On September 9, Lakbima (a Sinhala daily newspaper in Colombo) carried a cartoon by HasanthaWijenayake. It featured a plump Jayalalitha Jayaram, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, in an aggressive posture against Sri Lanka. While her right index finger was pointing at Sri Lanka, her left hand holding the lower end of saree to her waist. In the cartoon, strangely, Sri Lanka is not represented by an identifiable individual, but as its geographic model. Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, was featured as a minor crouching figure, under the private parts of Jayalalitha, looking upwards. The Lakbima paper is owned by Thilanga Sumathipala, a Colombo district MP allied to the current ruling party of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In Tamil there is a colloquial idiom to the fact that wherever a stray dog is hit, it instantly raises its legs! Though there have been claims and counter claims that the Tamil women had been insulted by the cartoonist’s liberty to show a woman politician with raised saree ends, while the hapless Manmohan Singh could only look upwards. In the internet, few Sinhalese readers had contended that, Jayalalitha’s fury at Sri Lankans (Sinhalese regime) is well portrayed, but the location of Manmohan Singh in the cartoon was misdirected. He should have been located somewhere else. One specifically had pointed out, rather than Manmohan Singh, if the cartoonist had sketched Karunanidhi (Jayalalitha’s political rival in Tamil Nadu) it would have been more appropriate.
What I wish to note is that it is not unusual for Sri Lankan political cartoonists to use the raised garb of a person above knees as a metaphor of aggression. In that sense, cartoonist Hasantha Wijenayake cannot be faulted. For comparison, I provide another cartoon by Jiffry Yoonus, which appeared during President Premadasa’s tenure. In this, a thug with raised sarong is shown hollering ‘Hey boss, the job’s done. According to plan, no more offensive cartoon’, while having one of his foot firmly pressed to the chest of a bleeding cartoonist. In fact, Yoonus did suffer injury from a politician’s thugs for being a political cartoonist. What I consider offensive in Wijenayake’s cartoon was placing Manmohan Singh under the crotch of Jayalalitha.
Having stated this, I’ll note that Jayalalitha has been a public figure since 1965; first as a movie star for 17 years and since 1982, as a politician. Indian (especially Tamil Nadu) cartoonists, had depicted her politics and tantrum in a diverse array of shades. For the uninitiated, I provide two cartoons nearby. In one, she was depicted as a woman devil (Bhasmasura), who chases Lord Shiva (democracy and freedom of press). In the other one (with captions in Tamil), a plump Jayalalitha is seated in a chair-throne, carrying a placard which states ‘Supporting Tigers is a national treason’. Vaiko (in a garb with tiger coat), seated under the chair mumbling ‘This is not a tiger, but a cat’.
I was somewhat amused by the hypocrisy of R.K. Radhakrishnan, the foreign correspondent of the Hindu (Chennai). Immediately after the Wijenayake cartoon appeared in Lakbima, he was actively involved in exchanging twitter messages with Bandula Jayasekara, the press officer of President Rajapaksa. But nothing of his report appeared in the Hindu internet version. I was wondering whether Radhakrishnan did in fact send his report to the Hindu editorial desk, or whether if such report by Radhakrishnan was censored in Chennai.