Tamil National Alliance(TNA) leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan MP and TNA National list Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran won many hearts and minds by participating in the official Independence day ceremony held in Battaramulla on February 4th. The diplomatic community in Colombo hailed it as a commendable symbolic gesture towards ethnic reconciliation in a land torn asunder by decades of communal strife and bloodshed. The small step taken by Sampanthan and Sumanthiran was praised as a giant leap for national unity by all progressive sections of Sri Lankan society desiring justice, equality,harmony and amity.
Sadly what was regarded as a great leap forward three weeks ago appears to be regressing into a great leap backwards in political terms now. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran who were toasted for their praiseworthy act then are now being roasted for the same by Tamil extremist elements posing as nationalists.The duo is being accused of harming the Tamil cause by attending the freedom day event. In the eyes of the Tamil extremist pseudo-nationalists, Sampanthan and Sumanthiran are “Thurogigal”or Traitors. A vicious and venomous campaign is being orchestrated against both.
"In the bad old days when Veluppillai Prabhakaran and his lethal minions were ruling the Tamil roost the modus operandi adopted was to demonise someone as a traitor and then exterminate him. Mercifully this is no longer an option for the tigers and their fellow travellers because of Mahinda Rajapaksa who bestowed a great gift upon the Tamils by destroying the LTTE militarily in Sri Lanka."
The past weeks have seen a barrage of articles critical of both in newspapers and websites published by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) remnants in the Global Tamil Diaspora.Radio and TV Stations run by LTTE and pro-LTTE elements organize discussions where people “parrot” abusive attacks on Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. In addition there is constant propagation of derogatory views on the internet. Needless to say most of these internet warriors too are on the warpath against both. However there have been some who try to defend Sampanthan and Sumanthiran too.
There have also been demonstrations! Portraits of Sampanthan and Sumanthiran were burnt in the streets of London in demonstrations organized by extremist Tamils. Those involved were from the Tamil Youth Organization and British Tamil Forum. Large sized portraits of Sampanthan and Sumanthiran were beaten with footwear and set on fire. It may be recalled
that former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also “welcomed”in London by Tamil protesters in the same manner some time ago.This recurrent phenomenon in “Tamil London” brings to mind the Tamil proverb about the inability of the “licking dog” to distinguish between an oil press and a Shivalingam.
The criticism in Sri Lanka against Sampanthan and Sumanthiran has not been vociferously expressed as in the case of Diaspora circles. Predictably Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam who leads both the All Ceylon Tamil Congress(ACTC) and Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) launched a frontal attack. This was to be expected from a politician of his calibre. What was unexpected was the criticism from within the TNA.
Senior Vice President of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK) and Jaffna Varsity Emeritus Professor Sittambalam told the BBC that disciplinary action should be taken against both. TNA spokesperson and MP Kandiah Premachandran alias Suresh stated that the Alliance had not authorised their attendance. Northern Provincial councillor Ananthy Sasitharan also contributed some gems of wisdom to the raging controversy. Internal divisions within the Sri Lankan Tamil polity in general and the Tamil National Alliance in particular were further highlighted by a significant event in Jaffna.
"Some of the youths in the procession first tried to drag an effigy of TNA national list Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran along the streets of Jaffna. They changed their plan for some reason and placed it in the vehicle belonging to Northern Provincial councillor Ananthy Sasitharan the wife of senior tiger leader “Ezhilan” who is reportedly missing now"
On February 21st a demonstration was held in Jaffna for the ostensible purpose of drawing attention to the plight of disappeared and missing persons. After engaging in protest opposite the Jaffna central bus stand, the demonstrators went in procession via Hospital road and Kankesanthurai (KKS) road to the memorial constructed for the persons killed during the International Tamil Research Conference on January 10th 1974. Youths also shouted out slogans against Sampanthan and Sumanthiran while proceeding, leaving most onlookers puzzled as to how those slogans would draw attention towards the plight of the disappeared.
Some of the youths in the procession first tried to drag an effigy of TNA national list Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran along the streets of Jaffna. They changed their plan for some reason and placed it in the vehicle belonging to Northern Provincial councillor Ananthy Sasitharan the wife of senior tiger leader “Ezhilan” who is reportedly missing now. The effigy was taken by vehicle to the spot where speeches were being made and set on fire. Sumanthiran’s effigy was burnt in front of the memorial where the meeting was being held. The ring leaders in this effigy burning exercise were aides of Ananthy Sasitharan.
Burning an effigy used to be an old custom in agrarian villages dependent on rainfall for cultivation. When rain did not fall and drought set in , the villagers would make an effigy known as “Kodumpaavi” (cruel sinner) in Tamil. The belief was that the gods were punishing them by withholding rain because the people had committed many sins. The people had to repent and pay penance for the Gods to be merciful and let rains fall. The effigy called Kodumpaavi was a symbol of those sins. The people would in those days go in procession with the effigy chanting “Kodumpaavi Saahaano? Kodi Mazhai Peiyyaatho?” meaning ‘will not the cruel sinner die? and torrents of rain fall’? Finally the effigy would be burnt. It is said that the Gods would be appeased and bless the people by letting rain fall thereafter.
This ancient custom is virtually extinct among farmers and farming communities nowadays. However “politics” the bane of Sri Lanka has (mis)appropriated and distorted this custom over the years. Effigies of Tamil politicians have been taken out in procession and burnt by their opponents. Many effigies of Sinhala and Indian leaders have also been burnt. Effigies of Tamil politicians dubbed as traitors have also been burnt this way. Usually these acts are committed by enraged political activists with leaders maintaining a public distance to avoid blame.
"Sumanthiran’s political role has been appreciated and praised by many but it has also led to some resentment in certain circles within and outside the TNA. The green eyed devil has much to do in this regard. Among the TNA parliamentarians of today, Sumanthiran is the only MP who has had no interaction with any of the Tamil militant groups including the LTTE prior to his entering politics."
What is noteworthy about the effigy of TNA parliamentarian Sumanthiran being taken and burnt is the fact that several TNA top rungers also participated in the protest demonstration. According to the LTTE mouthpiece “Tamil Net” TNA’s Northern Province councillors Ananthy Sasitharan and Gajatheepan, TNA parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran, veteran ITAK leader Prof S.K. Sittampalam, TNPF politicians Selvarajah Kajendren, Manivannan, Media Co-ordinator of Democratic People’s Front (DPF) from the Western Province, S. Bhaskaran, and several civic members of the TNA in the Jaffna district took part in the protest. Yet none of them seem to have made any effort to stop the effigy of a fellow TNA member and MP being burnt. The actual burning had occurred while Ananthy Sasitharan was addressing the gathering. The effigy had been taken out of her vehicle, thrown on the ground, trampled upon and then doused with fuel and burnt.
The burning of Sumanthiran’s effigy incident on February 21st was raised by Northern Provincial Fisheries Minister Balasubramaniam Deniswaran on February 25th at the Northern Provincial Council meeting. Deniswaran agonised over the incident and deplored the fact that some TNA members were also involved in the burning of Sumanthiran’s effigy. Deniswaran was elected from Mannar district.
Though Deniswaran had not mentioned any particular name, up sprang Ananthy Sasitharan and proved that the cap fitted her. She said that people desperate over the plight of their missing family members had got emotionally agitated and spontaneously engaged in the burning. Ananthy said that she herself had been unable to stop it because it was so spontaneous and so sudden.
"The main reason for Christians being elected in Hindu majority areas is due to the fact that Tamil politics in Sri Lanka has been of a secular nature"
Ananthi’s blatant untruths were immediately refuted by the council’s deputy chairman Anton Jeyanathan. He responded to Ananthy angrily by asking her “if the act was spontaneous then how was the effigy created beforehand and brought to the venue in your vehicle?” Jeyanathan elected from Mullaitheevu district went on to describe Sumanthiran as a “Mandaikkaai” which colloquially means brainy person. He also shot down Ananthy’s explanation about the “spontaneous anger”of the families of the disappeared and missing and queried “Why should the family members burn Sumanthiran’s effigy to protest their relatives taken by the army”? Jeyanathan silenced Ananthy by posing a counter question “Whose effigy can the families of those taken by the tigers burn”?. This struck home as Ananthy’s husband Ezhilan is accused of conscripting youths on a large scale. (This writer has in earlier articles vividly exposed the human rights violations and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Ezhilan).
When Ananthy was struck dumb by Jeyanathan’s angry outburst, another provincial councillor tried to enter the fray. This was none other than Kandiah Sarweswaran the brother of TNA spokesperson and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leader Premachandran alias Suresh. Northern Provincial Council chairman C.V.K. Sivagnanam who was presiding, refused to let Sarweswaran speak. Sivagnanam forced an end to the discussion in the council about the effigy burning incident by his ruling.
Though the furore subsided at the council it is doubtful as to whether the controversy would simply peter out. The London antics by the pseudo-nationalists can be dismissed as the work of the Tamil lunatic fringe but the role played by TNA elements in attacking Sampanthan and Sumanthiran in Sri Lanka cannot be ignored. The central committee of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) which is the chief constituent of the TNA will be meeting in Vavuniya on Sunday March 1st. It is very likely that the issues will be taken up for detailed discussion and necessary follow up action.
"The objective behind the intensified attacks seems to be to increase pressure on Sumanthiran and dissuade him from continuing with politics"
The revolt against Sampanthan’s leadership and the revulsion displayed towards Sumanthiran is an orchestrated illusion. Though the “Tamil Net” and other tiger and pro-tiger media organs try hard to project an impression that the Tamil people are up in arms against Sampanthan and Sumanthiran, that is not so. It is certainly a fact that a TNA clique consisting of people like TNA parliamentarian “Suresh” Premachandran, Provincial Councillors M.K. Sivajilingam, Ananthy Sasitharan, K Gajatheeban, ITAK senior vice president Prof.S.K. Sittampalam and ITAK youth front leader V.S. Sivakaran are engaged in this type of politics. It is aided and supplemented by outside elements like Ex-MPs Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Selvarajah Gajendran of the TNPF and Kumaravadivel Guruparan the livewire behind the Tamil Civil Society Forum. Many of these malcontents maintain links to Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) elements abroad. A potential new recruit to these ranks is the ambitious Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran who is working to his own agenda. C.V. is the latest “Darling of the Diaspora”after the ill-advised “genocide” resolution.
These “opposing” sections are always on the look-out to find fault and embarrass the TNA particularly its leadership. Sumanthiran is singled out specifically because he is the most articulate TNA parliamentarian.He is widely accepted by Southern politicians nationally as well as leaders and officials internationally. Sumanthiran is the most trusted and able deputy of the octogenarian Sampanthan. In recent times Sumanthiran has been playing a constructive role in Tamil political affairs. In a blend of public advocacy along with quiet diplomacy the TNA national list MP has been rendering yeoman service to his community. In many instances those who want to weaken Sampanthan use Sumanthiran as a target. The idea is to cripple Sampanthan politically by undermining Sumanthiran.
Sumanthiran’s political role has been appreciated and praised by many but it has also led to some resentment in certain circles within and outside the TNA. The green eyes devil has much to do in this regard. Among the TNA parliamentarians of today, Sumanthiran is the only MP who has had no interaction with any of the Tamil militant groups including the LTTE prior to his entering politics. Though born at the Mcleod Hospital in Inuvil, Jaffna, he grew up in Colombo studying at Royal College. Sumanthiran was aloof from active politics, practising law in Colombo until invited by Sampanthan to join the TNA. He was appointed national list MP in 2010 by Sampanthan despite Emeritus Professor Sittampalam also staking his claim. Sittampalam has not forgiven the Sampanthan-Sumanthiran duo since then.
Tamil detractors of Sumanthiran particularly those in the Diaspora use the handle of national list MP to insult and belittle him. Since he was not elected to Parliament directly, Sumanthiran is described as someone who entered Parliament through the “Pin Kathavu” or back door. Therefore, argue his Diaspora critics, Sumanthiran is a second class MP and has no moral right to do whatever he is doing. This description of backdoor MP has absolutely no basis either legally, morally or practically as national list MP seats are allocated on the basis of votes polled by each party.
A peculiar feature of Sri Lankan Tamil politics is the usage of “backdoor MP” to demean those parliamentarians nominated from the national list. Sinhala, Up- Country Tamil or Muslim politics does not have this attribute. National list MPs are not called backdoor MP’s by their rivals or critics. Only Sri Lankan Tamils have this tendency. This practice began with the introduction of the current system in 1989. The man responsible for this phrase was former North-eastern Chief Minister Annamalai Varatharajapperumaal. When veteran TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam was nominated as national list MP in 1989, Varatharajapperumaal criticised it and dubbed Amirthalingam’s entry as having been done through the backdoor.
The term backdoor MP has been bandied about in Tamil politics ever since. Those nominated on the national list with LTTE blessings like Joseph Prarajasingham. M.K. Eelaventhan, S.Thurairatnasingham etc were not called backdoor MPs derisively. But those Tamil national list MPs such as Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and M.A. Sumanthiran whom tiger elements do not favour have been described as such.
The current Parliament has many national list MPs like former Premier D.M. Jayaratne, Prof. G.L. Peiris, Prof. Tissa Vitarane, D.E.W. Gunasekera, Eran Wickremaratne, Dr. Harsha de Silva, D.M. Swaminathan, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, M.T. Hasen Ali, Muthu Sivalingam etc. None of them are called backdoor MPs by their critics. However in the case of Sumanthiran, his detractors particularly the feline affiliates take relish in describing him so.
Another avenue of attack is to refer to his Colombo background. Sumanthiran is called a “Kozhumbuth Thamizhan” or Colombo Tamil. Therefore he cannot speak for the Tamils of the North and East is the argument. The funny thing is that these jokers do not use the same argument against Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam who was born and bred in Colombo. Only Sumanthiran is attacked as a Colombo Tamil simply because he does not pander to the whims and fancies of tiger elements and LTTE sympathisers.
The highly personalised attacks against Sumanthiran have escalated in recent times. There is perhaps an ulterior motive in such escalation according to TNA circles. Since the attacks against Sumanthiran are on the basis that he is a national list MP from Colombo a decision has been taken by the TNA hierarchy to field him as a candidate at the next Parliamentary elections. Though ITAK branches from Mullaitheevu, Amparai and Trincomalee districts wanted Sumanthiran to contest from their respective districts, TNA leader Sampanthan had been of the view that Sumanthiran should enter Parliament as an elected MP from Jaffna district where his roots are from.
Sumanthiran’s parents are from Jaffna. His father is from Karaveddy which falls under the Uduppiddy electoral division. His mother is from Kudathanai which falls under the Point Pedro electoral division. Both his grandfathers were teachers and were highly respected in those areas. According to TNA sources Sumanthiran will be focusing on these two electoral divisions comprising the sector known as Vadamaratchy in the forthcoming elections. He has already set up branches and commenced politicking there. This brings him into direct conflict for votes against the likes of Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Gajendran and Sivajilingam all of whom are nursing the Vadamaratchy sector.
Besides there is another problem for candidates in Jaffna at the next hustings.The number of MPs to be elected from the Jaffna electoral district consisting of Jaffna and Kilinochchi administrative districts have diminished to seven from nine. This is due to the reduced population in the district due to war, relocation and migration. With one of the seven seats going possibly for Kilinochchi, the number from Jaffna will be only six in practice.Thanks to the current proportionate representation system both Vijayakala Maheswaran of the UNP and Douglas Devananda of the EPDP have a good chance of being elected. This leaves four seats for the TNA and ACTC/TNPF. The competition therefore for seats in Jaffna will be very tough and the likelihood of a sitting MP like Premachandran not getting enough preferences to make it is very real. It is against this backdrop that the attacks on Sumanthiran have escalated.
Although Mathiaparanam Abraham Sumanthiran is a protestant Christian of the Methodist denomination, TNA insiders feel that he would receive the overwhelming support of the predominantly Hindu electorate of Jaffna. Though a miniscule minority there are precedents of protestant Christians winning seats in the Hindu majority areas of the North and East. The most famous of them being the co-founder and leader of the Federal Party, Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayagam who won in Kankesanthurai repeatedly in 1947, 1956, 60, 65, 70 and 75. Rajan Selvanayagam in Batticaloa (1970) and Alfred Durayappah in Jaffna (1960)were also protestant Christians though Durayappah later transcended religion and became a Theosophist worshipping at Hindu temples and Buddhist vihares. In recent times T. Kurukularajah a protestant Christian won from the Kilinochchi district at the Northern provincial council elections. Kurukularajah now the provincial minister for Education is the son of eminent clergyman Rev. A.C. Thambyrajah who set up the unorthodox Christian institution “Navajeevanam” in Murasumottai near Paranthan.
The main reason for Christians being elected in Hindu majority areas is due to the fact that Tamil politics in Sri Lanka has been of a secular nature. Homage is paid to the “Thamizh Thaai” or Tamil mother who symbolises Tamil unity regardless of religious differences. The political struggle for Tamil equality in the island has been on ethno-linguistc lines alone. After all when mobs attacked Tamils in 1956, 58, 77, 81 and 83 the victims were targeted for being Tamils and not for being Hindus or Christians. Similiarly when bombs and shells rained down on Tamil populated areas they did not differentiate between Hindus and Christians.
This phenomenon of Christians being political leaders in the Tamil community has been remarked upon and questioned. This was particularly so in the case of S.J.V. Chelvanayagam who led Tamil non –violent political resistance for two decades and was revered as “Thanthai “ (Father) Chelva. Former Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike once wrote to Chelvanayagam and asked him as to what right he had as a Christian to speak for the predominantly Hindu Tamils of the North and East. Chelvanayagam responded classically and said “It is to the credit of the Tamil people that they did not require their leaders to change their religion in order to lead them.” The reference to “changing religion” was a veiled barb at Sinhala leaders like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and J.R. Jayewardene who were born and baptized as Anglicans but later became Buddhists.
The intensification of attacks against Sampanthan and Sumanthiran have to be viewed in the context of Parliamentary elections being around the corner. If and when polls are declared and Sumanthiran throws his hat in the ring, both TNA leader Sampanthan and ITAK chief “Maavai” Senathirajah will back him to the hilt. Apart from voters in the Vadamaratchy sector there is the likelihood of many educated moderate Tamils from other areas also casting a ballot for him. The TNA overseas branches in Canada, UK and Australia are also firmly supportive of Sumanthiran’s candidacy. Thus Sumanthiran’s political opponents and competitors anticipate his victory and are apprehensive.
Compounding this situation further is the possibility of a ministerial portfolio looming large on the political horizon. It is a known “secret” within TNA folds that there was an “opening” for a cabinet portfolio to the TNA in general and Sumanthiran in particular under the new Sirisena-Wickremesinghe dispensation. Neither the TNA nor Sumanthiran were willing at this juncture to join a Govt. There is however the probability of the TNA joining a national Government after fresh elections and accepting ministerial posts. This however would depend upon a number of factors and it may be premature to speculate in greater detail on this possibility at this point.
The important thing is to note that anxiety about the TNA establishing greater rapport with the new government and accepting Cabinet posts in the future has afflicted two components of Tamil society. The major component consists of Tamil extremists and hardliners who do not want any rapprochement or reconciliation. They particularly abhor the prospect of the TNA sharing power at the centre as part of a government. The minor component comprises those who are personally opposed to Sumanthiran and to a lesser extent Sampanthan. Currently there is a convergence of interests between both components and a tactical alliance has evolved.
A clear indication of such a nexus is the ill-advised “genocide of Tamils” resolution drafted and presented by Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran which was “unanimously” passed by the Northern Provincial Council. The background to this controversial resolution and the hidden agenda to which Wigneswaran subscribes will be delved into in detail in a future article. As for now it is important to note that the genocide resolution has poisoned the cordial climate that prevailed between the new Govt and the TNA since the beginning of this year. There are many dimensions to Wigneswaran’s agenda and one such aspect is that of the resolution being a pre-emptive strike to prevent greater co-operation between the TNA and the Government.
A further extension of these efforts to pre-empt a Govt-TNA nexus is the recent escalation of attacks on Sumanthiran. One does not know whether Sumanthiran himself is confident about winning an election but those circles opposed to him seem to be sure that the bespectacled lawyer residing in Wellawatte will win a seat in Jaffna and enter Parliament through the “Mun Kathavu” or front door. It is further anticipated that he would be a Cabinet minister after the next elections. This has lent a sense of urgency to the Anti-Sumanthiran camp.
The objective behind the intensified attacks seems to be to increase pressure on Sumanthiran and dissuade him from continuing with politics. By increasing attacks on multiple fronts these elements want to pressurise him into re-thinking his future and reviewing his options. Why should a person with a lucrative legal practice living confortably in Colombo with his family expose himself continuously to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes” in the form of acts like effigy burning attacks? is the crude logic governing the masterminds behind the demonstrations. The motive behind the malignant attacks is to exert pressure and make Sumanthiran quit politics “voluntarily”.
A key device in this strategy is the “traitorisation” strategy. Sumanthiran is being vilified widely as a “thurogi” or traitor. In the bad old days when Veluppillai Prabhakaran and his lethal minions were ruling the Tamil roost the modus operandi adopted was to demonise someone as a traitor and then exterminate him. Mercifully this is no longer an option for the tigers and their fellow travellers because of Mahinda Rajapaksa who bestowed a great gift upon the Tamils by destroying the LTTE militarily in Sri Lanka. In a post-Prabhakaran era the course of action available is not assassination but character assassination. The idea is to “kill without killing” by portraying the targeted victim as a traitor. Unable to kill physically, the blood-thirsty fiends satisfy their lust by “cremating” portraits and effigies.
The orchestrated protests against Sampanthan and Sumanthiran therefore should be viewed in this light. Initially the grouse was about attending the Independence day event. Now it is about the “delay” in releasing the UN report on Sri Lanka. “Dont delay” is the demand. Ironically the very same elements who are criticising the TNA for the delay are the same sections who protested against the UN probe itself when it was mooted. What a contradiction! Likewise Wigneswaran says his genocide resolution is to signal the UN not to delay releasing the report. Again the question is would not investigation into genocide protract UN proceedings further? Faulty logic bordering on political hypocrisy!
Influx to Geneva
If the track record of Tamil politics is any indication, the campaign against Sampanthan and Sumanthiran would keep continuing for a while. The next phase would be an influx by an assortment of “Tamil nationalist patriots” to Geneva demanding speedy justice for the Tamils. In the process more portraits and effigies of Sampanthan and Sumanthiran may be set on fire in Geneva.
The tiger and pro-tiger media will play up these protests and demonstrations in a big way and try to portray an image that there is widespread opposition to Sampanthan and Sumanthiran over their political conduct. The reality however is starkly different. The protests and incidents of arson do not in any way reflect the thinking of the Tamil people in general. The important thing for Sampanthan and Sumanthiran is not to cave into this pressure. It is also imperative that saner elements within the TNA close ranks and back the duo strongly in resisting such pressure.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org