Last TULF Leader Standing: Sangaree at Seventy Five
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Eighteen Members were elected to Parliament from the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1977 .This was an election of historic importance where the TULF contested on a separatist platform saying a victory at the polls was a mandate for Tamil Eelam.
Three decades and more have passed since then. Thirteen of the eighteen MP’s elected in 1977 are not among the living now.
Of the remaining ex – MP’s three have retired from politics . They are K.P.Ratnam , C. Rajadurai and P. Soosaithasan.
The two veteran TULF leaders who are in active politics at present are Rajavarothayam . Sambandan and Veerasingham . Anandasangaree.
[At the Acceptance Speech of UNESCO/ Madanjeet Singh Prize for Promotion of Tolerance and Non Violence - Mr. V. Anandasangaree, on Nov 16, 2006]
Both are at loggerheads with each other though Anandasangaree is the TULF president and Sambandan its secretary – general
A legal dispute concerning the party has rendered it virtually inactive.
Many leaders of the TULF have in association with three other Tamil parties formed the Tamil National Alliance which contested the last elections under the house symbol of the Ilankai Thamil arasu Katchi (ITAK). Sambandan himself was elected to Parliament from the Trincomalee district.
Anandasangaree or Sangaree as he is generally known remains outside the Tamil National alliance and functions as the TULF president.
The TULF is today a caricature of its former self mainly due to the terror and intimidating tactics of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
While most of the “nominal” TULF leaders have become puppets of the LTTE the bulk of the rank and file remain loyal to the TULF still. How ever they are unable to assert themselves openly and fearlessly.
Against such a backdrop it has been the lot of party president Anandasangaree to keep the TULF flag flying bravely . In recent times Sangaree has become the personification of the TULF.
In that sense Veerasingham Anandasangaree is today the last man standing of the TULF leaders. One doubts very much whether there would ever be a TULF after him.
Today (June 15th) is a significant milepost for Sangaree as he celebrates his seventy – fifth birthday today.
Born in Point Pedro in June 1933, Anandasangaree grew up in Atchuvely as his father was a school principal at Sri Somaskanda College in neighbouring Puthur. Sangaree himself studied at Sri Somaskanda, Christian College Atchuvely, Hartley College , Point Pedro and also Zahira College , Colombo .
Before taking up law, Sangaree was a pedagogue teaching at Hindu College Jaffna, Poonakari MMV, Kotalawela GTM School , Ratmalana and Christ King College Ja-Ela.
He passed out as a lawyer in 1967 and began practicing till 1983 when the TULF leaders refused to take oaths under the 6th amendment to the constitution. He has not worn the black coat ever since.
Like many political leaders on both sides of the ethnic divide, Sangaree too began his politics as an ardent Trotskyite. He was an active member of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party (LSSP) Youth League from 1955 to 1965.
His first experience in running for electoral office was in 1959 when he contested the Colombo Municipal Council on the LSSP ticket. His opponent was none other than the uncrowned king of Colombo municipal politics V. A. Sugathadasa who was also mayor then. It was a baptism of fire in Colombo for the 25 year old Jaffna youth.
The March 1960 elections saw the LSSP under Dr. N. M. Perera make a determined bid for political power through electoral politics. The party contested 101 seats in all parts of the island and NM himself was projected as the future prime minister of the country. NM asked Sangaree to contest the newly carved rural constituency of Kilinochchi as a LSSP candidate. Anandasangaree having no links to Kilinochchi was reluctant.
NM encouraged him to plunge in saying that even if the “unknown”Sangaree lost then he would win the seat in 10 years time. NM’s words in 1960 were prophetic and in 1970 Anandasangaree was elected for the first time to parliament from Kilinochchi.
Only he was no longer a Trotskyite but a Tamil Congress candidate having embraced Tamil nationalism. The LSSP however fared poorly winning only 10 seats.
Sangaree contested the March 1960, July 1960 and March 1965 elections in Kilinochchi under the key symbol of the LSSP. He got 1114, 2011 and 1804 votes respectively. He lost both times in 1960 to S. Sivasundaram and in 1965 to K. P. Ratnam who were of the Federal Party (FP).
In 1966, the LSSP now aligned with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) adopted the communal “Dudleyge bade masala vadai” line and opposed the reasonable use of Tamil as an official language in 1966. Sangaree like many Tamil LSSP’ers quit the party.
He joined the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) led by G. G. Ponnambalam Snr. in May 1966. Earlier, he contested and won the Kilinochchi town ward in the Karaichi Village Council.
He became its chairman from 1965 to 1968. In 1968, it was elevated to Town Council status. Sangaree contested, won and became the first Kilinochchi TC chairman. He functioned in that capacity till the end of 1969.
January 1970 saw Sangaree become Youth Front President of the Tamil Congress. In May 1970, he won Kilinochchi on the cycle symbol of the ACTC and defeated Alalasundaram of the FP by 657 votes. The ACTC got 9049 to the FP’s 8392.
The Tamil United Front (TUF) was formed in May 1972. This became the TULF in May 1976. This period saw Anandasangaree’s stock rising in Tamil politics. The Tamil Congress had three MPs in 1970. They were Arulampalam of Nallur, Thiyagarajah of Vaddukkoddai and Anandasangaree of Kilinochchi.
Arulampalam and Thiyagarajah opted to join the United Front government. Sangaree despite his left leanings and respect for NM refused to cross-over and remained in the ranks of the Tamil nationalists. His stature increased greatly because of this.
In 1977, the TULF swept the elections riding the crest of a Tamil Eelam wave. Sangaree contested Kilinochchi again and polled 15,607 votes obtaining a majority of 11,601.
The 1983 violence and the sixth amendment saw the TULF out in the political wilderness. Sangaree like many other TULF figures relocated to Madras but kept shuttling between India and Sri Lanka .
In 1989, the TULF re-entered the political mainstream. Sangaree contested the Jaffna electoral district in 1989 and the Wanni District in 1994 on behalf of the TULF and lost in both.
In 2000, Anandasangaree was the chief candidate on the TULF ticket again in Jaffna . The TULF got three seats and Sangaree got the highest amount of preferences.
In 2001, the TULF contested as part of the TNA under the party symbol of rising sun. Again Sangaree topped the list gaining over 36,000 preferences.
Anandasangaree was elected senior vice president of the TULF in 1993 and proved to be a tower of strength to the party when it was at the receiving end of systematic violence by the Tigers. He was instrumental in reviving flagging fortunes of the TULF in Jaffna by taking over the Jaffna Municipal Council election campaign in 1998.
At a time when the TULF was under grave threat from the LTTE it was Sangaree who rallied the party around and provided moral strength to withstand the pressure. He planted himself in Jaffna and spearheaded the Jaffna municipal poll campaign. It was this success which helped the TULF restore lost prestige and regain a firm footing in Jaffna politics again.
Yet the very same TULF which owed its current existence to this man’s courage and dedication turned against him when the LTTE wanted him out. The man displayed a rare fighting ability after his defeat.
Instead of slinking into political oblivion with tail tucked between hind legs or going out to pasture with his children in Britain , Canada or Denmark, Anandasangaree chose to remain in Colombo and fight it out. Instead of keeping mum or adopting the path of least resistance Sangaree opted to take the bull by its horns or the tiger by its jaws.
Sangaree has always been a brave fighter. Contesting as a 26 year old man from Jaffna against UNP Colombo Mayor VA Sugathadasa in 1959; parachuting as an unknown outsider into the unknown Kilinochchi in 1960 as LSSP candidate;going against his two Tamil Congress parliamentary colleagues and voting against the 1972 Constitution; combatting the “powerful” campaign of SLFP Tamil cabinet minister Chelliah Kumarasuriar in 1977; engaging in bitter acrimony with fellow TULF members over his demand to carve out Kilinochchi as a separate district from that of Jaffna;defying the LTTE during Jaffna municipal elections and its aftermath;resisting his ouster from TULF boldly instead of caving in to tiger pressure etc are all indicators of his courage and determination.
His finest hours however have come during his twilight years as a septugenarian. Sangaree has been struggling to keep the party alive amidst great adversity.
What has been remarkable about the man is his dogged determination to articulate his viewpoint and advocate a negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis on federal lines. He speaks out against the war and wants the problem to be resolved peacefully.
Sangaree admires the Indian model and wants Sri Lanka to follow that example. He wants ethnic amity and harmony based on justice and equality.
Anandasangaree is a man with a mission. He has two goals.
One is to ensure that Sri Lankans in general and Tamils in particular live in peace, equality and amity. For this he sees a federal set up on the Indian model as the solution.
Secondly he wants the Tamil people to be truly free. For this he wants the iron grip of the LTTE to be relaxed. He wants the LTTE to reform or face consequences.
While there are many voices within the Tamil nationalist spectrum and among the human rights community to condemn the state and its minions there are comparatively few voices amidst Tamils who criticise the LTTE.
The tiger is a holy cow for most Tamils and few Tamils dare to differ let alone criticise it. It has become in the words of famed Tamil poet Subramania Bharathy the “ Pesaap Porul” or unspeakable theme.
But not for Sangaree. He has been wading into these dangerous waters without hesitation. He has been branded traitor and as one who has sold his soul etc. Yet he firmly stands his ground continuing to do what he thinks is right.
By doing so he has touched on many issues that are “untouchable” among Tamil political and media circles. Sangaree has also succeeded in giving voice to the unexpressed sentiments of the silenced Tamil majority . He is often the voice of the voiceless Tamils.
Sangaree like the mythical Sisyphus keeps trying to roll the boulder upwards not only with Tamil hardliners but also with Sinhala hawks. He has engaged in discussions with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika Hela Urumaya.
Sangaree has met with UNP and SLFP leaders. He has interacted with Indian, Norwegian, Canadian and officials of other Countries. His passion is for a federal solution where all communities could co-exist peacefully.
Even recently he re-iterated his commitment to a federal solution before the President despite Mahinda Rajapakse’s preference for a unitary state. Sangaree has also objected strongly to the appointment of Douglas Devananda as head of the special task force for northern development.
His abhorrence of war and espousal of non - violence stems very much from very personal loss, suffering and pain. Sangaree has lost many relatives to political violence and terror.
His elder brother Rajasangaree was the chairman of Chavakachcheri Citizens committee during the Indian Army period. Rajasangaree spoke out against Indian army atrocities and was killed by the EPRLF on Oct 26th 1987.
Anandasangaree’s younger brother Gnanasangaree was killed in Kilinochchi by the LTTE for criticing the tigers publicly. This happened on Feb 10th 1988. Two of Gnanasangaree’s sons spoke out publicly against their father’s killing. They were taken away by the tigers for questioning. They never returned.
Another brother Ganeshasangaree’s son was Yogasangaree. This nephew of Anandasangaree was elected as an EPRLF member of Parliament for Jaffna district in 1989.
On June 19th 1990 Yogasangaree was in Madras for an EPRLF meeting at Kodambakkam with Secretary - General Padmanabha. LTTE assassins suddenly entered and sprayed the hall with machine gun fire. Fourteen including Padmanabha and Yogasangaree died.
On July 7th 2005 terrorists in Britain set off human bomb explosions in subway trains and a surface bus.
One of those killed was a young girl of Sri Lankan origin. She was Sayanuja the daughter of another brother of Anandasangaree named Parathasangaree.
So when Anandasangaree speaks out against war and political violence and speaks of a negotiated settlement and peaceful co-existence he speaks from the heart. Despite the overwhelming odds he has remained steadfast to his political mission.
In that sense the past few years are perhaps the best and most productive period of his life. The LTTE and its minions may slander and condemn him as a traitor but all right thinking people with a proper understanding of what is going on in Sri Lanka will have only praise for this man’s dedication and courage.
This column wishes him well on this day as he reaches the magical age of seventy – five!
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org