National Leadership Of R. Sampanthan Harsha Gunasena

National Leadership Of R. Sampanthan

Harsha Gunasena

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is being criticized these days due to their participation in the meeting convened by the Prime Minister at Temple Trees of the parliamentarians of the last parliament. Ajith P. Perera and Sujeewa Senasinghe, former UNP parliamentarians and now members of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) came in a private television channel recently and accused the TNA of having a deal with the government. A candidate of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) of the forthcoming general election also expressed the same sentiments. Members of the SJB have already forgotten that their leader got almost all the Tamil votes at the last presidential election due to the intervention of the TNA.

Throughout our history after the independence, political parties in the North did not effectively contribute to the politics of the Centre.

There were two independent Tamil ministers in the first parliament of Sri Lanka. Later G.G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress joined the government as a minister. The second parliament had one independent Tamil minister and two Tamil ministers of the United National Party (UNP). In addition to them, G.G. Ponnambalam also was in the cabinet. Under the Premiership of Sir John Kotelawala, there were two Tamil ministers in the cabinet, one was from the UNP and the other came from the Senate.

Sampanthan

There were no Tamil ministers in the cabinets of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956, of Dudley Senanayake in March 1960, and of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in July 1960. In 1965 Dudley Senanayake’s government came into an agreement with the Federal Party to give a solution to the national problem. Accordingly, M. Tiruchelvam became a minister of that government. However, Tiruchevam and the Federal Party moved away from the government in 1968 since the agreement was failed.

C. Kumarasurior was a cabinet minister of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in 1970. In the governments of JR Jayewardene, K.W. Devanayagam and C.Rajadurai of the UNP were cabinet ministers. In addition to them, S. Thondaman of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) was also a minister. Thondaman was the only Tamil minister of the governments of R. Premadasa and D.B. Wijetunga. In addition to him, Lakshman Kadirgamar was also in the cabinet of Chandrika Kumaratunga.    

Thereafter the Tamil ministers of Sri Lankan governments were from the CWC, the National Union of Workers, the Upcountry Peoples Front (political parties of the plantations), the Democratic People’s Front (Mano Ganesan), the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party ( Douglas Devananda) and the UNP.

Therefore the main political parties in the North were represented in Sri Lankan cabinets only by G.G. Ponnambalam and M. Tiruchelvam. Additionally, A. Amirthalingam was the leader of opposition in 1977 and R. Sampanthan was the leader of opposition in 2015.

Therefore, at the initial stages, Tamil political parties contributed to the national level activities and subsequently, they were mainly engaged in provincial politics. Their voice was not prominent in the parliament in national issues other than the ethnic problem. The role played by Amirthalingam at the national level was limited. He was locked up in ethnic issues. Subsequently, the then government passed laws forcing them to move out of the parliament. 

In contrast to this situation, the TNA with the leadership of R. Sampanthan gradually entered into national-level politics. Singing of the national anthem in Tamil soon after the end of the war was promoted by the leadership of Sampanthan. This was prohibited by the Liberation Tigers. It was Sampanthan who brought Vigneswaran to Presidential Secretariat to take oath as the Chief Minister although it could have been done in Jaffna. The government at that time grossly ignored these political messages.   

It was Sampanthan who boldly said that the approval of the majority Sinhalese is needed to arrive at a lasting solution to the ethnic problem. It was the TNA led by Sampanthan which supported the progressive work of the previous government from the opposition. When the leaders of the previous government, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe were moving very slowly to establish a new constitution by not giving political leadership to the process contrary to the promises made it was the TNA led by Sampanthan which supported the democratic process of the government ignoring the possible challenge coming from their electorate. 

When the President of our Democracy launched a rebellion against the very Democracy in October 2018, the TNA led by Sampanthan was one of the parties which came forward against it and supported one of the petitions filed at the Supreme Court.

The TNA led by Sampanthan supported the government established thereafter which did not have a clear majority in the parliament. While all these things were happening, they were not able to get released all the Tamil prisoners who were in prisons without any charges for a long time. 

At that time, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) which was in the opposition accused the government and the TNA of having a deal.

At the last presidential election, the TNA led by Sampanthan made sure that almost all the Tamil votes were given to Sajith Premadasa.

A former member of parliament of TNA, M.A. Sumanthiran played a crucial role in questioning the position taken by the President in the current constitutional crisis. When he was asked whether he will go to courts in this respect he said he will if the problem cannot be solved after presenting the facts to the former Speaker and to the President. 

Accordingly, the opposition political leaders sent a very positive and responsible letter to the President and they got an unexpected aggressive response. Thereafter the SJB said that they will not participate in the meeting convened by the Prime Minister. UNP also declined to participate although previously they said they would participate.

In this background, the TNA said that it will attend the meeting which is a positive act under democratic traditions. One does not have to refuse to participate in democratic processes even though the other party is arrogant. At the meeting, the TNA criticized the steps taken by the government in this constitutional crisis.   

According to the current position the President is adamant in his stand and matters will have to be settled at the courts. It was reported that one of the petitions filed will be supported by Sumanthiran. The SJB and the Centre for Policy Alternatives also have filed fundamental rights petitions.

The opposition accuses the TNA of having a deal with the government in this background.

These accusations are very much similar to the accusations levelled against the TNA by the SLPP during the previous regime. On one hand, the TNA is getting matured politically and entering into national politics and on the other hand, the SJB is following the disgraceful political actions followed by the SLPP some time back. By this disgraceful political action, both the SLPP and SJB expect to get the votes of Sinhala voters whom they think fools.

Therefore, we should appreciate the mediation of TNA at this uncertain time. They are in the process of increasing their contribution to national politics gradually. We can see the response to their process by their voters in the near future.

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Latest Comments
  • Ajith / May 7, 2020 10 5Mr. Harsa Gunasena,
    Are you supporting UNP or SLPP (SLFP) or TNA? What is the difference between UNP and SLFP for the past seven decades? Are you talking about nationalism or Sinhala racism? The fact is that there was no nationalism in the Sinhala national politics. It is always Sinhala racism that plays its tricks to cheat Tamil politicians. Why did Sinhalese voted for Gotabaya (American) instead of Srilankan Sajith Premadasa? Why Mahinda called all MPs of the former parliament after his brother dissolved parliament? Mahinda always makes a deal and what deals he made with TNA? Why President Gota did not call all previous MPs? Who is ruling this country now? Mahinda or Gota? Are you making all of us fools?
About editor 2026 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

1 Comment

  1. Thanga / May 9, 2020
    1 0
    Let me first thank Harsha Gunasena for the write-up about R.Sampanthan. Rarely do we witness such magnanimity from the Sinhalese writers. Sampanthan is an honest, seasoned and plain-speaking politician who always believes in a united and undivided country. During the debates on the constitutional process, he always demanded that the final draft should receive the support of all three communities. Some overzealous Sinhalese nationalists keep abuse on him describing him as a ‘proxy’ of the LTTE. The fact of the matter is whether one likes it or not LTTE enjoyed popular support of the Tamil people. None, but the blind can dispute this fact.
    In 2005 presidential elections he wanted the LTTE to support Ranil Wickremesinghe. His logic was a bad democrat is better than a good autocrat. With Ranil, you can meet and talk about your grievances; it was not the case with Mahinda Rajapaksa. In 2010-2011 after talking to the TNA for 18 rounds of talks, the Ministers appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa simply walked away from the table by absenting themselves.
    When Rajapaksa lost the elections in 2015, he acidly blamed the Tamil vote bank for his defeat. Did he expect the Tamils to vote for him after the massacre during the final phase of the war in 2009?
    Sampanthan’s ‘soft power’ politics has earned him the wrath of the die-hard Tamil nationalists. Chief Minister Wigneswaran, a rabble-rouser, will go for the throat of Sampanthan with knife in hand at the next elections!
    Sampanthan most probably is the last moderate politician with whom the government could negotiate for a just and fair settlement of the national question.

    Thanga / May 9, 2020
    2 0
    All these donkey years, the country has been taken for a ride on a wave of Sinhalese nationalism that has pushed the country to the brink of unmitigated disaster. The economy of the country is in the doldrums for years and years,
    The government’s trade deficit in 1918 was US$ 13,343 billion an increase of US$ 5,734 over 2013! And its National debt is USD 74,008 millions in 2018 equivalent to 83.28 % of GDP in 2019. In terms of rupees, the Government Debt in Sri Lanka increased to 12874786 LKR Million in the third quarter of 2019 from 12599843 LKR Million in the second quarter of 2019. And it is still rising!
    In 2018 Sri Lanka public debt was 74,008 million dollars, it increased by 5,880 million since 2017.
    This amount means that the debt in 2018 reached 83.28% of Sri Lanka GDP, 5.9 percentage point rise from 2017 when it was 77.38% of GDP. Government debt accounted for 86.8 % of the country’s GDP in Dec 2019, compared with the ratio of 83.28 % in the previous year. In other words, the economic indicators are getting worse by the day.
    Three days ago Ranil Jayewardene, UK parliamentarian of Sri Lankan origin was appointed as UK’s Minister of Trade. This was possible because there are no second class citizens in the UK. A citizen is a citizen with equal rights and equal opportunity. That is democracy in practice!

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