The Tamil National Alliance(TNA)with 10 seats in Parliament is currently facing an internal crisis.. The premier political configuration of the Sri Lankan Tamils in the Northern and Eastern provinces is being plagued by intra-party rivalry within its constituent parties. The Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK), the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam(PLOTE) are the three constituent parties of the TNA. Of these the ITAK as six MPs.The TELO has three and the PLOTE one.
With the prospects of local authority elections looming large on the political horizon, the TNA’s chief constituent – the ITAK- wanted all three parties to file separate candidate lists and contest alone instead of filing a joint list as in the past. Thereafter all three could jointly form administrations in the councils where they had a majority. The ITAK opined that this woud help maximise representation for the TNA in the 60% ward-40% PR based electoral system of Local authority elections
The TELO and PLOTE rejected this. Both parties then teamed up with four other smaller parties and formed an alliance under the name of Democratic Tamil National Alliance(DTNA) to contest LG polls.. with electoral deposits being paid by both sides it appears that both the three TNA constituents would be battling from opposite camps if and when elections are held.
Truth, they say, is the first casualty in times of war. Truth becomes a casualty in an “electoral war” environment also. Several personalities within and outside the TNA folds are propagating myths and fallacies about the evolution of the TNA in a bid to blame the other side. This fakery is being relayed wittingly or unwittingly by some ill-informed sections of the Tamil media. What is happening now is not a re-interpretation of history but a total distortion of historical facts.
The multiple “alternative truths” being circulated are too numerous and too absurd to be individually mentioned here. What I intend doing therefore is to re-vist history and narrate the genesis of the TNA in these columns this week. I have written extensively in the past about how and why the TNA was formed. Nevertheless I do so again with the aid of some of my earlier writings to set the record straight.
Election Shock Waves
The birth of the Tamil National Alliance in October 2001 was the outcome of Elections held a year before in October 2000. The factor that caused the NA formation was the 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 veteran leader R.Sampanthan was elected in the politically sensitive Trincomalee district. In Batticaloa only two Tamils from the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) were elected. Another Tamil won from the ruling Peoples Alliance (PA).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 from SLMC being elected. Three Tamil MP’s from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) were elected.
Jaffna with nine seats saw the 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. One reason 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 Conference
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.
This 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) 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 that the hands of the ex-militant groups hands were tainted with blood. Besides the TULF stood for an “unarmed democracy”.
History of Rivalry
There was also the long, embittered history of rivalry between the Tamil Congress and the ITAK-TULF. It must be remembered that the TULF at that time was a strong, undivided entity.The split had not occurred. Currently the weakened TULF is controlled by Veerasingham Aanandasangaree while most of the erstwhile party members are now part of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK) .
The TULF was also wary because of its 1989 experience. Pressure by New Delhi had resulted in militant organizations like the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) TELO and EPRLF contesting under the aegis of the TULF sun symbol along with TULF candidates.
However none of the original TULF candidates won. Only Apppapillai Amirthalingam got in through the national list (he had contested and lost in Batticaloa)
The LTTE in the Wanni was not directly involved in the negotiating process. But Karikalan the former tiger political commissar for Batticaloa-Amparai was supportive . 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.
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 symbol.
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, Kulakkottan 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 indirectly 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.
The formation of the Tamil National Alliance was announced through a press communiqué dated October 22nd 2001.The TNA was born!
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 second point was about nominations as national list MP’s. The third point was that the constituent parties should refrain from attacking or criticising each other publicly.The fourth point was about intra-TNA disputes and problems.
TNA a Loose Formation
It was under such circumstances that the TNA was born as a loose formation without a party constitution or structure. The aim was to consolidate the Tamil Nationalist vote and avoid the 2000 election debacle. The “unity” of the Tamil parties seemed to have reaped political dividends in the December 2001 Parliamentary poll. The TNA obtained fourteen elected and one appointed MP in 2001.Today the very same TNA that was formed to do well in Parliamentary elections seems to be disintegrating due to tactical differences in facing Local Authority polls.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org