By Rajan Hoole –
Kumar will be remembered for being one of Neelan’s harshest critics in his latter days, for vocally supporting the LTTE’s positions and even appearing on foreign platforms of the LTTE. However, on looking back, his career marks an enigma that is characteristic of these tragic times. What would surprise many is that in the early 1990s he was perhaps the boldest and strongest critic of the LTTE.
Speaking at a Rotary Club forum in Hotel Taj Samudra on 30th April 1991 (Sunday Times), he suggested that one reason why the Premadasa Government chose to speak to the LTTE was because, “[It] was one group capable of mass human destruction, which is all that it can do…[and] Everybody is frightened of the local thug.” He added:
“An LTTE top brass told me on 1st December 1988 that there is no point in anybody talking to the LTTE about elections: ‘How can you talk about elections with a warrior?’ he asked me. Consistent with this stand, the LTTE passed death sentences on all those who collaborated in the 1989 elections…
“I, for one, am very clear about what obtains in the North and East. There is no democracy there. Either one toes the LTTE line or you perish. You dare not open your mouths against the LTTE. There will be no elections hereafter. Mark my words. It’s the gun that rules. The brains and the tongue have been silenced for ever.”
He further said about a year later (Sunday Times 29.3.92):
“I disagree with Mr. Thondaman’s proposition that there was no way the LTTE could be isolated from the Tamil people…. There is a limit to everything, it is the abject fear on the part of the Tamils, specially those in the peninsula, to open their mouths, that is preventing Mr. Thondaman from getting the proper signals. I am amused at the claim of the LTTE that it is the sole representative of the Tamil people at the moment….. The TULF used to claim the same thing with arrogance. It did not last long… Today it is the LTTE’s turn. It cannot last long… a time might come when today’s ‘outcasts’ in the eyes of the LTTE, would refuse to sit with the LTTE at the same table.”
At this time (1990-95) the LTTE controlled Jaffna. An LTTE man calling himself Kakka wrote in the Jaffna paper Eelanatham that during the campaign for the 1981 June DDC elections, he and Seelan (Charles Anthony) had been sent to the Tamil Congress party office in Jaffna to talk to Kumar Ponnambalam. Their orders were to ask him to withdraw from the elections, and if he showed any hesitation, to shoot him on the spot. He offered to withdraw if given a letter and his life was spared. The TULF won the election. Evidently, the LTTE did not take Kumar seriously except as a marginal nuisance. Some of his anger against the TULF was no doubt legitimate.
However by August 1994 Kumar Ponnambalam was airing a stridently pro-LTTE position. This may have been a reaction to his anger against the other Tamil parties, especially the TULF, Neelan’s party, whom he felt were slighting him after stealing a march on him by unfair means. He had fallen out with the SLFP following its rejection of the common DPA manifesto before the 1989 General Elections. He was also unhappy with Premadasa’s UNP to which his leading ACTC colleague Motilal Nehru had crossed over. He was facing isolation and taking a pro-LTTE line was partly a ploy which he hoped would win him Tamil votes in Colombo. Personally, he was a courteous man who was also a loyal friend. It is however unlikely that he had any illusions about the LTTE.
In Kumar’s talk on 30.4.91 above, he also said: “Is it a status symbol that one supports the LTTE? I know many Tamils who go out of their way to show they support the LTTE. This is the manifestation of a deep-rooted inferiority complex! Why, I even know of a UNP candidate of the City who told my sibling that the LTTE is supporting him!” Kumar in time followed the precedent of the UNP mayoral candidate. How did he plunge into this murky course that he was so clear about?
The dubious Police investigation into Kumar’s murder has tended to compromise the Government (see Sect. 21.1.6). The LTTE leader’s response to the murder too had surprised people. For a man he could not have taken seriously, the LTTE leader was quick to grant Kumar the title of Maa Manithan – a ‘Truly Great Man’. It was the same or similar kind of honour bestowed on the late Prof. A. Thurairajah, and Prof. C.J. Eliezer of Australia!
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here