of the 20th Century
25 August 1927 - 13 July
[ Nominated by Aru
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 -
"..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 position..."
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
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 progressively diminished.
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
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 debatable point.
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.
with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran
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
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 State.
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 Tamil cause.
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 1983.
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 Sri Lanka.
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 position.
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
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
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
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
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