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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Jaffna under UPFA: A grim reminder of LTTE days

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
Travel to Jaffna: Then and Now
When I returned home in 1995 with our pet Dalmatian with its spots, hostile crowds gathered around us at Katunayake with shouts of Koti-Balla (Tiger-Dog). On other trips I had been taken straight to the Katunayake Police Station, and held up at Vanuniya and released after my friend travelling with me was arrested. I have been held up at Omanthai by the STF for four hours with fellow bus passengers and told that there was a change of guard at Elephant Pass and we would be held till the men from Elephant Pass arrived on foot and if they failed to arrive we would be shot.

Today, three years after the end of hostilities, Tamils arriving at Katunayake are still watched. Passengers report being asked for a bribe at immigration; some routinely seem to be handing in their passports with a few thousand rupee notes inside. It may not be necessary but the Tamil psyche believes it to be so. In LTTE times the same timid passengers paid a fee to the LTTE at Omanthai.

Driving to Jaffna it is common for Tamils to be stopped by police between Puttalam and Anuradhapura, especially at night. A year ago my van driver hired by the university forked out Rs. 1,000 to avoid cooked up offences. A friend had a more comical story. Stopped at midnight while driving carefully, he was shown a radar gun with a reading below the limit. When he expressed puzzlement, the policeman pointed to the School Zone sign, although it was midnight. He forked out Rs. 500.

I have had a very similar experience twice with the LTTE, once for exceeding an absurdly low speed limit posted on a downward road and the other time for not having a side mirror although most cars were manufactured without side mirrors. In both instances arguing, I was advised, would mean having to wait for Monday for the ‘magistrate.’

Deeper similarities between LTTE control and UPFA control

Far more seriously, almost everyone looking for personal benefits joined the LTTE. Even decent men joined to get passes for their children. Others joined the death squads for power. LTTE agents sat through university teacher union meetings. No opposition was tolerated. The LTTE, though hostile to its opponents, had a reserve of hatred for those who were once with them and then left.

Today, the UPFA is the same. Nishanthan from the TNA was sent to Velanai, Douglas’ fortress, to organize TNA’s youth league. Nishanthan successfully got a man (aged about 37) who was once with the EPDP to join. TNA’s newest member disappeared last week and his wife and children are lost as the police make the motions of investigating.

Just as some joined the LTTE for lucre, today many join the UPFA bandwagon to be able to sell jobs and take bribes for bus route permits. The same businessmen who joined the LTTE for the exclusive right to bid on government road and building contracts in LTTE regions are now with the government. The LTTE sold sand and now the EPDP does. The very same people who helped the LTTE control the Tamil people are now behind the UPFA. An example is KP. One implicated in Rajani Thirangama’s murder and vanished into the Vanni with the LTTE is also back. The LTTE’s Jaffna Political Commissar, a blood thirsty killer, was hunting LTTE-ers for the army after 2009. I was at a Noolaham (an NGO preserving Tamil books) meeting when the army threateningly intervened and held us up until their intelligence officer was brought in to join us.

In a dexterous move, an NGO that provided legal services to the needy and is now run by the founder’s daughter has been essentially bought over through dinners with Governor Chandrasiri, a university Council seat and exclusive agency rights to Milko in Jaffna. In exchange the once respectable NGO provides, among other things, cover to a dreaded LTTE-er by the code name Valluthi through employment.
Maaveerar Day and Kaarthikai Theepam
November 26 is Prabhakaran’s birthday, Great Heroes’ Day Nov. 28, a day when the army vigilantly nips any celebrations in the bud. This year coincidentally, Nov. 27 was Karthikai Theepam, the Hindu (Tamil and Thelungu) Festival of Lights. Hindus celebrate it in temples and the next day, , they light up their homes and vicinity. So this year could they dare celebrate their festival on Maaveerar Day?

It would appear that some liberal soldiers had given a green light and celebrations commenced. It was clear that some die-hard LTTE-ers would mix the two up. At Jaffna University, celebrations were held. TNA MP, E. Saravanapavan, was among the invitees.

The university is seen as government territory to be carefully guarded. So there are several men with hidden arms going about the university – because they are in civvies it is not known if they are from the regular army or paramilitaries. (I have seen at the university the same intelligence officer who sat through the Noolaham meeting referred to above). It is clear though that there are intelligence officers, EPDP men and even LTTE turn-coats roaming the university hallways with the university administration’s connivance. Douglas Devananda holds pre-Council meetings where he instructs the Council on decisions. These mirror LTTE times when the LTTE had a Poruppaalar (Person-in-charge) running the university and instructing the VC.

So the celebrations, whether for Maaveerar or Kaarthikai Theepam, were anathema to the government. A massive assault on the celebrants was launched. Male and female hostels were broken into by bashing down the doors and the inmates assaulted. The students protested, with black cloth over their mouths. Placards read “Army: You can suppress us in battle but never our feelings,” “Reconciliation is not through our suppression,” “Administration: Who is in charge of our safety?,” “Administration: Who gave permission to the army to walk in?,” etc. As the protestors came out of the campus, they were severely assaulted with iron rods, rubber cables and batons. Initial reports say that seven students were hospitalized with severe injuries, and Saravanabavan was beaten up and his car stoned. A woman-student, caught in the midst of the melee, fainted; and was beaten up regardless of her condition.

Stupid Government Fomenting Trouble
Post 2009, when the TNA rejected extremism and became democratic under Sampanthan, LTTE-time TNA parliamentarians S. Kajendran, Pathmini Sithambaranathan and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam broke with Sampanthan and formed the Tamil National People’s Front. Kajendran rigged elections for the LTTE’s TNA and had lived in the university hostel controlling the university (giving new meaning to the Peradeniya phrase ‘Gajaying’ after another Gajendran who lived in the halls without paying). Kajendran is hated at the university. Naturally the TNPF was roundly defeated at the freer post-war 2010 polls with 0.09% of the vote!

Today the government thinks that LTTE tactics which failed to work will now work for them. When Amirthalingam was humiliated by the government by not recognizing his mandate from the people, it boomeranged and the LTTE’s ideology gained credence. Despite Sampanthan’s clear hold on the Tamil people’s hearts, the government is trying to by-pass him – the only gentleman at the PSC to say that unless the Chief Justice was given a seat he would give his to her. Now, the TNPF seems to make hay by holding a demonstration on 4 December to protest the assault on the university. It seems that the lessons of history are never learnt by the State.

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Our government truly seems to have gone mad.


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