Last TULF Leader standing
Sangaree at 75
is a man with a mission. He has two goals. One is to ensure that
Sri Lankans in general and Tamils in particular live in peace,
equality and amity. For this he sees a federal set up on the
Indian model as the solution. Secondly, he wants the Tamil
people to be truly free. For this he wants the iron grip of the
LTTE to be relaxed. He wants the LTTE to reform or face
What has been remarkable about the man is his
dogged determination to articulate his viewpoint and advocate a
negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis on federal lines. He
speaks out against the war and wants the problem to be resolved
peacefully. Sangaree admires the Indian model and wants Sri
Lanka to follow that example. He wants ethnic amity and harmony
based on justice and equality
Eighteen members were elected to Parliament from the Tamil
United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1977. This was an election of
historic importance, where the TULF contested on a separatist
platform, saying a victory at the polls was a mandate for Tamil
Three decades and more have passed since then. Thirteen of the
18 MPs elected in 1977 are not among the living now. Of the
remaining ex-MPs, three have retired from politics. They are K.P.
Ratnam, C. Rajadurai and P. Soosaithasan.
The two veteran TULF leaders who are in active politics at
present are Rajavarothayam Sambandan and Veerasingham
Both are at loggerheads with each other, though Anandasangaree
is the TULF President and Sambandan its Secretary General. A
legal dispute concerning the party has rendered it virtually
Keeping the TULF flag flying
Many leaders of the TULF have, in association with three other
Tamil parties, formed the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which
contested the last elections under the House symbol of the
Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK). Sambandan himself was
elected to Parliament from the Trincomalee District.
Anandasangaree, or Sangaree as he is generally known, remains
outside the TNA and functions as the TULF President.
The TULF is today a caricature of its former self, mainly due to
the terror and intimidating tactics of the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
While most of the ‘nominal’ TULF leaders have become puppets of
the LTTE, the bulk of the rank and file still remain loyal to
the TULF. However, they are unable to assert themselves openly
Against such a backdrop, it has been the lot of Party President
Anandasangaree to keep the TULF flag flying bravely. In recent
times, Sangaree has become the personification of the TULF.
In that sense, Veerasingham Anandasangaree is today the last man
standing of the TULF leaders. One doubts very much whether there
would ever be a TULF after him.
Today (June 15) is a significant milepost for Sangaree as he
celebrates his 75th birthday today.
Born in Point Pedro in June 1933, Anandasangaree grew up in
Atchuvely as his father was a school principal at Sri Somaskanda
College in neighbouring Puthur. Sangaree himself studied at Sri
Somaskanda, Christian College Atchuvely, Hartley College, Point
Pedro and also Zahira College, Colombo.
Before taking up law, Sangaree was a pedagogue teaching at Hindu
College Jaffna, Poonakari MMV, Kotalawela GTM School, Ratmalana
and Christ King College, Ja Ela.
He passed out as a lawyer in 1967 and continued practicing until
1983, when the TULF leaders refused to take oaths under the 6th
Amendment to the Constitution. He has not worn the black coat
Like many political leaders on both sides of the ethnic divide,
Sangaree too began his politics as an ardent Trotskyite. He was
an active member of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party (LSSP) Youth
League from 1955 to 1965.
His first experience in running for electoral office was in 1959
when he contested the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) on the
LSSP ticket. His opponent was none other than the uncrowned king
of Colombo Municipal politics, V.A. Sugathadasa, who was also
Mayor then. It was a baptism of fire in Colombo for the
25-year-old Jaffna youth.
The March 1960 elections saw the LSSP under Dr. N.M. Perera make
a determined bid for political power through electoral politics.
The party contested 101 seats in all parts of the island and NM
himself was projected as the future prime minister of the
NM asked Sangaree to contest the newly-carved rural constituency
of Kilinochchi as a LSSP candidate. Anandasangaree, having no
links to Kilinochchi, was reluctant.
NM encouraged him to plunge in saying that even if the “unknown”
Sangaree lost, then he would win the seat in 10 years time. NM’s
words in 1960 were prophetic and in 1970 Anandasangaree was
elected for the first time to Parliament from Kilinochchi.
Only he was no longer a Trotskyite but a Tamil Congress
candidate, having embraced Tamil nationalism. The LSSP, however,
fared poorly, winning only 10 seats.
Sangaree contested the March 1960, July 1960 and March 1965
elections in Kilinochchi under the Key symbol of the LSSP. He
got 1,114, 2,011 and 1,804 votes respectively. He lost both
times in 1960 to S. Sivasundaram and in 1965 to K.P. Ratnam,
both from the Federal Party (FP).
In 1966, the LSSP now aligned with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP),
adopted the communal “Dudleyge Bade Masala Vadai” line and
opposed the reasonable use of Tamil as an official language in
1966. Sangaree, like many Tamil LSSPers, quit the party.
He joined the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) led by G.G.
Ponnambalam Snr. in May 1966. Earlier, he contested and won the
Kilinochchi town ward in the Karaichi Village Council.
He functioned as its Chairman from 1965 to 1968. In 1968, it was
elevated to Town Council status. Sangaree contested, won and
became the first Kilinochchi TC Chairman. He functioned in that
capacity till the end of 1969.
January 1970 saw Sangaree become Youth Front President of the
Tamil Congress. In May 1970, he won Kilinochchi on the cycle
symbol of the ACTC and defeated Alalasundaram of the FP by 657
votes. The ACTC got 9,049 to the FP’s 8,392.
The Tamil United Front (TUF) was formed in May 1972. This became
the TULF in May 1976. This period saw Anandasangaree’s stock
rising in Tamil politics. The Tamil Congress had three MPs in
1970. They were Arulampalam of Nallur, Thiyagarajah of
Vaddukkoddai and Anandasangaree of Kilinochchi.
Arulampalam and Thiyagarajah opted to join the United Front
government. Sangaree, despite his left leanings and respect for
NM, refused to cross over and remained in the ranks of the Tamil
nationalists. His stature increased greatly because of this.
In 1977, the TULF swept the elections riding the crest of a
Tamil Eelam wave. Sangaree contested Kilinochchi again and
polled 15,607 votes obtaining a majority of 11,601.
The 1983 violence and the 6th Amendment saw the TULF out in the
political wilderness. Sangaree, like many other TULF figures,
relocated to Madras but kept shuttling between India and Sri
In 1989, the TULF re-entered the political mainstream. Sangaree
contested the Jaffna electoral district in 1989 and the Wanni
District in 1994 on behalf of the TULF and lost in both.
Topping the list
In 2000, Anandasangaree was the chief candidate on the TULF
ticket again in Jaffna. The TULF got three seats and Sangaree
got the highest amount of preferences.
In 2001, the TULF contested as part of the TNA under the party
symbol of the Rising Sun. Again Sangaree topped the list gaining
over 36,000 preferences.
Anandasangaree was elected senior vice president of the TULF in
1993 and proved to be a tower of strength to the party when it
was at the receiving end of systematic violence by the Tigers.
He was instrumental in reviving flagging fortunes of the TULF in
Jaffna by taking over the Jaffna Municipal Council election
campaign in 1998.
At a time when the TULF was under grave threat from the LTTE, it
was Sangaree who rallied the party around and provided moral
strength to withstand the pressure. He planted himself in Jaffna
and spearheaded the Jaffna Municipal poll campaign. It was this
success which helped the TULF restore lost prestige and regain a
firm footing in Jaffna politics again.
Yet the very same TULF, which owed its current existence to this
man’s courage and dedication, turned against him when the LTTE
wanted him out. The man displayed a rare fighting ability after
Instead of slinking into political oblivion with tail tucked
between hind legs or going out to pasture with his children in
Britain, Canada or Denmark, Anandasangaree chose to remain in
Colombo and fight it out. Instead of keeping mum or adopting the
path of least resistance, Sangaree opted to take the bull by its
horns – or the Tiger by its jaws.
Sangaree has always been a brave fighter. Contesting as a
26-year-old man from Jaffna against UNP Colombo Mayor V.A.
Sugathadasa in 1959; parachuting as an unknown outsider into the
unknown Kilinochchi in 1960 as LSSP candidate; going against his
two Tamil Congress parliamentary colleagues and voting against
the 1972 Constitution; combating the “powerful” campaign of SLFP
Tamil Cabinet Minister Chelliah Kumarasuriar in 1977; engaging
in bitter acrimony with fellow TULF members over his demand to
carve out Kilinochchi as a separate district from that of Jaffna;
defying the LTTE during Jaffna Municipal elections and its
aftermath; resisting his ouster from the TULF boldly instead of
caving into Tiger pressure, etc., are all indicators of his
courage and determination.
His finest hours, however, have come during his twilight years
as a septuagenarian. Sangaree has been struggling to keep the
party alive amidst great adversity.
What has been remarkable about the man is his dogged
determination to articulate his viewpoint and advocate a
negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis on federal lines. He
speaks out against the war and wants the problem to be resolved
Sangaree admires the Indian model and wants Sri Lanka to follow
that example. He wants ethnic amity and harmony based on justice
Anandasangaree is a man with a mission. He has two goals.
One is to ensure that Sri Lankans in general and Tamils in
particular live in peace, equality and amity. For this he sees a
federal set up on the Indian model as the solution.
Secondly, he wants the Tamil people to be truly free. For this
he wants the iron grip of the LTTE to be relaxed. He wants the
LTTE to reform or face consequences.
While there are many voices within the Tamil nationalist
spectrum and among the human rights community to condemn the
state and its minions, there are comparatively few voices amidst
Tamils who criticise the LTTE.
The Tiger is a holy cow for most Tamils and few Tamils dare to
differ, let alone criticise it. It has become in the words of
famed Tamil poet Subramania Bharathy the “Pesaap Porul” – or
But not for Sangaree. He has been wading into these dangerous
waters without hesitation. He has been branded traitor and as
one who has sold his soul, etc. Yet he firmly stands his ground
continuing to do what he thinks is right.
By doing so he has touched on many issues that are “untouchable”
among Tamil political and media circles. Sangaree has also
succeeded in giving voice to the unexpressed sentiments of the
silenced Tamil majority. He is often the voice of the voiceless
Sangaree, like the mythical Sisyphus, keeps trying to roll the
boulder upwards not only with Tamil hardliners but also with
Sinhala hawks. He has engaged in discussions with the Janatha
Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).
Sangaree has met with UNP and SLFP leaders. He has interacted
with Indian, Norwegian, Canadian and officials of other
countries. His passion is for a federal solution where all
communities could co-exist peacefully.
Even recently he reiterated his commitment to a federal solution
before the President despite Mahinda Rajapaksa’s preference for
a unitary state. Sangaree has also objected strongly to the
appointment of Douglas Devananda as head of the Special Task
Force for Northern Development.
Personal loss and suffering
His abhorrence of war and espousal of non-violence stems very
much from very personal loss, suffering and pain. Sangaree has
lost many relatives to political violence and terror.
His elder brother Rajasangaree was the Chairman of
Chavakachcheri Citizens’ Committee during the Indian Army
period. Rajasangaree spoke out against Indian Army atrocities
and was killed by the EPRLF on October 26, 1987.
Anandasangaree’s younger brother Gnanasangaree was killed in
Kilinochchi by the LTTE for criticising the Tigers publicly.
This happened on February 10, 1988. Two of Gnanasangaree’s sons
spoke out publicly against their father’s killing. They were
taken away by the Tigers for questioning. They never returned.
Another brother, Ganeshasangaree’s son was Yogasangaree. This
nephew of Anandasangaree was elected as an EPRLF Member of
Parliament for Jaffna District in 1989.
On June 19, 1990, Yogasangaree was in Madras for an EPRLF
meeting at Kodambakkam with Secretary General Padmanabha. LTTE
assassins suddenly entered and sprayed the hall with machine gun
fire. Fourteen, including Padmanabha and Yogasangaree, died.
On July 7, 2005, terrorists in Britain set off human bomb
explosions in subway trains and a surface bus. One of those
killed was a young girl of Sri Lankan origin. She was Sayanuja,
the daughter of another brother of Anandasangaree named
So when Anandasangaree speaks out against war and political
violence and speaks of a negotiated settlement and peaceful
coexistence, he speaks from the heart. Despite the overwhelming
odds, he has remained steadfast to his political mission.
In that sense, the past few years are perhaps the best and most
productive period of his life. The LTTE and its minions may
slander and condemn him as a traitor but all right thinking
people with a proper understanding of what is going on in Sri
Lanka will have only praise for this man’s dedication and
This column wishes him well on this day as he reaches the
magical age of 75!
Jeyaraj can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)