By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The assortment of political parties known as the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) is regarded as the premier political configuration representing the Sri Lankan Tamils in Parliament, the Northern and Eastern provincial councils and various local authorities in the north and east.The TNA has in recent times ardently supported the on going probe on Sri Lanka being conducted by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. No other political grouping in Parliament has openly declared its support for the UN investigation in the manner that the TNA has.
Addressing Parliament on June 17th 2014, the TNA leader and veteran Trincomalee district MP, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, criticised the Rajapaksa regime for its opposition to the UN investigation and urged the govt to cooperate with the probe, citing several reasons in support. The tone and tenor of the speech was basically directed at the government side though there were a few references to both sides. There was no explicit reference to any specific charge levelled against the tigers.However, there was a positive departure of sorts, at the conclusion. This is what Sampanthan said –
“The forthcoming investigation by the United Nations is not “against” Sri Lanka. It is against perpetrators of gross violations of humanitarian and human rights law. It is against the culture of impunity that has victimised the whole country. It is against the disappearances of youth in the North as much as it is against past disappearances of youth in the South; it is against the crimes of Weliveriya, Mullivaikkal, and most recently Dharga Town”.
“It is against the crimes of the LTTE and it is against the crimes of the regime. For these reasons, the TNA unequivocally welcomes this investigation into both sides. Just as we look forward to the investigation as an opportunity for the Tamil people to introspect on the crimes committed in our own name, we call on the government to use the investigation as an opportunity to dramatically break with the past and usher in a new era of justice, reconciliation and harmony amongst all Sri Lanka’s peoples”.
What was strikingly important about Sampanthan’s speech was that the TNA leader was welcoming the “investigation into both sides” and saying “we look forward to the investigation as an opportunity for the Tamil people to introspect on the crimes committed in our own name”.
What must be emphasised here is the fact that if and when the conduct of the LTTE during the years 2002 to 2009 is probed the role of the TNA during this phase must also be looked into. The TNA that functioned as a political lackey of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) from 2001 to 2009 adopts a holier than thou attitude now and advises the Government to support the UN investigation.Yet if such a probe is to be truly genuine and impartial then the conduct of the LTTE and by extension the TNA too should be focused upon in this respect.
More importantly the TNA that adopts a lofty attitude would do well to “introspect” voluntarily and do some soul searching on its own into the various acts of omission and commission perpetrated by ,on and for the configuration in the name of the LTTE. One of the most dastardly deeds perpetrated by the LTTE relating to the TNA is the long forgotten Kingsley Rasanayagam affair.
This well known Tamil political activist was elected to Parliament from Batticaloa district on the TNA ticket in April 2004.He was not allowed to take oaths as MP and was forced by the tigers into resigning the post that he was elected to. Some months later Kingsley Rasanayagam was assassinated by the LTTE on October 19th 2004. His tenth death anniversary will be observed tomorrow(19th). Very few people remember him now.This column intends focusing on him at this point of time and raise troubling questions on the fate that befell him.
Kingsley Rasanayagam who was 63 years of age at the time of his death, hailed originally from Kallaru in the south of Batticaloa District. He was a Tamil Christian (Methodist). Kallaru people are generally well-educated and the village is popularly referred to as “Kalvi aaru” (river of education) because of this. Kingsley’s father who was a schoolmaster moved to Batticaloa town when Kingsley was quite young. Kingsley himself married in Thamaraikerny in Batticaloa town and settled down there.
Kingsley was involved in Federal Party politics from his student days. He was three years junior to the Tamil nationalist poet Kasi Anandan from Amirthakali and was strongly influenced by him. Even after becoming a People’s Bank employee Kingsley kept on dabbling in politics albeit keeping a low profile.
The rise of armed Tamil militancy saw Kingsley lending a helping hand. Without fanfare or publicity Rasanayagam provided aid and assistance to militant activity clandestinely. His sympathies were with the LTTE from the time the Tigers rooted themselves in Batticaloa. After the Prabakharan-Uma Maheswaran split Kingsley sided with the former. His loyalty to Prabhakaran had been unquestionable for many, many years.
Kingsley began playing a prominent role as a member of the Batticaloa citizens committee in the post-1983 period. His affinity with the LTTE became obvious only during the years of the Indian army occupation (1987-90). He was closely associated with senior LTTE leader and brother of Kasi Anandan, Sivajeyam alias Kugan, in collecting funds for the LTTE clandestinely.
Kingsley was also involved with the Batticaloa Mother’s Front. He played an important role in organising the protest fasts of ms.Ponnammah David and ms.Poopathy Kanapathypillai against the Indian army excesses. The Indians aborted Ponnammah’s fast by disrupting it and force-feeding her. But Poopathy went on fasting and died like Thileepan of the north. She was venerated then as “Annai” (Mother) Poopathy.
Kingsley acted as adviser to the Mother’s Front during this period and accompanied their delegations to Colombo to interact with former Indian envoy J. N. Dixit. He also acted as an unofficial emissary between the High Commission and the Eastern LTTE. Once Kingsley was asked to convey a particular message from the High Commission to the eastern Tigers. The Indian army however was monitoring Kingsley without his knowledge. They surrounded the place where Kingsley was talking to a senior Batticaloa Leader, Sitha, and arrested both. Kingsley was incarcerated by the Indians for quite a while despite his role as messenger for Indian diplomats in Colombo.
It was during this phase that I first began interacting with Kingsley Rasanayagam. I used to talk to him on the telephone about developments concerning the Mothers Front. I also met him in person once at the Indian High Commmission in Colombo. I remember High Commissioner Dixit commenting about him to me that Kingsley was sincere to the Tamil cause but misguided by the LTTE.
After the Indian army’s departure the LTTE was openly active in Batticaloa. The first convention of the newly formed LTTE political party, People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) was held at Vaaharai. PFLT branches were opened all over the east. Kingsley being a bank employee did not assume any official role in the PFLT, but there was no doubt about his role in the LTTE scheme of things in Batticaloa.
The outbreak of war in 1990 and the escalation of violence in government controlled Batticaloa made people like Kingsley vulnerable as their affiliation with the LTTE was public knowledge. So Rasanayagam left his family behind in Batticaloa and obtained a transfer to Jaffna. The northern region was fully under LTTE control then.After the army regained Jaffna in 1995 Kingsley too relocated to the Wanni like the rest of the LTTE leaders. He retired from the People’s Bank and worked in the Tamil rehabilitation organisation and later the consortium of NGOs in the Wanni.
He returned to Batticaloa and family after an absence of more than a decade after the Oslo facilitated February 23rd 2002 ceasefire between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Veluppillai Prabhakaran came into force. Kingsley worked in Batticaloa as the transport manager of the LTTE. The man who was very close to Prabhakaran at one time came under the orbit of the LTTE’s Eastern Commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran alias Karuna Amman now.
Given Kingsley’s sincerity to the Tamil cause and his long standing relationship with the LTTE it was only a matter of time before he became a trusted confidante of Karuna. Kingsley was not a creature of Karuna’s as depicted by sections of the media at the time he was killed. His role in the Tamil national struggle preceded that of Karuna. His relationship with the LTTE too was a fact accomplished long before Karuna emerged on the Tiger scene.Moreover Kingsley was closer to the LTTE’s former political chief in Batticaloa-Amparai, Francis than Karuna. Francis like Kingsley was from Kallaru. Francis was killed by the Indian army. Nevertheless, with Karuna as Eastern Tiger Chief and Kingsley returning ‘home’ - a close relationship between both became inevitable.
With parliamentary elections being announced in 2004 and the LTTE backing a slate of TNA candidates contesting under the house symbol of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), Kingsley too became a handpicked candidate of the Tigers. LTTE’s eastern political commissar of the time, Karikalan selected the candidates with Karuna’s approval.
One month before polls the Karuna rebellion erupted. The LTTE’s eastern regional commander revolted against the leadership of Veluppillai Prabhakaran. This resulted in LTTE and pro-LTTE elements in the East splitting into two rival camps.Apart from Joseph Pararajasingham, all other Eastern TNA candidates including Kingsley were regarded as Karuna’s people now. The situation was indeed tragi-comic. Before the rebellion they were all perceived as Tiger nominees who took an oath of loyalty to Prabhakaran after nomination. With the rebellion the situation transformed itself overnight.
Rumour mills began working overtime. Of the TNA Batticaloa district candidates ,two persons,Rajan Sathiyamoorthy and Kingsley Rasanayagam, were supposedly becoming ministers in a Chandrika Kumaratunga government it was said. Sathiyamoorthy, a former UNP politician was killed by the mainstream LTTE while the polls campaign was in progress. It was then felt that Kingsley was not targeted because of his relationship with the LTTE in general and Prabhakaran in particular.
The election results saw a surprise result. Kingsley had come fourth with 38,633 preferences and was elected as MP. One reason for Kingsley’s victory was the fact that former Batticaloa District TULF MP, Pon.Selvarajah had been debarred from contesting this time by the LTTE. Selvarajah like Kingsley hailed from Kallar. Thus, the “kallaru” bloc vote came to Kingsley alone and helped him win. His star was on the rise. Once again his name was bandied about as a cabinet minister in a Kumaratunga government. Karuna’s bloc of five MPs from Batticaloa-Amparai was to join the government it was felt. Kingsley himself stated openly in interviews that his objective was the development of Batticaloa.
Kingsley’s world came crashing down one week after the elections when the LTTE launched a military offensive. In a bid to avert eastern blood being shed unnecessarily, Karuna entered into an unofficial understanding with the Tiger leadership and called the fighting off. With Karuna leaving Batticaloa the ground situation changed.
Joseph Pararajasingham despite his 14 years in parliament and open support of the Wanni Tigers had failed to get elected. So too was P.Ariyanendiran, the Kokkatticholai Sivan Temple “Vannaakkar” (Trustee) and erstwhile editor of the LTTE run Eastern Tamil newspaper “Thamil Alai”(Tamil wave). Ariyanendran had the support of pro-Prabhakaran eastern tiger leaders like Ramesh, Kausalyan, Ram, etc., on account of caste/clan kinship. They belonged to the Kalingakudi clan of the Mukkuwa caste.Thus the LTTE was determined for different reasons to see that both Joseph Pararajasingham and P.Ariyanendran got MP posts.
Other Batticaloa TNA MP’s like Jeyanandamoorthy, Thangeswary, etc., had all changed stripes ‘promptly’ and abandoned Karuna after his fall. But Kingsley to his credit did not rush to denounce Karuna and swear allegiance to Prabhakaran despite his long relationship with the tiger supremo. People like Kingsley whose primary loyalty was to the Tamil cause and movement were in a dilemma. A clear cut choice between Prabhakaran and Karuna was something they wished to avoid. Events however were moving too fast and made the question of choice meaningless.
Pressure was exerted on Kingsley to resign his seat. The idea was to appoint the “defeated” Joseph as national list MP and for Ariyanendran to take Kingsley’s place after he resigned. Both Pararajasingham and Ariyanendran gave several interviews to Tiger controlled media organs that elections in Batticaloa were seriously flawed. They attributed their failure to be elected to the elections being unfair. People like Veerasingham Aanandasangaree, Dharmalingam Siddharthan and Douglas Devananda had alleged there were malpractices during the northern elections. But telling indictments about the conduct of eastern polls by people like Joseph, Ariyanendran, etc., went unnoticed.
In a bid to clear himself Kingsley went to the Wanni with his wife to meet the LTTE supremo. They spent several days in Kilinochchi and Puthukudiyiruppu, but did not get an audience with the self styled “Thesiyath Thalaiver” (national leader). In fact no LTTE leader of any standing met with Rasanayagam. Kingsley realised what it meant to be to fall out of favour with the Tiger hierarchy.
Upon returning to Batticaloa, Kingsley was taken into custody by the LTTE eastern leaders Ramesh and Kausalyan . He was detained in Aayithiyamalai by the tigers and persuaded to tender his resignation letter. This he did and was released. Though elected, Kingsley had not attended parliament and taken his oaths. He was the only elected MP absent when the new parliament convened to elect the Speaker. With media reports of Kingsley being pressurised to resign he was required to present himself to the Parliament Secretary General and confirm his resignation.
Kingsley came to Colombo and did so. There was speculation that he would not accept LTTE diktat and would withdraw his forced resignation. Kingsley however was in no mood to take risks. According to relatives he was deeply hurt by the way in which he was treated by the LTTE. His health too was affected by the trauma. He did not wish to expose his family to unnecessary danger. All that he wanted was to quit politics and return to a normal life. So he resigned formally and ceased to be an MP.It was a case of “being so near and yet so far”for Rasanayagam and a seat in Parliament.
Kingsley was provided police protection in view of his peculiar predicament. He detached himself from politics and began some entrepreneurial activity. With the aid of relatives and friends living abroad, Kingsley started a small industrial unit manufacturing concrete casting blocks in a plot of land the family owned at Iruthaiyapuram in Batticaloa. He also bought a further 18 perches from two others in the area and began expansion plans . On the fateful Tuesday that he was killed, Kingsley had gone to the workshop with his two police bodyguards. When returning they found that they were extremely low on petrol due to a leak in the tank. One of the constables went to bring a mechanic and petrol while Kingsley remained in the car with the other policeman,Hemantha Withanage. It was about 6.20 p.m. when the two assassins on a motorcycle struck. Kingsley was killed while Withanage sustained injuries. The shooting occurred near the Kalliyankaadu cemetery in Iruthayapuram within Batticaloa municipal limits. What led to Kingsley Rasanayagam’s murder some months after he had resigned the MP post that he was elected to? The answer was the Karuna factor.
Muralidaran alias Karuna who is now a govt deputy minister was at that time embroiled in a power struggle with the mainstream LTTE.The “Karuna crisis” facing the Prabhakaran led LTTE took a significant turn when Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran alias Col. Karuna announced the formation of a new political party the Tamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). Karuna was to be its president.
This act of defiance inflicted a serious wound to the Tiger pride and psyche at that time.Adding salt to this wound would have been the subsequent announcement about the birth of a new Tamil front. The party launched by Karuna along with the near defunct Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) led by Gnanasekeram alias “Paranthan” Rajan came together as the Tamil Eelam AIkkiya Viduthalai Munnani ( United Liberation Front of Tamil Eelam). Karuna and Rajan were to be the front’s joint leaders.(This joint venture however was short lived) How was the LTTE going to react to what was an unambiguously open challenge? This was the unarticulated question troubling keen observers of the Eastern political scene at that time.The first indication of the Tiger response - in typical LTTE fashion - came on Tuesday, October 19th 2004 evening when two assassins on a motorcycle shot Kingsley Rasanayagam dead. As stated earlier Kingsley had fallen foul of the mainstream LTTE and been penalised but he had not been executed. The Tiger’s killing him at that juncture was an unmistakable message. It was interpreted as having two purposes.
Firstly, the LTTE suspected and feared that Kingsley would be in the forefront of Karuna’s new political party and front. From a Tiger perspective this cruel killing was a pre-emptive strike to prevent such activity. Whether Kingsley was actually planning to do so or not was immaterial to the LTTE.(According to relatives Kingsley was sick of politics and would never have joined Karuna’s outfit). Secondly, the Tigers wanted to convey a clear signal to any person of political or social stature in the Eastern Province that joining Karuna’s party was forbidden. If anyone chose to do so their fate would be similar to that which befell Kingsley Rasanayagam. There would be no mercy! The killing of Kingsley Rasanayagam by the Tigers ten years ago shocked and dazed the people of Batticaloa. Given his close association with the Tigers for nearly three decades and the service he had rendered to the LTTE in the past many people had believed that whatever his “offence” Kingsley would not be harmed physically by Pirapaharan. Such belief amounted to incredible naivete. The track record of the LTTE’s Numero Uno showed clearly that notwithstanding their past contributions to the Tigers, any person perceived as an impediment to Prabhakaran’s progress would have been eliminated. From the likes of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran, Thangathurai, Nimalanayagam, Premadasa and Mahathaya to scores of lesser known people the list was/is endless.
Thus Kingsley Rasanayagam in spite of his past relationship with the LTTE was killed by the tigers themselves.People in “Mattakkalappu” who knew of Kingsley’s “record” with the LTTE realised then how ruthless the Tigers could be. “If they can treat Kingsley in this way what will they do to us?” was the fearful apprehension felt by many at the time of his killing. The tigers delivered a powerful message ten years ago that they would not allow the political party floated by Karuna to function in the north-east let alone Batticaloa. Anyone suspected of playing a part in Karuna’s politics like Kingsley would definitely be bumped off. It did not matter to the LTTE whether Kingsley was really involved in Karuna’s party or not. He had to be eliminated as a warning to both prevent the new party taking root and also to discourage potential recruits.In this the LTTE succeeded in the short term. Thus Kingsley despite his long relationship with Tamil nationalism and the LTTE was gunned down by the very same Tigers he helped nurture and nourish at one time. His death was not the first tragedy of this sort in the family. His brother in law, Mala Ramachandran - married to his wife’s sister Susheela - had been assassinated some years ago by the Tamil “cobra army” (Naagappadai). Ramachandran too was an ardent Tamil nationalist and was one of those detained under house arrest in Panagoda for non – violent Satyagraha. Yet the same man was perceived as a traitor at a later stage and killed. Now it was Kingsley’s turn. The “Tiger man” of not very long ago was viewed as an expendable traitor amid changed circumstances. The practice of killing perceived opponents as traitors had turned inward. If the Mahattaya episode resulted in a deadly purge the Karuna revolt was worse. Both sides suspected each other and even their own cadres. Demarcating lines were blurred. So both sides went on killing in the name of the Tamil people.
Much water has flown down the Batticaloa lagoon since the killing of Kingsley a decade ago. P. Ariyanendran who succeeded him as MP continues to be a Parliamentarian even now. The LTTE itself is no more with Prabhakaran and most members of the tiger hierarchy meeting with death on the banks of the Nandhikkadal lagoon. The TMVP ruled the Eastern provincial council from 2008 to 2012 with Karuna’s former deputy Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan as chief minister. Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran alias Karuna is now a deputy minister in the UPFA govt and a vice –president of the SLFP.Kingsley Rasanayagam and the hundreds of persons killed as a result of the Karuna revolt are all forgotten now. Recently TULF Secretary-General Veerasingham Aanandasangaree issued a statement critical of the TNA. One of the points he mentioned in that was about the circumstances of Kingsley Rasanayagam’s killing. Without mincing his words the veteran Tamil politician accused the Batticaloa component of the TNA as having colluded in the killing. This resulted in the TNA’s Ariyanendran who directly benefited from Rasanayagam’s death responding with a vicious personal attack on Sangaree. There was however no defensive explanation regarding his alleged role in the killing of Kingsley. Not even a word of sympathy or regret has been uttered by any TNA leader publicly so far regarding the fate of a former colleague.The TNA particularly its Batticaloa leaders like Ariyanendran have a lot of explaining to do if and when an inquiry is launched into matters concerning Kingsley.It is not too late for the TNA even at this stage to do some introspection and come out with the truth about how Rasanayagam was compelled to resign his post and about why he was assassinated by the LTTE. Kingsley Rasanayagam was a person elected to Parliament on the LTTE backed TNA ticket. He was then terrorised by the tigers into resigning his MP post so that another person P. Ariyanendran could become MP. Despite Rasanayagam obeying LTTE diktat he was assassinated by the tigers a few months later as a symbolic warning to the LTTE breakaway faction led by Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran.
Should not the TNA which eloquently advises the Rajapaksa regime to probe the past and seek the truth follow its own advice in matters such as Kingsley Rasanayagam’s killing? Should not Rajavarothayam Sampanthan who talks sanctimoniously of introspecting” and of “crimes committed in our name” not reveal the entire truth about what happened to a political colleague ten years ago? To those who would say that it is best not to rake up the past the answer is that it is the TNA led by Sampanthan that is adamant about delving into the past to achieve future reconciliation.Hence re-visiting the past in this instance would only amount to a case of charity beginning at home. It is against this backdrop that Kingsley Rasanayagam’s tenth death anniversary falls tomorrow 19th.It is very likely to commemorated by his family ,relatives and close friends. He left behind his wife Sugirtha, two daughters Narmatha, Tharpana and son Sathish. Both daughters –one of them married -are working in Sri Lanka while the son is in India.One doubts whether any TNA leader will participate and pay tribute to the memory of Kingsley Rasanayagam.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at [email protected]
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