A Tribute to G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr
on His 69th Birth Anniversary
17 August 2007
August 12th marked the 69th birthday of
Ponnambalam Jr. Lately I have been collecting the scattered contributions of
Ponnambalam Jr. to the popular press, and when I re-read the epistles
contributed by Kumar (as he is popularly known among Eelam Tamils) to the
Colombo press in 1990s, I feel saddened by the premature loss of one warrior who
stood up for us, when it counted.
When Kumar made his entry into the public life of Tamils in 1977, by contesting
the Jaffna constituency in the General Election – albeit as an independent after
being rejected by the then TULF leadership (A. Amirthalingam and M.
Sivasithamparam) for inclusion in their roster of candidates - Tamils took the
side of Amirthalingam.
In 1977, Eelam voters were bathed and swayed by the
‘Amirthalingam wave’. Kumar was then considered as trying to cash in on his
illustrious father’s name, without paying his dues. Kumar never forgot that
rejection by the TULF leadership.
Within a span of 5 years, while the
‘Amirthalingam wave’ subsided, concurrently Kumar built up his own stature by
contesting the first Presidential election in 1982. Even then, Kumar’s ‘lone
ranger’ strategy in politics did not appeal to quite a segment of Tamils.
However, with every mis-step and bungling of TULF leadership in the 1980s and
1990s, Kumar reminded the Tamils that his continuous opposition to the
opportunistic politics of TULF was not in error. Constantly, he did this via his
rebuttals to the rather vacuous statements ad communiqués of TULF leadership.
It is my impression that if Neelan Tiruchelvam’s political thoughts have been
overrated by many, mainly because he couched his propositions with an academic
veneer and ‘international’ polish, Kumar Ponnambalam’s political thoughts have
been underrated because he expressed his views in coarse, terse language which
made the recipients of his message feel somewhat smacked on their faces.
To celebrate Kumar Ponnambalam’s memory, just for taste, I have transcribed his
pungent critique of a speech by Neelan Tiruchelvam in the Parliament, regarding
the issue of ‘TULF and the Sixth Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution
(1978). The relevant section of Neelan Tiruchelvam’s homage to Mrs. Sirimavo
Bandaranaike, the SLFP leader, which prompted Kumar’s critique is presented
Mrs. B[andaranaike] at 80
[Neelan Tiruchelvam; Lanka Guardian, Colombo, May 1, 1996, pp. 3-4]
"….Much has already been said of the eloquent speeches made in defence of Mrs
Bandaranaike by the then Leader of the Opposition Mr. Amirthalingam and by Mr.
M. Sivasithamparam. During the vote there were 139 votes in favor of the motion
and 19 votes against. This included 14 members of the TULF who within three
years of this event were to suffer a similar fate when the Sixth Amendment was
introduced in the aftermath of the July ’83 pogrom.
The Sixth Amendment by
requiring Members of Parliament to subscribe to a new oath of allegiance
effectively disenfranchised the North-East and deprived most of this region of
its Parliamentary representation. No doubt the TULF had opposed the Referendum
and the extension of Parliament, but the Sixth Amendment was a supervening event
which had immediate impact on their representation. Many political scientists
have written on the disastrous political consequences of the Sixth Amendment,
but I wish to briefly recall the terrible personal tragedies that followed.
Of the fourteen Members who forfeited their Parliamentary seats four were
brutally murdered, while two others died in exile in Canada. Two faded out of
politics and had more peaceful deaths, while a third died of a heart attack on
the eve of a visit abroad. I recall these sad developments to make the point
that no act of regret or apology for past wrongs can help us recover the lost
lives or regain the wasted years….”
TULF and the Sixth Amendment
[G.G. Ponnambalam Jr.; Lanka Guardian, Colombo, March 15, 1996, p.11]
"I refer to the paragraph at page 4 of the article titled ‘Mrs. B. at 80’ by Dr.
Neelan Thiruchelvam MP, in your 1st May 1996 issue, where he refers
to the TULF and the Sixth Amendment and has the audacity to suggest that the
TULF MPs had to leave Parliament because of the Sixth Amendment which required
MPs to subscribe to a new oath of allegiance.
Whilst saying that the TULF opposed the Referendum and the extension of
Parliament, Dr. Thiruchelvam says that ‘the Sixth Amendment was a supervening
event which had immediate impact on TULF’s representation’ – whatever that
Dr. Thiruchelvam seems to suggest that the Sixth Amendment had something to do
with the Referendum and the extension of Parliament. Dr. Thiruchelvam must
admit, if he is honest, that the Sixth Amendment had nothing to do with either
the Referendum or the extension of Parliament. The Sixth Amendment was brought
in the wake of the pogrom against the Tamils consequent to the death of 13
soldiers after an ambush. The objective of the Sixth Amendment was simply to
make it an offence to espouse the cause of a separate state.
What Dr. Thiruchelvam has deliberately not said (and I am not surprised at this,
knowing him as I do) is that the TULF took a decision, on the 22nd
July 1983 (six years to the day after Parliament’s first sitting after the 1977
General Elections) at their Mannar Convention, that the TULF MPs would not go to
Parliament after 22nd July 1983 because they had opposed the
Referendum in December 1982 on the extension of Parliament.
This decision was taken before the pogrom against the Tamils started the next
day – 23rd July 1983. Further, the Sixth Amendment was introduced in
Parliament only on 8th August 1983. If the Sixth Amendment had
‘disastrous political consequences’, why did not the TULF MPs go to parliament
and tell what they had to about the ‘disastrous political consequences’ the
Sixth Amendment will bring about and then leave Parliament? No this could not be
done because, by this time, the more high profile of the TULF MPs had deserted
the Tamils for the comfort and safety of Tamil Nadu, India, whilst the less well
known of the TULF MPs chose to remain in Mannar and the Jaffna peninsula in low
Further the TULF cannot even be heard to protest that the Sixth Amendment made
it an offence to espouse the cause of a separate state because, by accepting the
District Development Councils in 1981, the TULF had impliedly abandoned the
mandate they received at the 1977 General Elections to work towards setting up a
separate state. If anything, then, it was TULF’s own decision taken on 1983 that
prevented them from going to parliament.
As to Dr. Thiruchelvam’s point that the Sixth Amendment required persons to
subscribe to a new oath of allegiance, surely he, himself, and many other TULF
party members, have taken that new oath not only to be in politics but also to
practice their profession. So what is this unctuous hypocrisy that Dr.
Thiruchelvam is displaying?
It is, indeed, a sad commentary on the ‘many political scientists’ who say that
the Sixth Amendment drove the TULF out of Parliament, if they could not
appreciate the chronology of events. Let this canard, that the Sixth Amendment
drove the TULF out of Parliament, be put to rest once and for all now.
The least the Tamil representatives could do is to be honest to themselves. The
TULF and its predecessors have long indulged in Goebellsian Big Lie politics and
it is high time somebody called its bluff."