The “Tamil Times” (TT) was a monthly newsmagazine published in the United Kingdom(UK) for more than 25 years from October 1981 to December 2006. It was a political journal that focused on news, views and reviews pertaining to Sri Lanka in general and the Tamil People of Sri Lanka in particular. At it’s heyday the TT circulation was close upon five digits of which 95% was through subscriptions. However the qualitative impact and influence of “Tamil Times” went far beyond the boundaries of its quantitative circulation.
The TT was edited from its inception by Periyathamby Rajanayagam known as Raja or Raja Annan (elder brother) to friends and acquaintances including myself. Many others called him Rasa or Rasa Annan. Since I knew him as Raja and/or Raja Annan I will refer to him as such. Rajanayagam was a man of great character and integrity whose profession was the law and vocation, journalism.
Sadly Rajanayagam passed away peacefully on June 17 at the Lewisham Hospital in London. He was 86 years of age and had been ailing for sometime. The funeral was on July 7 at the Hither Green crematorium in South East London.This two- part article therefore is my way of paying tribute to a man whom I liked, admired and respected immensely. Furthermore the life and work of Raja Annan is indeed a tale worthy of recounting.
Rajanayagam was born on October 3rd 1936. His father Periyathamby and Mother Pasupathipillai hailed from Chunnakam in the Jaffna peninsula of Sri Lanka. Apart from Rajanayagam,they had five other children namely Arasaratnam, Parameswary, Nadarajah, Shanmuganathan and Maheswary. Raja obtained secondary education at Skandavarodaya College under the principalship of the legendary “Orator” C.Subramaniam who was widely respected.
Chunnakam and Karaveddy in Jaffna were regarded as leftist strongholds in those days. Raja as well as his elder brother Arasaratnam known as “Arasa” got engrossed in left -wing politics as students. Their younger brother Peri. Shanmuganathan – who died at a comparatively young age – was a well-known writer in Tamil.
Lanka Samaja Samaja Party (LSSP)
The Trotskyite Lanka Samaja Samaja Party(LSSP) and the Communist Party had much influence in Chunnakam and Karaveddy respectively. Rajanayagam too was enamoured of the LSSP’s Trotskyite politics during his student days and used to circulate LSSP booklets and leaflets. He was drawn into the LSSP mainly due to former Senator and ex-Chunnakam Town Council chairman Ponnambalam Nagalingam and LSSP theoretician and Lawyer Vaithiyanathan Karalasingham known as Karlo.
Raja cut his political teeth in the LSSP through its youth league. After leaving school, he had entered the clerical service. This was due to the financial circumstances of the family. Raja’s elder brother Arasaratnam was a medical student. The greater part of family resources went into supporting his studies. Hence Rajanayagam could not pursue higher studies and opted to become a Govt clerk. He soon became actively involved with the LSSP controlled Government Clerical Services Union(GCSU). Rajanayagam served as the editor of the GCSU’s monthly bulletin “The Red Tape” and its Tamil equivalent “Nava Uthayam”. He was also a Union representative of the GCSU.
The LSSP fielded 101 Candidates at the March 1960 Parliamentary elections.Party members were hugely optimistic about the leader Dr.N.M.Perera becoming the next Prime Minister. Rajanayagam actively campaigned for the LSSP in the North. He wrote a pamphlet “ Thamil Arasuk Kathchiyum Thamil Paesum Makkalum” (The Federal Party and the Tamil Speaking Peoples) that was used for election propaganda against the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK) at that time.. Only 10 from the LSSP were elected. The Party lost out in the Sinhala majority regions due to its commendable position of parity of status for the Sinhala and Tamil Languages. Sadly the LSSP did not fare well in the Tamil areas either . Raja along with many Tamil speaking Trotskyites was deeply disappointed over the LSSP’s poor performance in the North.
The LSSP underwent a crisis in 1964 when the party leadership opted to form a coalition govt with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by Prime minister Sirima Bandaranaike. This was resisted by some LSSP’ers described as the “left tendency” group. After a two day conference in June 1964, the left tendency was outvoted. 14 members of the then LSSP central committee dissented. These included the then Bulathsinhala MP Edmund Samarakkody, Moratuwa MP Meryl Fernando, Theoretician V.Karalasingham and Trade Unionist Bala Tampoe.
LSSP-Revolutionary party (LSSP-R)
The dissident group formed the LSSP-R or LSSP-Revolutionary party minus the Karlo group of Karalasingham which re-joined the parent body. The mainstream LSSP was expelled from the fourth international and the LSSP-R was recognized in its place as the Ceylon section of the fourth international. Rajanayagam also belonged to the left tendency group and opted to join the LSSP- R. He was elected to the new party’s central committee. His elder brother Arasaratnam who was a medical doctor in Ratnapura opted to remain with the LSSP led by Dr.N.M. Perera.
Among those of the left tendency who broke away from the LSSP and joined the LSSP-R was Rajanayagam’s close friend and comrade Upali Cooray. Both were elected to the Central committee. Subsequently both relocated to the UK. When Upali passed away in 2009 ,Raja delivered the eulogy in which he made pertinent observations about the left movement’s ill -fated decision to enter the SLFP-led coalition Govt. Following are excerpts –
“There is no doubt that the decision of the LSSP and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CP) in 1964 to enter into coalition politics determined the fate and future of not only these parties, but also the entire left and working class politics in the country. These parties from the 1940s had been powerful bastions on the Left having substantial support with branches and youth leagues functioning throughout the length and breadth of the country. They had under their political leadership and control , almost the entire working class movement. These parties had well acclaimed leaders with intellect and stature who were acknowledged as political giants even by their opponents. Even at the worst of times, these parties between them were able to win 15 to 20 seats in parliament. “
“However, today these parties have become a pale shadow of their long, powerful and glorious past having insignificant impact on the politics of the island nation. Would these parties have suffered this fate had they avoided the strategy of coalition politics and continued to remain as champions of the Left fighting the cause of the oppressed and marginalised is a question that is worth pondering.”
Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP)
Unfortunately the LSSP-R underwent further fragmentation when Edmund Samarakkody left the LSSP –R after engaging in a vitriolic campaign against Bala Tampoe. The Edmund faction formed the Revolutionary Samasamajist Party. Later on it became the Revolutionary Workers party.The LSSP-R continued to be under the sway of Bala Tampoe. The Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU) was its mainstay. The LSSP-R was later renamed as the Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) and continued to be recognized as the Ceylon/Sri Lanka affiliate of the United Secretariat of the fourth international for many years. Comrade Raja continued to be with the LSSP-R/RMP until he left the shores of Sri Lanka. However he always maintained cordial personal relations with many ex-comrades of the LSSP.
Practising Lawyer in Colombo.
Meanwhile Rajanayagam continued with tertiary education while being in the clerical service. He registered as an external student of the London University and obtained a Bsc degree. Thereafter he took to the law and entered Law College. After qualifying with flying colours, he began practising as a lawyer in Colombo. He also published a text book about Criminal Procedure laws in Sri Lanka, Raja concentrated on labour law and frequently appeared for the underdog in cases before the Labour Tribunal. He was also involved in the publication of the Labour Tribunal Digest.
To strike a personal note, my late father was also a lawyer who specialized in labour law. Rajanayagam was well acquainted with him and had worked together on a few cases. Though I never told Raja who my father was, he discovered from my father’s obituary notice and chided me for not telling him earlier while my father was alive. He also related several anecdotes concerning my father and himself. In my journalistic capacity, I used to inter- act with many persons known to my parents, but I never told them who I was unless they asked me or found out from elsewhere.
Rajanayagam also became greatly involved in trade union related litigation. He was closely associated with the Ceylon Mercantile Union(CMU) and its firebrand General-Secretary Bala Tampoe.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
The insurgency by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP)led by Rohana Wijeweera, shocked and rocked the then Ceylonese nation in 1971. Thousands of youths were killed and thousands incarcerated. The CMU/RMP helmed by Bala Tampoe campaigned against the blatant human rights violations by the State and urged the speedy release of the detained youths. Bala’s wife May Wickramasuriya played a constructive humanitarian role in this.
When 41 alleged key JVP suspects were indicted before the Criminal Justice Commission, a team of lawyers led by Bala Tampoe appeared free of charge for many of the JVP accused. Rajanayagam was a member of this dedicated team of lawyers. He went to prisons in Colombo,Kandy and Jaffna to meet with JVP detenues including Rohana Wijeweera. They worked long hours to defend the JVP suspects. Rajanayagam has often told me about his experiences during those troubling times.
The exodus of Tamils from Sri Lanka began as a trickle after June 1956 when Sinhala was enshrined as the sole official language. It became a flow in the following years and turned into a flood after the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom masterminded by elements of the JR Jayewardene led United National Party(UNP) Govt. Many of the Tamils who reluctantly left their land of birth and sought a new life elsewhere did so because they felt their future would be bleak within the changing political landscape of Sri Lanka.
Relocated to the UK in 1973
Rajanayagam too relocated to the UK in 1973. He was now married to Regina Senappu (she pre-deceased him).It was a marriage that transcended socio-cultural barriers. After becoming a Solicitor in the UK, Raja secured employment as legal adviser in the civic offices of the local authority Bexley London Borough Council. The Rajanayagams took up residence in the town of Bexley Heath in Kent.
Many Sri Lankans who relocate to other parts of the world in search of a “new”life are soon compelled to face a simple truth namely “you can get out of Sri Lanka but you cant get Sri Lanka out of you”. They exist physically in their adopted country but find themselves living emotionally in the Island “where every prospect pleases”.
This was what happened to Rajanayagam too. As someone who genuinely loved Sri Lanka and was concerned about the welfare of the Island nation, Raja was compelled to take greater interest in events unfolding in the pearl of the Indian ocean. The large scale violation of human rights and repressive measures adopted against the Tamil people by successive regimes in Sri Lanka turned Rajanayagam into a human rights activist and crusading journalist.
As is well-known the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka began escalating in the late seventies and early eighties of the 20th century under President Jayewardene. The anti -Tamil violence of 1977, burning of the Jaffna Pubkic Library – described as “cultural incineration”by eminent Peradeniya University librarian Ian (HAI )Goonetilleka -in June 1981 and the anti-Tamil violence of August 1981, horrified Tamils in Sri Lanka and in other parts of the world.
Among western nations, Britain was then home to the largest number of Sri Lankan Tamils (now it is Canada). The keen sense of outrage felt over happenings in Sri Lanka resulted in a group of concerned Tamils meeting frequently in London to discuss what could be done.
It was decided then to launch a journal in English to keep Tamils abroad as well as members of the international community regularly informed of what was happening to Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is said that the idea of a magazine was proposed to the group by the well-known Mathematician Prof. C.J. Eliezer who was residing then in Australia.
Tamil Times Ltd was Formed
There was consensus that the new journal would be named “Tamil Times”. A company Tamil Times Ltd was formed. The founding directors were messrs CJ Thamotheram, NS Kandiah, P Rajanayagam , R Thayaparan, S Navaratnam, P Ragunathan and S.Arunachalam. Thamotheram and Kandiah were school masters while Rajanayagam was a lawyer. The other four were medical doctors.
Motto on TT Masthead
CJ Thamotheram was appointed as the chairman of the board of directors. He was also editorial director. Rajanayagam was made the editor. The first issue of “Tamil Times” came out in October 1981. The Tamil Times under the enlightened editorship of Rajanayagam was committed to the fundamental journalistic principle – “facts are sacred and opinions are free”. Encapsuling this principle was the TT’s motto on its masthead. It was the famous quote from Voltaire: “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.(ENDS)
Next: Travails and Troubles of “Tamil Times”
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
This Article appears in the “Political Pulse” Column of the Daily FT dated July 13th 2022.It can be accessed here: