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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2400

What is the role of the Federal Party in Sri Lankan politics?

By V.Anandasangaree - Secretary General, TULF

Party system was unheard of in Sri Lankan politics till the Labor Government announced its decision for Electoral Reforms in Ceylon. The country gained its independence from the British rule on the 4th Feb 1948.

The All Ceylon Tamil Congress was founded in 1944 by Hon.G.G.Ponnambalam Q.C and Hon.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam Q.C, to give evidence before the Soulbury Commission on constitutional reforms.

Both of them got elected to Parliament at the General Election held in 1947. Due to some difference of opinion Hon.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam broke away from the ACTC and founded the Federal Party in December 1949. Till 1970 a period of 22 years, both these parties functioned separately.

The Srimavo Bandaranayake government that came to power in 1970, had a mandate to draft and adopt a new Republican Constitution.

Hon.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam realizing the imminent danger that the Tamil community will be exposed to, on the adoption of the new constitution, appealed to the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress to join hands to oppose the new constitution. Both the leaders realizing the need for unity agreed to bury their 22 year old enmity to form the Tamil United Front in 1972 which later evolved in to the Tamil United Liberation Front in 1976.

The merger of both these parties, being the two main political parties operating in the Tamil areas, gave the effect of sole representation of the Tamils, although it was not so, because there were a few minor parties also operating there, but some of them also got merged and the left groups comparatively lost their strength. In any case the Sri Lankan Tamils living all over the world appreciated the merger and celebrated in different ways, the reunion of the two Tamil political giants.

Very soon these leaders realized that they should not break away once again and decided to leave the TULF as their legacy to the Tamil people.

To strengthen the merger and also to bring the up-country Tamils under one umbrella.

Hon. S.J.V.Chelvanayagam voluntarily offered to share the chair of the TULF with Hon.G.G.Ponnambalam and Hon.S.Thondaman leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress at the annual session of the TULF in 1976.

Hon.G.G.Ponnambalam and Hon.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam died in 1977 before the TULF faced the first Parliamentary elections in 1977 under the symbol of the TULF the ‘Rising Sun’.

Hon.S.Thondaman as a member of the nomination board, took part in the selection of candidates of the TULF for the general election of 1977. The results of the elections proved beyond doubt that the Tamil people had taken the unity of the Tamils very seriously and elected with very good majority all the candidates, with only one losing by about 500 votes. It was because the winner Hon.K.W.Devanayagam had given full cooperation to the TULF from the very inception. I need not throw a challenge to anybody to disprove my claim that the very first general election the TULF faced and won helped everybody to forget their past enmity and reconcile with their friends and relations.

This unity among the people prolonged till the armed groups started their activities, much detrimental to the TULF. With this, the democratic principles about which the Tamils were hither to proud of also had become questionable. The political activities of the TULF also started limping and took a tragic turn with the assassination of the Secretary General of the party Hon.A.Amirthalingam and Hon.V.Yogeswaran. Many other assassinations that followed made things worse.

Mr.A.Amirthalingam’s assassination created a vacancy in Parliament on the National list. With the filling of that vacancy the TULF entered a gloomy period. With all precaution taken and sacrifices made by many to save the party, the greed for power of one or two key members continued as a threat to its very existence. The diplomatic manner, I dealt with the situation saved the party from extinction. Ultimately it had been proved that ingratitude is stronger than traitor’s arms.

Mr. Mavai Senathirajah who had not understood my diplomacy, thought that I proposed him because he was the most suitable candidate to fill Mr.A.Amirthalingam’s vacancy in Parliament. But in fact everyone at that time was of the view that he was the most unsuitable candidate, being in receipt of a monthly salary from the party and also compared to the claims of members like Dr.Neelan Thiruchchelvam, Mr.R.Sampanthan and many such others with higher academic qualifications. I was also not a Member even in a local body.

The secret of this appointment was that Mr.Mavai Senathirajah, soon after Mr.Amirthalingam’s demise had written to Mrs.Mankayarkarasi Amirthalingam to have him nominated as Member of Parliament and also to have him elected as Secretary General of the party. At the same time he had packed up to leave the party, if not considered for these appointments.

This was one of the reasons why I proposed him for nomination as National list Member of Parliament. We got him nominated in spite of the reluctance the Commissioner of Elections had, to fill the vacancy, at the request of Dr.Neelan Thiruchchelvam, since according to the records available at the Election Secretariat Mr.Amirthalingam’s name was still there as the Secretary General of the Party. We got over the problem by the three of us Mr.R.Sampanthan, Mr.Mavai Senathirajah and I as Members of the Politburo nominating Dr.Neelan Thiruchchelvam to act as Secretary General till the election of the new Secretary General.

Mr.Mavai Senathiraja was nominated to contest the Ampara Electorate at the General Election held in 1994. Having lost at that election he and Mr.R.Sampanthan who also lost the election in Trincomalee insisted on having Dr.Neelan Thiruchchelvam’s name replaced with their names in the nomination list. Luckly for Mr.Mavai Senathirajah with the assassination of Mr.Thangathurai Member of Parliament, Mr.R.Sampanthan automatically became Member of Parliament, his name being next in the list. Mr.Senathiraja’s main grievance was that he was not qualified for Parliamentary pension. I had to plead with Dr.Neelan Thiruchchelvam, a number of times verbally and twice by letters, one of which was running to five pages. On the assassination of Dr.Neelan Thiruchchelvam I had to rush back from Germany to attend his funeral. Two days later a meeting was held at Mr.R.Sampanthan’s place, attended by M/s. Selvarajah, Thurairajasingam, S.T.R, Senathirajah, Joseph Pararajasingham and myself, the question was raised by Mr.Sampanthan about Dr.Neelan’s vacancy in Parliament.

I proposed Mr.Senathirajah’s name and that was accepted. There were several people in the party who were angry with me for nominating Mr. Senathirajah as Member of Parliament in the national list, a second time.

When nomination was called for the next Parliamentary General Election of 2001 the same group met again at Mr.Sampanthan’s place to select the candidates. At this meeting Mr.Senathirajah shocked everybody by demanding that he should be the first candidate for the Jaffna Electoral District. When I ask him whether he was joking, he angrily got up from his seat and after second thought sat down. Everyone present at that meeting was surprised at Mr.Senathirajah’s behavior. His request was ignored.

During the election campaign he selected two good candidates named Mr.Sivamaharajah and Mr.Chandraraja along with him and canvassed support for the three of them. This was a high handed act on his part for which he should have been expelled from the party. But I remained silent and got 36,000 votes against his 33,000. From that time onwards Mr.Senathirajah’s conduct and behavior annoyed all the other candidates.

He was determined to do everything possible to keep me out of politics. In 2003 with the support of Mr.Sampanthan he successfully carried on a silent campaign against me. When Mr.Prbhakaran was sentenced to two hundred years jail it was I who commented about it in Parliament and said that one day soon Prabhakaran will go round the world like Yazir Arafat. On a number of occasions I had made speeches defending him.

One day looking at the Deputy Minister of Defence Hon.Anurudha Ratwatte I said “Even if you fight for ten years you will not recapture Palai and taking Elephant Pass will be a Day Dream. But ironically Mr.Sampanthan and Senathirajah jointly tried to have a no confidence motion passed against me on the grounds that I wanted Elephant Pass to be handed back to the army. At this juncture I wish to throw a challenge to both of them to go to the Kali Kovil in Trincomalee and swear that I wanted Elephant Pass to be handed over to the army. If they do, I am prepared to quit politics and serve them as their slave for the rest of my life.

Mr.Senathirajah’s major plot was to revive the Federal Party 28 years after the founder the late Hon.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam died. He had under taken this job on the orders of Mr.Thangan a close associate of S.P.Thamilchelvan.

There should be a limit for everything. Mr.Senathirajah should admit that he had no legal authority to revive the Federal Party. He should also admit that he revived the Federal Party while being a Member of Parliament representing the TULF. Mr. Senathirajah by his foolish conduct had become answerable to the deaths of several thousand innocent people, the LTTE cadre and several thousands of youths who were in the battle front.

Mr.Senathirajah and Mr.Sampanthan were very much aware that arrangements had already been made for all political parties to come under one banner and contest the 2004 general election on a common policy and a common symbol the ‘Rising Sun’. At that time the Federal Party was only on paper. If the Tamil parties had contested as one party the war would have come to an end in April 2004 itself or at least remained suspended with the elections held in 2004. This also means that there would not have been any more killings and proper grounds would have been found for talks between the government and the LTTE. Above all several thousands of lives would have been saved without any loss of life. Mr.A.Amirthalingam till he died had kept the registration of the Federal Party in force to prevent anyone misusing the name and the symbol of the Federal Party.

Mrs.Mankayarkarasi Amirthalingam had confirmed this by a statement, an extract of which is as follows:-

“My husband preserved the registration of the Federal Party for the sole purpose that no undesirable elements could misuse its symbol and the name. He never wanted to revive the Federal Party.

It is a pity that some of those who have been groomed by him have attempted to misuse the name of the Federal Party and are trying to revive it. They have only breached the Trust he had placed on them”.

I am very strongly of the view that neither Hon.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam nor Hon.G.G.Ponnambalam or even a single founder member of the TULF never thought of reviving the Federal Party even in their dreams.

- Asian Tribune -

What is the role of the Federal Party in Sri Lankan politics?
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