The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) during its May Day rally announced that it would incorporate former LTTE combatants into the party.
The announcement has received mixed responses from the Tamil political circles. Although the move is a welcome one, it should have come a long time ago when the former combatants were left to fend for themselves.
The issues faced by the rehabilitated former combatants have been well documented over the years, and their grievances had been brought to the fore on many occasions.
However, many of these former fighters were left to struggle in a different battlefield, fighting for their lives.
Nearly 12,000 former combatants who were arrested, or who had surrendered to the military during the final phase of the war were taken for rehabilitation.
The period of rehabilitation depended on their seniority in the LTTE ranks, and the number of years they had spent with the outfit.
The rehabilitation process also included vocational training which would help them to be occupied once they were resettled in their villages.
However, the post rehabilitation period was not a rosy one for many rehabilitated cadres.
After rehabilitation, many of the former combatants found it hard to make ends meet because of various reasons including lack of opportunities, and lack of acceptance in society.
Though they were rehabilitated, these former fighters had difficulties when going back into the society as they were not welcomed back in most cases.
In addition, the lack of opportunities to work in the region had also pushed some of them to opt for odd jobs for daily wages.
This was the situation a few years ago, and still to an extent.
The Tamil political leaders have been focusing on the ethnic question too much that one feels that the aspirations of the former combatants have been ignored.
For the man on the ground level in the war affected region, the national issue comes secondary.
One gets the feeling that the TNA has once again reacted late on the issue of the former combatants. The TNA should have helped them to regain their livelihood before giving them the opportunity to contest in elections under their symbol.
However, several former combatants had already come into mainstream politics. In 2015, a party calling itself ‘Crusaders for Democracy’ contested the General Election. The party consisted of former combatants who claimed to have been ignored by mainstream Tamil political leadership.
In March this year, a fresh political party ‘Rehabilitated United Liberation Tigers Front’ was formed by the former combatants of the East.
In this set up, it would be interesting to see how these ex-fighters would react to TNA’s invitation.