by R. K. Radhakrishnan
Most Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka could become things of the past if the Supreme Court acts on a petition that seeks disqualification of the parties for retaining the demand for a separate state in their party documents, called constitutions.
Long after the Tamil political parties dropped their demand for a separate state, their unamended party constitutions, in which the demand for a Tamil Eelam are stated, have come to haunt them. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in August 1983, prohibits political parties from having as one of their aims the establishment of a separate State.
The petition was recently filed in the Supreme Court by a little-known advocate who is part of an unrecognised political party — Jayantha Liyanage, general secretary of Sinhala Jathika Peramuna based in Kurunegala. The targets are: the Tamil National Alliance (TNA); the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK); the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF); the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).
The petitioner’s plea to the court is to declare that the parties in question have the formation of an independent state as one of its aims.
Article 157A (2) [in Chapter 20] of the Sri Lankan Constitution, states: “No political party or other association or organisation shall have as one of its aims or objects the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka.”
The petitioner has meticulously adhered to all the provisions mentioned in the Constitution and the application has faultless English. Article 157A (4) states: “Where any political party or other association or organisation has as one of its aims or objects the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka, any person many make an application to the Supreme Court for a declaration that such political party or other association or organisation has as one of its aims and objects the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka. The Secretary or other officer of such political party or other association or organisation shall be made a respondent to such application.”
If the court actually makes the declaration, the parties and its MPs will cease to exist since 157A (5) (a) says: “political party or other association or organisation shall be deemed, for all purposes to be proscribed and any member of such political party or other association or organisation, who is a Member of Parliament shall be deemed to have vacated his seat in Parliament with effect from the date of such declaration, and any nomination paper submitted by such political party or other association, or organisation shall be deemed for all purposes invalid.”
Article 157A (5) (b) also prescribes punishment for anyone associated with such organisations. This includes “civic disability for such period not exceeding seven years”, forfeiture of movable and immovable property minus, what the Court determines, is required for the individual’s sustenance, losing civil rights for a maximum period of seven years, and losing membership of Parliament, if the person is an MP.
TULF, TELO, EPRLF and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress were once part of the Tamil National Alliance — the only credible representative of the Tamil people of the north. TULF and the ACTC left the alliance later.
The ITAK has among its goals “establishing of a unitary Tamil State and a unitary Muslim State and achieving political, economical and cultural freedom of the Tamil speaking community”, as its aim. The TULF, in its ‘Vaddukodai resolution’ on May 14, 1976, had resolved that the “restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular socialist State of Tamil Eelam, based on the right of self determination inherent to every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of Tamil nation”.
In its election manifesto in 1977, the TULF, while outlining the many issues that made it work towards a separate state, says that the TULF “seeks in the general election the mandate of the Tamils to establish an independent, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam, that includes all the geographically contiguous areas that have been traditional homeland of the Tamil speaking people in the country”.
The TULF uses a different language ahead of the 1984 elections, but the aim pretty much remains the same: “A central element in the political program of the TULF related to the political autonomy of the North-East based on acknowledgement of the right of self determination of peoples acknowledged in the International Civil and Political Covenant, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory.”
In the case of TELO and EPRLF, the petitioner contended that both the organisations were terrorist groups which had aimed at establishing a separate state. “When it was converted into a political party, it [TELO and EPRLF] has not changed its name, which clearly conveys its aim.”
Apart from targeting individual parties, the petitioner has also gone after the TNA. He says that the TNA has been negotiating on the basis of the ‘Thimpu principles’, (based on the 1985 Thimpu declaration). Tamil parties declared that Tamils in Ceylon should be recognised as a nation, their identified homeland should be recognised, and their right to self determination should be recognised. “The TULF and the TNA never revoked or amended individually or collectively the said ‘Thimpu principles’, which contains all the political ingredients to establish a ‘sovereign Tamils state’ in the areas of the North and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka,” the petitioner said.
The petition was classified under “miscellaneous” section in the list on April 27, 2012, and did not receive much attention from even lawyers in the Court.
But the Tamil political parties seem to have noticed. A few days ago, a prominent Tamil National Alliance leader announced in Jaffna that creation of Tamil Eelam was not the demand of the umbrella alliance of Tamil parties.
Asked about the petition, M.A. Sumanthiran, TNA leader, said: “We don’t think there is any substance in this. If the court issues a notice, we will respond.” TULF president V. Anandasangaree said he was yet to study the petition.