How the TNA became ‘Tiger Nominated Agents’

Wednesday, 25 January 2023 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

LTTE-TNA meeting in Kilinochchi – Pic courtesy PTI


The TNA was seen and depicted as a voice of the Tigers rather than the Tamils. They had zero credibility in the eyes of the world and rest of Sri Lanka. The LTTE also reduced the TNA to political servitude and ensured that such bondage was well-publicised. The cumulative effect of all this was an erosion of credibility and respect. The TNA was seen as a Tiger adjunct and nothing more. The end result of all this was that the TNA despite having 22 seats in a house of 225 was unable to accomplish anything worthwhile either in Sri Lanka or abroad during the 2004- 2010 period. Things began to change for the TNA after the fall of the LTTE in 2009. The Tiger nominated Agents became the Tamil National Alliance again


The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is the premier political configuration of the Sri Lankan Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, is currently fragmented. The chief constituent Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) is on one side while the other two constituent parties namely the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) are on the other side. Of the 10 seats held by the TNA in Parliament, six are with the ITAK. The TELO has three and the PLOTE one.

The Local Authority elections scheduled for 9 March 2023 has seen the ITAK going it alone with the party filing nominations separately under its own name. The ITAK symbol is the House. It was under this symbol that the TNA contested elections from 2004 onwards. The ITAK while claiming that the TNA has not broken up, seems to be happy that it is no longer shackled, by its erstwhile fellow constituents the TELO and PLOTE.

The TELO and PLOTE on the other hand have formed another alliance with a former constituent of the TNA and two other parties. The ex-TNA party is the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). The EPRLF was one of the four Tamil parties which came together in 2001 to form the TNA. It quit the TNA in 2015.

The other two parties in the new alliance are the Tamil National Party (TNP) and the Crusaders for Democracy (CfD). The TNP is a faction that split from the TELO some years ago. The Crusaders for Democracy is a party formed by rehabilitated former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). 


Democratic Tamil National Alliance

The new configuration will contest elections under the lamp symbol of a previously registered party called the Democratic Tamil National Alliance (DTNA). The DTNA was originally formed by the PLOTE in association with another faction of the EPRLF. It later broke up and the PLOTE joined the TNA. Now the new alliance is using the old name. The “democratic” is being downplayed in a bid to convey the impression that the new outfit is indeed the real TNA.

There is a truism about truth being the first casualty in times of war. This is true in the case of an “electoral war” situation also. Multiple “alternative truths” many of them absurd are being circulated. Several personalities within and outside the TNA related parties are propagating myths and fallacies about the evolution of the TNA in an attempt to blame the other side. What is happening now is not a re-interpretation of history but a total distortion of historical facts. This fakery is being relayed wittingly or unwittingly by some ill-informed sections of the Tamil media as well. 

Much misinformation and disinformation is being relayed about the origins of the TNA. It is being said that the TNA was formed and fostered by the former LTTE supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran himself.


This however is not exactly correct!

Contrary to popular belief the TNA at the beginning was not a tiger creation. It was formed independently with cautious indirect backing by the LTTE. Later the LTTE took it over and controlled the TNA. It is in this context that I venture to relate the story again of the birth, early growth and LTTE takeover of the TNA, relying to a very great extent on previous writings by me in this regard.

The formation of the TNA in October 2001 was the direct consequence of the elections held a year before in October 2000. The factor that caused the TNA to be formed was the 2000 Parliamentary Election results. The anti-government Tamil nationalist parties who contested against each other had together got only eight seats in the North and East.


Tamils under-represented in N-E

 October 2000 saw the Tamils being under represented in the North-East. No Tamil nationalist party got enough votes entitling it to a national list seat. Moreover Sinhala dominated national parties and Tamil parties like the government affiliated EPDP had done well. 

The main reasons for the non-governmental Tamil political party debacle were disunity, fragmentation of Tamil votes and the lack of an imaginative or inspiring political agenda.

The seriousness of the situation was acutely felt in the ethnically heterogeneous East rather than the near homogenous North. A seminar analysing the situation was held at the Eastern University. It was chaired by journalist Dharmaratnam Sivaram alias Taraki.

It was resolved at this conference that the different Tamil political parties in the Opposition should unite under an umbrella organisation to prevent fragmentation of votes. It was also felt that such an organisation should be broadly supportive of the LTTE. It was also decided that the LTTE’s approval for the move be obtained. A steering committee with three joint chairs was formed to coordinate the implementation of this task.

This task consisted of three aspects. Firstly the approval and implicit support of the LTTE. This required guarantees of safety and security by the LTTE that it would not assassinate Tamil politicians in the Opposition. In return, these Tamil parties had to acknowledge the pre-eminence of the LTTE and endorse it as the sole representative of the Tamils in any negotiations.

Secondly the political parties with a militant history like the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), PLOTE and TELO had to declare that they would lay down arms and not collaborate with the State in hunting the LTTE. They also had to sever links with para-military outfits linked to them like the Razeek Group (EPRLF), Mohan Group (PLOTE) and Ranjan Group (TELO). All were operating in the East.

Thirdly the non-militant parties like the TULF and Tamil Congress had to agree to work together in a common front with the ex-militant groups. Both parties were reluctant as they felt that the hands of the ex-militant groups hands were tainted with blood. Besides the TULF stood for what it called an ‘unarmed democracy’. 

At the outset, he LTTE in the Wanni was not directly involved in the negotiating process. But Karikalan, the former Tiger political commissar for Batticaloa-Amparai, was supportive. Subsequently, leading personalities from the TELO and EPRLF met with Karikalan in secret and discussed matters. Assurances were obtained. Likewise, some TULF personalities also met with LTTE leaders and had discussions.

 In the penultimate stages, the LTTE in Wanni got indirectly involved. Some leaders of the TULF, Tamil Congress, TELO and EPRLF were contacted by telephone and urged to unite and contest under the TULF Sun symbol. The LTTE factor galvanised the negotiating parties into concluding talks successfully. The PLOTE was left out.

A working agreement among the TULF, ACTC, EPRLF and TELO was reached to form a coalition known as the Thamizh Thesieeya Kootamaippu or Tamil National Alliance. The TNA would contest under the TULF symbol of sun. A scheme apportioning candidates to each party in the different electoral districts was also agreed upon.


22 October 2001

The formation of the Tamil National Alliance was announced through a press communiqué dated 22 October 2001. The press communique issued on 22 October 2001 was signed by four persons representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). 

They were R. Sampanthan (TULF), N. Kumarakuruparan (ACTC) N. Srikantha (TELO) and K. Premachandran (EPRLF). The press statement had four salient points that more or less amounted to an “Articles of Association” for the Tamil National Alliance.

The first was about how places on candidate lists were to be allocated to each of the four parties in a Parliamentary General Election. The second point was about nominations as National List MPs. The third point was that the constituent parties should refrain from attacking or criticising each other publicly. The fourth point was about intra-TNA disputes and problems.

It is under such circumstances that the TNA was born as a loose formation without a party constitution or structure. The newly formed alliance had its baptism of fire when Parliamentary elections were held on 5 December 2001. The TNA in its manifesto urged a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict and emphasised that the LTTE would represent the Tamil people at such talks.


LTTE “uncomfortable” about TNA

When the election campaign got underway the LTTE did not openly support the TNA. The main reason for this was that the LTTE too was “uncomfortable” about this new alliance. The Tigers always believed that an armed struggle was the only way to liberate the Tamil people and firmly ruled out the parliamentary path.

The LTTE had for years, criticised representative democracy and accused many elected Tamil representatives of being traitors. The Tigers had assassinated several prominent Tamil MPs in the past. Now for the first time, the LTTE was indirectly supporting a Tamil political grouping at an election. This to its hierarchy was a tremendous come down.

Moreover the LTTE was uncertain whether the TNA would fare well at elections. If the LTTE backed it openly and TNA did poorly, the Tigers felt their prestige would be affected. The reluctance to identify himself with parliamentary democracy in anyway was the main reason for LTTE supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran to remain aloof from all activity regarding the formation of the TNA.

Thus the 2001 election campaign was conducted without overt LTTE participation. The Tigers also refused to let TNA candidates conduct election propaganda meetings in areas controlled by it. But the LTTE did not block Tamil voters in regions controlled by it from voting. They were allowed to vote in cluster booths set up in “border” areas. The greatest benefit for the TNA candidates was that they could campaign without fear of violence from the LTTE.

When the 2001 election results were announced the TNA contesting under the sun symbol of the TULF had done well. In Jaffna the TNA got six of the nine seats. In the Wanni the TNA got three of the six seats. In the East, the TNA got one seat in Trincomalee district and one in the Amparai district. In Batticaloa the TNA got three seats. 


15 seats

On the strength of votes received the TNA was also entitled to a national list seat. The TNA under the TULF label had 14 elected and one appointed MP in 2001. Of this 15 seats the TULF had seven, TELO had four, ACTC had three and the EPRLF one. The “unity” of the Tamil parties as the TNA seemed to have reaped political dividends.

With Ranil Wickremesinghe becoming prime minister, the peace process received a massive boost in 2002. The TNA was expected by many to function as the political front of the LTTE. When the TNA was formed there were some who thought the alliance would be to the LTTE what the “Sinn Fein” was to the Irish Republican Army (IRA). A few entertained hopes of the TNA playing a prominent role in the peace talks. This was not to be as the LTTE ruled out a political role at peace talks for the TNA from its inception.

The Tigers began to gradually exert direct control over the TNA. Instead of letting the TNA function independently and maintain political credibility, the LTTE wanted to bring the new formation under its jackboot. 

Furthermore the LTTE wanted to demonstrate to the Tamil people and the world at large that they the Tigers were the masters and that the TNA was a mere minion at their beck and call.


Veerasingham Anandasangaree

The TNA bondage became apparent in a very short time. What was most disappointing in this scenario was the abject servitude of the TULF with the honourable exception of Veerasingham Anandasangaree. The TULF had its own political strength and could possibly have stood up to Tiger diktat but due perhaps to mortal dread of the Tigers did not dare to do so.

Originally the TNA came together as a loose coalition of parties but when the Tigers established total control they could have cemented this unity as a structural whole. The LTTE could have got the TNA registered as a party with a constitution and party structure. The LTTE did not do so and in fact prevented such moves when suggested by the TELO and EPRLF. Instead the Tigers preferred to keep the TNA constituents as separate parties without forging a permanent alliance.

This enabled the LTTE to manipulate and control each party separately. At the same time the Tigers were pre-empting a parallel or rival Tamil political organisation emerging or blossoming.

Apart from preventing the TNA being concretised as a whole and independent party, the LTTE also drove wedges between the parties. One was manipulated against the other. Also members of one party were set up against others of the same party. Factionalism was fomented. Individual tale-carrying was encouraged.


2004 Parliamentary elections

When the 2004 Parliamentary elections was on the cards the LTTE changed its stance. The Tigers played an active role in selection of candidates and conduct of the TNA election campaign. The 2001 election had seen the TNA contesting under the TULF symbol of sun. Now the TULF was officially separate and independent under Aanandasangaree. So a new symbol was needed. The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) known as the federal party symbol of house and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress symbol of cycle were available. The LTTE decided to go ahead with the ITAK and house. 

The TNA constituent parties were asked to put forward their nominees. In addition to these the LTTE itself introduced a new element. The Tigers had a list of names without any political party affiliation. Many of these were office-bearers in LTTE front organisations. They were all die-hard Tiger supporters. A few were LTTE members. The LTTE prepared a TNA candidate list for each district. The lists consisted of nominees from the TULF, ACTC, TELO, EPRLF and those without party affiliation.

The lists for the North were finalised by Thamilselvan in consultation with regional commanders. The lists for Batticaloa and Amparai were finalised by Karuna and Karikalan. The list for Trincomalee was finalised by Paduman and Thilak. 

Once finalised the TNA officially “Approved” them. This led to Douglas Devananda derisively dubbing the TNA as “Tiger Nominated Agents”. This was how the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) evolved into Tiger Nominated Agents (TNA)


LTTE “propaganda” for TNA

The 2004 election campaign commenced in earnest. The ceasefire accord of 2002 had paved the way for a Tiger presence in Government-controlled areas in the form of political offices. Now these offices were stocked with Tiger cadres. Their task was to do “propaganda” for the TNA. In Jaffna and Batticaloa the LTTE cadres together with pro-Tiger student organisations in the Thirunelvely and Vantharumoolai campuses engaged in propaganda. In Jaffna a Tiger motor cycle brigade went into action intimidating rival candidates like Anandasangaree and Devananda. On polling day an active force of 5,000 “volunteers” embarked on a gigantic vote rigging spree.

Election Day came and the results were certainly astounding for the TNA. The LTTE had done its part in doing propaganda, ensuring a large turnout of voters and rigging votes on a mammoth scale. The TNA virtually swept the polls among Tamil voters in the North and East.

In Jaffna the TNA got eight of the nine seats. In the Wanni the TNA got five of the six seats. In Trincomalee the TNA received the most number of votes and got two elected. In Amparai district one was elected on the TNA ticket. In Batticaloa the TNA got four of the five seats. The TNA was also entitled to two national list seats in 2004. 


“Fifty-fifty formula

There were now 20 elected and two appointed MPs. Of these 22, eleven were from the original four constituent parties of the TNA. There were also eleven with non-party affiliation. So the TNA parliamentarians were divided equally as those with and without party affiliation. In lighter vein both sides were evenly matched to play Cricket, Soccer or Hockey. G.G. Ponnambalam’s “fifty-fifty” formula had at last been implemented.

The TNA electoral triumph of 2004 lost its lustre when the EU released its report condemning the election as not being free or fair in the North and East. This did not mean that all those who won on the TNA did so due to fraudulent means. Several of those elected did so in their own right but their majorities were enhanced through dubious means. But there were some who won entirely due to vote rigging.


Faustian bargain

The Tiger factor helped the TNA to sweep the polls in 2004 and get 22 seats. It was however a Faustian bargain. The TNA was seen and depicted as a voice of the Tigers rather than the Tamils. They had zero credibility in the eyes of the world and rest of Sri Lanka. The LTTE also reduced the TNA to political servitude and ensured that such bondage was well-publicised. 

The cumulative effect of all this was an erosion of credibility and respect. The TNA was seen as a Tiger adjunct and nothing more. The end result of all this was that the TNA despite having 22 seats in a house of 225 was unable to accomplish anything worthwhile either in Sri Lanka or abroad during the 2004-2010 period. 

Things began to change for the TNA after the fall of the LTTE in 2009. The Tiger nominated Agents became the Tamil National Alliance again.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected].)


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