S. Shritharan’s Interview with Tamil Guardian

Tamil nationalism must begin from graves of Eelam fighters – Shritharan’s exclusive interview

by Tamil Guardian, London, January 23, 2024

The newly elected leader of the Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), Sivagnanam Shritharan spoke to the Tamil Guardian for an exclusive interview on how he hopes to further Tamil aspirations. Below are excerpts from the interview.

– I am ready to make as many concessions and sacrifices as I have to.

– The 13th Amendment is not a political solution for the Tamil people.

– Our journey is towards a federal solution.

– Tamils are the indigenous people of this land.

– The role of the Tamil diaspora is important to unite the Tamil nationalist forces

The newly elected leader of the Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), Sivagnanam Shritharan spoke to the Tamil Guardian for an exclusive interview on his aspirations and how he hopes to further Tamil aspirations. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Q: You have been elected as the leader of the Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK). Do you have an intention of embracing all parties?

A: In order to win the national aspirations of the Tamil people, I will make my best efforts to rebuild the mobilisation of the Tamil nationalist forces as they were before 2009 and to unite everyone without the expectation of leadership or competition so we can chart the correct path for the rights of the Tamil people. I am ready to make as many concessions and sacrifices as I have to. To embrace everyone and work with a spirit of sacrifice towards the journey of winning the national aspirations of the Tamil people.

Q: There is a perception that the TNA is going to limit itself to the 13th Amendment. What is your position on this as the new leader of the party?

A: I have made it very clear through many interviews and forums that the 13th Amendment is not a political solution for the Tamil people. As far as the political aspirations of our Tamil people are concerned, it is our opinion that a solution reached within the ‘Unitary State’ will not fulfill those aspirations. Our journey is towards a federal solution. Accordingly, we incorporated this aspect into our party’s policy. Therefore, the 13th Amendment has so far not been a political solution for our people. Many of the provisions of the 13th Amendment have been removed by the Government of Sri Lanka. None of us think that a major solution can be achieved by using the term 13th Amendment over and over again.

We are moving towards a solution in the merged North-East where the land of the Tamils, their language, culture, and cultural identities are recognized.  Above all, it must be recognised that the Tamils are the indigenous people of this land. It must be recognised that the Tamils are a unique national ethnic group. Our journey is moving in this direction. We believe that the time for that is near. Therefore, it is not a matter of mere sloganeering. It must include other forces that can provide strength on that basis. We will unite with other parties and make every effort to achieve a political solution by demonstrating our strength, as a strong force.

Q: What would you like to say to the Tamil Diaspora as the elected new leader? The Tamil Diaspora is seen as a major influence in Eelam politics. What is your take on them?

A: One of the most important ideas I communicated during the last party leader election was that it is very important to unite the Tamils in the land and the Tamils in the Diaspora and join with the Tamils of Tamil Nadu to create a new avenue for the political emancipation of Eelam Tamils.

The relationship between the Tamil Diaspora and the ITAK is at a low ebb now. There could be various reasons for this gap. Sometimes the expectations may have been high. Transcending all that, we all should come together to focus on the thoughts and demands of both of us (Diaspora and ITAK) at one point. The role of the Tamil Diaspora is very important to unite the Tamil nationalist forces in the land and create a one-way journey for all. Only by embracing them can the Eelam liberation struggle be carried forward or Tamil national liberation can be achieved. Therefore, we will seek and develop ways and means to further increase the strength of the Tamil Diaspora at the attainment level of Eelam national liberation.

Q: Are you prepared to meet and engage in discussions with other party leaders? 

A: Of course, once I assume the role as leader of the party at the conference, I will meet and interact with other party leaders to start democratic dialogues. At the same time, the civil society and Tamil nationalist activists in the North and East should be brought together to create an open democratic dialogue with them. We have to initiate dialogues with the organizations in the Diaspora. Through such democratic initiatives, we all can focus on a common ground.  This will pave the way for advancing the demands and formulating common political policy. We will try hard towards this end.

Q: Looking at ITAK’s general position, there is a critical view of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In particular, some former leaders’ comments can be highlighted in this regard. Soon after you were elected as the leader, you went directly to Kanagapuram Thuyilum Ilam and paid homage to the heroes. What is the position that ITAK will take regarding the armed struggle of the Tamils under your tenure?

A: As a Member of Parliament serving for the past 14 years; it has been my policy both inside and outside of Parliament that the people should be awakened together with the other activists to garner support for our cause. I have a clear view that it must start from the tombs of the heroes who were martyred. The blueprint for Eelam national liberation has been drawn up accordingly. There may be some of us who have views or misunderstandings against the LTTE.

However, most of our General Assembly members, more or less 184 people have voted for me. This means they support my ideology. In other words, the major strength of the party is Tamil nationalism. They have clearly stated that it must begin from the graves of the late Eelam national liberation fighters.

So my first salutation is remembering those departed souls. Let us embark on our journey by reflecting on our thoughts about them in our subconscious mind. I don’t mean this will be an armed struggle. We will take full form to achieve a permanent political solution based on the concepts of the national liberation struggle by giving due respect and recognition to the way our fighters and our people sacrificed their lives during the armed struggle.


by Political Editor, The Sunday Times, Colombo, January 28, 2024

New ITAK leader Shritharan to push for federal state

  • Rejects 13A and lays wreath at Maveerar cemetery, referring to Prabhakaran as “our national leader”
  • Urges all Tamil nationalist forces to unite for a political solution demonstrating their strength
  • Veers away from the Sampanthan-Sumanthiran position of finding a solution to the Tamil question; says he abhors violence

By Our Political Editor

The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), predominant among Tamil political parties and heading the almost defunct Tamil National Alliance (TNA), saw a leadership change last week.

And that change poses challenges for the polity in the South. It has also raised concerns in the international community over the direction the ITAK is now headed under a new leader. The reason—a complete turnaround in policy.

The newly elected Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi leader Sivagnanam Shritharan greets his predecessor Rajavarothayam Sampanthan. He called on him after his election.

The outgoing ITAK leader, accomplished lawyer Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, stood for the resolution of Tamil issues “by negotiation within an undivided and inseparable Sri Lanka.” He has won acclaim for articulating this position at different fora, particularly in his dialogue with India. His successor, Sivagnanam Shiritharan, however, is a hardliner and seems to be wanting to reverse this.

As a first step, he told me on the telephone, that he wanted the ITAK to be what it was before 2009—the year the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was defeated. “We were very strong then. I will invite all other Tamil political leaders to join us so we may become a strong entity,” said the former school principal turned politician. He added, “It is then that we can collectively decide what the Tamil community requires.” He opined that 13A, the India-backed constitutional amendment, to address decentralization of power, was of little use. Through administrative means and courts, most powers have been usurped by the central government, he said. He made clear he had no idea to divide the country.

Elections were held last Sunday (January 21) at the Town Hall in Trincomalee after Sampanthan, now ailing and aged, bowed out. He joined the Federal Party at the age of 23. Shritharan received 184 votes whilst his rival candidate, Abraham Sumanthiran, polled 137. His first task after the election was to visit the Koneswar Temple in Trincomalee. Thereafter, he drove to Kilinochchi. There he went to the Pathirakali Amman Temple and the Vinayakar Temple. Thereafter, he visited the ‘Maaveerar Thuyilum Illam’, a direct translation will be ‘A Home where the great war heroes are sleeping’—a cemetery at Kanakapuram in Kilinochchi for the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres who were killed in the war. There he laid flowers and took an oath by saying that as the new leader of the ITAK, he would strive to realise the dreams of the fallen LTTE cadres. There was more when he addressed a rally in Mannar on Friday referring to the slain LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. “Our national leader,” he declared, has guided us and trained us with impeccable discipline and commitment.”

New ITAK leader Sivagnanam Shritharan at the Kanakapuram “Maveerar” cemetery in Kilinochchi hours after his election.

Shritharan said he abhorred violence and had a whole list of issues to talk to his party policymakers including the Central Committee. They were among those to be elected at another meeting last evening at the Town Hall in Trincomalee.  After a five hour discussion, the second convention yesterday decided unanimously to appoint Sivagnanam Kuhathasan as the General Secretary of the ITAK. He is at present the Trincomalee co-ordinator.

The priorities, he said, included fielding a candidate for the presidential election. Commenting on the recent reconciliation efforts by the London-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Shritharan said, “We were not consulted. We have, however, been following the developments. We will talk to anyone who wishes to have a dialogue with us on Tamil issues.”

Born on December 8, 1968, in Nedunthivu (Delft Island), Shritharan spent a considerable part of his life as Principal of Kilinochchi Maha Vidyalaya, during the separatist war. During this time, he married the sister of Velayuthapillai Baheerathakumaran whose Tiger guerrilla nom de guerre was “Brigadier Theepan.” On one occasion, during the final stages of the war, a Colombo-based intelligence agency picked up Theepan from a refugee camp at a school. He thereafter led troops to raid an arms cache. He died during a confrontation with the security forces in Mullaitivu in early 2009. In view of his long-standing presence in guerrilla-held areas, the TNA had in 2010 assigned him for mobilization work. In the same year, he contested the parliamentary elections. Five years later, at the parliamentary elections, he won the highest number of preferential votes—72,058. His election campaigns have seen the display of pro-LTTE slogans.

The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) was founded on December 18, 1949 by a group of three Ceylon Tamil parliamentarians, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, C. Vanniasingam and Senator E.M.V. Naganathan, who had withdrawn from G.G. Ponnambalam’s, All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) over the latter’s decision to enter the United National Party (UNP) government of D.S. Senanayake. ITAK was commonly called or known as the Federal Party (FP) in English due to its original political stance for a federal state within a united Sri Lanka.

Incidentally, G.G. Ponnambalam was the grandfather of the current parliamentarian Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. ITAK, since its inception has appointed its leader and governing council by way of consensus, avoiding elections for the key posts. However, this year for the first time in its history, it held a secret ballot, on Sunday, January 21, for the leadership as three contestants stood for election.  S. Shritharan, Abraham Sumanthiran and S Yoheswaran. The former two are sitting Members of Parliament for Jaffna District and the latter was a former parliamentarian from Batticaloa District.

Yoheswaran’s candidature, some argued, was to help Shritharan. That was by drawing the eastern voters and placing him at an advantage. However, Yoheswaran withdrew his candidature ahead of the voting and called for his supporters to vote for Shritharan. Yoheswaran is described as an active cadre of the Shiv Senai group, which was established in 2016 in Sri Lanka. It is said to be an offshoot of the Shiv Sena political party in India which has a close alliance with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right movement in India. In 2018, supporters of Shiv Senai held protests in Jaffna against cattle slaughter. It also protested Muslim teachers in Hindu schools wearing Abayas.

With a total of 342 voting members, consisting of 290 General Council members (Jaffna – 75, Batticaloa – 50, Amparai – 35, Trincomalee – 30, Mannar – 25, Mullaitheevu – 25, Kilinochchi – 20, Vavuniya – 20 and Colombo – 10), and 52 Central Working Committee members, in a secret ballot of voting, Sivagnanam Shritharan gained 184 votes, compared to the 137 votes gained by  Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran. Twenty-one members for various reasons did not vote.

The steps Shritharan took following his victory appear to have been all pre-planned and his private media team was alerting the local and Tamil media in the diaspora of his programme, in advance by way of messaging through social media and email. He made his first policy statement as the president-elect of the ITAK at the Vinayagar temple in Kilinochchi. His media team sent an alert with the heading, “Let’s unite on the basis of policy – President Elect, Shritharan invites all Tamil Nationalists political formations both in Sri Lanka and abroad.”

In his policy speech delivered in Tamil after his election, he said he wanted to unite all Tamil nationalist political formations under one umbrella of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the way TNA was prior to 2009, as the sole representatives of Tamils. “My aspiration is to strengthen the Tamil nationalist’s movement. I stood for election as the leader calling for such strengthening and that call for strengthening Tamil nationalism has given me the leadership with a decisive majority in the recent contest. As the elected leader, my first step, I believe should be to revive the ITAK and the TNA with stronger sense and policies of Tamil nationalism,” he asserted.

Unfortunately, at present many of the constituent members of the TNA, have started acting separately in serving our people and in pursuit of achieving our goals. This situation is favourable only to our common enemy. Tamil people wish the TNA to be the way it was a shining example and a force to be reckoned with, before the end of the war in 2009. That is my wish too. As Tamil national parties, we should all forget about the distasteful recent past which has separated us and unite under the banner of the TNA yet again, he declared.

“It is our fundamental responsibility towards our Tamil nation and our people, to unite and work together until we win our rights and liberate our people and to realise the dreams of the fallen great heroes,” he pointed out.

The final statement which he made in Trincomalee and repeated in Kilinochchi, is a significant shift from the ITAK policy of a negotiated political settlement since the end of the armed conflict in 2009,

What was the dream of the fallen ‘great heroes’ that Shritharan wants to revive? The LTTE has been calling for a separate state called Tamil Eelam. If Shritharan tended to be moderate in some of the answers he gave me, it was not so for others on Tamil websites. Just two questions and answers from the Tamil Guardian explains this:

Q: You have been elected as the leader of the Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK). Do you have any intention of embracing all parties?

A: In order to win the national aspirations of the Tamil people, I will make my best efforts to rebuild the mobilisation of the Tamil nationalist forces as they were before 2009 and to unite everyone without the expectation of leadership or competition so we can chart the correct path for the rights of the Tamil people. I am ready to make as many concessions and sacrifices as I have to. To embrace everyone and work with a spirit of sacrifice towards the journey of winning the national aspirations of the Tamil people.

Q: There is a perception that the TNA is going to limit itself to the 13th Amendment. What is your position on this as the new leader of the party?

A: I have made it very clear through many interviews and forums that the 13th Amendment is not a political solution for the Tamil people. As far as the political aspirations of our Tamil people are concerned, it is our opinion that a solution reached within the ‘Unitary State’ will not fulfill those aspirations. Our journey is towards a federal solution. Accordingly, we incorporated this aspect into our party’s policy. Therefore, the 13th Amendment has so far not been a political solution for our people. Many of the provisions of the 13th Amendment have been removed by the Government of Sri Lanka. None of us think that a major solution can be achieved by using the term 13th Amendment repeatedly.

We are moving towards a solution in the merged North-East where the land of the Tamils, their language, culture, and cultural identities are recognised.  Above all, it must be recognised that the Tamils are the indigenous people of this land. It must be recognised that the Tamils are a unique national ethnic group. Our journey is moving in this direction. We believe that the time for that is near. Therefore, it is not a matter of mere sloganeering. It must include other forces that can provide strength on that basis. We will unite with other parties and make every effort to achieve a political solution by demonstrating our strength, as a strong force.

The position by ITAK leader Shritharan is a challenging call that cannot be ignored. There is a marked policy shift. It is also bound to stir up opposition from within the ITAK itself. After all, Sumanthiran polled 43 percent of the votes. Together with Sampanthan, they have steered the party away from a 2009 position. In his congratulatory speech outside the Town Hall in Trincomalee, on  January 21, Sumanthiran reached out to Shritharan with an olive branch to see whether the two sides could join forces in strengthening the party and working together. However, since the election on January 21, Shritharan hasn’t reciprocated according to supporters of Sumanthiran.

When he entered the Sri Lanka Parliament, Shritharan took an oath. He did say “I solemnly declare and affirm/swear that I will uphold and defend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” Does not the position he has now taken go against this pledge?

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