The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK) known also as the Federal Party has resolved to formally induct into party folds former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) who have undergone a process of rehabilitation. The path breaking party decision was taken unanimously at the ITAK central Committee sessions held in Batticaloa on April 29th 2017.
The ITAK is the chief constituent of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)which is the premier political configuration representing the Sri Lankan Tamils. The TNA contests under the ITAK symbol of House. Senior Jaffna district MP “Maavai”Senathirajah is the ITAK president while Eastern Provincial minister S.Thurairajasingham is the party secretary. Leader of the Opposition Rajavarothayam Sampanthan is the TNA leader.
The proposal to absorb rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres into ITAK party folds was put forward by Jaffna district parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran. According to ITAK sources the move to induct ex-LTTE militants into party ranks in a formal manner was welcomed with great enthusiasm by party stalwarts at the Central committee meeting. Even before the decision was taken a large number of rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres were already involved with the ITAK and engaged in party activities. These youths were mostly the children, siblings or close family members of senior ITAK activists. What is now being envisaged is the granting of formal or official party membership .
Priority was to be given to these youths in being given formal party membership. However the youths would be carefully vetted before being absorbed into the party. The criteria for eligible membership would be a firm conviction to engage in democratic, non – violent politics for gaining legitimate Tamil rights within a united Sri Lanka.
The Induction of ex-tigers into the ITAK would be done in selected batches it is learnt. There would be no large scale influx in the initial stages. Ex-LTTE cadres will be encouraged to take up official positions within ITAK branches and the youth and women wings. A special unit would also be set up within the party to address the problems facing rehabilitated ex-tigers and to look after their welfare.
When ITAK party stalwarts held discussions with many former LTTE members on a district by district basis many of the ex-tigers responded positively and enthusiastically. Many of them expressed a desire to break free of the “cocoons of prejudice” imprisoning them. A fundamental aspiration on their part was to be gainfully employed and contribute to their family, neighbourhood, community and country.
Sense Of Dignity
The primary intention behind the ITAK decision is to restore a sense of dignity to the former LTTE members and facilitate their re-entry into the political, social, cultural and economic life of the Tamil community. It is hoped that the ex-tigers would grasp the opportunity and re-enter the mainstream and be re-integrated in a meaningful manner. Contrary to the picture being painted by some pseudo- nationalist politicians and media personnel of ex-LTTE cadres being “Tamil extremists” a very large number of the youths are aware of existential realities and hold moderate views.
It may be recalled that a group of former LTTE cadres formed an organization called the “Jananaayagathukkaana Poaraaligal” (Warriors for Democracy) and contested the 2015 Parliamentary polls. The group contesting in the Jaffna district under the spider symbol as Independent Group 4 fared miserably obtaining only 1979 votes. There was much speculation then that the group had been propped up by a Sri Lankan intelligence agency.
TNA and ITAK party spokesman, MP and lawyer MA Sumanthiran announced the decision taken by the party at a briefing held after the central committee meeting in Batticaloa stated media reports.”Considering the rehabilitation, livelihoods and political life of former LTTE members, the ITAK has agreed to obtain their assistance for the party’s political work,” Sumanthiran said after the meeting. The party says the rehabilitated LTTE cadres need to be fully integrated into the society. “The living standards of the rehabilitated LTTE cadres need to be raised and they need to be maintained as an ordinary community in the society,” Sumanthiran said. The MP said the party central Committee decided that the doors for politics should be opened for them as well at the appropriate time.
In a related media report appearing in the “NewsIn.Asia” website, veteran Indian journalist P. K. Balachandran wrote as follows –
“The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the principal constituent of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), on Saturday decided to admit former cadre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the militant group which fought a 30-year war with the aim of establishing an independent “Tamil Eelam.The decision was taken at a meeting of the Central Committee of the ITAK in Batticaloa in the Eastern Province”.
M. A. Sumanthiran
“Briefing newspersons after the meeting, ITAK spokesman M.A.Sumanthiran said that the committee felt that the ex-militants should be encouraged to enter the democratic political mainstream even as other issues relating to their rehabilitation and livelihood are attended to.Sumanthiran said that he had put forward the suggestion that the former cadre be admitted because in his interactions with them, he had found that they had issues which the ITAK and the Tamil polity could no longer ignore. Although they did not seek political participation, he felt that they should participate like other citizens”.
“These people have political commitment. After all, they had been ready to lay down their lives for a political cause,” he said.However, the ITAK does not envisage mass recruitment of former LTTE cadre. “We will be selective,” Sumanthiran said.Earlier, the TNA had rejected applications from former cadre for party nominations during elections. Subsequently, the cadres who had formed a political party themselves, contested elections, but only to draw a blank”.
“LTTE cadre who were looked upon as heroes during the war for Eelam, are being discriminated against and ignored now. Even private businesses do not recruit them as they are still under military and police surveillance. Those employed by the government are seen as doing intelligence gathering for the police or the military. Women cadre face difficulty in getting grooms. Many cadre are wounded or disabled and need special attention”.
“The ITAK Central Committee also took up the issue of the Sri Lankan government’s Inter-Ministerial Committee on Resettlement of people forcibly evicted by the LTTE. The party felt that this amounts to discriminating against the Tamils”.
“The ministerial committee should not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity. We know that the LTTE had driven out Muslims and Sinhalese and their problems require attention. But that does not mean that the displaced Tamils should be ignored. We will take up this matter with the Prime Minister,” Sumanthiran said”.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org