Tamil moderate speakers heckled at Jaffna book launch

Tuesday, 4 October 2016 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Crowds reportedly associated with Wigneswaran-led TPC shout down Thavarajah, Sumanthiran and Anandasangaree


By Dharisha Bastians

Days after the controversial Eluga Tamil rally, moderate speakers at a book launch in Jaffna last weekend were heckled and shouted down by a group of persons reportedly associated with the Tamil People’s Council chaired by Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran.

Different Tamil political parties were brought together on one stage at the Saraswathy Hall in Jaffna, for the launch of the Constitution of Sri Lanka from Donomough to Sirisena (1931-2016), authored by former lecturer at the Jaffna University and independent researcher, M. Thirunavukarasu. 

TULF Leader V. Anandasangaree, TNA Jaffna District Parliamentarian M .A. Sumanthiran, Northern Provincial Council Opposition Leader Sinnadurai Thavarajah, EPRLF Leader Suresh Premachandran and Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Leader Gajen Ponnambalam were all invited as speakers at the event. 

Thavarajah, Sumanthiran and Anandasangaree were disturbed during their speeches, when all three of speakers dissented with some of the claims made by Thirunavukarasu in his book.

The hall was packed to capacity with between 600-700 people, with the disturbance caused by a handful of radicals numbering about five or six people, Thavarajah told Daily FT.

The book made claims about the historical enmity between the Tamils and the Sinhalese communities in Sri Lanka, but Thavarajah disputed this claim, citing historical references. In his speech, the EPDP Member quoted from documents in the American Library of Congress and Lankan historians that pointed to periods of cohesion between Tamils and Sinhalese in the island, with particular emphasis on the independence struggle.

Thavarajah said that it was when he began to speak about the ways Tamils had squandered opportunities to reach a political settlement over the years that a small group in the audience began to heckle and shout him down.

“One of those who were leading these protests was the individual who lit the lamp at the Eluga Tamil rally,” the NPC Opposition Leader claimed. Despite the disturbances, Thavarajah managed to finish his speech, urging the unruly members of the audience to learn to hear out dissenting viewpoints.

Sumanthiran who spoke after the NPC Opposition Leader, told the audience that the TNA’s policy on achieving a political solution to the Tamil question since 2010 had been to push for a federal structure, while using negotiations with Colombo backed by strong international pressure to get there. Since 2010, the MP said that the Tamil people of the North and East had voted overwhelmingly in support of this policy. Sumanthiran said that the only alternative put forward to the TNA’s proposal of federalism had been from the Ponnambalam’s TNPF which had called for confederation and a referendum in Tamil areas since 2010. However even at the Eluga Tamil rally on 24 September, the organisers had called for a federal solution and this was a sign that even the divergent Tamil politicians and organizations were now coming around to the TNA’s position on a political settlement, Sumanthiran noted. 

During his speech, the Jaffna District MP said certain sections of the Tamil polity were fretting now that a deal on the constitution and a political solution was almost at hand, and added that these elements were making every effort to derail the process.

Sumanthiran spoke for 20 minutes before the disturbances began. However the hecklers were shouted down by Sumanthiran’s own supporters who were in attendance at the meeting. The TNA Parliamentarian was able to speak over the hecklers and finish his speech, he told Daily FT yesterday. 

Member of the Tamil People’s Council Prof. S. Sittambalam who was moderating the session had tried to stop the hecklers from disturbing the speeches, but to no avail, sources at the meeting told Daily FT. 

Gajen Ponnambalam who spoke next denounced Sumanthiran as a ‘liar’ and claimed his party had never called for a solution along confederal lines. Ponnambalam told the audience that he had never stood for confederation – a power-sharing mechanism that goes well beyond federalism, allows a region to maintain its sovereignty and implies the right to secession.

When Ponnambalam sat down after his speech, he continued to berate Sumanthiran as a liar, at which point the TNA MP used documents and press clippings to demonstrate the basis of his assertions. 

EPRLF Leader Suresh Premachandran also flayed Sumanthiran during his speech, saying he was a member of the Steering Committee on the constitution and accusing the TNA MP of not revealing anything about negotiations. “Instead, he is talking politics about winners and losers at elections,” Premachandran said. 

Both Ponnambalam and Premachandran received wide applause from the audience during their speeches. 

However, when the veteran Tamil politician Anandasangaree stood up to speak, the disturbances resumed. The TULF Leader posed the question to the audience, about the demand for the removal of Buddha statues in the North. “What happens to all the Murugan and other statues in the South, will they have to be removed too,” Anandasangaree noted. The hecklers resumed disruptions in earnest, shouting the senior politician down and ensuring he could not finish his speech. At one point, Anandasangaree even rolled up his sleeves and asked the unruly group to come up to the stage and challenge him. “Tamils will never have a solution because of people like you,” he shouted before he was forced to wind up his speech. 

Reports said there may have been attempts to create an incident as Sumanthiran was leaving the premises following the event, but it had been impossible to get near the Parliamentarian since he was flanked by large crowds. The TNA MP is increasingly viewed as the enemy among nationalist sections of the North for his moderate positions.

Northern Chief Minister Wigneswaran sent a message to be read out at the book launch, which included a revelation that there was a plot to assassinate him and blame the killing on the LTTE. In his message, Wigneswaran said that when the Tamils demanded their rights, the demands were being misrepresented to show that the Tamils were bent on sharpening communal differences.