Internal dissension and fragmentation within political parties is not a new phenomenon in Sri Lankan politics.The United National Party(UNP),the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP), the Leftist parties from the Lanka Sama Samaja Party(LSSP) to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP)have all experienced such schisms.In fact the SLFP itself was a breakaway from the UNP in 1951.Even the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC)founded by MHM Ashraff to unite the Muslim community has suffered many splits.
Against this backdrop it is no surprise that divisive tendencies are prevalent in the realm of Tamil politics too.Originally the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK)split from the All Ceylon Tamil Congress.Later the Thamilzhar Suyaatchi Kazhagham (Tamil Self Rule Party)broke away from the ITAK. Several MP’s have broken ranks from the ITAK,ACTC and later the TULF.Balasundaram, Sivasundaram,V Navaratnam, CX Martyn, C.Arulampalam, A Thiyagarajah, C.Rajadurai, M.Canagaretnam –the list is long.The ideal of Unity remains strong in ethnic politics but in actual practice it seems impossible to achieve.
The TNA too has had a chequered past in this respect.When it came into being in 2001 the TNA had four constituent members. The press communique issued on October 22nd 2001 heralding the formation of the Tamil National Alliance was signed by four persons representing the Tamil United Liberation Front ,All Ceylon Tamil Congress ,Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front.They were R.Sampanthan (TULF), N.Kumarakuruparan (ACTC) N. Srikantha (TELO) and K.Premachandran (EPRLF). Kumarakuruparan is now with Mano Ganesan’s Democratic Peoples Front.
The ITAK was not in the picture when the TNA was formed originally. The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi known as the Federal Party was then the primary component of the Tamil United Liberation Front. Earlier the ITAK or Federal party had together with three other parties formed the Tamil United Front(TUF) in 1971. The TUF was born again a new avatar known as the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) in May 1976.
The newly formed Tamil National Alliance of 2001 contested under the TULF symbol Sun. There was a legal wrangling over who was entitled to the Sun symbol resulted in the TNA being deprived of the Sun symbol, and the dormant Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi was revived and the TNA contested under the old ITAK symbol of House.
The TNA now seems larger and stronger but actually it was weakening internally due to the question of registering the TNA as a single political party. There is much speculation about the TNA breaking up. What is happening currently is that the EPRLF,TELO and PLOTE along with the TULF are joining forces to force the ITAK into registering the TNA as a separate party. New election laws stand in the way of a new party being registered during the course of a year. It can be registered only when the Commissioner of Elections calls for applications for registration in the month of January each year.
It is even being speculated that if the ITAK remains constant in refusing to register the TNA then the other four parties would seek registration separately as the TNA and use the TULF symbol Sun instead of the ITAK house symbol. But the reality today is that the four parties together are no match for the ITAK. There is a convergence of interests between some internal components of the TNA and some external elements in downsizing the ITAK.
Diaspora elements have been trying in the past has been to prop up the “Thamil Thesiya Makkal Munnani”(Tamil National Peoples Front) as the premier representative organization of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. The Sri Lankan Tamils have thwarted these plans by consistently rejecting the Diaspora favourites at polls and opting for the comparatively moderate ITAK-TNA.
But the ITAK would consolidate its position within the TNA and withstand the internal and external political assaults.