Our Leader and Mentor
19th June 1990 is a day that will always be in our memories a day that signals an irreplaceable loss to our people and our Party. It is also a day that signals restitution and a firm resolve that our struggle against Fascism and for peace. Democracy and social progress shall continue regardless of the magnitude of the task and setbacks.
19th June was the day when Comrade Pathmanabha was Gunned down by the Fascist Tigers’. His personality was manifest even in his death, when he stood in front of his other comrades taking the full blast of the first volley of fire. In order to fully grasp the personality, charisma and leadership qualities of Comrade ‘Nabha’. it is essential to place him within the wider context of the struggle of the Eelam Tamils to exercise their inalienable right of self - determination, the struggle of the exploited and oppressed sections within the Eelam social formation against class exploitation and caste dominance and the specific role of the EPRLF in these struggles. Comrade Nabha lived for his People and his Party - and eventually died for them. He had no existence that was separate and distinct from that of the people and Party.
Comrade Pathmanabha was born on 19th November 1951 into a middle class family from Kankesanthural in Jaflha. Despite a stable and a harmonious family background, comrade Nabha refused to be lulled into a self centered complacency that Is typical of any ‘middle class’ existence. His first exposure to social movements that was able to demonstrate its capacity to challenge the rigidity and backwardness of the caste ridden Jaffna society was the anti-caste struggle of the mid 60s. Although Comrade Nabha’s family belonged to the dominant vellala caste, he was particularly sensitive towards and angered by the human degradation inherent in an acutely caste ridden and caste conscious society. The anti caste movement in the middle 60s. which encompassed the broad left and progressive Intelligentsia, had a lasting impact on Comrade Nabha who was then In his mid-teens. It is necessary to mention here that one of the centers of the anti-caste agitation was the Mavattapuram Hindu Temple which was located in the neighborhood where Comrade Nabha lived and notorious for barring entry to those of the depressed castes.
During the late 60s and early 70s. Comrade Nabha was caught-up in the turmoil of youth unrest and student movement which then had become a world-wide phenomenon. While the youth movements all over the world were closely linked to agitations against U.S. Imperialist aggression against the Vietnamese people, they also had their internal dimensions and specificities depending on the socio-economic and political situation prevailing In each society. In the Sri Lankan context, the youth movement was the direct result of unemployment and landlessness. while the upheavals amongst the Tamil youths were, in addition to the above factors, fuelled by stale discrimination in the sphere of land, employment and education. The 1971 insurrection led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). despite its adventurist nature, introduced for the first time into the Sri Lankan polity, the element of armed struggle.
The Introduction of armed struggle into the agenda of the Tamil National Movement, was however, still In its formative stage. The main emphasis was still on peaceful agitations and an increasing emphasis on the “Indian Factor” prompted by the liberation of Bangladesh with direct support from India. Comrade Nabha and his Comrades in the Tamil Student Federation, established around 1972. However were not prepared to neglect the need to create the necessary International conditions for the emancipation of the Eelam Tamils. They also were beginning to adopt an internationalist perspective and grapple with the problems of nationalities and national liberation movements in other societies. It was a period of youth militancy coupled with an increasing awareness of the external dimensions.
The brutal repression of the Tamil youths and students, who were no where close to challcnging state power. by the SLFP-!ed coalition and the indiscriminate firing by the Police in Jaffna on the crowds that had gathered to watch the concluding session of the 1974 International Tamil Conference, brought the element of armed resistance into the agenda of the Tamil Youth Movement. To Comrade Nabha. Who served in the volunteer youth corps at the conference dealing with security and organisational aspects, the brutal use of state power against a defenceless gathering at a cultural event made him to irrevocably accept the inevitability and the necessity of armed resistance.
From the mid-70s onwards Comrade Nabha dedicated himself to the task of forging an organisation that would transcend mere individual terrorism on the one hand, and opportunistic parliamentary politics, on the other. These efforts led to the formation of the Eelam Liberation Organisation of which Comrade Nabha was a co-founder along with comrade Varatharajaperumal and others. However, in view of state repression and other limitations inherent in the organization. ELO becamedormantand eventually ceased to exist. Comrade Nabha who was himself incarcerated left for London on his release. Although his parents were keen on their only son pursuing higher studies, comrade Nabha once again plunged into political activism during this period of self-exile. He came into contact with the London-based leadership of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisers (EROS). During this period he also became exposed to anti-racist and anti Imperialist movements, including contacts with the Palestinian Resistance. It was while in London that he also came Into contact with Comrade Yogasankary, our former Member of Parliament for Jaffna who laid down his life alongside Comrade Nabha.
Just a few months after his arrival in London, Comrade Nabha along with Comrade Premachandran and 13 other Comrades left for Lebanon to be trained by the PLO with whom the EROS had established fraternal relations. On completion of his training. Comrade Nabha returned to his motherland and dedicated himself to the task of recruiting and politicising youths and In formulating a politicomilitary strategly that would go be- u yond individual terrorism and encompass broad sections of society. During this period. Comrade Nabha lived with agricultural labourers, including quarry workers and directly experienced the travails and the day to day problems of that section of the working class.
There were two other developments in the late 70s which further shaped his perspective, as well as helped to lay a solid foundation and social base for the EPRLF. which was to be formed later. The first was the migration of the plantation Tamils to the Northern and Eastern Provinces following the 1977 anti - Tamil pogrom and the ongoing repatriation of plantation Tamils to Tamil Nadu. The second event was the cyclone of 1978 which devastated the Eastern Province, in particular Battcaloa.
As regards the upcountry Tamils. Comrade Nabha was convinced that neither repatriation nor migration was the solution. He adopted the position that the rights of the plantation Tamils, both, as a working class as well as a national minority, would best be met by being a part of the working class movement, at the national level, while simultaneously becoming as integral component of the Tamil National Movement. This position was taken solely from the viewpoint of the interests of the plantation Tamils themselves. He further rejected repatriation to Tamil Nadu as a solution, particularly given the continued exploitation that they faced on their return.
where In some cases they were relegated to the status of bonded labourers by landed interest and corrupt officials. During his intermittent period of self-exile in Tamil Nadu. Comrade Nabha was instrumental in forming an organization which was primarily entrusted with the task of collecting data on the socio - economic existence of the repatriates. His presence in the upcountry region in Sri Lanka was devoted to forging links with plantation based trade unions and the progressive intelligentsia. It was also during this period that he came into direct contact with the “Sinhala Left”. His accumulated experience with the left as well as. the trade union movement was to leave a lasting impact on com. Nabha as regards both the potentials and the weaknesses of the organized working class and left movements in the country.
In addition to his political tasks in the Plantation areas. Comrade Nabha was also active in the Eastern Province with the specific track of combatting regional parochialism and sectarianism. The cyclone of 1978 which devastated the Eastern Province. In particular the Districts of Amparai and Batticaloa. created untold miseries amongst the people. Comrade Nabha led a team of volunteers from Jaffna to Batticaloa and plunged himself in the task of organizing relief and rehabilitation work. Even in the field of refugee rehabilitation work, he was able to witness the ugly face of rabid sinhala chauvinists. All official government relief agencies adopted a clear bias In favor of Sinhalese victims who had been displaced and dislocated, to the extent of siphoning away essential provisions that were ear-marked for the Tamil-speaking areas. There were also cases of corruption on ethnic lines.
Despite these setbacks Comrade Nabha and his volunteer corps formulated and executed numerous projects which involved hard labour and sheer perseverance. If. till this day the EPRLF has a solid base in the Eastern Province, it is because of the role played by Comrade Nabha in the rehabilitation o work in areas devastated by the 1978 J; cyclone and his sincere attempt at combatting regionalism.
By the late 70s. the London based leadership of EROS began to come under criticism from the leadership that had emerged on the land. The main criticisms centered around the absence of a coherent and a viable political and working programme based on concrete realities prevailing in Sri Lanka and the absence of democratic - centralism within the Organisation. Comrade Nabha did his utmost to prevent a split. But the intransigence of the London based leadership prevented an amicable solution. As a result, the majority tendency within EROS broke away and at an Organizers Conference held in October 1981 the decision was taken to form a separate Organization. The Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) was. thus, formed and Comrade Nabha in view of his selflessness, leadership qualities and organizational capabilities was elected as the Secretary-General.
It was during the deliberations and discussions at the 1981 Organizers’ Conference that Comrade Nabha presented his ideas on the nature of relations between the Party and its armed wing and that of the Party and frontal organizations. It was his belief that, at the early stages, the party should remain underground but carry out its political programmed through a network of mass and frontal organizations aimed at mobilizing broad sections of the working people and the intelligentsia. It is in this regard that the decision was taken to further expand the scope of activities of the Genral Union of Eelam Students (CUES), the student wing of EROS which broke away and joined the EPRLF. whilst forming other frontal organizations that would address the day to day problems of other social categories. The decision was, therefore taken to form the following frontal organizations: (1) The Rural workers and Peasants Front (RWPF) . Plantation Proletariat Front (PPF) Eelam Womens’ Front. Fishermens’ Union etc. As regards the activation of a military programme, comrade Nabha argued in favour of a separate military wing. The recruits were to comprise of comrades who undergo a specified period of political work and orientation by working in the frontal organizations. He firmly believed that arms should be subordinated to wider political and social goals and on this basis the decision was taken to form the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). At the first Party Congress held In June 1984. by which time the EPRLF has surfaced as a major politico - military organization. Comrade Nabha enunciated on the correct treatment of Marxist ideology. In his presidential address before the Congress Comrade Nabha observed The contribution of Marxism - Leninism to our struggle lies in the fact that it paved the way to scientifically study and correctly understand the history of our land and our people... It is true that at the early stages of our induction into Marxism -Leninism, we made many mistakes. However, we were able to rectify these lapses and prevent them from assuming massive proportions, through the process of criticism and self criticism and mass contact campaigns. It was through this that we were able to build our organization to the present level”.
The role of Comrade Nabha. following the Intensification of the military option by the Colombo regime and the military response by the Eelam Resistance, particularly after the anti -Tamil pogrom of July 1983. began to be concentrated on the forging of unity y amongst the various Tamil militant El organizations. After a sustained period of talks, the Eelam National Liberation Front was formed in April 1984. The ENLF was essentially a united front comprising of EROS, TELO and EPRLF. The LTTE look the decision to Join the ENLF the following year and became a constituent member in April 1985. This was a watershed in the history of the Eelam Resistance. At the Thimpu Peace Talks in mid - 1985. mediated by the government of lndia. the Eelam Resistance was made to speak with one voice and expose the attempts by the Sri Lankan government to unilaterally impose a totally unacceptable solution to the Tamil question. Here the role of Comrade Nabha. although he was not physically present at the talks, was vital. He remained in constant touch with the leaders of the fraternal parties Impressing on them the need for a unified approach.
The emphasis placed on unity by Comrade Nabha. unlike that of the LTTE. was not purely tactical. lie strongly believed that unity must filter down to the base. Unfortunately the LTTE saw the ENLF as a threat to its pursuit of hegemony and their decision to join the United Front was with the specific purpose of paralyzing it from within. Although Comrade Nabha gave priority to the forging of unity amongst the Tamil organizations, he was not prepared to ignore certain fundamental differences for the sake of unity. In particular, he was critical of the LTTE for the massacre of innocent Sinhalese civilians, as In the case of the Anuradhapura massacre, as well as. Internal killings that became rampant In certain other organizations. He Firmly believed that EPRLF should utilise the United Front as a forum for the dual task of forging a Tamil consensus, whilst, bringing into the agenda a politico-military strategy that would go beyond narrow Tamil nationalism and address the basic question of how to bring about a fundamental social transformation based on democracy, social progress and equality for all peoples of Sri Lanka. He was also particular that there should emerge a secular forces working amongst the Tamil. Muslim and Sinhala peoples.
When the ENLF ultimately collapsed in late 1986 he did not lose heart. He was mainly instrumental in the efforts taken by the EPRLF to forge unity amongst the left sections within the Eelam Resistance in early 1987. Although these attempts came to nought due to left-opportunism and dogmatism adopted by certain other forces, it laid a foundation for a future working programme which, we have no doubt, will one day vindicate initiatives taken by Comrade Nabha in this regard.
It was in the period following the signing of the Indo - Sri Lanka Accord that comrade Nabha was to demonstrate in practice the essence of the “Indian Factor”. Comrade Nabha always took a consistent position that India had a legitimate role to play in the region in view of its foreign policy that was anti-imperialist in orientation. This aspect, unfortunately, was not utilised to the full by the left progressive forces in Sri Lanka in view of the pulls and pressures of Sinhala chauvinism. Comrade Nabha and the EPRLF took a consistent and a principled position as regards India’s role. This was to a large extent made possible by the interaction that he and his party had with the Sandinistas in Latin America the Palestinian Resistance, the ANC and Pollsario In the African continent all of whom shared immense admiration and respect for the role played by u India in supporting world wide E struggles against colonialism, neo- m colonialism. Zionism and racism. As regard the specific case of the Tamil question in Sri Lanka, Comrade Nabha took a clear and a consistent position that If external intervention becomes inevitable then that factor can only be India or a combination of forces which recognize India’s legitimate concerns In the region. In addition, neither Comrade Nabha nor the EPRLF were prepared to be apologetic about this position despite labels of “collaborators” and “quislings” which were tagged on us by the real collaborators and quislings of imperialism and their military - intelligence agencies.
At the time of the provincial Council elections when EPRLF took the decision to contest, it was Comrade Nabha who suggested the slogan “Peace Democracy and Unity” as the political platform from which the party would launch a mass contact campaign. This stand was vindicated by the massive turnout at the polls despite threats and intimidation by the LTTE . The EPRLF, despite having sufficient seats to form a government, took the decision to form a coalition government that would be pluralist’ and multiethnic In nature. Comrade Nabha was particular that the EPRLF should set an .example to the entire country on how to create a pluralist and a secular government. It should be also noted that when the party represented Comrade Nabha to be the Chief Minister of the North - East Provincial government, he disclaimed. His was a conscious decision as he wanted to concentrate on the building of the party without in any way impinging on the autonomous functioning of the EPRLF - led coalition government.
The collaboration of the LITE which the Sri Lankan government and the security forces in destabilising the EPRLF - led government and the devolution process did not in any way influence Comrade Nabha’s resolve. He constantly reminded the party of the ephemeral nature of the interim solution made possible under the provincial Council system on the basis of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This stemmed from his understanding of the nature of the Sri Lankan state, as well as that of the ruling party and the potency of Sinhala chauvinism. It was clear to him that the resolution of the Tamil Question within united Sri Lanka necessitated a process linked to fundamental social transformation all over the island. In the meantime, he stressed that the party had no option but to remain firm on the inalienable right of self-determination , including the right to secede -and . if necessary, make the quantum leap and actually exercise that right.
Our tribute to Comrade Nabha will not be complete if we ignore the nature of the individual within him. He was a humane person. He personified all the attributes of humane socialism. He was constantly engaged in introspection. Which was not divorced from his wider social and political commitments. He was unaffected by poverty or affluence. Both seemed irrelevant to him. However, he liked to see others happy and content. It was that which gave him Immense Joy. Similarly, he could not bear to see others suffer. He felt that every cadre had a role to play, irrespective of the specific task entrusted to them. Although he devoted himself to the party and to the struggle, he was not alienated from his family. He was a loving and a dedicated son. brother and husband and fortunate to have a mother, sisters and loving wife who understood his visions and a mission In life. His death did not signal a mere personal loss to the family circle for they realised that it was a loss shared by all of us and those who came into contact with him.
His death, although irreplaceable, shall not be in vain - for in his death he has given us determination and resolve which shall never again be shaken.
Comrade Nabha remains within all of us.