Appapillai Amirthalingam: From Enfant Terrible of ITAK to TULF Elder Statesman


Friday August 26th was the 95th birth anniversary of well-known Sri Lankan Tamil political leader and one-time leader of the opposition Appapillai Amirthalingam. The ‘enfant terrible ‘of the “Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi”(ITAK) who later metamorphosed into the elder statesman of the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF), strode across the Tamil political stage for nearly four decades. A lifetime of toil and service to his community was cut short on 13 July 1989 when he fell victim to bullets fired by LTTE operatives in Colombo.This column focuses this week on Amirthalingam who was referred to affectionately by his followers as Amir, Amir Annan and Amuthar.

Amirthalingam contested the Vaddukkoddai seat as an ITAK/FP candid unsucessfully in 1952. In 1956 he won Vaddukkoddai and held the same seat continuously through the March 1960 July 1960, and March 1965 elections. In May 1970 be was toppled by former school principal A. Thiyagarajah of the Tamil Congress. After seven years Amirthalingam returned triumphantly to parliament with a thumping majority in 1977. Only this time he contested the Kankesanthurai constituency which had been represented earlier by his leader SJV Chelvanayagam.

The massive voter swing in favour of the UNP had reduced the SLFP to a mere 8 seats and the TULF with 18 seats became the largest opposition

Party . Amirthalingam became Leader of the Oppositioin. The July violence of 1983 and the sixth amendment to the constitution led to the TULF boycotting parliament thereby rendering their seats vacant.

After the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987 the TULF contested elections to parliament again in 1989. Amirthalingam himself contested in the Batticaloa electoral list. He lost. But he managed to enter parliament as the nominated national list MP in what was then considered a controversial move. Within a few months of re-entering Parliament ,Amir along with former TULF Jaffna MP. V. Yogeswaran were gunned down in cold blood by the tigers. TULF president M. Sivasithamparam was wounded seriously in the incident.

Amirthalingam was the son of Appapillai who worked in Malaysia as a station master in the British Railway. Amirthalingam, born in Pannaagam , on 26 August 1927, was a brilliant student and the first alumnus of Victoria College in Chulipuram to enter university. After completing his BA, Amirthalingam got admitted to Law College and passed out as an advocate. He was in his younger days an ardent disciple of the veteran Trotskyite Dr. N.M. Perera and was a staunch believer in the principle of ‘Scientific Socialism’ as the panacea for the nation’s ills.

Amirthalingam caught Tamil political leader S.J.V. Chelvanayagam’s eye when he wrote articles during his undergraduate days espousing federalism in the ‘Suthanthiran’ newspaper owned by Chelva. The dominant Tamil political party of the time, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress led by G.G. Ponnambalam split and in December 1949 a group of dissidents led by Chelvanayagam launched the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) known as Federal Party(FP) in English. Chelvanayagam wrote to Amirthalingam personally and invited him to join the new party. Amirthalingam did so and became a founder member of the ITA/FP.

Amirthalingam plunged into FP politics with gusto and zeal. He was a powerful speaker in English and Tamil and earned the sobriquet “Naavalar” (orator) on account of that. Amir was a fearless activist from his early political days, participating and leading many a non-violent form of protest. He was dubbed “Anjaanenjan” ( man with a fearless hear) Amirthalingam. Many were the black flag demonstrations, protest processions, satyagraha campaigns, fasts, civil disobedience activities. that he was involved in.

Amir was also an able deputy to his leader Chelvanayagam, who was of the Gandhian mould.
Chelvanayagam suffering from Parkinson’s disease found himself becoming increasingly inactive physically and it was left to the younger Amirthalingam to labour incessantly for the party. He was dubbed “Thalapathy” or Commander because of this.

Donned Leadership Mantle

The passage of time saw the old guard passing away and Amirthalingam was soon the political heir apparent to Chelvanayagam and donned the leadership mantle in due course. Amirthalingam held several party posts in the FP, being at different times its Secretary and President. In 1976 the FP became the chief constituent of the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) In 1978, he became Secretary-General of the TULF and remained so, till the time of his death in 1989.

Amir was an artful advocate. He had the makings of a brilliant lawyer. Yet, politics soon became the center of his life. He neglected his professional career preferring to construct a mass base among the people rather than build up a lucrative legal practice.

Amirthalingam in his younger days was a fiery particle. He was the darling of the Tamil youth. He was an inflammatory orator given very much to rhetoric. He had a genuine zeal for his cause and a passion for his people. This sincerity of purpose sometimes manifested itself in the form of bombastic statements. The larger the crowd the greater his rhetoric. Former “Daily Mirror” editor Reggie Michael once referred jestingly to him in the following manner. “Amirthalingam is a man who

is capable of moving crowds and crowds are capable of moving him”.

TULF Victory Meeting on 5 Aug 1977

As a cub reporter on the Tamil Daily “Virakesari” I was assigned the task of covering the TULF victory meeting at the Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatte. The date was August 5th 1977. The TULF had swept the polls in the Tamil dominated areas of the North and East on the slogan of a separate state. The party considered it as a mandate for the sovereign

state of Thamil Eelam. There was euphoria in the air as speaker after speaker emotionally re-iterated their commitment of Eelam. Finally Amir spoke .

At one point he said in Tamil, “Tunku Abdul Rahman had the statesmanship to allow Singapore to secede from Malaysia peacefully. But the Sri Lankan rulers do not have that wisdom. I stand on this stage without fear and state that Tamil Eelam will be born only through violent struggle and bloodshed. We are ready for the “Irathakkalari”( bloody struggle).

As a journalist 1 highlighted these remarks in the preliminary paragraphs of my report. I still remember my editor Mr.K. Sivaparagasam . cutting these words out and asking me to rewrite the copy. He said “As a reporter you have done well in

highlighting these remarks. But as a responsible newpaper we cannot publish these provocative and irresponsible statements. ” Those lines were never published in the “Virakesari” then.

Yet what seemed highly irresponsible statements at that time certainly proved to be prophetic later , but at what cost!! The radicalisation of Tamil politics through the Eelam slogan and its consequent violence engulfed the Tamil people with death, destruction, displacement and despair. Upon reflection I think that even Mr. Amirthalingam did not realise the gravity of his pronouncements at that time.

Interviewed by Rupavahini

Nine years after that meeting in 1986 I was in Jaffna when Mr. Amirthalingam was interviewed by Rupavahini on the ethnic question. It was a much-mellowed Amirthalingam who answered in a statesman – like manner. He eloquently argued the case out for a negotiated settlement. I was then the deputy editor of the Jaffna based English weekly “Saturday Review” edited by Gamini Navaratne.

Amirthalingam’s performance evoked an amusing response from one of Amirthalingam’s old school mates named Arumugam who was an engineer by profession.Arumugam was politically at loggerheads with Amir as he was a Tamil Congress supporter. The following morning Mr. Arumugam called Mr. Amirthalingam at Empress Hotel in Colombo from the “Saturday Review” office in Jaffna and said “For the past fifty years I have known you this is the first time I have heard you speak sense”. From the tone oft he conversation I could gather that Amirthalingam was highly pleased by his childhood friend’s response.

Amirthalingam’s Political Evolution.

There were many stages in Amirthalingam’s political evolution. To reach this point of understanding in later life, Amir had travelled down a long road. The young fire brand baton charged by the police for leading a black-flag demonstration against then Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela visiting Jaffna; leaving Galle Face Green after Satyagraha and debating in parliament with bloodied in bandages; leading a tar and brush,campaign against the “SRI” letter in Sinhala on CTB buses in Jaffna; travelling to Batticaloa by boat from Jaffna at the height of communal troubles in 1958.The spells of incarceration for political reasons: the heated debates and cross-talks in parliaments: the trial-at-bar case which has gone down in legal history as Attorney General vs Amirthalingam, the

unprecedented no-confidence motion against the opposition leader in parliament, the various incidents of friction with members of the police and armed forces where guns were leveled at him at point blank range. Tamil youths disrupting his political meetings with gunplay. His long exile in India are all but

shifting scenes of a varied and fruitful life span.

In retrospect one is able to discern the various phases of political changes in Amirthalingam the politician. These changes and experiences were very much reflective of the turbulent changes undergone by the Tamil community itself.

Amirthlingam the defiant youth leader led many campaigns and demonstrations against the power structure. Later the popular MP became somewhat domineering and unpopular. The 1970 Parliamentary election defeat was a watershed. Amirthalingam re-invented himself as a popular leader after the 1970 defect. He learnt to control his famous temper and curb his caustic tongue. He began to mix with people easily and assiduously

cultivated the youth. All this paid dividends politically.

Period of Self-exile in Madras.

After the tumultuous period between 1977-1983. Amirthalingam again went into a period of self-exile in Madras. These years against marked a marked change in his political make-up. He was able to perceive objectively the social fabric of the Tamil community being torn asunder by political violence. He could see the beginning of the scattering of the Tamil people which he felt would weaken the Tamil position in the Island. He was also aware that the death-knell had been rung for conventional representative democracy in Jaffna.

TULF meeting in 1977 – Mr Amirthalingam speaking, seated – Mr Sivasithamparam, Mr Rajalingam and Mr Soosaithasan

In Richard Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi” there is a scene set in the early twenties of the 20th century where the Indian leaders are discussing possible courses of action. When terrorism is mooted as a possible strategy for freedom, Nehru rules it our vehemently.Nehru says – “terrorism would allow the British to justify the use of violence against us. Also it would throw up the wrong kind of leaders. “These are words of tremendous significance as this is what happened to the Tamil political struggle in Sri Lanka.

Ambivalent Attitude Towards Violence

In farimess to Mr. Amirthalingam and most leaders of the TULF they were not active promoters of political violence. None of the frontline leaders aided or abetted violence. Some of them however had ambivalent attitudes and approaches. Also the party itself did not view these acts of violence as terrorism but as the acts of freedom fighters.

Some of the youths allegedly involved in violence were members of the TULF youth wing. This resulted in TULF leaders involving themselves

legally in these cases. But what must not be forgotten is that the overall Tamil political mood was sympathetic to the armed Tamil youths. The TULF too was too caught up in this process.

Mr. Amirthalingam too realised this later and regretted a certain course of action followed earlier by the TULF. He felt that the Federal Party and the TULF could have possibly adopted other

strategies and tactics. He was somewhat remorseful of the ambivalent relationship the TULF had with the Tamil armed movements at a certain stage of their development.

Three conversations in 1984,85 and 88

Mr. Amirthalingam’s state of mind on these matters was revealed to me during the course of three conversations in 1984, 1985 and 1988. The first was at Hotel Empress in Colombo; the second at the Tamil Nadu state guest house in Madras (now Chennai), the third was at Hotel Taprobane in Colombo. All those conversations were strictly off the record and Mr. Amirthalingam was very frank and forthcoming.

The last conversation at Taprobane where he was staying in 1988 remains poignant in my memory. This was prior to my leaving Sri Lanka for the USA. I went to meet him in the afternoon and talked for many hours. Both of us strongly disagreed on the role of India in Sri Lanka. During the argument he regaled me about what he felt in retrospect were political blunders committed by the Tamils. He did not excuse himself for some of his past actions. Many of the things he said then made an enlightened impact on me while relfecting afterwards with the wisdom of hindsight. Amir warned me of the plight that would befall the Tamils if Indian involvement ceased.Today I can only say that most of what he said then were proved true.

When I took leave of him that day little did I realise that it was “adieu” and not “au revoir”. I never spoke to him afterwards.He was killed within a year of that meeting.

“Honourable Wounds of War.”

Amirthalingam first contested Parliament Elections from the Vaddukkoddai constituency in 1952. There were few takers for federalism then.Amir did not win. The rising tide of Sinhala nationalism in the south saw the Tamil areas too responding on similar lines. The 1956 elections saw the MEP coalition led by SWRD Bandaranaike sweeping the seven southern electorates while the ITAK led by SJV Chelvanayagam won the majority of electorates in the North and East.

Sinhala was enshrined as the sole Official Language of the country by the new Govt in 1956. The FP launched a protest Satyagraha campaign at Galle Face Green opposite the Parliament of old. Mobs of anti-social elements were unleashed on the peaceful satyagrahis while the police were ‘instructed’ not to interfere. Hundreds of Tamils including Amirthalingam were stoned, manhandled and assaulted. A bleeding and bandaged Amirthalingam entered and addressed Parliament in dramatic fashion on that day (5 June). S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike mocked Amir saying, “Wounds of war”. The irrepressible Vavuniya MP C. Suntharalingam retorted, “Honourable wounds of war.”

Amir retained Vaddukkoddai in the March,July 1960 Polls and in March 1965.In 1970, he was defeated by A. Thiyagarajah of the ACTC in an upset result.
This defeat was greatly beneficial to Tamil nationalism. With M. Sivasithamparam of the Tamil Congress – who also lost his pocket borough of Udupiddy – Amirthalingam worked hard for Tamil unity during this 1970 -’77 period.

Tamil United Liberation Front

A.Amirthalingam flanked by rising sun flag of TULF.

The Tamil United Front was formed in 1972. It became the Tamil United Liberation Front in 1976. The Tamil political demand changed from federalism to secession. Shortly after espousing separatism, Amirthalingam and three other Tamil leaders were arrested. They were charged under trial at bar proceedings without a jury before a three-judge bench.

Amirthalingam was the first accused and the trial was a milestone in political and legal history; 67 lawyers including six Queen’s Counsels marked their appearance for Amirthalingam while the Attorney General Shiva Pasupathy conducted the case for the State. The brilliant lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam (snr) obtained a landmark judgement that the provisions under which Amirthalingam was charged was ultra vires the Constitution. Another distinguished lawyer, Murugeysen Tiruchelvam, utilised the trial to present profound arguments emphasising Tamil sovereignty and right of self-determination.

S.J.V. Chelvanayagam & A. Amirthalingam

The TULF contested the 1977 elections on a separatist platform, seeking a mandate for setting up through non-violent means a sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam, comprising the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the island. It swept the polls in the north and to a lesser extent in the east. It won 18 of the 19 Tamil majority electorates but failed to win any Muslim majority seats. Chelvanayagam had passed away and Amirthalingam contested in his mentor’s stronghold Kankesanthurai instead of his own, Vaddukkoddai. He won in a landslide, polling 31,000 plus votes with a 26,000 plus majority.

First Tamil Leader of the Opposition

The United National Party (UNP) with 141 out of 168 Parliamentary seats routed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that won only eight seats. The TULF with 18 seats was the largest Opposition party and Amirthalingam became the first Tamil Leader of the Opposition. This was a unique phenomenon because the Leader of a party wanting to secede was now Opposition Leader who under normal circumstances would have been the head of a government in waiting or alternate government. Amirthalingam however used the Opposition Leader post to promote and internationalise the Tamil cause.

This led to much controversy and in 1981 the ruling UNP Parliamentarians presented and debated a no-confidence motion against the Leader of the Opposition. This was a world record. Nowhere in the world has a vote of no confidence been passed by a ruling government against the Parliamentary leader of the opposition. On another occasion the notorious Tamil baiter Cyril Mathew achieved an all-time low in Parliamentary conduct by making a critical speech of Amirthalingam of a personal nature violating all forms of decency.

Amir however made his mark in that Parliament. His critique of the 1978 Constitution saw the then speaker Anandatissa de Alwis sending a note saying he was privileged to listen to such a great speech. On another occasion it was left to Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam to gallantly escort Sirima Bandaranaike out of the chamber amid a frenzied outburst by the Treasury benches against the former Premier who had been deprived of her civic rights by the Legislature on that day.

Cordial Relations with Indian Leaders

Amirthalingam, like most Sri Lankan Tamil moderates, was a firm friend of India. Many of them yearned for Indian help in resolving the Tamil national question on the island. In 1972, Amirthalingam and spouse Mangaiyarkkarasi accompanied the septuagenarian Chelvanayagam on an Indian tour. That tour elicited sympathy but not support for the Tamil cause from Indian leaders.

A.Amirthalingam with Indian leaders Indira Gandhi, P.V.Narasimha Rao, MG Ramachandran and M.Karunanidhi

Amirthalingam maintained cordial relations with Indian leaders at both national and Tamil Nadu State level. This did not deter him in speaking his mind out when the occasion required it. In 1978, visiting Prime Minister Morarji Desai was dismissive of the Tamil cause. Amir did not take it lying down and responded emotionally but coherently, thereby moderating Desai’s subsequent stance considerably.

In 1981, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran spoke disparagingly of the Sri Lankan Tamil problem at the international Tamil research conference in Madurai. Amirthalingam contradicted him respectfully and de-constructed most of MGR’s arguments. Amir also appreciated geopolitical realities and went on record on more than one occasion that the Tamils would not allow Trincomalee to fall into any hands posing a threat to India.

Praised by Indira Gandhi

The 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution disavowing separatism saw the TULF boycotting Parliament and thereby forfeiting their seats. The J.R. Jayewardene regime refused to talk directly to the TULF and so India offered its good offices to mediate a settlement. Several TULF leaders including Amirthalingam relocated to India. Amirthalingam won heaps of praise from then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for his statesmanlike approach.

An anecdote Amirthalingam was fond of recalling was about his being invited by Indira Gandhi for an Independence Day reception at New Delhi on 15 August. She had requested Amirthalingam to come 20 minutes late for it. The usually punctual Amir obliged. When Amir entered, Indira Gandhi created a spectacle by walking across the hall to greet him. Thereafter, she personally introduced him to the galaxy of distinguished guests present. Later Indira was to tell Amir that she stage-managed his entrance so that maximum attention could be focussed on the Tamil predicament.

Amirthalingam & Indira Gandhi

The years 1983 to 1989 saw Amirthalingam enjoying Tamil Nadu State hospitality by staying at the Chepauk State guest house. He utilised his stay in India to cultivate political leaders representing various shades of opinion, Government officials and opinion makers. A leading Indian Editor once opined to this writer that his opinion of Tamil nationalism altered because of his interaction with Amirthalingam. The Editor had been disillusioned by the votaries of Tamil Nadu Dravidian ideology and had a negative image of those professing Tamil nationalism. “It was only after meeting Amirthalingam that I realised Tamil nationalists could be reasonable and sensible,” he said.

Co-operating with India to Resolve Crisis

Amirthalingam and the TULF were very cooperative with Indian efforts to resolve the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis. This was nothing new as the Tamil moderates in Sri Lanka had never spurned an opportunity to negotiate a political settlement. Although the political demands and consequent agitation were maximalist, the democratic Tamil leaders were never reluctant to accept compromises that were far short of their original demands. The regional councils under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, district councils under Dudley Senanayake and the district development councils under J.R. Jayewardene being worthy examples. An important Tamil grievance in the past (and even now) has been that successive Sinhala governments failed to honour such agreements and arrangements.

With Indra Gandhi and Amirthalingam after july 1983 riots in New Delhi.

With India willing to mediate and guarantee a settlement, TULF leaders like Amirthalingam were elated and saw a way out of the morass. So the TULF under Amirthalingam participated in discussions with both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and also their various representatives like G. Parthasarathy, Romesh Bhandari, Dinesh Singh, P. Chidambaram, K. Natwar Singh, J.N. Dixit, etc. They also undertook various trips to Sri Lanka to attend all party conferences as well as direct talks with the Government. The TULF also took up a common position with five other Tamil militant groups at the Thimpu talks in 1985. In 1987, the TULF welcomed the Indo-Lanka Accord albeit with some reservations.

Indo-Lanka Accord

The TULF however decided to cooperate fully with India to make the accord a success. The party along with other militant groups contested the 1989 elections under the TULF symbol of the sun. Amirthalingam left Jaffna and contested in the eastern Batticaloa District but lost under the Proportionate Representation system. The TULF, however, was entitled to an additional seat under the National List on the basis of votes polled. Amirthalingam became a nominated National List MP and entered Parliament again after a six-year absence. As is well known, his resurgent Parliamentary career was short-lived.

“Shivam” Amir and “Shakthi”Mangai

One cannot write about Amirthalingam without mentioning his devoted wife Mangaiyarkkarasi.

“Shivam” Amir and “Shakthi” Mangai

Amir and Mangai were an inseparable duo in personal and public life. Mangaiyarkkarasi’s life was ntertwined with that of her husband’s political career.. Like Lord Shiva and his divine consort Paarvathy, Amirthalingam was “Shivam” and Mangaiyarkkarasi his “Shakthi”.

After marriage to Mankaiatkarasi , Amir found his newly wed wife complaining about his obsession with politics. He found a way out. Soon, Mrs. Amirthalingam began accompanying her husband to political platforms. Being an accomplished diva she was given the duty of singing melodious songs in praise of the Tamil language. Later she began to make speeches and soon became a political figure in her own right.

This dynamic duo of husband and wife was a new phenomenon in Tamil Politics. Various remarks of a male chauvinist and sexist nature were cast at Mrs. Amirthalingam. Amir was referred to derogatorily as a hen – pecked husband. Yet the husband and wife combination battled on merrily. Their two sons Kaandeepan and Baheerathan too were involved in youth politics. Both were detained at different times in Madras. Today both the Amirthalingam sons live in England far away from the political limelight.

There was a time when the Amir-Mangai political couple enjoyed the adulation and support of thousands of idealistic Tamil youths. Amirthalingam was “Amir Anna” (elder brother Amir) and Mangaiyarkkarasi “Mangai Akka” (elder sister Mangai) to them. She used to accompany her husband everywhere.

One recalls an incident in Paris when Amirthalingam and Mangaiyarkkarasi visited France in 1983. At a meeting held in the Tamil-infested area of La Chapelle in Paris, Amirthalingam was asked by a youth in Tamil, “Why do you go around everywhere with your wife? Why has she accompanied you to Paris?” Unperturbed, Amirthalingam responded smilingly, “What is wrong in going around with my own wife? It would be wrong only if I go everywhere with a woman other than my wife. Besides, my wife has accompanied me not only to places like Paris but also to the Panagoda Army Camp where we were both detained together.”
Amirthalingam’s reply brought the house down and the questioner was effectively silenced.

Amirthalingam was referring to the time in 1961 when 74 ITAK Satyagrahis were detained at the Panagoda Army cantonment for six months by the Sirima Bandaranaike Government.Mangaiyarkkarasi was the solitary woman among the detenues then.

Jaffna College, Vaddukkoddai.

The names Amirthalingam and Mangaiyarkkarasi have been familiar to me from childhood. Amir was a contemporary of my father at Law College. There would be references to the Amirthalingams whenever Tamil politics was discussed at home. My personal interaction with the Amirthalingams began when I studied for my GCE Advanced Levels at Jaffna College (JC), Vaddukkoddai. I was then boarded at Howland Hostel in JC. Amirthalingam was not an MP then, having lost the 1970 polls.

If and when Amirthalingam saw Jaffna College students at the Vaddukkoddai junction bus stand, he would always give them a lift or ride if there was room in the vehicle. Both his sons Kandeepan and Baheerathan were students at Jaffna College then. Some Jaffna College students also used to visit their home at Moolai frequently for impromptu meetings and discussions of a political nature.

Mrs. Amirthalingam would act as a gracious hostess in those days. She was particularly kind and generous to hostellers like myself who were looked upon compassionately as children deprived of food cooked by a mother. I was quite friendly with their sons Kandeepan and Baheerathan, though both were junior to me in school. In later years I began interacting with Amirthalingam in a professional capacity after I entered journalism.

Amirthalingam was an important political contact and source I cultivated as a journalist working for newspapers like ‘Virakesari,’ ‘The Island’ and ‘The Hindu’. I used to meet Amirthalingam in Parliament and at his official residence near ‘Sravasti’. I also visited him at Moolai whenever I was in Jaffna. I have also met with him and interviewed him at the Tamil Nadu State guest house in Chepauk, Chennai where the Amirthalingams were accommodated after relocating to India post-July 1983. I also used to meet Amirthalingam at Empress Hotel and at the old Taprobane Hotel (Grand Oriental Hotel) when he came down to Colombo from India for talks with the Government.

Amirthalingam killed in 1989.

I left Sri Lanka in 1988 and was in Canada when Amirthalingam was killed in 1989.Three LTTE cadres; Visu, Aloysius and Anbu came to meet Amirthalingam, Sivasithamparam and former Jaffna MP Yogeswaran at their Colombo residence in Bullers Lane. The ostensible purpose was to discuss Tamil unity.

They were not checked by the security personnel on instructions by Yogeswaran as the LTTE members had said they felt humiliated when being checked. After partaking of biscuits and tea, the Tigers whipped out pistols and shot Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran at point blank range. Sivasithamparam survived miraculously with a shoulder wound. All three assassins were shot dead by the security men.

Thus ended the saga of a man who fought relentlessly through democratic means for the upliftment of his people. Sadly, he was killed not by Sinhala racist fanatics who hated his guts but by his own people belonging to a movement claiming to represent the Tamil people. The reaction of Sirima Bandaranaike upon hearing of the circumstances leading to Amirthalingam’s death summed up the tragic pathos. “Thank God no Sinhala person did it,” she reportedly stated to former ‘The Sunday Leader’ Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge when he informed her about Amir’s murder.

The death of Amirthalingam to use a cliche marked the end of an era. It was symptomatic of the new political culture that hadeaten into the body politic of the Tamils The man who ws once the hero of the Tamil youth had been destroyed by sections of that youth.

Amirthalingam the mature statesman could have led his people not into the promised land of Eelam but into the realm of a viable political alternative that could have ushered in peace, stability and prosperity. But that was not to be and a voice that articulated the

Tamil cause for four decades was stilled forever.

Thirty-three years have passed since Amirthalingam died. The force of his personality and the importance of the constructive role he played remain etched in the collective memory of those privileged to have known and interacted with him.

Leadership Void yet to be filled.

Such was his stature that the Tamil leadership void caused by his murder is yet to be filled. This writer on the occasion of Appapillai Amirthalingam’s 95th birth anniversary pays appreciative tribute to the memory of a man whose only fault was that he loved his people immensely and hazarded all types of risks to serve them.

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at

This is an updated version of an article appearing in the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” of the “Daily Mirror”dated August 27th 2022.

Amirthalingam with his wife Mangaiyarkarasi.