The suggestion made in this column last week that the Tamil National Alliance(TNA)should promote truth, accountability and reconciliation by taking the lead in presenting evidence before the investigation to be conducted by the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s office has evoked much controversy.
Overseas activists of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) together with their supporters and fellow travellers are furious at the suggestion as anticipated. In spite of claims that the tigers are now pussycats chanting the manthra of human rights the reaction by these LTTE and pro-LTTE elements shows that the tiger has not changed its stripes.
The political pundits of the TNA who posture atop the moral high ground that they want “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” to be told at the UN probe in order to usher in accountability and reconciliation trot out flimsy excuses to cover up the fact that they never had any genuine intention to “introspect” or focus on “the crimes of the LTTE” as hypocritically asserted by them.
More interesting and important than these predictable LTTE-TNA responses were the views expressed by a large number of Sri Lankans and people of Sri Lankan origin through personal electronic mail directly sent to me.
The bulk of such mails spoke of the links between the LTTE and the TNA and stated that given this connection it was impossible for the latter to expose the former at the UN probe. It was also discernible that the conduct of the TNA after 2009 had only helped re-inforce the strong impression in many circles that they are still creatures and lackeys of the LTTE even though the tigers had been militarily defeated five years ago.
While reading these mails I realised the extent to which there is revulsion against the TNA on account of its perceived nexus with the LTTE.I also found that there is much misinformation about the origins of the Tamil National Alliance. The TNA configuration to many is an entity that was formed and fostered by the LTTE. This however is not exactly correct!
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. It is in this context that I venture to relate the story again of the birth and early growth of the TNA, relying to a very great extent on previous writings by me in this regard.
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 including veteran R. Sampanthan 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 Peoples 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 from SLMC being elected. Three Tamil MP’s 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 LTTE “explained” the assassination as a “mistake” due to a communication gap between the intelligence division and political wing
The seriousness of the situation was acutely felt in the ethnically heterogenous 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 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 Peoples 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 linked 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 that the hands of 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. It must be remembered that the TULF at that time was a strong ,undivided entity.The split had not occurred. Currently the weakened TULF is controlled by Veerasingham Aanandasangaree while most of the erstwhile party members are now part of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) .
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 TULF candidates. However none of the original TULF candidates won. Only Appapillai Amirthalingam got in through the national list (he had contested and lost in Batticaloa).
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 . Even as the talks were on the LTTE assassinated “Robert” the TELO head of Aaraiyampathy pradeshiya Sabha (this Robert was different to the EPRLF “Robert” killed by the LTTE in Jaffna in june 2002). The assassination was a major set back 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 had for years criticised representative democracy and accused many elected Tamil representatives of being traitors. The tigers had assassinated several prominent Tamil MP’s in the past. Now for the first time the LTTE was indirectly supporting a Tamil political grouping at an election.
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’s 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 symbol.
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 phenomenon 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, Kulakkottan 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 indirectly 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. A scheme apportioning candidates to each party in the different electoral istricts was also agreed upon.
The formation of the Tamil National Alliance was announced through a press communiqué dated October 22nd 2001.The TNA was born!
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 Peoples 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:
Jaffna-TULF – 7;ACTC -3;TELO-1;EPRLF-1
Wanni-TULF-3;ACTC-1: TELO – 4: 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:
1. V. Kailasapillai
2. Kanthiah Neelakandan
4. Nimalan Karthikeyan
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 election campaign got underway the LTTE did not openly support the TNA. The main reason for this was that the LTTE too was uncomfortable about this new development. The tigers believed that an armed struggle was the only way to liberate the Tamil people and ruled out the parliamentary path.
The LTTE had for years criticised representative democracy and accused many elected Tamil representatives of being traitors. The tigers had assassinated several prominent Tamil MP’s in the past.
Now for the first time the LTTE was indirectly supporting a Tamil political grouping at an election. This to its hierarchy was a tremendous come down.
That was one reason the leadership based in the Wanni allowed its eastern political commissar Karikalan to do the spadework. The Wanni leadership came in only at the penultimate stages to merely assure the TNA constituents that they did not oppose the move.
This reluctance to identify themselves with parliamentary democracy in anyway was the reason for the LTTE to “outsource” the task of forging a Tamil alliance to a core group consisting mainly of journalists and academics in Batticaloa district.
It is relevant to note that several of these Batticaloa journalists and academics who played a part in forming the TNA were killed later by para-military forces aligned to the intelligence apparatus of the state. Some were killed during the fratricidal warfare between the mainstream LTTE and the breakaway faction led by the Karuna-Pillaiyan combine.
A few journalists involved later contested on behalf of the TNA and became MP’s. But many journalists and academic participants of the TNA forming exercise were compelled to flee the country and seek refuge abroad in later years.
Thus the 2001 election campaign was conducted without overt LTTE participation. The tigers also refused to let TNA candidates conduct election propaganda meetings in areas controlled by it. But the LTTE did not block Tamil voters in regions controlled by it from voting. They were allowed to vote in cluster booths set up in “border” areas.
However the armed forces were unhappy about this situation. They did not permit voters from LTTE controlled areas to “crossover” and vote.
The greatest benefit for the TNA candidates was that they could campaign without fear of violence from the LTTE. But this time the danger was from the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) in the north.
Douglas Devananda identified the TNA as a big political threat to his dream of becoming the sole alternative to the LTTE’s sole representative.TNA candidates were attacked when they engaged in election propaganda in EPDP strongholds.
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. Anandasangaree, Senathirajah, Raviraj (TULF) Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Vinayagamoorthy (ACTC) and MK Sivajilingam (TELO) were elected on behalf of the TNA. The EPDP got two seats and Maheswaran of the UNP also won.
In the Wanni the TNA got three of the six seats. Adaikkalanathan (Selvam)Raja.Kuhaneswaran (TELO) and Sivasakthi Anandan (EPRLF) were elected on behalf of the TNA.
Dharmalingam Siddharthan of the PLOTE contesting through its registered political party Democratic Peoples Liberation Front (DPLF) was also elected. In the East R. Sampanthan was elected in Trincomalee district. Chandranehru Ariyanayagam won in the Amparai (Digamadulla) district. Both were from the TULF. In Batticaloa the TNA got three seats. Thangavadivel alias “London Murugan”(TELO) Krishnapillai alias “Vellimalai” (ACTC) and Joseph Pararjasingham (TULF) were elected.
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. It was obvious that in 2001 the TULF was the single largest party in the TNA and wielded enormous influence among sizeable sections of Tamils.
The “unity” of the Tamil parties as the TNA 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. When the TNA was formed there were some who thought the alliance would be to the LTTE what the “Sinn Fein” was to the Irish Republican Army (IRA). A few entertained hopes of the TNA playing a prominent role in the peace talks. This was not to be as the LTTE ruled out a political role at peace talks for the TNA at the outset.
The tigers now wanted to exert control over the TNA. 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 honourable exception of Veerasingham Aanandasangaree. The TULF had its own political strength and could possibly have stood up to tiger diktat but due perhaps to mortal dread of the tigers did not dare to do so.
Originally 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-empting a parallel or rival Tamil political organization emerging or developing. Apart from preventing the TNA being concretised as a whole and independent party the LTTE also drove wedges between the 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.
When the 2004 Parliamentary elections was on the cards the LTTE changed its stance. The tigers played an active role in selection of candidates and conduct of the TNA election campaign. The 2001 election had seen the TNA contesting under the TULF symbol of sun. Now the TULF was officially separate and independent under Anandasangaree. So a new symbol was needed. The Federal party known as Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK)symbol of house and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress symbol of cycle were available. Though both the ITAK and ACTC Had merged to form the TULF in 1976 both retained their distinct identity as registered parties due to peculiar political circumstances. The LTTE decided to go ahead with the ITAK and house. Senathirajah was the secretary of ITAK.
The TNA constituent parties were asked to put forward their nominees. In addition to these the LTTE itself introduced a new element. The tigers had a list of names without any political party affiliation. Many of these were office-bearers in LTTE front organizations. They were all die-hard tiger supporters. A few were LTTE members. The LTTE prepared a TNA candidate list for each district. The lists consisted of nominees from the TULF, ACTC, TELO, EPRLF and those without party affiliation.
The lists for the North were finalised by Thamilselvan in consultation with regional commanders. The lists for Batticaloa and Amparai were finalised by Karuna and Karikalan. The list for Trincomalee was finalised by Paduman and Thilak. Once finalised the TNA officially “Approved” them.This led to Douglas Devananda derisively dubbing the TNA as “Tiger Nominated Agents”.
The election campaign commenced in earnest. The ceasefire accord of 2002 had paved the way for a tiger presence in government controlled areas in the form of political offices. Now these offices were stocked with tiger cadres. Their task was to do “propaganda” for the TNA.In Jaffna and Batticaloa the LTTE cadres together with pro-tiger student organizations in the Thirunelvely and Vantharumoolai campuses engaged in propaganda. In Jaffna a tiger motor cycle brigade went into action intimidating rival candidates like Aanandasangaree and Devananda. On polling day an active force of 5000 “volunteers” embarked on a gigantic vote rigging spree.
Election day came and the results were certainly astounding for the TNA. The LTTE had done its part in doing propaganda, ensuring a large turn out of voters and rigging votes on a mammoth scale. The TNA virtually swept the polls among Tamil voters in the North and East.
In Jaffna the TNA got eight of the nine seats. Selva.Gajendran, Pathmini Sithamparanathan, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam,Suresh Premachandran, Nadarajah Raviraj, Somasundaram Senathirajah, Sinnaiah Sivanesan and MK Sivajilingam were returned. Douglas Devananda was the solitary EPDP winner. In the Wanni the TNA got five of the six seats. Selvam Adaikkalanathan, Vinotharahalingam, Sivasakthi Anandan, Sathasivam Kanagaratnam and Sivanathan Kishore were elected.
The sixth went to Rishard Bathiyutheen of the Muslim Congress. In Trincomalee the TNA received the most number of votes and got the bonus seat. Both Sambandan and Thurairatnasingham were elected. In Amparai district the TNA sitting MP Chandranehru lost but a newcomer K. Pathmanathan was elected on the TNA ticket. In Batticaloa the TNA got four of the five seats . T.Kanagasabhai, Thangeswari Kadirgamar,T. Jeyanandamoorthy and Kingsley Rajanayagam were elected. Veteran Batticaloa politician Joseph Parajasingham who had been an MP since 1990 had lost.
Meanwhile the TNA was entitled to two national list seats. Joseph Pararjasingham was appointed to one and MK Kanakendran alias “Eelaventhan” (king of Eelam) to the other.Eelaventhan though originally from the FP and TULF was now a maverick sycophant of the LTTE.
There were now twenty elected and two appointed MP’s. Of these twenty-two, eleven were from the original four constituent parties of the TNA. They were Sambandan,Thurairatnasingham, Senathirajah, Raviraj,Pararajasingham (TULF) Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam (ACTC)SElvam Adaikkalanathan, Vonoharahalingam. Sivajilingam (TELO) and Sivasakthi Anandan, Suresh Premachandran (EPRLF).
There were eleven with non-party affiliation .They were Selva, Gajendran, Padmini Sithamparanathan, Sinnaiah Sivanesan, Sathasivam Kanagaratnam, Sivanathan Kishore, T.Kanagasabhai, Thangeswari Kadirgamar, Jeyanandamoorthy, Ariyanendran , K. Pathmanathan and MK Eelaventhan.
So the TNA parliamentarians were divided equally as those with and without party affiliation. In lighter vein both sides were evenly matched to play Cricket, Soccer or Hockey. G.G. Ponnambalam’s “fifty-fifty” formula had at last been implemented.
The TNA electoral triumph of 2004 lost its sheen when the E.U. released its report condemning the election as not being free or fair in the North and East. This did not mean that all those who won on the TNA did so due to fraudulent means. Several of those elected did so in their own right but their majorities were enhanced through dubious means. But there were some who won entirely due to vote rigging.
The tiger factor helped the TNA to sweep the polls in 2004 and get 22 seats. It was however a Faustian bargain. The TNA was seen and depicted as a voice of the tigers rather than the Tamils. They had zero credibility in the eyes of the world and rest of Sri Lanka.
Election day came and the results were certainly astounding for the TNA. The LTTE had done its part in doing propaganda, ensuring a large turn out of voters and rigging votes on a mammoth scale. The TNA virtually swept the polls among Tamil voters in the North and East
The LTTE also reduced the TNA to political servitude and ensured that such bondage was well publicised. The TNA was summoned frequently to Kilinochchi where the tiger political commissar Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan would issue orders and instructions.
At LTTE oriented functions some of these MP’s would wear LTTE badges and sing paeans of praise to Prabakharan and the tigers.
In Parliament the TNA was a pathetic lot. Apart from Sambandan few MP’s made any worthwhile contribution. Many of the TNA members acted abrasively and provocatively in the house. Notorious among them were M.K. Sivajilingam and Selvarajah Gajendran.
The cumulative effect of all this was an erosion of credibility and respect. Likewise the TNA was looked upon with contempt and scorn by members of the diplomatic community. Though the “motions of meetings” were followed there was practically no meeting of minds. This was particularly so with India. Though TNA delegations made customary pilgrimages to New Delhi scant regard was paid.
The TNA was seen as a tiger adjunct and nothing more. The end result of all this was that the TNA despite having 22 seats in a house of 225 was unable to accomplish anything worthwhile either in Sri Lanka or abroad.
Many including myself hoped that the TNA would make a clean break from the past after the LTTE was decimated in 2009.That however has not happened. In perhaps the greatest disappointment of all former Supreme court Judge CV Wigneswaran started singing the “Pulippaattu” (Tiger song)after being nominated as TNA chief ministerial candidate for the Northern provincial council
Sadly this sorry tale of the TNA toeing the tiger line continues even after the fall of the tigers. The TNA is unable to break away from its pro-tiger past and is generally adopting the extremist line propagated by LTTE and pro-LTTE elements in the global Tamil Diaspora. The perception that the TNA is aligned to the LTTE is one that seems to gaining ground mainly due to the party’s woeful conduct in the post – May 2009 phase.
One way of shedding this image is for the TNA to assert itself independently by boldly exposing the human rights violations of the LTTE before the UN panel probing the seven year period between 2002 – 2009. Since the TNA –LTTE Nexus prevailed throughout the seven yer period under review the TNA should have no difficulty in doing this. The question at this critical juncture is “Will the TNA do so”?
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org