Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Post-war politics: Fonseka factor



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Controversy surrounds Sri Lanka’s decision to do away with the annual Victory Day parade in the wake of the change of government in January 2015.

Mathripala Sirisena was able to achieve what war winning Army chief General Sarath Fonseka failed in January 2010.

The previous government celebrated Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism with a magnificent armed forces and police parade. The annual event reflected the liberation of the Eastern Province (Aug 2006-July 2007) and the Northern Province (March 2007-May 2009).

Sri Lanka brought the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The Eelam war IV lasted two years and ten months.

Unfortunately, those who had achieved unprecedented victory and brought relief to the people and also removed regional security threat couldn’t resolve issues among themselves. Those who propagated the myth that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated exploited differences among opponents causing political chaos. Those who played politics with Sri Lanka’s finest victory forgot sacrifices made by the armed forces. Over 6,000 officers and men sacrificed their lives since the resumption of the war in 2006. Of them nearly 2,400 perished during January-May 2009 on the Vanni east front.

The conclusion of the conflict brought relief to the Tamil community. Eradication of the LTTE ended the despicable practice of forced recruitment of their children. It would be pertinent to mention that the LTTE continued child recruitment in spite of it promising the UN way back in 1998 to halt deploying of children in high intensity battles. Tamil speaking people had every reason to celebrate the elimination of the scourge of terrorism.

Within 24 hours after the final battle, the Army cremated several hundred bodies, including that of Prabhakaran and his family, and threw their ashes to the sea.

Inclement weather forced the previous government to cancel the first Victory Day parade by the tri-services, and the police, scheduled for May 20, 2010.

The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance, foreign funded civil society organizations, as well as a section of the international community resented the Victory Day parade. They alleged that as such celebrations hurt the feelings of the Tamil speaking people, the government should cancel the annual event. In other words, they acknowledged that the LTTE consisted of almost all Tamil speaking Sri Lankans hellbent on driving out the Army from the Northern Province. The TNA conveniently forgot how the LTTE formed the grouping and then compelled it to recognize it as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

The war-winning Rajapaksa government quite rightly ignored their calls to cancel the much respected Victory Day parade. But those who had been wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes court/hybrid war crimes court strongly pushed for the cancellation of the event.

Canadian salvo

In the run-up to the 2014 Victory Day parade, in Matara, Canada publicly declared that it wouldn’t be represented. It was the fifth Victory Day parade held amidst stepped up international pressure.

Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, Shelly Whiting, in a strongly worded statement, issued exclusively to ‘The Island’, explained the Canadian decision to boycott the event. The writer front-paged Whiting’s statement, in the May 16, 2014 edition of The Island. The then Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya explained Sri Lanka’s right to continue with the Victory Day parade, on the following day.

The following is the text of Shelly’s statement headlined ‘Canada to boycott Victory Day parade’ with strap line ‘such events won’t help post war national reconciliation’: "As in past years, heads of mission, resident in Sri Lanka, have recently received invitations to participate in this year’s Victory Parade, scheduled to be held, in Matara, on May 18. As Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, part of my role includes celebrating the successes of the country, alongside the Sri Lankan people. However, I will not be attending the Victory Day Parade on May 18. Some commentators will no doubt rush to judge and erroneously conclude that I am doing so out of some misplaced nostalgia for the LTTE. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me be clear the LTTE was a scourge that brought untold suffering to this island nation and all its people.

Prior to arriving in Sri Lanka, my previous assignment was in Afghanistan where I saw first-hand the terrorist tactics (use of suicide bombers, IEDs) that are sadly the LTTE’s legacy to the world. The LTTE and its supporters were ruthless and single-minded, and did not faithfully represent the political aspirations of the communities they purported to represent. Canada joined the world in welcoming the defeat of the LTTE in 2009. In fact, the LTTE has been proscribed as a terrorist entity in Canada since 2006. To help stop the flow of funding to the LTTE, Canada further proscribed the World Tamil Movement (WTM) in 2008. Both of these organizations remain banned in Canada today.

However, five years after the end of the conflict, the time has arrived for Sri Lanka to move past wartime discourse and to start working seriously towards reconciliation. It is time to mend relations between communities and to ensure that all Sri Lankans can live in dignity and free from discrimination, based on ethnic, religious or linguistic identities. Fathers and daughters, sons and mothers, all were victims, who were killed or never returned home at the end of the conflict. No community here – whether Sinhalese or Tamil, Muslim or Burgher – was spared during the conflict. In this vein, Canada has encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to retire its annual Victory Day Parade, which perpetuates roles of victors and vanquished within the country, for a day of remembrance for all those who suffered as a result of the conflict. Indeed, Sri Lanka’s own homegrown Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report recommends that a solemn day of remembrance for all victims of the war would be more conducive to sustaining peace here. Such a gesture would go a long way towards putting wartime posturing behind Sri Lanka.

I will not be in Matara, but I will be thinking and remembering all those who lost their loved ones over the thirty year conflict."

Let me also reproduce Whiting’s tweet on post-war reconciliation process:" Remembering all those affected by the decades long conflict and thinking of the families who still seek answers.

= As new policy states reconciliation and coexistence involves protecting the rights and interests of missing persons and their families.

= Eight years after the end of the conflict, further progress towards the establishment of a functioning OMP is urgently needed."

Canadian statements essentially reflected the opinion expressed by all those who had backed Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the yahapalana government. The yahapalana government reiterated its commitment to the same resolution in March 2017.

Those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE pursued war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa until they engineered his defeat in January 2015. Rajapaksa’s ouster resulted in the cancellation of the Victory Day parade. The LTTE was brought to its knees in its Mullaitivu stronghold less than six months after Canada-based political and defence analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, asserted that the LTTE had the wherewithal to defeat the Army on the Vanni east front. Within 10 days after that prediction, the Army liberated Kilinochchi in Dec/Jan 2009. The LTTE rapidly retreated towards the Mullaitivu coast until it didn’t have any other option but to surrender. Over 10,000 LTTE cadres accepted Sri Lanka’s offer to surrender, while several hundred men and women perished, defending Prabhakaran.

Now, Yahapalana rulers have accepted unsubstantiated claims that celebrating triumph over LTTE terrorism undermined post-war national reconciliation. The undeniable truth is had the Army failed on the Vanni east front, TNA leader R. Sampanthan would be still taking orders from Prabhakaran. In Nov 2005, Sampanthan, at the behest of Prabhakaran, ordered northern Tamils not to exercise their franchise at the Nov 17 presidential poll that year. The move was meant to deprive UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the Tamil vote and to ensure Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory. The LTTE-TNA set the stage for an all out war against the government, believing the new President lacked the strength to meet the LTTE challenge. The LTTE-TNA coalition would have probably succeeded in its project had the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa perished in suicide attacks in April and Dec 2006. President Rajapaksa’s team comprised Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke. They relentlessly pursued military operations until the LTTE lost its desire to fight after losing nearly 600 cadres, including most of its senior ground commanders, in April 2009, in the Anandapuram battle. The LTTE never recovered from that humiliating defeat and collapsed seven weeks later.

Catastrophic decisions

Having called the Rajapaksa brothers and Fonseka war criminals, in January 2010, the US forced the TNA to campaign for the war-winning Army Commander at the January 2010 presidential poll. The TNA ensured Fonseka comfortably won all northern and eastern electoral districts. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know the US effort, though it today complains of Russia interfering in its last presidential poll.

Although, no one could have challenged Fonseka’s decision to challenge Rajapaksa, the move obviously plunged the country into crisis. The UNP fielded Fonseka after having ridiculed his war effort and constantly propagating the myth that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.

In the wake of Fonseka’s defeat, the previous government pounced on the Sinha Regiment veteran.

The government arrested Fonseka, in early Feb 2010. Some senior army officers, believed to be close to him, were prematurely retired, while a few fled the country. An abortive attempt was also made to try Fonseka twice for the same offense. On that basis the Colombo High Court acquitted the failed presidential candidate of all charges in the Hicorp case. The case relates to army procurement during his tenure as Army Chief.

Fonseka was also convicted in two other cases and served jail terms. The war veteran was stripped of his rank and benefits.

In September 2010, an Army Tribunal pronounced him guilty of the Hicorp charges. Fonseka received a jail term of 30 months for the procurement consequent to the Army Tribunal verdict. In November 2011, he was again convicted for three years, in the "white flag case".

Fonseka was pardoned by President Rajapaksa and released in May 2012. He was behind bars when the country celebrated the war victory during the Rajapaksa administration.

Had all those responsible for waste, corruption and irregularities properly investigated and brought before courts many politicians representing the SLFP and the UNP would have ended up behind bars. Reports put out by COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and PAC (Public Accounts Committee) have exposed many politicians, however absolutely no action was taken so far.

Former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon in his memoirs, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, commented on Fonseka’s political ambitions. The possibility of India influencing the former government’s position vis a vis Fonseka, can never be ruled out. Obviously, India hadn’t been enthusiastic about the project to make Fonseka President in January 2010. Menon’s following comment on Fonseka is revealing; "The other postwar issue that worried India was the civil military balance after 26 years of civil war in Sri Lanka. This was solved expeditiously if unconventionally by sacking and imprisoning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka’s political ambitious were the real motive behind Rajapaksa’s actions, but the effect in removing him was to take out of politics the victorious and domineering army, which had got used to playing a role in national politics."

Whatever the political factors, India would have appreciated the destruction of the group responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 Indian officers and men.

Interestingly, following Fonseka’s defeat at the January 2010 presidential poll, the UNP refrained from fielding him on party ticket at the subsequent general election. The celebrated soldier successfully contested on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket under JVP leadership though he was denied a Colombo District seat due to him being found guilty by an Army Tribunal.

The then Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena told the writer at his ministry how a Colombo based US diplomat passed a message to President Rajapaksa demanding the imprisoned General’s immediate release. Had there been an examination of various developments since the end of the war in May 2009, we would realise how interested parties manipulated decision makers leading to the present political crisis.

Subsequently, Fonseka received political recognition for his own party and contested the last general election. Having suffered a humiliating defeat, Fonseka entered parliament through UNP National List at the expense of his party. Eight years after the conclusion of the war, Fonseka’s National List appointment has been challenged in the Supreme Court, interestingly by a retired combat Major of the Sinha regiment Ajith Prasanna.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Is security of India and Sri Lanka indivisible?



Dimuthu Premaratne captured Indian leader Narandra Modi arriving in the BMICH on Friday (May 12) to participate in the International Vesak Day celebrations. Among those captured with Modi is Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Vanni District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan(standing next to President Sirisena), whose father was alleged to have been killed by Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), in 1985, at the behest of India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Siddarthan has told the writer that former TULF MPs, M. Alalasundaram and V. Dharmalingam were killed on the morning of Sept. 3, 1985, on RAW directive. The killings should have been examined against the backdrop of the Thimpu fiasco as well as the short-lived Delhi Accord of 1985. Dharmalingham Siddarthan represents the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), another Indian-sponsored terrorist group at the time. The PLOTE attracted international notoriety when members of the group mounted a sea borne operation, in Male, in early Nov. 1988 to take power. The operation went awry due to Indian military intervention. Siddarthan’s presence, among those invited for the BMICH event is a reminder of India’s wretched past interventions here.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Indian Premier Narendra Modi declared in Colombo on Friday (May 12) that the biggest challenge to sustainable world peace today might not be necessarily from conflict between the nation states.

Addressing international Vesak Day celebrations, at the BMICH, Modi asserted: "It is from the mindsets, thought streams, entities and instruments rooted in the idea of hate and violence. The menace of terrorism in our region is a concrete manifestation of this destructive emotion (emphasis mine) Sadly, these ideologies of hate and their proponents, in our region, are not open to dialogue and hence only open to causing death and destruction."

Modi’s visit took place close on the heels of India and Sri Lanka signing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on a range of projects, including one on Trincomalee oil tank farm.

Obviously, Hindu nationalist Modi has conveniently forgotten how India caused regional crisis by destabilizing Sri Lanka to such an extent to compel the then JRJ government to accept deployment of the Indian Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. India caused massive destruction in the predominately Tamil Northern and Eastern districts. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) responded by assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991. The LTTE struck in Tamil Nadu over a year after the Indian Army pulled out of Sri Lanka at the request of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

India caused further mayhem when New Delhi established the Tamil National Army months before its withdrawal. The LTTE decimated the Tamil National Army with the tacit understanding with President Premadasa whose 14-month long honeymoon, with the LTTE, ended in June 1990.

Unfortunately, our leaders lacked courage at least to remind India that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in crisis today if not for despicable Indian strategy. As a result of Indian intervention, Sri Lanka finally ended up being ordered to probe war crimes and crimes against humanity with foreign judges, investigators and prosecutors by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In spite of being responsible for the situation here, India voted with those wanting to punish Sri Lanka on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

Having succeeded Manmohan Singh, in May 2014, PM Modi visited Colombo, in mid March 2015, in the wake of the change of government, to sign four bilateral pacts on visa, customs, youth development and building the Rabindranath Tagore memorial. It was PM Modi’s first visit to Sri Lanka, the first stand alone bilateral tour by an Indian Prime Minister, since 1987.

Rajiv Gandhi was here in July 1987 to sign the Indo-Lanka Accord, a month after forcing Sri Lanka to halt ‘Operation Liberation’ meant to eradicate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). India humiliated Sri Lanka by violating her airspace in the run-up to Gandhi’s visit.

PM Modi also flew to Ilavalai, Jaffna, where he handed over several houses to beneficiaries of the Indian-funded housing units to former IDPs under the 50,000 houses programme. On the invitation of Sri Lanka, Modi addressed parliament before visiting the Indian Army memorial at Pelawatte, Battaramulla. The memmorial is a constant reminder of Indian intervention finally leading to a war between its Army and the Indian-trained LTTE, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 of its officers and men. In addition more than 3,000 of its officers and men received injuries during the deployment here (July 1987-March 1990).

No less a person than former Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha’, in no uncertain terms blamed the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka.

India certainly owed an apology to the people of Sri Lanka for causing war. It would be a mistake on India’s part to expect the people of Sri Lanka to forget the Indian destabilization project. In fact, India’s creation influenced suicide bombings against Israel. The LTTE brazenly operated in the developed world leading to it being placed among organizations proscribed by the US and UK. Premier Modi’s interpretation of terrorism surely didn’t apply to Sri Lanka.

Premier Modi used the UN Vesak Day message to underscore India’s doctrine that security of India and Sri Lanka is indivisible. Let me quote the Indian leader verbatim:... whether it is on land or in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible. My conversations with President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have only reinforced our will to join hands in achieving our common goals. As you make important choices for the harmony and progress of your society, you will find in India a friend and partner that will support your nation-building endeavours."

It would be pertinent to briefly examine Indian foreign policy at the time Indira Gandhi ordered the destabilization of Sri Lanka in the 80s and current policy against the backdrop of growing Chinese challenge.

In the 80s, India had been in the Soviet camp hence feared the prospect of US turning Trincomalee harbour to a strategic naval base. Today, India is firmly in US led grouping, that includes Japan, and determined to check Chinese influence. Sri Lanka is under pressure from both camps, with them seeking to influence the decision making process.

Both Yahapalana government and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been compelled to play ball with India and China. India, of course, represents overall US interests in the region. Although, the US and EU differ on some policy matters, their overall strategy remains the same. Sri Lanka is an example for such understanding. Obviously US allies, Japan and India are following US strategy. But it would be important to keep in mind that unlike Japan, India would have its own strategic interests in Sri Lanka, in addition to policies adopted in line with overall US objectives here.

Sri Lankan leaders are struggling to cope with the situation. Former President Rajapaksa’s unannounced meet with Premier Modi, at India House, last Thursday night, highlighted Sri Lanka’s dilemma. Having accused Modi and India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of facilitating Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, at the January 2015 presidential poll, the former President sought a meeting with Modi. Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accompanied the former President. Presence of Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval at the India House meeting proved that Modi’s visit meant much more than participating at the UN Vesak Day celebrations and visiting Dickoya.

Former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa is on record as having explained the circumstances under which Doval demanded Sri Lanka discontinue major Chinese funded infrastructure projects and also take back the Chinese managed Colombo port terminal in the run up to the last presidential poll. Inclusion of veteran intelligence officer Doval underscored the importance of Modi’s recently concluded Colombo visit where he emphasized New Delhi’s perspective of Sri Lanka’s security. Modi’s assertion reminded Doval’s predecessor Shiv Shankar Menon explaining the threat posed by Sri Lanka to India in case hostile power having influence over Colombo. In the 80s, the prospect of US setting up base propelled India to cause terrorism in Sri Lanka to bring JRJ to his knees. Today, India is working overtime to thwart the Chinese project here.

One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his recently (Oct, 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.

Menon accused former President Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path which, New Delhi believed, threatened its security interests. Menon declaration that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast underscored New Delhi’s severe concerns in respect of the country being too close to China.

However, Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisory, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014.

Sri Lanka’s close relationship with China should be examined against the backdrop of India’s destabilization project here. If not for the Indian-sponsored terrorist project, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have contemplated transforming her ceremonial army to a professional fighting force capable of meeting the enemy’s conventional challenge. Sri Lanka continuously struggled to obtain required weapons as well as training due to India strongly objecting to arms-producing countries meeting little Lanka’s needs. Having opposed Sri Lanka securing armaments from the Jewish State, in the beginning of 80s, New Delhi today heavily depends on Israeli weapons and technology. India and Sri Lanka work closely in the defence field, a situation unthinkable a few decades ago. Perhaps, India wants Sri Lanka to place responsibility for her security in the hands of India. Modi certainly didn’t mince his words when he claimed that security interests of India and Sri Lanka were the same.

PM Modi’s declaration in respect of shared security of India and Sri Lanka should be examined in the context of Indo-US partnership in all sectors, including nuclear power. Modi underscored the pivotal importance of Sri Lanka being part of their overall military strategy in the Indian Ocean. Let me put it this way, India’s security is indivisible from that of the US.

India’s importance in overall US strategy forced the world’s solitary super power to quickly forget the then Gujarat Chief Minister Modi’s alleged failure to halt Hindu led riots in the Indian state in 2002. Violence claimed the lives of about 1,000 Muslims. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) fronliner Modi held the CM post from 2001 to 2014 before leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory at parliamentary polls. Although, the US denied Modi a visa, in 2005, he was feted at the White House by former US President Barack Obama in June 2016. Modi was also invited to address a joint session of the Congress and also met business leaders. Importance of US-India relationship compelled them to settle the December 2013 arrest of an Indian consular official in New York under controversial circumstances. Although a vast section of the media called the incident the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries in nearly 15 years, they settled it swiftly.

Sri Lanka needs to examine global as well as regional development vis a vis bilateral relations with India, Japan el al. Obviously, Sri Lanka’s security needs/threats faced cannot be under any circumstances comparable with those of India. In fact, Modi’s assertion that security of India and Sri Lanka indivisible is certainly not acceptable to a vast majority of people. But, it would be of pivotal importance that Sri Lanka should always keep India’s security concerns in mind and does nothing to endanger their interests.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Kilinochchi demo, Mulliyaweli ‘incident’ and Wigneswaran’s comment on Swamy Premananda



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) recently launched an unprecedented campaign to discourage yahapalana government from handing over military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools in the Northern Province to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).

Hundreds of ex- LTTE cadres demonstrated in former LTTE stronghold Kilinochchi, demanding that agricultural farms and pre-schools be kept under military supervision.

The military liberated Kilinochchi in early January 2009 following months long campaign involving several fighting formations.

The protest surely embarrassed the NPC administration hell-bent on restricting military activity.

Although, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been sharply divided over post-war policy, with Northern Province Chief Minister former Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran pursuing a strategy of his own, the grouping is working overtime to reduce the military presence in the Northern Province to the barest minimum.

The Colombo based foreign funded NGO community, too, has thrown its weight behind the TNA project for obvious reasons.

The TNA has never been successful in attracting former LTTE cadres to the grouping as they knew its despicable role during the war. The TNA steadfastly refused to at least urge the LTTE to give up human shields and let the fighting cadre to surrender to the Sri Lanka Army. Regardless of LTTE directives to fight to the last man and last woman, well over 10,000 surrendered to the Army, advancing on the Vanni east front.

Former LTTE cadres, both men and women, gathered at the Kilinochchi SLTB depot junction, on the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road, on the morning of April 25, 2017. Carrying placards and chanting slogans, LTTE cadres went in procession from the depot junction to the Kilinochchi District Secretariat where they handed over a petition. They requested that they be allowed to serve as members of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) assigned to work at military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools.

Former LTTE combatants alleged that their livelihoods would be at stake if the NPC took over agricultural farms and pre-schools. They expressed concern that thousands of families would be affected and a major crisis caused due to mismanagement under NPC.

Since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the TNA, Western powers, the NGO community or the civil society, as they prefer to identify themselves, as well as the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora have been campaigning for the reduction of military presence in the Northern Province, restrict contact between the military and Northern population and propagate unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against the war-winning Army. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and Western embassies have repeatedly issued statements backing the TNA. But, obviously those who had fought for the LTTE believed in efficient military managed set up-regardless of the lies propagated by interested parties.

There had never been a demonstration in the Northern Province by former LTTE cadres demanding that they be managed by the military. In fact, the TNA never anticipated the previous Rajapaksa administration recruiting former LTTE members to the CDF. The then administration went out of its way to accommodate those who had fought against the government in accordance with its overall strategy to ensure lasting peace. That strategy thwarted TNA attempts to cause turmoil and use the defeated LTTE to cause political turmoil in the Northern Province. The TNA seemed to have believed that the defeated LTTE would accept its post-war strategy and agree to work, in unison, to undermine government rule in the Northern Province. Had the TNA succeeded it would have had a catastrophic effect on the Eastern Province and undermine post-war national reconciliation process.

The Kilinochchi protest dealt a devastating blow to those who had been propagating unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

Mulliyaweli incident

The military earned the respect of the former LTTE fighting cadre for efficient post-war rehabilitation project. The successful project paved the way for thousands of men and women to return to their families, within a couple of years, though, at the onset of the programme, interested parties alleged former LTTE personnel faced long term detention. The recent Kilinochchi protest proved in no uncertain terms that members of the defeated organizations had been treated humanely and they believed in the apparatus created by the military for their benefit.

The TNA obviously cannot stomach the former LTTE cadre having faith in the military.

Close on the heels of former LTTE cadres’ Kilinochchi protest, the TNA organized one day hartal, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, demanding an explanation from yahapalana government regarding those reported missing during the war and post-conflict period. Some northern residents have launched protests at the behest of the TNA against disappearances. Colombo based The Hindu correspondent Meena Srinivasan quoted Wigneswaran as having said: "Protesters demonstrated for over 50 days. Out of sheer frustration, they have asked the public to support them by staging a hartal. We have obliged."

During April 27, 2017 hartal, still unidentified persons pelted troops carrying ‘Liberty’ bus with stones at Mulliyaweli at 7.30 pm. Off duty personnel were on their way from Vavuniya on the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road to Mullaitivu on the east coast. The government played down the incident though the Army confirmed the first such case since the conclusion of the war.

Yahapalana leaders refrained from commenting on TNA led hartal backed by an influential section of Muslim politicians.

In the run up to late April hartal, Wigneswaran took up the contentious issue of disappearances with President Maithripala Sirisena. Wigneswarn claimed that many missing persons were somewhere ascertainable thereby suggesting over two years after Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at January 2015 presidential poll, the government is running secret detention camps.

No less a person than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared that those who had been categorized as missing were either living overseas or killed fighting for the LTTE. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, too, has echoed Wickremesinghe on many occasions though interested parties, including a section of the media, propagate existence of secret detention camps.

For want of an efficient strategy, the previous government failed pathetically to counter lies. The Rajapaksa administration’s failure facilitated Western powers to haul Sri Lanka up before the UNHRC and then help oust Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential poll.

The Joint Opposition, loyal to former President Rajapaksa, has failed to examine various developments taking place. The Kilinochchi demonstration and Mulliyaweli incident should be examined against the backdrop of the TNA split. The TNA has no option but to go all out against Wigneswaran publicly challenging the top party leadership.

TNA crisis deteriorates

Recently, the TNA ridiculed Wigneswaran over a statement he had made in respect of Sri Lankan child rapist Swamy Premananda who died at the age of 59 in an Indian prison in 2011. The TNA cleverly used Wigneswaran remarks to humiliate him and cause a rift between him and the Catholic community. Wigneswaran was ridiculed for allegedly comparing Premananda with Jesus. The TNA and an influential section of Tamil Diaspora targeted Wigneswaran though they remained silent when he intervened on behalf of Premananda’s accomplices in 2015.

Wigneswaran has requested Modi to release three life convicts in the sensational Swamy Premananda case. Sri Lankans namely Kamalananda, Balan alias Balendiran and Sathis alias Sathishkumar were convicted and sentenced along with Premananda for raping 13 Sri Lankan Tamil girls, including minors, and conspiring to murder an inmate in the godman’s ashram at Fathima Nagar near Trichy.

They were sentenced to double life imprisonment, and the punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. While Premananda died in Cuddalore prison in 2011, the other three are in prison.

In his letter, Wigneswaran, said Kamalananda and the others were falsely implicated in the case. "Premananda’s ashram and its properties have to be maintained. No one is there to take care of them. Please immediately release them as they are innocent," Wignswaran said.

Premananda had set up the ashram in the 1980s at the onset of India backed terrorism campaign in Sri Lanka. In 1994, Premananda was charged with raping the 13 inmates. Horrific crime came to light after one of the girls escaped from the ashram. Another victim became pregnant and a DNA test established that Premananda was the culprit. On August 21, 1997, the then Pudukottai district and sessions court judge R Banumathi sentenced Premananda to double life imprisonment and a cumulative fine of Rs 66.4 lakh.

Controversy surrounds the interview conducted on April 14th, 2017 by a Tamil website called "Thinappuyal." When asked about the Chief Minister being a devotee of a convicted criminal by the courts, Wigneswaran has said Jesus Christ was convicted 2000 years ago but people were worshiping him now as God. The website has deleted extremely controversial section of the interview on Wigneswaran’s request as the latter obviously feared it would cause outrage among Catholics.

Many an eyebrow was raised over Wigneswaran comparing Premananda with Jesus as well as the TNA’s reaction. Instead choosing to remain silent, the TNA exploited Wigneswaran’s blunder to ruin the Chief Minister’s image. The TNA ensured Wigneswaran’s comments on Premananda received wide coverage in both print media and on the internet/social media. With Wigneswaran indicating he has absolutely no intention to be guided by the TNA and intended to deal with the government on his own, the TNA will go on the offensive. Wigneswaran is believed to have obtained an opportunity to meet President Maithripala Sirisena soon to discuss contentious issues.

Wigneswaran’s moves should be studied taking into consideration obvious battle between the TNA and UNP Minister D. M. Swaminathan over efforts to regain military held civilian property in the Northern Province.

Would it be possible for Wigneswaran to retain the support of TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF in the NPC? What would be the reaction of Western embassies seeking a consensus among all Tamil political parties and groups, both here and overseas, to secure maximum possible concessions from the government to the ongoing TNA vs Wigneswaran? The top TNA leadership would never have expected Wigneswaran to cause turmoil in the coalition in a bid to secure a bigger role at the time he was brought in as their Northern Province Chief Ministerial candidate.

There’ll be bigger and far worse intra-party battles as major TNA factions flex their muscles.