Navithanveli speech was a frantic attempt to stir Tamil sentiments for political mileage
Patriotism in politicians or political patriotism is a strange phenomenon. It is highly active sometimes when the need is minimal or zero but it is not when it should be. It could be stirred at times with a pinch but not moved even with an artillery attack at another
A good case in point is the response by the leaders and majority of supporters of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to the recent remark by the former special commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the Batticaloa and Ampara Districts Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman that he killed thousands of soldiers during the war.
They make a big hue and cry when Tamil leaders occasionally make their ritualistic demand that the government confine the security forces in the North to barracks. However, it was amusing to note that they initially attempted to justify Karuna Amman’s statement on killing soldiers in thousands, on June 20. Karaithivu Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Krishnapillai Jeyacyril had purportedly said at a recent meeting that Karuna was more dangerous than coronavirus, which has killed 11 people in Sri Lanka.
While responding to this, Karuna Amman had said that Jeyacyril was correct as he had killed 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers at Elephant Pass in one night and more at Kilinochchi.
Many leaders of the United National Party (UNP), Sajith Premadasa’s Samgi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) questioned the ruling SLPP as to what their response to this was, as Karuna is an ally of the latter.
On the other hand, the embarrassed local leaders and supporters of the SLPP first looked for ways to justify Karuna’s statement by reminding the direct and indirect killings by the UNP and the JVP in the past. As if two wrongs would make a right, some people hit both the UNP and the JVP simultaneously by recalling the JVP’s support in 2015 to the UNP, the party that was accused of killing more than 60,000 people during the former’s 2nd insurrection in 1988/89.
Some others recalled that the UNP government led by President Ranasinghe Premadasa - Sajith Premadasa’s father - had given weapons, money and cement to the LTTE in 1989 when the latter was fighting against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) which was then in Sri Lanka.
"The irony is that the SLPP stirs Sinhalese sentiments during elections while its Tamil allies in the North and the East correspondingly do the same. "
State Minister S.B. Dissanayake said that Karuna Amman should be absolved of his past by a common amnesty.
Ven. Medagama Dhammananda Thera, a leading monk supporting the SLPP had said that it was not a statement to be reckoned with as it was a well-known fact that Karuna was a murderer. Nobody among the ranks of the SLPP seemed to have infuriated by Karuna’s provocative statement or wanted politically dissociate themselves from him until SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam did so.
They, who seemed to be not aware that Karuna is contesting the August 5 Parliament Election under his Thamil Thesiya Suthanthira Munnani (Tamil National Freedom Front - TNFF) were of the view that he is contesting under the SLPP until Kariyawasam revealed it.
However, it must be recollected that the TNFF along with nine other small parties signed an electoral pact with the SLPP on July 26 last year, in view of the upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections. With the pressure mounting to take action against Karuna, the Acting IGP C.D.Wikramarathna ordered the CID to record a statement from Karuna and the CID, in turn, summoned him.
Karuna first said that he could not be arrested over his statement as what he said was just a well-known fact. However, when the CID summoned him to their office in Colombo he informed them on Tuesday that he was unable to be present as he was not well.
His argument seems to be sound. It was a fact that he led many battles against the Sri Lankan security forces which turned out to be disastrous to those forces. It was with the full knowledge of this fact that President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) appointed Karuna a Vice President of the party and Deputy Minister of National Integration.
The only difference between then and now is that he now accepts that he killed soldiers whereas he had then denied the responsibility even to the massacre of over 600 police personnel in the East in 1990. They were killed by the eastern cadres of the LTTE led by Karuna following their surrender to the outfit, under the orders of the then government, on June 10, 1990.
"However, it must be recollected that the TNFF along with nine other small parties signed an electoral pact with the SLPP on July 26 last year, in view of the upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections"
The LTTE was a formidable force between mid-eighties and 2006 during which they overran many heavily fortified camps of the armed forces, such as the ones in Jaffna Fort, Mankulam, Mullaithivu, Pooneryn - Nagadevanthurai, Kilinochchi, and Elephant Pass.
They captured the isolated Mullaithivu camp on July 18, 1996, killing more than 1200 soldiers. They rolled back the Operation Jayasikurui - the longest ever (18 months) military operation carried out by the armed forces, reportedly involving around 30,000 troops. The Elephant Pass Camp complex was said to have a strength of around 11,000 troops when it was finally overrun by the Tigers in 2000. It was then said that the Jeyanthan Infantry Brigade of the LTTE led by Karuna played a major role in most of these battles, especially at Elephant Pass and during Operation Jayasikurui.
When the troops involved in the Operation Jayasikurui reached Mankulam in Vanni from the south in mid-1998, the troops had already recaptured Kilinochchi during the Operation Sathjaya launched in 1996.
However, dashing hopes of the armed forces to use the A-9 highway as the main supply route to Jaffna, LTTE captured Kilinochchi again in late 1998. It was then said that the armed forces suffered heavy losses in that battle. Karuna must be referring to this when he boasted last week that he killed more than 3,000 armed forces personnel in Kilinochchi, which has yet to be verified.
After two unsuccessfully attempted in 1990 and 1991 to take the strategic camp’s complex at Elephant Pass, the neck of the Sri Lankan map, the LTTE overran it which was then said to have a strength of around 11,000 men in April 2000. The then government did not reveal any casualty figures suffered by the armed forces. It must be this incident that Karuna had referred to when he said that he killed 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers at Elephant Pass.
Karuna was a member of the delegation that involved in peace talks with UNF government in 2002/2003 in Thailand, Norway and Japan. Something had happened in these tours that led to friction between him and the LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran. He announced his resignation from the LTTE on April 3, 2004, disbanding the cadres fought under him and was taken to Colombo by his classmate, former Deputy Minister Ali Zahir Moulana. He flew to Britain in the same year with the support of the UNP leadership.
The deprivation of a man with such a military acumen and a large section of its eastern cadres was one of the major contributors to the downfall of the LTTE in 2009. However, the UNP interestingly failed to politically market its role in weakening the dreaded outfit. Mahinda Rajapaksa Government not only used him in the war but also marketed him at elections. He became a hero among Sinhalese and a traitor among Tamils. Whenever the Opposition parties reminded of his role in killing 600 policemen and 33 monks, people loyal to Rajapaksas used to claim that Karuna is now rehabilitated. However, this time they were caught off guard when Karuna boasted about killing Ranawiruwo or soldiers.
And their attempts at the beginning to defend him exposed the degree of patriotism in many of them. The LTTE is still venerated by a large majority of Tamils and hence Tamil politicians eulogise it during elections. However, despite being second only to Prabhakaran in the LTTE, Karuna cannot market his past, as he is still a traitor for many Tamils. Yet, the Navithanveli speech was a frantic attempt to stir Tamil sentiments for political mileage.
The irony is that the SLPP stirs Sinhalese sentiments during elections while its Tamil allies in the North and the East correspondingly do the same. However, the uproar in Colombo might pay off to Karuna and if he wins the election, the SLPP too would benefit.