The Federal Party: The Legal Guardian Of Sri Lankans Over Its 70-Years

The Federal Party: The Legal Guardian Of Sri Lankans Over Its 70-Years

The history of the Federal Party that was founded on 18 Dec. 1949 and the background to that history are well known to all. When the Citizenship Act and the India-Pakistan Citizenship Act were passed, Thanthai Chelva, Medical Doctor EMV Naganathan and K. Vanniasingam stood in opposition and split from the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, voted against the government and formed the Ilangai Thamil Arasu Katchi also known as ITAK or the Federal Party.

When the above mentioned two acts and subsequently the Official Languages Act of 1956 were passed, they were in violation of Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, and yet challenges to these bore no fruit in court. In its early years ITAK strategy consisted of Noncooperation in the Gandhian way, and Civil Disobedience through Satyagrahas. These struggles from 1956 onwards succeed in bringing the government machinery to a complete standstill in 1961 through-out the North and East. As a result, the ITAK was banned under Emergency Regulations. Sixty seven members including ITAK leaders were goaled in Panagoda.

After the year 1970, after withdrawing from efforts to promulgate the First Republican Constitution, ITAK’s Noncooperation and Civil Disobedience struggle reached a climax. From the time Thanthai Chelva resigned from his Parliamentary seat, the idea that we are not bound by the republican constitution gained wide currency and strength among Tamils. As an outgrowth of that development, the Tamil United Front was formed and the latter soon became the Tamil United Liberation Front at the 1976 Convention where the Vaddukoddai Resolution was adopted. As a consequence of our just demands for federalism being ignored and sidelined by the state, that watershed Vaddukoddai Resolution emphasized that we would re-establish our sovereignty that we lost to Europeans in our colonial history. As a result of that resolution the Secretary General of ITAK and three of its MPs were arrested and charged, and tried before a bench of three High Court Judges, consisting of a Trial-at-Bar.

Representing the accused were a team of three Queens Counsel led by Thanthai Chelva, the other two being GG Ponnamabalam and Murugesu Tiruchelvam. Besides these legal giants, 64 other lawyers also appeared for the defence. They argued that the Republican Constitution had no force in law and that the Emergency Regulations had not been properly promulgated. That Trial-at-Bar bench accepted the second of these arguments advanced by the accused and set them free.

Although the Supreme Court subsequently reversed the negative determination of the Trial-at-Bar Bench, the accused were not re-arrested. This judgement is considered a landmark, and the case has earned for itself a place as one of the most important in our legal history.

Subsequent to the year 1976, ITAK functioned under the name Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). In 2003 however, as a result of an order by the judiciary, the name TULF could not be used and circumstances arose to revert to the ITAK name.

After the Trial-at-Bar, the efforts of the party were directed towards rooting the rights of the Tamil people through the courts, emphasizing legal activism. Following the Prevention of Terrorism Act promulgated in 1971, that law was used to charge Tamil youths. Lawyers allied with the party appeared for these youths. Likewise, after the Second Republican Constitution was promulgated, fundamental rights provisions rooted in that constitution were used to defend the accused youths. In the war years all kinds of cases were filed to defend those whose fundamental right were violated and trammeled upon.

When under pretext of establishing high security zones, the private lands of our people were acquired, in the year 2003 a case was filed in the name of the party’s present leader Mavai Senathirajah. In 2007 interim relief was granted by court permitting the rightful owners the right to resettle on their lands.

In the same time period, an order was also obtained from the Supreme Court that those ejected from their lands in Sampur in the East ought also be allowed to resettle on their lands. As a result of these legal challenges mounted by ITAK, several thousands of acres of lands usurped by the Army from the Tamil people had to be returned to the owners. There are still cases pending and advancing in court to recover more of these lands taken over by the army from our people.

Besides these cases, there are several other cases where on important matters of state and in matters of our people’s fundamental rights being violated, the ITAK may take rightful pride in seeking the protection of the courts and prevailing in many of these cases. From the case on the ejection of Tamils from Colombo to the Divineguma law that tried to reverse the devolution of power, there are many examples that can be shown to establish how the ITAK has stood for the Tamil people’s rights and by the Tamil people.  No other party can rightfully make this claim.

Indeed, ITAK’s agenda through court action is not merely limited to winning Tamil rights. ITAK is a flagship for challenging any and all iniquitous efforts in Sri Lanka at suppressing the rights of the people, and for upholding the rule of law when it is violated and promoting all the characteristics of good governance. At the end of last year when the President himself went against the constitution of the land, the ITAK was an integral part of the challenge to authoritarianism, standing at the forefront of the effort to oppose that foul move and re-establish democracy throughout the country.

There are those who hold the notion that legal challenges must not be mounted to prove resoundingly that we can have no faith in the judicial system in which we function. Among those who entertain that notion we say whether we have faith or not, it is extremely important to keep mounting legal challenges to bad laws and oppressive administrations. The ITAK is a party that is proudly guided by that spirit of stressing the importance of legal activism. We stress the importance of registering a protest when we file action. By professionally fighting those cases we have on many an occasion scored victories proving the presence of fundamental rights violations in the state, and thereby won aid and sustenance of various types for people. The ITAK has made and continues to make a unique contribution in this regard.

The ITAK which had been banned for some months in 1961 as stated, faced a serious legal challenge in 1976. That challenge was overcome under Thanthai Chelva’s leadership with the help of our legal experts. After the war in the years 2013, 2014, six cases were filed demanding the proscription of the ITAK, the imprisonment of its MPs and the confiscation of all their properties. The first five of these cases averred that the ITAK was advocating separatism in its Northern Provincial Council report, and that this was a contravention of the Sixth Amendment to the constitution.

In the sixth of these six cases, which was filed in the year 2014, it was argued plaintively that by using the term confederacy the ITAK was creating a path to separation. It was this case that was heard and argued first. Known as Chandrasoma Versus Mavai Senatirajah, the case had its judgement delivered on 4 Aug, 2017. According to that judgement, on the basis of sovereignty and self-determination, the ITAK has the right to advocate for a confederal form of governance. The judgement affirmed our party’s historic position. Our party, the ITAK, formed 70 years earlier had called for confederacy in the year 1951 in Trincomalee asserting that the right flowed on the basis of our sovereignty and right to self-determination.

Unfortunately, right from the beginning Sinhalese leaders have made false propaganda among their people telling them that confederacy is to split the country. Even in 1961 when they banned the ITAK, it is the very same thing that then Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike told her people. Many decades later, even after carrying out an armed struggle for separation, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court itself has declared that advocating for confederacy or federalism is a very lawful act.

Whether circumstances were favorable or not, by consistently and continually arguing for our rights borne under international law in Sri Lankan courts, the ITAK has  proved and established that our policies are reasonable under international law. Not only in the area of confederacy, but also in the areas of economic and cultural rights, our same approach to problem-solving has won our peoples many favourable outcomes.

Taking positions contrary to those political parties that hold that seeking the help of courts is pointless, and thereby achieving many advances to our lot and circumstances, is the proud and unique achievement of the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi.

*Speech delivered by MA Sumanthiran MP, PC, Associate Secretary General, Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi on the Seventieth Anniversary of the Federal Party on 18 Dec. 2019 at the Young Artistes Forum Jaffna -Transcribed by N. Lohathayalan

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  • K.Anaga / December 27, 2019 1 1The federal party was inaugurated long before Sumanthiran was born or even before his parents ever thought of even ‘producing’ him. It is also a fact that Jaffna politics was inundated with Legal Personalities, so much so that they were able to argue their case well for a Federal Solution in good faith but the practical attempts to achieve the same were far and few between. Of course, there were Anti Sri campaigns, Long March to Thirukkanamalai which was a show of support for the cause, Satyagraha campaign, bringing the Jaffna Kachcheri and Batticaloa Kachcheri to standstill, culminating in the sale of postal stamps by SJV and the subsequent arrest of almost all Tamil Leaders. The Satiyagrahis including pregnant women bundled up in army lorries and dumbed in faraway places. The women donated the gold jewels for the cause- it was indeed heartening move. But subsequently, there was a lull in the agitations until the Vaddukoddai Resolution, which brought in Prabhakaran. The federal party was trying to Make Use of Prabhakaran as an ‘arm’ to frighten the governments, but Prabhakaran was a serious contender to archive what FP preached much to the dismay of some of the FP leaders., But he carried on regardless and was about to achieve something tangible but failed due to the activities of India. Pakistan, China, and the West in general.- the rest is history.
    The TNA was happy about the outcome, where they considered themselves the leaders of the Tamils. Sam/Sum took the initiative and pushed the Tamils into the path of no return, at least for a short period, supported by other Tamil Partys of no real consequence, except to fight among themselves. More Could be written with personal experience but space prevents me.
    • K.Anaga / December 29, 2019 1 0Today Abraham is in the process of Singing “Nearer my God” and Rajavarothayar for appropriate religious ceremonies for the cremation of TNA/ITAK.
    • Uthungan / December 31, 2019 1 0“The women donated gold Jewell’s for the cause……”
      Not only jewellery, financial donations by the public, proceeds from the sale of stamps, and many more which was tied up in shawls improvised as bags, were a daily feature throughout the campaign.
      I was there and saw all of that when LSSP’s Edmund Samarakkody, Sydney Wanasinghe, A. Viswanathan and others joined in to show fraternal support for noble cause.
      That was in April 1961.
      What happened to all that? Who is accountable?
  • Eagle Eye / December 27, 2019 4 6Except talking about ‘Separate State’, ‘Federal System’, ‘Devolution of Power’ what have these Wellala politicians who are descendants of slaves brought by Portuguese and Dutch from Malabar to Sinhale done to improve the lives of Dalits that consist about 70% of Demalu in the North?
    This lot are Human Rights Violators. They have not done anything to stop caste-based discrimination and oppression of Dalits by Wellala Dravidians.
    During the time Prabhakaran was in control, these guys behaved like poodles and allowed Prabhakaran to eliminate all his opponents and kill his own people.
    We understand that after the defeat of LTTE, schools meant only for Wellala are increasing; cast-based discrimination and oppression has increased; in some places Dalits are not allowed to enter Kovils; Dalits are not allowed to use water from wells belong to Wellala people.
    They are still hanging on to Malabar customary law ‘Thesawalamei’ that they brought from Malabar to keep land ownership within the Wellala community.
    These Wellala politicians were supporters of terrorism.
    The real enemy of majority of Demala people (Dalits) is Wellala elite politicians; not Sinhalayo. Get rid of them if ordinary Demala people want to live with Native Sinhalayo peacefully.
  • Eagle Eye / December 27, 2019 4 7What right Thanthai Chelva who was born in Malaya, whose grandparents are from the Malabar coast and entered Sinhale illegally to talk about creating a Separate State or a Federal System in the Land of Native Sinhalayo and Vedda Eththo for the descendants of slaves brought from Malabar by Portuguese and Dutch to exploit resources of this country and settled in Yapanaya and Kallathoni Dravidians who settled down in two pockets in the Eastern Coast Tirikunamale and Madakalapuwa.

    These Dravidians helped colonial parasites to get rich, helped British to oppress Native Sinhalayo, fought with British against Native Sinhalayo during the freedom struggle and became a pain in the neck of Native Sinhalayo from the day British left this country.
    • K.Anaga / December 27, 2019 8 1What right have you to Practice Buddhism which came from India?
      • Abhaya Premawardena / December 28, 2019 4 0idiot . Sinhalaya came from india too.
      • Eagle Eye / December 28, 2019 2 3K.Anaga,
        Buddhism was sent to Sinhale officially by King Asoka through his son Mahinda Thero; not by a Kallathoni like Thanthai Chelva.
        • K.Anaga / December 28, 2019 2 0If so, in what language did the official representative from Asoka preach? I believe that Asoka sent his representative after his regret over the last war he fought where thousand died. But why are the Buddist keen on war with the Tamils and Muslims? Did they ever regret the war in Srilanka where thousands and thousands were killed? Any way which ‘Thony’ did Vijaya use to come to Eelam?
          Did he come with visas for the 700 or like the Portuguese, Dutch and the British come as intruders?
          Chelva only returned to his motherland during the British Illegal Rule both in Malaya and Eelam.
  • Adrian / December 28, 2019 2 2The only Tamil politician who did anything for his people was the old Mr Thondaman. The rest were too conscious of their caste status.
  • Pygmalion / December 28, 2019 2 1The Federal Party has gone beyond the use by end of date many moons ago!
  • Thiagarajah Venugopal / December 29, 2019 0 2Dear LohathayalanA story of a bunch of lawyers taken us all for a ride. They had no place in a developing country to be politicians who turned our parliment into a court room drama and argued/delivered us all a death raw quite literally.Just to simplify to you if these lawyers were to defend human rights and uphold their oath some of them would been behind the bars/death raw for getting others killed in the first place. Even a bigger crime was exposing our children to harms way to be abused/misused and trained in foreign lands we yet to bring charges too.SJV’s politics I may disagree but I know he is not the one who send the kids to kill their opponents. He accepted being elected and loosing the elections with equal respect for the voters…….but all that class/decencies/honour were lost with the thugs who took over the party after his passing away was a very unfortunate event for us all as a Nation.Even with the political difference I learn from my Mother he used to visit/meet up with my Father too is a sign of a Gentleman who understood the democratic framework in which we all needed to work to get something done in the interest of the community and we are all equal stake holders too in making the case to the general public as to whatever we believe is a path for our Nation of People and their future.ITAK/TULD/TNA can not come up with the list of people they have killed since 1970 then what are the chances of others admitting to any of their killings??? something does not tally up here.
  • MR / December 29, 2019 1 0What DSSenanayake told in Parliament during the District Council debate in 1968 comes into my mind, when I read Sumanthiran’s speech above. Here it is :” The tragedy of the Tamil race is the existence of self seeking sycophants making the sweet speech of saviours. If the Tamils are ever to regain their birthright in Ceylon they should send away the present saviours of the Tamil Congress and Federal party.”This applies even now after over fifty years.Will there be a change in the near future? I doubt very much.
  • Sirisena Yatawara / December 29, 2019 1 1Born out of Ceylon that Chavalagagam of founder of Federal Party a lonely pioneer was a Tamil separatist was immigrate from as Malaysia Tamil. By and large born to western cultivated baptized by theology of Church of Jesus Christ. Not the first or last inspired by Tamil racism and later by baptized by God crated universe by his theology on words.
    Therefor Tamil nationalism in India lost that its ground base is less heinous but it is based on a belief in the historical myth of the LOST continent of Lemuria ….once the home for a greater ancient Tamil civilization.
    His version of politics thought roots goes “Tamil chauvinism” of that pseudo-history of that south Tamil Dravidian grater land of “Tamil Homeland” to be establish by weakest link in South India region in island of Ceylon !
    The Tamil political class and its party of currently that leadership of TNA was successor of TULF in Sri lanka . Which is that Pseudo history is completely out…now.
    The well educated elites without bias that can and should be able to identify. Yes but how is that ,get to know the territory by in depth study of the of history ,both its dubious claims by Tamil chauvinist. …TNA and proxies of LTTE ?
    TNA s that ‘democracy’ is a tricky question of that taste of democracy is unknown to majority rightful thinking of democratic loving People of Sri Lankan.
About editor 3016 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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