Posted on September 13th, 2021


The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was formed in October 2001. TNA consists of four parties:   Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, (ITAK), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), and Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). These are separatist parties and the last three TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF were active terrorist groups.    The leaders of the TNA are R. Sampanthan and M. Sumanthiran, one Hindu, other Christian and both graduates of the Ceylon Law College.

The TNA won 22 seats in Parliament, in 2004, with the help of the LTTE. At the 2015 Parliamentary election the TNA with a mere 4.62% of the votes   obtained 16 seats in Parliament. With just 16 members, TNA was given the Opposition Leader’s position, at the expense of the UPFA which had 95 seats. TNA leader, R. Sampanthan became Leader of the Opposition. TNA voted for the 2016   Yahapalana budget. This was the first time an opposition leader has voted for an annual budget of any government in Sri Lanka, said analysts.  

The TNA is firmly committed to Eelam, and has found various ways of demanding Eelam. Some utterances contradict each other. Some statements are plain stupid. The 2015 manifesto of the TNA said that the Tamils are a distinct people. They wish to live in Sri Lanka in peaceful coexistence, with dignity, self respect, freedom, as equal citizens, without fear of majoritarian hegemony.”  The Tamils have their historical habitat, their collective rights as a people and nation and the right to self determination. 

TNA said only a federal-based solution in the form of a merged Northern and Eastern province where Tamil speaking people live in majority numbers could ensure a lasting peace in an undivided country.

TNA wanted self government in the Tamil speaking north east within a united and undivided Sri Lanka. TNA said it is committed to a united country which was a heterogeneous, not homogenous society where people of different cultures contribute to the Sri Lanka nation.

TNA Leader R. Sampanthan said that the Tamil people only aspired for an equal and united nation. Having a history of their own, Tamil people never demanded separation or for that matter, even a federal arrangement. Tamils only demanded an equal and just rule in an undivided country.

In 2019 Sampanthan said that “Eighty five per cent of the Tamil people, on our call, voted against Gotabaya Rajapaksa .He could not capture their vote”. You will only capture their vote with the support of people who understand the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people, their civilization, their traditions, their language, their culture, their dignity and their self-respect.

There are other people in this country who have their own civilization and traditions and who have lived in this country at least as long as anybody else. I refer in particular to the indigenous Sri Lankan Tamil people who have historically inhabited the North and the East, Sampanthan concluded.

TNA has its own interpretation of political concepts, with some howlers thrown in. There is nothing called state sovereignty. Sovereignty is enjoyed by people, said Sumanthiran. Sovereignty of a country is for all people. If the majority only enjoys sovereignty, then you are leaving the other people out. You are forcing them to claim their own sovereignty.

This country consists of different people who each have different rights under the international law. You cannot hide behind the concept of sovereignty and violate international law and claim that these are domestic matters, continued Sumanthiran.

When the Europeans arrived and conquered this island, was there one state here? Was there one kingdom on this island then? No. There were three kingdoms on this island. All of them fell to Western powers at different times.  It was only in 1833, consequent to Colebrook-Cameron report, that it was made one country, concluded Sumanthiran.

TNA stood steadfastly with the LTTE  and worked closely with the LTTE throughout the Eelam Wars. The strategy of the LTTE and TNA are identical and remains the same today, said Rohan Gunaratne in 2013. TNA spoke for the LTTE in Parliament as can be seen from the Hansard reports, said critic.

When the Ceasefire Agreement was signed, in 2002 TNA allowed the LTTE to be recognized as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. TNA leaders announced the LTTE’s decision to boycott the 2005 presidential election. They made that announcement at a media briefing, in Kilinochchi, following a meeting with the LTTE, about one week before the election. TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, ordered Tamils not to exercise their franchise at the 2005 Presidential election.

The atrocities committed by the LTTE against Tamil civilians and children were well known to the TNA leadership.  But the TNA regarded such atrocities as necessary to achieve Eelam, said critics. TNA fully endorsed the LTTE strategy of holding civilians as hostages, for use as a human shield. TNA had wanted army leader Sarath Fonseka removed from the Eelam war front.

TNA stayed with LTTE to the end   and emerged unscathed when the government won the war. The government did not initiate action against the TNA for its active involvement with the LTTE No inquiry was conducted into the TNA-LTTE link.   

 After the LTTE was defeated the government should have proscribed the TNA, charged and prosecuting its leaders and supporters with links to LTTE, said Rohan Gunaratne. The Rajapaksa government must explain its failure to inquire into the TNA, said Shamindra Ferdinando.

In 2020 TNA denied that it had any connection to LTTE and the party could not be banned on that count. TNA cannot hoodwink those who are aware of its past deals with the Tigers, replied critics and recited a list of its pro-LTTE activities.

TNA took a strong anti-government line while Eelam War IV was going on. R. Sampanthan charged that the government starved the civilians holed up in Nandikadal in 2009. He  said that the government only sent enough food for  the  resident population of that area, which was 60,000 to 70,000, knowing that there were many more. When the number was as large as 350,000 why did you send food only for 60,000 or 70, 000, Sampanthan asked. He was suggesting that Tamil civilian population had been starved. He was hoping to create a Human Rights issue.

The government flatly denied that they had starved the Tamil civilians in Nandikadal. The government said that Commissioner General of Essential Services had continued to provide supplies in terms of the amounts agreed upon with the UN. A substantial amount of food and other essential supplies had been shipped to Puthumathalan, from February 10, 2009, to May 9, 2009, in accordance with a joint plan implemented by Sri Lanka and the international community. The civilians themselves never said they starved. Doctors who checked the several thousands who had escaped reported no malnutrition.

  In the 2019 General election TNA only got 10 seats but TNA unquestionably remains the predominant political party that represents Tamil national interests throughout the Northern and Eastern provinces, said Global Tamil Forum in London. Locals do not agree. EPDP, the SLFP, the SLMC, the TMVP and the SLPP have eaten into its vote base in the North and the East. The TNA is losing its appeal to the public if the erosion of its vote bank is anything to go by, they said.

A range of voter concerns came to the fore at a pocket meeting in August 2020; where a union of hairdressers in Jaffna met M.A. Sumanthiran, near Valvettithurai. The Federation of Hairdressers’ unions wished to see the TNA win the elections, but there were reservations. In the nearly 30 minute-long meeting, union members quizzed the TNA.

Seated with a group from Thondaimanaru town, a young man asked the TNA contestants why the TNA could not lay roads in the area, despite repeated appeals. The TNA’s overemphasis” on the ethnic question, while ignoring people’s economic problems,” has led to a reduction in its popularity, said Murugesu Chandrakumara, former EPDP MP now contesting independently.

The group said that the TNA members leave for Colombo following the election and they only return to the village when an election is impending. They never understand the real sufferings of the people. Children of the TNA members never attend ordinary schools in their area. A very few of their children even attend Colombo schools with most them attending schools abroad. They said that the TNA had never spent money that the government allocates for the development in their respective areas. They also accused the TNA of deceiving the people in this manner for many years.

Sampanthan belongs to that group of leaders who do not even think of succession planning, said analysts.  He has not named a successor. He has not laid out a succession plan for TNA leadership after his tenure. By not addressing this vital issue he is facilitating endless infighting and conflicts amongst the current constituent parties. This has the potential to dismantle the TNA, when he is gone and some say that history will not be kind to him. A post-Sampanthan era for the TNA will be one fraught with the danger of disintegration, said analysts. ( continued)

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