Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

A Tribute to G. G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam, Jr.

On his 69th birthday

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Even then, Kumar’s ‘lone ranger’ strategy in politics did not appeal to quite a segment of Tamils. However, with every mis-step and bungling of the TULF leadership in the 1980s and 1990s, Kumar reminded the Tamils that his continuous opposition to the opportunistic politics of the TULF was not in error.

August 12th marked the 69th birthday of G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam, Jr. Lately I have been collecting the scattered contributions of Ponnambalam, Jr. to the popular press, and when I re-read the epistles contributed by Kumar (as he is popularly known among Eelam Tamils) to the Colombo press in the 1990s, I feel saddened by the premature loss of one warrior who stood up for us, when it counted.

When Kumar made his entry into the public life of Tamils in 1977, by contesting the Jaffna constituency in the General Election – albeit as an independent after being rejected by the then TULF leadership (A. Amirthalingam and M. Sivasithamparam) for inclusion in their roster of candidates - Tamils took the side of Amirthalingam. In 1977, Eelam voters were bathed and swayed by the ‘Amirthalingam wave.’ Kumar was then considered to be trying to cash in on his illustrious father’s name, without paying his dues. Kumar never forgot that rejection by the TULF leadership. Within a span of 5 years, while the ‘Amirthalingam wave’ subsided, concurrently Kumar built up his own stature by contesting the first Presidential election in 1982. Even then, Kumar’s ‘lone ranger’ strategy in politics did not appeal to quite a segment of Tamils. However, with every mis-step and bungling of the TULF leadership in the 1980s and 1990s, Kumar reminded the Tamils that his continuous opposition to the opportunistic politics of the TULF was not in error. Constantly, he did this via his rebuttals to the rather vacuous statements ad communiqués of the TULF leadership.

It is my impression that if Neelan Tiruchelvam’s political thoughts have been overrated by many, mainly because he couched his propositions with an academic veneer and ‘international’ polish, Kumar Ponnambalam’s political thoughts have been underrated because he expressed his views in coarse, terse language which made the recipients of his message feel somewhat smacked on their faces.

To celebrate Kumar Ponnambalam’s memory, just for a taste, I have transcribed his pungent critique of a speech by Neelan Tiruchelvam in Parliament, regarding the issue of the ‘TULF and the Sixth Amendment’ of the Sri Lankan Constitution (1978). The relevant section of Neelan Tiruchelvam’s homage to Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the SLFP leader, which prompted Kumar’s critique is presented first.

Mrs. B[andaranaike] at 80

[Neelan Tiruchelvam; Lanka Guardian, Colombo, May 1, 1996, pp. 3-4]

….Much has already been said of the eloquent speeches made in defence of Mrs Bandaranaike by the then Leader of the Opposition Mr. Amirthalingam and by Mr. M. Sivasithamparam. During the vote there were 139 votes in favor of the motion and 19 votes against. This included 14 members of the TULF who within three years of this event were to suffer a similar fate when the Sixth Amendment was introduced in the aftermath of the July ’83 pogrom. The Sixth Amendment by requiring Members of Parliament to subscribe to a new oath of allegiance effectively disenfranchised the North-East and deprived most of this region of its Parliamentary representation. No doubt the TULF had opposed the Referendum and the extension of Parliament, but the Sixth Amendment was a supervening event which had immediate impact on their representation. Many political scientists have written on the disastrous political consequences of the Sixth Amendment, but I wish to briefly recall the terrible personal tragedies that followed.

Of the fourteen Members who forfeited their Parliamentary seats four were brutally murdered, while two others died in exile in Canada. Two faded out of politics and had more peaceful deaths, while a third died of a heart attack on the eve of a visit abroad. I recall these sad developments to make the point that no act of regret or apology for past wrongs can help us recover the lost lives or regain the wasted years….”

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TULF and the Sixth Amendment

[G.G. Ponnambalam Jr.; Lanka Guardian, Colombo, March 15, 1996, p.11]

I refer to the paragraph at page 4 of the article titled ‘Mrs. B. at 80’ by Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam MP, in your 1st May 1996 issue, where he refers to the TULF and the Sixth Amendment and has the audacity to suggest that the TULF MPs had to leave Parliament because of the Sixth Amendment which required MPs to subscribe to a new oath of allegiance.

Whilst saying that the TULF opposed the Referendum and the extension of Parliament, Dr. Thiruchelvam says that ‘the Sixth Amendment was a supervening event which had immediate impact on TULF’s representation’ – whatever that means.

Dr. Thiruchelvam seems to suggest that the Sixth Amendment had something to do with the Referendum and the extension of Parliament. Dr. Thiruchelvam must admit, if he is honest, that the Sixth Amendment had nothing to do with either the Referendum or the extension of Parliament. The Sixth Amendment was brought in the wake of the pogrom against the Tamils consequent to the death of 13 soldiers after an ambush. The objective of the Sixth Amendment was simply to make it an offence to espouse the cause of a separate state.

What Dr. Thiruchelvam has deliberately not said (and I am not surprised at this, knowing him as I do) is that the TULF took a decision, on the 22nd July 1983 (six years to the day after Parliament’s first sitting after the 1977 General Elections) at their Mannar Convention, that the TULF MPs would not go to Parliament after 22nd July 1983 because they had opposed the Referendum in December 1982 on the extension of Parliament.

This decision was taken before the pogrom against the Tamils started the next day – 23rd July 1983. Further, the Sixth Amendment was introduced in Parliament only on 8th August 1983. If the Sixth Amendment had ‘disastrous political consequences’, why did not the TULF MPs go to parliament and tell what they had to about the ‘disastrous political consequences’ the Sixth Amendment will bring about and then leave Parliament? No this could not be done because, by this time, the more high profile of the TULF MPs had deserted the Tamils for the comfort and safety of Tamil Nadu, India, whilst the less well known of the TULF MPs chose to remain in Mannar and the Jaffna peninsula in low profile.

Further the TULF cannot even be heard to protest that the Sixth Amendment made it an offence to espouse the cause of a separate state because, by accepting the District Development Councils in 1981, the TULF had impliedly abandoned the mandate they received at the 1977 General Elections to work towards setting up a separate state. If anything, then, it was TULF’s own decision taken on 1983 that prevented them from going to parliament.

As to Dr. Thiruchelvam’s point that the Sixth Amendment required persons to subscribe to a new oath of allegiance, surely he, himself, and many other TULF party members, have taken that new oath not only to be in politics but also to practice their profession. So what is this unctuous hypocrisy that Dr. Thiruchelvam is displaying?

It is, indeed, a sad commentary on the ‘many political scientists’ who say that the Sixth Amendment drove the TULF out of Parliament, if they could not appreciate the chronology of events. Let this canard, that the Sixth Amendment drove the TULF out of Parliament, be put to rest once and for all now.

The least the Tamil representatives could do is to be honest to themselves. The TULF and its predecessors have long indulged in Goebellsian Big Lie politics and it is high time somebody called its bluff.

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