The Tamil National Peoples Front (TNPF) which is contesting the 2015 Parliamentary polls under the cycle symbol of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) unveiled its election manifesto in Valvettithurai on August 2nd 2015. The date coincided with the 26th anniversary of the VVT massacre of 1989 where over 30 civilians were killed by the Indian army after an LTTE attack was launched from the VVT hospital premises. The TNPF paid homage to the victims of the 1989 VVT massacre and the LTTE Great Heroes or “Maaveerargal” before commencing their rally at the VVT “Revady Sports Club” grounds. The manifesto was released at the TNPF rally.
The ACTC/TNPF is contesting all five electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The ACTC list for Jaffna electoral district comprising the Jaffna and Kilinochchi administrative districts is headed by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. According to political observers the ACTC/TNPF does not have much support south of Elephant pass. Yet it is fielding candidates in all the Tamil areas in a bid to challenge the political supremacy of the dominant Tamil National Alliance(TNA).
Sri Lankan Tamil politics in the years between 1949 to 1971 were marked by the rivalry between the All Ceylon Tamil Congress(ACTC) contesting under the cycle symbol and the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK)which had the house as its symbol. In an interesting re-play of the past ,the Tamil National Peoples Front(TNPF) contesting under the ACTC cycle symbol is battling the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) contesting under the ITAK symbol of house. The political competition of the past between cycle and house has taken on new forms in the present scenario.
The acknowledged “supreme leader” of both the ACTC and TNPF is Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam whose qualifications as stated in media advertisements are – LLB London and Barrister at law. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam is both the President of the TNPF and General Secretary of the ACTC. Gajendrakumar who spends considerable periods of time in Europe is perhaps a shining example of “dynasty” in the Sri Lankan Tamil political sphere.He belongs to the third generation of Ponnambalams in politics. (Not to be confused with Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan or Arunachalam).Gajendrakumar’s paternal grandfather Ganapathy Gaangaesar Ponnambalam known as GG Ponnambalam (snr) was the founder president of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. GG Ponnambalam’s son and Gajendrakumar’s father was Kumar Ponnambalam or GG Ponnambalam jnr.
GG Ponnambalam’s grandson and Kumar’s son Gajendrakumar Gangaser Ponnambalam was born on January 16th 1974. After completing his primary and secondary school studies at Royal College, Colombo and the Colombo International school, Gajendrakumar went to London for tertiary studies.Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam entered active politics after the death of his father. In 2001 , four Tamil organizations namely the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF), the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO) and the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF) came together as the Tamil National Alliance. Gajendrakumar contested in Jaffna and was elected to Parliament. In 2004 he contested from Jaffna again on the TNA list and won.
In 2004 the TNA won twenty – two seats including two on the national list in 2004.Among the TNA Parliamentarians, two were identified as being very close to the LTTE hierarchy. They were Mr.Selvarajah Gajendran and Ms.Padmini Sithambaranathan. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam was affiliated with this duo. Interestingly Gajendran, Padmini and Gajendrakumar were first (112,077), second (68,240) and third (60,770) respectively in the preference vote tally for Jaffna in the LTTE rigged 2004 poll.
Gajendran and Padmini
Things however changed after May 2009 and when polls were announced in 2010 the situation was different.When Selvarajah Gajendran and Padmini Sithambaranathan were close to the LTTE hierarchy earlier, they used that “influence” to undermine and defy the TNA leadership. Like the cobra around Lord Shiva’s neck inquiring the well-being of the Karudan or Kite bird this duo had disregarded the TNA leaders due to their tiger clout They had disrespected several other academics and professionals in Jaffna too.
When elections were scheduled the long-suffering TNA leadership took the bold decision of denying nomination to both. But Gajendran and Padmini Sithamparanathan latched on to Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. Earlier Gajendrakumar had some disputes with the TNA leadership about the 2010 Presidential election. Egged on by some Tamil extremists in the Diaspora, Gajendrakumar had wanted a boycott.Now the same Diaspora elements played a huge role in cementing an alliance between the discarded duo and young Ponnambalam.
The Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam – Padmini Sithamparanathan – Selvarajah Gajendran trio struck out separately.Gajendrakumar along with Gajendran and Sithamparanathan broke ranks from the TNA and formed the Tamil National Peoples Front. They filed nomination under the ACTC symbol of cycle in Jaffna and Trincomalee districts.Then began an election campaign in which Gajendrakumar viciously attacked the then TNA leadership consisting of Sambanthan, Senathirajah and Suresh. He declared that what the TNPF wanted was the defeat of Senathirajah and Suresh Premachandran in Jaffna and Sampanthan in Trincomalee. When results were announced the TNPF contesting as ACTC was trounced. In Jaffna the TNPF polled only 6,362 votes. In Trincomalee it got just 1,182 votes. Gajendran, Sithamparanathan and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam who were the first three in terms of preferences in 2004 were totally demolished in 2010.
Gajendrakumar continued along the same TNPF track with Selvarajah Gajendran. The tall Gajendrakumar and the short Gajendran with their similiar sounding names became the “terrible twins” of Tamil politics.The politics of the ACTC/TNPF deteriorated into venomous “hate”politics. The target was the TNA in general and parliamentarians R. Sampanthan and MA Sumanthiran in particular. The deplorable personalised manner in which Gajendrakumar attacks Sumanthiran is reminiscent of the pathological hatred displayed by his father Kumar towards Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam.
The ACTC/TNPF is strongly backed and heavily influenced by LTTE and Pro-LTTE elements in the Global Tamil Diaspora.These tiger and pro-tiger elements are strongly opposed to the TNA and its current political approach of working towards an acceptable political settlement within a united but not necessarily unitary Sri Lanka. The overall objective of these elements is two – fold. Revive the LTTE in some form and engage in violence in Sri Lanka.Undermine the political process and disrupt all positive political engagement between Tamil representatives and the Governments in power in Colombo.
In order to achieve this objective the TNA has to be weakened, divided or converted to the Diaspora tiger cause. So these tiger elements in the Diaspora have been attacking the TNA from within and without. Some TNA constituents and members are working as fifth columnists and diminishing the TNA from within. At the same time vicious political attacks are launched from outside on the TNA. The TNPF is a ready, able and willing tool in this tiger Diaspora backed onslaught against the TNA.
The TNPF/ACTC refrained from contesting local authority or Provincial Council elections saying they were of no use to the Tamil people. It also wanted the Tamils to boycott the Presidential poll of 2015. The TNPF/ACTC was merely voicing the wishes of the “ tiger” Diaspora in this.
However the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka snubbed the TNPF/ACTC by voting in very large numbers at these elections. Moreover they supported the TNA strongly in the local authority and provincial polls. They also voted for the TNA backed Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential poll instead of heeding the boycott call of the TNPF. Now the TNA seems poised for victory at the forthcoming Parliamentary elections.
It is against this backdrop that the TNPF is contesting the polls under the ACTC. The aim is to cause as much political damage to the TNA as possible. If one were to strip away the convoluted verbiage of the TNPF manifesto and bare it down to the essentials, one may be compelled to emulate the Dravidian movement patriarch “Eevaeraa Periyaar”(Dravida Kazhagham leader E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker) and shout “Vengaayam” (Onion). When you peel away the layers in an onion you end up with nothing but tears in your eyes. Likewise when you distill the TNPF manifesto you end up with nothing but tears in your eyes for the predicament of the Tamil people in having to put up with a political outfit of this nature.
What the TNPF recommends as a political solution to the Tamil national question is the demarcation of the Island into a “Tamil Thesam” comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces and a “Sinhala Thesam” consisting of the other seven provinces. Thereafter the two “Thesam” countries can form one “Naadu”country. Apart from the hilarity caused by terminology, the political philosophy articulated in this demand gives rise to two fundamental questions.
Firstly how does one merge the North and East into one “Tamil country” when the non – Tamils in the Eastern province are more than 60 % of the population?.
Secondly how can the provinces outside the North and East be lumped together as a “Sinhala country” when 48 % of the Tamils and two-thirds of the Muslims in the Island of Sri Lanka are living in those seven provinces?
The TNPF/ ACTC manifesto further states that a political settlement recognizing the concepts of “Thaayagam”,(Homeland) Thesiyam” (Nationhood) and “Suya nirnayam” (self – determination) should be evolved. If such a solution is not possible within a specific time frame then the TNPF would demand a referendum for the Tamil people in the Island. The TNPF would consult the Tamil people and mobilise their support towards this objective. The manifesto does not outline the purpose for which the referendum is to be held.
The ambiguity and confused terminology of the TNPF seems to be deliberate. Despite the rhetoric of being faithful to the Tamil Eelam cause and the lambasting of the TNA as having sold out, the reality today is that anyone wanting to contest Parliamentary elections has to disavow separatism or run the risk of being disqualified.
The sixth Constitutional amendment has ensured that. Hence the TNPF too is playing it safe by being vague and ambiguous wherever and whenever necessary. The candidates may wax eloquent about being prepared to sacrifice but the reality is that they are not ready to sacrifice a chance to become an MP.
Meanwhile the Tiger Diaspora backs the TNPF/ACTC to the hilt. Unlike his grandfather and father, Gajendrakumar does not have to spend the family wealth to contest elections. The benefactors from abroad will see to all such mundane needs.
Reports from the election front suggest that the ACTC/ TNPF is running a well-oiled election campaign this time. The voters are not being wooed by campaign rhetoric alone but also through a bountiful personal touch that is of benefit to both the receiver and giver.
The determination of Diaspora elements backing the TNPF is almost unbelievable.It is both fascinating as well as frightening to witness this unfolding phenomenon. Here is an influential Diaspora group of a particular political persuasion with ample resources at its disposal striving to change the political equation in the land of their birth. The ultimate objective being to pave the way for the creation of two states in the Island. The facetious euphemism of “two countries in one country” should not let this grim reality be overlooked.
The tiger and pro-tiger Diaspora wants a political change among the Tamils of Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka through this election. The ACTC /TNPF is the instrument being utilised to bring about such a change. What would happen if such a change were to occur?
Many years ago when the United Front led by Sirima Bandaranaike swept the polls the veteran Tamil political leader SJV Chelvanayakam observed “Only God can save the Tamil people now”.
Let me conclude by saying that if the “change” envisaged by the tiger Diaspora is brought about by a TNPF victory in Sri Lanka “Even God cannot save the Tamil people now”!
(This article is a condensed version of the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appearing in the “Daily Mirror” of Aug 4, 2015)
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org