Gossip-mining Gods of the Mass Media

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Garbitsch-Odd Job-Dragline [GOD]

In my view, Garbitsch, Odd Job and Dragline are three of the most enchanting characters in the history of Hollywood movies.  Thus, the word ‘God’ in the title of this mini-commentary (contributed to mark the first anniversary of once-ranking LTTEer Karuna’s desertion of ranks) is an acronym of my creation.  For those who are not aware of the details of these three movie characters, first I provide some.

Garbitsch [to be heard as ‘garbage’] is Chaplin’s creation of the Goebbels figure in the movie, The Great Dictator (1940) which was an inimitable parody on Hitler; Garbitsch was the quintessential toady of a power-hungry orator-politician.  British actor Henry Daniell (1894-1963) played this role with aplomb in the movie.

Odd Job is the most famous of henchmen of the villains in the James Bond movies.  This character made his entry in Sean Connery’s Goldfinger (1964), where Hawaiian-born Harold Sakata (1920-1982) of Japanese lineage originated the role.

Dragline is the menacing bully among the prisoners serving a sentence in the Paul Newman classic Cool Hand Luke (1967).  Versatile actor George Kennedy (1925- ) gave a superb Academy Oscar award-winning performance of this Dragline character.  Two of the slang meanings of the word ‘drag’ are, (1) influence, pull; (2) one who or that which is tedious or boring.

Thus, my acronym God [a homage to movie characters Garbitsch, Odd Job and Dragline] is a honorific label for the cluster of anti-LTTE media commentators, especially of the Tamil variety.  In their writings and media postings, they come off as an amalgam of the Garbitsch, Odd Job and Dragline characters of the movies.  First, I identify these Gods; D.B.S.Jeyaraj (from Greater Toronto), K.T.Rajasingham (from Bangkok), N.Ram (from Chennai), Veeraiya Ramaraj (from London) and Iqbal Athas (from Colombo).  The last named is a Muslim by religion, but since Muslims in Sri Lanka are Tamil-speaking, I have included him in this cluster.

Common identifying features of this ‘God’ cluster

I provide a list of common identifying features of this exclusive cluster.

(1) All are de-facto anti-LTTE, though some at a specific stage of their professional careers – for their professional glory – have written positively about the LTTE.

(2) All shed copious crocodile tears on the plight and welfare of Eelam Tamils and Muslims.

(3) All thrive in their jobs primarily because of their gossip-mining skills.  The puffed up pieces which appear in the Sunday Leader, the self-serving and banal editorials of the Hindu criticising the LTTE and the muck posted in the Asian Tribune blog sheet are examples for the verbosity of Jeyaraj, Ram and Rajasingham respectively.

(4) After March 2004, all became Karuna enthusiasts, and wrote ‘pigs are flying’ stories about the LTTE’s expected demise.  Still they dish out Garbitsch-grade muck in their respective flag carriers, but Karuna has disappointed these Gods badly.  Only Iqbal Athas has shown some restraint in presenting Karuna flag-waving stories.

(5) Though all turned into Karuna enthusiasts since March 2004, with the exception of Iqbal Athas, all – especially Ram, Rajasingham and Jeyaraj - show glaring ignorance of Karuna’s whereabouts.  It is a case of either they really knowing where Karuna hides now and are not revealing it to the readers [which means deception] or they themselves do not know where Karuna’s corpus is lying.  Athas has written, "Though Karuna is no longer in Sri Lanka, he is very much in contact with his core group of loyalists.  They are spearheading the attacks to destabilise the LTTE in the East and to deny them a strong foothold." [Sunday Times, Colombo, March 13, 2005]  In the same piece, he also acknowledged that the number of Karuna loyalists has dwindled.

(6) In their gossip-mining writings and postings, all show evidence of succor from the informal network of intelligence skunks of India and Sri Lanka; figuratively performing Odd Jobs to the second oldest profession.  Here also, Athas is an exception in that he functions virtually as a conduit of political balloons of Sri Lankan skunks.  But D.B.S.Jeyaraj is not weak-spirited in this Odd Job assignment.  His opinion piece, ‘Indian moves in the politics of Eelam’ [Sunday Leader, Dec.26, 2004] is an indicator of his threads to the Indian skunks.  But the award for a Jeyaraj piece as an Odd Job to the Indian skunks appeared in the Frontline magazine of July 03, 1999, under the title, ‘Sonia and the Tigers’, in which he warned about the threat to Sonia Gandhi from the LTTE.  Here are the last three sentences of that muck: "…the potential danger to Sonia Gandhi from the LTTE is always there.  That threat is something that cannot be disregarded as improbable.  Therefore, it would be prudent for the authorities to provide maximum security to Sonia Gandhi and also exercise a constant vigil in this respect."  This is an amalgam of Odd Job and Garbitsch-grade muck.

(7) Not so infrequently, members of this cluster scratch each other’s back for glory.  Examples include Rajasingham providing coverage to Ramaraj’s interview with Karuna in his Asian Tribune blog sheet, Jeyaraj offering a bouquet to Ramaraj and Chennai’s busy-body Ram condemning the LTTE violence against Jeyaraj in 1996 in his Frontline magazine, but turning a blind eye to the Eelam Tamil journalists who have been killed [such as Mylvaganam Nimalraj and Nadesan] by the goons of Devananda’s EPDP or Karuna’s gang.

(8) Some members of the cluster, especially Jeyaraj, Rajasingham and Ramaraj are prisoners of their own making, like George Kennedy’s character Dragline. 

Col. Hariharan’s take on Karuna’s current status

I’m not sure how many have read the opinion piece of Col.R.Hariharan (retired), in the website of the South Asia Analysis Group [ www.saag.org ], which appeared in November 13, 2004.  This site is tagged as a nonprofit, non-commercial think tank from India, but from all appearances it seems to receive threads from the Indian skunks.  Even Col.Hariharan is introduced as an MI [ which stands for military intelligence] specialist in counter-insurgency intelligence, who served with the IPKF as Head of Intelligence in Sri Lanka. His contribution, paper no.1165, was entitled ‘Karuna in a No-Win Situation.’  Though in principle and pragmatics, Col. Hariharan’s thinking is anti-LTTE, it is worthwhile to read his thoughts.  Though four months have passed since its appearance, the issues noted by Col. Hariharan are relevant to the ground realities in Eastern Eelam, if one overlooks the anti-LTTE bias of the contributor.  I provide excerpts of his analysis below:

Col. Hariharan’s take on Karuna’s situation, as of mid-November 2004, was:

"…It would appear that having survived the LTTE wrath so far, Karuna is well set for a successful entry into politics. But it may not be as simple as that. Can Karuna build a viable political base in the East, to become a factor to be reckoned with when the peace parleys resume?

Negative Factors

Karuna needs to overcome some of the negative factors in the way of his progress in emerging as a political leader; these are,

(1) Lack of an ideology: At present Karuna appears to have only two items on his political plank for appealing to the people for support – denouncing the larger than life image of Prabhakaran, and LTTE’s discrimination against Easterners. Both are negative concepts. He has in fact denounced the struggle of LTTE all these years by saying, what happened all these years cannot be termed as the struggle for liberation. While one may denounce LTTE’s methods, undeniably it is LTTE that had managed to build up the Tamil struggle for Eelam as a global movement. To trivialize it in the eyes of Tamils does not appear to be good strategy. Similarly, Karuna will have to do much more than denouncing Prabhakaran or proclaiming his intention to relieve the liberation struggle of the Tamils from the cruel clutches of Prabhakaran – to bring down Prabhakaran’s following among the public. Till he left LTTE Karuna himself was a dreaded insurgent leader of the East, more feared than loved. So it will be difficult for him to distance himself from the cruel killings LTTE had carried out in the past. The complaint of discrimination of Easterners by Jaffnaites is an age-old one. Whether it will cut ice with the younger generation Tamils who have been indoctrinated for the last 20 years by LTTE’s psywar and propaganda machine is a mute point. Karuna will have to work on his vision of a free Eelam as a part of federal state of Sri Lanka, where Easterners will have as much say as the Northerners to convince the politically astute Tamil population of his political credentials. That would be creating a positive ideology as well.

(2) Winning popular Tamil support: Karuna’s image in the East as well as across Sri Lanka is that of an effective militant leader rather than a politically savvy intellectual. He will need to build his political image afresh among a population where Prabhakaran is either revered or dreaded for fear of retribution. As a political leader without the coercive power of armed cadres, can Karuna do this? It appears doubtful. His image building exercise will have to target the Tamils in the East where they stand divided between Karuna loyalists and LTTE. As long as LTTE is there in Batticaloa-Amparai he will have to retain arms to defend himself and his followers. So it becomes doubly difficult to shed the image of a ruthless militant. Public support to Karuna can also draw retribution from LTTE. Overall at present winning popular support on a wide base appears to be a difficult exercise for Karuna.

(3) Political leadership: It is not easy for militant leaders like Prabhakaran and Karuna to transform themselves into political leaders; this is a major reason why peace is eluding in Sri Lanka. Running a political party needs a political vision just as conducting a military operation requires military strategy and a physical goal. Political leadership needs situational leadership skills such as flexibility in approach, ability to mould themselves to people and places, accepting diversity, and excellent communication skills that appeal to both the common man and the intellectual. So it is not always true that military leaders make good political leaders. Prabhakaran has the frontline support of political leaders like Anton Balasingham and Tamilselvan who can interface with not only other national leaders but also with international personalities. Karuna has to establish his credibility in this regard if he has to make headway and find acceptance as a political leader, not only with the Tamil people of the East but also with other political leaders of Sri Lanka, particularly in the UNP and SLFP alliance and its partners. As of now he appears to be lacking in this ability.

(4) Political support from the non-Tamil parties: To make a meaningful foray into Sri Lankan politics which is divided between the alliances of the UNP and SLFP – the two major parties, Karuna will have to find at least tacit acceptance with one of them. Any overt or covert support or association with Karuna by either of the two parties will provide an excellent excuse for LTTE to walk away from the peace parleys. With the future of the resumption of talks with LTTE delicately balanced, it will be totally inappropriate for either of the parties to be seen in Karuna’s company. Already the UNP leader Mr.Ranil Wickremasinghe has shown his tacit support to LTTE by criticizing the alleged role of SLA in the Karuna episode. President Chandrika Kumaratunga has also expressed her reluctance to get involved in the Prabhakaran-Karuna clashes. She had declared ‘Karuna is as much a terrorist as Prabhakaran, and supporting one terrorist against another will only lead us into a vicious cycle.’ Thus as of now, Karuna is on a limb as far as political support is concerned. ENDLF has limited influence with the Tamils and even less with non-Tamil parties. His association with ENDLF may not mean much in actual terms.

 

(5) Winning over the Muslims: With the Tamils in the East divided over their support to Karuna, Muslim support becomes important for both Karuna and LTTE. LTTE has not endeared itself to Muslims in the past with its periodic blood letting of Muslims. Karuna as its leader had spearheaded these acts, however much he may try to distance himself from such actions of the past. So in their eyes, there is no special reason why they should lend political support to Karuna, particularly when neither UNP nor SLFP is lending him support. Moreover Muslim leaders need to work out a favourable scheme of things for Muslims when the final package is worked out between LTTE and Government of Sri Lanka for ensuring a fair deal for Muslims. So it would be meaningless for them to close their options by openly supporting Karuna at this stage. At best they could use him to protect themselves from domination of Muslim areas by LTTE’s armed elements.

(6) Organisational structure and financial support: Political party needs an organizational structure to maintain contact with people and influence their thinking on an ongoing basis. These activities need financial resources also. LTTE has enormous resources both at home and abroad. It has an excellent propaganda machine, a viable administrative set up in the areas of its control. Pitted against LTTE, Karuna will need enormous resources. These may not come though even if he indulges in LTTE style tax collection, as LTTE is there to cramp his style. So who is going to bankroll Karuna’s activity? Answer to this question will ultimately decide Karuna’s sustainability."

Col. Hariharan then concluded his analysis, as follows:

"Considering the above, politically Karuna appears to be in a No-win situation. With so many issues loaded against him, can Karuna emerge victorious? Politics is the art of the possible; so the story may not end here. Buckminster Fuller once said, ‘The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun’. In Karuna’s case he has started with the end move; he has to leave the gun to take to the political rostrum. But he cannot do that as long as LTTE’s threat to his person exists. So we have a classical chicken and egg situation; and LTTE may put an end to all this with its classical final situation, as it had done in the past with its traitors (e.g. Mahathiya). But it would not be easy to do a Mahathiya with Karuna, however much LTTE might want to, because at present he is a lion in its den."

End Note

Within reasonable limits, Col. Hariharan shoots straight.  One should acknowledge that, compared to the ‘Pigs are flying’ pieces which flow from the minds of Jeyaraj, Ram and Rajasingham, this analysis of Hariharan's is more realistic about Karuna’s current fate.  One should give the devil its due.  Col.Hariharan couldn’t have served with the IPKF as Head of Intelligence in Sri Lanka, if he had the efficiency of Garbitsch, Odd Job and Dragline – the GODs of mass media who daydream on the LTTE’s demise for the flimsiest of reasons.

But Col. Hariharan also strays off course when he discusses politics, and LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s limited capacity to be a political leader.  Hariharan wrote that "Running a political party needs a political vision…"  What nonsense?  Pray and tell me, who among the Indian and Sri Lankan politicians [based on the "situational leadership skills" cited by Col. Hariharan] who ascended to the political leadership, with the sole exception of Jawaharlal Nehru, demonstrated political vision?  None.  Even Nehru’s standing as a visionary was molded to a large extent, from his first hand experience as a freedom fighter.

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Posted March 24, 2005