30th June 2002, Volume 8, Issue 50

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ISSUES

Former Trotskyite now leads the TULF

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

Veerasingham Anandasangaree is the new leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the largest moderate political party of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The party’s highest decision making body — the Central Working Committee — met on June 23 in Colombo and elected the 69 year old lawyer turned politician unanimously as its president. Anandasangaree known generally as Sangaree had been earlier functioning as the senior vice president of the party since 1993.

He was also the acting president of the TULF from September 1998 to December 2001 in the absence of former party president Murugesu Sivasithamparam who was away in India due to illness and returned only last December. After Sivasithamparam’s demise, Anandasangaree became acting President again on June 5 and held the post until being formally elected last Sunday.

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, Kotelawela GTM School, Ratmalana and Christ King College Ja-Ela. He passed out as a lawyer in 1967 and began 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 ever since.

Baptism of five

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 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 baptimism 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 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 having embraced Tamil nationalism but, as a Tamil Congress candidate. 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 1114, 2011 and 1804 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 LSSP’ers 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 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 9049 to the FP’s 8392. The seventies saw the main Tamil parties sink their differences and forging unity.

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. Congress stalwarts like G. G. Ponnambalam, M. Sivasithamparam, T. Sivasithamparam, V. Kumaraswamy, N. Nadarajah, T. Sivagnanam, S. Sivanesan, etc. had lost. It was left to the newly elected trio to don the mantle of parliamentary leadership.

Refused to cross

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 sprawling electorate of Kilinochchi was primarily agrarian and relatively undeveloped. It was part of the Jaffna administrative district. Thus, a Tamil farmer from the rural backwoods of Kilinochchi had to travel a very long distance to attend to matters at the Jaffna kachcheri. So, Sangaree began advocating the redemarcation of Kilinochchi as a separate administrative district. This incurred the wrath of fellow TULF MPs from Jaffna and Sangaree became quite unpopular. In 1983 in the aftermath of the July violence the UNP government utilised the absence of TULF MPs in parliament and created the Kilinochchi District.

The 1983 violence 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 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 TNA under the party symbol of rising sun. Again Sangaree topped the list gaining over 36,000 preferences.

Sangaree has served in several capacities for the TULF, being its propaganda secretary from 1976 to 1983 and a politburo member from 1983 to 1993. He has attended several international conferences as a parliamentarian in Britain, Zambia, Austria, Norway and Switzerland.

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.

Thereafter, when two TULF Jaffna mayors Sarojini Yogeswaran and Pon Sivapalan along with a mayoral aspirant Mathimugarajah were successively assassinated by the LTTE, Anandasangaree took up permanent residence in Jaffna and rallied the demoralised TULF. He also spearheaded its parliamentary election campaign in  Jaffna during 2000 and 2001.

Prominent role

Anandasangaree also received wide media coverage in Tamil Nadu when he accompanied and assisted his former leader and top notch international lawyer G. G. Ponnambalam (Senior) at the Sarkaria Commission sittings. The commission had been appointed to inquire into corruption allegations of the erstwhile DMK regime. Ponnambalam led the team of lawyers representing former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muttuvel Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazghagham. Anandasangaree played a prominent role in this legal arrangement.

 Recently, hostile reaction to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram began emanating in Sri Lankan Tamil circles after she pushed through a resolution in the Tamil Nadu legislature seeking extradition of LTTE leader Pirapaharan. Several persons including TULF personalities began uttering bombastic and provocative threats against Jayalalitha in an ill advised move to curry favour with the LTTE.

Anandasangaree however issued a very responsible public statement condemning that trend and urging that no offensive comments be made against any Indian leader including the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. When pro-LTTE elements began distorting what Sangaree actually said in the statement, the TULF leader took a direct Tamil translation to Kilinochchi showed it to Thamilchelvam and cleared the air.

Anandasangaree takes over the TULF reins at a critical phase in the island’s politics. His party itself has accepted the overall dominance of the LTTE . Given Sangaree’s fiery independent streak it is very likely that the TULF while backing the LTTE politically would also try and retain some functional autonomy. That however depends on the extent to which his party colleagues will cooperate with him. If such enlightened unity and support is not rendered the ex-Trotskyite may very well be presiding over the Swansong of the TULF.


The road to Jaffna

The peace process has had a varied impact on civilian life right around the country. While internally displaced civilians in the Wanni  have begun to return to their former homes — now bombed out skeletons — Jaffna  has been elevated to the number one local tourist destination.

Today, The Sunday Leader profiles four characters, from  mine-clearers in the LTTE controlled areas digging out landmines using their bare hands,  to the Bishop of Jaffna, Rev. Thomas Samudranayagam, despairing over the possible breakdown of the negotiations and the possibility of all-out war, once again.

 By Amantha Perera in the North

 Digging up lethal matter

Early in the morning, when they file one after the other with their garden tools in hand, they look like they are members of the LTTE garden  brigade.

Follow the footsteps, and in no time the realisation dawns that these chaps dig out far lethal matter than carrots and cabbages.

These are the members of the de-mining squad affiliated to the LTTE. They walk into the fields one after the other, since that way they  minimise the chances of stepping on mines, at the break of dawn, because the midday heat makes it impossible for them to work.

While so much hype has been generated on the de-mining efforts conducted in Jaffna with foreign specialists and aid, in the areas under LTTE  control, de-mining is done using garden forks and is hundred per cent manual. Members of the squad do not wear any protective gear and hunt for mines barefoot.

 Once a mine is located, they deactivate it using their  unprotected hands. If the explosive cannot be deactivated, they will blow it up. When The Sunday Leader caught up with them, de-mining a stretch of  fields that were part of a former army bunker line on the Paranthan -  Mullaithivu road, the de-miners would bring anti-personnel mines just discovered, right up to the camera and deactivate them. All the time, we were shouting, “put  that thing down”, sweat pouring from our bodies.

 The mines that were discovered that day were circular mines of a  greenish hue and were easy to diffuse since the LTTE had discovered the deactivating key left aside along with mine boxes by the army. The de-miners told us that such a mine would cost about Rs. 600. The  mines were everywhere; after a few minutes we too were able to find some popping out of the ground.

 Discovery was made easy due to the recent rains, which had washed the  top soil off and sections of the field had been set on fire to clear the underbush. If the grass was taller, it would  be hundred times more difficult.

A pressure of 4kg can set off the mine, and it will go off when the pressure is applied. Mine injuries are quite common in LTTE controlled areas. The day before the rendezvous with the de-miners, we met a boy  of 18 who had lost a leg due to a mine blast last November. He was hunting game when he accidentally stepped on a mine.

Not only mines but other live explosive devices plague the region. On the main road, running along the fields being cleared by the de-miners, someone had carefully placed an unexploded shell on a bund, so that no one would fall prey to it unexpectedly.

The LTTE trained four members initially on mine clearing, they in turn  have trained 150 more. The training consisted of 40 days for the second  batch. Funding for the training programme and the de-mining efforts are  provided by the Tamil Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Organisation affiliated to the LTTE.

Each member of the squad is paid Rs. 4,000 per month. The de-miners have suffered two fatalities since they began their  mission late last year. One died due to a snake bite and the other due to a  mine blast. Five of their members have been injured in mine explosions

Seeing grandma for the first time

 Mahendra Kumar (27) was lining up at the army checkpoint at Omanthai with his wife Jeevarani (22) and his two children, to crossover to LTTE controlled areas when we caught up with him.

He and his family had rented a beat-up bus to get across. The inside of the bus was filled with television sets and household appliances and it looked like several families had made it their mobile home for a couple of days.

Kumar had queued up from the wee hours of the morning when he was checked by mid-day. He was not carrying much. Five years ago, he left Jaffna and got married in the Wanni. His parents nor his in-laws could attend the wedding. All of them were in Jaffna.

“We left all our belongings when we left the LTTE-controlled areas,” Kumar said of the journey to Vavuniya soon after the marriage. The peace process has allowed him the opportunity to visit Jaffna and his children and the chance to see their grand parents for the first time.

He was going back the second time to settle in the Wanni. Despite going back, he was not sure if the process was going to bring peace to the region.

His apprehensions were shared by Maheswari, a 49-year-old single mother with four children. She left Paranthan in 1996 when the army took control and fled to Skandapuram. Now she is back at Paratnthan with two of her children.

She wants to farm the land and earn a living. But before all that could happen, the mines and other unexploded devices that litter her former back garden have to be done away with. She came back to Paranthan in the beginning of June.

Shades of civilian life are returning to the Wanni. Street children  selling stuff to visitors have made an appearance and so has crime. When The  Sunday Leader visited Kilinochchi, the acting OIC at the police station, T. Paheerathan rushed to Kumarapuram to investigate a murder. The dead man’s mother said her son had been shot by someone and dumped on mines by the attackers. Murder according to the LTTE police was unheard of in areas under their control.

Two new petrol sheds are being built, one at Paranthan and the other at Murugandi. The government is funding the projects and the fuel storage tanks have reached the towns. At Paranthan the co-operative society is running a manual petrol shed where fuel is poured into vehicles from cans. It is 50 per cent more expensive than in Vavuniya.

  Life it seems, is limping back to normalcy. But civilians still fear to walk fast, lest the guns, for the time being under wrap in camps, come alive once again. It has happened in the past. It can happen once again.

Love and happiness happens in films

 I will call him James. I met him at a LTTE camp in Mullaithivu during a recent trip. I never approached him; he came up to me and said that he would like to talk to me.

 James is 20 years old and has been with the LTTE since he was 12. The youngest in a family of 10 — three brothers and six sisters — James joined the LTTE in 1995 when his father succumbed to injuries received during an aerial bombing raid.

Since then, he has seen nothing but blood and battles. Along with him, two of his brothers joined the LTTE; one has already died in the war. James took part in battles in Mullaithivu and Jaffna after six months of military training.

 He was co-opted to the LTTE medical corps after a one year training programme and spent two years in the battlefield as a medic.

 He said he can carry out any emergency medical procedure on a battlefield, including amputation. At present James works as a counsellor, liaising with parents and relatives of LTTE cadres coming in search of them. His involvement with the parents and their trauma has sent shivers down his spine. The lull in fighting  and the emphasis on peace, has made James look inwards.

“What is there for me in this?” he asked, referring to the peace  process. He does not have any education, any family, no one that he is close to, only a mastery of cutting off limbs, blown to shreds by mines.

His memory is filled with images of war, like the time his mother wanted to kill all her children and herself when the IPKF destroyed their home. “Will I see my mother again?” he asked me. His family has disowned him due to his involvement with the LTTE.

I tried to argue on the merits of the peace process, he cut me down. “Peace, love and happiness, that happens in films, not in a LTTE  cadre’s life.” I asked him whether he has a girl friend. He said no. Looking around, seeing all the female LTTE cadres, I asked why not? “Is it banned?” No,  he replied. But, among suicide bombers and cyanide capsules, love is an aberration.

When it was time for me to move on, he looked at me and said, “Will  you be my friend?” I didn’t know what to say. I could not tell him that I  was an aberration too, making use of the ceasefire to file a better story.

I only met one James that day. But there are many more, on both sides of the forward defence lines. This James told me that young children still keep coming to the LTTE.

Youth who aged 20 are 10-year war veterans, with nothing but the sound of shell fire filling their lives.

Bishop leads his flock on road to peace and prayer

The 64-year-old Bishop of Jaffna, Rev. Thomas Samudranayagam has seen it all. He has lived through war for more than a decade in Jaffna.

Before taking up duties as the Bishop of Jaffna in 1991 he served as the Bishop of Mannar since 1981.

He witnessed the birth of the Tamil insurgency and the ill-fated  involvement of India in 1987. When the Sri Lanka Army launched an operation to regain Jaffna in 1996, he stayed put at Bishop’s House.

He lived through  the years under LTTE control and has been the spokesperson for the civilian population in Jaffna and in Wanni, living a nightmare. Since December 2001 though, the lull in fighting has allowed him the luxury of talking of and hoping for peace.

“It has been very difficult for our people. We have borne the brunt of  the war,” he said during an interview recently. Hours before the interview, he lead devotees in prayer at the shrine of  St. Anthony in Manipai, asking for peace.

Everyone in his community has been a victim of war, one way or the other. And disillusionment creeps in easy. “We’ve had four attempts at peace  talks before,” Rev. Samudrana-yagam said of the past, which has taught him to be wary of negotiations despite the harp.

He harbours fears of the possibility of the present phase of negotiations too going down the barrel and shells starting to slam down on the cathedral and its newly renovated dome. The involvement of Norway and the commitment displayed by the government and the LTTE leadership though, gives him room for hope.

“I am very optimistic that the peace process will continue,” he  observed, but underlined his fears that if war broke out, the destruction would be the worst ever. “Both sides will have new weapons, knowledge and recruits. The frustrations and the animosity would be more,” he warned agreeing that the peace  process has slowed down, plagued with teething problems.

The most important thing that needs to be addressed immediately is building trust between the two warring parties, according to the Bishop.

War and the destruction that it brings along, becomes even more frightening to a country bereft of options. “Sri Lanka has no other option, peace is the only way,” Rev. Samudranayagam believes.

Hope swelled in the hearts of the devotees who flocked around the bishop in prayers for peace; hands raised to heaven, they prayed that their leaders would have the wisdom and the patience not to wilt.

They however, have very little say in the dealings. And all know for certain that the road to peace is hundred times worse than the crater infested A9.


Succession stakes: Squabbles in the TULF

 By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

“Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay...

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,”...

— Dylan Thomas

The political tempest that raged within the folds of the largest Sri Lankan Tamil democratic moderate political party is now abating. The demise of Murugesu Sivasithamparam on June 5, left a two fold vacuum in the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the party led by him for nearly 24 years.

Firstly, a new president was needed; secondly, the parliamentary seat held by M. Siva as a nominee on the national list of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had to be filled.

 As is the case in any democratic party, sharp divisions surfaced within the party over both questions. Tamil media reports suggested that a serious crisis threatening to tear the party apart was brewing. Despite the inner party tensions, both issues were resolved without major impediments  when the TULF’s Central Working Committee and Nomination Board met on June 23 and 24 respectively in Colombo.

TULF parliamentarian from Jaffna District and its Senior Vice President Veerasingham Anandasangaree was elected unanimously as president by the party’s top decision making body the Mathiya Seyal Kulu or Central Working Committee on June 23. Thirty five of the 48 members attended. Anandasangaree was proposed by Batticaloa District Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham and seconded by former Batticaloa MP Pon. Selvarajah

Protest

Although elected unopposed at the decisive meeting, another senior TULF MP from Jaffna Somasuntharam Senadhirajah popularly known as ‘Maavai’ on account of his native village Maviddapuram had taken up cudgels against Anandasangaree protesting against the latter being elevated to presidential office. Senadhirajah however boycotted the decisive meeting and thereby lost his case by default leaving the field clear for Anandasangaree

Statements however were issued by Senadhirajah to the press and to members of the Central Committee outlining his objections to Anandasangaree. This led to Sangaree defending his position against the allegations. Much of it pertained to charges of high-handedness by the president elect during election time in 2000 and 2001. This conduct according to Senadhirajah negated Anandasangaree’s suitability for presidential office. Whatever the merits or otherwise of these allegations it was an open secret in TULF circles that very little love was lost between Sangaree and Senadhi for quite some time.

The feud apparently began when the TULF’s former national list MP Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam was assassinated by the Tigers in July 1999. Both Anandasangaree and Senadhirajah were in competition to fill that seat. Later Sangaree did not press his case and let Senadhirajah become MP. The seeds of enmity however were sown then. Subsequent developments enlarged the chasm further.

The electoral system of proportionate representation and preference votes for individual candidates causes acrimonious rivalry among contestants from the same party thus contributing to intra-party dissension. Both Anandasangaree and Senadhirajah  contested Jaffna District and competed for  preference votes in both 2000 and 2001. With the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) of Douglas Devananda proving to be a formidable rival the TULF was hard-pressed to perform creditably.

 Genesis of the split

Sangaree with a lengthy track record in electioneering was accused by Senadhi of adopting dubious, unorthodox methods to win. According to TULF insiders, the charges were incorrect and unfair. Senadhi apparently was chagrined over the fact that Sangaree had got more preference votes than him in both elections.

If this was the genesis of the split Senadhirajah did not confine his protests to those causes alone. He also raised objections to Anandasangaree over ‘constitutional’ issues. The TULF party constitution states that if the president ceases to hold office, the senior vice president will become acting president and act in that capacity until a new president is elected at the party convention. Thus, Senadhirajah contended that Anandasangaree could not be elected as president by the Central Committee. The party convention was in 1993 and the next one is scheduled for 2003. 

Despite the issue of constitutional propriety, the reality on ground was that the TULF faced with several problems had not been strictly adhering to constitutional requirements. The Central Committee members discussed Senadhirajah’s objections at length but decided to disregard them in view of practicality.

Asset or liability?

The committee noted the “difficult situation” faced by the party since the death of former Opposition Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam in 1989 and took into account precedents where constitutional provisions were not followed  strictly.

A secondary undercurrent of opposition to Anandasangaree was that some TULF figures felt that the frank and forthright Sangaree may be a liability vis a vis the LTTE. Anandasangaree was courageously defiant of the LTTE in the late nineties when the Tigers killed several TULF leaders and helped rally the party together. He also played a prominent role in enhancing the party’s electoral fortunes in Jaffna. While being supportive of the LTTE in recent times, Sangaree had not stooped to the level of a Tiger sycophant in contrast to some other TULF leaders. He had also acted responsibly and cautiously over the Jayalalitha Jeyaram controversy and issued a reasonable and moderate statement.

For these reasons, some TULF’ers felt that electing Sangaree as president would anger the LTTE. It is learnt that some of these sections wanted Batticaloa District’s Joseph Pararajasingham considered to be a favourite of the LTTE to be elected as president. Senadhirajah whose position was only that Sangaree should not become president was also not averse to this. There was also an Eastern Province lobby that wanted the post for Pararajasingham citing earlier Federal Party precedents where Rajavarothayam of Trincomalee and Rasamanickam of Paddiruppu had been presidents.

This situation however was overcome by Anandasangaree who met the LTTE’s Political Wing head S. P. Thamilchelvam in Kilinochchi. There Sangaree had bluntly queried whether the Tigers had any objection to his attaining the TULF presidency. Thamilchelvam assured Sangaree that the LTTE had no objections and stressed that this was an internal matter of the TULF and that the Tigers did not want to interfere in it. Thamilchelvam also said that he had conveyed the same sentiments to the TULF’s Sambandan and Pararajasingham when they met him.

Objection overruled

Thus, the Tiger bogey was discounted and the absent Senadhirajah’s objections overruled. The TULF old guard closed ranks and Joseph himself proposed Anandasangaree. With both the pro-Tiger as well as the Eastern Province lobbies accepting Anandasangaree he was  elected unanimously. Given Sangaree’s experience and the fact that he is the seniormost parliamentarian there really was no alternative. Furthermore, most TULF stalwarts knew that Sangaree, Joseph and the late Neelan had kept the party going in the nineties in the face of LTTE opposition. Although the political climate had changed past history could not be overlooked.

Senadhirajah however is yet to reconcile himself to Sangaree’s ascendancy and has announced that he would boycott all TULF party meetings. Senadhirajah and his supporters have also issued veiled threats about reviving the dormant Federal Party (FP) — an original constituent of the TULF. Senadhirajah and most of his supporters are from the FP while Anandasangaree  like Sivasithamparam was from the Tamil Congress.

It is unclear whether Senadhirajah will take the bold step of splitting the TULF when the overall Tamil consciousness is for greater Tamil unity. It also remains to be seen  whether Senadhi  threatening to break off from the TULF will go to courts over the violation of constitutional requirements in Sangaree’s appointment issue. If that happens the judicial verdict could be dicey.

Anandasangaree’s position as senior vice president was filled by Batticaloa’s Joseph Pararajasingham, continuously in parliament since 1990. Pararajasingham was earlier the joint treasurer of the party and in his place was elected the well known Tamil businessman and former Jaffna Municipal Councillor S. Thiyagarajah or STR. All elections were unanimous.

Another problem

Apart from the leadership tussle there was another problem concerning M. Siva’s parliamentary seat too. The Central Committee discussed the ramifications of the issue at length and although no formal decision was taken, it was a foregone conclusion  that Thurairatnasingham of Muttur was the choice. With Senadhirajah boycotting Sangaree, four of the five member TULF  nomination board met the following day (24th) to nominate the replacement for Sivasithamparam as national list MP.

The national list MP replacement issue had also proved to be a divisive one. Anandasangaree had wanted a senior TULF stalwart from Jaffna District, former Uduvil UC Chairman  S. Muttulingam to be appointed. Muttu-lingam’s name was already on the national list as he along with Sivasitham-param was nominated in 2000 on behalf of the TULF.

 TULF Secretary General and Trincomalee district MP  Rajava-rothayam Sambandan wanted K. Thurairat-nasingham from the Trincomalee District appointed instead. The tussle between Ananda-sangaree and Sambandan over the question of a national list MP caused some tensions with both leaders issuing contentious public statements.

Anandasangaree’s position was that Muttu-lingam, a veteran Jaffna politician in his late seventies, had contested in 2000 and narrowly missed being elected because of alleged EPDP vote rigging. He could not be accommo-dated on the 2001 list because the TULF was con-testing with three other parties as part of the TNA. Muttulingam’s name was put on the national list and promised the MP seat after M. Siva. Muttulingam had campaigned vigorously in the elections and had been instrumental in the TULF getting the bulk of votes from the Uduvil-Inuvil areas. These voters had opted for Sangaree who therefore wanted Muttulingam to be appointed.

Sambandan differed. He wanted the man from Muttur. Thu-rairatnasingham had polled 28, 000 preferences in the 2001 elections but failed to get elected. Sambandan also owed his victory to Thurairatnasingham. TELO’s Sri Kantha, a parachutist into Trin-comalee had edged out Sambandan in getting preference votes from the Trincomalee electoral division. It was because of the preferences from the Muttur electoral division that Sambandan got his record 40, 000 preferences. So Sambandan also had to pay his political debt.

There were however other factors too in Thurairatnasingham’s favour as opposed to Muttulingam. The former in his early sixties was comparatively younger than the latter in his early seventies. Thurairat-nasingham, an educa-tionist who started out as a teacher and then went on to become principal, education officer and retired as assistant director of education was more educationally qualified than the agriculturist Muttulingam. Besides there were other plus points for Thurai.

He hailed from Kaddaiparichaan in Muttur, an area under LTTE control. Thurairatnasingham had played a commendable role in evolving the new TULF-LTTE ‘understanding’ that contributed to the formation of the TNA. It was through Thurairatnasingham’s efforts that Sambandan was able to meet LTTE leaders in the Muttur area and do direct political canvassing. Though Sambandan by virtue of his secretary general post has gone on to cultivate a greater relationship with the Tiger hierarchy, his support base at home depends on Thuraira-tnasingham.

Furthermore, it was argued not entirely without justification that Trincomalee District needed enhanced Tamil representation because the district, once a Tamil majority region had now lost its position to Sinhala colonisation. Given the strategic importance of Trincomalee, this was something which struck a responsive chord with the LTTE. Sambandan took the issue to the LTTE and solicited Tiger endorsement. This was duly obtained. To concretise the arrangement, Sambandan and Pararajasingham met LTTE Political Wing chief S. P. Thamilchelvam and stated the case for Thuraira-tnasingham. For obvious reasons the LTTE hierarchy opted for Thuraira-tnasingham.

Late solution

Realising that the case for Muttulingam was weak Ananda-sangaree came up with a face saving solution. Muttulingam was to be given the MP seat on a gentleman’s agreement that he would vacate it in three months. Thereafter, Thuraira-tnasingham could be appointed. Unfortunately for Sangaree he was involved with Sivasithamparam’s funeral arrangements in Jaffna and could not participate along with Sambandan and Joseph in the meeting with Thamilchelvam.

When Sangaree met Thamil-chelvam and presented the compromise formula, Thamilchelvam said that although the proposal was acceptable it was now too late because Tiger Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan had agreed to Thurairatnasingham and the decision announced.

Also, it was imperative that the Muttur area needed a representative to oversee resettlement and rehabilitation efforts. A disappointed Ananda-sangaree was to tell the BBC’s ‘Thamil Osai’ later that the nomination had to go to Thurairatnasingham because of “purakkanikka mudiaatha vendukol” (a request that could not be rejected).

There was also another important reason for the TULF to seek LTTE approval in the matter. Although Sambandan and Sangaree were divided on who should become the TULF appointee, they were firmly united in seeing that no other party from the TNA should get it. The understanding at election time was that if the TNA got two national list seats the second one should go to Kumarakurubaran of the Tamil Congress (TC) whose name was already on the national list nominees second to M. Siva. Since the TNA got only one national seat, M. Siva was appointed. Now the TULF wanted it to be filled by a TULF’er again.

But other TNA constituents also had ambitions. The TC said that if the TULF appointed someone from outside the earlier list of national nominees, it would seek legal remedy. The TELO also wanted its head Sri Kantha appointed. The EPRLF wanted its leader Suresh Premachandran appointed. All three parties communicated with the LTTE and pressed their case. Compared to the two TULF hopefuls Kumarakurubaran, Sri Kantha and Suresh were certainly better prospects in terms of age and  ability. By appealing to the LTTE and getting Tiger endorsement for its candidate, the TULF delivered a knock out blow to aspirants from constituent members of the TNA. Thus, there was no protest when Sambandan informed the TNA executive committee that the TULF after ‘consulting’ the LTTE was appointing Thurairatnasingham.

Tempest

Thus, the brewing crisis blew over like a tempest in a tea cup because of the LTTE factor. Sadly, neither the TULF nor the other constituent parties of  the TNA seem to be concerned over the growing influence and power of the Tigers in determining decisions that are internal party matters. These are not larger political issues where the TNA needs LTTE ‘guidance.’ Furthermore, in fairness to the Tigers, it must be pointed out that the LTTE intervened in these matters only because the squabbling ‘moderates’ are taking their complaints to the former. Hoping to undercut their rivals, the TNA and TULF are giving carte blanche to the LTTE to ‘adjudicate’ on what are inter-party and intra-party questions. Functional independence is being voluntarily surrendered.

 It is becoming increasingly transparent that ever since the formation of the four party TNA, the influence and power of the LTTE over the Tamil moderate political parties has enlarged. Thus, Anandasangaree takes over as the new TULF president while crucial decisions like the national list MP selection are determined by the LTTE.


Crash landing SriLankan the Emirates way

By Frederica Jansz

That the perception of inflight services provided by SriLankan Airlines has steadily spiraled down has now been confirmed after an independent survey was conducted by Org-Marg Smart. The fact finding company finalised its report on the inflight and overall services of SriLankan Airlines in April this year, concluding that the majority of passengers who fly SriLankan Airlines have complained bitterly with regard to the catering, inflight services and ticket reservations, including ground handling. 

Summarising its findings, Org-Marg states, "Some passengers seem to be comparing services past and present - therefore seeing a drop in standards."

A passenger travelling on a UL547 flight has complained, ".It is usually a friendly airline. Crew are usually helpful.. today it is quite different. Hope things will improve. After all it is our national carrier.."

Another wrote, "..in the airport as well as all other services, SriLankan Airlines cannot hold a candle to Air Lanka, as a fond memory."

A passenger flying on UL 505 wrote ".I would not be able to recommend flying with your airline."

Yet another stated, "..considering international standards..this is very poor."

Of course among the brickbats are also comments praising the inflight service and lauding the cabin crew for being courteous and thoughtful.

Appalling situation

The positive comments however are far less than those complaining strongly with regard to the overall services offered by SriLankan Airlines.

Jostled and rushed into signing a partnership with Emirates Airlines, today SriLankan has lost its once enviable image as far as inflight services and catering is concerned. In fact, this survey by Org-Marg determined that 99% of those who fly SriLankan Airlines to South Asia and India have complained bitterly on the poor quality of food that is served on the airline.

In some instances, no food at all is served. This appalling situation prevails on the Colombo/Male route and on flights to Madras, Trivandrum and Trichy where only a packet of peanuts is handed out with a cool drink for economy class travellers.

Previously on Air Lanka a cold refreshment was served on these sectors. On the Colombo/Madras sector a hot meal used to be served before Emirates Airlines took over the catering and management of SriLankan Airlines.

No breakfast served

Denying a fundamental expectation of hospitality, passengers flying from Colombo to Male have written thus -  "It is with dismay, that I comment on morning flights to Male - say you serve no breakfast but, you do serve breakfast on business class, why do you have this discrimination?"

Another states, "I am told there are no meals. I travel twice a month and was surprised at this situation. Are we going backward or forward?"

Passengers have complained that even on request they are refused food on the Colombo/Male sector. While this is only a one hour flight it needs to be remembered that passengers have to check in three hours prior to departure. They leave their homes and hotels an hour ahead of this three-hour deadline - which in many instances is at the crack of dawn or the previous night depending on the time of departure which is usually between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Another passenger writing to the management has stated, "It is with dismay that I comment on the morning flight to Male, you serve no continental breakfast as previously done. Why this shocking situation?"

Others complain that overall the quality on board SriLankan Airline flights "has deteriorated." so much so, that in some instances, used blankets are handed out.

As many as 99% travelling on SriLankan Airlines have expressed dissatisfaction with regard to the availability of meals. Another 79% have complained with regard to the quality of food, 75% have faulted the service in general, another 79% have complained on the non availability of a good choice in menu, while 92% are dissatisfied with the non availability of vegetarian meals.

Slip - shod service

Before the catering of SriLankan Airlines was taken over by Emirates, the selection of the hors d' oeuvre and main meals used to be of international standard. At present the hors d' oeuvres served on UL flights are so tasteless they cannot be consumed. This slip-shod service sometimes is offered where the hors d' oeuvre does not even have a dressing to complement it.   

Why the Emirates run management cannot upgrade the inflight services of SriLankan Airlines which previously earned a reputation for good food and a caring service is puzzling. A passenger asked if this attempt at downgrading the inflight services on SriLankan Airlines by Emirates is a deliberate attempt by the Middle Eastern airline to encourage travellers to instead fly Emirates, which after all has a world class reputation for excellent inflight services.

It has now been determined that while 99% of those travelling to South Asia and India are disgusted with the quality and type of food served on board, as many as 73% travelling on the European sectors have also expressed dissatisfaction. Another 60% travelling to the Far East have stated their displeasure at the standards or lack of standards as far as catering is concerned on board UL flights, while 93% travelling to the Middle East have stated the same disgust at the lack of quality meals.

Bad performance

The multi million dollar question that needs asking is how all this will affect the current image and consequent traffic on Sri Lanka's national carrier?

It appears obvious that passengers' expectations are based on former experiences of the airline. If so many have stated in writing their disgust of the food and overall services offered by SriLankan Airlines it is no small wonder the airline is performing so badly and has been forced to declare a Rs. 6,000 million loss - not once , but twice.

One passenger on UL 506, writing frankly states, ".Very poor meals. The sandwich we were served in place of the fish, I am afraid was half filled. By this time, I had lost my appetite entirely and had scarcely anything to eat."

Another travelling on UL 508, writing a tongue-in-cheek comment had this to say, ".Cauliflower curry again - same problem as dhal.also too dry as well.  At a guess I would say the meal was prepared by an English cook, not an Indian or Sri Lankan cook.  I hope you know what I mean.."

While most mentions on the cabin crew were reflective of the satisfied overall services and the enthusiasm and friendliness shown by the crew, Org - Marg notes that however, there could be improvements in responses to requests. The company has noted that perhaps the disappointments in the catering aspects could also be rubbing off onto the cabin crew, producing negative responses to passenger requests.

A lot of disappointment has been voiced also with regard to physical comfort, like seating, audio and video facilities. As many as 88% have stated their dissatisfaction with regard to seating comfort and leg space while 77% have written their disgust with audio and video facilities.

Travellers have written thus, "The seat cushioning is hard, seat tilt is incorrect...the TV on the back rest is a constant irritation when the passenger behind you keeps tapping to change functions"

Bitter complaints

Others write, "We expected to read newspapers in the language we like, all your inflight publications are only in English."

Most of the mentions on Airline reservations were areas of disappointment. Travellers have complained that in this respect SriLankan Airlines staff need to be trained better on efficiency, accuracy and knowledge.

On one occasion a passenger wrote that he purchased his ticket from a travel agent in Singapore and he had not been informed about a fare increase but ground staff had asked him to pay USD 160 more as fare.

".Inspite of holding 'ok tickets' (confirmed), we were put to inconvenience by saying that the flight was full and that our tickets were on stand by...." wrote another complainant.

A traveller flying for the last 16 years wrote, "that despite a request for an upgrade the ground staff were very rude and not at all helpful including the manager. He stated that being a member of Skyward "is of absolutely no value."

Many passengers who travel SriLankan complain that its inflight services are truly a major area of concern that should be addressed by the Emirates management. In fact, these criticisms might act as a major hurdle, since in the past, the airline thrived in this area.

Speaking to a regular passenger who has flown on UL for the past 15 years The Sunday Leader was told, "apart from a slight improvement in inflight entertainment namely, the movie and audio selection, the rest of the services have been downgraded to such an extent that even the seats are not suitable for long haul travel.

Another observation passengers have made is that one crew member serves more passengers on a meal cart than before. As a result, before completing handing out all the trays, the meals and the bread is cold.

What is difficult to comprehend is why the former People's Alliance government and President Chandrika Kumaratunga decided to marry Air Lanka to Emirates Airlines which after all, was and still is, a direct competitor to Sri Lanka's national carrier. 


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