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Assassinating Tamil Parliamentarians: The unceasing waves

Fifty-one-year-old Kiddinan Sivanesan was the latest in the long line of Tamil Parliamentarians and ex-Parliamentarians to suffer death through assassination.

Sivanesan, a former Cooperative Society Store Manager and trade unionist, was returning home to Mallavi after attending Parliament when a claymore mine exploded. Both the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP and his driver were killed.

It is widely believed that Sivanesan was killed by an assassination squad of the armed forces known as the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP). Defenders of the state have stoutly denied the charge.

The funeral, held in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-controlled region of the northern mainland known as Wanni, was attended by 15 TNA Parliamentarians. A grand funeral ceremony was held.

Paying homage
LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, who sustained minor injuries in a bombing incident in the Kilinochchi suburb of Jeyanthinagar on November 28, 2007, made a rare appearance and paid his respects.
The Tigers also held a number of meetings at different places to pay homage to Sivanesan.

The LTTE and supporters/propagandists have utilised the killing to engage in anti-government propaganda as well as whip up emotions among the Tamil diaspora. Many memorial meetings were held in diverse international locations.

Tiger media organs are continuing to give much prominence to the killing of Sivanesan. The Tigers are trying very hard to create mass frenzy among Tamil expatriates over the killing.

Pro - LTTE groups are also lobbying intensively by citing the killing as one more brownie point in support of the argument that separation is necessary.

The LTTE honours its dead cadres as ‘Maaveerar’ or ‘Great Heroes.’ Non-combatant supporters are awarded two types of posthumous honours.

The lesser honour is ‘Naatrupatraalar’ or patriot. The greater honour is ‘Maamanithar’ or great person. Sivanesan was given ‘Maamanithar’ status by the Tiger Supremo.

Prabhakaran’s statement
Here are some excerpts from Prabhakaran’s statement about Sivanesan:
“He is a sincere politician who possessed high ideals. He laboured tirelessly for the advancement and welfare of the workers.
“He yearned for a free and honourable life for the Tamil people in their land without the torments that have afflicted them.

“He took up the responsibility of representing the people of Jaffna and roamed the world seeking justice for the Tamils.
“He raised awareness among our people and gathered their support.

“He exposed the atrocities of the Sinhala state and its occupying military to the world.
“He was courageous even in the midst of repeated harassments and threats of the Sinhala military.

“His service for the liberation of Tamil Eelam through his hard work and exemplary skills are immeasurable.”
All the above lines refer to Sivanesan but strange as it may seem, they are more applicable to another Tamil political leader who was brutally assassinated more than 18 years ago.

He was none other than Appapillai Amirthalingam, the former secretary general of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and ex-leader of the opposition.

Indeed, Amirthalingam was a man who “yearned for a free and honorable life for the Tamil people in their land without the torments that have afflicted them,” and in his time “roamed the world seeking justice for the Tamils,” and in his own way “exposed the atrocities of the Sinhala state and its occupying military to the world.”

Tiger acolyte
More importantly, when Amirthalingam made a statement or levelled a charge, it carried weight and credibility. It was taken seriously at international levels. His complaints could not be dismissed lightly as Tiger propaganda.

This was not the case with Sivanesan, a Tiger acolyte, whose ‘propaganda’ was limited mainly to pro-Tiger Tamil media.
Against this backdrop, the ‘Sinhala-dominated’ Sri Lankan state had more to fear from a man like Amirthalingam than a man like Sivanesan. But who killed Amirthalingam?

It was not the ‘Sinhala’ state but the self-styled saviours of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. It was the Tigers who murdered Amirthalingam in cold blood!

When news of Amirthalingam’s death was conveyed to then Opposition Leader Sirima Bandaranaike, her immediate reaction was, “Who did it?” On being told it was the LTTE, she spontaneously exclaimed, “Thank God, no Sinhalese did it!”
The point behind invoking the Amirthalingam assassination in this context is to illustrate three related points.


Firstly, the so-called ‘Sinhala’ state or government is not the only agency killing Tamil MPs or ex-MPs. This has been going on for a long time and Sivanesan was not the first Tamil Parliamentarian victim.

Secondly, more Tamil Parliamentarians have been killed by Tamil and not Sinhala assassins. Even in the case of Sivanesan, there is reason to believe that the actual LRRP perpetrators were Tamil operatives.

Of course, the state bears a moral responsibility in killings done by paramilitary ‘dogs of war.’ Yet, the fact remains that Tamil hands have shed more Tamil ‘Parliamentarian’ blood than Sinhala hands.

Thirdly, many Tamil groups and organisations were involved at various stages and levels in this bloodshed. Yet the LTTE is responsible for killing more Tamil MPs, ex-MPs and other major Tamil political leaders than any other Tamil organisation.

In fact, this pattern of assassinating Tamil political leaders was pioneered and developed by the very same LTTE that is hypocritically mourning and condemning Sivanesan’s killing now.

January 1 this year saw UNP Colombo District MP Thiagarajah Maheswaran being killed on the premises of Shree Ponnambalavaneswarar Sivan Temple in Kotahena. Maheswaran was about to return home after worshipping when he was shot dead.

The first assassination
However, when the ongoing saga of Tamil political assassinations first began on July 25, 1975, it was a man on his way to worship at the Varadarajapperumaal Vishu Temple at Ponnalai who was shot outside the Kovil.
This was Jaffna Mayor Alfred Durayappa, who though a Christian by birth, became a sort of theosophist in later life and used to worship at Hindu temples also.

Durayappa was the independent MP for Jaffna in 1960 March and July. He contested as an SLFP-backed independent in 1970 and lost by a tiny margin of 56 to C.X. Martyn of the Federal Party.
Durayappa was the uncrowned king of Jaffna Municipal politics and had been mayor many times or installed his supporters as mayor.

He disavowed communal politics and steered clear of both the FP and Tamil Congress. These parties called Durayappa a “thurogi,” or traitor.
The killing of Durayappa was the first time a Tamil ex-MP or mayor was assassinated. Seven Tamil youths were charged in court and later acquitted.

Prabhakaran was not one among them but his name transpired during court proceedings. Later in a media interview Prabhakaran was to boast of the Durayappa assassination as his first “military operation.”

Tamil militant mood
The 1970-’77 period saw many amateurish assassination attempts of Tamil MPs supportive of Sirima Bandaranaike’s government, but none of them were successful.
It was the Tamil ultranationalist poet Kathamuthu Sivananthan, known as Kasi Ananthan, who articulated the Tamil militant mood by declaring publicly, “The six traitors who voted for the Republican Constitution of 1972 must not have natural deaths.”

The six Tamil MPs referred to by Kasi Ananthan were C. Arulambalam, A. Thiyagarajah, C.X. Martyn, C. Kumarasuriar, M.C. Subramaniam and Rajan Selvanayagam.

The 1977 elections saw 18 TULF members in Parliament. All of them were elected on a mandate for Tamil Eelam.
One of them was M. Canagaretnam, the second MP for Pottuvil, who had worked in Singapore as a civilian employee of the Indian National Army of “Netaji” Subash Chandrabose.

Much was made of this Netaji connection during the TULF election campaign. But Canagaretnam crossed over to the UNP during the budget period of 1977.

In a heated atmosphere, Amirthalingam burst out in Parliament that a thunderbolt would fall on Canagaretnam.
On February 4, 1978, Junius Richard Jayewardene became executive president by way of the Second Amendment to the Republican Constitution.

On the same day an assassination attempt was made on Canagaretnam in Colombo. He survived but his health deteriorated and he died after some months. The LTTE (undivided then) was blamed.

LTTE split
The 1981 elections to the District Development Councils (DDC) saw former Karainagar Hindu College Principal Dr. A. Thiyagarajah contesting on the UNP ticket.

He was the Vaddukkoddai MP elected on the Tamil Congress ticket in 1970, who later crossed over to government ranks.
Thiyagarajah was killed at Moolai while addressing an election meeting. The People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) was responsible.

The LTTE had split and a strong Tiger contingent had come together as the PLOTE, under Umamaheswaran. The PLOTE wanted to disrupt the DDC polls.

The July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom saw the political situation transformed. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution saw secessionism being disavowed. This resulted in many TULF Parliamentarians going abroad.

Among those who remained in Sri Lanka were former MPs for Manipay, Point Pedro, Udupiddy and Kopay – V. Dharmalingam, K. Thurairatnam. S. Rasalingam and M. Aalaalasundaram in Jaffna, and Mannar MP P. Soosaidasan and Vaddukkoddai MP Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam in Colombo.

The India-sponsored talks between the government and Tamil representatives were held at the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu in 1985. The talks broke down.

Subsequently there was some disagreement among Tamil representatives with the TULF, supported by PLOTE, taking up one stance and the rest another.

Double killing
The Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) led by Sri Sabaratnam wanted to teach a lesson to the TULF. The TELO decided to target the affable, left-leaning Dharmalingam.
“Dharmar” was not only from the TULF but also the father of current PLOTE Chief Siddharthan, who was then the PLOTE representative at Thimphu talks.

In order to avoid suspicion, the TELO also decided to ‘dump’ (euphemism for kill) Aalaalasundaram. “Aalaal” as he was called was a relative of Sri Sabaratnam and regarded as being close to the TELO.

Therefore, if Aalaal was killed along with Dharmar, suspicion would not fall on the TELO, it was believed.
So Aalaal was taken away from his house at gunpoint and compelled to call out to an unsuspecting Dharmar. Later both were killed.

This double killing indicated the depths to which the Tamil militant movement had sunk. Also, the very same TULF that flayed its political rivals as “treacherous weeds needing to be weeded out” was now at the receiving end of Tamil militant violence.

The Indo-Lanka Accord and consequent developments resulted in the political situation transforming again. There was a sharp intra-Tamil divide, causing bitter polarisation. The LTTE regarded those being supportive of India as collaborators.

The LTTE used the opportunity provided by the Ranasinghe Premadasa regime, which began talks with the Tigers in Colombo. The LTTE began spreading its tentacles in Colombo.

Amirthalingam assassination
The Tigers identified Amirthalingam, who was once again in Parliament, as the pivotal force of the TULF and mainstay of Tamil moderate politics.

Initially, the LTTE tried to lure Amirthalingam to the Wanni under the guise of peace talks and make him ‘disappear’ there. But Amir would not swallow the bait.
Then the LTTE tricked the lovable but naive former Jaffna MP Vettrivelu Yogeswaran into promoting a TULF-LTTE dialogue in Colombo.

Three Tiger operatives went to the TULF Bullers Lane residence on July 13, 1989 and met with Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and TULF President and ex-Nallur MP Murugesu Sivasithamparam.

After eating biscuits and drinking tea, the Tigers pulled out their guns and fired.
A startled Sivasithamparam rose up suddenly from his seat. The bullets aimed at the head hit the six-footer in the chest. Thus, the TULF President survived with injuries. But Amir and Yoges were dead.

The bodyguards at the residence managed to shoot dead all three assassins. Visu and Aloysius were killed upstairs and Arivu downstairs.

Tragically, the bodyguards had been forced to allow the Tigers inside with weapons because of a ‘request’ made by Yogeswaran himself.

Apparently, Yogeswaran had said that the Tigers were feeling ‘insulted’ over being searched and asked the security to refrain from doing so.

This was how LTTE assassins broke all cultural norms of Tamil hospitality (virunthombal) and assassinated Amir and Yoges.
The very same LTTE is now shedding copious tears over the killing of TNA Parliamentarians.

Spate of killings

In 1990 June the LTTE struck in Madras (now Chennai). The Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) was having a meeting at Zackaria Colony in Kodambakkam. A Tiger hit squad invaded and sprayed bullets.

Among those killed were EPRLF Leader Padmanabha, North-East Provincial Minister Kirubaharan and Parliamentarian Yogasangari.

Current EPRLF leader and MP Suresh Premachandran had a miraculous escape as he had left the place a few minutes with another to smoke a cigarette outside.
The EPRLF had contested Parliament under the TULF umbrella in 1989. Yogasangari was elected from Jaffna District. He was the nephew (brother’s son) of present TULF President Veerasingham Anandasangaree.

Some weeks later the LTTE struck again in Colombo. Batticaloa District MP Sam Thambimuttu and wife Kala were on their way to the Canadian High Commission to get a visa when a Tiger assassin on a motorcycle fired and killed them both.

Sam Tambimuttu was a long-standing member of the FP and then the TULF but was now with the EPRLF. His wife Kala was the daughter of former FP senator Manickam. Their Tamil nationalist credentials were impeccable, but were perceived as traitors by the LTTE.

The next TULF MP to be killed by the LTTE was former Trincomalee District MP Arunasalam Thangathurai in 1997. He was killed while returning from a school function. An explosive device was flung and some teachers and government officials were also killed.

Tiruchelvam assassination

Then Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam was assassinated on July 29, 1999 in Colombo while on his way to his office in Kynsey Terrace when a suicide killer blew himself up.

Dr. Tiruchelvam had played a key role in maintaining TULF independence and also in attempting to reform the Constitution into accommodating Tamil rights.

After Dr. Tiruchelvam’s death, the ‘soul’ went out of the TULF. The bulk of what was left of the TULF simply prostrated itself before the LTTE and accepted Tiger hegemony.

Only Anandasangaree, elected TULF president after Sivasithamparam’s demise, rebelled against Tiger overlordship. He remains virtually a solitary TULF figure ‘unbowed and unafraid’ against the LTTE.

Another Tamil MP from the PLOTE was also killed by the LTTE during the ’90s of the 20th Century.
This was Shanmuganathan, alias Vasanthan, who was elected in 1994 from the Wanni electoral district. The vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a Tiger landmine in Vavuniya.

Meanwhile, the EPRLF breakaway faction led by Kathiravelu Devananda alias Douglas had formed itself into the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

Using the ‘captive’ votes of the islands of Jaffna, the EPDP, with about 10,000 votes, got nine seats from Jaffna District. The rest of the voters lived in LTTE-controlled areas and were not allowed to vote by the Tigers.

One of those elected on the EPDP ticket was Nadarajah Atputharajah, alias Ramesh, who edited the Thinamurasu weekly.

EPDP killing

Serious differences arose between Douglas and Ramesh with the latter gradually following a pro-Tiger line in the Thinamurasu tabloid. Douglas found it increasingly difficult to control Ramesh.

Then Ramesh and his brother-in-law were shot dead at Wellawatte. With that killing, Douglas re-established control over the paper. Though the LTTE was blamed by Douglas, it was widely suspected that it was an internal EPDP killing.
Ramesh’s death triggered off an exodus of EPDP Parliamentarians to foreign countries. Today Devananda is the lone EPDP MP in Parliament.

None of those elected as MPs from the EPDP are in the party today except for Devananda’s uncle Sivathasan and Batticaloa’s Rasamanickam.

Most of the EPDP ex-Parliamentarians are abroad and many of them, in their refugee claims, have blamed the Ramesh killing on Douglas. This speaks volumes about the inner democracy within the EPDP.

Another MP from the TULF was killed in the east in 2000. Nimalanayagam Soundaranayagam was elected from Batticaloa District. He was regarded as being close to the LTTE. He was shot dead near Kiran.

Initially, most people including this writer thought the LTTE was not responsible as Nimalan was perceived as pro-Tiger. The story behind the killing came to light gradually.

The LTTE Eastern Regional Commander of the time, “Col.” Karuna had asked Nimalan to smuggle in two Tiger suicide killers to Parliament. This was refused.

This defiance was strongly resented by the LTTE. Suspecting perhaps that Nimalan may leak out the matter, Karuna ordered his killing.

‘Tiger Nominated Agents’

The 21 Century saw the TULF, Tamil Congress, sections of the TELO and EPRLF submitting to LTTE authority. The newly-formed TNA consisted of all four entities and became a Tiger lackey.
As the EPDP’s Devananda is fond of saying, the TNA began to mean ‘Tiger Nominated Agents.’
Surrendering to the LTTE ensured TNA safety at the hands of the Tigers, but made it vulnerable in another sense.

Also complicating matters was the split in the LTTE where a sizeable section of the eastern Tigers revolted under the leadership of Karuna and formed the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP).
During the Parliamentary elections of 2004, TNA candidate Rajan Sathiyamoorthy and his brother-in-law were shot dead by the mainstream LTTE at their home.

Sathiyamoorthy was close to Karuna who staged a grand funeral for him and buried him with honours. In the night the LTTE dug his body up and threw it elsewhere in a half-burnt state.
The Tigers also forced another elected MP from Batticaloa, Kingsley Rajanayagam, to resign his seat. Kingsley was perceived as a Karuna loyalist.

After a while, when the Tigers suspected that the Karuna faction would take on a political role with Rajanayagam’s help, they assassinated him in Batticaloa.

Killing continues
Roles were reversed as the TMVP and EPDP, with state backing, began to adopt an aggressive approach. However, the killing of Tamil Parliamentarians and ex-MPs continued.
Former Ampara District TNA Parliamentarian Chandranehru Ariyanayagam, along with LTTE Political Commissar for Batticaloa Kausalyan and some others, were killed at Welikanda on the Batticaloa-Polonnaruwa border.

This was done by the Karuna faction led in the field by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pillaiyan. The armed forces were accused of aiding and abetting the killing.

Veteran eastern Tamil politician and TNA National List MP Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead at the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Batticaloa.

It was on Christmas Eve and Joseph and his wife Sugunam had received Holy Communion from Batticaloa Catholic Bishop Kingsley Swampillai and were returning to their pews.

The TMVP’s Sitha, alias Pradeep, and another, entered the church and shot them. Again, security force collaboration was visible.
Later Trincomalee TNA stalwart Vickneswaran was to be appointed in Pararajasingham’s place. Vickneswaran was assassinated in his office just 24 hours before he was to be nominated. The TMVP was responsible. Subsequently Chandranehru’s son Chandrakanth was nominated as National List MP.

Raviraj assassination

Jaffna District TNA Parliamentarian Nadarajah Raviraj was the next TNA victim. He was shot dead in broad daylight in Colombo just as he left home with his bodyguard.

The EPDP was implicated in this killing. The killers are suspected of having hidden in a place of worship before taking on their target. The slow ‘progress’ of the investigation makes many suspect high-level connivance in the killing.

The EPDP also struck in Jaffna when former TULF Jaffna District Parliamentarian Sivamaharajah was killed. Since Sivamaharajah was also running a newspaper, his killing was seen as being a media-related one.

His political background was overlooked. Incidentally Sivamaharajah and Devananda share a common ‘caste’ constituency.
The next Tamil Parliamentarian to be assassinated was the UNP’s Thiagarajah Maheswaran. He was killed at the Sivan Temple premises.

The EPDP was suspected because of business rivalry between Devananda and Maheswaran and also because the Colombo District MP had threatened to expose alleged EPDP killings in Jaffna.

Since the LTTE had tried to kill him in 2004 through an underworld killer, the LTTE was also suspected.
The brazen attempt by Police Chief Victor Perera to ‘influence’ investigations and point the finger at the Tigers seems to suggest that the state-backed EPDP was responsible. A massive cover-up may be in progress.

Selective amnesia

It is against this backdrop of a very long list of Tamil Parliamentarian assassinations that the killing of Sivanesan has to be viewed. The LRRP Deep Penetration Unit is suspected of being responsible.

If recent history is any indication, this certainly will not be the last assassination as far as Tamil Parliamentarians are concerned.
Today the LTTE and its supporters are lamenting loudly about elected Tamil Parliamentarians being assassinated. True!

At the same time, the LTTE is being selective in this and does not mention anything about the Tamil Parliamentarians and ex-MPs killed by the Tigers themselves.

This article is confined to only the assassinations of Tamil MPs and Tamil ex-MPs. Many Sinhala political leaders have also been killed by the LTTE and the JVP.

Likewise, the LTTE has killed at least one Muslim MP and a Muslim ex-MP. The Tigers have also killed a number of Tamil politicians who were not Parliamentarians or ex-Parliamentarians.
Former DDC Chairmen S. Nadarajah and R. Sambandamoorthy and Mayors like Sarojini Yogeswaran and Pon Sivapalan are but a few of these.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Afro-American radical Leader Malcolm X said, “The chickens have come home to roost.” Yet, within months, Malcolm X too was assassinated.
When the LTTE commenced killing Tamil politicians with different views after dubbing them as traitors, the moderate Tamil nationalists did not protest.

Soon the guns turned against them. The cancer infected other groups and also breakaway factions.
Surrendering to the LTTE removed one danger for Tamil Parliamentarians but rendered them vulnerable to other assassins.

Violence continues

What goes around comes around!
The violence continues. The cream of Tamil Parliamentarians was wiped out by the LTTE. The flotsam and the jetsam are being eradicated by state-backed Tamil groups.
Tamil Parliamentarians may come and go, but the violence against them continues like unceasing waves.
What is required now is not selective condemnation of one or the other side, but a genuine, wholesale rejection of political violence.

Tamils who thought that violence was the way to redress grievances and achieve aspirations began the armed struggle. Today the dream has become a nightmare and the very same violence is reducing the community to a sad plight.

The assassinations of Tamil MPs and Tamil ex-MPs are but a microcosm of the violent destruction enveloping Tamil society.
What Tamils society needs today is freedom from the ecology of the gun and liberation from an environment of political violence.

(D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at djeyaraj@federalidea.com)