Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2402

President Rajapakse pays his tribute to Amirthalingam, the Tamil leader

By Mahinda Rajapakse - President of Sri Lanka.

Pin-pointing the fact that Appapillai Amirthalingam, the democratically elected Tamil leader, was assassinated by the LTTE, President Mahinda Rajapakse lamented: “It is part of the tragedy of our politics, poisoned by terror and violence that the LTTE which claims to seek liberation for the Tamils saw in Mr. Amirthalingam one of their biggest enemies.

Irrespective of language or ethnicity one will always lament the loss of persons of moderation such as Appapillai Amirthalingam, and more so their forcible and violent removal from amongst us.”Appapillai Amirthalingam was such a dominant figure in the politics of Sri Lanka that no politician could have escaped being impressed by his political activity and his commitment to democracy and moderation.Appapillai Amirthalingam was such a dominant figure in the politics of Sri Lanka that no politician could have escaped being impressed by his political activity and his commitment to democracy and moderation.

Here is the full text of the President messages sent exclusively to the Asian Tribune:

Remembering a man of moderation

Although we were contemporaries in Parliament for only a few months in 1989, when he came in from the TULF National List and I was re-elected an SLFP member from the Hambantota District, Appapillai Amirthalingam was such a dominant figure in the politics of Sri Lanka that no politician could have escaped being impressed by his political activity and his commitment to democracy and moderation.

My father, the late D. A. Rajapaksa, whose room in the old Parliament was later part of Mr. Amirthalingam’s office as Leader of the Opposition from 1977 till 1983, had told me of Mr. Amirthalingam’s skills in parliamentary debate.

It was unfortunate that when I entered Parliament for the first time as its youngest member in 1970, Mr. Amirthalingam, who had been there as the MP for Vadukkodai from 1956 was defeated by just 725 votes. He had been re-elected in March and July 1960; and in 1965. But, even though out of Parliament he was politically very active organizing the TULF, of which he was one of the principal architects. He returned to Parliament in 1977 from Kankesanturai, the seat held from 1947 by the late S. J .V. Chelvanayakam, with a majority of 22,000 votes, leading the TULF, and became Leader of the Opposition.

Votes and majorities do not show the real qualities of Mr. Amirthalingam, although they point to his popularity among the Tamil people, and their trust in him as a democratic leader. The true measure of the man can be seen by how he, as Leader of the Opposition, strongly opposed the move by the UNP Government, to strip the SLFP leader and former Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of her civic rights. We in the SLFP, both within and out of Parliament, were truly impressed by his determined opposition to this crude attempt to throw out of the political arena the main opponent of the UNP government of the day.

More striking in his opposition to politically disarm Mrs. Bandaranaike was that he was defending on a matter of principle, the rights of the former Prime Minister who had placed him and his colleagues of the Federal Party under house arrest for their participation in the civil disobedience campaign in 1961. When it came to matters of principle and democratic rights he was not the man to put past antagonisms before current injustice.Mahinda Rajapakse: "In 1956, Mr. Amirthalingam personified the new generation of Tamil politicians."Mahinda Rajapakse: "In 1956, Mr. Amirthalingam personified the new generation of Tamil politicians."

In 1956, Mr. Amirthalingam personified the new generation of Tamil politicians, similar to those from the MEP being the new generation of Sinhala politicians. He was educated entirely in Jaffna, unlike most previous Tamil leaders who were Colombo based. As a verti clad politician, he understood well his people and their aspirations. In his university days he was greatly influenced by Dr. N. M. Perera, and Mr. Amirthalingam did advance socialist thinking in the Federal Party, seen in its support of progressive legislation."

His commitment to democracy and the larger unity of the Sri Lankan people was such that although the TULF was returned with a mandate to establish a separate state of Eelam, he led the TULF into talks with the JR Jayewardene government on the setting up of District Development Councils (DDCs), a far cry from Eelam. His support of the DDCs was a political gamble, opposed by the rising militancy of Tamil youth who looked with suspicion on the Tamil leaders seeking a democratic solution to achieve their aspirations. Amirthalingam played a major role in getting the TULF leadership, increasingly distanced from the Tamil youth it had nurtured earlier in their militancy, to agree to DDCs.

Although the TULF won six of seven DDCs in the North, his hopes were dashed when the UNP government, despite its huge majority in Parliament, was not prepared to devolve power even at the District level to the DDCs, its own brainchild. The country still suffers the tragic consequences of this failure of the UNP to share power at the lowest level of the districts.

The tragic events of Black July in 1983, saw the home of the Leader of the Opposition too attacked. Later, his stay in Parliament and that of his colleagues from the TULF ended with the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, thereby virtually closing the door to dialogue with democratic forces among Tamils. Mr. Amirthalingam took refuge in India. He returned after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Agreement in 1987, when his influence had waned, and militancy had virtually smothered the democratic politics of the Tamils.

The return to Parliament in 1989 of this colorful, amiable, moderate personality was all too brief. On July 13, 1989, he was assassinated in his own home, with his colleague Mr. V. Yogeswaran, by LTTE cadres who came under the guise of discussing politics with an ever trusting man. It is part of the tragedy of our politics, poisoned by terror and violence that the LTTE which claims to seek liberation for the Tamils saw in Mr. Amirthalingam one of their biggest enemies. Irrespective of language or ethnicity one will always lament the loss of persons of moderation such as Appapillai Amirthalingam, and more so their forcible and violent removal from amongst us.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this


.