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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Tiruchelvam vindicated by Balasingham

Norwegian Peace Initiative

Tiruchelvam vindicated by Balasingham  
Sri Lanka Sunday Leader, 30 March 2003

“The new constitution that is in the process of being drafted will contain an elaborate chapter on devolution. We are convinced that a substantial degree of devolution represents the key to the most vexed problem confronting the Sri Lankan nation at this time”  — Prof. G.L. Peiris

“The package for the devolution of power submitted to the people by the government of Sri Lanka on August 3, 1995 may be considered more as a pre-constitutional document than as a statement of government policy............ It appears that this document represents the nation’s alternative to Eelam................ The document contains in substance a balance between what any government in Sri Lanka could concede to the Tamil people while at the same time maintaining its political legitimacy in the eyes of the majority Sinhala people” — Prof. Lakshman Marasinghe

“The proposals of August 3, 1995, represented the boldest attempt to redress the imbalance in the relationship between the different ethnic groups through devolution of power to the regions” — Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam  

Anton Stanislaus Balasingham described nowadays in chaste Tamil as “mathiyurainjar” (advisor) of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) made a startling disclosure about the devolution package formulated by the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam at a press conference on March 12, in Kilinochchi.

The Jaffna based Tamil daily Uthayan of March 13 carried extensive details of what the Tiger Chief Negotiator had to say. Speaking within the context of the long search for a negotiated settlement, Balasingham made explicit reference to Tiruchelvam. This is what he purportedly stated:

Neelan Tiruchelvam  presented in 1995 a draft amending the constitution. That was a correct draft. That was acceptable. But later in 2000 Chandrika submitted an amended version based on that draft. This one was only a half-baked version of the earlier draft by Neelan Tiruchelvam.

My immediate reaction on reading Balasingham’s comments was a mixture of emotions — disbelief, anger, sadness, agony, frustration, etc. After vilifying Neelan as a traitor and the August 3rd 1995 devolution package as an act of treachery for years the LTTE was now acknowledging the merits of Neelan’s draft

His ruthless assassination was supposedly for this but now the Tigers were saying something different. I have been closely associated with Neelan from 1977 and regarded him as friend, philosopher and guide in many respects. Although in Canada now I was one of the last people to speak to him. I was talking to him on the phone from 7:50 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. on that fateful July 29, 1999 morning. I will always remember that final conversation.

He died at 9:10 a.m. when a suicide bomber exploded against his vehicle at the Kynsey Road junction while on his way to office. These memories came back vividly as I read what Balasingham was saying now.

These comments were not to be taken lightly as the LTTE theoretician was confident enough to assert in the press conference of April 10, last year that “Prabhakaran and I speak with one voice. We are one and the same.”

Silent on killing

Several months ago in a telephone conversation with Balasingham I had raised the issue of Neelan’s killing with him. He listened to me patiently but avoided a pointed reply saying nothing except “appadiyo” (is that so) placatingly in Tamil. At least three other prominent personalities close to the LTTE hierarchy were also evasively silent when I had raised the same issue before.

The LTTE has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in Neelan’s killing. The modus operandi however bore the Tiger stamp conclusively. Tiger propagandists and LTTE fellow travellers had been blatantly transparent in their criticism of Neelan before and after his death. In fact I was forced to engage in an acrimonious exchange with the late Kumar Ponnambalam in the columns of another newspaper in the process of defending Neelan.

The LTTE led and inspired propaganda against Neelan prior to his death was that he had ‘betrayed’ the Tamils by formulating along with Prof. G.L. Peiris the set of devolution proposals known then as the “package.” The process of depicting Neelan as a ‘traitor’ continued up to his death and even continued for a while afterwards in a bid to justify that despicable murder.

The basis of all this hate mongering was the devolution proposals of August 4, 1995. Neelan as co-architect was accused of having caused great harm to the Tamil cause through that. As is customary in many matters of this nature the ‘green light’ for the barrage of anti-package propaganda among Tamils was given by the LTTE itself.

Barely a week after the draft proposals were released on August 4, 1995, the LTTE held a press conference in Chundikuli, Jaffna.

Balasingham and Political Wing Head S.P. Thamilchelvan rejected the proposed package outright even though it had not been formally submitted to them. It was criticised as an act of treachery. Now the very same Balasingham is praising Neelan’s draft.

Thereafter the LTTE began a vicious campaign against Neelan spearheaded by its self-styled poet laureate Puthuvai Ratnadurai alias Tiyaasan. Discredited Tamil politicians hoping to gain political office by pandering to the LTTE also began maligning Neelan. Sadly, his party the Tamil United Liberation Front (TUFL) did not rally to Neelan’s defence just as the Federal Party of old let down Neelan’s father Murugesu Tiruchelvam when opposition jackals started howling.

Neelan with characteristic modesty and disdain for hogging the limelight played down his involvement in the August 4 proposals known as the “GL-Neelan” package. In private and in fora that mattered, Neelan defended the package. He would often lament that much of the mud slung at him in Tamil circles was “ill-informed” and without any grasp of what the package was all about.

He was very proud of it but accepted that it had its shortcomings from a Tamil point of view. What he felt was that the package was the best possible as a starting point. A particular source of satisfaction was the change of the unitary state into a union of regions. He felt that if there was a Tamil consensus around it and the LTTE itself lent its bargaining clout the package could be enhanced further. That was not to be and the LTTE campaign sought to undermine the package as a complete sell-out.

With the LTTE taking up cudgels against the package and the war intensifying, the Chandrika Kumaratunga government too altered its approach. The new strategy was to conduct a war to weaken the LTTE militarily and isolate it politically through building up a consensus around the package.


This led to a situation where the devolution proposals drafted originally with higher ideals being utilised as an important component in the so-called “war for peace” effort. Naturally, Neelan was placed in an unenviable position while his critics became increasingly strident. On the other hand, the original package itself underwent a series of revisions. The end result of all this was the systematic whittling down of the original package to which Neelan had contributed immensely.

The August 3 package lost much of its lustre when presented formally as government proposals on January 16, 1996. The parliamentary select committee proceedings saw the devolution proposals being diluted further when tabled as a white paper on October 24, 1997.

With the war intensifying and Chandrika Kumaratunga becoming increasingly enthralled with visions of becoming a latter day Viharamahadevi, relations with the TULF began to sour. At one point Kumaratunga bluntly told the TULF not to bother her about the devolution exercise until her uncle, the reincarnation of Sapumal Kumara finished the job in the north.

Unfortunately for the devolution proponents, Prof. Peiris himself was now being replaced as close confidant of the President by Lakshman Kadirgamar. While Neelan worked in his usual behind the scenes manner and helped spotlight the violation of human rights in the north east, internationally publicity-seeking persons were playing to the Tamil gallery by indulging in bombastic rhetoric.

Unfair criticism

The positive and constructive endeavours of Neelan remained unknown to the Tamil world while the abrasive yet negative play-acting of others received undeserved praise. The widespread grief and condemnation expressed by a spectrum of human rights organisations at his killing demonstrated the extent of his contacts and was a tribute to his untiring yet unpublicised efforts on behalf of the Tamil people.

The unfair criticism and allegations against Neelan continued in the Tamil world. One of the worst instances of false allegations was the charge in sections of the Tamil media about Neelan undertaking a sudden trip to the USA to poison Washington against the LTTE, whereas he had only gone to be with his brother at a time of deep sorrow due to a bereavement in the family.

In this climate of hate where every act of Neelan was being distorted in negative portrayals those close to him were able to persuade him to say “au revoir” if not “adieu” to Sri Lankan politics. This was a very reluctant decision as his involvement in politics was motivated by a missionary zeal.

Although a citizen of the world in every sense Neelan also felt deeply about the plight of “our people” as he would refer to the Tamils in talking to me. It was this concern about the Tamil predicament and the yearning to do something meaningful about it that drew me closer to him. At the same time Neelan was not ethno-centric and realised fully that ultimately a solution acceptable to all sections of the people had to be found.

Neelan became chairman of the much respected UK based Minority Rights Group for a four year term. He consoled himself by saying that he would spend the next few years fighting for minority rights globally and focus on his own country later when the need for his role arose.

He was also scheduled to lecture at Harvard University for the fall term in 1999. He was quite excited about it and went to Italy for a month to prepare for it. He was planning to resign his parliamentary seat and formally suspend his political role prior to his departure to Harvard in September. The LTTE had other ideas and struck him down before those plans materialised.

After Neelan’s death, the devolution package he conceptualised in its original form was further eroded. In the short-lived honeymoon period between the PA and UNP the devolution proposals got reduced in scope and scale further. Choksy was responsible for much of that. With Neelan’s demise there was no one from the Tamil side to contribute positively to this exercise. Ultimately a caricatured version of the original Neelan package came to parliament but even the TULF would not support it now.

Draft “acceptable”

Kumaratunga in her address to parliament lavished her gratitude to Choksy but omitted to even mention Neelan’s name despite his having paid the supreme sacrifice.

Now the wheel has turned full cycle. After condemning the “GL-Neelan” package, the LTTE is now praising it. There was a time when Tiger apologists explained that the package was unacceptable because the LTTE was not consulted in the preparatory phase. Balasingham, however, now says that Neelan’s draft was “correct” and “acceptable” now.

This makes me wonder. What will all those Tamils who branded Neelan a traitor and the August 3 package a betrayal do now? I do not for a moment say that Balasingham is the final arbitrator of whether Neelan’s draft was correct or incorrect, acceptable or unacceptable. The crux of the matter is that the package was a sound one regardless of LTTE approval or disapproval.

Nevertheless, those Tamils who blindly echoed the LTTE then could do some soul searching now. Neelan is no more but Balasingham and Neelan’s former associate G.L. Peiris are now co-chairmen of a sub-committee assigned the task of exploring federalism. Let us wait and see whether these new partners can deliver the goods.

Will this partnership help achieve federalism, a cause close to Neelan’s heart? Much as I would like this search for a federal goal to succeed, I have nothing to be optimistic about given what is happening now. Moreover, the opponents of federalism are now closing ranks and have commenced firing opening salvos.

I am unable to visualise Balasingham providing the strength and support Neelan gave G.L. in the earlier exercise. The LTTE is now praising Neelan’s draft. After years of slandering and maligning Neelan in life and death, it is now being truthful. The singer was killed because his song was faulted. Now the song is being praised. The creator was killed for the creation but now the creator is being lauded.

Irreplaceable loss

Despite the belated recognition by the LTTE of the intrinsic merits of Neelan’s original package, a noble soul is no more due to murder most foul. Balasingham praising Neelan’s draft now is not akin to cheering from the ranks of Tuscany.

Even though Neelan has been vindicated in a way, the man is no more and nothing can bring him back. The loss to his family, friends, colleagues and associates is irreplaceable. So too is the loss to his community, country, humanity at large and the intellectual realm. Nothing can fill this void.

When replying to his critics in the aftermath of Neelan’s assassination I wrote that with the passage of time his positive contribution would be acknowledged by the Tamils. I did not imagine then that the LTTE’s Political Advisor would — for whatever reason — sing praises of Neelan Tiruchelvam’s “varaipu.” This does not mean that the LTTE can be absolved of Neelan’s murder. This admission by Balasingham has only placed the LTTE more firmly in the dock.

Neelan’s vindication is in every way a condemnation of the Tigers. If Neelan’s draft was indeed correct and acceptable then what was the ‘sin’ he committed to deserve horrible assassination? If his draft was all right then why did the LTTE orchestrate a campaign calling him a traitor and describing the August 3, 1995 package a betrayal?

These are questions that Neelan’s party the TULF should raise. Given the fact that the TULF did not even utter a word of protest at Neelan’s killing, one cannot expect that party to do this even now. Since I have no communication channel with Bala-singham now, I too am unable to seek answers directly. This does not mean that these questions will ever go away. They will continue to linger and be a constant indictment of the LTTE.

The heinous crime of killing Neelan Tiruchelvam has acquired a monstrous intensity in the aftermath of Anton Balasingham’s revelations in Kilinochchi.



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