The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is the premier political configuration representing the Sri Lankan Tamils of Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka. The booming question that has been looming large on the Tamil political horizon during the past week or more is whether the TNA was created by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) in 2001. This revival of interest in the antecedents of the TNA was sparked off by a You Tube interview of TNA spokesperson and former Jaffna district MP M. A. Sumanthiran by senior journalist Chamuditha Samatawickrama on his “Truth wih Chamuditha” show. The interview has resulted in a lot of critism being levelled against Sumanthiran.Much of the “manufactured rage”targeting Sumanthiran was due to he lawyer -politician re-iterating that he had not been supportive of the LTTE in the past.
One of the interesting aspects thaon hist was highlighted in this anti-Sumanthiran political storm was the origin of the TNA itself. Chamuditha Samarawickrama in his interrogative style harped on the TNA being the creation of the LTTE through a barrage of “hostile” questions. He even charged that LTTE leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran had chaired the inaugural TNA meeting. Sumanthiran denied the charges with unflappable dignity. He emphasized the fact that the TNA was not formed by the LTTE in 2001.
This provided further ammunition to the anti -Sumanthiran elements within Tamil politics. They began stating that the TNA was indeed formed by the LTTE leader. Many kept insisting that the TNA had been founded by Tiger leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran himself and therefore Sumanthiran being a member of the TNA had to support the LTTE.
Although TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan has consistently stated that the TNA was not formed by the LTTE, critics of the TNA continue to accuse the TNA of being a tiger creation. What has complicated matters further is the tendency in recent times of several TNA personalities to claim that the party had been formed by the LTTE. Since some of the anti-TNA Tamil hardliners like CV Wigneswaran,Ananthy Saitharan, MK Sivajilingam, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Selvakumar Gajendran are singing the “Pulippaattu” or Tiger song, these TNA politicians also pose in “tigerish” garb. They think (erroneous;y) that by saying the TNA was created by the LTTE, they can score over their political rivals. Incidently many of the TNA persons claiming to be the offspring of the LTTE nowadays were not around when the TNA was formed in 2001.
What then is the truth? Contrary to popular belief the TNA in 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 against this backdrop therefore that I intend focusing – with the aid of my earlier writings – on how the Tamil National Alliance was formed in 2001 and the role played by the LTTE in the formation of the TNA.
The Tamil National Alliance was formed in 2001 due to an imperative need. The LTTE was continuing with its military campaign against the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces. While some Tamil political organizations aligned themselves with the ruling regimes, several other non – LTTE political parties tried to engage in democratic politics within the limited political space available. However they faced threats and physical danger from both the LTTE and Govt -backed para-military outfits. Furthermore these parties espousing Tamil nationalism were hopelessly divided among themselves. Hence votes were fractured and Parliamentary representation fragmented. The big parties like the UNP and SLFP along with their Tamil allies were gradually gaining ground. Many Tamils began feeling that some form of political unity was necessary to garner more votes and secure adequate representation for the Tamil nationalist forces.
October 10th 2000 Election
The crucial factor that made the alarm bells ring loud 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 R.Sampanthan was elected in the politically sensitive Trincomalee district. In Batticaloa only two Tamils from the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) were elected. The TULF at that time comprised the ITAK and some ex-members of the Tamil Congress. Today the TULF sans the ITAK is a caricature of its former self. Another Tamil won from the ruling Peoples Alliance (PA) also won in the 2000 poll from B’caloa.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 being elected. Three Tamil MP’s from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) were elected.Jaffna with nine seats saw the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party(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. It was apparent that among the causes for the non-governmental Tamil political party debacle was disunity, fragmentation of Tamil votes and the lack of an imaginative or inspiring political agenda.
Eastern University Seminar
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.
The mission 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) ,Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam(PLOTE)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 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.
Karikalan Informally Involved
The LTTE hierarchy in the Wanni was not directly involved in the negotiating process. But Karikalan the former tiger political commissar for Batticaloa-Amparai was supportive and informally involved. Even as the talks were on the LTTE assassinated “Robert” the TELO head of Aaraiyampathy pradeshiya Sabha (this Robert is different to the EPRLF “Robert” killed by the LTTE in Jaffna in 2002). The assassination was a major setback 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 “explained” that 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.
Initially 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.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.
Two Parallel Courses
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, Kulallottan 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 directly 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.
“Thamizh Thesieeya Kootamaippu”
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. This inaugural meeting was held in the Colombo residence of businessman V.R. Vadivetkarasan.
The formation of the Tamil National Alliance was announced through a press communiqué dated October 22nd 2001. 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.
Six Member Facilitator Panel
The facilitator panel or “anusaranaialar kuzhu” comprised the following six members:
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 was 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.
No Open LTTE Support For TNA
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. It was also a key reason for the iger leadership based in the Wanni to allow 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.
Outsourcing To Batticaloa
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.
Election Campaign Without LTTE
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.
2001 Election Results
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 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 sizable sections of Tamils.The “unity” of the Tamil parties as the TNA seemed to have reaped political dividends.
Creeping Tigerization OF TNA
This then is the story of how the TNA was formed in 2001. The LTTE had no direct role in its formation though the LTTE supported the exercise indirectly.It was after the TNA tasted success at the 2001 polls that the creeping tigerization of the TNA by the LTTE commenced. Gradually the LTTE brought the TNA under its control. How this state of affairs came about is a tale worth recounting in detail on another occasion.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a Revised Version of an Article written for the DBS Jeyaraj Column in the “Daily Mirror” of May 16, 2020. It can be accessed here: