One Hundred Tamils
of the 20th Century
[ Nominated by Aru
Comment by tamilnation.org
In the end, Appapillai Amirthalingam's failure was,
perhaps, his failure to recognise
the true import of that which
Debray said in his classic 'Revolution in
"...The phrase 'armed struggle' is brandished, repeated endlessly on paper, in programmes,
but the use of the phrase cannot conceal the fact that in many places the determination to
carry out the armed struggle and the positive definition of a corresponding strategy are
still lacking. What do we mean by strategy? The differentiation between the primary and the secondary,
from which comes a clear priority of tasks and functions. A happy pragmatism will permit
all forms of struggle to drag on together, will let them come to an understanding among
themselves. At one point, however, the negative definition of strategy may appear, in the
form of a refusal: to the idea that under certain conditions peaceful forms of mass
struggle must be subordinate to armed mass struggle has sometimes been opposed the idea
that such a subordination would be equivalent to making the political line of the vanguard
party dependent on military strategy, on the party's armed apparatus, and would
subordinate party leadership to military leadership. In reality this is not the case.
more it has been forgotten, in spite of verbal acquiescence, that
guerrilla warfare is
essentially political, and that for this reason the political cannot be counterposed to
the military... the political and the military are not separate, but form
one organic whole, consisting of the people's army, whose nucleus is the guerrilla army...
the guerrilla force is the party in embryo...."
Tribute by R. Sampanthan, Secretary General, Tamil United Liberation
Front, Member of Parliament Trincomalee District, Parliamentary Group Leader,
Alliance of Tamil Parties on 75th Birth Anniversary - 25 August 2002 -
The 75th Birth anniversary of the late Appapillai Amirthalingam, MP, former
Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and Leader of the Tamil United Liberation
Front (TULF) falls tomorrow, 26 August.
My mind is a flood of memories of the late Appapillai Amirthalingam,
affectionately referred to by me as Amir Annan, as I commence to write this
appreciation in his memory.
I met Amir Annan for the first time in 1950 when I joined the Ceylon Law
College. I was a first year student, Amir Annan was in the final year. He had
earned for himself a niche at the Ceylon Law College as a skilled debater. The
Tamil Society was formed at the Ceylon Law College for the first time in 1950.
Amir Annan was elected President and I was a committee member. My association
with him continued from then, becoming even more close, particularly after I
entered Parliament in 1977, until his untimely and tragic demise in 1989.
Those of us who accepted Thanthai Chelva as our leader and followed the
policies he enunciated, were bound together by a strong sense of political
kindredship. We felt in our veins that we were one large family united together
in a sublime cause which was the emancipation of the Tamil people from the
status of inferior citizenship in Sri Lanka, to which they were being
Amir Annan was Thanthai Chelva's ablest and msot trusted Lieutenant. He was a
livewire of the Federal party - the "Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi"
which Thanthai Chelva formed in 1949. It was primarily he who expounded the
policies that Thanthai Chelva enunciated for the benefit of the Tamil speaking
people in the North East. Once the Tamil people realised that the only manner in
which they could avoid being assimilated andannihilated and preserve their
distinct identity, was by bringing about the restructuring of the powers of
governance in Sri Lanka so as to ensure very substantial self rule in the North
East and by preserving the territorial and cultural integrity of the North East,
which was their traditional and historical habitation and which were at the core
of the policies enunciated by Thanthai Chelva, the Tamil people very
substantially reposed their faith in Thanthai Chelva. No Tamil leader before
Thanthai Chelva had enunciated such pollices.
No Tamil political leader other than perhaps, Thanthai Chelva, had traversed
the length and breadth of the North east as Amir Annan had done. It was he who
explained to the Tamil people the relevance and validity of the policies which
Thanthai Chelva enunciated, in Tamil. Amir Annan was an orator par excellence.
His knowledge of Tamil literature and command of the Tamil langauge was
phenomenal. He had the capacity to keep the Tamil people spellbound with his
powerful oratory in Tamil and thousands and tens of thousands of Thamil people
would assemble to listen to him with rapt attention wherever and whenever he
spoke in the North East. He was peerless in the exploitation to the utmost of
the poetic flavour of the Tamil language. The Tamil people were enthraled by his
speeches and were solidly behind the policies which Thanthai Chelva enunciated.
Thanthai Chelva and Amir Annan opposed separatism. They strongly advocated
constitutional arrangements that would ensure a federal form of governance and
could adequately meet the demands of a heterogeneous society.
The Tamil people demonstrated through several electoral verdicts that they
were prepared to overwhelmingly support such a solution. Successive Sinhala
Governments for reasons of chauvinism or shortsightedness, missed this golden
opportunity to bring about harmony and stability in the country. They sought to
suppress the Tamil people by brute force; the Tamil people were subjected to
several racial pogroms.
Amir Annan was a livewire in the "Sathyagraha" campaign organised
by the Federal party in 1961. For several weeks every Government Agent's office
(the Kachcheri) in every district in the North East was compelled to remain
shut, but thousands of Tamil speaking people squatted in front of the entrances,
singing religious hyms and reciting prayers. They peacefully barricaded the
entrances thereby bringing government activity to a complete standstill. The
Tamil people were demanding justice in the msot peaceful manner.
In the face of implacable Sinhala intransigence, Thanthai Chelva and Amir
Annan were eventually compelled, in 1976, to demand the total sovereignty of the
Tamil people' "Thamil Eelam". Thanthai Chelva's demise in early 1977
placed Amir Annan at the helm of Tamil affairs. Leading the Tamil Untied
Liberation Front to a resounding victory at the General Elections in 1977 on a
platform of "Thamil Eelam", Amir Annan wore a crown of thorns when he
assumed the leadership of the Tamil people. After the death of both Thanthai
Chelva and G.G. Ponnampalam, M. Sivasithamparam was elected president and Amir
Annan Secretary General of the Tamil United Liberation Front, a position he held
until his demise.
The electoral verdict in 1977 also resulted in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
being routed and winning even a lesser number of seats in parliament, than the
Tamil Untied Liberation Front. Consequently, Amir Annan as the leader of the
party with the second largest number of seats assumed the role of the Leader of
the Opposition in Parliament. The parliamentary Group unanimously endorsed this
decision. Whether this was a right decision or not, has always remained a
Amir Annan effectively used his position as Leader of the Opposition to make
international contacts and explain to the international community, the denial of
equality and justice to the Tamil people. Ambassadors and High Commissioners of
several countries and visiting dignitaries frequently called on him. In the
course of his visits abroad, he met with several foreign leaders. He met with
all the Indian leaders and developed a particularly close rapport with Indira
Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. These contacts and Amir Annan's
analytical articulation of the Tamil position enabled the justification of the
Tamil struggle for equality and justice to be better understood, and thus
strengthened the Tamil cause.
Amir Annan played a significant role in internationalising the Tamil
questioning Sri Lanka. It also became clear to Amir Annan that while the
International Community would strongly support a restructuring of the powers of
governance in Sri Lanka, so as to give the Tamil people their legitimate share
in governance, particularly in the North-East, there was no support for the
creation of a separate state. This compelled Amir Annan and the Tamil political
leadership to state that they were prepared to consider and take before the
Tamil people, a viable alternative to a separate state.
The other side of the coin was that Amir Annan who was looked upon as a
leader of mass struggles, was now being increasingly seen as a leader in the
constitutional mode. His task was made even more difficult by the obduracy of
Sinhala Governments. Though the J. R. Jayewardene Government enjoyed a 5/6ths
majority in Parliament, and though Tamil political leadership was prepared to
consider a viable alternative to "Thamil Eelam," there was no
worthwhile offer from the Sri Lankan State.
Tamil youth in particular, who realised the lack of will on the part of the
Sri Lankan State to restructure the powers of governance, and who were convinced
that moderate Tamil political leadership had adopted the Vaddukoddai resolution
in 1976 for "Thamil Eaalam" because all other options had been
exhausted, and who were too emotionally charged, to repose their faith in the
prospect of any viable alternative, were becoming increasingly impatient and the
incipient signs of the commencement of an armed struggle were all too evident.
The anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983 blew the lid, and Tamil Militancy could no longer
be contained. The extent to which it has grown today is legendary. It has proved
its capacity to challenge and overcome the military might of the Sri Lankan
Amir Annan had, perhaps, assumed the leadership of the Tamil people at the
most difficult and critical time in recent history. He was sympathetic to the
irrepressible upsurge in militancy that was rapidly developing among Tamil
Youth. He was also deeply conscious that eventually the final solution would
have to be found at the negotiating table; he was in a political quandary.
Amir Annan was a superb debater in Parliament. I often walked up to him when
he finished his delivery and said to him that he made me feel proud. At the
negotiating table too, he had the capacity to articulate an argument succinctly
and lucidly. It was my privilege to be associated with him and M.
Sivasithamparam in all the negotiations that took place in Colombo, Tamil Nadu,
New Delhi and Thimphu after 1983. He was brilliant in the exposition of the
Amir Annan was strongly of the view that India had a crucial role to play in
the resolution of the Tamil question in Sri Lanka. Amir Annan met Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi at New Delhi in August 1983 after the anti-Tamil pogrom of July
After the acceptance of India's good offices, Shri G. Parthasarathy the
distinguished veteran diplomat paid his first visit to Sri Lanka as the personal
envoy of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in late August 1983. Amir Annan along
with several of us met him at Colombo. In September 1983 Amir Annan and I had a
long meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the Prime Minister's Office in
New Delhi. Others who attended the meeting were G. Parthasarathy and Dr.
Alexander, then Secretary to the Indian Prime Minister.
Indira Gandhi discussed similar situations in several other parts of the
world and also the options available for the resolution of the Tamil Question in
Though she clearly lacked faith in the will of the Sri Lankan political
leadership to address the Tamil Question fairly and justly, she was also clearly
of the view that every effort needed to be made to evolve a just, negotiated
solution. Amir Annan realised that if ever Indian support for the achievement of
"Thamil Eaalam" was to become possible, it could only be in the
context of the Sri Lankan State having scuttled an Indian sponsored settlement
of the Tamil Question. In such a situation it was extremely likely that the
rest of the International Community would have been supporting of India's
Throughout his political career, following in the footsteps of Thanthai
Chelva, Amir Annan strove to achieve genuine Regional Autonomy for the
Tamil-speaking people in the North-East, even if it had to be attained in
incremental stages. Both Thanthai Chelva and Amir Annan had the capacity before
the armed struggle assumed ascendancy to take the Tamil people along with their
thinking. Sinhala political leadership, however, lacked the character to address
the Tamil Question with honesty.
They thought that the Tamil people could be suppressed and subjugated by
brute force. Successive anti-Tamil programs, particularly
that of July 1983, were the clearest demonstration of such thinking on the
part of the Sri Lankan State. After July 1983, the
military might of the Sri Lankan State was used to massacre the Tamil people,
destroy their economy and devastate Tamil villages and towns. These actions of
the Sri Lankan State had the effect of weakening a moderate political leader
such as Amir Annan. Tamil youth who were convinced that the Tamil people had
been deceived and cheated by the Sri Lankan State were justifiably exasperated
and determined to demonstrate that Tamil tolerance should not be mistaken for
Tamil weakness and that the Tamil people would not be subjugated or surrendered.
Armed struggle against the Sri Lankan State
was their weapon, and it is this weapon, which has today made the Sri Lankan
State realise that the Tamil question needs to be addressed honestly and a just
and durable solution evolved.
Amir Annan had much affection for the Tamil people and the Tamil people too
liberally showered their affection on him. He was also concerned about the
legitimate rights of both the Muslim and Tamil people of the plantation sector.
He strongly believed that all Tamil speaking people in the North-East should be
treated as equals.
The greatness of Amir Annan and his immense contribution towards the
emancipation of the Tamil people cannot be diminished by the failures of the Sri
Lankan State, nor by the fact that he was a victim of an assassin's bullet. If
the lapses of the Sri Lankan state had not made an armed struggle inevitable,
and if the Sri Lankan State had addressed the Tamil question in a just and
rational manner, Amir Annan would have continued to occupy a position of
pre-eminence on the Tamil political scene.
I once asked Thanthai Chelva in 1976, who would lead
the Tamil people after his demise. He unhesitatingly told me that I should
repose my faith in Amirthalingam who would be his successor.
Amir Annan and I did not always agree on all matters but his lifetime
selfless contribution to the cause of the Tamil people must be acknowledged. I
have always had the highest regard for him and truly looked upon him as an elder
brother. On the occasion of the commemoration of his 75th birthday may we all
join together in extolling the virtues of one who lived and died for the cause
of the Tamil people.