|Monday, 2 September 2002|
Remembering Thondaman on his 90th birth anniversary
by A. Kandappah
There is hardly a major frontline political party in this country today whose leadership has not met with the LTTE leader or his chief lieutenants in the jungles of the Wanni - a part of the country which Minister Milinda Moragoda, in conceding reality, quite frankly admits, "remained divided" from the rest of the country until the UNF - under Ranil's leadership - came along and courageously changed the political landscape.
From the viewpoint of the vast majority of peaceful, innocent folks in the country this is a positive step and should have come much earlier - when thousands of lives and billions of dollars worth of material resources could have been spared.
It is a curious fact of our recent history that only a year or so hitherto any attempts to openly or otherwise deaf-with-the-LTTE-leadership would have earned the direst of consequences.
Not merely the harshest of punishment, incarceration under the PTA and other judicial enactments - but, as in the many instances this country watched and learnt with horror (Kumar Ponnambalam's now alleged political murder being just one example) extra-judicial response from the ultra-nationalistic fringe was swift to arrive.
Happily for our political culture there have been many efforts in the bold search for peace by men and women of good intent - the list of "triers and do-gooders" in the early 80s including President Chandrika and her late husband.
On August 30, the CWC under the leadership of Minister Arumugam Thondaman celebrated the 90th birth anniversary of the man who set the pace for this now accepted "honest search for peace" effort - the late trade union giant and CWC supremo S. Thondaman. If an important feature in the strategic armoury of an outstanding political leader is his capacity to be well ahead of his time - the late Thondaman had it in him in large measure.
Many are the vituperative verbal slings, insults and threats hurled at him only for suggesting prematurely, as we now see, that there is no alternative but to talk to the LTTE - if we really want to settle the ethnic imbroglio permanently. "Traitor", "Unpatriotic", "Fifth Columnist" were perhaps the gentler of the toxic epithets that were flung at him then.
His considered suggestion to give the LTTE to run the North-East for a limited period of time - if only to stop the bloodbath and allow the people of the North-East to be free of war, now that everything else seems to have failed almost brought the roof down. But today, many seem to agree "Thondaman's ideas" should have been given a decent try much earlier. Better late, as they say than never.
In a parliament that Thondaman adorned for over half a century - that was free of unsolicited Karate, Kung-fu and Taekwondo display. The trade union leader won the respect and admiration of all - both political friend and foe by his courtly manners and graceful inter-action with his colleagues.
It is for such welcome traits on the occasion of the unveiling of his statue in the premises of our old parliament. President Chandrika Kumaratunga called him "one of the most outstanding sons of Sri Lanka". Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku, representing the leader of the UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe on the same occasion said "Thondaman was not just another leader of a political party. He was one of the most outstanding political leaders of the country".
Flown by the Indian government to pay their own tributes to the late leader Shri Digvijay Singh, Minister of Railways said "India will remember Shri Thondaman as a leader who worked tirelessly to strengthen the ancient friendly ties between the governments and the people of our two countries."
(The writer was Secy-General of the Sri Lanka Indian Community Council)
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