Dissecting the April 2004 General Election Voting in Jaffna District

by Sachi Sri Kantha

 

Perfidy of Bhairavan’s clones

Many Tamil movie fans would remember the signature role of ace comedian K.A.Thangavelu – that of a phony writer named Bhairavan – in the popular tear-jerker Kalyana Parisu (1959), directed by C.V.Sridhar. On returning home with a garland he had bought from a flower shop, and handing 200 rupees to his wife [played in the movie by comedianne M.Saroja, who was a wife of Thangavelu in life], Bhairavan dupes her about how he was felicitated in stage for his non-existing skills as a writer in a cultural function. Among other memorable lines Thangavelu made popular into Tamil vernacular, such as ‘Irunooru roopaiku Apple Juice-u; Nanooru roopai endal Aatukkal soopu’ [For 200 rupees, one is served apple juice; if it’s 400 rupees, one may taste mutton leg soup], one slogan which he splashed to tout his phony accolode to his wife was a fib, ‘Bhairavan sevai Naathuku Thevai’ [The service of writer Bhairavan was the need of the nation]. Now two generations later, it seems that in Chennai, Bhairavan’s clones [and their feminine counterparts Bhairavis] have mushroomed to a number which would shame even Kalyana Parisu movie’s script writer. The Hindu ensemble of writers represented by N.Ram, V.S.Sambandan and Nirupama Subramanian are the reigning clones of director Sridhar’s Bhairavan.

More than a month ago, Nirupama Subramanian contributed an article in the Chennai Hindu newspaper. The caption of her dyspeptic report read, ‘Jaffna’s flawed election’ [The Hindu, June 5, 2004]. It was a tour de force piece, set to accompany the sour grape tunes sung by the fence sitting foxes, Douglas Devananda and V.Anandasangaree. The opening sentence itself provided the summary of Nirupama’s thesis; "Behind the apparent triump of ITAK, a proxy of the LTTE, in the Sri Lankan elections is a tale of massive subversion of the democratic process." As a hack known to contribute anti-LTTE polemics, Nirupama sobbed eloquently at the plight of the ‘worthy defenders of Tamil rights’ such as Devananda and Anandasangaree. In her words,

"The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Douglas Devananda, and a breakaway group of ITAK, led by V.Anandasangaree, who quit the alliance refusing to kowtow to the LTTE, formed the main opposition to ITAK. But they and their candidates found themselves under virtual house arrest. They had no access to voters and the voters had no access to them.

Mr.Devananda wrote 16 letters to the Elections Commissioner from the day the nominations were accepted to the date of the elections, bringing to his attention the serious threat the LTTE posed to the holding of a free and fair election, to no avail. His supporters could not hire vehicles or loudspeakers to run their campaign. When they did venture out to canvass votes, bands of youth on motorcycles rode up menacingly, telling to disperse and not accept any EPDP campaign material…"

That’s funny, and newsworthy indeed; Devananda has turned into a ‘man of letters’, and a Sri Lankan version of phony writer Bhairavan of Kalyana Parisu fame. Then, Nirupama failed to reveal what Anandasangaree did. The less said the better, about fickle-minded defector Anandasangaree’s predicament. The mere fact that the racist party of yellow-robed mullahs, Jathika Hela Urumaya, offered to nominate Anandasangaree – rejected by the Jaffna voters - as their national list MP [This was before the trouble brewing amidst them, of elected MPs playing hide and seek and practising pole vault] exposes the true colors of Sangaree’s loyalty to Tamil cause. Would the yellow-robed mullahs, dare to offer such a request to Anandasangaree’s predecessors, like Amirthalingam or Sivasithamparam? No way.

The embellished charade paraded by Nirupama in her Hindu commentary was sullied by ‘ugly’ facts. Her hypothesis was that LTTE stole the election for ITAK, by forcefully preventing its opponents Devananda and Anandasangaree from reaching the Tamil voters. Let me present some real facts to show that Nirupama has been day-dreaming in Chennai when she wrote this particular article. The glaring defects in Nirupama’s analysis are many. Two prominent ones are as follows; (1) It was devoid of meaningful electoral numbers to support her dubious hypothesis; (2) It was devoid of data from valid ‘controls’ [both (a) an internal control – that is data from previously held elections in Jaffna such as 2001, or that infamous 1994 election where EPDP gained 9 MPs with a miniscule voting percentage mocking democracy – and (b) an external control – information on how prevalent are rigging in the elections held in India]. I present below in four tables with numbers to rebut Nirupama’s allegations that LTTE unlawfully prevented Devananda and Anandasangaree to post gains in the recently held general elections.

 

 

Table 1: Jaffna District’s Polling Divisions and Their Voter Performance

Polling Divisions

Number polled (%) 

Dec. 2001

Number polled (%)

April 2004

Kayts

21,361 (41.8)

16,736 (32.2)

Vaddukoddai

20,128 (33.0)

28,901 (47.2)

Kankesanthurai

17,159 (26.8)

23,017 (35.7)

Manipay

25,339 (39.4)

30,426 (46.7)

Kopay

23,415 (38.2)

31,940 (52.0)

Udupiddy

18,448 (34.2)

27,463 (50.8)

Point Pedro

14,031 (32.6)

24,400 (53.7)

Chavakachcheri

15,840 (28.9)

35,690 (62.2)

Nallur

19,776 (29.5)

27,124 (40.1)

Jaffna

13,578 (24.6)

19,750 (34.4)

Kilinochchi

1,944 (3.4)

32,152 (55.5)

[Postal Votes]

2,354

3,985

 

 

Table 2: Votes cast for TULF/ITAK in Jaffna District’s Polling Divisions

Polling Divisions

Votes cast (%)

Dec. 2001

Votes cast (%)

April 2004

Kayts

4,304 (20.9)

13,911 (90.0)

Vaddukoddai

9,800 (52.6)

24,240 (92.0)

Kankesanthurai

8,898 (54.7)

18,499 (86.5)

Manipay

13,539 (56.5)

23,779 (84.5)

Kopay

12,539 (56.8)

26,805 (90.1)

Udupiddy

12,493 (72.0)

24,172 (94.8)

Point Pedro

8,525 (64.5)

22,400 (95.8)

Chavakachcheri

9,865 (67.7)

30,882 (94.4)

Nallur

11,787 (61.3)

22,321 (87.0)

Jaffna

7,368 (56.9)

16,353 (87.8)

Kilinochchi

1,100 (60.7)

29,574 (98.8)

[Postal Votes]

1,496 (64.8)

3,175 (80.5)

Total Votes received

101,714

256,111

 

 

Table 3: Votes cast for EPDP in Jaffna District’s Polling Divisions

Polling Divisions

Votes cast (%)

Dec. 2001

Votes cast (%)

April 2004

Kayts

15,378 (74.7)

1,406 (9.1)

Vaddukoddai

4,609 (24.7)

1,513 (5.7)

Kankesanthurai

5,580 (34.3)

2,395 (11.2)

Manipay

7,450 (31.1)

3,239 (11.5)

Kopay

6,300 (28.6)

2,108 (7.2)

Udupiddy

3,385 (19.5)

874 (3.4)

Point Pedro

2,736 (20.7)

676 (2.9)

Chavakachcheri

2,221 (15.2)

1,252 (3.8)

Nallur

4,565 (23.7)

2,431 (9.5)

Jaffna

3,647 (28.2)

1,710 (9.2)

Kilinochchi

431 (23.8)

145 (0.5)

[Postal Votes]

576 (25.0)

420 (10.6)

Total Votes received

56,878

18,169

 

 

Table 4: Votes cast for EPDP in the Polling Divisions of Other Districts

Polling Divisions

Votes cast (%)

Dec. 2001

Votes cast (%)

April 2004

Mannar

1,742 (7.3)

476 (1.5)

Vavuniya

1,100 (2.3)

488 (0.9)

Mullaitivu

2 (0.3)

68 (0.2)

Postal-Vanni district

62 (2.2)

52 (1.3)

Seruwila

85 (0.2)

61 (0.2)

Trincomalee

1,209 (2.1)

393 (0.6)

Mutur

124 (0.2)

49 (0.1)

Postal-Trincomalee dst.

52 (0.9)

37 (0.5)

Kalkudah

784 (1.5)

568 (0.8)

Batticaloa

2,054 (2.5)

1,099 (1.0)

Padiruppu

1,265 (3.1)

821 (1.4)

Postal-Batticaloa dst.

50 (1.4)

68 (1.5)

Ampara

156 (0.2)

232 (0.3)

Sammanturai

973 (2.1)

178 (0.4)

Kalmunai

1,346 (3.7)

252 (0.5)

Potuvil

3,377 (3.7)

923 (1.0)

Postal - Digamadulla dst.

49 (0.6)

26 (0.3)

Total Votes received

14,430

5,791

 

 

Analysis of Jaffna District Votes in the 2004 election

Nirupama had regurgitated the partisan findings of idiosyncratic international and local observers, that there were, "large-scale voter impersonation; multiple voting; ITAK supporters intimidating EPDP polling agents; ITAK supporters ejecting agents of other parties from polling stations; ITAK transporting voters to polling stations; polling officials aiding and abetting ITAK; polling officials not fastidious about checking for identification ink to ensure that people who had voted once did not vote again; people washing off the identification ink from their fingers; and ballot boxes bearing the ITAK symbol." In Nirupama’s logic, all these sins should have occurred on the polling day April 2nd, to favor the election of ITAK candidates.

Too bad, that Nirupama had ignored a small – but vital - chunk of ballots, which were not subjected to these ‘sins’. I refer to the postal votes, which were cast a month ahead of the April 2nd polling day. In Table 2, I have provided in the last row, the performance of ITAK in postal votes. In 2001 election, the then TULF party received 1,496 postal votes (64.8 percent of postal votes cast in the Jaffna district). In the last April election, the postal votes garnered by the ITAK party increased to 3,175 votes (80.5 percent of the postal votes cast in the Jaffna distict). Thus, by reasonable extrapolation, one can safely infer that 80 percent of the votes cast for the ITAK party on April 2nd were legit votes. Total number of votes polled in the 11 polling divisions of Jaffna district on April 2nd was 297,599; among which, ITAK party received 256,111 votes. This accounts for 86.1 percent of the polled votes. An increase from the expected [80.5 percent, as indicated by the postal vote percentage] to the observed 86.1 percent [on April 2nd] during one month of election campaigning was an achievable target due to two factors. First, the un-decided amongst the voters were pulled in by the appeal for Tamil self-respect, combined with the fact that ITAK’s primary opponent Douglas Devananda’s EPDP has a sullied image as ‘collaborators of Sinhala regime’. Anandasangaree’s fledgling grouping was a no-brainer. Secondly, for the first time the elections were held under ‘nominally peaceful atmosphere under ceasefire agreement’, unlike the 1989, 1994, 2000 and 2001 general elections and this would have certainly induced the voters to enhance LTTE’s hand, since only LTTE fought the Southern aggressors, while EPDP was playing the role of a spoiler, with hardly any battle-field achievements.

One can be sure that even if some of the ‘sins’ seen by the international and local observers indeed occur, it would not have altered the electoral outcome dramatically. Mr.Dayananda Dissanayake, Commissioner of Elections, would have derived the same conclusion and announced on April 5, 2004 that "I am happy that the Parliamentary General Election held on 02.04.2004 was conducted peacefully without any major issues in the management of polling stations." The Commissioner of Elections further observed that "In the conduct of this Parliamentary General Election, the assistance of the three Services had to be obtained both for the provision of security and logistical support. The security requirement was more pronounced in the Northern and Eastern Provinces."

The assumption that EPDP could have performed better in the absence any electoral malpractices committed by LTTE supporters is hogwash. If we check the postal votes EPDP received in the Jaffna district for the 2001 election and the 2004 elections (see Table 3), a 15 percent decrease is seen. This again proves that EPDP’s gimmicks hardly appealed to the Tamil voters. Not only this, EPDP also contested in other disticts of the North-East province. If one subscribes to Nirupama’s logic, that (1) the 2004 election in the Jaffna district was flawed and (2) EPDP in fact had mass support, then by the same yardstick, EPDP should have performed better in the non-Jaffna districts where LTTE’s purported ‘electoral malpractices’ were subdued or absent. But what happened to EPDP’s voter appeal in the non-Jaffna districts? Table 4 indicates that in all the other districts where EPDP competed, it lost votes between 2001 and 2004. In the 2001 election, EPDP received a cumulative 14,430 votes. But in April 2004, EPDP could receive only a cumulative 5,791 votes. These numbers expose Nirupama’s deception. In Jaffna district, EPDP lost 68 percent of the cumulative votes it received in 2001. If this was attributed largely to LTTE’s malpractice on the election day, how come in the non-Jaffna districts, EPDP lost 60 percent of the cumulative votes it received in 2001?

Nirupama and her ilk may have conveniently forgotten that if there was a serious exercise of electoral deception, it occurred not in 2004, but in the 1994 general election. It was when, the EPDP – contesting as an Independent Group 2 in the Jaffna district, polled a mere 10,744 votes [compared to the then TULF’s 132,461 votes in that election] and became entitled to 9 spurious MPs [compared to TULF’s 4 MPs]. Since that spurious exercise in electoral democracy, EPDP’s strength in the parliament had decreased sequentially to 4 [ in the 2000 election], 2 [in the 2001 election] and to 1 in the last April’s election. Why? In the 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, Eelam Tamil voters have come to identify EPDP as nothing more than parasitic suckers of the society.

How about the Electoral rigging in India?

Nirupama had indulged in the same article, "In the Indian election [of April 2004], the Election Commission took the extreme step of countermanding the election in Chapra, Bihar, after considering the overwhelming evidence of rigging and intimidation of voters in that constituency". This may be true, but only self-serving, for this action by the Election Commission in one constituency in Bihar was nothing but a window-dressing exercise. For decades, elections in states like Bihar and Kashmir are more well known for the authentic malpractices of ‘booth capturing’ and other rigging extravaganzas practised by politicians of all shades in India.

For Nirupama’s education, herewith I provide excerpts from an Economist magazine commentary, which appeared before the May 1991 general election; it was captioned, ‘The Bihari disease’.

"If Mahatma Gandhi came back to life and stood for election in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, he would proably lose. All anyone would want to know was his caste and how much cash and muscle he had at his disposal. So says General S.K.Sinha, a former deputy commander of the Indian army now living in retirement in his home town, Patna, the capital of Bihar. Around him he sees ‘a state of complete chaos’, in which the rule of law has collapsed. Many Indians, who may not agree with the general’s disciplinarian views, do agree with his assessment. What worries them is that the Bihari disease may be spreading to other parts of the country….

Success in Bihari politics without the support of a small private army is almost unthinkable. Nalili Singh, a Delhi journalist whose husband comes from a prominent Bihari family, has made a documentary on the local habit of ‘booth capturing’. What happens is that a gang of four or five armed men seizes a polling station and scares off all voters. The gang fills in all the ballot papers while the polling officers look on. It is all over in an hour and the gang moves on to the next station. A candidate standing for the national parliament can be confident of winning if he has 10-15 such gangs at his disposal.

Perhaps the most worrying trend in Bihar is the number of criminals who, having helped others to get elected in this way, are now having a go themselves….Political power gives the goondas control of the whole system. It enables them to transfer meddling civil servants and judges who try to do their job. It forces national politicians to court them for their support because Bihar has 54 seats in the national parliament…" [source: Economist, April 6, 1991, p.36]

That was in 1991. How about 2004? Nirupama’s Hindu newspaper itself (if she had bothered to read), carried a report on April 15, 2004, authored by J.P.Shukla. The title of this commentary was "Muscle and mafia links still matter in Uttar Pradesh". The opening lines were as follows:

"Despite strenuous efforts made by the Election Commission to decriminalise politics, candidates with criminal backgrounds have come to dominate most regions of Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. This is a matter of serious concern to the security agencies responsible for maintaining law and order, making their job more difficult, especially when the candidate belongs to the ruling party."

Phew! This being the extant situation [unchanged in 2004 from 1991] nationwide in the India, for Nirupama to gloat that the election in Chapra constituency, Bihar [only one constituency!] was countermanded, and to equally insult Eelam Tamil voters’ will of overwhelmingly electing the ITAK’s candidates with words such as "If the campaign flouted every democratic norm, the election was farcical" is nothing but a perfidy of truth.

Can Nirupama say that any of the 22 ITAK MPs elected in the April 2002 election have any criminal record? No. Of course, a few like Maavai Senathirajah and Sivanathan Kishore have been held in detention. But, can Nirupama deny that the only Tamil MP elected in the April 2002 election with a criminal record – both in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka - is none other than EPDP’s Douglas Devananda? – her ‘Man of 16 letters’.

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Posted July 7, 2004