Provincial Councils: Gejendrakumar Ponnambalam & The Federal Party’s Challenge
I woke up this morning (05 Jan. 2021) and was shocked to read that Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam will oppose Provincial Councils, and all our Tamil aspirations to take decisions about ourselves by ourselves. Every Tamil likes to be guarded by kindly police who speak to us in Tamil. We want ministers to whom we can express our needs and shortcomings with clarity – in Tamil. We want control over our lands so that they are not leased for exploitation to companies and our forest and animal reserves may be conserved; and that Sinhalese prisoners and hooligans will not be settled around us by a central government currying favours with their voters. I can go on. But these remain our unfulfilled dreams, what we hope to fight for and achieve.
And then along comes Gajendrakumar. It is said that one must argue the point and not demolish the person opposing our point of view. Anything contravening this is said to be ad hominem and is seen as bad manners. However, sometimes the character of a person and his family tells us that person is not to be trusted. To ignore that works to our peril.
The purpose of this article is to examine Gajendrakumar’s family antecedents and conclude that he cannot be trusted with anything that affects Tamil lives. The man has no loyalties to anyone. Except for the time the LTTE admittedly rigged elections, he has been defeated and just squeaked in in 2020
His grandfather G.G. Ponnambalam (GGP) voted for stripping our Tamil brethren in the hill-country of their citizenship. After promising Savumiamoorthy Thondaman to support them, in the first bill, he feigned a massive cough and walked out of parliament to avoid voting. In the second bill, he shamelessly voted against Hill-country Tamils. According to J.L Fernando (Three Prime Ministers of Ceylon, MD Gunasena, 1963, p. 27), “The Damila [Ponnambalam] bowed low before the Sinhala Lion, DS Senanayake, and was made a Minister.” GGP would soon be rejected by the Tamil electorate.
Take Rose Clough, Gajendrakumar’s paternal grandmother. Through her Gajendrakumar, scion of the Clough family of Kaarai Tivu, is into big money from rubber estates in Malaya. He is building a palace on Cross Street Nallur close to my home and, after a change of mind, is taking it down to build by another plan. His roots are Christian. And yet, the family has argued for a Hindutva order. His mother told Carlo Fonseka that the Vice-Chancellor of Jaffna ought to be a Hindu according to the Ramanathan Trust. When I joined that dinner in a Tamil home in Wellawatte, Carlo beckoned me to come towards him as he was speaking to the mother and said, “I say Jeevan. You know Mrs Kumar Ponnambalam [Yogalakshmi], don’t you? She says that according to the Ramanathan Trust no Christian may be made VC/Jaffna. Do you know anything about that? Yogalakshmi, waffled and went off without even waiting to eat, telling the hostess that she would never have come if she had known that I would be there. Ramanathan gave the land to the University But indeed, the Ramanathan Trust has no provision like that. Truthfulness is not one of the family’s strong points.
Switching to my times, in the 1970s Jaffna saw a lot of political turmoil. Standardization had just been introduced in its initial form, adding 28 marks to the 4-subject aggregate of every Sinhalese student for deciding on university entrance. Thus, a permanent secretary’s son at Royal was declared underprivileged while a street sweeper’s son from Vaideeshwara was deemed advantaged. We were aghast and angry. The Maanavar Peravai was founded and we took to several protest marches. A Sub-Inspector called Waragoda was terrorizing us. I too was badly assaulted by him.
The Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiyappah had control of the all-important bicycle tyre through the coop and wanted us to pay the Rs. 2 SLFP membership fee to get his signature for buying our tyres and being mobile. Politics was strange those days. We were a Federal Party family related to several MPs by blood or marriage (Chelvanayakam, Kathiravetpillai, Vanniasingahm, Tharmalingam, Naganathan). My Federalist Uncle, Peter Somasundaram, ran the illegal Federal Party Post Office and was jailed for the Sri-tarring campaign. He was the FP’s Councillor for Chundikuli. Duraiyappah was part of the Jaffna Protestant lot though he played the religious card to effect. His wife was my mother’s student. We were at once enemies and friends. When I went to him for my cycle tyre permit to the Mayor’s Office, he asked me, “Hello young Hoole. What can I do for you?” and signed off on my permit without asking me for the 2 Re. charge. Srima Bandaranaike really thought he was very popular for getting so many new members into her party.
Duraiyappah asked me why I will not support him. I told him the SLFP was a communalist party. I mentioned that I had been admitted to Peradeniya for engineering, and then moved to the Ceylon College of Technology after 28 marks were added to Sinhalese students. The politician that he was, he promised me: “Oh I did not know about it. You should have come to me. I will speak to the PM and get you back to Peradeniya.” I never pursued it.
The point is that all of us hated Srima. We hated SI Waragoda even more. A horrible man, at his next posting in Anuradhapura he had tried his jackboot tactics and was murdered. We were a meek people then. As a people, we rejected Colvin’s constitution which removed the protections of Article 29 and imposed Buddhism.
It was a time of political hyperventilation. Srima and nephew Felix Dias Bandaranaike (who gave noncompetitive admission to law college for MPs and gave us lawyers who do not know the law) were visiting Jaffna often. It was the general view that they should be boycotted. Gajendrakumar’s father-in-law T. Murugesapillai was additional GA through promotions. He did three things that made people hate him. One he washed Srima’s feet when she went to the Nallur Temple. It was like GG falling before DS Senanayake. Then worse, two, he garlanded Srima violating the norm that a man garlands only his wife. In that anti-government frenzy there were newspaper headlines asking whether he had married Srima. And three, Felix was on the stage at a public meeting. Murugesapillai was in the audience. When Felix needed a light, Murugesapillai, despite being Additional GA, ran to the stage and lit Felix’s cigarette for him like a peon. We were devastated. In Tamil there is a saying, “kind marries kind.”
Loyalty is the least of the virtues of the Ponnambalams. Much has been made of female servants facing trouble in GG’s home. Exploits in Tamil Nadu were the subject of an FP Election rally I attended in Narikundu in 1970. Gajendrakumar himself is now married for the second time.
When UNHRC 30/1 was passed, Gajendrakumar, trying to stake a strong LTTE position, burnt a copy of the resolution claiming it had nothing in it. At the time, he was married to a strongly pro-LTTE British Tamil whom he has since divorced and remarried.
Still yearning for succession to the LTTE mantle, during the 2018 UNHRC hearings, he went to Geneva seeming to demand punishments for war criminals using the same resolution he had burnt as useless. There he made a pitch for switching from UNHRC to UNSC in New York. At the UNSC we Tamils have no one to talk for us while there are countries ready to veto anything against Sri Lanka. All the painstakingly gathered eye-witness testimony and video evidence is in Geneva; not with the UNSC. The many activists in Geneva fighting for justice for victims pleaded with Gajendrakumar not to jeopardize their work which was slowly but surely moving forward. According to a Muslim activist there, the other activists fled from Gajendrakumar merely on seeing him. Seemingly supporting 30/1, he was undermining it.
Very recently Gajendrakumar fell out with his member V. Manivannan. Manivannan now says that Gajendrakumar had given his party offices to the CID who were keeping watch on us. Why was he silent till now? They are all the same.
That is our man. At the time, it seemed that he was trying to undermine the efforts to get war criminals punished. Today he is scuttling all our effort to get some say in running our lives.
Recall that in 2013 Gajendrakumar who had been badly defeated in the 2010 and 2015 parliamentary elections had no chance of winning the PC elections. When Bishop Rayappu Joseph wanted all Tamils to contest together, Gajendrakumar emphatically said he would not accept Provincial councils as even a starting point prior to a long-term solution. Then after 2015, working with C.V. Wigneswaran, he got hope and was preparing to contest. Now, that his pal Manivannan has broken off from him with a good half of the party, Gajendrakumar has no chance of winning. His rejection of PCs is simply sour grapes. The President may be able to make him bow down and rise as a Minister like his grandfather. That is the kind of man he is.
The Federal Party and the TNA have a huge responsibility to show that if given the reins of our Provincial Council and Municipalities, they can make self-governance real for us. It can start by getting the Nallur and Jaffna municipalities in order. Our internal bickering has led to the Federal party losing the mayorship. We must get the Palaly Airport going again. It came through Indian pressure to make devolution real for us, after the government shut it down and transferred out the equipment and staff. We are mum on it.
We need to work on making our disastrous education system better and pull us out of the last place for provinces. We to assert the land powers in the law books. We need inquiries into how people without the required certificates are employed in high office in our provincial ministries. We need inquiries into how and why then Chief Minister CV Wigeneswaran was allowed to return billions to the UNDP simply because that agency refused to endorse his nephew as the person in charge of the funds.
The Sinhalese state is a goner. It is venal and cruel. We must focus internally and get our house in order and muster any support we can internationally to empower institutions under our control. We must begin with ourselves.
“We need inquiries into how and why then Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran was allowed to return billions to the UNDP simply because that agency refused to endorse his nephew as the person in charge of the funds.”
Ratnajeevan H Hoole
I like to give more details how an egocentric Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran spurned the offer of USD 150 million (Rs.2m250 million) merely because the Resident Representative of the UNDP in Colombo Mr Nadhi refused his request to appoint his nephew Nimalan Karthikeyan as Special Officer on a monthly salary of US$ 5,000 plus perks. To avoid personal prejudice let me quote excerpts from the Political affairs column by the “Sunday Times” Political Editor of October 4th 2015.
It was only weeks earlier that the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka snubbed Wigneswaran after he tried to establish direct links with the world body bypassing the Government, his own Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the NPC ministers. That was by appointing a Special Advisor (he named his own nephew to the position), seeking a UN Joint Needs Assessment (JNA) team and millions of dollars from the Peacebuilding Programme. This was with the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas.
A Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) was established by the UN to assist and support the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) with strategic advice and policy guidance, administer the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and to serve the Secretary-General in coordinating United Nations agencies in their peacebuilding efforts. Wigneswaran had named Nimalan Karthikeyan, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, to work with him and the NPC ministers. He was previously an employee of the Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation (TRRO) which was later banned. 1/3
Chief Minister Wigneswaran in a letter addressed to the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Subinay Nandy dated August 15 said, “With regard to your reference to briefing TNA Representatives, as Chief Minister of Northern Province (CM-NP), I have stated the nature and type of approach UN Resident Co-ordinator’s Office should have adopted in his interactions with CM-NP and Northern Provincial Council bearing in mind UN values, good governance principles and protocols that need to be adhered to by UN without interference in the Government aspects of NPC.
Nandy replied in a letter to Wigneswaran dated August 28 that the “UN on numerous occasions advised you that there was no donor willing to fund a standalone advisory position for a pre-selected candidate without following standard competitive process for recruitment.”
The Sunday Times learnt that a monthly fee of US$ 5,000 had been sought in addition to expenses. “…. the excessive canvassing by the proposed Special Advisor made it even more untenable for the UN to consider such an appointment,” Nandy said.
Here are other significant points made in Nandy’s letter: “You are noting that “…. You urged my office to advocate with the Government of Sri Lanka to enable equal partnership of NPC in the JNA process….” perhaps aptly describes the misperception that you convey about the role of the UN. What you do not know in your response is that we advise you to directly communicate with the Central Government – like you did while pursuing central government approval for the proposed Special Advisor. I offered to arrange for you and your board of ministers a comprehensive briefing on the JNA (Joint Needs Assessment), including elaborating on the scope, purpose and key outcomes. Unfortunately, you never responded to the request. This offer of the UN stands to-date. 2/3
“We, therefore, were surprised that after your meetings in New York in July, different media channels were presenting the draft concept note that we shared with you as something that was “leaked.” Given that the draft concept note was shared with stakeholders including yourself in addition to me making a public statement setting out the peacebuilding framework on 4 June, there was nothing to be leaked. This, in our view, does not meet the standards of transparency that is expected of any high office. The Peacebuilding Fund concept note setting out the initial thinking of the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN has been discussed extensively with Government stakeholders and civil society organisations.
Thus, it will be seen a haughty and arrogant Wigneswaran blew up an offer of USD 150 million to help rebuild the livelihood several thousand war-affected farmers of the North.
Needless to say, the USD 150 million (Rs.22,500 million) the UNDP offered in 2015 exceeded the funding by the centre for capital expenditure of Rs. 17,256 million from 2013-2018! It was later found half of USD 150 million was diverted to the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (NUR) run by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
No wonder Wigneswaran was dubbed. as an inefficient, inept, haughty and dysfunctional chief minister! 3/3