and times of Sivasithamparam
D. B. S. Jeyaraj
departure of Murugesu Sivasithamparam evokes nostalgic memories of
a mercurial personality that strode like a colossus across the
Tamil political horizon. When news of Siva's death emerged, a
sadness enveloped most people who knew of him. In contrast, the
younger generation of Tamils who know very little about the
pre-militancy period of the Tamil non-violent struggle for
restoration of lost rights seemed the least concerned.
is relevant therefore to dwell briefly into Sivasithamparam's past to
know more about a man who devoted his life to the Tamil cause and made
great personal sacrifices for it.
was literally a towering personality in the political landscape of the
island. A well built six footer with a stentorian voice, the mercurial
Sivasithamparam was for more than four decades an accredited leader of
his people. The brilliant lawyer was a powerful orator and ebullient
debater who cut a flamboyant figure at the height of his career. He was
at the time of his death the senior-most Tamil parliamentarian, having
been nominated last year on the national list by the newly formed Tamil
was of aristocratic lineage being the scion of a "maniagar" or
hereditary chieftain in charge of a revenue division during British
colonial days. Sivasithamparam studied at Karaveddy Vikneshwara College
and St. Joseph's College in Colombo. He enrolled at the University
College and read for his BA. Despite the feudal upbringing, the younger
Sivasithamparam was enamoured of Marxism and a Communist Party supporter
in his undergraduate days. One reason for this apart from the idealism
of youth, was the influence of the legendary Pon. Kandiah or 'Communist'
Kandiah of Karaveddy.
dropped out of university after getting his London Inter and joined the
Law College becoming an advocate. He also abandoned his Communist
sympathies in later years and took up the cause of Tamil nationalism.
The process was gradual. In 1947 he supported Pon. Kandiah of the CP in
the Point Pedro electorate of old that encompassed Karaveddy. In 1952
while sympathetic to the CP still, Sivasithamparam supported his uncle
and well known lawyer K. C. Nadarajah, who contested as an independent
in Point Pedro. It was 'K. C'. who helped Sivasithamparam set up
practice in Colombo.
contested the Point Pedro electorate in the Jaffna peninsula as an
independent candidate in 1956, polled 8054 votes and lost to his former
mentor, Pon. Kandiah of the CP. Although an independent, he had the
support of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress led by G. G. Ponnambalam
for the campaign. The break with the CP was complete. The Federal
Party led by S. J. V. Chelvanayagam fielded K. Thurairatnam. Two years
later, Sivasithamparam joined the Tamil Congress and went on to become
its general secretary.
re-demarcation of 1959 saw the former Point Pedro being carved into
Udupiddy and Point Pedro. Siva was returned to parliament for the first
time in March, 1960 getting 7365 votes and winning the Udupiddy seat on
the Tamil Congress ticket. He defeated the sitting MP, Pon. Kandiah, his
one time guru by a majority of 1938. The left being divided, helped Siva
as the combined votes of the LSSP's R. R. Dharmaratnam and the CP was
higher than the TC's tally. Siva repeated his performance in 1960 July,
too, harvesting 9080 votes.
TC was routed by the FP in both elections. But the personal charisma and
popularity of Siva helped him withstand the T. Thamilarasu tidal wave.
He was then the sole representative of the Tamil Congress in a
parliament of 157 MPs. The mercurial Sivasithamparam and his unique
voice made a tremendous impression and the lobby correspondents of the
day referred to him as the most promising new face from the north in
parliament. Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike was his equivalent from the
1961, Sivasithamparam shed party differences and participated in the
massive Satyagraha campaign launched by the FP. He was a member of the
action committee in Jaffna. When the "illegal" Tamil Postal
Service was organised as part of civil disobedience, separate stamps and
envelopes were printed. Sivasithamparam was one of the 'postmen' and
delivered by motor cycle an 'official' letter informing the Jaffna
police superindent of the postal service. He was assaulted severely by
the army when trying to protect women Satyagrahis. He was hospitalised
incident increased Sivasithamparam's political stature among the Tamil
people. Interestingly Sivasithamparam was not placed under house arrest
at Panagoda along with FP leaders and stalwarts by the government. This
was a not so subtle move to divide the FP and TC who were coming close
politically. Sirimavo Bandaranaike's government resorted to such
stratagems in 1976 also. The newly formed TULF leaders were distributing
leaflets in Jaffna. Messrs A. Amirthalingam, M. Sivasithamparam, K. P.
Ratnam, K. Thurairatnam and V. N. Navaratnam were arrested. Then
Sivasithamparam of the Tamil Congress was released while the others, all
of them from the FP were taken to Colombo and detained for 10 days. This
was followed by the famous trial at bar case over charges of sedition
with 12009 votes won again on the Tamil Congress ticket in 1965 March,
in a triangular contest with the FP ( 8452) and LSSP( 5268). Again the
combined vote of his opponents was higher than Siva's total. But then,
the first past the post winner system in vogue permitted such winner
take all type of victories. The Tamil Congress with three seats joined
the national government of Dudley Senanayake. While Murugesan
Tiruchelvam of the FP became local government minister, the TC took no
1967, the then Speaker, Sir Albert Peries of Nattandiya died and was
succeeded by his deputy Shirley Corea of Chilaw. The deputy speaker's
office was filled by Sivasithamparam. He served as deputy speaker of
parliament from 1967 to 1970. He was proficient in all three languages
and presided over the House in a creditable mode. Once when T. B. M.
Herath of Walapane was troublesome, Sivasithamparam spoke to him in
chaste Sinhalese and tactfully persuaded the overwhelmed Herath to
yield. On another occasion Siva admonished his own leader G. G.
Ponnambalam, much to his chagrin for unfairly criticising Amirthalingam
when the latter was not present in the House.
spite of the prestige he acquired as deputy speaker, Sivasithamparam
lost his seat in 1970 to the Federal Party in what was widely regarded
as an electoral upset as the 'Udupiddy lion', regarded as unbeatable was
beaten in his own den. Three factors contributed. First, the FP
candidate K. Jeyakkody, a former district judge had contested and lost
all three previous elections and cut a pathetic figure. There was a
groundswell of sympathy on account of this.
the large numbers of so called "low caste" Tamils who had
voted along with progressive Tamils for the left parties were now
disillusioned with both LSSP and CP for aligning with the racist and
reactionary SLFP. These sections deserted these left parties and
preferred the comparatively progressive FP to the more conservative
Tamil Congress and Sivasithamparam.
Sivasithamparam's own cousin Pon. Kumaraswamy contested on the CP
ticket. This created a major split among relatives, fellow villagers and
family oriented supporters. While some voted for Kumaraswamy many
remained non-committal and aloof, voting for neither. A combination of
all three factors saw Sivasithamparam with 11662 votes losing to
Jeyakkody with 12918 by 1256.
defeat was a blessing in disguise for Tamil nationalism. Like Siva, the
FP's Secretary Appapillai Amirthalingam also lost in Vaddukkoddai. Both
defeated leaders - easily the single most popular younger leaders in
their respective parties. - began working together in the larger
interests of the community. The turbulent seventies saw the Tamil
parties forming together the Tamil United Front in 1972 which went on to
become the Tamil United Liberation Front in 1976. The TULF contested the
1977 elections on a separatist platform.
Udupiddy electorate had a substantial concentration of so called low
caste Tamils. Sivasithamparam moved out of the constituency to Nallur at
the polls to enable a minority Tamil candidate to be fielded. Former
educationist T. Rasalingam contested and won in Udupiddy.
Sivasithamparam though contesting the unfamiliar semi-urban terrain of
Nallur, was riding the crest of a TULF wave. He swept the seat with
29858 votes and created history by recording the largest majority of 28,
137 votes in the entire country in that election.
TULF with 18 seats was the largest opposition party in 1977. Appapillai
Amirthalingam and Murugesu Sivasithamparam became leader and deputy
leader of the opposition respectively. Sivasithamparam became president
and Amirthalingam, secretary-general of the TULF in 1978. Thereafter,
Amir was referred to as the nation's leader (Inathin thalaiver) and Siva
as the movement's leader (Iyakkathin thalaiver).
elected on a separatist mandate, the TULF was prepared to compromise. It
tried to cooperate with Jayewardene over the district minister system,
the Devolution Commission and the District Development Councils (DDC).
It accepted the DDCs against the wishes of the extremists and the
the DDC polls campaign was underway, violence broke out in Jaffna with
the police running riot. Several TULF leaders including Amir and Siva
were arrested and later released. The TULF won all DDCs in the north and
Trincomalee and Batticaloa in the east. Had the UNP government allowed
the DDCs to work, it may have helped stem the growing tide of violence.
But the UNP did not and instead tried to undermine the TULF. Matters
declined rapidly thereafter.
1983 July violence resulted in a tragic upheaval for the Tamil minority.
Thousands of families were affected and uprooted. Sivasithamparam's
house in Norris Canal Road and both vehicles in Colombo too were burnt
and his family members escaped death miraculously. Siva himself was at
Mannar for the TULF convention then. The Sivasithamparam family along
with many others relocated to Tamil Nadu. Former Chief Minister M. G.
Ramachandran allocated a flat to the family. The TULF president has
since remained a resident of Chennai although interspersed with long
periods of absence to do politicking in Sri Lanka while leaving his
TULF forfeited their parliamentary seats by refusing to take the
mandatory oath of allegiance to a unitary state as provided for by the
hastily passed sixth amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution in August
1983. The TULF however welcomed the good offices of India and cooperated
fully in the mediatory efforts undertaken by New Delhi. Sivasithamparam
along with TULF colleagues Amirthalingam and Sambandan participated in
all forms of Indian sponsored negotiations. These included the Colombo
All Party Conference of 1984, the aborted talks in Bhutan in 1985, New
Delhi-Chennai-Colombo talks of 1986 and the 1987 discussions in India.
In 1987 the TULF accepted the Indo-Lanka accord and re-entered the
political mainstream of the island.
contested the Jaffna and Wanni electoral districts in 1989 and 1994
respectively. Earlier he was reluctant to contest in 1989 along with
other ex-militant groups under a common symbol. He was persuaded to do
so against his better judgement by Amirthalingam. He failed to gain
representation in the polls conducted under the propotional
representation system because of its inherent defects and vote rigging
survived with injuries an assassination attempt by the LTTE in 1989.
TULF leaders Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran were killed in the incident.
He was shot in the chest and underwent a long stint in hospital.
Thereafter the mantle of TULF leadership was Sivasithamparam's. He
shuttled between India and Sri Lanka while facing considerable hardship.
TULF was actively involved in the peacemaking efforts of President
Chandrika Kumaratunga from 1994 to 1997 and Sivasithamparam himself
played a commendable role in it. Ill health and growing disillusionment
with Kumaratunga compelled him in 1998 to return and stay continuously
in Chennai till early this year. By this time he was thoroughly
skeptical of Kumaratunga and was virtually "retired" from
political life. He did not contest the elections of 2000 and 2001.
2001 poll however saw four parties including the TULF
forming the Tamil National Alliance and contesting. It won 14
seats and on the basis of votes received entitled to one nominated seat
on a national basis. Sivasithamparam was the unanimous choice for the
seat. Any other being nominated, would have shattered fragile TNA unity
because of infighting. But there was no vetoing Siva. Besides, the
alliance needed a well known leader respected by all shades of opinion.
Also there were prospects of peace again with the victory of
his failing health the old war-horse returned to Colombo in a wheelchair
to become an MP again and play once again a role in the island's
politics, albeit under changed circumstances. The divinity that shapes
our ends had other plans. Sivasithamparam leaves behind his wife, son
and daughter and their families. The son is in Britain and the daughter
in India. His son in law is an Indian national.
squibs dominate dull week
last week was a totally dull affair, with two extended adjournment
debates dominating proceedings. Both had been agreed at the party
leaders' meeting held the previous Friday. One was the adjournment
debate proposed by TULF Trincomalee District Member, R. Sampanthan on
the cease-fire violations, the other, cricketer turned politician Arjuna
Ranatunga's motion on the state of the Cricket Board.
much vaunted 18th Amendment to the constitution did not make its
appearance, leaving the nation in suspense yet again. With developments
outside the House dominating the news, parliamentary proceedings were
relegated to a position of minor importance.
aid group meeting and the SLFP annual convention dominated political
small talk. The former for the manner in which donors had shifted from
finance to peace making and the latter for the manner in which President
Chandrika Kumaratunga was playing pandu with the SLFP. Proposing the
adjournment debate, Sampanthan said that the only way towards a peaceful
solution to the north-east conflict was by way of forming an interim
administration. He listed ceasefire violations committed by the security
forces and argued that the LTTE's arms shipments were due to the fact
that successive governments had deceived the Tamil people.
colleague from the Batticaloa District, Joseph Pararajasingham lamented
that the cease-fire agreement was not as spectacular now as when it was
signed. He said that the goodwill between the two warring parties had
gone down since the signing of the agreement. He blamed certain sections
within the armed forces for acting contrary to the cease-fire agreement
and made specific reference to the continued fishing restrictions and
the occupation of public buildings by the security forces.
G. L. Peiris thought it fit to give attention to the aid group meeting
set to commence in 48 hours, observing that donors had been willing to
commit funds to the rehabilitation of the north-east even before
complete normalcy had been restored. He told the House that
reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war-ravaged region would be one
of the prime topics at the aid group meeting.
was MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena and JVPer Anura Kumara Dissanayake who
came out as dissenting voices. Gunawardena who has been in the forefront
of the PA/JVP protest campaign against the peace process, questioned the
TULF whether its members sanctioned the killings of party stalwarts by
the LTTE. He also said he had information regarding abductions by the
LTTE and other crimes. He referred to the TULF as a group that was
holding a brief for the LTTE and said the whole country was for peace
but that they were against the promotion of the rules set by the LTTE.
to vacation of camps by the armed forces, Gunawardena said that it would
have been alright if the LTTE also reciprocated. He warned that the
government was trapped in the whole process. Dissanayake too spoke in
the same vein.
Minister Thilak Marapone replying for the government said the armed
forces had vacated all but three temples where the monks and the people
had asked them to remain. He added that it was however, difficult to
clearly define places of worship. "We are not blindly walking into
a minefiled," he assured the nation, arguing that the government
was aware of the pitfalls and dangers involved in the process.
week however closed a chapter in parliament when TULF stalwart and
former Deputy Speaker A. Sivasithamparam passed away on Tuesday night.
opens door to elephant slaughter
Nihal de Silva
week's announcement by Agriculture Minister S. B. Dissanayake that the
government will issue firearms to farmers to protect their crops sent
shock waves across the nature conservation establishment. According to
Dissanayake, crop depredation by wild boar! has reached epidemic
proportions, and given that they have no arms with which to defend their
fields, farmers are forced to watch idly by as wild boar! lay waste to
is right: farmers, especially rice and vegetable farmers, have a serious
problem with wild boar. Since farmers (and almost everyone else) were
deprived of their guns in the late 1980s as a result of the JVP
insurgency, wild boar populations have increased to menacing
proportions. Large sounders of pigs roam farmlands by night, rooting
crop plants and creating losses that must, on a national scale, amount
with hare, porcupine and monkeys, wild boar are considered pest species
under the law, and may legally be killed, although the transport and
sale of their flesh is prohibited. The image of farmers (merely in order
to avoid having to transport the flesh) tearing apart freshly-killed
boars in a paddy field and roasting chops over a barbecue in the fashion
popularised by Asterix and Obelix surely drives home the fact that the
law's an ass. What is more, given that firearms are prohibited, hunting
is today the province of the habitually criminal poacher, and wild boar
flesh is available for sale in almost every small town from Morawaka to
Medawachchiya at prices as low as Rs 40 a kilo. In many places, the
police play a pivotal role in the trade: after all, they have the guns
and the free ammunition.
visitor to Sri Lanka's dry zone national parks knows that gunshots ring
out throughout the night, making it clear that poaching is rampant. In
Pottuvil, on the eastern side of Yala, organised gangs of poachers do
brisk trade in venison and wild pork (which is far cheaper than the tame
variety). Regardless of this, boar are an agricultural pest of epidemic
proportions, and it is no doubt through frustration as much as anything
else that Minister Dissanayake has taken the drastic step he has.
impact of putting guns in the hands of farmers however, could be
catastrophic for elephants. When it comes to raiding farmlands,
elephants are every bit as bad as wild boar. And even without guns, Sri
Lanka's farmers succeed in killing at least 1,261 elephants (that is the
official figure) during the decade ending 2001. Barring a handful of
tuskers shot for ivory, the vast majority were killed in defence of
crops. That translates into roughly one elephant killed every 70 hours
over the past 10 years. And some years, such as last year, have been
much worse: one elephant was killed every 54 hours.
future of Sri Lanka's elephant population given this extraordinary war
of attrition, is surely bleak. However, there is hope. Effective
management and enforcement by the Department of Wildlife Conservation
can make a world of difference. For example, in 1990 and 1991, when the
department was headed by the maverick Professor S. W. Kotagama, only 49
and 59 elephants respectively, met their deaths. With Kotagama's ouster
in 1992, ironically as a result of the deaths of three elephants
captured for the wildlife author Mark Shand, elephant deaths rose to 103
in 1993. They have stayed well above those figures since. And from the
conservationists who cried out for Kotagama's dismissal in the heat of
the Shand Affair, few alternative solutions have been forthcoming.
proposal to put guns in the hands of farmers should be resisted. His
intention is that the issue of firearms to individual farmers would be
based on recommendations made by Samurdhi animators and rural credit
organisations. Jumping the gun, as it were, the minister has already
sent application forms for firearms to the various divisional
secretariats. His decision, it seems, was precipitated by a survey
conducted by the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agricultural Training Institute. It
is now clear that neither the Wildlife Department nor its minister,
Rukman Senanayake, was consulted by Dissanayake. Neither has the
Kobbekaduwa Institute looked into the wider ramifications of issuing
firearms to farmers, for it is not only elephants that are at risk.
is necessary to acknowledge the fact that thanks to the JVP and LTTE,
Sri Lankan society has sunk to a level of barbarism that would be the
envy of the Taliban. Cruel and bloody murders are commonplace, as events
of just the last few weeks have shown. Law and order have sunk to their
lowest depths, and the UNF government has shown itself hardly more able
than the PA in curbing this trend. Despite their being relieved of
duties at checkpoints and sentry posts, the police have displayed
neither the enthusiasm nor the ability to check the violence. The arming
of farmers in this milieu, especially if overseen by an organisation as
politically stilted as Samurdi is, would be suicidal. Its impact on
crime would be incalculable.
issue of conflict between farmers and wildlife must be resolved through
better management and not by force of arms. As far as the farmer is
concerned, there is little difference between a boar and an elephant,
except perhaps that the boar can be eaten. Yet, farmers are in a genuine
plight. A whole year's labour and investment can be laid waste in one
single night; their vigil is endless. The solution must come not from
the slaughter of wildlife that enters farmland, but from better planning
and land use. If the government goes on settling farmers in the midst of
wildlife corridors, then conflict is inevitable. However, if indeed the
Wildlife Department goes on to help farmers in wildlife - especially
elephant - areas to convert to more nature-friendly means of earning a
livelihood, then conflict will reduce.
of what is done, the answer is not to distribute guns willy-nilly and
precipitate a war against wildlife. What is needed is a rational
evaluation of viable solutions and a long, hard look at turning wildlife
and agriculture into bedfellows. That is the challenge before Wildlife
Minister Rukman Senanayake: as a grandson of the father of modern-day
agriculture in Sri Lanka, who better than he to tackle this elephantine
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