Kumar Ponnambalam a vociferous voice of Tamils

By Dr. N. Kumaraguruparan

Alas, that vociferous volcanic voice of the Tamils of our time is no more. Yes it is now eight years, snatched away at the dawn of 2000, the first martyr of this millennium. Had he been alive, he would have counted his 70th birthday on August 12. That was my great late leader Kumar Ponnambalam, the son of G.G. Ponnambalam, acknowledged leader of Tamils of the bygone era.

He always behaved in a highly refined and civilized manner so much so he had never been hesitant to express his apology when he was wrong. That was Kumar.

Kumar Ponnambalam

Kumar was born into wealth and circumstances. Born and bred and stood first among the equal elites of Cinnamon Gardens. But his inheritance was that he was proud to say that he was a Tamil. He had been proud and delighted in displaying it. Secondly, he being the son of the great Tamil leader G.G. Ponnambalam, father of Tamil nationalism in this country and eminent lawyer, Kumar considered this too a symbol of pride.

Millennia of pride and independence the Tamils cherished were manifest in Kumar. His courage was indomitable. Situations too demanded his role. The wisdom from his learning and his successful profession were readily available at the services of his community. He proved this in practice on various occasions.

I am really proud of those 25 years in the Tamil Congress, first as a student of politics working closely with Kumar. I feel the same for the WPF now led by Mano Ganesan. In the changing political scenario in the North and East, the need of the hour was the solidarity of Tamils and Tamil parties even now at least in principle to protect the interests of the Tamils from attempts to make them second class citizens in this country. Kumar realized this and initiated talks aimed at Tamil unity a couple of days before his assassination. I was with him at those talks. The Tamil parties representing the people in the north and east realized the need for a common alliance. The talks had been 95% successful and representation was indentified with people's mandate. They also acknowledged and accepted the role of the LTTE as de facto representatives of the Tamils of north east. Several rounds of talks were held with international participation. This was the situation then. But now the South's priority is war instead of a quick political proposal or a negotiated settlement.

The reality then was that Kumar's dreams and his far-sighted political aspirations were taking shape. But now after the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement, the north east crisis swinging into a full-scale war is visible.

Kumar dedicated his life to the Tamil cause but differed from others. He expected a transparent political scenario and did not believe in behind-the-scene deals. He did not believe in political gimmicks and mincing words for self-centered politics because he did not depend on political power for his bread and butter. Kumar had been a good friend of many Sinhalese, elite families, professionals and business classes.

He had two primary concerns in furthering the Tamil cause. Firstly he believed that a respectable solution could be worked on the basis of the Thimpu Principles.

There was a strong reason behind this. Kumar believed that the insistence of the recognition of the Thimpu Principles would expose the true position of the Sinhala leadership whether they genuinely recognized the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people in principle. If the basic principle is accepted by the Sinhala nation sincerely this will facilitate the subsequent stages of peace process. Secondly, he realized that other Tamil parties at the time were largely interested in achieving narrow political gains but he was convinced that the LTTE was the only organization that was genuinely dedicated towards fighting for the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils. He felt that if there was no such struggle, the south would never consider meaningful power devolution or a peace process to solve the Tamil question.

It was no secret that Kumar openly supported the "political ideology" of the LTTE. Kumar was a person who hated violence. But he was convinced that historically, the south had failed to accept alternate solutions and had been deceiving the Tamil leaders.

Yes, the pragmatic vision of Kumar are the writings we see on the wall now. It was because of this political belief and also because of the role he played as a human rights activist in openly challenging the government's policies with regard to the Tamils, that he met with his tragic death. As an activist, he addressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in 1997 and 1999, and the European Parliament in Brussels in 1998. His campaign reached the zenith and gave him international recognition.

His involvement in the Krishanthi Kumarasamy rape and murder case and the Chemmani mass graves, to mention a few, brought to light the atrocities committed by some elements of the armed forces.

It was during President Kumaratunga's first term that Kumar had to appear for innocent Tamil youths who suffered at the hands of the security forces. I can remember that on one occasion Kumar made a midnight visit to stop the police bulldozing a Tamil house in Wellawatte. If he was called to safeguard the Tamils' rights even at midnight, he had the blessed extra courage of Lord Krishna.

It was with much dedication that Kumar worked with Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Anura Bandaranaike to bring out the Democratic People's Alliance (DPA) manifesto at the 1988-89 elections and campaigned tirelessly for Ms. Bandaranaike,

With Ms. Bandaranaike's defeat and the rejection of the DPA manifesto, he was convinced that the south would not offer an acceptable solution to the ethnic question. The DPA manifesto called for greater devolution of power.

I had attended several all-party conferences then with Kumar representing the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) - and now with Mano Ganesan. There again we have seen the phenomenon of history repeating itself. As Kumar believed there would not be a southern consensus in bringing about an acceptable and legitimate solution to the ethnic turmoil.

My late leader, Kumar, had never been a member of parliament or a local councillor, yet he was a mighty man who challenged the governments of the day. I have heard that the pen is mightier than sword. We witnessed this in Kumar's pen. The power of his pen and the volleys of truth it fired were so devastating that they led to his death.

Kumara's demise has created a vacuum in Tamil politics. A sincere soul never sleeps in slumber is the almighty's creation.

(The writer was a former General Secretary of ACTC after the assassination of Kumar Ponnambalam).

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Kumar Ponnambalam a vociferous voice of Tamils


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