Who calls the shots in Jaffna now?

By Taraki

Another Jaffna Mayor has been buried. Mr. V. Anandasangari and Mavai Senathirajah, the only senior TULF leaders present at Pon Sivapalan"s funeral on Monday have vowed to continue. (What irony! Isn’t it the fact that the TULF so compellingly portrayed the duly elected Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah as a heinous traitor to the Eelam cause that young Prabhaharan and his ilk were "inspired" to finish him off?)

The TULF might appoint Sivapalan's deputy as the new Mayor soon despite some misgivings in the party about doing politics in Jaffna hereafter. Those in the TULF leadership who are against the party continuing in Jaffna say that it is obvious now that the government will not be able to ensure their political future in the peninsula or prevent the LTTE from hounding them out. But Mr. V. Anandasangari and Mr. Mavai Senathirajah, the only senior TULF politicians from the north who are active today, may have no political future at all if the party pulls out of Jaffna. And they are not ones to silently fade into oblivion. But their perseverance will not help the government keep Jaffna.

This should be plain if one looks at the local government bodies that are run by others in Vavuniya and the eastern province. Batticaloa has a Mayor whose election was backed by the TELO in March 1994. Four years have gone by and he carries on unscathed, distinguished by his singular antics and minor histrionics.

Then take the controversial chairman of the Trincomalee urban council, P. Suriyamoorthy who was also backed by the TELO. The LTTE has generally left them alone. They could not have had more security that Pon Sivapalan.

But the LTTE kills TULF Mayors in Jaffna. The others do not count or are considered a temporary convenience by the Tigers. (The EPDP members in the Pt. Pedro Pradeshiya Sabha had brought a resolution last Friday that the government should speak unconditionally to the Tigers)

In any election that may be held in the future, the PA’s main, if not sole, ally in the peninsula would be the TULF.

If this is the case, the Tigers seem to think, then the TULF would certainly back Chandrika at the Presidential elections with the assistance of trusted and politically inclined army officers.

Even if votes were to be stuffed into ballot boxes in desperation, the TULF’s alliance with the PA at a Presidential polls could lend a degree of legitimacy to the government’s stake in Jaffna.

Incidentally, in pondering such things many analysts fail to take note of the enormous amount of political intelligence the LTTE gathers to form some its crucial decisions both here and abroad.

Both the Jaffna town commander Susantha Mendis and Vadamaradchi's Col. Lal Wijeratne were seen by the LTTE as soldiers with remarkable political acumen who could, when the need arose, help the government, directly or indirectly, achieve its interests at a presidential election.

It was known that the Jaffna town commander had a very special rapport with the PA leadership, particularly in matters concerning public relations. The musical show he organised at the Duraippah stadium is a case in point.

If the town commander had relied on the co-ordination and regulations of the security forces HQ at Palaly the show would have been a big flop. The large crowds that came pleased the government.

There were other instances as well to show that the town commander could get things done with the blessings of the PA leadership.

But Palaly was apparently irked. Brig. Mendis had been asked in writing by his superior to desist from going out too much among the crowds.

He had told one of his close Tamil friends recently that Palaly SF HQ was not happy with his activities to build up the Jaffna public’s good- will and that he suspected a conspiracy against him in certain quarters.

But in this case I think Palaly HQ was keen to see that the army’s name was not implicated in the political fortunes of a government.

Be that as it may, the better-informed Jaffna friends of the town commander feel that the PA might look to certain sections of the army to promote or at least tacitly back its interests in the peninsula at the presidential elections. The PA, as we have often noted in these columns, will never be able to resist the temptation of securing a bloc vote in Jaffna to offset its misfortunes in the south, particularly at this conjuncture where its popularity is declining faster than the value of the Sri Lankan rupee.

More so because it has now lost whatever little credibility it had by the shameful manner in which it is handling the Chemmani issue. (Forgetting how, as all politicians do, Suriyakanda helped its politics in 1994)

The government needs the TULF and at least a minor consenting section of the army to get what it desires in Jaffna on time for the presidential elections. And this is precisely what the LTTE wants to deny the government in the peninsula.

The whole thing, as we know, boils down to the simple question - who calls the shots in Jaffna now?

The PA will certainly find it very difficult to convince the people of the north that it does or can do so in the near future.

And while the PA worries about its votes, the people of Jaffna wonder what their predicament would be, if the LTTE ponders a "Tet Offensive" in the peninsula once it has made sure that Op. Jaya Sikurui is irredeemably stalemated in the Vanni.

Jaffna was the finest feather in the PA’s cap, lauded by the west and an admiring Indian media. Now even the President’s meanest sycophant might be scared to rashly deny that it could be the biggest pain in the government’s neck.