S.Thondaman dies

[TamilNet, Saturday, 30 October 1999, 16:14 GMT]
Mr.Soumiyamoorthy Thondaman,86, the Minister for Rural and Industrial Development, and leader of the Ceylon Workers' Congress died at the Jeyawardenepura National Hospital around 8.10 p.m. this evening.

Mr.S.Thondaman born on August 30, 1913, is one of Sri Lanka's most senior parliamentarians and has been a cabinet member since 1978.

thondaman_s_3-p.gifHe is also the leader of one of the powerful trade unions of the plantation sector,the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).

The CWC was formed by Mr.Thondaman as an Indian Estates Workers Trade Union in 1950. It was an outgrowth of the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC) which was formed in 1939.

In 1950 the CIC changed its name to the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and it became the largest trade union in the country.

Another trade union, the Democratic Workers Congress (DWC), was formed in 1956 as a breakaway faction of the CWC as a result of leadership rivalries between the president, S.Thondaman, and the general secretary A. Aziz. The former retained control of the CWC to date.

Thondaman has been the dominant trade union leader of the Indian Tamil workers for nearly four decades.

As president of the Ceylon Indian Congress, he contested the Nuwara Eliya seat at the 1947 general election and won. His party put forward seven candidates in the plantation electorates and six of them were returned.

The political potentiality of the Indian Tamil workers and the CIC led by Mr.Thondaman were viewed as threats to the power of the ruling United National Party. Another view was that the enfranchisement of the Indian workers would interfere with the representation of the Kandyan Sinhalese in the legislature.

This resulted in attempts to deprive the Indian Tamils their citizenship and voting rights. In effect the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 and the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act No.3 of 1949 were passed by the Sri Lankan Parliament.

The net result of these legislations were that around one million Indians were deprived of their citizenship and voting rights. By 1962 only 134,188 persons were admitted to Sri Lankan Citizenship.

Mr.Thondaman opposed their legislations and argued that the Indians were permanent residents and they were more the sons and daughters of the soil than most of the Sinhalese.

His political organization staged a non-violent satyagraha campaign against the implementation of citizenship laws and boycotted them for a period of time. Since 1952 the Indian Tamils could not elect any representative to the Parliament as their voting strength was drastically reduced.

Mr.Thondaman supported the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in the 1960 elections and after the victory of this party he was appointed to the House of Representative as a nominated Member of Parliament.On December 3, 1964, Mr. Thondaman declined to vote on a motion connected with the Governor General's Throne Speech. This brought about the downfall of the SLFP government led by Mrs.Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

In the March 1965 elections, Mr.Thondaman shifted to the UNP to protest against the terms of the Indo-Ceylon Agreement of October 1964. After the victory of the UNP in 1965, S.Thondaman was named as appointed Member of Parliament.

He was out of Parliament from 1970-1977 after the defeat of the UNP in the general election of 1970. During this period the CWC under his leadership gradually allied itself with the major Tamil political parties and subscribed to form the Tamil United Front (TUF). He was also elected a leader of the triumvirate leadership of this Tamil political organization.

In May 1975, the TUF stressed that its objective was the setting up of a separate free secular sovereign socialist state of Tamil Eelam and renamed itself into Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Mr. Thondaman did not want to subscribe to this new separatist policy of the TULF and withdrew from it.

He shifted his loyalties towards the United National Party which came to power in 1977. He served on the select committee for the revision of the constitution in 1978. In September 1978, he was invited by President J.R.Jayawardhane to join the Cabinet, which he accepted after the Executive Council of the Ceylon Workers Congress decided to do so.

Since 1978, Mr.Thondaman has served as a Cabinet minister under Presidents J.R.Jayawardhane, R.Premadasa and since 1995 under president Chandrika Bandaranaike.

When he joined the UNP government he explained that he owed his position to the CWC and the CWC's policy was to get citizenship for the stateless and better working conditions for estate labour.

stage for the settlement of the stateless problems of the Indian Tamils. On 11 November 1988, the Sri Lankan Parliament enacted legislation which granted citizenship to all the residue stateless persons.

During the last general elections held in August 1994, Mr.Thondaman contested under an electoral understanding with the United National Party. However, he changed allegiance and joined the Chandrika Bandaranaike government and became a cabinet minister.

His party had to face a severe defeat in the local government elections held in 1997.


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