Looking Forward with Excitement
With a little over a week to go, the TNA has woken up from its slumber and is actively campaigning for control over the provincial council. If all goes well, the provincial council will soon be a platform for speaking up for Tamil rights and feelings through our elected representatives. Houses are being visited by the TNA campaign one at a time. Chief Ministerial candidate Justice C.V. Wigneswaran has blocked off Uthayan Rest House and bases his campaign from there. For the first time in almost two decades, Tamils are excited about the opportunity to speak up through their representatives and through a formal elected body.
Tamil excitement over the prospects of having our own government is underscored on many fronts. The impunity of political leaders and the transient state of politics in the North since the defeat of the LTTE have left a void in Tamil belonging. A few days ago, the courts declared as suicide the death of a nurse who was found hanging from a fan on the islands off Jaffna Peninsula. But she is widely believed by locals to have been raped and murdered. They point to a Sinhalese doctor who is a close relative of the navy’s base commander and to signs of her body having been dragged post-mortem. “Where is justice?,” the people ask. They wonder if the police did not present this evidence to the court and stress the need for a force answerable to the provincial government.
This morning, Sept. 13, the importance of having police who understand us was stressed when 40 youths campaigning for the TNA were arrested in Kodikamam. President Rakapakse in one of his speeches had referred to the LTTE’s V. Prabhakaran as a brave fighter and Wigneswaran had responded in typical election time rhetoric that if the President can call Prabhakaran a Veeran (brave man), then there can be no wrong in others calling him a Maa-Veeran (Great Brave Man). This was reported in the TNA’s newspaper Veedu (House, the symbol of the Federal Party which is used by the TNA). The 40 youths had copies of the newspaper with the story and Prabhakaran’s picture for distribution. The monolingual police assumed that the 40 were LTTE men and arrested them. Thirty six have since been released but it is not known on what charge the remaining four are being held. Indeed it is absurd for the police in a democracy to claim that the mere possession of Prabhakaran’s picture can be used to arrest people.
Collapsing Regime: Commission on Peace and Justice
An incident yesterday (Sept. 12) near the petrol shed on Casturiar Road underscored the rowdy nature of the government and its agents. UPFA members on campaign asked a Sri Lanka Telecom worker engaged in repairs to move his vehicle and assaulted him for saying politely that he would move as soon as he finished what he was working on. With defeat imminent, these are sure sign of regime weakness.
The events of May 2009 make it quite plain that the government does not care for Tamils. We know that thousands of Tamils were killed in Mullaitivu by Rajapakse’s government, and want a government that would acknowledge, if not its war crimes and crimes against humanity, at least the need for closure among those who lost loved ones. With our own elected government we will certainly have better modes to protest and demand accountability.
As the Peace and justice Commission of the Jaffna Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church notes, we do not want an army that
a) has used chemical weapons and cluster bombs on us within safety zones and not accounted for the whereabouts of those known to have surrendered (e.g. Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph, a former Rector of St. Patrick’s College);
b) attacked political prisoners (some under arrest for more than 15 years) at Vavuniya prison, and then in Anuradhapura and Colombo;
c) hands back taken over lands with much publicity, while in reality occupying 90% of the lands, especially the 6,381 acres Valikamam North;
d) does not inquire into the skeletal remains found on the lands handed back, as at Pallappai in Vadamaradchchi where the house-owners found the remains of 17 bodies, with similar cases at Allaipiddy and Mathagal; and
e) rapes and murders women in the area. [We may add the sexual harassment of children to the Jaffna Diocese list].
No Hope for Government
After its military victory over the Tigers, there was room for the government to embrace the Tamils of the North in their care. By not taking the initiative to do something positive for Tamils, indeed betraying the people even more, the government has dashed any little chance it had of getting a few of the 19 seats. With Douglas’ weak popularity, Angajan Ramanathan has moved up the hierarchy at EPDP expense. But Angajan’ father, despite being Basil Rajapakse’s crony was remanded for shooting another member of the party by an independent magistrate. At Basil Rajapakse’s election rallies this week, immature rivalries were so strong that when Ramanathan appeared on stage Devananda did not; and vice versa. Douglas also seems to have lost enthusiasm first because he is sure that he will lose, and second because out the 19 UPFA candidates only 9 are his.
Even with little credibility among the Tamils, the government continues to put its stake in the improbable Devananda. As a politician, Devananda is out of touch with Tamil values. His and his party’s implication in murder, rape and seduction, and mayhem, however much denied by Devananda, is taken as a fact of life by Tamils. He fits perfectly with the Rajapakse regime, which is implicated in large-scale murder and money-making and will have difficulties explaining their new wealth. Mr. Gurunathan, a retired Land Commissioner from Batticaloa, has studied Devananda’s Maheswari Nithiyam and estimates that Rs. 4000 million has been made purportedly for the foundation by illegally selling sand. Sand sales are under the purview of the GA who typically sells a tractor load for Rs. 300-400, but Devananda has taken over the business and charges Rs. 15,000 a load. A court has as recently as in May 2013 ordered that the sales revert to the jurisdiction of the GA. Whether Rajapakse can influence the judiciary at this point remains to be seen.
The ruling family wants to make money. They need the army which is therefore allowed to make money. They also need Tamil agents like Douglas Devananda who, UNP sources allege, is obedient because the government can extradite him to India, where he is wanted in a murder case. The Government will help him rig elections on the islands and then use that to legitimize itself saying Tamils voted for it. Therefore, the EPDP-UPFA partners see securing a few seats from rigged votes on the islands off Jaffna as their only hope.
The Islands off Jaffna
In previous elections, with the war on, it was easy to kill TNA campaigners who came to the islands. The much respected Reporters Without Borders has reported how EPDP cadres, led by Devananda’s right hand man Napolean, murdered TNA members coming to Kayts to campaign; furthermore, the Vavuniya High Court afterwards dutifully released Napolean (who was represented by the EPDP lawyer) without confiscating his passport, despite the murder charge pending. Napolean was thus permitted to jump the nominal bail and now lives in London where he associates with the EPDP’s current candidate, S. Thavarajah.
Now the war is over and the world is watching. International election observers will arrive today (Sept. 13). Rigging at Kayts is a more difficult affair than usual. But Devananda’s goons continue to try. For example, only the EPDP newspaper is allowed there. It is a simple matter for EPDP to intimidate news agents into not selling any other newspapers. In another incident three days ago, TNA candidate Vinthan Kanagarathinam, held a meeting in Velanai. After his return, those who organized the meeting were assaulted. As I write, after boatmen who took TNA candidates Kanagarathinam and Henry Mahenthiran to Neduntheevu were threatened by EPDP thugs to vanish, the candidates have been left stranded, unable to campaign in other parts of the district.
The new forays by TNA candidates into Devananda territory on the islands show that finally the TNA has stepped up to the plate, ready to take on Devananda and the EPDP. Previously the TNA had staid older candidates who avoided trouble. But this time, by going for younger candidates, the TNA has hotter blood prepared to challenge Devananda’s goons. Those like Sritharan have even dared Devananda in his home turf, by visiting the islands with the police escorts which he is owed as a member of parliament.
The way the government played with giving its candidatures to violent LTTE men shows that it does not care about principles but is only looking for ways of exploiting the Hitler complexes of disreputable ex-LTTE cadres who do not care for the Tamil public. These plans were suddenly derailed as the government decided to launch a tirade against the TNA because of its LTTE past. The LTTE members it had cultivated to be candidates were suddenly dropped like hot potatoes so as to give credibility and consistency to the government’s accusations against the TNA. This has also weakened the government’s position as even those who were prepared to work with it are humiliated after newspaper reports that they would be government candidates and therefore are now disappointed and seething with anger.
The University: Waning Devananda Influence
The UPFA-EPDP coalition is further weakened by its waning influence over University of Jaffna where the Vice Chancellor, and pretty much all new lower level staff had been appointed at Douglas Devananda’s instance. Devananda, wanting a pliant and obedient Vice Chancellor through whom he could control Jaffna university, had imposed his personally preferred candidate as the Vice Chancellor. The UGC appointed Council is filled with his party people. At the beginning, the Council was roughly split between the Devananda nominees in majority and the ex officio members like the Deans and Senate representatives. Thus, when the Vice Chancellor sought an EPDP Council Member’s daughter’s appointment as Computer Assistant, the other ex officio members who had conducted an exam in which the daughter had failed, were able to block it when they were joined by a few of Devananda’s appointees to the Council. The VC threatened to resign but the matter has dragged on for 2 years – still with no appointment or resignation. The true tragedy is that all this drama is impacting the education of the unfortunate Jaffna University students.
Devananda’s position has weakened further with Angajan Ramanthan’s entry into Jaffna politics. Sensing the ebb and flow of power, some Devananda Councilors, particularly former VC Emeritus Professor P. Balasundarampillai (who has conveniently translated Emeritus as “Life-long”) have leaned over to Angajan’s side.
With the three-way split (ex officio members, and Devananda-leaning and Angajan-leaning factions), the government could not keep the university closed so that students cannot campaign for the TNA. The clashes instigated among students, which were used recently to close the university, did not work and classes were soon resumed. Three students were suspended at the time and their return was promised the students by the VC but it has not happened yet. Just yesterday, a threatened student strike – with closure to naturally follow – was averted only to result in a token strike today, Sept. 13. What Devananda had not reckoned with is that the qualities he looked for in a Vice Chancellor, pliancy and obedience, would lead to an ineffective leadership and chaotic administration. The last meeting of the university council at the end of August had to deal with the Bursar hurling profanities at the Vice Chancellor.
Devananda’s hold is set to weaken further in May 2014 when a newly energized Angajan will want his own people on the Council. The TNA is now more savvy and is ready to make demands on having its own nominees on the Council like the other parties are allowed in southern Councils.
Regardless of Douglas’ present influence over electing university leaders, students are working for a TNA win in the upcoming Provincial elections. The University Teachers’ Association (UTA) has determined that it is time to take a stand and come out forcefully in favor of the TNA. Jaffna is slowly becoming an intellectual hive under the leadership of university teachers. Progress is seen despite the army’s attempts to intimidate intellectuals (such as through the incident I reported on about bullying those of us who attended a meeting of Noolaham, an NGO devoted to preserving books of cultural and historical value). The History Department organized a meeting where Seelan Kadirgamar released two edited books on the Jaffna Youth Congress (Kumaran Publications) on Sept. 11. The English book had some 600 pages and the Tamil one 300. Kokkuvil Hindu College co-sponsored the event because Handy Perinbanayagam, a leader of the Youth Congress, had been Principal there. It is a fitting time to recall the youth of that time who were energized to participate in the independence struggle against colonialism. The new activity from the UTA recalls the early 1990s when the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) had most teachers as members, though sadly then, the members soon lapsed into silence when the Tigers moved against it. We can hope this will no longer be the case and I wish them well.
S. Thavarajah: The New Face of the EPDP?
The current EPDP candidate S. Thavarajah entered parliament in 1994, with a handful of votes, when the LTTE ordered an election boycott. In the Jaffna district, with 596,366 registered voters, only 13,379 cast their votes, out of which the EPDP got 10,744 votes. In the 2001 elections, when there was no boycott, the EPDP got 0.81% of the vote and Thavarajah lost with a mere 542 votes. Such is his standing among the Tamil people. Indeed when the people speak, their meaning is clear.
Subsequently, the Tamil Broadcasting Corp (TBC) Radio of London in Feb. 2012 reported that Thavarajah “has sought political asylum in London and in his asylum application, he has made all the allegations against Douglas Devananda and the EPDP [sic]. He is said to be holding a British passport at present and is said to have visited the Sri Lanka High Commission in London to obtain special clearance for his visa to enter Sri Lanka. Thavarajah is said to be controlling the international finances of the EPDP and runs its operations from Birmingham from a freehold retail shop acquired with the groups [sic] funds.” These contradictions suggest that Thavarajah staged a conflict with Devananda to make a case for political asylum in the UK and then used the shop in Birmingham as a base for laundering their huge undeclared income from Jaffna.
Today, all problems between Devananda and Thavarajah, whether real or staged, are clearly forgiven. In the face of the EPDP’s rising unpopularity and awareness of their brutality, the EPDP is sure of defeat. Devananda has made up with Thavarajah and summoned him from England.
Although the government is not prepared to name a Chief Minister candidate – Rajapakse’s way of getting both Angajan and Devananda to work hard for a good showing at the polls – the Daily News is passing off Thavarajah as heading the list. Perhaps believing himself to actually be a suitable candidate, Thavarajah has challenged Wigneswaran to a debate, claiming that no one else on the TNA list is at his “level” and as qualified as he to debate him. The fact is that Thavarajah, despite claims of his “level” of qualifications, is said to be a law studies drop-out with no other known qualifications to even be Devananda’s ghost writer – except, perhaps, for his experience as an armed bank robber in the 1970s with which qualifications he can serve Devananda well. Indeed as a bank robber, he is certainly suitably matched with Rajapakse who presided over the killing of tens of thousands of innocents in Mullaitivu and with Devananda who is wanted in India over a murder enquiry. It is indeed strange that a drop-out serving an eight-grade qualified master should talk of “level.” Wigneswaran is way above him in level even to contemplate a comparison. In fact I venture that all 19 of the TNA’s candidates are above Thavarajah’s “level.”
Wigneswaran has appropriately responded to Thavarajah saying that he cannot debate with each of the government’s candidates, but that he would be willing to debate Thavarajah if he can first get himself declared the Chief Ministerial candidate.
I would go further to say that no debate is possible with those like Thavarajah who use deceit. In a debate one makes arguments from facts and lets the listeners judge the outcome. Yet in my experience of debating him in Aug. 2011, when Thavarajah runs out of facts to sustain his argument, he cooks up facts – in my case claiming that I got money from Devananda, and reading out as a court judgement what was really a submission from my communalist detractors at University of Peradeniya to court. One cannot debate on those false terms.
Having said that, I will let readers judge whether or not Thavarajah is worthy of their vote.
Basil’s Empty Promises and Threats
When Basil Rajapakse came to Jaffna to campaign for the government three days ago, he tried to claim the moral high ground, by vowing to hand over the Government’s Northern Spring program to the Provincial Government through which all the road-building and other development work in the north was undertaken. That amazed many. However, the point is that, in a democracy, all citizens get a fair allocation of state resources and their representatives have a say in how it is spent. It is the case in our flawed democracy, however, that it is government supporters who distribute government largesse and often come to the government side to use state resources as a corrupt avenue to make money. It would indeed be more shocking if the Rajapakses were to give up such a fine source of income to help the people of Jaffna.
Indeed, in his speech, Basil’s next words betrayed his deviousness: “There is a choice for the people on 21 September. They should decide whether they want freedom, peace and development with self rule in the province by their own representatives or on the other hand they want a group that will lead them back to the dark era with the rhetoric of self rule without any means or resources to develop the province.” That is, if we Tamils vote for the TNA, we would get nothing.
The TNA Manifesto
The TNA manifesto is being heavily attacked by the government. The manifesto shows the hand of Wigneswaran’s intellect, carefully striking the middle ground between separation and the unitary state. The party stands for a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka. The TNA is a democratic party that contains some elements sympathetic to the LTTE, which were imposed by the LTTE, but it is now largely committed to the non-violent democratic path. This involves an internal struggle of self-cleansing. The results of this struggle are seen in the final slate of candidates with clean records, free of LTTE baggage (particularly C.V. Wigneswaran) and a token concession to the pro-LTTE elements by the inclusion of Ananthi Sasitharan (widow of the LTTE’s Trincomalee head Elilan). She was not in the LTTE but will somewhat satisfy the LTTE elements.
Another sign of the struggle within the TNA is the contrast between its choice of the intellectual Wigneswaran with no LTTE connections, and the opening of its major election meeting at Veerasingham Hall on Aug. 25 with a call for two minutes’ silence for the heroic martyrs who fought on the battlefield unswervingly to the last. Uthayan newspaper shows Wigneswaran, Sumanthiran and Sampanthan on the platform. An outraged TNA-leaning voter asked whether such a token regard for LTTE heroes meant that those TNA leaders killed by the LTTE were traitors. MPs Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Neelan Tiruchelvam, Jaffna Mayors Sarojini Yogeswaran and Pon Sivapalan and numerous others?
The same supporter saw parallels to the 1972 meeting where, on Chelvanayakam’s platform, Kasi Anandan was not checked for denouncing Alfred Duraiappah and two others as traitors deserving death at the hands of the younger generation. He pointed out further that a good deal of anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim rhetoric too is aired under similar conditions – where leaders remain silent. At least Chelvanayakam could be excused because he was almost deaf at the time from Parkinson’s and might not have been listening to Kasi Ananthan. But Wigneswaran, Sumanthiran and Sampanthan?
If TNA is truly keen on serving a democratically vibrant people, unlike the path taken by the UPFA, they must take care to denounce such ties to an equally violent and tyrannical organization. If they win, the TNA could be a fresh start for Tamils returning to the non-violent stand of their Federal Party roots.
A wise government would work with the TNA to accelerate this process of getting rid of old ghosts. Together, the government and Tamil electors could rechart a united future, and avoid the mistakes of the past. But that would be the case only if the government were working for the country – rather than to consolidate the ruling family’s hold over the people and our natural wealth.
Instead, the government is panicking. Exploiting the TNA’s rejection of a unitary state (as distinguished from a united state with maximum devolution of powers), the TNA has been labeled separatist and as the LTTE in disguise. People as varied as the President, Prof. Rohan Gunaratne and Ministers Champika Ranawaka and Dulles Alahapperuma have chimed in to attack the manifesto despite its being a good document. Connecting with the TNA would also be an unusal vein of thinking for a government that has taken care to distance itself from minorities and support rising Sinhalese extremism. A trend that parallels the early 1950’s when presidents rose to power though election canvassing of groups like BBS.
The EPDP did better than it deserved in the 2010 and 2011 elections with turnouts of about 30%. A true expression of Tamils feelings over a government so corrupt and so brutal will occur only if Tamils who generally hate the Rajapakse government come out on the Sept. 21 to say so. The Commission for Peace and Justice of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna states in a press release dated yesterday (12th), that the Government party candidates with the direct and indirect support of the security forces and other state machinery are involved in wide-spread election law violations and they list six areas of such activity:
1. Unemployed youth have been asked in a published advertisement to register their names as members in the ruling party to ensure a job. This advertisement appeared in all the newspapers in the North after the date for the election was fixed.
2. Some of the ruling party candidates have been recently involved in partnering with government officers to organize ‘mobile services’ to fulfil the needs of the people – especially in the villages.
3. In the Kilinochchi district, pre-school teachers have been enlisted as members of the civil-security staff, and then asked to gather votes for the government party. They also have been issued forms to get the names of people who would thus vote for the government party.
4. During the last few weeks, in hurriedly organised and publicised functions, some houses and lands in Thenmaradchchi and Vadamaradchchi which had been in the possession of the Security forces have been handed back to the owners. These functions were attended by the ruling government party members and the military top brass. The speeches and the whole procedure of these meetings had all the hallmarks of an election campaign.
5. During the last few days, the Governor, who is supposed to be neutral, has participated in the election-campaign meetings of the ruling government party [He has defiantly said he would continue to do so despite the inappropriateness of his taking sides!]
6. Enticements, intimidation, violence and fire-arms have been used to gather votes for the ruling government party.
If the people in the North do not come forward to vote, as the Peace and Justice Commission of the Church continues, it will be an indication that we are not too concerned about how the government treats minorities.
People must vote and tell this government how we feel. I urge everyone who can to vote and make sure that their kith and kin vote too! In doing so we will be advocating our position and, it is hoped, ushering in democratic change, letting the world know how we feel and encouraging and supporting the TNA as it seeks to chart a democratic path.
As I conclude there is still fear that the pliant courts with an illegal Chief Justice who owes his position to the President will be manipulated to call off the elections. God Forbid!