Thondaman going the LTTE way: Who is to be
blamed?

By Champika Liyanaarachchi

Ceylon Workers Congress leader Arumugam Thondaman is a
politician better known for his grossly artless and blunt political moves
than anything else.

His recent visit to the Wanni which came at a time that the government
was making a few moves to weaken his leadership - created quite a
stir and gave rise to insecurities of many, especially the anti-LTTE
groups.

Had Thondaman been another Chandrasekaran, hardly anybody
would have bothered about his interaction with the LTTE leadership.
But Thondaman was never known for overly pandering to the LTTE. In
fact he was quite the opposite.

This was exactly why he drew flak from various quarters following his
visit to Kilinochchi where he met LTTE Political Wing chief S.P.
Thamilselvan to discuss the creation of a grand Tamil alliance.The
fears of greater LTTE infiltration of the central hills with the revival of
the CWC – LTTE ties, led many, including the media to launch a
strong attack on the CWC leader.

Throughout Thondaman was comfortable with whatever government in
office and remained detached as much as possible from the LTTE. But
this time, with the JHU supporting the winning candidate, this tradition
was broken. On top of that Rajapakse also had an axe to grind. In fact,
during the Presidential election campaign, Rajapakse made it clear to
Thondaman that he was not going to accommodate him later if he didn’
t support him at the poll. When Thondaman informed Rajapakse about
his decision to support Wickremesinghe, pat came Rajapakse’s reply,
“Don’t come behind me after the elections.”

Rajapakse – the only one so far to win a Presidential election without
the support of either the CWC or the SLMC, has more than one
reason to ignore the CWC. Both his allies – the JVP and the JHU
threaten to withdraw support to Rajapakse if he takes Thondaman into
the fold. And waiting in the opposition for long is not something the
CWC leader is comfortable with.

Quite aware of the clout young Thondaman enjoys among the Tamils
of Indian origin, purely for being the grandson of the legendary
Soumyamoorthy Thondaman, the new administration was determined
to adopt a two-pronged strategy to weaken his leadership.

The partners of the ruling alliance are unanimous in their opinion that
Arumugam Thondaman is only exploiting the naivety of his
constituency. They believe that the CWC leader who is known for his
extravagant lifestyle is only concerned about his own comforts and
privileges and was not doing enough to help the people.

UPFA party seniors were working on an ambitious programme to
develop the estate areas to prove a point that real development can
come even in the absence of Thondaman in the government. Parallel
to this, moves were under way to woo individual CWC parliamentarians
to the UPFA camp.

As President Rajapakse spoke about the new Estate Infrastructure
Development Authority in his policy statement, moves were also under
way to hold discussions with the CWC MPs who are willing to join the
government. The crossover of Vadivel Suresh was a result of this.
Several others were also tipped to crossover.

While these moves were under way the government was also moving
to form a SLFP trade union under the leadership of Minister Jeyaraj
Fernandopulle for the plantation workers with the intention of breaking
into the CWC vote bank.

If these could be justified by somebody as part of the whole game of
political checkmating, then the Rajapakse administration went a step
further and made a totally unwarranted move.

That was by withdrawing some 16 security officials and the back-up
vehicle provided to Thondaman. And this at a time when it was all
clear that the biggest threat to Thondaman’s life was from none other
than the LTTE!

Having a leader who moves about as if the LTTE was non-existent as
the leader of the Tamils of Indian origin, had been the biggest
headache to the Tigers for long.

Despite the LTTE plans to cultivate Up country People’s Front (UPFA)
leader Chandrasekaran as a foil to Thondaman, the LTTE leaders
have learnt the hard way that breaking into the CWC bastion is not as
easy as they think.

The Tigers know for sure that the only way to end the CWC
dominance is to put an end to the Thondaman chapter, and there
would not have been any better chance to target him than when he is
deprived of his security.

The LTTE could easily carry out the operation without leaving the
Tiger signature and the blame would have fallen on the government,
which removed his security.

Quite aware of this, Thondaman made desperate attempts to get his
security restored but failed to get any guarantee till last Sunday during
his meeting with the President, the day after his visit to the Wanni.

While the intensified moves to destabilize the party became a major
disturbing factor for the CWC leader, many attribute the fear factor as
the key contributor to his decision to visit the LTTE on Saturday. The
Rajapakse administration therefore must share the blame.

Besides, no efforts were made by the Rajapakse administration to hold
discussions with the CWC leader when it was announced a few days
ago about the proposed visit to Kilinochchi by the CWC in an obvious
display of political brinkmanship.

After Thondaman’s visit to Kilinochchi it was India that quickly moved in
and organized a meeting between President Mahinda Rajapakse and
Thondaman at India House after the CWC leader refused to hold talks
at Temple Trees.

During this meeting on Sunday, it is learnt that the President had
agreed to give in to most of the demands of Thondaman.

However, by then the CWC had already scheduled another meeting
with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for Monday to discuss the
formation of the broad alliance of the Tamil parties comprising the
TNA, CWC, Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) and Mano Ganeshan’s
Western Province People’s Front.

While many speculated that the CWC leader would abandon the move
to form the alliance, now that he has patched up with the President
and more important that India too had sounded a word of caution, this
was not to be.

On Monday, the CWC went ahead with the plan and held talks with the
TNA. During this discussion the two parties appointed a four-man
committee to explore a structure under which the TNA, the CWC and
the UPF could work as a single bloc in parliament.

By then the CWC had already expressed concern about the Ward
system the government was planning to introduce at the Local
Government polls as it feared that it would undermine the clout of
minority parties in areas where the population is scattered and not
concentrated.

The TNA had agreed to back the CWC’s protest against changing the
existing system and support it in making several demands. In return,
the CWC is to formally endorse the Interim Self Governing Authority
(ISGA) of the LTTE.

Whether the decision to go ahead with the plan to create the broader
Tamil alliance was due to a genuine interest in aligning with the
brethren in the North or for the fear of the consequences of
backtracking on an undertaking given to the LTTE, is indeed a good
question.

After all, it was only three months ago that the CWC and the TNA
clashed openly in parliament during the emergency debate. The CWC
MPs shouted at TNA MP Eelavendan saying that Northern Tamils
never cared about the Tamils of Indian origin.

If Thondaman had any kind of brotherly feeling towards the North or
had a longing to be a Tiger ally, he had good five years to make
moves towards that direction.

But all these years his stand was that the issues of the Tamils of
Indian origin are totally independent of those of the North. He always
made it a point to use this slogan to keep himself away from the LTTE.

It is nothing but political amateurism that led the CWC to the Wanni as
the LTTE will now find it extremely easy to destroy, politically or
otherwise, the man they always wanted to get rid of. He has voluntarily
walked into the Tiger trap.

While it is nobody but Thondaman himself who has to be largely
blamed for the dangerous trap he has walked into, the truth remains
that it is nothing but reckless manoeuvering of the UPFA government
that drove the CWC leader the LTTE way.

While anybody would have understood the difficulties of President
Mahinda Rajapakse who is surrounded by the Sinhala-Buddhist allies
in inviting the CWC leader to join the government, there was
absolutely no need to resort to the grossly reckless and unscrupulous
tactics like withdrawing the security of a party leader who has
throughout been a LTTE target.

By the time the President agreed to restore his security last Sunday, it
was rather too late, since the meeting between the CWC and the
LTTE had already taken place by then.

President Rajapakse is only fortunate that the CWC leader survived
the three weeks without his full security. If anything had happened to
him during this period nobody else but the government would have
been held responsible for the tragedy.

Thondaman’s decision to toe the LTTE line is likely to change the
course of politics in Sri Lanka dramatically. The timing could not be
more inauspicious as the co-chairs are working on the first round of
talks between the UPFA government and the LTTE, most probably to
be held in Oslo.

With the CWC now on board, the LTTE is likely to be in a stronger
position, something it could not have even thought of especially after
the assassination of Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

One may not be surprised if the LTTE would attempt to annex the
subject of Indian Tamils too to the agenda of peace talks this time in
order to muster greater sympathy for their cause from the Indian
government, something that it does not enjoy right now. A strategy of
this nature, the LTTE might think, would put the Congress-led
government in a defensive position given the leverage southern
parties like the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) have on the
government.

However, the fact remains that the DMK or any other Tamil party in
South India care less about the Tamils of Indian origin here due to a
variety of reasons. While historical obligations may have made them to
be more helpful to a group of people who left the shores only a
century and half ago, it had not been the case.

On the other hand, Arumugam Thondaman still has time to reconsider
his decision to align with the LTTE proxy and start a process that
would only worsen the conflict here and exacerbate the polarization –
the Sinhala nationalists versus the LTTE.

His decision to accompany President Rajapakse to India, though after
some hesitation, speaks of some hope of a compromise.

The Rajapakse administration, which triggered this undesirable series
of events in a display of utter lack of political acumen, needs to take
stock of the situation and make some swift moves to minimize the
damage.
[DailyMirror]