Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Lionising Prabhakaran



By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister of Child Affairs, Vijayakala Maheswaran, on Dec 28, declared that LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who hailed from Valvettiturai, could have been Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, or a member of Parliament.

Referring to the incumbent UNP-SLFP coalition, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, working closely with the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the 44-year-old Jaffna District MP emphasized that even the President couldn’t be compared with Prabhakaran. Describing the LTTE leader as the bravest man, with a personality, Mrs. Maheswaran said that the Tamil community had been so unfortunate not to have Prabhakaran as the Prime Minister, or as a member of Parliament.

The Army killed Prabhakaran, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May, 2009. The war was brought to a successful conclusion following a relentless nearly three-year combined security forces campaign.

The Jaffna District UNP MP was addressing a meeting held at the Kilinochchi Divisional Secretariat to provide compensation to those who had lost their property due to a recent fire in the area. Northern Province Governor, Reginald Cooray, and Prisons Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Affairs Minister, D.M. Swaminathan, were present on the occasion.

Mrs. Maheswaran couldn’t have been unaware of the implications of her statement. She drew heavy flak for lionising Prabhakaran. An embarrassed UNP disapproved her statement.

Mrs. Maheswaran first entered Parliament at the age of 38, at the April, 2010, general election. She was comfortably re-elected at the August, 2015, general election.

Had Prabhakaran survived, Mrs. Maheswaran wouldn’t have had the an opportunity to enter politics, through the UNP, in 2010. Had the Western powers managed to throw a lifeline to Prabhakaran, in 2009, he would have been the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, in his recently (Oct., 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, confirmed the abortive bid made by the US and Norway to save the LTTE. Let me reproduce what Menon, who had been India’s High Commissioner in Colombo (1997 to 2000), said about that bid: "At the same time Norway and the United States were attempting to secure a ceasefire, to negotiate exile for Prabhakaran, and to explore other exit strategies that would effectively keep the LTTE alive to fight another day politically or militarily."

Mrs. Maheswaran hadn’t been in parliament at the time her party declared Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. That infamous declaration was made a couple of years before Prabhakaran ordered Mrs Maheswaran’s husband, former Jaffna District UNP MP Thiyagarajah, assassinated in the run-up to the April, 2004, general election. Maheswaran, however, survived the attempt on his life, in late March, 2004.

Thiyagarajah Maheswaran

enters parliament

Karainagar born, Thiyagarajah Maheswaran was the first Tamil to enter parliament, on the UNP ticket, from the Jaffna district, during the war. Maheswaran was 34 years of age at the time he entered parliament.

In fact, the UNP hadn’t been able to secure a Jaffna seat for almost 50 years. Although, many felt the UNP lacked the strength, in the Jaffna electorate, to secure a seat, Maheswaran achieved the impossible at the Oct 10, 2000 general election. The Jaffna MP was re-elected again on the UNP ticket at the Dec 5, 2001 general election.

The then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed him the Hindu Affairs Minister. Maheswaran entered parliament at a time the country had been in deep political turmoil in the wake of a section of the then People’s Alliance (PA) switching allegiance to UNP leader Wickremesinghe. Among those who changed sides were current Joint Opposition bigwigs Prof. G. L. Peiris and Bandula Gunawardena. The PA’s defeat, at the Dec 2001 general election, paved the way for the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement, in Feb., 2002, between Premier Wickremesinghe’s administration and the LTTE.

The CFA brought the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces, comprising eight administrative districts, under LTTE control.

Then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga called early general election, in April, 2004, after having dissolved parliament, Maheswaran had been told by the LTTE to quit the UNP or face the consequences. Maheswaran declined as he didn’t want to deprive himself of the opportunity to make more money. Fearing for his life, Maheswaran switched electorates, from Jaffna to Colombo, at the April 2004, general election, though no one from Jaffna had been elected since the time of the legislative and State Councils.

The ban imposed on transport of fuel to the North by the UNP, gave Maheswaran the opportunity to smuggle in supplies at a great profit to himself. Maheswaran shared profits with UNPers as well as the LTTE. Although, the military and the police knew of the illegal enterprise, Maheswaran was allowed to continue. Maheswaran also smuggled in large quantities of kerosene. Having become the wholesale kerosene supplier in Jaffna, Maheswaran earned the name Mnnnennei (kerosene) Maheswaran. Maheswaran had been among those who made massive profits at the expense of the Jaffna population. Goods transported, by ship, from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai, due to the closure of Kandy-Jaffna road, brought in massive profits to Maheswaran and his friends.

First attempt on

Maheswaran’s life

The LTTE made an abortive bid on Maheswaran’s life, at Ginthupitiya, in Colombo, in late, March, 2004. An LTTE gunman shot and wounded Maheswaran on the final day of the general election campaign. Speculation was that the LTTE had used the Colombo underworld to carry out the attack.

The UNP struggled to explain the incident. Having called a media briefing, at the Cambridge Terrace, on March 28, 2004, then UNP General Secretary Senarath Kapukotuwa and UNP spokesperson Minister Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku declined to blame the LTTE for the attempt on Maheswaran’s life and the killing of another UNP candidate contesting the Batticaloa district. The LTTE also made on abortive bid on the then Batticaloa District Divisional Secretary R. Maunaguruswamy, also on March 27, 2004. Instead of blaming the LTTE, Dr. Kodituwakku, currently Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Beijing, accused the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga of jeopardizing security of UNPers contesting the general election. When the writer pressed Kapukotuwa over the LTTE’s involvement in the killing of a UNP candidate, in Batticaloa, and the attempt on Maheswaran’s life, the top party official said that he couldn’t comment until the police completed the investigations.

Dr. Kodituwakku endorsed Kapukotuwa’s position. Both blamed Mrs Kumaratunga for jeopardizing security of the candidates by taking over three ministries, including defence portfolio. Kapukotuwa said that depending on the outcome of police investigations, the government would raise the issue with the LTTE, through the Norway-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). However, the head of the European Election Observation Mission, John Cushnahan, who had been in Colombo at that time, strongly condemned LTTE attacks (UNP to confront LTTE if it is responsible for shootings with strap line President accused of jeopardizing candidates’ security-The Island, March 29, 2004).

Both Kapukotuwa and Dr. Kodituwakku refrained from commenting on the writer’s assertion that the LTTE had killed many lawmakers and there couldn’t have been any doubt regarding the LTTE’s responsibility.

Maheswaran refused to comment on the incident in spite of the writer repeatedly requesting for an interview. Due to Maheswaran pleading with The Island not to pursue the matter, we refrained from reporting further on the incident. The UNPer warned that The Island would be held responsible in case its reportage caused him trouble. The writer failed to convince Maheswaran to discuss the incident even after he won a seat, contesting from the Colombo district, at the April 2004 general election. Maheswaran polled 57,978 preference votes and entered parliament though the UNP lost the general election (Maheswaran in despite LTTE threat-The Island, April 5, 2004).

LTTE-TNA partnership

There had been an agreement between the LTTE and the TNA, in the run-up to April 2004 general election. The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA had the backing of the LTTE and the latter threatened rival candidates to quit the contest. The LTTE, obviously wanted to deprive Maheswaran a seat in parliament. Against the backdrop of the split caused by one-time Tiger Eastern Commander Karuna, the LTTE wanted a strong TNA presence in parliament. The TNA secured 22 seats, including two National List slots. The TNA emerged as the third force in parliament.

Electoral alliances and secret pacts dominated the period up to the April 2 general election. But, none could be as diabolical as the understanding between the LTTE and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which came into existence in 2001. The formation of the grouping comprising members from the ITAK, PLOTE, ACTC, TULF, EPRLF and TELO was meant to strengthen the LTTE’s interests, both here and abroad. The TNA played its part well.

The LTTE’s attempt to influence Parliament by helping the UNP to help elect its man at the April 2 general election should be studied thoroughly.

A statement issued by the TNA, in the run-up to the April 2 general election, highlighted its alliance with the LTTE. Unfortunately, the UPFA failed to exploit the environment to its political advantage. It simply ignored the rapidly developing situation. The TNA declared: "Accepting the LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of ‘Tamil Eelam’ Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representative of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers’ struggle with honesty and steadfastness. Let us endeavour determinedly, collectively as one group, one nation, one country, transcending race and religious differences, under the leadership of the LTTE, for a life of liberty, honour and justice for the Tamil people." 

The TNA publicly pledged its support to the LTTE leadership and its efforts to divide the country on ethnic lines. The LTTE/TNA alliance made war inevitable, though the UPFA failed to comprehend the impending danger. Following the UNP strategy, the UPFA, too, pledged its commitment to the Norwegian peace initiative shortly after the April 2 general election. In its haste to persuade the LTTE to return to the negotiating table, the UPFA didn’t even bother to comment on the unprecedented TNA statement. The UPFA remained silent. President Kumaratunga was wary of confronting the TNA. The UPFA took up the position that an understanding with the TNA was necessary to bring back the LTTE to the negotiating table.

Both major parties, the SLFP-led UPFA and the UNP-led UNF, accepted the TNA as the LTTE’s mouthpiece. The TNA wielded immense power, with the Colombo-based diplomatic community bending over backwards to appease the group in spite of it openly representing the LTTE. The TNA had access to any Western embassy in Colombo as it propagated LTTE ideals at every level. Both TNA bigwigs and representatives of the LTTE Political Wing were guests at regular diplomatic functions, while killings and forced conscription of children continued in the temporarily merged North-East Province.

A demoralised military watched the LTTE build-up, though a section of the defence establishment challenged the LTTE. Those who resented the UPFA’s policy of appeasement at the expense of national security gradually responded to the LTTE challenge, with disputed counter-terrorist actions. Unfortunately, the government failed in its duty. Had it realised the importance of a statement issued by the EU Election Observation Mission, which explicitly dealt with the TNA/LTTE alliance, it could have been used both here and abroad. Only The Island took up the issues raised in the EU report in respect of the LTTE/TNA alliance and its implications being discussed editorially on several occasions.

The EU report, released on Jun 17, 2004, described the LTTE as the primary source of violence at the April 2 general election. The EU monitoring mission’s head, John Cushnahan, didn’t mince his words when he declared that the LTTE’s primary aim was to garner a huge majority for its proxy, the TNA, to project the group as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people. In fact, the EU endorsed what TULF chief V. Anandasangaree had been saying throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, the then government, the international community and even the Nordic truce monitoring mission didn’t take any notice. Anandasangaree was ignored. The UNP refused at least to condemn the LTTE for making an attempt on the life of T. Maheswaran, even after the EU issued its report. Anandasangaree urged the government and the Opposition not to accept the TNA. The LTTE proxy had no right to be in parliament (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy––The Island of June 23, 2004).

The EU said: Firstly, the LTTE intended that no other rival Tamil party (or Tamil candidate from the mainstream political alliances) to the TNA would be able to claim to represent Tamil interests. A chilling message to this effect was sent early in the campaign when a UNP candidate and an EPDP activist were murdered. Incidents such as this seriously restricted the right of the parties other than the TNA to campaign freely in the Northern and Eastern Districts. During the 2004 elections, the major incidences of violence was perpetrated by the LTTE, whereas at the earlier elections, the primary source of the violence (although not all), were the two largest political parties.

The EU accused the TNA of being the direct beneficiary of violence unleashed by the LTTE. There hadn’t been any previous case of a political party having an armed organisation to help it at an election. Although the EU election observation mission lashed out at the TNA over its complicity in political violence, including murder, the Colombo based diplomatic community didn’t want to jeopardise their relationship with either the TNA or the LTTE. The EU mission as well as other diplomatic missions ensured that Cushnahan’s report didn’t cause any impediment to their relationship with either the TNA or the LTTE. Senior representatives of both organisations continued globetrotting at the expense of Norwegian taxpayers. The EU assured the TNA that Cushnahan’s report wouldn’t have an impact on their relations and the European community remained committed to helping the TNA’s cause.

Maheswaran assassinated

Having survived the assassination bid, Maheswaran reached an understanding with the LTTE. The UNPer had to pay large sums of money to the LTTE. They made profits at the expense of the Jaffna peninsula.

At the time, the LTTE assassinated him on January 1, 2008, in a Kochchikade, Kotahena Hindu temple, Maheswaran had been one of the richest members of parliament. Maheswaran had been even exploring the possibility of supplying weapons to the military. While publicly declaring that only arms dealers would benefit from war, Maheswaran was planning to sell weapons.

Maheswaran’s colleague, the then UNP MP Jayalath Jayawardena blamed the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the killing. Jayawardena alleged that drastic reduction of Maheswaran’s police bodyguards paved the way for the assassination. The MP refused to blame the LTTE for the killing though the police captured the assassin alive. Shot and wounded by Maheswaran’s police bodyguard, the assassin was later identified as Johnson Collin Vasanthan Valentine from Gurunagar. (Jayalath says prez must be held accountable for MP’s killing The Island June 6, 2008).

State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran has conveniently forgotten the LTTE killing her husband. Mrs Maheswaran has also ignored the TNA-LTTE partnership at the time of the abortive bid to assassinate her husband and his killing, in March 2004 and January 2008, respectively. The UNP politician has also ignored the LTTE engineering Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at Nov 2005 presidential poll to pave the way for Eelam war IV. Could there be anything as ridiculous as Child Affairs State Minister choosing Prabhakaran who had caused the deaths of thousands of child soldiers as Sri Lanka’s premier.