Pirabhakaran’s Return which shifted the Paradigm
Pirabhakaran’s return to Eelam from Tamil Nadu in January 1987 was a landmark event in recent South Asian history. It has parallels to Mahatma Gandhi’s first landing in South Africa, from Rajkot in 1893. That was a paradigm-shifting journey, which the then imperial British rulers never bothered to notice seriously. Why did a timid young barrister Gandhi (then aged only 24), with a mediocre profile in his barrister job opted to travel to South Africa? In his autobiography, Gandhi states that even in his homeland, he was insulted by the arrogance of British authorities.
Similarly, why did Pirabhakaran (then aged 31) who had enjoyed the cozy comfort of MGR’s preferential patronage for more than 3 years, decided to return to Eelam? Of course, at an opportune time, Pirabhakaran himself will share it with the Eelam Tamils, what was in his mind when the year 1986 was fading into history. For now, I have gathered more than four or five interpretations on why Pirabhakaran returned to Eelam. All the different versions, offered by different analysts, may have elements of truth in them. Let me first provide the different versions which have appeared in print, and then sift the kernels of truth.
(1) Indian Intelligence-wallah’s version:
“…It was not until January 1987, that Prabhakaran returned to Jaffna although the local commanders had been pleading with him to visit them at least once. Two unrelated reasons made Prabhakaran return. One was the genuine feeling for the suffering Tamils in the peninsula when the Sri Lankan Government introduced the ban on movement of fuel, and two, he did not want Kittu, who had attained fame in the earlier ‘Operation Short Shrift’ when the LTTE successfully pushed back the Sri Lankan forces into their camps in April 1986, to consolidate his standing among the people of Jaffna.” [Jain Commission Report, 1997, vol.5, chapter 16]
(2) Journalist Anita Pratap’s version
“Prabhakaran’s view was that Rajiv Gandhi was not having the true picture of the Tamil problems and, therefore, he was swayed by the officers. A little before November 1986, I met Prabhakaran at Madras. I also met Prabhakaran in early December 1986, after he returned from the SAARC meeting [held in Bangalore]. I met him at Madras. He said that MGR was furious that he [Prabhakaran] did not sign the Accord with Jayawardhene at Bangalore. MGR summoned Prabhakaran and gave him a tongue lashing. Prabhakaran gave his reasons for not doing this. MGR said at that time, ‘If you are operating in Tamil Nadu, I have allowed you to operate in Tamil Nadu. But you have to play by our rules’. But Prabhakaran said that ‘I can’t surrender my Cause’. At which point, MGR apparently told him ‘You fight for it in your country’. Prabhakaran is a man of tremendous pride and he walked out of that meeting and has apparently never returned to Tamil Nadu” [Jain Commission Report, 1997, vol.5, chapter 22.]
(3) Prof.Kingsley M. de Silva’s version [akin to UNP’s version]
“At the end of the Bangalore Conference it was announced that, ‘Apart from the subjects of finance, and administration which were not clarified with the TULF, the matters which require further clarification and agreement [were]…fully set out in (a) working paper on (the) Bangalore discussions, dated 18 (November) 1986.’
The LTTE alone adamantly refused to accept these proposals. The Indian government showed its displeasure by imposing restrictions on Sri Lankan Tamil activists operating from Indian Territory. This was the first time that such restrictions had been imposed. The initiatives of the Indian government in this regard were nullified by the Tamil Nadu government’s unconcealed reluctance to cooperate in these moves. In addition the Indian government sought to prevent the LTTE leader Prabhakaran then operating from Tamil Nadu from leaving India for Jaffna. These pressures succeeded until the end of 1986 by which time Prabhakaran and the LTTE ideologue Balasingham slipped across the Palk Straits to the Jaffna peninsula, to continue to fight from there.” [in the article, ‘The prelude to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, part 3. Lanka Guardian, May 15, 1993, pp.18-20]
(4) P.Nedumaran’s [one of Pirabhakaran’s confidants] version
“On January 3 , Prabhakaran had a farewell meeting with Nedumaran, the only Indian who was privy to the LTTE supremo’s departure plans… he dismissed the others and confided to Nedumaran that he was leaving for ever because he feared for his life in India. ‘(If we remained here), we will not be able to take independent decisions for our people’s welfare’, Prabhakaran said. ‘There is a plan to have me killed in Madras or New Delhi. The danger will remain as long as I remain here. Our struggle will intensify if I return to Eelam.” [in Narayan Swamy’s book, Tigers of Lanka, 2nd ed, 1996, p.223]
(5) J.N.Dixit’s [India’s top honcho in Colombo during 1986-89] version:
“By the end of 1986, Prabhakaran was disillusioned with his Indian connection. The pressure generated on the LTTE after the Bangalore SAARC Summit made him decide that he must shift his base to Sri Lanka for a long struggle. His judgement has been proved correct with the passage of time.” [in his book, Assignment Colombo, 1998, p.81]
Among the five versions presented above, we can leave out one of the self-serving Indian Intelligence-wallah’s reasons, that Pirabhakaran returned to Eelam because he feared the ascendancy of his colleague Kittu. The other reason provided by the Indian Intelligence-wallah corroborates well with the versions of others. Then, it is interesting to compare the versions of Anita Pratap and Kingsley de Silva, since both are contradictory. According to Anita Pratap, MGR pushed Pirabhakaran to leave Tamil Nadu. But Prof. de Silva has mentioned that the “Indian government sought to prevent the LTTE leader Prabhakaran from leaving India for Jaffna”, and he also states that the Tamil Nadu government [to be understood as, MGR] nullified the initiatives of the Indian government.
When one studies the farewell message of Pirabhakaran delivered to Nedumaran that “he [Pirabhakaran] was leaving forever because he feared for his life in India”, with that of Prof. de Silva’s version that India wanted to keep Pirabhakaran in India and that of Anita Pratap’s version that MGR pushed Pirabhakaran to leave Tamil Nadu, one can infer circumstantially that the Indian Intelligence-wallahs might have planned to assassinate Pirabhakaran. MGR’s parental-type of admonition, based nonetheless on affection, to Pirabhakaran to leave Tamil Nadu has to be understood as a premonitory warning against the duplicitous mind-set of India’s intelligence wallahs. Even J.N.Dixit’s diplomatic version is an admission on the failure of India’s intelligence-wallahs to keep Pirabhakaran within their handling range, and he compliments Pirabhakaran’s intuition with the statement, “His [Pirabhakaran’s] judgement has been proved correct with the passage of time.”
Pirabhakaran and Duraiappah: a Patriot and a Loyalist
Pirabhakaran’s return to Jaffna in January 1987 completed a rite of passage; he had transformed himself from a fugitive (since mid 1975) to a full-fledged leader. This (if one may call, tortuous and torturous) route to leadership does exist, as demonstrated by the careers of Mao Ze Dong, Menachem Begin and Fidel Castro. Even Pirabhakaran’s boyhood idol Subhas Chandra Bose had taken this route to claim a place in the pantheons of India’s freedom struggle. Thus, I would like to focus on the event which made Pirabhakaran, a fugitive more than 25 years ago.
Why did Pirabhakaran assassinate Duraiappah? The simple answer, if expressed in the context of American freedom struggle, Pirabhakaran was (and is) a patriot, and Duraiappah was a loyalist. July 27, 1975 is marked as the first military encounter in Eelam history, similar to June 27, 1776, which marked the first hanging of an American soldier, executed by order of a military court of Patriots. Thomas Hickey was condemned as a traitor for conspiring to deliver General Washington to the British rulers and hanged near Bowery Lane in the New York City.
Do I condone the assassination of Duraiappah? More than ten years ago, I had expressed my opinion on this question, in a letter to the Tamil Times (London). In it, I had stated,
“Being a Tamil born in the post-independent Sri Lanka, like so many hundreds of thousands of Tamils living in Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere on this globe, I share the ideals for which the LTTE is fighting a revolutionary war against the Sri Lankan government’s armed forces. But this does not mean that I agree with all the actions of the LTTE and I also have no authority to speak on behalf of the LTTE. However I am not going to give up to anyone who does not acknowledge the positive contributions of the LTTE to the Tamil liberation struggle…
LTTE has behaved (and is behaving) like every other revolutionary movement in the world which initiated an armed struggle against a more powerful, entrenched adversary. Beginning from the American revolutionary war (led by George Washington) in the 18th century to the Soviet revolution (led by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin), Chinese revolution (led by Mao Tse Tung and Zhou En Lai) and Cuban revolution (led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara) in this century, all the revolutionary struggles have shed much blood, not all belonging to that of adversary. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians also died for no fault of theirs. There were also an adequate share of blunders in every revolutionary struggle which became a success. So why one has to set a different standard to the Tamil Tigers, while paying homage to the actions of revolutionary heroes of the past, whether it is Washington or Lenin?...
If we study the historical events in proper perspective, the actions of LTTE infringing the human rights of fellow citizens (whether they are Tamils, Muslims or Sinhalese) is neither applausable nor despicable, in terms of a revolutionary struggle. It will be great if Eelam is born without a shed of blood, but even under the leadership of the apostle of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi, a free India was born with a loss of many millions of lives, with another ‘pre-term baby’ Pakistan, which itself gave a tragic birth to Bangladesh…” [Tamil Times, January 1991, p.23]
It is funny that Alfred Duraiappah has a visible Internet presence. If one has to believe the information peddled in the internet by the anti-LTTE scribes writing from Sri Lanka, Al Duraiappah should have been a mysterious man, who died repeatedly in 1973 (V.K.Wickramasinghe, Island, April 29, 2000), in 1974 (Lakshman Gunasekara, Sunday Observer, April 23, 2000), in 1975 and again in 1977 (Vimukthi Yapa, Sunday Leader, December 19, 1999).
It is my inference that Duraiappah’s Internet presence is due to the ‘Tunney Hunsacker effect’. If a non-Sri Lankan asks me who is Alfred Duraiappah, I can respond saying, ‘He is the Tunney Hunsaker of Tamil history.’ Does the name Tunney Hunsacker rings a bell to anyone? Even among boxing enthusiasts, only an avid fan of boxing history may remember this name. His recognition comes from the fact that he was the first professional opponent of Muhammad Ali, who won a decision against him on October 29, 1960 at Louisville, Kentucky.
Duraiappah is remembered not for any of his achievements in politics or social service or academics, but as the first military opponent of Pirabhakaran.
This being the reality, a valiant attempt to project Duraiappah as a Tamil humanist and social worker was recently made by the scribes of University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), in their Bulletin No.24 of September 2000. It deserves some critical analysis, thus I reproduce the first two paragraphs of their sympathetic portrayal of Duraiappah.
“27th July 2000 was the 25th anniversary of the murder of Jaffna’s mayor and former MP, Alfred Duraiappah. He may not have represented any great principle or ideal in politics. But he had one great virtue; he was a killer neither in private life nor in politics. He did not aspire to lead the Tamil people, nor did he care to project himself outside the Jaffna electorate. Inside the electorate his politics is simple. He tried to make everyone feel that he was their family member. He even tried to befriend those who regarded him an enemy and attended their functions uninvited. He knew everyone by name, and he could often be seen in a Muslim tailor’s shop near the Jaffna Court where he practiced, half-seated on a table, chatting to ordinary people, waving at passersby and inquiring after their affairs. It suited him to have government patronage to pass on and so he aligned himself with the SLFP.
He posed a challenge to the nationalist TULF (Federal Party) in the prestigious Jaffna electorate and nowhere else. It irked the nationalists that this man who was oblivious to nationalist claims and dealt only with jobs, transfers, market buildings, a stadium, public lavatories and lamp posts could be popular with the people…”
A good piece of writing, mixing facts and fiction. Ah! the Duraiappah Stadium – the eponymous arena to proclaim his name in Jaffna. But the facts related to the naming of this stadium reveals one of the vices Duraiappah had, but hidden by his apologists. A personally affable politician (akin to the big-city alderman in an American setting) of limited local influence, Duraiappah had his quota of vanities. I reproduce in full, a letter written by Jack Van Sanden (retired D.I.S.Police) from Queensland, Australia, in 1981.
“When I was Superintendent of Police, Northern Province, a Public Committee convened under my chairmanship that did the spade work, collected the necessary funds and completed the Jaffna Sports Stadium. The credit for this formidable task must go primarily to the public of Jaffna who were more than lavish in promoting this praiseworthy scheme and helping to bring it in to being. This stadium was built for the present and past generations of sportsmen of the North, for whose benefit this project was primarily intended. I may mention that the late Mr.A.S. Mariyanayagam, who was then Asst. Supdt. of Police, Jaffna and Mr.P.A. Pragasam, who was the Manager of Lake House Branch, Jaffna, were a great asset to me in collecting the necessary funds. If not for their assistance this scheme might not have materialized.
After I left Jaffna on transfer the completed Stadium was handed over to the Municipal Council by the Stadium Committee as it found it difficult to maintain it. This would never have happened had I continued to be in Jaffna. The late Mr.Alfred Duraiappah, who was subsequently elected the Mayor of Jaffna named the Stadium after his name. He was only a member of the Stadium Committee that assisted me and at no time did he function as the President of the Stadium Committee after I vacated the post. For these reasons I am not happy with the present name. I have no doubt that the Jaffna public appreciates what I have done and the Municipal Council would consider changing the name and give it a suitable name appropriate for the peninsula.” [Tribune, Colombo, November 28, 1981, p.23]
Older generation of Jaffna Tamils who lived during Jack Van Sanden’s tenure as the Superintendent of Police, Northern Range, would have no reason to doubt his sincerity. But I felt that, since this letter was written in 1981, after Duraiappah’s death, I should check another independent and reliable source related to Duraiappah’s standing in Jaffna, to contradict the claims of Rajan Hoole. What is available to me is the Jaffna 1980 book, authored by Dr. Robert Holmes, an American who resided in Jaffna for a long time, and who did not have any direct dealings with Duraiappah. Holmes lived in Jaffna from 1948 to 1960 and left Jaffna by the time Duraiappah became an MP. Then, Holmes returned to Jaffna again in 1978, after Duraiappah’s death, to complete his book. I hypothesized that if Duraiappah was such a social helper as portrayed by Rajan Hoole, he would have received mention at least in a sentence of Jaffna 1980 book.
Despite Duraiappah’s recognition as a one-time MP for Jaffna and Mayor of Jaffna, nothing is mentioned about him in the 500 page book authored by Holmes.
However, other Tamils who had gained some stature in the Jaffna Tamil society for their knowledge and services and who were contemporaries of Duraiappah have been cited by Holmes. The names which are featured in this source book of Jaffna include, in alphabetical order, Prof.K.D.Arudpragasam, Dr.T.Arulampalam, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, Guru Baba, Dr.R.E.W.Jehoratnam, Dr.W.Luther Jeyasingham, Senator S.R.Kanaganayagam, K.Kanagarajah (of Milk White Soap establishment), K.Kanagaratnam (one time MP for Vaddukoddai), Prof. K.Kanapathipillai, C.Manogaran (academic), K.Navaratnam (traditional scholar), Prof.K.Nesiah, Al Haj S.M.A.Rashid, Muhandiram E.P.Rasaiah, Nadesan Satyendra, Prof.S.Selvanayakam, Prof.N.Selvaratnam, Rev.A.C.Thambyrajah, 10 TULF MPs who represented the Jaffna district in 1979, A.T.Vethaparanam, Prof.A.J.Wilson and 9 noted writers and novelists (K.Daniel, S.Ganeshalingam, K.Gunarajah, Kanaga Senthinathan, S.Ponnuthurai, V.A.Rajaratnam, L.Sivagnanasundaram, Soccalingam and S.Yoganathan). This non-recognition of Duraiappah circumstantially disproves the claim made by Rajan Hoole that Duraiappah was a benefactor to the Jaffna society.
I would add that Dr. Holmes was not an LTTE partisan and his book was not a political tome. He had covered the major trunks and the trends of the Jaffna society during the period Duraiappah lived and it is surprising that Duraiappah’s name failed to receive his attention. One sentence written by Holmes on the average Jaffna person’s trust on politicians is also an apt one and will find consensus among the majority. “The older generation was cynical about all politicians except possibly S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, the founder of the Tamil Federalist Party.” (p.256) It was a perceptive observation made by an outside observer of the Jaffna society in late 1970s, which prophesied the emergence of Pirabhakaran, a military leader. About the cynicism of Jaffna man, Holmes had penetratingly observed:
“The Jaffna man is suspicious and with regard to his own kind, irredeemably cynical. The milk of human kindness is allowed to sour before he shares it with his fellows. It is probably the cynical aspect of the Jaffna man which provoked the dishonorable mention in the litany, ‘Colombo is the voice of Ceylon, Kandy the echo, Anuradhapura the sigh, Jaffna the sneer and Nuwara Eliya the smile.’…
The negatives in this paragraph demand that it be said that Tamils are not lacking in affection; they are simply rather careful about whom they bestow it upon. Such charity definitely begins at home. And the channels of affection are severely restricted by the caste system. The Jaffna man’s cynicism is most scathing when one of his fellows does something generous. The clear assumption is that, if a person is rational, he will not do anything ‘for nothing’…Even the greatest of Indian Christian saints Sadhu Sundar Singh who came to Jaffna in 1918, was never in his career accused of being an impostor – except in Jaffna.”
Duraiappah did some generous things to Jaffna people during his tenure as the Mayor of Jaffna. But, as Holmes had pointed out, for Jaffna voters in the 1960s and the first half of 1970s also knew ‘why he did what he did.’ That’s why they were cynical about all politicians (Federal Party, Tamil Congress, Leftist parties and Independents included) with the possible exception of Chelvanayakam. Thus, it is my contention that Duraiappah’s 1975 assassination should not be studied in isolation. For an objective evaluation, the factors which precipitated this assassination have to be explored and interpreted. Until now, anti-LTTE analysts, for obvious reasons of bias, have ignored these precipitating factors.
Duraiappah became known nationally when he was elected to the Jaffna constituency as an Independent in the March and July 1960 general elections, in three-cornered contests, defeating the Tamil Congress leader G.G.Ponnambalam and the Federal Party candidate. In the 1965 general election, G.G.Ponnambalam defeated Duraiappah in the Jaffna constituency. Then, in the 1970 general election, both Duraiappah and G.G.Ponnambalam were defeated in the Jaffna constituency by the Federal Party nominee, C.X.Martyn. Thus, Duraiappah’s limelight at the national level lasted only 5 years.
That Duraiappah is an asterisk in the post-independent history of Sri Lanka is attested by the fact that there is no entry on him in the Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka, authored by S.W.R.de A.Samarasinghe and Vidyamali Samarasinghe (Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, 1998). This reference book features 23 prominent personalities in its 269 entries. Among the 23 personalities featured, three Tamils are included. These being, in alphabetical order, A.Amirthalingam, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam and V.Prabhakaran. Among the 23 personalities covered in this reference book, Pirabhakaran is the only individual, born in the post-1950 period. Duraiappah receives recognition in this reference book, due to the ‘Tunney Hunsacker effect’, as the assassination victim of Pirabhakaran.
Narayan Swamy, in his book Tigers of Lanka, while describing in detail how Pirabhakaran had prepared for his confrontation on July 27, 1975, has failed to discuss why Duraiappah had to meet his fate like that.
Prof.K.M.de Silva’s description of 1970-75 period
Prof.Kingsley de Silva has attained the stature as the foremost contemporary historian of Sri Lanka. Though partial to the UNP politicians, he cannot be accused of possessing anti-Sinhala bias. In his second volume of J.R.Jayewardene biography, published in 1994, de Silva introduces Pirabhakaran as follows:
“By the mid 1970s radicalization of politics in Jaffna was an established fact, and with radicalization came violence, including the beginnings of terrorism as a fact of life in the politics of the Tamils, especially in the north and east of the island. At the beginnings the targets in these carefully chosen acts of political violence were Tamils associated with the government, culminating in the attempted murder of a pro-government Tamil MP, and then the murder of the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Durayappah, a leading figure among Tamil supporters of the UF government in the north. Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was to become, in time, the most prominent and violent of the separatist activists among the Tamils (See, India Today, ‘Profile of a Tiger, 30 June 1986 where Prabhakaran states that ‘My first military encounter was in 1975 when I shot and killed the former Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappa’.) [J.R.Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, vol.2, 1994, p.345]
In this book, though Prof. de Silva mentions, “radicalization of politics in Jaffna” and “with radicalization came violence”, he has not elaborated how and why radicalization came to settle down in the Tamil zones of the island. However, in his magnum opus A History of Sri Lanka, published in 1981, Prof. de Silva had described the practices of political thuggery and patronage peddling of ruling party operatives as well as the emerging authoritarian tendencies which were poisoning the Sri Lankan political atmosphere.
One can find answers to the question, why Pirabhakaran assassinated Duraiappah, through the descriptions provided by Prof. Kingsley de Silva, in the last chapter of this book is entitled, ‘Sri Lanka, 1970-1977: democracy at bay’. In fact, what Prof. de Silva describes was the then prevailing situation all over the island. But, in the Tamil zones, exhibited arrogance of the state’s law enforcement personnel played into the hands of restless young militants. Furthermore, during 1970 to 1977, the timidity and partiality of the un-elected SLFP organizers (like A.Duraiappah and C.Kumarasooriyar) and elected Tamil MPs who became turn-coats (A.Thiyagarajah of Vaddukoddai constituency and C.Arulampalam of Nallur constituency) insulted the intelligence of majority of Tamil voters, not all of them Tamil United Front partisans.
Prof. de Silva possesses a superb command of English, but he is prone to use lengthy sentences. Thus, one has to read every word of his sentences repeatedly to understand the deep impact that decisive period had in the psyche of young Tamils. I quote this chapter extensively, since in overall political context, it provides clues to why Duraiappah came to be assassinated on July 27, 1975.
“Through the process of constitution-making the ruling coalition used its overwhelming majority in the Constituent Assembly to give itself an extended term of two years (to May 1977) beyond the original period of five for which it had been elected in May 1970. In taking this action – probably unprecedented in the annals of constitution-making in democratic states – the government showed scant regard for any sense of public integrity…
Under the U.F. [United Front] government, emergency powers were invoked in dealing with the [JVP] insurgency, but they were retained long after it had been crushed, and were extended from month to month, not because they were really necessary but because they were convenient in dealing with dissent. These emergency regulations in effect suspended normal political processes, if not the constitution as a whole, and conferred extraordinary powers on the government. More significant and reprehensible was the second of the government’s weapons. With the passage (and subsequent amendment) of the Interpretation Ordinance of 1972, the power of the courts to hear appeals against mala fide administrative decisions was drastically curtailed, thus removing a meaningful restraint upon the misuse of administrative power for political purposes by the government against its opponents. Once this judicial check was removed, the government had little hesitation in using the machinery of the state and administrative regulations to harass and intimidate its political opponents… For security reasons, no public meetings were permitted except with government approval until September 1972.
Forces within the government [which] pressed for increasingly authoritarian attitudes toward its political opponents. This trend was originally an after-effect of the suppression of the insurgency of 1972, but it persisted throughout the government’s tenure of office, long after the threat to the security of the state had disappeared. Indeed this authoritarianism was one of the most distinctive characteristics of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s U.F. government…
There was also a flagrant misuse of state resources, including radio, newspapers, vehicles and personnel for party purposes, whether for propaganda rallies or for by-elections to the National State Assembly. State employees (especially in the lower rungs of the administration), teachers, workers in the state sector of the economy in distribution, services and manufacture, and plantation workers in nationalized plantations were compelled to participate in government party rallies on threat of dismissal of temporary workers or transfer of permanent employees to uncongenial stations. The severe restrictions which had been imposed on the political activity of opposition parties served to emphasize the flagrancy of the discrimination in favour of the government.
One other point needs elaboration, namely discrimination on political grounds. This form of discrimination is a comparatively novel one in the context of the liberal political traditions of Sri Lanka. Preferential treatment of supporters of the government in recruitment and promotion within the state service has always been a feature of the process of government in Sri Lanka since independence, but now, for the first time, preferential treatment of government supporters was ‘institutionalized’. This was facilitated by the government’s repudiation of the British colonial type of administration and its basic idea of an impartial civil service. Politicization of the public service was not restricted to key appointments at the policy-making levels, but extended throughout the service and intruded into the judiciary as well, although not to the same extent. The bases of appointment were political affiliation, personal connection, or still more dubious considerations. It led to both inefficiency and corruption, with the latter serving the function of mitigating the worst effects of this system of open discrimination against employment of children and close relatives of Opposition activists and suuporters, and the former serving the equally important one of softening the harsher and more repressive features of the authoritarianism which the U.F. established and encouraged. With no local government elections since May 1971, electoral activity was limited to by-elections to Parliament…” [pp.540-556].
Prof. de Silva has described briefly in the same chapter, how the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-led government came to be unpopular among the Tamils, mainly due to the antics of its Badiuddin Mahmud, the Minister of Education.
“In his hand, this cabinet post became at once a political base and a fountain of patronage, to be used to strengthen the ties between his [Muslim] community and the Party to which he belonged, the SLFP. Such success as he achieved in this was by its very nature transient. He was soon a controversial figure; his education policy was one of the major points of divergence between the government and the Tamils.”
In one sentence, Prof. de Silva summarized the then-fermenting sentiments of Tamils, especially among the youth.
“A by-product of the increasing alienation of the Tamils from the Sinhalese since the adoption of the  new constitution was the conversion of a large section of the Tamils of the north to the idea of a separate state: it is an indication of the intensity of feeling in the Tamil areas at what they saw as a deliberate attempt to reduce them to subordinate status…” [ibid, pp.550-553]
However, he did not elaborate on the specific events which impacted the Jaffna region between 1972 and 1974. These include,
1. S.J.V.Chelvanayakam resigning his Kankesanthurai seat in the National State Assembly in October 2, 1972, challenging the U.F. government to test the popularity of its newly introduced Constitution among the Tamils.
2. Undue postponement of the Kankesanthurai by-election by the government for over two years.
3. Vehement opposition of the U.F. government for holding the 4th International Tamil Research Conference in Jaffna, in January 1974 and its unfortunate repercussions.
4. U.F. government eventually nominating a locally influential Communist Party candidate Mr.V.Ponnambalam to contest the by-election against Mr.Chelvanayakam.
5. Mr. Chelvanayakam winning the Kankesanthurai by-election, held in February 6, 1975, by a margin of over 16,000 votes (Chelvanayakam polling 25,927 votes against Ponnambalam’s 9,457 votes).
Kankesanthurai by-election of 1975
The first public announcement for a separate state for Tamils was made by TULF leader Chelvanayakam during his campaign for Kankesanthurai by-election in January 1975. Duraiappah, having anointed himself as the ‘Prime Pimp’ for the Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s discriminatory policies in Jaffna peninsula canvassed support for the unpopular U.F. government. His assassination took place five months after the Kankesanthurai by-election.
Without digesting the political ferment which engulfed the Tamil zones of the island in the first half of 1970s and placing the assassination in its political context, Iqbal Athas has cavalierly observed,
“Just weeks before Mr. Duraiappah was murdered, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then Prime Minister, visited Jaffna. At a public meeting on that occasion Mr. Duraiappah appealed to Mrs. Bandaranaike to release 19 youth in police custody for infringements during protest demonstrations against the government. These youth were released in due course. The group included Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader. The first act of these youth was to show their gratitude by murdering Mr. Duraiappah…”[Sunday Times, Colombo, August 1, 1999]
It is pertinent to think why Duraiappah was assassinated, and not V.Ponnambalam, who represented the U.F. Government in the much delayed, Feb. 1975 by-election for Kankesanthurai. Is it because, though V.Ponnambalam represented the Communist Party, he had a ‘clean image’ and his sincerity of purpose was not doubted by even young Tamil militants. Contrastingly, Duraiappah, though being an ex-MP for Jaffna, by his deeds had turned into a ‘Prime Pimp’ for the repulsive SLFP rule. Thus, I would infer that Duraiappah lost his life, mainly because he served as the public face of the repulsive policies enforced by Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime in Jaffna.
One yet-to be unexplored issue about this by-election was the illicit use of foreign funds against Chelvanayakam’s candidacy. With the fall of Soviet Union in 1989, when its Intelligence Agency (KGB) archives were opened, there appeared reports that KGB had offered funds to influence the candidates of its preference in the Sri Lankan elections. I quote a news item, which appeared in the Hindu (International Edition) in 1992, authored by Vladimir Radyuhin from Moscow.
“…In March 1989, the KGB chief, Mr.Vladimir Kryuchkov, informed the CPSU General Secretary, Mr.Mikhail Gorbachev, that the Central Committee’s financial support to Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party enabled the latter to win eight times more seats in Parliament in the general elections earlier that year. In the same letter, Mr.Kryuchkov reported that the KGB also paid the way to Parliament for ‘a number of KGB confidants belonging both to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party’. The KGB chief quoted Mrs.Bandaranaike who had thanked Moscow for support and assured it that her party would take advantage of its increased influence in parliament to block the pro-Western foreign policy and the anti-democratic domestic course of the ruling United National Party…” [Hindu, Madras, International edition, June 20, 1992, p.7]
What is revealing from this Moscow-based report was that, KGB had funded SLFP candidates, even in the 1989 parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka, when SLFP was out of power. This being the case, with some certainty one can infer that KGB funds would have flowed into the government coffers in Sri Lanka, when it was in power and contesting the Kankesanthurai by-election, through its Communist Party candidate. The 1992 revelation in Moscow was made due to Boris Yeltsin’s early initiatives to expose the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) support for foreign Communist Parties, so that he could ban the CPSU in 1991 without a court ruling, following the fall of Gorbachev. Since Yeltsin has transferred powers to his protégé, Vladimir Putin, who is a past KGB operative, the chances of studying the role of KGB funding for the 1975 Kankesanthurai by-election appears remote now. (To be continued).