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Karuna in Politics

From Brutus to Lepidus

by Sachi Sri Kantha, March 20, 2009

Come to think of it, money’s role in Karuna’s weakness and flip-flops may deserve an in-depth study. It has been noted that a prime cause for the rift between Karuna and the LTTE leadership was Karuna’s dissatisfaction relating to money matters and how he wished to keep an unrestrained control on the coin supply. To cover this, later he assigned North-East regionalism as the cause for his split with Prabhakaran. Then, how did Karuna has to confront his underling Pillaiyan from the East and get evicted from the party he established? Again, the issue was money. The issue that Karuna may have been trapped (during his international sojourns as a member of the LTTE’s peace-negotiation panel during 2002-2003) by the wiles of a couple of big league spy rings flaunting money is not an inconvenient one to miss...

‘He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold – To groan and sweat under the business, Either led or driven, as we point the way’

What a difference does five years make in a turncoat’s political career? Karuna, aka V. Muralitharan, has four notable achievements. These include, (1) a dubious claimant for the LTTE legacy, (2) a founder of a new party, who was unceremoniously evicted by his underling, (3) imprisonment in UK for passport fraud, and (4) a SLFP sycophant and a non-cabinet minister in President Rajapaksa’ ever enlarging circus-wagon of ministers.

Five years ago, I made a prediction in a column I wrote entitled, ‘Karuna Quartered’ (July 5, 2004). Here is an excerpt from this column:

“In South Asian politics, a new political party has become the loin cloth of any man (or woman, considering that the current President Chandrika Kumaratunga also floated a new party named Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya in the 1980s) whose naked selfishness has come into the open. Among the Tamil-speaking population in the island, only (yes, I repeat, only) S.J.V. Chelvanayakam succeeded in forming a new political party – the Thamil Arasu Katchi – on September 18, 1949, and gained the trust of people. Even the venerated Chelva, was subjected to severe trials, from 1949 to 1956, on his mission to gain such trust. Chelva succeeded because he was a visionary, and thus an exception. All who have dreamt of doing a repeat Chelva act, have crashed – without any exception – ignominiously.”

A Review of the Hyperbole of the Karuna Fan Club

During the weeks of March 2004, Karuna first made a dubious claim to the LTTE’s legacy. The reporters from Colombo and Chennai gobbled up what came from his or his spokesman’s mouth and delighted themselves with “splitting” the LTTE into the “Wanni-faction” and the “Batti-faction.” A few like the then Bangkok-based K.T. Rajasingham (Where is he now?) and the Wordsworth-quoting Varadan (Where is he now?), the first spokesman for Karuna, even exaggerated the numbers to project that the Karuna-led “Batti-faction” was larger than the “Wanni-faction.” Karuna and his spokesmen claimed that nearly 6,000 Tamil Tigers were with him.

Later on October 12, 2004, Karuna announced his launch of a new political party with the name Tamil Eela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP). A careful selection of words in the title of his new party! Karuna's then handlers thought that (1) Karuna could still dubiously claim the legacy of the Liberation Tigers (Viduthalai Pulikal), and (2) Tamil Eelam was his dream. Neither of these claims could he eventually prove to Tamil voters.

If there is one Sri Lankan analyst who can simultaneously serve up ego-boosting hyperbole to his patrons and innuendo on his adversaries, Dayan Jayatilleka (the prolific party-hopper) is the king. In a column ‘In Defence of Karuna’, Jayatilleka effusively heaped praise on Karuna as follows: “His great achievements are four fold: (i) staying alive, (ii) weathering the storms of the April retreat/dispersion, the Kottawa killings and Reggie’s death, (iii) becoming internationally known, recognizable and (iv) expeditiously achieving a politico-military capacity by combining the classic ‘armed propaganda’ of selective attacks with the formation of a political front.” [Asian Tribune website, Oct.19, 2004.] Phew! Now, five years later, Karuna’s party has been hijacked by his underling, and his touted ‘military capacity’ is in shambles. Karuna became internationally known for serving a six month jail term in UK after pleading guilty to identity document fraud. To be kind to Dayan Jayatilleka, one has to agree that Karuna’s great achievement so far has been ‘staying alive’, at the expense of surrendering his pride, honor, and Tamil identity with a twin leash around his neck and scrotum.

Karuna and K.T. Rajasingham

K.T. Rajasingham first lined himself up to play the role of ‘Balasingham’ to Karuna. This opportunistic linking soured in a few years, for what reason, nobody really knows. Maybe Karuna (who was championing the cause of Eastern Tamils) couldn’t politically afford to have a Northern Tamil as his advisor. To answer the question posed in the previous paragraph relating to K.T. Rajasingham, I provide excerpts from a report by Walter Jayawardhana in the Asian Tribune website, “Karuna continues to threaten Editor, Asian Tribune” dated June 11, 2007:

Asian Tribune’s editor K. T. Rajasingham, a man hailing from the war torn Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka told this correspondent that he has been threatened by an anonymous caller this time who said he was calling on behalf of the Karuna group.

Prior to this he has been threatened by a man who is well known as a side kick of Karuna over the telephone and demanded that the editor should stop publishing all adverse reports about Karuna Amman led Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, the para military group. The group was formed after he broke away from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) over differences with the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran…The anonymous caller also reportedly told the Asian Tribune editor that he should also refrain from publishing anything related to the fratricidal killings with Karuna’s group after he broke away from Pillaiyan his second in command. The breaking of the group occurred May 4 this year after which Karuna group assassins openly murdered Tamils having relations with Pillaiyan…

K.T. Rajasingham, a veteran journalist who started his career with the now-defunct Davasa group of newspapers, which was officially know as the Independent Newspapers Ltd. now lives in Europe also under the threats of the LTTE. The anonymous caller who identified himself with the Karuna group reportedly told Rajasingham that it would not be difficult to organize a contract to kill him even in Europe.

Ironically, Rajasingham welcomed the breaking away of Karuna from the LTTE at the time when he announced that he would join the democratic mainstream. Rajasingham said he was disappointed with the practice of Karuna when he continued to do the same things the LTTE did instead.”

If one is to believe the reports authored by Sonali Samarasinghe and published in the Sunday Leader (Colombo) in Nov.11, 2007 (‘Plot to get rid of Karuna was hatched at a Presidential suite in Geneva’) and Nov.18, 2007 (‘The President’s choice of Advisors and the govt.’s dance with Karuna’), K.T. Rajasingham’s current residence is at “Karl Wahrens Vag 22 B, 73 34 Hallstavik, Sweden”; he had met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Suite No. 1727 Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on June 15, 2007 in a close door meeting and proposed that Karuna deserves ‘shock-treatment’ in preference to his then second-in command Pillaiyan. The Sri Lankan President was in Geneva to attend an ILO Conference.

When Karuna was arrested on Nov.2, 2007 in London for passport fraud, the BBC reported that, “As rebel chief in the East he commanded several thousand fighters, but analysts say his forces now number only a few hundred at most.” [BBC News website, 3 November 2007]. After serving a six month jail term in the UK, Karuna returned to the island, only to find that he had lost the grip on his newly-formed party to his once second-in-command, later turned adversary Pillaiyan.

It appears that President Rajapaksa, the shrewd Sinhalese politician, can ignore the advice of his old Tamil pal Rajasingham. That Rajasingham and Rajapaksa had been pals in the early 1970s has been confirmed to me by the former’s nephew. Rajasingham, in his capacity as the SLFP organizer in the Jaffna district, had once invited Rajapaksa (then a rookie parliamentarian) and brought him to his Point Pedro home. This was when Karuna was probably in his short-pants period. But in 2009, Karuna (the brand name) was politically more useful to President Rajapaksa in the island than his old pal Rajasingham, currently domiciled in far away Sweden. Thus, against the proferred wisdom of Rajasingham, President Rajapaksa embraced Karuna into his circus-wagon cabinet.

Karuna: from Brutus to Lepidus

Karuna’s current plight is that of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (? – d.13 BC), the third member of the Second Triumvirate formed after the assassination of Julius Caesar (100-44 BC). The other two heads being Marc Antony (83-30 BC) and Octavius Caesar (63 BC – AD 14).

History records that Lepidus, a Roman politician who supported Antony, was made Pontifix Maximus in 44 BC and went to govern in Gaul and Spain; later Africa was assigned as his share of the empire during 40-39 BC. He thought he could maintain himself in Sicily against Octavius Caesar, but his soldiers deserted him. As a result, Lepidus was deprived of all power. Shakespeare in his Julius Caesar (1599) play, portrays Lepidus as weak, ineffective and incompetent. He was allowed only 3½ lines! in Act. 4, Scene 1.

In the coin collection presented nearby, all except Pompei appear in the Julius Caesar play. An introductory text to the play mentions the following about money. “Roman generals owned their armies and paid them out of their own pockets, but the loot of foreign conquest could be vastly profitable and buy political influence at home. Generals minted their own coins with their own ‘heads and tails’ on them. Like today’s coins, money carried designs which symbolized something important to those who used it.”

Come to think of it, money’s role in Karuna’s weakness and flip-flops may deserve an in-depth study. It has been noted that a prime cause for the rift between Karuna and the LTTE leadership was Karuna’s dissatisfaction relating to money matters and how he wished to keep an unrestrained control on the coin supply. To cover this, later he assigned North-East regionalism as the cause for his split with Prabhakaran. Then, how did Karuna has to confront his underling Pillaiyan from the East and get evicted from the party he established? Again, the issue was money. The issue that Karuna may have been trapped (during his international sojourns as a member of the LTTE’s peace-negotiation panel during 2002-2003) by the wiles of a couple of big league spy rings flaunting money is not an inconvenient one to miss.

The choice words delivered by Marc Antony, penned by Shakespeare, on Lepidus seem to fit Karuna’s past and present plight perfectly. Marc Antony calls Lepidus (behind his back) as, ‘This is a slight, unmeritable man’ (insignificant and undeserving, in current English); ‘He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold – To groan and sweat under the business, Either led or driven, as we point the way’; and, ‘a barren-spirited fellow’ (lacking initiative or ideas of his own, in current English). Also make a note that Karuna’s brother Reggie was killed in 2004.

Read below the 51 lines of Act. 4, Scene 1, featuring Antony, Octavius and the poor Lepidus:

ANTONY: These many then shall die, their names are pricked.

OCTAVIUS: Your brother too must die; consent you, Lepidus?

LEPIDUS: I do consent.

OCTAVIUS:           Prick him down, Antony.

LEPIDUS: Upon condition Publius shall not live,

            Who is your sister’s son, Mark Antony.

ANTONY: He shall not live – look, with a spot I damn him.

            But, Lepidus, go you to Caesar’s house,

            Fetch the will hither, and we shall determine

            How to cut off some charge in legacies.

LEPIDUS: What, shall I find you here?

OCTAVIUS: Or here or at the Capitol. [Exit Lepidus]

ANTONY: This is a slight, unmeritable man,

            Meet to be sent on errands; is it fit?

            The threefold world divided, he should stand

            One of the three to share it?

OCTAVIUS:                            So you thought him

            And took his voice who should be pricked to die

            In our black sentence and proscription.

ANTONY: Octavius, I have seen more days than you,

            And though we lay these honours on this man

            To ease ourselves of divers slanderous loads,

            He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold,

            To groan and sweat under the business,

            Either led or driven, as we point the way;

            And having brought our treasure where we will,

            Then take we down his load and turn him off

            (Like to the empty ass) to shake his ears

            And graze in commons.

OCTAVIUS:                            You may do your will,

            But he’s a tried and valiant soldier.

ANTONY: So is my horse, Octavius, and for that

            I do appoint him store of provender.

            It is a creature that I teach to fight,

            To wind, to stop, to run directly on,

            His corporal motion governed by my spirit.

            And, in some taste, is Lepidus but so:

            He must be taught and trained and bid go forth,

            A barren-spirited fellow, one that feeds

            On objects, arts, and imitations,  

            Which, out of use and staled by other men,

            Begin his fashion. Do not talk of him

            But as a property. And now, Octavius,

            Listen great things. Brutus and Cassius

            Are levying powers; we must straight make head.

            Therefore let our alliance be combined,

            Our best friends made, our means stretched,

            And let us presently go sit in counsel,

            How covert matters may be best disclosed

            And open perils surest answered.

OCTAVIUS: Let us do so, for we are at the stake

            And bayed about with many enemies,

            And some that smile have in their hearts, I fear,

            Millions of mischiefs.

Coda

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) since its inception has been a racist, parochial party serving Sinhalese Buddhist interests. As far as Tamils are concerned, its initials can be framed as Sycophants Lapdogs Freeloaders Party. During the first Sirimavo Bandaranaike cabinet in the early 1960s, Badiuddin Mahmud (a Muslim) served as its minority sycophant. In the second Sirimavo Bandaranaike cabinet of the early 1970s, one Chelliah Kumarasooriyar was the new Tamil sycophant. Then came Lakshman Kadirgamar’s 10 year stint as the prime sycophant-lapdog of Chandrika Kumaratunga. Now, Karuna has promoted himself as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s chief sycophant-lapdog. Let's wait and see how far he rides on this SLFP wagon.

Source Books

Cambridge School Shakespeare – Julius Caesar. ed. by Timothy Seward, Cambridge University Press, 1996, 4th printing.

Outlines of Shakespeare’s Plays, by H.A. Watt, K.J. Holzknecht, R. Ross, Barnes & Nobel Inc., New York, 1962.

The BBC TV Shakespeare – Julius Caesar, Mayflower Books Inc., New York, 1979.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, ed. By William and Barbara Rosen, New American Library, New York, 1963, 7th printing.

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