The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization ceased to be a functional entity in Sri Lanka after being militarily defeated by the armed forces in May 2009. The LTTE known widely as the Tigers was a powerful armed militant group which ruled over swathes of land in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the Island for several years.
In its heyday, the LTTE exercised autocratic control over Tamil public life in Sri Lanka and even amidst the global Tamil Diaspora. The tigers brooked no political dissent or criticism among Tamils. Those who did not toe the LTTE line or dared to defy tiger diktat were ruthlessly dealt with. Many Tamil politicians who “offended” the tigers at different times were assassinated. This resulted in most Tamil political leaders of yore becoming subservient to the LTTE in those days.
Nevertheless, there were a few honourable exceptions to this norm too. These courageous politicians of principle not only challenged the LTTE openly but also managed to survive physically. Due to their refusal to kowtow before the tigers, they suffered politically and were reduced to being powerless politicians.. Their only consolation was the courage of their convictions and the satisfaction of retaining their self-respect by not bowing before tyrannical power.
One such democratic Tamil leader who refused to kowtow before the tigers is an octogenarian who will soon become a nonagenarian. Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Secretary-General and former Kilinochchi and Jaffna Parliamentarian Veerasingham Anandasangaree will turn 90 on June 15, 2023. A grand 90th Birthday celebration will be held at Kanakapuram in Kilinochchi on the same day. It is being organized by party members, supporters and well-wishers.
The TULF formed on May 14, 1976, swept the polls in the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the July 1977 Parliamentary Elections by winning 18 out of 19 Tamil majority seats. Of these 18 MPs, only 3 are among the living now. The first is former Batticaloa MP Chelliah Rajadurai who is retired from politics now. The second is the present Trincomalee district MP Rajavarothayam Sampanthan. The third is Anandasangaree elected from Kilinochchi then. The first two are nonagenarians while the third will join their ranks next Thursday.
This column focuses on Veerasingham Anandasangaree this week to denote the 90th birth anniversary of the TULF leader. I have written extensively about Anandasangaree known as Sangaree in the past. This article will draw from such writings.
His first experience in running for electoral office was in 1959 when he contested the Colombo Municipal Council on the LSSP ticket. His opponent was none other than the uncrowned king of Colombo Municipal politics V. A. Sugathadasa
June 15, 1933
Born in Point Pedro on June 15, 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 kept practising law till 1983 when the TULF leaders refused to take oaths under the 6th amendment to the constitution. He has not worn the black coat ever since.
Those who did not toe the LTTE line or dared to defy tiger diktat were ruthlessly dealt with. Many Tamil politicians who “offended” the tigers at different times were assassinated
He passed out as a lawyer in 1967 and kept practising law till 1983 when the TULF leaders refused to take oaths under the 6th amendment to the constitution. He has not worn the black coat ever since
Sangaree has always been a brave and intrepid fighter. Contesting as a 26-year-old man from Jaffna against UNP Colombo Mayor V.A. Sugathadasa in 1959
The 1983 violence and the Sixth Constitutional 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 Lanka
Lanka Sama Samaja Party
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 Samaja 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 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 country. NM asked Sangaree to contest the newly carved rural constituency of Kilinochchi as an 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 in March 1960 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 who were of 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.
All Ceylon Tamil Congress
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 became 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.
Tamil United Liberation Front
In 1977, the Tamil United Liberation Front 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 Sixth Constitutional 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 Lanka.
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.
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 Tamil National Alliance (TNA) under the party symbol of sun. Again Sangaree topped the list gaining over 36,000 preferences.
Fell Foul of the LTTE
The situation changed when the TULF leader fell foul of the LTTE. Sangaree’s problems with the LTTE began because he stood up for the party and discouraged the Tigers from interfering too much in TULF matters. When Anton Balasingham made insulting remarks about the TULF, it was Sangaree then in Canada who issued an effective rejoinder. The TULF rank and file was overjoyed by Sangaree’s defiance.
The late Raviraj stated publicly at the TULF meeting that it was Sangaree who salvaged the self-respect of the party. This was the beginning of the dispute between the LTTE and Sangaree. Yet when the LTTE exerted pressure, the TULF bigwigs shamelessly threw Sangaree to the wolves, or in this case the Tigers.
After Anandasangaree was first elected Senior Vice President of the TULF in 1993, he 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 the 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 renaissance to this man’s courage and dedication turned against Sangaree when the LTTE wanted him out. Sangaree did not give in and went to court. He succeeded and continued to remain leader of the TULF. The TULF sun symbol under which the TNA contested was retained by Sangaree. The TNA then revived the dormant Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) and contested the 2004 polls under the House symbol. Sangaree was ousted from the TNA and contested separately as TULF but was roundly defeated in an election that was neither free nor fair.
The man displayed a rare fighting ability after his defeat. Instead of slinking into political oblivion with their tucked between hind legs or going out to pasture with his children in Britain, Canada or Denmark, Anandasangaree chose to remain in Sri Lanka 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 and intrepid 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; combatting 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 TULF boldly instead of caving into tiger pressure are all indicators of his courage and determination.
Sangaree has struggled to keep the TULF alive amidst great adversity. He sold his jeep, lands and some other personal assets to keep the party afloat. Some loyal TULF members, supporters and personal admirers chipped in to provide additional finances. He also fought many legal battles relating to politics. Recently the veteran leader thwarted a plot by vested interests to take control of the party. The TULF is now a caricature of its former self but it is yet independent like its leader.
What is remarkable about Sangaree was his dogged determination to articulate his viewpoint independently during the war years when the LTTE was ruling the Tamil roost. While there were many voices within the Tamil nationalist spectrum and among the human rights community to condemn the State and its minions, there were comparatively few voices among Tamils who were critical of the LTTE. The Tigers were a holy cow for most Tamils and few Tamils dared to differ let alone criticise it. It became in the words of famed Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi the “Paesaap Porul” or unspeakable theme.
But not for Sangaree. He waded into those dangerous waters without hesitation. He was branded a traitor and a knave and as a man who sold out and as one who has sold his soul, etc. Yet he firmly stood his ground, continuing to do what he thought was right. By doing so he touched upon many issues that were “untouchable” among Tamil political and media circles. Sangaree also succeeded in giving voice to the unexpressed sentiments of the silenced Tamil majority during the war. He was often the voice of the voiceless Tamils under the tiger jackboot.
Despite the overwhelming odds, Sangaree has remained steadfast to his political mission. The tigerish elements and their fellow travellers have slandered and condemned him as a traitor but all right-thinking people with a proper understanding of what had been going on in Sri Lanka have only praise for this man’s dedication and courage.
This column wishes “Sangaree Annan” well as he celebrates his magical 90th Birthday.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org