Rajavarothayam Sampanthan has become the second Tamil Opposition Leader in 32 years after late Appapillai Amirthalingam who was instrumental in making Sampanthan enter Parliament with the Tamil United Liberation Front’s (TULF) landslide victory in the 1977 general election.
Though Sampanthan had joined the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) led by late S.J.V. Chelvanayakam in 1952, he didn’t show any interest in entering big time politics and remained as one of the prominent criminal lawyers in Trincomalee.
Popularly known as Sam among his close associates, not only the Tamil moderates, but even the Tamil militants accepted Sampanthan as an articulate political figure.
When the Tamil National Alliance which was considered as a second Tamil political coalition after the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was formed, it was Sampanthan who took the bold step in making the ITAK to ally with other political outfits with a militant background and even to coordinate with the LTTE’s political wing to strengthen the political activities in the North and the East.
During the peace initiatives facilitated by Norway, Sampanthan played a significant role in strengthening the political process coordinating with the LTTE, though the outfit had messed up the constructive efforts taken by the International community towards reaching a durable solution to the North and East crisis.
Since the Tamil politics in the Island has now internationalized to a greater extent, unlike in the era of his predecessor late A. Amirthalingam, the TNA Leader Sampanthan was compelled to deal cautiously in handling the Tamil political issue both locally as well as internationally.
With an end to the Tamil militancy in the Island, the TNA spearheaded its political moves towards devolving more powers to the North and the East, while extending its support to the unity and integrity of the Island.
The significant role played by the TNA in overthrowing the ‘draconic’ Rajapaksa regime in the January presidential poll this year was evident towards its concerns in safeguarding the national interest and establish good governance in the country.
The three decades of Sampanthan’s political journey had never been a ‘cake walk’. When the LTTE was gunning for the Tamil moderates from the time the TULF entered Parliament with late Amirthalingam becoming the Leader of the Opposition in 1977 and later accepting the Indo-Lanka Accord, almost all the Tamil politicians were experiencing a ‘tight rope walk’ in protecting their political career as well as their precious lives.
The late A. Amirthalingam became the first Tamil Opposition Leader in the backdrop of his campaign for a separate Tamil State. However, Sampanthan, who campaigned for a political solution to the Tamil question under a federal system, while emphasizing on the integrity of the country, at the parliamentary polls, has become the second Tamil Opposition Leader despite the hue and cry of the chauvinists elected to the new Parliament.
UPFA Parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena commenting on Sampanthan’s position as Leader of the Opposition said that it was the beginning of the second part of the separatist politics of late Amirthalingam.
Wimal Weerawansa who is another colleague of Dinesh Gunawardena had made a ‘wild cry’ in the Parliament soon after Sampanthan was announced as the Leader of the Opposition saying that the country has been led to a perilous situation due to the new appointment of Sampanthan.
So it’s heartening to see that the petty attitude of Parliamentarians such as Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weerawansa and their other colleagues towards Sampanthan, who had risked even his own life amidst the long drawn out war in stabilizing democracy in the North and the East and guiding the present generation of Tamil speaking people in the two provinces to place their confidence on a fully fledged democratic system.
The chauvinists in Parliament should realize that the obstacles created by their predecessors in uniting the country by recognizing the legitimate political rights of the minorities had led to enormous political struggles and later to a ruthless civil war in the country.
Sampanthan during his campaign at the parliamentary polls last month had clearly stated that by gaining a remarkable victory, the TNA would even strengthen the hands of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for the unity and integrity of the country. The chauvinists should realize that the excellent tri-lingual command of Oppoition Leader Sampanthan itself puts himself on the pedestal as a refined Sri Lankan politician.
On the other hand as far as Tamil politics are concerned Sampanthan will have to face an arduous task in handling the critical North and East issues such as the demand of the majority of the people in the two provinces, emphasizing on the international investigation into the alleged war crimes and human rights violations committed during the civil war.
Since the constituent parties in Sampanthan’s TNA are up in arms on demanding an international investigation into the alleged war crimes, the chauvinists should realize the challenges faced by the TNA leadership in even dealing with the burning issues that emerged in the North and the East.
As the new Parliament enters into a new era with the hope of strengthening peace and reconciliation, the chauvinists should ensure that they do not make the same mistake which were committed by their predecessors towards building this Island nation free of all petty communal differences.
So with the international community which had played a key role in ending the turbulent conditions in the country praising the magnanimity of the new Parliament in accepting the veteran TNA Leader Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition, the Tamil leader will certainly have the strength to stand tall to ignore the un-parliamentary behaviour against him with the outlook of ‘the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on’.