|India deports 'King of Eelam'
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
The Sunday Leader - 10th December 2000
"Can one seeking refuge be abandoned - Can a mother push away
her Child." ("Thanjam Adainthapin Kaividalaamo Thaayunthan
Kulanthaiyaith Thallidap Pomo").- Subramaniya Bharathiyaar.
Eelaventhan, a wellknown Tamil activist of the Gandhian mould and a household
word in Tamil nationalist circles has been deported from India.
The simple and transparent reason as stated by Indian authorities is that the former
Translator residing in India for nearly two decades did not have a valid visa.Since he
was legally an "overstay" Indian immigration officials had to deport him to Colombo
is the official Indian version. Technically this position may be correct but the real and
underlying reasons for this deportation seem to be different.
King of Eelam
Eelaventhan whose real name is M. Kanakenthiran hails from Colombothurai in
Jaffna. A well known writer and orator in Tamil, Kanakenthiran assumed the
pseudonym of Eelaventhan meaning King of Eelam at a very young age. This was
long before the separatist demand had entered the Tamil political discourse in a big
way. Eelam was after all an ancient Tamil name for the entire Island. It is only Tamil
Eelam that denotes the Northern and Eastern Provinces now. Eelaventhan's life is a
saga reflecting the various ups and downs encountered over the past decades by Sri
Lankan Tamils in general and non - violent political activists in particular.
Eelaventhan now in his late sixties became a Tamil radical in the early years of his
youth. Married to the then Man- daitheevu Village Council chairman's daughter,
Eelaventhan worked as Tamil- English translator at the Central Bank. He was an
ardent follower of Federal Party Leader S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and a firm believer
in the credo of non - violent politics. In the mid sixties Eelaventhan was one of those
FP firebrand youths who was alienated by the party joining the Dudley Senanayake
led national government of 1965 - 70. Eelaventhan together with people like Kasi
Anandan, Karikalan, Annathasan etc formed the Thamil Thaai Mandram and
engaged in legitimate non- violent political activity that fanned the flames of Tamil
When V. Navaratnam the former FP Kayts MP was expelled in 1968 and formed
the Tamilar Suyatchy Kazgagham or Tamil Self - Rule Movement, Eelaventhan quit
FP ranks and supported it. A prolific writer in Tamil, Eelaventhan contributed to the
party organ "Viduthalai" (Liberation). Although attracted by the more extremist
stance of V. Navaratnam described earlier as the " FP Brain" Eelaventhan returned
to FP ranks in 1970 and participated actively in the FP campaign.The seventies saw
Eelaventhan being politically active in Colombo. He functioned for years as the FP
and later the TULF Colombo branch head.He also wrote a number of articles in the
TULF organ "Suthanthiran" (Freedom). Some of his articles were published as a
booklet titled "Thamil Man Kaappom, Thayagam Meetpom"( Let us protect Tamil
soil and free our motherland". This booklet focussed on how the Traditional Tamil
homelands were being colonised and annexed by Government sponsored activity.
This booklet played a crucial part in informing and encouraging tamil nationalism in
the seventies. It provided vital statistics of this "Sinhalaisation" process and was
frequently quoted by speakers and writers espousing the Tamil cause then.
Eelaventhan himself was an impressive orator with a monumental memory. He would
reel off a series of historical anecdotes, quotations and statistical tables from
memory. Although not possessing tertiary educational qualifications Eelaventhan
equipped himself well in later years through diligent reading and an unadulterated
devotion to "Mother" Tamil.
He would commence his speeches with a brief quote of the Saivaite Saint
Thirunaavukkarasar " Ennai Nandraai Iraivan padaithanan, Thannai Nandraai Thamil
Seyyumaare" (God created me perfectly to praise him well in Tamil). Eelaventhan
belonged to that group of Tamil activists who were genuinely and emotionally
enamoured of tamil nationalism and the tamil cause. This quotation was Eelaventhan's
motto in life. It was his mission statement. By pursuing this vision Eelaventhan
changed his political camp several times and underwent difficulties as at present.
Notwithstanding the changes in his political positions, Eelaventhan remains steadfast
in his commitment to the Tamil cause.
In 1977 Eelaventhan was urged to contest the Colombo West Electorate by some
Colombo tamils, but the TULF hierarchy vetoed it not wanting to offend JR
Jayewardene. Eelaventhan played a prominent part in campaigning for the Tamil
Eelam demand as enshrined in the TULF manifesto. The overwhelming victory of the
TULF in 1977 was interpreted by Eelaventhan and those of his ilk as a convincing
mandate for Tamil Eelam. Many TULF leaders who contested the polls then on the
Eelam mandate and won have "reconsidered" that mandate. But to those fierce
followers of the cause, the Tamil Eelam mandate is permanent and irrevocable.
The 1977 anti-Tamil violence saw Eelaventhan's house at Nugegoda looted and
destroyed by Sinhala mobs. Eelaventhan and his family were forced to become
refugees at the Saraswathy Hall camp. Eelaventhan also had a harrowing experience
at his work place, Central Bank, then.A gang of Sinhala co-workers mainly of the
minor staff cadre manhandled Eelaventhan and tried to throw him down from an
upper storey. They had for long been irritated by this Tamil nationalist with an
"eelamist" name who made no attempt to hide his political opinion.The intervention of
senior Sinhala colleagues saved Eelaventhan then.
In 1979 Eelaventhan attended the Hindu Conference at Alahabhad in India and tried
to enlighten the "hindu" delegates that the bulk of the Tamils being oppressed in Sri
Lanka were Hindus. He was interdicted upon his return for the offence of indulging in
ant-state propaganda. Eelaventhan challenged this action and after a prolonged
inquiry was absolved of charges. Former TULF secretary-general and opposition
leader Appapillai Amirthalingam who backed Eelaventhan in this issue persuaded the
latter to "retire" from service and draw a pension. Eelaventhan reluctantly agreed and
became a "free bird" in 1981. Eelaventhan was also taken in for questioning in 1979
by Brigadier "Bull" Weeratunga in Jaffna who had been ordered by his uncle JR to
"wipe out all forms of terrorism in Jaffna before 1979 Dec 31st. Eelaventhan was
later allowed to go free as it became clear that in spite of his Eelamist rhetoric, the
man was a man of peace and believer in non - violence.After shuttling between India
and Sri Lanka for two years , He relocated permanently to India with his family, like
thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils, in 1983.
In 1981 January Eelaventhan attended the fifth World Tamil Conference at Madurai
in Tamil Nadu, India. M.G. Ramachandran was the chief minister, Indira Gandhi had
just been relected as Prime Minister. MGR who had backed the Janatha Party in the
elections was anxious to get back into Indira's good books.Amirthalingam along with
ministers Thondaman and Rajadurai were also on the platform where Indira Gandhi
was scheduled to address a mass meeting. The incorrigible Eelaventhan as usual
began distributing pro-Tamil eelam literature. He was arrested then and there. A
furious MGR thought mistakenly that Eelaventhan was acting under the directive of
Amirthalingam and launched a tirade against the TULF leader in public.
Amirthalingam responded hotly. MGR was mollified later by the sight of Indira and
Amirthalingam conferring amiably. Eelaventhan was later released at the insistence of
Eelaventhan's relationship with the TULF in general and Amirthalingam in particular
began to sour.The TULF from Eelaventhan's perspective opted to compromise on
the Eelam demand and accept the District Development Councils offered by
Jayewardene. Eelaventhan along with former "suthanthiran" editor Kovai Mahesan,
DR. S.A. Tharmalingam and several youth wing members opposed this. This
"dissident" group had the tacit backing of S.J.V. Chelvanayagam's son SC
Chandrahasan and former TULF Kopay Mp C.
Kathiravetpillai. Chandrahasan was viewed by the anti - Amirthalingam faction as the
future chief of the TULF. After protracted wrangling the dissident group was
outvoted by the pro - Amirthalingam sections at the General Council meeting at
Vavuniya.. Eelaventhan then made his final exit from the TULF after a typically
emotionally scene by prostrating himself at Mrs. Mankaiyarkarasi Amirthalingam's
feet and weeping profusely.
The breakaway group formed themselves into the Tamil Eelam Liberation Front and
adopted a hard line position asserting an Eelam or nothing stance and opposing all
compromises. Dr Tharmalingam an uncle of former TULF Jaffna MP Vettrivelu
Yogeswaran was the TULF president and Eelaventhan its secretary. Eelaventhan
tried in 1982 to make a unilateral declaration of Independence for "Tamil Eelam" on
Thai Pongal day (Jan 14th). The move fizzled out as a damp squib. The TULF
however made an impact on Tamil society by its activity. It succeeded in portraying
the TULF old guard as a set of turncoats who bartered away the inalienable
birthright of Tamil Eelam for a mess of DDC pottage.The younger generation
became disillusioned over the TULF.
In India, Eelaventhan worked for sometime with Chandrahasan in the OFERR an
organization founded by the latter to work for the upliftment of Tamil refugees in the
Country. Eelaventhan was also somewhat sympathetic towards the People
Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam though he was never an advocate of
violence. This was because of the personal relationship Eelaventhan had with
Umamaheswaran the PLOTE founder-leader.
Umamaheswaran was at one time the TULF Colombo branch secretary when
Eelaventhan was President. With the passage of time Eelaventhan became
disillusioned of both and began to plough a lone furrow.
Promoted the Tamil cause
He continued with his Tamil Eelam Liberation Front politics in Madras now Chennai.
Eelaventhan personified the TELF literally and metaphorically as he was perhaps its
sole member. Yet his indefatigable energy and fervour helped project a larger than
life image of the TELF. The sight of a verti clad Eelaventhan with a cloth bag slung
over his shoulder was a familiar sight to most Tamil Nadu politicians and journalists.
Travelling generally by bus and on foot, Eelaventhan would bombard newspaper
offices with press releases on Tamil affairs in Sri Lanka. Many newspapers would
give the TULF a lot of publicity . When this writer asked a prominent Indian editor
why this was so he replied smilingly "Eelaventhan will come to my office and park
himself with his releases. To get rid of him I promise to publish extracts". Eelaventhan
maintained close rapport with several influential journalists and promoted the Tamil
Many Indian journalists and politicians also found in Eelaventhan a walking encyclo-
paedia of Sri Lankan Tamil political history. He was an ever ready resource person.
Eelaventhan would also attend almost every political meeting in Chennai and
distribute copies of his statements on various political developments concerning Sri
Lankan Tamils. He would also address meetings and public receptions whenever
possible and put forward the Tamil point of view. He would also seek out individual
Tamil Nadu political leaders and lobby them until the situation in the state
transformed to a point where such activity became non-productive.
The significant aspect about Eelaventhan was that he received no funds from any
organization to do this type of political work. He was living with his family on money
remitted by some of his siblings living abroad. His lifestyle was spartanly simple. It
was the easily recognizable sight of a man without adequate resources struggling to
advocate the Tamil cause as well as he could that endeared Eelaventhan to many a
Tamil Nadu resident though many of them may not have subscribed to it.
In recent years however Eelaventhan like many other ardent Tamil nationalists began
to veer around to becoming supportive of the LTTE. Many of these persons abhor
violence and are not happy about many of the LTTE's acts.Yet they found some
congruence if not an identity of interests with the LTTE. The Tamil nationalist
perspective of Eelaventhan and the LTTE's basic Eelamist ideology found a meeting
point. This in turn led to Eelaventhan being viewed by Tamil Nadu authorities as an
This assessment however was flawed as Eelaventhan was now pro - LTTE but not
of the LTTE. Yet official circles struggling to catch some "Tigers" chose to pinpoint
the fellow travellers as real LTTE men.
Three years ago in 1997 Eelaventhan was arrested by the Tamil Nadu "Q" branch
(State Intelligence) police along with some others as agents of the LTTE. He was
accused of procuring and supplying medicine and medical equipment from Tamil
Nadu to the LTTE in N - E Lanka. After several months of incarceration all those
arrested including Eelaventhan were cleared of charges. They were released one by
one. Nevertheless Eelaventhan was now "blackmarked" as a suspected LTTE agent.
Some months ago Eelaven- than and another Sri Lankan Tamil national K.
Satchithanandan were earmarked deportation by officials of the Indian Home
Ministry. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazgagham leader Vaiko intervened
personally and got Home Minister Advani to call off this move.
This was due to the actions of some Indian Bureaucratic officials who are suspected
of being hostile to Tamil national interests for certain reasons.
Another instance of this was the detention of an Indian Tamil national from the USA
Dr. Thanikaisekeran at New Delhi for two days when he tried to enter the land of his
birth. His alleged "offence" was supporting the Tamil Eelam cause in the US. Again
Vaiko intervened and secured his release.
The fact that an eminent non - resident Indian Tamil could be treated in this manner is
indicative of the hostile climate towards the Tamil cause amidst Indian officialdom.
Satchithanandam a former Fisheries Department and UN official now running a
printing establishment "Kaanthalagam" in Chennai got the "message". After the arrest,
release and revocation of his deportation order Satchi as he is generally known
adopted a very low profile and virtually ceased all political activity.
He was also fortunate in enjoying a personal relationship with Tamil Nadu chief
minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi and also several other BJP bigwigs.This however was
not the case with Eelaventhan who had neither "influence" nor financial clout. In what
could be termed only as Quixotic, Eelaventhan continued with his politics issuing
statements on almost everything connected to Sri Lankan Tamils.
The current problem arose when the notorious forest brigand Veerappan abducted
Kannadiga cine idol Rajkumar and placed some Tamil "nationalist" demands.
Veerappan was perceived as having been transformed now into a Tamil ultra -
He was now involved with the Tamil Nadu National Liberation Army and the Tamil
Nadu Retrieval Force both of which are suspected of having links with the LTTE.
The TNLA website refers to the brigand as Brigadier Veerappan now. Rajkumar's
release was finally secured by the efforts of Pala. Nedumaran the leader of the Tamil
nationalist movement and a well known supporter of the LTTE. The team led by
Nedumaran comprised several known LTTE sympathisers including Kolathoor Mani
of Mettur, Salem.
Downfall of Karunanidhi
The LTTE factor has come to be viewed with suspicion by opposition parties in
Tamil Nadu after Rajkumar's release. The credibility and stature of the pro - LTTE
elements has increased considerably. This is also resented by the opposition parties.
So these sections have now started a propaganda barrage accusing Chief Minister
Karunanidhi of striking a deal with the LTTE through Nedumaran to bring about
Rajkumar's release. Accusations are rampant about the LTTE presence in the state.
Both the state as well as Central governments are charged with aiding and abetting
the tigers in Tamil Nadu. It is clear that the charge will echo and re - echo during the
State Elections scheduled next year.It may be recalled that the accusation of a DMK
- LTTE Nexus has caused the political downfall of Karunanidhi on more than one
Under these circumstances the Karunanidhi regime felt beleaguered and felt some
action had to be taken to demonstrate that it was not soft on the LTTE. The BJP led
Central government of which the Dravida Munnetra Kazgagham is a component,
also had the same compulsions. Poor Eelaventhan was deemed an appropriate
The TULF leader had also "blundered" by issuing a statement appreciative of
Verrappan's "nationalist" demands. One occasion where Eelaventhan distributed
copies of this press statement was the wedding of DMK leader Vaiko's daughter
Kannaki on Nov 15th this year.Among the guests were Home Minister L.K. Advani
and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi. The LTTE leader Velupillai
Prabakharan's parents were also guests along with Eelaventhan.
The latter was observed paying his respects to the elderly couple and conversing for
a long time. In addition he was also seen distributing a statement that embarrassed
the State and Central Governments. More importantly it related to what was purely
an Indian domestic issue.This irritated the powers that be who felt Eelaventhan had
overstepped his boundaries. Deporting him would convey a signal to several circles.
A lone wolf
According to Indian sources, Eelavendhan, was a suitable sacrifice to be slaughtered
on the altar of anti - tigerism.He was a lone wolf without much backing or clout and
therefore politically expendable.There was little chance of a political backlash.The go
ahead signal given to the officials came from both the Central and State Government
upper echelons.The fact that Eelaventhan had no valid visa or passport was a
The idea was to portray the deportation as a simple procedural action sans political
connotations. It was just a deportation of an overstay. The callously cruel dimension
in the exercise was deporting him back to Sri Lanka, a land which he fled for
political reasons alleging fear of persecution. There was no room for concern over
the plight of Eelaventhan in the Indian scheme of things.
The operation was undertaken with an element of duplicity that does not become of
"Mother" India.Immigration and Police officials in civvies went to Eelaventhan's
residence at Arumbakkam in Chennai at about 5 am on Monday December 4th.
They informed him that he was to be escorted to the immigration office at "Shastri
Bhavan" in Nungambakkam. Instead, the team changed track to Meenambakkam
where the Air Port is situated. Realising that he was about to be sent to Colombo, a
terrified Eelaventhan sat on the floor protesting non-violently. The officials grabbed
the frail , old man and bodily carried him to the Colombo bound plane. Two Indian
officials accompanied him to Katunayake. After a brief "interview" officials in
Colombo requested Eelaventhan to call over at a convenient time for further
interrogation. They gave him fifty Sri Lankan rupees and asked him to "Go" home. A
dazed Eelaventhan then made his exit from the Air Port.
Eelaventhan is now reportedly staying with a sister and brother in law in the
Colombo suburbs by day. At night he sleeps at the residence of a Tamil
Parliamentarian. Since he has been wrongly depicted in the Indian media as an
associate of LTTE leader Prabakharan, Eelaventhan fears action by officials of the
state, non - LTTE Tamil groups and possibly Sinhala hardline factions. His future in
Colombo is uncertain. Moreover his wife and two daughters are in Chennai. The
eldest daughter is married to a lecturer at Madras Christian College.
Meanwhile some political forces in India began to act on Eelaventhan's behalf.
Dravida Kazgagham leader K. Veeramani was the first to condemn the deportation.
Ironically the deportation was in reality a sop to Jayalalitha jayaram the AIADMK
leader whose line Veeramani toes now. Nedumaran and another Tamil activist
Veerapandian also issued statements criticing the deportation of a non - violent Tamil
activist who was in every sense a refugee. Veeramani queried as to how a Tamil
refugee would have proper immigration documents.
MDMK leader Vaiko contacted Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee directly in
New Delhi. Vajpayee is reported to have telephoned Indian Foreign Minister
Jaswanth Singh in Vaiko's presence and given two directives. One was to inform the
Sri Lankan High Commissioner Senaka Bandaranaike of this development and to
emphasise the safety of Eelaventhan in Colombo. The second was to instruct the
Indian envoy in Colombo Gopalakrishna Gandhi to interact with Sri Lankan
authorities and ensure the protection of Eelaventhan.Vaiko also obtained an
assurance that Eelaventhan's family would not be deported.
As sections of the Indian media have stated Eelaventhan is a "Non - militant". He is
also a refugee fearing persecution. If harm befalls him in Sri Lanka as a result of the
deportation, New Delhi and Chennai would be placed in an embarrassing
position.The fact that Eelaventhan was given an emergency travel document in
Chennai and the "light" nature of his preliminary inquiry suggests that the deportation
was no surprise to Sri Lanka .Officials of both countries have cooperated in the
exercise as in the earlier case of Soundaranayagam who was arrested and deported
clandestinely on a flight from Trichy last year. It is also in the interests of Colombo to
protect Eelaventhan. In spite of the best intentions, Eelaventhan's safety cannot be
guaranteed in Sri Lanka particularly in the context of the Bindunuwewa massacre
where the "fence devoured the crops it was supposed to protect".
It is also apparent that some Tamil politicians in Tamil Nadu would pressurise the
Central Government to review the situation and revoke the deportation order. It may
be recalled that the deportation of Anton Balasingham and SC Chandrahasan in
1985 also boomeranged on India. Both were allowed to return. The difference of
course is that both were sent to Britain and the USA respectively. In Eeleventhan's
case he has been sent to Sri Lanka. If saner counsel prevails in the Indian corridors
of power then Eelaventhan may be allowed at some future stage to slip back to
Chennai via a safe third country.
For this to occur , Eelaventhan himself must adopt an uncharacteristically low profile
without criticing India. It is also in his own interest to keep mum to avoid unwelcome
attention. Steps should also be taken to safeguard the man during his stay in Sri
Lanka. The answer is not protective custody or forcible relocation to Jaffna. It is
humanely imperative that the man be allowed to unite with his family. Eelaventhan is
in evey sense a political refugee with reasonable grounds to fear persecution in Sri
Lanka. Will India appreciate this and permit him to return?