in the opposition. In return these Tamil parties had to acknowledge the pre-eminence of the LTTE and endorse it as the sole representative of the Tamils in any negotiations.
Secondly the political parties with a militant history like the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) PLOTE and TELO had to declare that they would lay down arms and not collaborate with the state in hunting the LTTE. They also had to sever links with para-military outfits connected to them like the Razeek group (EPRLF)Mohan group (PLOTE) and Ranjan group (TELO). All were in the East.
Thirdly the non-militant parties like the TULF and Tamil Congress had to agree to work together in a common front with the ex-militant groups. Both parties were reluctant as they felt the ex-militant groups hands were tainted with blood. Besides the TULF stood for an “unarmed democracy”. There was also the long ,embittered history of rivalry between the Tamil Congress and the FP-TULF.
The TULF was also wary because of its 1989 experience. Pressure by New Delhi had resulted in militant organizations like the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) TELO and EPRLF contesting under the aegis of the TULF sun symbol along with original TULF candidates then. However none of the original TULF candidates won. Only Appapillai Amirthalingam got in through the national list (he had lost in Batticaloa).
( The seriousness of the situation was acutely felt in the ethnically heterogeneous East rather than the near homogenous North. A seminar analysing the situation was held at the Eastern University. It was chaired by former “Daily Mirror” columnist Dharmalingam Sivaram alias Taraki. Several academics, journalists, teachers, professionals, social workers, undergraduates and political representatives participated )
The LTTE in the Wanni was not directly involved in the negotiating process. But Karikalan the former Tiger political commissar for Batticaloa-Amparai was supportive and directly involved. Even as the talks were on the LTTE assassinated “Robert” the TELO head of Aaraiyampathy Pradeshiya Sabha (this Robert is different to the EPRLF “Robert” killed by the LTTE in Jaffna in 2002). The assassination was a major setback as the TELO wanted to pull out of unity talks as a result.
The committee however persisted in its efforts and appealed to the LTTE’s military leadership of the East. The eastern regional military commander then was none other than Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna. The LTTE “explained” the assassination as a “mistake” due to a communication gap between the intelligence division and political wing.
Subsequently leading personalities from the TELO and EPRLF met with Karikalan in secret and discussed matters. Assurances were obtained. Likewise some TULF personalities also met with LTTE leaders and had discussions.
There were two hitches. The PLOTE led by Dharmalingam Siddharthan was willing for unity but the PLOTE cadres in Vavuniya (PLOTE stronghold) were unwilling to align with the TELO (also strong in Vavuniya) Likewise the TELO hierarchy was also reluctant to unite with the PLOTE as it feared erosion of support in the Wanni. Finally the PLOTE or its political party the Democratic Peoples Liberation Front (DPLF) opted out.
The second was the long standing antipathy of the Tamil Congress towards the Federal Party (Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi) and its successor the TULF. The Tamil Congress wanted all parties to unite under the Tamil Congress symbol of cycle and contest instead of the TULF’s sun.
Dr. Yogalakshmi Ponnambalam was then the dominant personality in the Tamil Congress as her husband Kumar Ponnambalam had been killed on January 2000.After protracted discussions held at her residence she consented to unite and contest under the sun symbol.
Similarly some stalwarts in the TULF were also reluctant to unite with the Congress and other ex-militant groups but gradually they were won over or reduced to silence.
Even as these discussions continued two parallel courses of action were also on. One was the sudden appearance of leaflets and statements to the press by hitherto unheard of organizations like Sankiliyan padai, Kulakkottan padai and Pandara Vanniyan padai.
While “padai” means force the other references were to regional rulers like King Sankili of Jaffna, Kulallottan monarch of Trincomalee and chieftain Pandaravanniyan of Adankapatru. All these leaflets and statements urged Tamil unity and threatened those not cooperating with punitive action. They were given wide publicity in Tamil newspapers.
The other parallel course of action was the well-meaning efforts of some Colombo based prominent Tamils to bring about overall Tamil unity. These Tamils comprised leading businessmen, professionals and social workers. Some of them were involved in discussions with counterparts in Batticaloa striving for unity. The efforts of these “Colombo” based Tamils also played a major role in unity talks.
At the penultimate stages the LTTE in the Wanni got directly involved. Some leaders of the TULF, Tamil Congress, TELO and EPRLF were contacted by telephone and urged to unite and contest under the TULF “Sun” symbol. The LTTE factor galvanised the negotiating parties into concluding talks successfully
A working agreement among the TULF,ACTC, EPRLF and TELO was reached to form a coalition known as the “Thamizh Thesieeya Kootamaippu” or Tamil National Alliance . The TNA would contest under the TULF symbol of sun. A scheme apportioning candidates to each party in the different electoral districts was also agreed upon.
The formation of the Tamil National Alliance was announced through a press communiqué dated October 22nd 2001.
The press communique issued on October 22nd 2001 heralding the formation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)was signed by four persons representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).
They were R.Sampanthan (TULF), N.Kumarakuruparan (ACTC) N. Srikantha (TELO) and K.Premachandran(EPRLF) The press statement had four salient points that more or less amounted to an “articles of association” for the Tamil National Alliance.
The first was about how places on candidate lists were to be allocated to each of the four parties in a Parliamentary General election. The arrangement was as follows:
Wanni-TULF-3;ACTC-1: TELO – 4: EPRLF-1
Jaffna-TULF – 7;ACTC -3;TELO-1;EPRLF-1
Batticaloa-TULF – 5:ACTC-1:TELO -2 ;EPRLF-1
Amparai-TULF -5:ACTC-1;TELO-1: EPRLF-0
The second point was about nominations as national list MP’s. The order of priority was TULF, ACTC, TELO and EPRLF. If the TNA was entitled to a national list MP in terms of votes received it would first go to the TULF nominee. If entitled to a second MP it would be for the ACTC nominee.
The third point was that the constituent parties should refrain from attacking or criticising each other publicly. Special care should be taken during the election campaign about not engaging in propaganda or counter-propaganda against a fellow TNA constituent.
The fourth point was about intra-TNA disputes and problems. If and when such issues occurred the TNA constituents should discuss the matter among themselves in a peaceful way and arrive at an amicable solution through a majority vote. If that was not possible the services of an outside facilitator panel should be enlisted to help resolve the issue.
The facilitator panel or “Anusaranaialar Kuzhu” comprised the following six members:
The facilitators were respected members of the Tamil community primarily based in Colombo. They were mainly professionals or successful commercial entrepreneurs. With the exception of Thiyagarajah who was then the treasurer of the TULF they did not belong to any political party.
It is under such circumstances that the TNA was born as a loose formation without a party constitution or structure. The newly formed alliance had its baptism of fire when Parliamentary elections was held on December 5th 2001. The TNA in its manifesto urged a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict and emphasised that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would represent the Tamil people at such talks.
When the 2001 election results were announced the TNA contesting under the sun symbol of the TULF had done well.In Jaffna the TNA got six of the nine seats. In the Wanni the TNA got three of the six seats. In the East R. Sampanthan was elected in Trincomalee district. Chandranehru Ariyanayagam won in the Amparai (Digamadulla) district. In Batticaloa the TNA got three seats.
On the strength of votes received the TNA was also entitled to a national list seat. Veteran politician and president of the TULF Murugesu Sivasithamparam was nominated.The TNA under the TULF label had fourteen elected and one appointed MP in 2001. Of this fifteen the TULF had seven,TELO had four, ACTC had three and the EPRLF one.
The “unity” of these Tamil parties seemed to have reaped political dividends. With Ranil Wickremasinghe becoming prime minister the peace process received a massive boost.The TNA was expected by many to function as the political front of the LTTE.
The Tigers however had other ideas. Instead of letting the TNA function independently and maintain political credibility the LTTE wanted to bring the new formation under its jackboot. Furthermore the LTTE wanted to demonstrate to the Tamil people and the world at large that they the Tigers were the masters and that the TNA was a mere minion at their beck and call. The TNA bondage became apparent in a very short time.
What was most disappointing in this scenario was the abject servitude of the TULF with the exception of Veerasingham Anandasangaree. He became the victim as his comrades deserted him in an abysmal act of political betrayal. Had Sangaree also bowed his head to the LTTE and was ready to be a puppet the Tigers would have embraced him in the same way other TULF leaders were accepted. But that was not to be so.
The breaking point was when Anton Balasingham told the media that the TNA parliamentarians were acting according to LTTE wishes and would periodically be summoned to Kilinochchi to receive their orders.While the rest of the TNA did not raise even a whimper of protest it was only Sangaree who issued a strong statement criticising Balasingham openly for this high-handed utterance. But the rest of the TULF or TNA did not back up Sangaree publicly though a few like Raviraj lauded him privately. But Balasingham was furious.
Soon the TULF leadership minus Sangaree was summoned to Kilinochchi by LTTE Political wing chief Suppiah Paramu Thamilchelvan who ordered the party to remove Sangaree from his leadership position.Realising the injustice of the LTTE command the TULF stalwarts procrastinated asking Sangaree to quit on his own. When he stubbornly refused, the TULF continued to filibuster. But Thamilchelvan was firm in getting Sangaree out. Later Prabhakaran also indicated he wanted Sangaree out. Apparently the LTTE was angered by Sangaree’s defiance and wanted to make an example of him.Finally the TULF general council voted against Anandasangaree in an exercise described by the UTHR (Jaffna) as something akin to a “walking corpses” performance.
Sangaree however resorted to legal action with Wijedasa Rajapakshe appearing for him. The court ruling prevented Anandasangaree being removed as TULF president. Some loyal members of the TULF remained with the TULF under Anandasangaree while others of the TULF began functioning within a TNA structure.Subsequently these TULF elements reconfigured themselves as the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK) while Anandasangaree continued to retain leadership of the TULF which had diminished in impact and size considerably.
Having taught the TNA through the Sangaree affair what the price of defiance would be the LTTE intensified its grip on the TNA. The Tigers succeeded in showing to the TNA they were the masters. The next few years saw the TNA becoming complete slaves of the LTTE.
The TNA came together as a loose coalition of parties but when the Tigers established total control they could have cemented this unity as a structural whole . They could have got the TNA registered as a party with a constitution and party structure. The LTTE did not do so and in fact prevented such moves when suggested by the TELO and EPRLF. Instead the Tigers preferred to keep the TNA constituents as separate parties without forging a permanent alliance.
This enabled the LTTE to manipulate and control each party separately. At the same time the Tigers were pre-emptively preventing a parallel or rival Tamil political organization emerging or developing. Likewise older established democratic parties like the TULF and ACTC were also reluctant to merge with ex- militant organizations like the EPRLF and TELO. They wanted to preserve their distinct identities.As for the TELO and EPRLF they were at times encumbered by their militant reputation and wanted to extricate themselves from their violent past. For them dissolution of the existing parties in favour of a greater new entity was desirable.
Apart from preventing the TNA being concretised as a whole and independent party the LTTE also drove wedges between the constituent parties. One was manipulated against the other. Also members of one party were set up against others of the same party. Factionalism was fomented. Individual tale-carrying was encouraged.
It is said that the British practised the divide and rule principle. They united for administrative convenience to exploit while dividing the ethnicities politically to govern. When the British left these fissiparous tendencies came to the fore and many countries of the commonwealth were saddled with separatist movements.
In similar fashion the LTTE maintained “unity” of the TNA as a facade on the one hand while keeping the constituent parties disunited on the other. The TNA remained as one entity while the LTTE remained powerful. But once the Tigers were no more the submerged differences have begun emerging.
In that sense the current dissension too is a replay of the past. One is able to discern the fault lines of old at the time of the TNA’s formation gaining a fresh lease through new manifestations in determining current events within the alliance. the expression of dissent may take new forms the essence of these underlying differences remain the same in content. Thus the TNA continues to be afflicted by the recurring phenomenon of internal dissension.
NEXT: THE ITAK UNDER ATTACK
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org