Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Karuna and Kalkudah

by Sachi Sri Kantha

I wonder how many have noticed the rebukes and exposure faced by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, aka Karuna, in the past few weeks. By whom? First, by the prima donna of Colombo politics, the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Secondly, by the Kalkudah constituency, in which his native town Kiran is located, on November 17th. And Karuna is quivering from such exposures. The wisdom of the Tamil proverb, Oorudan pahaithaal Verudan Kedum [You antagonize your village; You die with your roots.] seems applicable to his plight. Thirdly, by the newly elected President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Exposed in Colombo

There was a time when the salivating hacks in Colombo and Chennai anointed President Chandrika with the adjective ‘charismatic.’ I never bought that. But, one should give the devil her due. Chandrika indeed has flair, but no charisma. Those who watched her parents at close quarters have written that her father Solomon Bandaranaike had both charisma and flair. But her mother Sirimavo was a rather mute and reserved type, typical of the women of her Kandyan Govigama aristocratic background.

In her swan song interview to the House of Hindu publishers, Chandrika spilled some beans, which Karuna, his coterie and ghostwriters would not have wished to come out in the open. Only Chandrika knows whether this spilling of beans was inadvertent or intentional. To three questions about her dealings with the LTTE, by the interviewer V.S.Sambandan, Chandrika responded as follows:

Q1: What are the high points of the three peace processes you initiated with the LTTE in the past 11 years?

Chandrika: ….I am quite sure that [the former LTTE district military commander] Karuna would not have broken away even with all these conflicts between Jaffna Tamils and Batticaloa Tamils if Karuna had not been allowed to go out so many times. And I am not saying it only by imagining, some day when I write the history – it’s still too hot to write – by the messages that Karuna sent me. He wanted to speak to me. I never spoke, on the basis that I don’t speak directly to any terrorist. But the messages were very clear…

Q2: When was this?

Chandrika: Soon after he broke away. Before he left Batticaloa and after he left Batticaloa.

Q3: And you have not spoken to him?

Chandrika: I have never spoken to him, never ever. But, I said if he needs anything, give us any message for his protection and all that because [if] Prabakaran asks for his protection I will give that also. He is a citizen of Sri Lanka. But I have no dealings with him [Karuna]…” [source: Frontline magazine,Chennai, Nov.5-18, 2005]

Now let me clarify the facts from these confessional responses by Chandrika. First, Karuna attempted to talk to Chandrika desperately before and after he left Batticaloa. Secondly, Chandrika did not speak to Karuna in person, but had instructed that she was willing to receive ‘any message.’ Thirdly, that, on behalf of Chandrika, some of her agents would have talked to Karuna can be assumed. Fourthly, suppose that, if Karuna had backed up his words (then splashed in his media blurbs) with deeds after April 2004, Chandrika might have openly talked to Karuna. But Karuna’s bombast failed to live up to expectations. As such, Chandrika could exercise her plausible deniability. Fifthly, we have to wait till Chandrika writes her version of “history” to read what messages Karuna sent to her, and it will not be that soon. Until then, we can live with the fact that Chandrika has exposed Karuna. And Karuna and his coterie are keeping mum about this exposure. Nothing is mentioned about this in Karuna’s mouthpiece, the Asian Tribune blog sheet.

Rebuke in Kalkudah

A few days before the last Presidential election day of Nov.17th, Karuna endorsed Mahinda Rajapakse, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate. To quote from the news report from the Asian Tribune blog sheet,

“The Tamileelam Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) headed by Vina[ya]gamoorthy Muralitharan has appealed to the Tamil voters not to boycott Thursday’s Presidential Election in Sri Lanka….Mahinda Rajapakse has said he will make changes to the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. This is an important issue for us. He also said that he will commence talks with all parties to find a solution to the ethnic problem. This too is important for us…For these reasons, Karuna Amman said his party has decided to support Mahinda Rajapakse in the forthcoming Presidential election.” [Asian Tribune, Nov.14, 2005].

Did the Kalkudah constituency, which was Karuna’s home turf, listen to his political appeal on November 17th? The results went convincingly against Karuna’s plea. There were no reports, even from Karuna’s scribes, that the Kalkudah voters unwillingly refrained from voting. [see below] Thus, one can easily infer that Karuna’s standing among the Tamils of Kalkudah constituency itself has evaporated abysmally.

The anti-LTTE analyst D.B.S. Jeyaraj, typical to form, misread and distorted the voting pattern in Kalkudah constituency on November 17th. In his half-baked commentary, he reported,

“The LTTE tries to make out that votes for Wickremasinghe were from the Muslims. This is incorrect. Padiruppu for instance is 99% Tamil. Kalkudah is 65% Tamil. Batticaloa is 75% Tamil. The votes this time were more than in 1999 Presidential election….In Batticaloa the Karuna factor also helped. While Karuna asked people to support Rajapakse he also wanted people to vote for anyone of their choice. This ‘mixed’ signal strengthened the people’s resolve to vote.” [Sunday Leader, Nov.20, 2005]

To evaluate the exposure of Karuna by the Kalkudah voters and the distorted and erroneous analysis of D.B.S.Jeyaraj, let us compare how Kalkudah constituency voted in the April 2nd 2004 general election. Jeyaraj should have checked the numbers obtained in the 2004 general election, and not the 1999 Presidential election, for clarity. This voting occurred almost one month after Karuna’s expulsion from the LTTE, but still he remained perched in the Kudumbi Malai camp. Kalkudah constituency’s ethnic profile is as follows: Ceylon Tamils 64%, Indian Tamils 3%; Muslims 28%; Sinhalese 4%; Unclassified 1%.

Registered electors in April 2004 were 86,626. Total polled 74,645 (86.17 percent). The Tamil National Alliance received 43,503 votes (61.46 percent of vote). Sri Lanka Muslim Congress received 22,244 votes (31.43 percent of vote). United People’s Freedom Alliance received 2,706 votes (3.82 percent of vote). United National Party received 1,364 votes (1.93 percent of vote). Eelam Peoples Democratic Party received 568 votes (0.8 percent of vote).

In the November 17th Presidential election, the main contenders were Mahinda Rajapakse (UPFA) and Ranil Wickremasinghe (UNP). Karuna was not in Kalkudah or anywhere in East Eelam. His current place of residence remains hidden. Thus the registered 91,410 electors of Kalkudah were supplied only with Karuna’s plea via the media. Total polled was 40,369 (44.71 percent). There was a deep 41 percent drop in voting, despite Karuna’s plea against boycotting the voting. The UNP received 28,484 votes, the majority of which (22,244 votes) can be assumed to be that belonging to the Muslims who voted for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress in 2004, and this party endorsed Ranil Wickremasinghe. Mahinda Rajapakse, endorsed by Karuna, was able to secure only 11,105 votes. Calculations reveal that of the 43,503 votes received by the Tamil National Alliance in 2004, almost 30,800 votes were not cast in the Nov.17th Presidential election, which accounted to the drop of polling percentage from 86 percent in April 2004 to 45 percent in November 2005. Among the nearly 12,700 Tamils of Kalkudah constituency who did vote in the Presidential election, nearly 7,800 voted for Mahinda Rajapakse to increase his total votes to 11,105; and only 4,870 voted for Ranil Wickremasinghe to increase his total votes to 28,482.

In sum, Mahinda Rajapakse’s cumulative 11,105 votes in Kalkudah constituency in this Presidential election should have originated from the following; (1) nearly 2,700 votes which were cast to the UPFA in the 2004 general election, (2) 568 votes which were cast to Devananda’s EPDP in the 2004 general election, and (3) the remaining 7,800 votes, belonging to the Tamils who did vote. Thus it can be deduced that, Karuna’s vote bank has now stabilised to at most this number of 7,800 votes in his home turf.

Karuna must have been sadly disappointed about his miniscule vote bank in Kalkudah constituency. In his own Heroes Day message, Karuna blamed Pirabhakaran for the Tamil people not listening to his plea. To quote,

“Pirapaharan has thrust upon the Tamil people a totalitarian control. He is camouflaging his dictatorship with the Tamil Eelam label. One example of his dictatorship was the violent force he had used to stop the people of North East from participating in the election held on the 17th. He demonstrated that he alone has the full dictatorial control over events in North East and that the Tamil people have no rights of their own…He will allow the people to go to vote whenever he wants them to vote and stop them from exercising their voting rights whenever he wants them not to vote…” [source: Asian Tribune, November 27, 2005].

No wonder Karuna’s ghost writers had to labor valiantly. But I have been looking for newsreports from East Eelam to check whether, how, when and where the voters from Kalkudah constituency were prevented from voting on the November 17th Presidential election. I have not located one such report. Thus, the verdict is clear and Karuna cannot gulp it. The Kalkudah voters have not deluded themselves like Karuna. They have deserted en-masse their home-town boy who has become a captive to anti-Tamil interests.

Sinhalese chorus for Karuna also rebuked by Kalkudah

The rebuke served by the Kalkudah constituents to Karuna on November 17th also punctured the hopes of racist Sinhalese analysts, like Tisaranee Gunasekara and H.L.D.Mahindapala, who have been vainly hoping that Karuna’s stars will rise along the Eastern horizon. Too bad, that Karuna keeps repeatedly disappointing this coterie of his non-Tamil fans.

The blarney of this Sinhalese chorus in the electronic media has to be enjoyed for its rib-tickling humorous gibberish. Here is an excerpt from Tisaranee Gunasekara:

“The Karuna group seems to have more influence in the East than the Tigers right now. How this situation would translate itself into votes is anybody’s guess. But it looks as if the rebel leader can deliver a majority of the Eastern Tamil votes to the Presidential candidate of his choice, that will give him considerable political clout…. Col.Karuna will thus have to learn to play the number game if he wants to maintain and expand on his military gains in the East. The best he can do for himself and the anti-Tiger cause is to rally his political forces and get into the bargaining mode. Perhaps he may have to obtain the assistance of a seasoned politician like Mr.Anandasangaree for the task; in fact this is the time for at least some of the anti-Tiger Tamil parties to come together in an untied front with as much fanfare as possible, and ideally with Mr.Anandasangaree as the political leader…” [source: Asian Tribune, August 28, 2005]

What is funny in this gibberish is that, a Sinhalese analyst like Tisaranee Gunasekara takes the intelligence of Eastern Tamil commoners for granted. Many of these Tamil voters may not know how to dish out anti-Tamil polemics in English. But they sure know what is best for their lives and security, and Karuna since March 2004 has been delivering only poisonous vibes [such as foul-mouthed provincialism and anti-Pirabhakaran tirades] which Tamil voters can easily sieve and screen.

Rebuke in Colombo

In his own Heroes Day speech of November 27th, Karuna pleaded that “The government [of Mahinda Rajapakse] should also reconsider the role of Norway which had facilitated the [2002 Ceasefire] agreement…” But President Rajapakse, in his wisdom, turned a deaf ear to Karuna. It is not hard to ponder the reasons why the newly elected President was not so enthusiastic to act on Karuna’s plea. First, Karuna did not deliver on his empty endorsement in the Eastern Province on November 17th. Secondly, the nose of a street-smart politician like Rajapakse [a Premadasa equivalent in the SLFP] is sharp enough to distinguish the real flower from the paper flower among the Tamils.

The Chief and the Challenger

At 39, Karuna is still young. His military career is behind him. He now wants to be a Tamil politician, but he acts like a fool to insult Eastern Tamil commoners with outlandish claims. The best medicine for him now is an ounce of humility rather than a ton of arrogance. Can Karuna succeed in his mission as a Tamil politician?

I provide a brief analysis which, to my knowledge, has not been attempted by others. We should study the past history of political leadership tussles among the Tamils, both in Tamil Nadu and Eelam. There have been six such notable examples of leadership tussles. The challengers formed a new political party from the parent organization. The qualifying criteria are, (1) Both contestants were legitimate leaders, by virtue of societal recognition. (2) Both contestants belonged to the same political organization and came to part ways on personality differences. One of the contestants was the reigning Chief, and the other was the Challenger. I mention the name of the Chief first and also annotate the ultimate outcome.

(1) Periyar E.V.Ramasamy Naicker versus C.N.Annadurai (Anna) in 1949; the challenger gained, after forming a new party, the DMK.

(2) G.G.Ponnambalam versus S.J.V.Chelvanayakam in 1949; the challenger gained, after forming a new party FP.

(3) C.N.Annadurai versus E.V.K.Sampath in 1961; the chief not usurped, though the challenger formed a new party, Tamil Nationalist Party.

(4) S.J.V.Chelvanayakam versus V.Navaratnam in 1968; the chief not usurped, though the challenger formed a new party, the Tamil Suya Aatchi Kazhagam.

(5) M.Karunanidhi versus M.G.Ramachandran (MGR) in 1972; the challenger gained, after forming a new party Anna DMK.

(6) A.Amirthalingam versus S.C.Chandrahasan in 1979-80; the chief not usurped, though the challenger formed a new organization, Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TELF).

Among these six examples, ultimately decided by their societal recognition, in two of the three occasions when the challenger gained, the challengers (Chelvanayakam in 1949 and MGR in 1972) were nominally older than the chiefs. In all three occasions when the chief gained, the chiefs (Annadurai in 1961, Chelvanayakam in 1968 and Amirthalingam in 1979-80), were nominally older than the challengers. This indicates that Tamil society pays higher preference to age and wisdom. The only exception among these six examples was Annadurai in 1949, when he was a challenger and younger to the Chief. When it comes to who is crowned as a victor in a leadership tussle, two inter-twined criteria stand out;

  • The affable aura and affectionate quality; These are positive traits. A challenger if he had them, turned out to be a victor; and if the chief had them, he was not usurped. Anna, Chelvanayakam and MGR had these traits as challengers and they were chosen over the head of their Chiefs.
  • The pompous quality and perceived arrogance; These are negative traits. A challenger if he had them, turned out to be a loser; and if the chief had them, he was usurped. Periyar E.V.Ramasamy Naicker, G.G.Ponnambalam and M.Karunanidhi, though being Chiefs, lost out to their challengers because the Tamil masses perceived that they were pompous and arrogant.

In the case of Chandrahasan’s challenge against Amirthalingam in 1979-80, though the then TULF leader Amirthalingam was perceived as arrogant in certain quarters, the challenger Chandrahasan’s affable aura was rather inadequate, despite being the fact that he was a son of Amirthalingam’s mentor, Chelvanayakam. Here, the tilt for Amirthalingam was also probably influenced by the perception among the Eelam Tamils that the hereditary transfer of a leadership crown was not beneficial. Two years before, in 1977, Chandrahasan’s equivalent - a young and inexperienced G.G.(Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr. also had mounted a rash challenge against Amirthalingam, then based solely on the criterion that his father G.G.Ponnambalam was also a Tamil leader. Thus, Amirthalingam (in 1977 and 1979) benefitted from this anti-hereditary preference of Eelam Tamils.

In the current Karuna’s campaign for political leadership, it is not difficult to find why Karuna is losing repeatedly, even in his home turf of the Kalkudah constitutency. He is perceived as arrogant and pompous. By his rash decisions and recklessness, Karuna also has lost the hard-earned affable aura and affectionate quality, however much his ghostwriters wish to garb him with words of action.