M Sivasithamparam Commemorative lecture - Sri Lanka Muslim Congress

M Sivasithamparam Commemorative lecture by Leader of the SLMC and Minister of Justice, Rauff Hakeem on July 21, 2012 at the Colombo Tamizh Sangam, organised by the Past Pupils’ Association of the Karaveddi, Vigneswara College.

Two months ago Mr Thanabalasingham Chief Editor of Thinakkural asked me to make the M Sivasithambaram memorial lecture. Indeed, it would have been a betrayal of my political beliefs if I had declined this invitation. Therefore, I accepted it willingly.

Despite today being the first day of the holy month of Ramadan I have come this evening.  I have come because it is a great privilege to address the Tamil speaking community. It is indeed a greater honour to be invited to speak in memory of a great Tamil leader who dedicated his life to champion the cause of the Tamil community.

This day also coincides with the anniversary of my law-guru Kandhia Sivanantham.  When I was  apprenticing under Mr Sivanantham in his law firm in those early days of my own legal career as a young Junior, I learnt of Annan(Brother) Siva’s great legal prowess.

As junior lawyers we often got the opportunity to appear for the less privileged as assigned counsel. They could not afford to retain their own lawyers.  There was a time when I appeared for the suspects in a robbery of the Kalavanchikudy branch of the Bank of Ceylon. It was in the High Court down Bullers’ Road. One of our Judges in the Supreme Court, Justice Nimal Gamini Amaratunga appeared for the Attorney General’s Department and as my adversary in the case.

At precisely this time, the case of the bombed Avro plane of Air Ceylon was being heard in the High Courts in Hultsdorf. The late Hon Sivasithambaram was ably arguing the case before the court.  We learnt the fundamentals of the Evidence Ordinance in a direct and a practical lesson by watching the late Sivasithamparam who formulated his arguments with great care and precision. It was a revealing experience to see the painstakingly nuanced application of the evidence ordinance. We only had the limited theoretical knowledge gained from the tomes of law that we studied at the law college. Such experience with this titan of law helped us immensely. The value of the application of the Evidence Ordinance can only be learnt when it is applied in a court of law.

I can now visualize his towering figure and recall his strong and commanding voice. He was a celebrated orator and was known as “simma koraloan” in Tamil for his resonant voice and his style of speech.  Not only was he a great advocate in the courts but was also brilliant in parliamentary debates. I have watched and listened to his powerful speeches, even in his twilight days. As a National List MP of TNA, in frail health his parliamentary interventions were few and far between. He attended parliament in a wheel chair in his last days. It was the time when I had left the Kumaratunga government and became a  Minister, supporting the formation of the government with Ranil Wickremasinghe. I remember his sonorous voice that had not diminished. His speeches even in that very short period that was left to him in the public sphere, made a lasting impact.

At this time, when the Colombo branch of the Karaveddy College past pupils are celebrating the personality of AnnanSiva, one needs to focus on the nature  and the depth of his personality. This unassuming man was an authority in law and a colossus in politics. Yet, he hardly made a fuss or created a commotion. He left an indelible mark in his profession and in his public life.  The Tamil political landscape with the exclusive Tamil Congress and the emerging alternative voice of the Federal party had great legal luminaries as GG Ponnambalam and SJV Chelvanayakam . The Late Sivasithamparam was a unique blend of all these greats filling the knowledge gaps and emerging as a personality in his own right. That is the picture I glean from rereading his work.

As my friend Neelakandan mentioned, if a research paper was to be written on Annan Siva, it would be a thesis in which he would emerge as the silent rebel who encompassed thediverse Tamil nationalist voices on the platform of Tamil nationalist politics.

The period between the time of his birth in Karaveddy, until his last rites were performed in the Sonappu cemetery in 2002, was etched with manypainful and momentous events in the history of Tamil rights struggle. I am also one of those who attended his last rites in Sonappu. I was also asked to deliver a funeral oration there.

When I recalled his oration at the Santhankerni Grounds in Kalmunai in my speech, my voice trembled, and I broke down. His speech condemning the ouster of Muslims from the Northern Province at our party convention was a very popular speech and an event. When he arrived at the Ampara airport, I went to receive him.  During the drive from the airport, I shared with him my thoughts on his court cases. He was very impressed and was delighted to share more thoughts on law.

His powerful speech stunned the audience on that occasion. He not only condemned the LTTE for expelling the Muslims which act he described as highly damaging. He regretted and apologised for the aberration. He declared that till the Muslims returned to Jaffna and resettle, he too would not do so.

AnnanSiva’s entry topolitics commenced in 1956.He contested as an independent candidate in Pariththithurai,against his teacher Pon. Kanthaiya who represented the Communist party. Although AnnanSiva failed to win this election, his subsequent enrolment in the Tamil Congress and the services he rendered through this party in the 1960s was extraordinary. In March 1960 elections, he scored an impressive victory in the Uduppidy electorate. He repeated his equally triumphant success in the July 1960 elections that followed.

He served as the Deputy Speaker of parliament in 1967. In subsequent years, despite his membership in the Tamil Congress and the differences between his party and the Tamil Arasu Katchi, he championed the cause of the Tamil people. His life was a sincere commitment to a non-violent struggle to achieve his goals.

We have all been deceived by national leaders at different points of time. However, nobody was more deceived than the Tamil Leaders. Even if they were determined not to be deceived any further, we keep witnessing how history has always bestowed tragedy on them. This is a phenomenon that can be seen throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

In the General election of March 1960 political speculation was that the UNP had surreptitiously tried to convince the Governor General that it had the support of the Tamil Arasu Katchi and to call Dudley Senanayaketo form the government. This was referred to recently by Professor Pathmanathan in his  Chelvanayagam commemorative oration. The government of Dudley Senanayake lost in the debate on the throne speech. Following this in those times of political uncertainty, talks were held with the Tamil Arasu Katchi by the Sri Lanka Freedom party that was headed by C P D Silva with Sirimavo Bandaranaike widow of the slain Prime Minister entering politics. There were many understandings reached by the two parties. The important decision was on the Tamil language implementation policy where a consensus was reached. Thanthai (father of the Tamil Rights Cause) Chelva with his four point demands, campaigned in the South as well. We have a history of even the SLFPers cheering and applauding him all the way to parliament. However, Madam Srimavo Bandaranaike did not keep her promises. Instead, the government  insisted that the courts in the Northeast too had to function in the Sinhala language.

Protests then erupted against this measure. The first satyagraha protest was held opposite the Jaffna Kachcheri. Thanthai Chelva, Mangayakkarasi and many others were arrested and taken to Panagoda.Dr.E M P Naaganathan escaped arrest. Annan Siva’s participation in the struggle was apparently not known to the government.  There was no arrest warrant issued on him. At this point he faced physical and mental trauma. Rumors spread that he was dead.

However, he carried out civil disobedience with an alternate postal service and personally hand delivered letters by bicycle even to the Post Master. It shows that his personality was different and his dedication to the non violent struggle was no ordinary gesture. He continued his politics of protest until when Dudley Senanayake allied with Tamil Arasu Katchi to form government in 1965.Annan Siva was made then elected Deputy Speaker.

I myself carried this burdens of chairing parliament for 6 years. I know well the pressures of that position. That office has glorified some individuals. Some individuals brought glory to that office. Those who saw and heard Annan Siva carry out his duties as Deputy Speaker have only praise for him. He was alwaysmeticulously impartial.

In the 1970s, nobody really represented the Tamil Congress in parliament.  Annan Siva and GG Ponnambalam had both lost at elections. The first Republican Constitution was adopted. When there were pleas made to at least include some symbolic federal features in the new constitution after the  Navarangahala event , the pleas were totally denied.

It was this event that compelled the Tamil parties to shed their differences and unite to pursue the same cause. Annan Siva was mostly instrumental in uniting these parties that were always in conflict.

Two years ago, I was invited to deliver the memorial oration of Annan Amirthalingam in London. At this occasion I referred to the “trial at bar” case. In this case, it was a great achievement to have brought GG Ponnambalam to appear for Annan Amirthalingam. They were ideologically opposed to each other. Almost 30 lawyers and Queen’s Counselappeared for Annan Amirthalingam in this case. In the memorial oration I recounted how Annan Siva somehow succeeding in getting GG Ponnambalam to appear for Annan Amirthalingam and win the case. Annan Siva astutely succeeded in his endeavour.

In the same light, we find that cleavages in the Tamil national politics being removed today. Annan Siva’s role in bridging and uniting opposing parties in the pursuit of an agreed objective must be well remembered and celebrated. A closer look at his life will show him as a leader who was a bridge builder and a peace maker.

Tamil United Liberation Front came into being in the twilight days of Thanthai Selva. The Vaddukkottai Declaration was made. Annan Siva and Annan Amirthalingam made great compromises and sacrifices to share the leadership of the party.

With the passing away of S J V  Chelvanayagam and G G Ponnambalam, two towering  personalities were removed from the Tamil political scene. The roles of Annan Siva and Annan Amirthalingam came into  great prominence.

The events that followed were tragic. With the assassinations at the Buller’s Road residence of stalwarts like Annan Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran, Annan Siva who was also wounded at the shootout, took on the responsibility of leading the Tamil struggle although permanently confined to a wheelchair.

The very seditious movement that tried to assassinate him, honoured him with the title “Maa Manithar” (Great human being) on his way to the Sonappu grave.

When the UNP commenced peace talks with LTTE, despite the risk of losing my Ministerial office, I made a sacrifice to support its endeavours. When the ceasefire agreement was signed between the LTTE and the government I expressed my strongest disagreement with that position. I confronted the government, India and also the international community on the manner in which the Muslim community was treated in the process. If I were to talk at length on my contentious relations with the Tamil politics of the time I would only take a longer time and only repeat history that is well known.

Annan Siva’s sacrifices in the 1983 riots were mentioned here briefly. He was one of those who refused to take oaths over the 6th amendment to the constitution. He had to sacrifice his legal practice and profession to uphold his ideological convictions . He left the country for India.

From 1983 to mid 1990s he contributed immensely to keep a dialogue moving with Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajive Gandhi. Together with Annan Amirthalingam and the leader of the Tami National Alliance AnnanSambanthan he played a vital role. A comprehensive assessment should be made  by defining Annan Siva’s role and his contribution to the Tamil politics of the day. That would indeed be a great tribute to his memory. Tomes and volumes could be written on the experience of people like us who had the good fortune of simply learning from people like Annan Siva and their roles and contribution towards the Tamil speaking communities.

His was not the type of politics that was intended for mere applauds or rabble rousing. It was politics of integrity; politics that not bartered principles for positions and perks; politics that never betrayed the party. He remained a Congressman from the time of its inception to the time of the formation of the Tamil National Alliance. He never gave up his political identity. Such was the personality of Annan Siva that could place him on the same pantheon of Tamil National Leaders of the country. I have only touched on a few of his contributions to our polity.

The mandate received by the government in 1970 helped establish a Republican Constitution. It was  drafted and adopted with a two thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly.

However, it was not a mandate that included the Tamil people. In comparison, the sweeping mandate the Tamil speaking people gave the Tamil United Liberation Front in1977 and the people’s verdict given at the 1977 election bears testimony to the validity of the constitution that was introduced in 1970 and in 1978. Political analysts and commentators have made observations on this aspect. They may continue to do today. Many may even fear to do so.

However, Annan Siva was fortunate to have escaped assassination in those days of a murderously violent political culture.  Neither Annan Siva nor Annan Amirthalingam made it to parliament in 1989. It is symbolic of the changing dynamics of Tamil nationalist politics of the day. They were greatly affected by this trend. They did not believe in merely filling up national list positions on offer.

Nevertheless, Tamil people pressured them to do so. There were occasions when they participated in parliamentary affairs. But, Annan Siva was no simple politician although he was accorded this avenue of entry to parliament. In 1977, Annan Siva gave up his electorate to another candidate on behalf of his alliance. It was mainly due to his determination to prevent caste structures to be a curse on Tamil politics. He circumvented this barrier by sacrificing his Uduppiddy seat. He moved to Nallur, and made unprecedented history by winning in this constituency which was completely new to him. The fact that he got the highest number of preferential votes of 28,700 in the country while not contesting from his home turf demonstrated to the world the strength of his political personality.

I am describing these events in the present context of a new political drama that is unfolding. The latest decision of the SLMC has given me the strength to speak before you with no constraints and with my head held high up.

I see myself sharing similar constraints such as those faced by the likes of G G Ponnambalam and M. Sivasithamparam. History no doubt will pass judgement someday. Thanthai Selva after 1965 experienced the same dilemmas and constraints. When Mr M Thiruchchelvam was the Minister of local government , a controversy was raised  over the declaration of a sacred area around Konneswaram Temple. They emerged unscathed by resigning from the government over the issue. If they did not, they would have faced a great deal of inconvenience like us.

Muslim Nationalism has many lessons to learn and be informed by Tamil nationalism. The personality clashes and contradictions among these stalwarts are lessons in themselves for all of us.

This is the reason why opportunities to study the lives and times of political giants is important.  They illuminate the path of politics paved with good intentions that always come at a price. Can we afford the price? Men such as Annan Siva never bargained. He paid the price no matter how high. The lesson therein is that posterity will reimburse the cost by placing them in that rare place.