The gallantry of the soldiers is held in high esteem by the Sinhala majority community
UNP national organiser Navin Dissanayake even called for the appointment of presidential commission to probe his remarks
His popularity waned further after he made critical remarks of His Eminence Cardinal Malcom Ranjith at an SJB election rally in Medirigiriya, Polonnaruwa this week
In an era with advanced communication technology and the alert media, politicians are required to carefully calculate in advance the possible ramifications of what they should say before the people, be it in urban areas or in the remotest corners of the country.
Public remarks, made without proper calculations of their pros and cons, weighed heavily on two politicians this week. One is LTTE commander-turned-ruling party politician Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan aka Karuna Amman, and the other is former Minister Harin Fernando.
After he broke ranks with the LTTE, Karuna joined democratic politics and even became a member of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). He entered Parliament in 2009 on the National List. He served as Deputy Minister of resettlement during the 2010/2015 Government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa as President. He is in the fray this time representing the Tamil National Freedom Front in the Digamadulla District. In the fray, he got carried away by criticism of him by Chairman of the Karatheevu Pradeshiya Sabha (Tamil National Alliance) Krishnapillai Jeyacyril in the same district. The Chairman said Karuna was far more dangerous than the Coronavirus. He was critical of Karuna for standing in the way of the ‘Tamil freedom struggle’.
This file photo (AFP) shows displaced Tamil civilians days before the government troops defeated the LTTE. Criticism has been levelled against Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan for standing in the way of the ‘Tamil freedom struggle’
Taken in by such political criticism by a rival party member, Karuna rushed to respond. He sarcastically affirmed what the chairman said. “Yes I am more dangerous than the coronavirus because I killed 2000 - 3000 soldiers in one night at Elephant Pass,” he said.
All hell broke loose after he made these remarks glorifying his military prowess during the time of the LTTE. Probably, this would have been his spontaneous reaction to his political opponent without much thought to the political ramifications involved. Or else, he would have thought that he could capitalise on his role during the Eelam wars to woo Tamil votes normally swayed by nationalist sentiments in the North and East.
No matter what, it cost him dearly in politics. The media flashed the story culled out from his speech in this instance, and all hell broke loose afterwards outside the North and East. Though Karuna is contesting the parliamentary elections from a different party, he belongs to the political formation led by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). As such widespread condemnation of his remarks made it uncomfortable for his political well-wishers to accommodate him in a grand alliance. The gallantry of the soldiers is held in high esteem by the Sinhala majority community, and any cruel act on them by the LTTE is despised by many. In such a context, Karuna, priding himself in his ruthlessness against the military during the war time, will lose acceptance within the majority community.
The main opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), United National Party (UNP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), went to town with it. At separate press briefings, they called for action against Karuna. UNP national organiser Navin Dissanayake even called for the appointment of presidential commission to probe his remarks.
The opposition obviously did this to fix the SLPP in the run-up to the parliamentary polls to be held on August 5. With the opposition’s actions, the SLPP is forced to alienate itself from Karuna, at least for the time being, and institute action against him, again, at least for the namesake.
After his defection from the LTTE in 2004, Karuna played his own role in collaboration with the military to decimate the terrorist outfit and its leadership. This role had been recognised by people who wanted an end to the war.
Karuna himself undid this recognition to some extent by making such speech in the East. For the SLPP, he is now a hot potato. Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana Wickramaratna ordered an inquiry by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) into his speech. SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam disassociated his party from Karuna.
He must now be pondering how to do some damage control regarding his remarks. That is something he should do somehow or other because his political future depends entirely on cooperation from the SLPP-led political force which uses Sinhala nationalism as the core of its politics. Otherwise, his carving out a political space sufficient enough for Parliamentary representation is the remotest possibility. He can act independent of the SLPP only if he secures his own Parliamentary representation.
The other politician who suffered because of reckless remarks is former Minister Harin Fernando. He rose to the zenith of his popularity in 2014 when he resigned from Parliament and contested the elections to the Uva Provincial Council representing the UNP. It was a time when the UNP had dropped to its lowest ebb in terms of popularity. He was chosen by the party as the Chief Minister candidate, and he sounded very promising in political terms. He proved to be the correct choice, and revived the political base of the UNP in Badulla. He lost the elections, but with a slim margin. The UNP saw it as a victory for itself. The Uva Provincial Council elections served as a precursor to the 2015 presidential elections. With the revival of its traditional vote base, it instilled hope in the UNP that it could win the presidential elections if proper strategies were evolved. The results of the Badulla District at the Provincial Council elections was seen as a microcosm of that of the entire country.
However, he could not retain his popularity in the same spirit after the formation of the government in 2015. One thing was he did not receive the proper ministry to deliver to his constituents who mainly depend on agriculture in Badulla. His popularity waned further after he made critical remarks of His Eminence Malcom Cardinal Ranjith at an SJB election rally in Medirigiriya, Polonnaruwa this week. Obviously, he would not have given prior careful thought to what he uttered. Or else, he would have miscalculated it.
Whatever it is, his remarks were widely condemned by political parties, the Catholic Church and Maha Sanga. This will dent Fernando’s popularity. The gravity of his remarks was so severe that his party Leader Sajith Premadasa tendered an apology to the Cardinal. Fernando himself apologised to the Cardinal at a meeting in Badulla on Tuesday.
Politicians are required to restrain themselves in opening up their minds before the public. It applies to them more when their parties have been relegated to the opposition in the political divide. If not, they have to pay for their unguarded mouths.