D. B. S. Jeyaraj
The flower bud is the accredited electoral symbol of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) which is ruling Sri Lanka. However, the image of that flower bud resembles the lotus flower bud. In fact, a lot of lotus buds are used to decorate platforms of the SLPP known in popular parlance as the “pohottuwa” party. The Lotus flower is the symbol of India’s ruling party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The SLPP in English means Sri Lanka people’s front. The English meaning of BJP is Indian Peoples Party. Both the SLPP and BJP claim to be the people’s parties of Sri Lanka and India with related symbols namely the lotus bud and lotus. Lotus buds bloom into Lotus flowers. Mother Nature decrees it so.
It is widely acknowledged that Basil Rajapaksa is the master strategist and moving force behind the SLPP. Basil was interviewed by our sister newspaper “Daily FT” a week before the Parliamentary Elections of August 20, 2020. The interviewer Uditha Jayasinghe posed the following question to Basil Rajapaksa.
Q; Given it is a relatively young party, how would you like to see the SLPP evolve?
Basil’s reply was “Let the people understand and decide. I want our party to be a party like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and how they act. The party has its say because the party has responsibility. When a minister is appointed by the people, the MPs can come, but the ministerial portfolio is given by the President and the Prime Minister. We can also be like the Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). We have learned from many political parties in the world. The best two are the BJP and CCP.”
It could be seen therefore that the dynamo behind the SLPP was favourably disposed towards the BJP of India and that the bud had learnt lessons from the flower. The SLPP has also been engaging with the Chinese Communist Party in recent times via Zoom. No such interaction has taken place so far between the BJP and SLPP.
Nevertheless, there is an affinity of opinion between the right-wing, Hindu ultra-nationalist ideologues of the BJP and some “Sinhala Buddhist” ultra-nationalist leading lights of the SLPP.
However significant sections of the Sri Lankan polity erupted into a furore last week over the “news” (or fake news) that India’s BJP was going to expand its base in countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka and form Governments in those countries in the future.
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb
What had happened according to Indian media reports was this. The North-Eastern state of Tripura is India’s third smallest state. It is currently governed by the BJP with Biplab Kumar Deb as Chief Minister (CM). During a public event in the state capital in Agartala, the Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb claimed that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had earlier stated that the BJP is “planning to form its government in neighbouring countries, including Nepal and Sri Lanka”.
It was a long-established policy of India not to interfere in any internal issues and affairs of any sovereign nations
Amit Anil Chandra Shah known as Amit Shah is the youngest person sworn in as Minister of Home Affairs in India. He was BJP party president from 2014 to 2020. Elected to the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha) from the Gandhinagar constituency in Gujarat state, Amit Shah is a close confidante of Indian Prime Minister and is acknowledged as the chief strategist of the BJP. Many regard him as the second most powerful man in India. Hence the Tripura CM quoting the Home Minister made an impact initially.
According to CM Deb, Shah had allegedly made the statement at a party meeting during his visit to Tripura. The Tripura CM quoted Amit Shah saying that he had plans to establish the BJP in neighbouring countries after registering victory in most of the states in India.”We were talking in the state guest house when Ajay Jamwal (North-East Zonal Secretary of BJP) said that the BJP has formed its government in several states of India” said Biplab Deb. He went on to say that Amit Shah had replied “Now Sri Lanka and Nepal are left. We have to expand the party in Sri Lanka, Nepal and win there to form a government”.
Following the Tripura Chief Minister’s revelations, Indian opposition parties condemned the BJP leadership saying the party’s plans are against India’s foreign policies. Communist Party of India (Marxist) central committee member and former Tripura minister Jitendra Chowdhury said: “It has been revealed further from Deb’s speech that the top brass in BJP is engaged in the internal affairs of our neighbouring countries, which is contrary to our long-cherished foreign policy since independence.” Tripura Congress vice-president Tapas Dey said that Deb’s comments in regard to Sri Lanka and Nepal is against India’s foreign policies. “It was a long-established policy of India not to interfere in any internal issues and affairs of any sovereign nations,” said Dey.
Significant sections of the Sri Lankan polity erupted into a furore last week over the “news” (or fake news) that India’s BJP was going to expand its base in countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka and form Governments in those countries in the future
Tripura CM Deb’s remarks quoting Amit Shah were widely reported by Indian and International media. Nepal lodged a formal complaint against the Tripura Chief Minister’s reported remarks hinting that the BJP was planning to ‘expand’ in ‘Nepal and Sri Lanka’. Responding to a Twitter user who cited Deb’s comments, Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that a formal objection has been lodged with India. “Noted. The formal objection has been already conveyed,” Gyawali tweeted. Meanwhile, the “Kathmandu Post” reported that Nepal’s Ambassador NilamberAcharya had spoken to Arindam Bagchi, joint secretary in-charge of Nepal and Bhutan at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi, and conveyed Kathmandu’s reservations about Tripura CM Deb’s “objectionable” remarks.
Sri Lanka’s Official Response Subdued and Dismissive
In Sri Lanka media reports about the BJP “taking over” Sri Lanka caused an uproar. Several organisations and individuals came out with comments - many of them outlandish. The official response to Deb’s remarks was subdued and dismissive. Addressing the media during the weekly cabinet briefing, Co-Cabinet Spokesman Udaya Gammanpila said that the official opinion of the Government could not be expressed on the basis of hearsay or rumours. Cabinet Minister Gammanpila said that Indian Home Minister Amit Shah had not made any public statement that there were plans to form the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) in Sri Lanka as well. He emphasised that it could be officially accepted only if the Indian Government made a statement to that effect. However, the Minister said that he did not believe the patriotic people of this country would allow a foreign political party to seize political power in this country.
Sri Lanka’s Election Commission Chairman Nimal Punchihewa said that a branch of a foreign political party could not be established in Sri Lanka. The EC Chairman said that in accordance with number 01 of 1981 Parliament Elections Act, a political party of a foreign country cannot be established in Sri Lanka under any circumstances.”Any Sri Lankan political party or group is permitted to have external links with any party or group overseas. But, our electoral laws do not permit overseas political parties to work here,” Punchihewa told reporters. EC chairman Punchihewa’s response received wide publicity in the Indian media.
An official spokesperson of the Indian Government has stated that the matter is being looked into and that an explanation would be made available soon. However, it must be noted that Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has not openly responded with a clarification about the issue so far. Even Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has not made any retraction.
Biplab Kumar Deb is no political light-weight. He led the BJP to power in elections to the Tripura state legislature in 2018 defeating the Left -Front Government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that had ruled the state for over 25 years at a stretch. The Tripura chief minister is reportedly not taken very seriously in India because of his intemperate utterances.
Veteran Indian journalist P.K. Balachandran has been long resident in Colombo covering Sri Lanka for various newspapers and websites. Bala is to Sri Lanka what the BBC’s Mark Tully was to India. In an article in the web journal “News In.Asia”, Balachandran writes- “Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has claimed that the BJP honcho and current Indian Home Minister Amit Shah had revealed to him that the BJP has a plan to form governments in neighbouring Nepal and Sri Lanka. This may be laughed off in India as another of those baseless utterances by Deb who has earned an unsavoury reputation of being a loudmouth. But in Sri Lanka, it has caused considerable concern.”
Excitement within Sri Lankan Media Circles
Commenting on the excitement within Sri Lankan media circles Balachandran says – “Reporters in Colombo have been desperately trying to confirm if Deb had really said what he has been quoted as saying, and whether the BJP, which rules India, really has a plan to install BJP regimes in Sri Lanka and Nepal. They have been wanting phone numbers of BJP leaders in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi to cross-check to clear the anxiety”.
A top Indian journalist possessing an insight into BJP affairs gave me his take on the Sri Lankan dimension in this matter. According to him the BJP had at one stage explored the options of opening up party branches in various countries. At that time several BJP activists and others with links to “Hindutva” organisations had wanted to promote the BJP in Sri Lanka. Several members of the Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in Western countries had closely interacted with each other. They were of the opinion that wider sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamil plight could be gained in India particularly in North India if the problems could be projected as affecting Hindus rather than Tamils. After all, 80% of the Tamils in Sri Lanka are Hindus. Moreover many Hindu activists from Sri Lanka were also contacting BJP leaders seeking support to overcome “Aabathukkal” (dangers) posed to Hindus by Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. No decision was finalised by the BJP hierarchy but the idea has only been shelved and not abandoned yet said the scribe.
Reporters in Colombo have been desperately trying to confirm if Deb had really said what he has been quoted as saying, and whether the BJP, which rules India, really has a plan to install BJP regimes in Sri Lanka and Nepal
When I asked him pointedly how the BJP could establish a direct party branch in Sri Lanka contrary to election laws in the Island, the journalist said what was being contemplated was an independent purely Sri Lankan party affiliated to the BJP and not an Indian BJP branch transplanted in Sri Lanka. The plan was to start a Hindu nationalist party in Sri Lanka based on “Hindutva” ideology. Some Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus had shown great interest in the concept when Hindutva activists from India travelled to the North and East of Sri Lanka and interacted with Hindus there said the well-informed Indian journalist.
What then is Hindutva?According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics and International Relations, “Hindutva” meaning “Hindunes” refers to the ideology of Hindu nationalists, stressing the common culture of the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. The Dictionary of Human Geography, says “Hindutva encapsulates the cultural justification of Hindu nationalism, a “Hinduness” allegedly shared by all Hindus. A Political and Economic Dictionary of South Asia notes “One of the main purposes behind the concept of Hindutva was to construct a collective identity to support the cause of ‘Hindu-unity”.
Although the EC chairman has stated that a branch of a foreign political party cannot be established in Sri Lanka there is no bar to forming a political party aligned to a political party in another country. After all did we not have Communist parties aligned to Moscow and Peking (Beijing)? Therefore it is possible to form an independent political party in Sri Lanka that has links with or is aligned to the BJP. Such a party can seek recognition from the Elections Department to contest elections after five years of political activity. It can also acquire an already registered Political party and re-name it while retaining the approved symbol.
Following the Tripura Chief Minister’s revelations, Indian opposition parties condemned the BJP leadership saying the party’s plans are against India’s foreign policies
Three Persons Involved in the BJP Exercise
Who then are the people who are trying to start a BJP aligned party in Sri Lanka? Upon making inquiries, I was told by informed sources in Jaffna of three persons being involved in the BJP exercise. One was Sakthikreevan the head of the Hindu organisation “Inthu Samayap Peravai”. The other was a businessman cum entrepreneur Muthuswamy. The third and most important was Satchithanandan the founder- leader of the “Siva Senai” movement in Sri Lanka.
I was trying to contact Satchithanandan and ascertain whether he was involved in starting the BJP or BJP aligned party when I saw an interview by him confirming that he was indeed the prime mover. Satchithanandan known as “Maravanpulavu” Satchithanandan on account of his native village in Jaffna –Maravanpulavu in the Thenmaratchy division of the peninsula- had given an exclusive interview in Tamil to an Indian website named “One India”. It was also reproduced by some Sri Lankan Tamil newspapers.
In that interview, Sathchithanandan confirmed that efforts were underway to establish a party called ” Ilankai Bharatheeya Janathak Katchi (Sri Lanka Bharatiya Janata Party) in the Island soon. Referring to the religion as “Saivam” (Shaivism) and not Hinduism, Satchithanandan said the party’s aim was to revive Shaivism in Sri Lanka by bringing about a Saivite renaissance. (Saivam or Shaivism is one of the two major traditions in Hinduism where Lord Shiva is worshipped as the foremost Supreme God or “Muzhumuthatkadavul”.
Satchithanandan said a Saivaite resurgence was not possible without political power. The Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka had political power but not the Saivites. The new party would train political speakers and build up a political vote bank. Only non-Christians and non-Muslims would be admitted as party members. Satchithanndan said the new party would be formally inaugurated soon and that there were no plans to invite BJP leaders from India as special guests for the opening ceremony.
In spite of the BJP being the ruling party in India, it has not been able to gain support in the state of Tamil Nadu the homeland of 70 million Tamil speaking people. The “Modi” wave that engulfed India could not make any headway in Tamil Nadu. In fact, many in Tamil Nadu perceive the BJP as an anti-Tamil party. In that context would the BJP be supported by the Sri Lankan Tamils asked the interviewer. Satchithanandan replied “The situation is different. In Tamil Nadu, due to unavoidable reasons, there is Atheism, opposition to Hindi and Sanskrit and anti-Brahminism. In Sri Lanka, none are against Sanskrit or Hindi or Brahmins. There are virtually no Atheist sentiments”.
It has been revealed further from Deb’s speech that the top brass in BJP is engaged in the internal affairs of our neighbouring countries, which is contrary to our long-cherished foreign policy since independence
“Maravanpulavu” Kanapathipillai Satchithanandan
Kanapathipillai Satchithanandan known as “MaravanpulavuSatchi” or “Maravanpulavu Sathchithanandan was born in 1941 and educated at Jaffna Hindu College. Satchi obtained a Bachelors degree in Zoology and a Masters degree in Marine Biology from Madras University. He worked in Colombo as a researcher at the Fisheries Department for several years. After being a victim of racist violence in 1977, he relocated to Jaffna and served as a lecturer at the University of Jaffna. During this time he got elected to the Central Committee of the ITAK then a component of the TULF.
In 1979 Satchithanandan obtained a Consultant/adviser post at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and worked in 23 countries for many years. After his FAO stint Satchithanandan took up residence in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai where he established a publishing enterprise called “Kaanthalagham”. He also engaged in electronic commerce selling books through the website known as “ThamilNool”. While in India he was arrested and detained for several months for allegedly aiding the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Ironically Bharatiya means Indian. So it does seem incongruous for a party to call itself “Sri Lankan Indian”. In earlier times, the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC) too changed its name to Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC)
Satchi moved to Sri Lanka after the war ended in 2009 and set up “Kaanthalagham” in Jaffna. He also aspired to be the chief minister of the Northern Province. After C. V. Wigneswaran was made chief minister, Satchithanandan got estranged from the ITAK. The one-time ardent Tamil nationalist turned into a Hindu chauvinist.
Satchithanandan formed an organisation called the “Siva Senai” (Sivas army) in 2016. It was modelled on the “Shiv Sena” (Sivaji’s army) founded in Maharashtra State by cartoonist Bal Thackeray. Incidentally, Thackeray started the Shiv Sena to drive out Tamils, Malayalees and Telugus from Bombay now known as Mumbai. This did not deter Satchi.
The Siva Senai staged demonstrations against cattle slaughter and selling of beef in the North. It also issued leaflets and pamphlets under counterfeit titles (to avoid being prosecuted) against Christians and Muslims. The call was for Hindus to boycott Muslim businesses and to refrain from voting for Christian candidates. There was also a call for the expulsion of Muslims and Christians from Jaffna described as “Siva Bhoomi” (Lord Shiva’s earth).
“Saivath Thamizh Thesiyak Katchi”
At the 2020 Parliamentary elections, Satchithanandan floated a party called the “Saivath Thamizh Thesiyak Katchi” (Saivaite Tamil nationalist party) and contested in the Wanni District as an independent group. The group targeted Hindu votes by attacking Christians and Muslims. The group was trounced at the hustings.
It appears now that the never say die “Maravanpulavu” Satchithanandan is embarking on another political mission of religious hatred by forming the Ilankai Bharatiya Janata Party. Ironically Bharatiya means Indian. So it does seem incongruous for a party to call itself “Sri Lankan Indian”. In earlier times, the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC) too changed its name to Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).
Secular Tradition of Sri Lankan Tamil Politics
It is also not known whether Satchithanandan and his fellow travellers have the tacit approval of India’s BJP for this endeavour. One thing however is certain. The strong secular tradition of Sri Lankan Tamil politics will not even be dented by the BJP of Sri Lanka. The basic truth of the Tamil predicament in Sri Lanka is due to Tamils being Tamils and not because they are Hindus or Christians.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org