Colombo, November 13: Sunday’s announcement by the leader of the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Suresh Premachandran, that the EPRLF is quitting the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), did not come as a surprise to watchers of Sri Lankan Tamil politics. The split has been on the cards for a long time, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Express.
The TNA, which is firmly in the grip of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), has been ignoring the EPRLF’s demands consistently. The EPRLF has been wanting the TNA to register itself as a single political party and cease to be an alliance of various parties. The idea was to end the dominance of the ITAK by obliterating its separate identity.
But the ITAK smelt the rat and has been silent on the demand, greatly infuriating the EPRLF.
The ITAK is adamant on keeping its separate identity as it is the oldest, the most-respected, non-militant and “Gandhian” political Tamil party wedded to peaceful and constitutional struggles to secure the rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
The ITAK has considered such a stamp to be critical for success in elections in the post-war, post-militancy period.
In its estimation, the average Tamil voter is wedded to non-violent methods and moderation in tackling critical issues. He is keen on seeing that his daily life is not disturbed. The population does not want a return to violence and extremism which has cost it dearly. Most families have had to live in poverty and had to undergo displacements multiple times in the 30-year war to secure an independent “Tamil Eelam”.
The EPRLF, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and the Peoples’ Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), which constituted the TNA along with the ITAK, were all militant groups dedicated to an armed struggle to secure Eelam.
Though they had laid down arms after the India-Sri Lanka accord in 1987 and the peace process initiated by President Premadasa in the early 1990s and entered parliamentary politics, the odium of having a violent past has denied them mass appeal.
To win elections they have had to function under the umbrella of the ITAK or in earlier years with the backing of the LTTE, when the latter’s writ ran in the Tamil areas.
But the ex-militant groups have had to pay a heavy price to be under the umbrella of the ITAK. The ITAK would not only contest the bulk of the seats but decide who will get bonus seats in parliament. The TNA’s policies were fashioned entirely by the ITAK and that too by a small group comprising R.Sampanthan, Mavai Senathiraja and M.A.Sumanthiran. The trio had the support of the international community including India, and it was the only link with the Sri Lankan government too.
The TNA not only sidelined the ex-militants, but also kept Tamil radicals out denying election tickers to people who had close links with the LTTE or who were identified as being the LTTE’s proxies.
Therefore, it was only natural that the EPRLF should announce an alliance with the radical Tamil National Peoples‘ Front (TNPF) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. The EPRLF and the TNPF are likely to merge and be the nucleus of a radical Tamil party striving to secure full federalism.
Tamil Peoples’ Council
Since the EPRLF is a key participant in the Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC) floated by the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V.Wigneswaran, it is likely to get the TPC to back it. The TPC shares the views of the EPRLF on all political matters.
Last week, the TPC announced that it has launched a political education program for Tamil youth so that they could spearhead the movement for Tamil rights. Volunteers in the program will also attend to the day to day problems of the people thus making political participation relevant to their daily lives.
So far, Chief Minister Wigneswaran has been saying that the TPC is not meant to undermine the TNA or the ITAK and is only their adjunct . It is touted as a civil society outfit. But given Wigneswaran’s long standing standoff with the ITAK’s leaders Samapanthan and Sumanthiran, the TPC’s joining the EPRLF-TNPF combine cannot be ruled out at election time. The beginning of 2018 could see local government elections.
If the TPC’s moves gather public acceptance, the ITAK will have a formidable challenge ahead. Its grassroots touch has waned due to inadequate political work and its propaganda is weak if not non-existent.
However, the ITAK is counting on the peoples’ loyalty to an established, well regarded, and moderate party which is respected both nationally and internationally. But it cannot be smug and nonchalant as peoples’ moods can change if the ITAK totally fails to secure justice for them from the Colombo regime using its “clout” with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime, which is known to be the friendly to the Tamils.
Asked to comment on the EPRLF’s leaving, TNA’s spokesman M.A.Sumanthiran said that it has not been communicated to the TNA.
“We would neither ask anybody to stay nor prevent anybody from leaving,” he remarked.
(The featured image at the top shows EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran)