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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.

Early Activities

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.

Major Incidents


  • July 11: Three TNLA activists are arrested from a village near Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu.

  • July 10: Four suspected members of the outlawed TNLA are arrested from Chennai, capital city of Tamil Nadu. The arrested are identified as Jayavel of Kurinjipadi, Selvam of Perambalur, Nataraj and Prabakar of Mayiladuthurai. Another person, identified as Yuvaraj of Vadamalai, is arrested for providing shelter to the four. According to police, the four-member gang had assembled in Chennai as part of a murder plan, which they had planned to execute in Vridhachalam.


  • December 11: Arivazhagan, a former TNLA cadre, is killed near Jayamkondam.


  • March 25: A TNLA cadre, Rajaram, and his associate are killed during an encounter in Chennai. Four police personnel, including an Assistant Commissioner, are injured in the incident.

  • February 15: A Special Court at Poonamallee near Chennai acquits TNLA chief Maran and six others in the Power Grid Corporation tower blast case.


  • December 28: Tamil Nadu police arrest three suspected TNLA cadres near Chidambaram in the Cuddalore district and recover a large quantity of explosives from their possession.

  • November 26: Thentamizhan, one of the TNLA founders and a close associate of its leader, late Tamizharasan, is convicted and sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, for jumping parole in 1995 and absconding since then.

  • November 17: Police arrest four activists of the proscribed TNLA at two separate places and seize explosives and raw materials used for making pipe bombs in Cuddalore district.

  • August 24: Two activists of the proscribed TNLA are arrested near Neyyeli in Cuddalore district along with some arms and ammunition.

  • July 2: Union Government proscribes TNLA for its involvement in terrorist activities.

  • June 6: TNLA activists raid a jeweler and demand three kilos of ornaments and Rs 40,000 from him.


  • February 14: Security forces arrest TNLA chief Maran in the Siruvani forest area of Tamil Nadu on the charges of planning the abduction of the Karnataka film actor Dr Rajkumar.


  • March: The TNLA blast a railway track at Thiruppapuliyur in the Cuddalore district.

  • December 16: The State government writes to the Union government recommending a ban on the TNLA.

  • November: A few media offices in Chennai receive an e-mail message threatening to kill the AIADMK general secretary and current Chief Minister Jayalalitha.


  • April: The TNLA blasts television towers at Tuticorin.


  • July: TNLA cadres attack a police station at Andimadam.


  • October: TNLA blasts television towers at Dharmapuri.


  • March 29: TNLA leader Lenin is killed during a bomb blast while he was on his way to plant a bomb at the Muhtandikuppam police station near Cuddalore.


  • November: TNLA cadres attack a police station at Kullanchavadi.


  • May 18: TNLA carries out a bomb explosion on the carpet bed map of India in the Government Botanical Garden in Ooty.

  • April 10: One person is killed and two others are injured as TNLA carries out a bomb blast on the Nehru Statue at the Kathipara junction in Madras city and the TV Relay Station.


  • September 1: TNLA founder Tamilarasan is lynched by mob in Ponparappi.

  • March: TNLA carries out a bomb blast at the railway bridge at Marudayar near Tiruchi. The explosion derails the Rockfort Express killing 25 persons.


  • January 29: TNLA carries out an explosion on the Kudamurthy bridge in Thanjavar district on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit to that area.





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