Eroded aspirations and the elusive unity of Tamil political parties

May 9, 2018 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

AP photo



Thambu Kanagasabai



Tamil nationalism was born on August 1923, the architect being Sir Pon Arunachalam, who was betrayed by the then Sinhalese leaders James Peiris and E. J. Samarawickrema who broke the promise of reserving one Legislator seat for Tamils in the Western Province in the Legislative Council [where a large number of Tamils lived at that time].


A betrayed and angry Sir Arunachalam formed the Ceylon Tamil League in 1923 and in his speech in Jaffna, stated that “The League was brought into existence to keep alive and propagate the Tamil ideals and propagate the said ideals throughout Ceylon, Southern India and the Tamil colonies to promote the union and solidarity of “Tamil Akam’ the Tamil Land’. We do object strongly being bullied and terrorised.”


The “Hindu Organ” in its editorial in August 1921 prophesised the fate of any promises or pledges of Sinhalese leaders by stating “That it was now blatantly obvious that the pledges and assurances once given by the Sinhalese leaders were now nothing but an illusion.” This prediction has been proved to be accurate and correct to the hilt viewing the past dismal political record of Sinhalese leaders who have been nonchalantly breaking pacts, promises and agreements which deal with the issues and problems of Tamils right from the past Prime Ministers and Presidents, a span of 70 years since independence in 1948. Despite the breaches and dishonoring of written, and/or other pledges and promises, the Tamil leadership continued to repose faith on the Sinhalese leaders until the rise of militant Tamil youths, spearheaded by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] who felt “enough is enough”.


The 1980’s saw the eclipse of the dominance of moderate Tamil political parties which passively endorsed LTTE”S role to lead the Tamils through the policies of armed struggle and confrontation. The presence of various armed militants in the North and the East deterred and put an end to the free movements of Sinhalese civilians, while halting the agenda of Buddhissation and Sinhalasisation in the North and East for about 25 years, thus the state sponsored Sinhala colonization and Buddhisiation was grounded and remained at zero level.


It is to be noted that the conciliatory and co-operating political approaches of Tamil Leaders, particularly the late G. G. Ponnambalam, and later by the late S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and the late A. Amirthalingam, failed to yield the expected aspirations of Tamils. The policy of reneging agreements and dishonoring pledges by the Sinhala leaders prevailed, leaving the Tamils back to square one.


The nationalism of Tamils reached its peak when the late S. J. V Chelvanayagam’s Tamil United Front passed the Vaddukoddai Resolution in 1976, but experienced its low after the set up of District Councils in 1977. However, the emergence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] in 1976 gave life to nationalism and continued to hold sway in the North and the East until May 2009 when a coalition of twenty two countries, particularly India, USA, Pakistan and China destroyed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in toto.


It could be stated that along with this destruction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE], Tamil nationalism also was sapped and weakened to lie in a dormant state. The defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] gave renewed vigor to Sinhala extremists to prop up Sinhala nationalism and communalism like the “one nation one people” slogan mooted by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranayake.


The positive outcome of the militancy and the lost war is recognition and awareness of the problems of Tamils including nationalism by the International Community and United Nations, including the recognition of Tamil inhabitancy in the North and East as traditional homeland of Tamils who qualify and constitute as a nation which is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as “An aggregation of persons of the same ethnic family, speaking the same language or cognate language, a body of people associated with a particular territory who are sufficiently conscious of their unity to seek or to possess a Government particularly of their own.”


Another definition of Stalin is “A nation is a historically constituted stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, and economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”


Tamils in Sri Lanka without any iota of doubt possess and own all the above criteria to qualify as a nation. However, Tamils’ nationalism weakened its hold on Tamils from 2009 as the Tamil National Alliance [TNA] led by R. Sampanthan had to opt for a conciliatory approach due to the dominance of Sinhalese nationalism propped and fueled by the then President Mahinda and his family who were hailed as ‘Kings”, conquering another country and killing its leaders, soldiers and thousands of civilians in the war. The dictatorial rule of Mahinda stood as a barrier for the Tamil parties to break through and agitate for self-rule based on nationalism.


The defeat of Mahinda in January 2015 brought relief to democratic freedom to some extent when Maithripala Sirisena of SLFP became President while Ranil Wickremesinghe of UNP occupied the seat of Prime Minister. The victory of the these leaders of the SLFP and UNP was guaranteed due to the overwhelming support of Tamils and Muslims who were waiting for the elections to dethrone Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family’s rule. The Tamil National Alliance [TNA], sensing the pulse of the people, also openly endorsed and requested the Tamil voters in the North and East to vote for the ‘Good Governance’ promoted and propagated by the SLFP and UNP after making an oral electoral agreement for an informal coalition. Hopes remained high for the Tamils, expecting prompt initiative to solve the problems of the Tamils with a just and permanent political settlement.


Now after a lapse of more than three years, Tamils are left dejected, deceived and stranded with hardly any light to be seen in the tunnel of Sinhala nationalism dominated politics. With the ‘Good Governance” currently in disarray and turmoil fighting for the survival until the next Presidential and Parliamentary election in 2020, the hope of Tamils is like chasing a mirage.


Adding insult to injury the Tamil National Alliance is pursuing an unchartered course with its own divided house. ‘National’ Alliance is no more united to sustain the alliance and bolster the aspirations of Tamils founded on nationalism, sovereignty and self-determination as manifested by the Tamil National Alliance.


Pledges and promises given to Tamil National Alliance leaders by the President and Prime Minister remain intact and they will remain intact as long as the Tamil National Alliance also adopts a complacent approach passively following the fortunes. The plain truth is both parties know the inevitable fate of these promises which are simply opportunistic and carry neither value nor commitment or weight. The recent Local Government elections have brought home the truth with the writing on the wall, signalling a warning to the TNA which lost 200,000 votes that co-habitation conciliation and hobnobbing with “Good Governance” is becoming counter-productive with hardly any major credit scores to show to the Tamils. If this attitude is pursued further, the fall of Tamil National Alliance leadership from its dominant position and role among the Tamils will become inevitable without salvage.


The Local Government elections results have given rise and boosted the voter bank to rival Tamil National Peoples’ Front [TNPF] led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam in the Northern districts, while the TNA contested under Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi [ITAK] obtained 151 seats in the Jafna district, the Tamil National People’ Front securing 80 seats leaving ITAK’s opposition parties scoring 262 seats. These results show an unexpected decline of the Tamil National Alliance’s hold on Tamil voters who have expressed their disapproval of Tamil National Alliance’s conciliatory politics while giving life to Tamil nationalism and also boosting and reminding Tamil National Alliance to fulfill its commitment and its declared political pledges without wavering.


It is better late than never for the Tamil National Alliance to learn the lessons of Local Government elections and mend its approaches towards the ‘Good Governance” with demands and warnings abandoning the ‘wait and see’ or ‘trust and hope’ surreal expectations. The TNA must understand that since 1923 Tamil leaders were betrayed, none of the agreements, pledges, promises and accords were honored. Tamil leaders were taken for a ride and the bitter betrayal still continues with the present Government. Besides, the present ‘Good Governance is fast losing popularity and its time, energy and efforts are currently directed to salvage its unity, fulfil its promises to Sinhalese voters and not taking any political decisions without the approval of Mahanayakas [Buddhist Clergy] who recently overturned the government’s appointment of a Tamil Governor to Northern Province, and executed their own appointment of R. Cooray as the Governor of the Northern Province. Tamils in the North are demanding a Tamil Governor to be appointed to the Northern Province.


The alarming fallout from the conciliatory policies of the Tamil National Alliance has also provided the long hoped and much awaited opportunities for the South nationalist parties to creep into Northern and Eastern Provinces to plant their footholds.


The fading Tamil Nationalism boosted their presence and allowed their contests without any fear and hesitation. The parties, which caused the miseries and untold sufferings including the Genocide of Tamils, won 60 out of the 413 seats in Jaffna district. The agonising result is the election of three members from Podu Jana Front, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa who conducted the genocidal war against the Tamils from 2006-2009. Not to be outdone, the SLFP took control of Chetikulam Town Council while Vavuniya fell into EPRLF as a result of a loose coalition with Tamil United Front, UNP, SLFP, SLPJM and EPDP. This is a coalition of Tamil parties which hold opposing policies and also shake hands with the South parties who caused and contributed to the untold miseries of Tamils from 1948 who are still grappling with many unsolved issues.


The casualties of these unholy alignments are the blows to Tamil nationalism, the right of self-determination, comprising the four demands of Tamils enunciated by the Father of the Tamil Nation Thanthi Chelva [late S.J.V. Chelvanayagam Q.C] and almost abandoning the causes of Tamils. Privileges, perks, position and power appear to be the priorities and motivation of the Tamil parties and their leaders. The current political scenario is that no one knows which party will align with which party and which party will stick to principles.


These politics of opportunism and self-interest have created a vacuum for the sneak entries of South parties whose presence among the Tamils will further go to weaken our basic demands of self-determination based on nationalism, even resulting in its death, while paving the way for a subdued and subjugated Tamil Nation willy-nilly in cohabitation with parties and politicians carrying out the Sinhalisation and Buddhisiation agenda.


It is not too late for the Tamil National Alliance to indulge in self-examination of the ‘Good Governance” which appears to be falling apart due to disunity, broken promises to the electorate, not to mention the promises made to Tamils. Mass protests of affected Tamils in various places are scoring some successes, and these voluntary agitations of public are eye-openers for others to join and lend their backing as partners and participants and not as simply observers for photo sessions.


History has recorded the existence of a Tamil Nation, the justification for it is still existing based on nationalism. It therefore falls on the shoulders of each Tamil particularly the Tamil youths to keep it alive while sustaining and promoting it to its realisation in the form of a Tamil Nation in the North and East [Traditional and Historical Homeland of Tamils for centuries] and side by side with a Sinhalese Nation in peaceful co-existence.


The past history of Sinhalese leaders and Governments is notorious for broken promises, breach of Pacts and agreements; a continuing process. The power vested to the Buddhist Mahanayakas to decide the vital problems faced by the Tamils is another reason the Government is trying to give priority to the Buddhist religion so that they can please the Sinhalese voters. It clearly shows the hidden agenda of the Buddhist Mahanayakas and the Government to make Sri Lanka a Buddhist Sinhala State. The state sponsored, institutionalized systematic pogroms against the Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1971, 1981, 1983 and from 2004-2009 is more clear proof for this hidden agenda.


What the Tamil leadership needs is not fighting for position and vote bank but sincere ground action to realise the pledges instead of mere statements and occasional emotional bursts without any follow-up. In this respect the recorded statement of H. Cleghorn, a Government servant of the British in 1799 has to be given validity and conformation. He stated “Two different nations from the very ancient period had divided between them the possession of the island. First the Sinhalese inhabited the South and Western areas secondly the Tamils who possessed the North and Eastern Districts.”


To summarise, the current indecisive political situation of Tamil political parties and leaders necessitate a United Front with one voice to spearhead the agitations and mobilize mass campaigns to advance the four Thimpu demands including a halt to the continuing agenda of Buddhisiation and Sinhalisiation. The time is therefore ripe and opportune for the Tamil People’s Council [TPC] and Tamil National Peoples’ Front [TNPF] to align with like minded parties with the backing of Tamil youths and University students. The need of the hour is a dedicated sincere leadership with a clear agenda to achieve the aspirations of the Tamils, avoiding the past policies of appeasement and fragile conciliatory overtures.





Thambu Kanagasabai

Thambu Kanagasabai LL.M (London) – Former Lecturer in Law, University Of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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1 Comment

  1. S Siva May 09, at 15:11

    Thanks for the informative article explaining the failures of Eelam Tamil Leaders and TNA leadership has deteriorated to the worst level at present. TNA's weakness was manipulated by Sinhala Buddhist Leaders, Indians and Americans on regime change that is a disaster to Tamils as there is no accountability or delivery of Justice after nine long years after Sri Lankan forces allegedly committed genocide. It looks that Western nations and India that collaborated to the Sri Lankan regime that allegedly committed genocide, used Chemical weapons against Eelam Tamils wanted to cover up their collaboration to heinous crimes against humanity and not to bring the perpetrators to accountability and delivery of Justice. I sincerely doubt whether these so called International Community, UN and Western leaders have a sincere desire, dedication, mindset and willingness to work hard to achieve for democracy and ensure freedom, human rights, equality, rule of law, justice to all irrespective of colour of skin. Tamils, one of the oldest civilization on earth, under oppression in Sri Lanka and India as Dutch, Portuguese and English Colonial rulers merged nations for easy administration and left as merged when they abandon occupation. Fortunately visionary Mohd Jinna demanded for separate Pakistan as he believed and predicted perfectly that united India will be a disaster to humanity and mankind, probably through his hands on experience of living, struggling for independence and working with North Indian leaders. Leaving many nations as united (India and Sri Lanka) only helped majority leaders to commit crimes against humanity at Will, used state forces to unleash terror against minority communities, political dissidents, Journalists who exposed the ground situation, political interference in every state machinery including Justice, corruption to win elections - democracy is a total failure in many nations that have significant illiterate population, Low caste (Untouchables), extreme poverty and so on. For example, India has over 300 million untouchables and millions of citizens under extreme poverty, even without toilets, daily news full of rape and murder and lawlessness. All of the above are due to poor, corrupt and criminal leadership and failure of strong opposition parties. Sri Lanka being a poor country, rely on foreign aid for survival, continue with its Buddhist hatred, Apartheid, unleash state terrorism against minorities as so called International Community continued to fail or not challenged its moral and legal obligations. Sri Lankan leaders know how to corrupt foreign leaders and officials using sex, money and gifts and they know Indians including Malayalee mafias are very weak and can easily be corrupted. International Community must review foreign leaders and officials private visits to Sri Lanka and/or other hot spots as corruption is widely used by oppressive regimes to get support in their favour or ignore criminal activities of the regime. Tamils are skeptical whether TNA leaders too are corrupted by the Sri Lankan regime or they are totally incapable / incompetent to be strong leaders to lead the Tamils' freedom struggle and take our struggle to Global leaders and it requires very strong leadership win rights, rule of law and Justice. Once again, Thanks for the article and Tamil Diaspora continues its struggle for freedom, human rights, sovereignty, justice and many groups have not pleased with TNA leadership due to it's failure in their approach to achieve Tamils' demand for Eelam.


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