Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan was full of praise for the Tamil diaspora, as he made an appeal for relief funds to come directly through his party’s former lawmakers.
In a video message released last week, Sampanthan sent a message of condolence to those that have suffered in the diaspora due to the coronavirus pandemic and said his party was “also aware that you have been lending a great service to people in your own countries and a number of you have been actively involved in providing relief, particularly medical assistance to the affected people of your countries”.
“We are proud that you have been able to take part in this relief effort and health effort and we can wish to convey to you our best wishes for the future,” he added.
The TNA leader went on to make a direct appeal for diaspora donations, asking that they come through his party’s former lawmakers.
“I’m aware that sections of the diaspora have been helping substantially,” said Sampanthan, as he spoke of difficulties faced by Tamils in the North-East in the wake of a Sri Lankan military enforced curfew.
“My appeal to you, sections of the diaspora in different countries of the world, is to jointly endeavour to contribute your fullest might to the alleviation of the living conditions of these people,” he added.
“I would recommended that you undertake this responsibility of providing further relief through our members of parliament… in order to enable this relief efforts to be co-ordinated with my involvement also.”
Several diaspora organisations from around the world have already actively been involved with relief efforts in coordination with local partners.
The TNA leader has had a strained relationship with the Tamil diaspora, with Sampanthan’s recent message taking on a different tone from his speech at the 14th Annual ITAK convention in May 2012. Extracts from that speech are reproduced below.
Wherever our people may live – whether in the homeland, or abroad – those of us in the Tamil National Alliance will represent them all equally. However those who live abroad must think beyond their personal estimations and ideas, and always give importance to the situation of those living in the homeland.
The Diaspora must respect the political thinking of those living here. They must respect the courage with which they make decisions, and their ability to determine their own political destiny. The Diaspora must trust in these capabilities of the Tamil people living here. The Diaspora’s political initiatives, and public statements on behalf of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka must not negatively affect the situation here; they must not prove to be obstacles to our efforts here. It is the efforts that are made by the people in Sri Lanka, which are made in accordance with the situation in Sri Lanka, and with sensitivity to this situation, that will finally bring about concrete results for the Tamil Nation.
Sampanthan has come under fire several times over the years, from both the diaspora and across the Tamil homeland where protests have been staged against him. Notable criticisms include Sampanthan’s decision to attend Sri Lanka’s 2015 Independence Day event as protests took place across the North-East, his waving of Sri Lanka’s lion flag in 2012 and attempts to discipline a NPC minister who refused to in 2017, and a parliamentary address in 2012 where he claimed the LTTE “never observed human rights” and that he was “on the hit-list of the LTTE”.
A few months later, addressing a Tamil diaspora event in London, the TNA leader told the audience that the LTTE were “freedom fighters”.