Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA)
In the early 1980s, a large number of separatist groups emerged in Tamil Nadu. These groups were active during the period when the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka and pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sentiments were running high among a section of people in the State. At that time, the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) became active in the State. The Union government proscribed the TNLA under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) on July 2, 2002. However, official sources have indicated that after the proscription, TNLA cadres have started operating under a new name "Tamizhar Vidhuthalai Iyakkam".
The origins of the TNLA can be traced to the activities of Pulavar Kaliyaperumal, a former school teacher and a left-wing extremist, Naxalite, leader. Within the Naxal ranks, he commenced a debate on Tamil nationalism, which led to differences of opinion between the Tamil Nadu unit and the all-India unit of the Communist Party of India––Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML). While prominent Naxalite leaders in the State of Tamil Nadu like Pulavar Kaliyaperumal, Thamizharasan and Anbazhagan alias Sundaram advocated a separate Tamil Nadu, the all-India leadership rejected the idea. This led to a formal split in the CPI-ML and the formation of Tamil Nadu Communist Party-Marxist-Leninist (TNCP-ML) in 1984-85. The TNCP-ML's armed wing was named TNLA. Sundaram headed the TNCP-ML and Thamizharasan, an engineering student from Ponparappi village, headed the TNLA.
The TNLA believes that independence of Tamil Nadu from ‘Indian rule’ is essential for the betterment of the people of Tamil Nadu and that armed struggle is necessary to achieve independence.
Between 1985 and 1987, the TNLA’s leaders were involved in minor bomb blasts and murders of whom they said were ‘enemies of the people’. After carrying out a terrorist act they used to put up posters with a view to justify their violence. To raise funds, the TNLA started looting nationalised banks. In one such incident on September 1, 1987, the public lynched TNLA leader Thamizharasan and four others in Ponparappi village when he, along with some cadres, attempted to rob a bank.
After Thamizharasan's death, Lenin alias Dheivasigamani assumed leadership of the TNLA. He was more aggressive in his approach and the group grew rapidly under his leadership. Branches came up at Jayamkondan, Ariyalur, Vallam and other areas of the erstwhile Tiruchi and south Arcot districts. Under his leadership, the TNLA started attacking police stations and looting arms and ammunition. On March 29, 1994, while Lenin was on his way to bomb a police station at Muthandikuppam in south Arcot district, he was killed in a bomb blast. After Lenin’s death Koovagam Ramasamy was elected its president and Illavarasan its working president.
The TNLA once again came into limelight when the forest brigand Veerappan abducted Kannada film actor Dr. Rajkumar in July 2000. It also brought to the fore the nexus between the TNLA and the Veerappan gang. The nexus was evident in the brigand’s list of 10 demands that included the release of five TNLA activists from Tamil Nadu prisons.
Organisation and Leadership
The TNLA is believed to have splintered into factions after the death of Thamizharasan. It became active again under the leadership of Lenin, who was also killed in a bomb blast. At present, Maran who is in jail is the leader of the TNLA.
The TNLA is believed to have several front organizations. Among them are the Tamizhina Viduthalai Kazhagam (Liberation Party), Vivasayigal Urpathiyalar Sangham (Farmers' Union), Tamil Desiya Pengal Viduthalai Iyakkam (Women's Liberation Movement), Urimai Koruvaar Orungamaippu (Federation of Rights Activists), Tamil Nadu Ilaignar Peravai (Youth Association) and the Tamizhaga Odukapattor Viduthalai Iyakkam (Movement for the Liberation of the Downtrodden).
Area of Operation
The TNLA was, at one time, said to be active in three districts Cuddalore, Chidambaram and Perambalur. Cuddalore, in fact, has been chronically plagued by caste strife between the Vanniya community, basically agriculturists, and the Dalits, who are socially underprivileged. Some Vanniya leaders have even sought the repeal of the Protection of Civil Rights Act alleging that it was being misused by the Dalits.
The area where forest brigand Veerappan operates also serves as a safe haven for the TNLA cadres.
In an effort to strengthen themselves, both financially and arms wise, these groups have attempted to take control of the 30,000 acres of Cashew nut groves in the Perambalur and Cuddalore districts. This led to brutal killings. In 1997 alone, approximately 12 TNLA members, including Koovaagam Ramasamy (a leader of one of the TNLA factions) were killed. The police arrested Ilavarasan in connection with Ramasamy's murder.
With both his rivals out of action, the third TNLA group leader Maran gained strength. He met several members of the rival TNLA groups and brought them over to his side.
At present the outfit has a presence in Perambalur, Cuddalore, Thanavur, Changalpattu-East, Dindigul, Coimbatore, Nilgiris, Tiruchi, Salem, Villuparam, Nagapattinam, Chennai, Dharmapuri and Tuticorin districts of Tamil Nadu.
The TNLA has close ties with the LTTE. The LTTE used Tamil Nadu as a sanctuary for many years, but was outlawed by India for assassinating former Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Outfits like the TNLA give the LTTE a chance to infiltrate into India.
The outfit is also closely associated with the forest brigand Veerappan. When Maran was looking to safeguard himself and his gang members from the police dragnet, one of his gang members, who had met Veerappan earlier, suggested the latter’s name. Furthermore, TNLA always remained a Vanniya dominated organisation, headed only by Vanniya leaders. Its present leader Maran and Veerappan belong to the same Vanniya community. Veerappan and the TNLA also found a common enemy in the form of the State of Karnataka. While the brigand wanted to take revenge on Karnataka for "killing" his brother Arjunan, the TNLA found more than one reason (release of Cauvery waters to TN, protection of Tamils in Karnataka, etc) to fight Karnataka in the interest of Tamils. Whereas the Cauvery river water dispute had created enough differences between TN and Karnataka, it suited the TNLA's political agenda. The TNLA-Veerappan nexus has in the recent times emerged as a threat to the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments, creating serious law and order problems.