“But I don’t have a very good track record with royalty. My dress fell off in front of Prince Charles at the Prince’s Trust, so I’m just living up to my reputation.” – Kate Bush, British Singer
The UNP has suffered severe losses at the Local Authority Elections. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has likewise sustained significant setbacks, not only electorally, but politically as well. The losses of the TNA (read, ITAK, the prima donna, calling all the shots in the Alliance) are not sporadic; but seem pervasive across the entire electoral landscape of the Tamil heartland in the North-East.Compromising on core ideals whilst cohabiting with the Sirisena-Ranil government has cost the TNA/ITAK dearly.
Breach of Trust
At the dawn of New Year, TNA leader Mr. Sampanthan had found it propitious to bluff his way through an interview with the Indian daily, Hindu. (The Hindu, 03 Jan.2018 – “We can’t despair, we can’t abandon things ,says Sri Lanka’s R. Sampanthan”). Sampanthan had. Inter alia, asserted that the TNA “made the correct decision in backing Mr. Siriena” at the Presidential Election in 2015. Nobody in the Tamil community had ever questioned TNA decision on that count. Our complaint is not about backing Sirisena at the Presidential Election; but about backtracking on the post-Election promises. compromising on the fundamental tenets of the ITAK and, in sum, about the breach and betrayal of the Tamil people’s trust.
The Three Musketeers
TNA leadership cannot keep their eyes closed and assume that everything is hunky dory about the Tamil issue. The electoral losses should have brought them to their senses. If, on the contrary, the ill-fortune has not dampened their sanguine enthusiasm in contumaciously consorting with sleazy Southern partners, it lies in the logic of history that the TNA/ITAK may slowly sink into oblivion. To some of us, it will be a very painful prospect. Mr.Ranil Wickremesinghe had since admitted his missteps and accepted responsibility for the UNP debacle. Where are the three musketeers of the TNA – Sampanthan, Sumanthiran and Senathirajah – whose post-war polemic and gimmicks have led the Tamil people down the slippery slope ?. Their silence on the electoral losses is deafening.
Corrective Steps Needed
Mr. Sampanthan had, in parliament, made a post-election statement, targeting the ethnic majority audience and his speech merits a round of applause. In regard to the Tamils the trio, collectively or individually, ought to admit “nostra culpa”/ “mea culpa”. Further, the revisionist leadership should take concrete corrective steps to mend their wayward escapades and regain their ideological roots.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana?) This pithy aphorism serves to explain the rationale for TNA/ITAK’s electoral reverses. Ever since it was founded in Dec. 1949, the ITAK (a.k.a, as Federal Party) had incrementally eroded the voter base of the ACTC (All Ceylon Tamil Congress) led by Mr.G.G. Ponnambalam, accusing the latter as an appendage/proxy of UNP. Thus, ITAK had, eventually, dislodged the ACTC from its primacy and emerged as the dominant voice of the Tamils. ITAK had nurtured and nourished its image as an uncompromising, radical anti-Establishment entity, passionately committed to the Tamil nationalist cause.
“Hath Havula” National Government
Following the March 1965 General Elections, both the ITAK and the ACTC became constituents of the “Hath Havula” coalition government, ostensibly designated as “National government”, under Mr. Dudley Senanayake (whose UNP won only 66 seats and the SLFP 41 seats in the 151-seats Assembly). Since the ITAK mores enjoined the elected M.P.s not to accept ministerial positions, Mr. M. Tiruchelvam Q.C. of the ITAK was appointed a Senator and sworn in as Minister of Local Government.
Joint opposition played ‘communal card’
(A digression may be warranted) In an attempt to oust the government, the Joint opposition (SLFP-LSSP-CP) played the incendiary ‘communal card’ accusing the UNP of entering into a secret pact with ITAK leader S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. Their campaign theme was that Dudley had agreed to a Tamil Federal state and thus had paved the way for separatism. The crass campaign slogan was, “Dudleyge Bade Masala Vade”. The UNP-ITAK relationship ruptured soon and, in Nov.1968, Minister Tiruchelvam was obliged to resign. However, until 1970, ITAK continued to extend critical support to the government. Typically, the style and substance of Rajapakses’ post-2015 manoeuvres to regain their lost kingdom – and their ultra-nationalist slogans to seduce the Sinhala-Buddhist constituency – tend to recall the 1965-70 scenario and the stratagem of the SLFP-led United Front to oust Dudley government.
ITAK paid heavy penalty
The ITAK paid a heavy penalty for cohabiting with the UNP. At the May 1970 Parliamentary Elections ITAK heavyweights, Dr.E.M.V. Naganathan (Nallur) Amirthalingam (Vaddukoddai), S.M. Rasamanickam (Paddiruppu) suffered defeat at the hands of nondescripts. Even in some electorates where the ITAK managed to win, they scraped through by a measly majority – Jafffna (by 56 votes), Mannar (69), Point Pedro (315).
ITAK’s nuptial journey with the “national government” was a nasty experience to them. The transitory alliance with the UNP had diluted ITAK’s distinct Tamil nationalist identity and tarnished their integrity. Sadly, Sampanthan had been oblivious to the bitter 1965-70 experience. True, that he was not in party/electoral politics at that time. But then, the 1965 experiment in the “National” government was part of contemporary history. When all is said and done, the 1965-70 entente between ITAK and the UNP could be rationalized. The relationship had a raison d’être . Dudley and Chelva were partners in the 7-party coalition and their transactions were transparent.
TNA – Most Loyal Opposition
Since British Statesman George Canning’s time (1822-1827), the official Opposition in the House of Commons was referred to, somewhat jokingly, as “Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition”. Judging by the conduct of Opposition Leader Sampanthan and his sidekick Sumanthiran, and their camaraderie with Maithri-Ranil government – defending, guiding and babysitting the ruling establishment – we may, without any hint of mockery, call the official Opposition as “Their Excellencies’ Most Loyal Opposition.”
Not at arm’s length
The Official Opposition has been more loyal to the government than even the occupants of the Treasury Bench. TNA has failed to stay at an arm’s length. The relationship is unethical, as though they have been cohabiting in concubinage. Let me cite a few instances only to illustrate their intimacy:
- It was not a coincidence that Sampanthan was appointed Leader of the Opposition on 3rd Sept. 2015 just ten days before the UNHRC-30th Session was to commence at Geneva. The draft Resolution on Sri Lanka was tabled on 27th Sept.2015. TNA leader could not have missed the media comments on his appointment – suggestive of government’s stratagem to mollify the demands of the sponsors of the Resolution. The BBC report said: “His appointment is seen as a step towards ethnic reconciliation after 26 years of civil war ended in 2009.” (BBC News, 3 Sept.2015).
- TNA leaders had often claimed that it was their government and that they were obliged to protect and defend it.
- In early 2017, even before the government leaders could worry about the oncoming UNHRC sessions in March, Sumanthiran M.P. had volunteered to give an extra two more years to the government to meet its obligations.
- TNA M.P.s have always been faithfully voting for the Budget, including Defence allocations. There have been legitimate complaints about militarization of North-East, military excesses in NE, installing/erecting Buddhist statues/ shrines in NE with armed forces’ support. However, TNA had never moved even a Token Cut Motion in Parliament to register their protest against any specific allocations in Budget proposals.
- Their bonding with the government was so strong and so much cherished, that the Opposition Leader raised nary a word against the bond scammers.
Back to Square One
The TNA has been bending over backwards and for over three years doing the bidding of the government to the point of servitude – and, to no avail. A whole generation of Tamils have been crying their hearts out for justice – for resolution/redress of their grievances. And, a host of critical questions continue to cry out for answers – vis-à-vis: missing persons, political prisoners, military occupation of civilian lands, PTA, Demilitarization, war crimes etc. On top of them, the question of Constitutional Reforms remains a conundrum. Can a government, crippled and on crutches today, deliver what it could not do when it was supposedly strong and sturdy? We are back to square one, once again.
TNA/ITAK voter base eroded
Lately, TNA’s soiled image as an adulterated outfit had helped Gajendrakumar’s TNPF/ACTC to expand its voter base. That said, how come a sizable section of traditional ITAK supporters have voted for Sinhala ethnocentric parties and their puppets – EPDP, UNP, SLFP, SLPP? TNA leadership has blurred the boundary lines separating the two antagonistic ideologies – Sinhala ethnocentrism vs. Tamil nationalism. Perhaps, the Tamil electors had thought they would rather vote for the principals (EPDP, UNP, SLFP) than voting for their proxy (TNA). Post-war Tamil politics is a serious business. Let the TNA/ITAK leadership remember: Commitment and fidelity to the cause are the watchwords.