Pillaiyan, Hizbullah, Keerthi and The Eastern Provincial Council
May 17th, 2008
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The Rajapakse regime registered a remarkable achievement on Friday May 16th when Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias “Pillaiyan” took his oaths at President’s house before President Mahinda Rajapakse as chief minister of the Eastern provincial council.
The Rajapakse regime deeply influenced by Sinhala hawkish elements has pursued an intergrated politico-military strategy towards the Eastern province that has an ethnically mixed population.
The essence of that strategy has been to “cleanse” the province of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and prop up the eastern tiger breakaway faction known as the “Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal” (TMVP) or Tamil Peoples Liberation Tigers.
Both the LTTE and TMVP are in Tamil “Viduthalai Puligal” or liberation tigers. The difference in nomenclature is slight. The LTTE liberation tigers give pride of place to “Tamil Eelam” while the TMVP liberation tigers give prominence to the Tamil people or “Tamil Makkal”.
The TMVP is nominally headed by former LTTE eastern regional special commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna. “Pillaiyan” is only the deputy -leader but in practice he is indeed the supremo.
His elevation as Eastern chief minister has will enhance Pillaiyan’s clout further.
The Rajapakse regime has multi-lateral objectives towards the Eastern province.
Firstly it was de-linked from the north and made separate. Earlier the northern and eastern provinces were merged in terms of the Indo – Lanka accord of 1987.
Secondly a brutally intensive military campaign was waged to drive away the LTTE from the territory it controlled in the east. Earlier the greater part of the littoral known as “Eluvaankarai” (shore of the rising sun) was under Government control while many parts of the hinterland known as “Paduvaankarai” (shore of the setting sun) was under LTTE control.
Thirdly a comprehensive plan to develop and exploit the untapped resources of the province was drawn up.
Fourthly an agenda to alter the demographic structure of the province within a specific period was evolved. The idea was to “Sinhalaise” the province and reduce the Tamils and Muslims to minority status in their areas of historic habitation.
Fifthly a separate provincial administration for the Eastern province was to be set up.Establishing an eastern provincial council was necessitated due to several factors.
The de-merger has now been made permanent. The Government was opposed to the merger and now the danger seems to have gone away after the provincial poll.
The Eastern PC was also required to expedite and implement the elaborate blueprints drawn up to develop the province. External aid and assistance could be procured only if an elected PC was in place in the province.
The “Sinhalaisation” agenda could also be skilfully pushed through. Already key bureaucratic positions have been awarded to retired military officers and public officials subscribing to this agenda.
More importantly a provincial council for the people of the east would help the Government in its couter – insurgency approach towards the LTTE.
It was very necessary to make a showcase out of the province liberated from LTTE clutches. Democracy had to be ushered in and development promoted.
Thus it could be demonstrated that the Tamil people stood to gain more from a democratised east in a united Sri Lanka than being under the LTTE as part of its quest for Tamil Eelam.
It was therefore necessary for the Government to go through the motions of establishing an elected provincial administration. This administration had to be under Government control.
Against that backdrop the result of the Provincial Council was a foregone conclusion. As stated in these columns published last week in our sister paper “The Bottom Line” this writer did not bother to analyse or assess the election campaign because there was no point in doing so when the ultimate result was already a “known”.
There was just no way in which this government or its master strategist Basil Rajapakse was going to allow the opposition to walk away with the spoils.
Once the results were out there was much speculation about who the chief minister was going to be.
The Hizbulla-Pillaiyan competition over the post was being turned into an ethnic clash between the Muslims and Tamils.
Both Hizbullah and Pillaiyan were claiming that their community was the single-largest ethnicity in the province. Both claimed that they had been instrumental in ensuring a government victory at the hustings.
Thanks to the peculiarities of the proportionate representation voting system more Muslims than Tamils were elected as eastern provincial councillors. 18 of the 35 elected councillors were Muslims. Of these eight were in government ranks.
Only ten of the elected councillors were Tamil. Of these only six were from the TMVP.This strengthened Hizbullah’s case.
On the other hand more Muslim votes were polled by the opposition. But more Tamil and Sinhala votes were polled by the Government. This enhanced Pillaiyan’s claim.
This columnist writing in last week’s “The Bottom Line” predicted that notwithstanding Hizbullahs credentials it was Pillaiyan who was likely to be appointed chief minister.
This was more due to the fact that Pillaiyan would be more of a puppet than Hizbullah. It really did not matter whether the de jure chief minister was Hizbullah, Pillaiyan or some other because the de facto CM would be Basil Rajapakse.
[Pillaiyan and Basil Rajapakse, after swearing in ceremony, Friday, May 16, 2008-pic courtesy:Puthinam.com]
Real power will be in Basil’s hands and he is going to call the shots as far as the eastern provincial council is concerned. He is the master puppeteer and the chief minister and fellow ministers will be like puppets on a string.
This has now happened. Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan and not M. A. L. M. Hizbullah has been aqppointed chief minister.
Whatever his faults , Hizbullah is an experienced political leader who has served for many years as a Parliamentarian. He has also been deputy – minister, non – cabinet minister and head of two semi – government corprations. It would have been difficult for Basil to “control” Hizbullah.
Pillaiyan on the other hand is a “novice” whose expertise hitherto has been that of ruthlessly implementing the directives laid down by his handlers from “intelligence” agencies.
Among the many allegations against Pillaiyan is the charge that he personally shot dead a journalist in broad daylight. The “Virakesari” Tamil newspaper’s Batticaloa correspondent Aiyathurai Nadesan was killed on Boundary road as he was riding his motor cycle to work.
Pillaiyan was also implicated in the abduction and murder of seven employees belonging to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) linked to the LTTE. Pillaiyan has been accused of ordering the abductions, interrogation and killings.
No worthwhile or credible inquiry has been undertaken regarding these killings and other such incidents.
Today the man facing allegations of complicity in these crimes against humanity is appointed chief minister. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the portfolio of law and order has been entrusted to Pillaiyan.
Retaining Mervin Silva as a minister illustrates vividly the utter contempt of the Rajapakse regime towards the people of Sri Lanka. Likewise the choice of Pillaiyan shows the disdain towards the people of the eastern province.
Pillaiyan has been made chief minister because he can be easily controlled or manipulated.
Also Pillaiyan can be easily dispensed with if he shows signs of defiance
There are numerous “files” on Pillaiyan that can be activated if necessary.
The intelligence operatives “handling” the TMVP found Pillaiyan a better prospect than Karuna. The TMVP leader Karuna had a greater sense of political acumen and wanted something tangible in exchange for his collaboration.
But Pillaiyan was not like that He was ready to obey without question.
“intelligence” therefore promoted factionalism within the TMVP and “banished” Pillaiyan to Trincomalee. He did as commanded.
Meanwhile “Col” Karuna was encouraged to visit Britain to meet with his family. An official “diplomatic” passport was issued to Karuna under a false name with his own photograph. It was “officially” sent to the British High Commission to get a visa on a false pretext.
When Karuna was on the verge of returning to Colombo he was arrested and detained in London.
Almost immediately Pillaiyan moved in to Batticaloa and consolidated himself. While paying lip service to the overall leadership of Karuna the TMVP deputy – leader took charge.
Pillaiyan is now the boss but diplomatically says he will hand over his post to Karuna when the “colonel” returns.
This does seem a remote possibility at present and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan is likely to be the eastern province chief for quite a while.
While engaging in Tamil nationalist projects for cosmetic purposes the chief minister will have to toe the line as far as the “Sinhalaisation” agenda is concerned.
It is not a coincidence that the Jathika Hela Urumaya is supportive of Pillaiyan. The Sinhala hardliners know that the “Tamil” Pillaiyan is the best person to facilitate the “Sinhalaisation” agenda.
Besides the JHU is more hostile towards Eastern Muslims who have been asked to go to Saudi Arabia by a senior leader.
While Pillaiyan and his TMVP function as stooges of the regime they are likely to be used against the Muslims.
The TMVP took up stances against the Muslims in Pottuvil and in Kaattaankudi.
In Kalmunai the TMVP tried to intimidate Muslim fishermen in support of Sinhala fishermen.
The election campaign of the United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was on thinly disguised communal lines. The Muslims were told to vote for a Muslim chief minister and the Tamils for one of their own
Though the list was multi-ethnic divisive tendencies were played up in practice.
Overt attempts to “Sinhalaise” the east at the expense of Muslims and Tamils had for a short period led to a closing of ranks between both communities.
It was realised that the Tamil – Muslim ethnic divide was being exploited by the third party.
The positive, statesmanlike approach of Rauff Hakeem and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress helped cement this understanding further.
But the craftily orchestrated Hizbulla-Pillaiyan split has exacerbated the Tamil-Muslim divide .
The British may have left but their legacy of “divide and rule” lingers on.
Attempts will be made to keep the Muslims and Tamils “divided” in the east.
Pillaiyan and the TMVP will be the cutting edge of this divisive strategy.
There are also some other valid political reasons for Pillaiyan being made CM.
The de-merger of the north-east is an issue that rankles in the Tamil psyche.
Appointing a Non-Tamil as eastern chief minister after de-merging the east would amount to rubbing salt into a raw wound.
Politically the LTTE could have derived some mileage out of it.
Having Pillaiyan as chief minister does not pose a threat to those opposing a north-east merger. The TMVP is the only Tamil party that stands firmly against the north-east merger.
This factor also counts in tipping the scales in favour of Pillaiyan.
Another sleazy reason is corruption. Much money is going to be made by interested parties under the guise of developing the east . Again Pillaiyan will be a more pliable instrument in this.
Finally there is the LTTE threat.
Whatever the viewpoint propagated by the government regarding the “conquest of the east” those in the know realise that the LTTE managed to withdraw from the province with the bulk of its military assets intact.
The LTTE may be fighting an uphill battle in the Wanni but a “return” to the east is always possible.
In such an eventuality it is to the advantage of the government in having a committed anti – tiger chief minister of the Tamil ethnicity rather than a Muslim.
If and when the tigers try to come back the eastern administration of Pillaiyan will co-operate to a great extent with the security forces in combatting the tiger threat
In such a situation the chances of Hizbulla becoming chief minister amounted to that of an ice cube in a blazing furnace.
Hizbulla’s grouse of being deceived is valid. But then he elicits little sympathy because Hizbulla himself is not a man of political integrity.
Hizbulla was once elected to Parliament on the SLMC ticket in terms of a gentleman’s agreement that he would resign after 30 months to enable Cader Mohideen of Oddamavaddy become MP. This assurance was honoured in the breach by Hizbullah.
Even during this poll the conduct of Hizbulla was a virtual betrayal of the Muslim Congress. Hizbullah entered into a deal with Basil behind the back of Rauff Hakeem and jumped ship at the eleventh hour.
Hizbulla was promised the chief minstership and has now been taken for a ride.
Poetic justice indeed!
Another compromise formula being discussed is based on rotational power sharing basis. If this works put Pillaiyan will be Chief Minister for two years, followed by Hizbulla for another two years and then a Sinhala CM for one year.
It was amusing to see Hizbullah issuing threats that twelve Muslim ministers will resign their posts if he was not made the chief minister.
As Dr. Colvin R de Silva once famously observed , Sri Lankan ministers do not resign on matters of principle. They simply resign themselves to fate!
In the case of our present crop of Muslim ministers they are glued to their seats.
Though there are major issues affecting the Muslim community they have not displayed the slightest inclination to resign in protest.
Even if there was grave danger to Mecca and Medina our Muslim ministers would not budge from their posts and perks.
It was laughable therefore to see Hizbullah issuing threats that his co – religionists and co – regionists were going to resign on his behalf.
Even among the other seven Muslim councillors elected on the UPFA ticket only two were “loyal” to Hizbullah. This loyalty too could be fickle in the future. The other five Muslim councillors are not supportive of Hizbullah.
Apart from veiled threats Hizbulla could do very little. Basil had outsmarted him.
A compromise solution was offered when the President met with the parties concerned at Temple Trees on Friday morning
The chief minster and one other ministerial post would go to the Tamils. Two powerful ministerial posts and that of the chairman/speaker will be allocated to Muslims. One ministerial post and the deputy speaker post would be given the Sinhalese.
It seemed a fair offer but Hizbulla refused.
So when the ceremony took place in the evening at Presidents House only Pillaiyan and three ministers were sworn in.
The trio representing the Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala communities were all elected from the Amparai district.
They were MS Uthuma Lebbe, Thuraiyappah Navaratnarajah and Dissanayake Wimalaweera. Uthuma Lebbe is from Athaullah’s national congress while Navaratnarajah and Wimalaweera are from the TMVP and SLFP respectively.
One minister post remains vacant thus keeping the door open for Hizbullah.
While the eastern chief ministership problem seems to have been resolved for the moment , political analysts were puzzling over the LTTE strategy.
Contrary to claims made by the Government the tigers did not try to disrupt the elections. They virtually ignored it.
Even the bomb exploded at Amparai was part of the on going LTTE strategy to create mayhem and not aimed at the provincial poll as being made out.
The tigers could not have disrupted the poll in a meaningful manner even if they had tried to do so. So they made a virtue out of necessity.
But now that the election is over the LTTE has many definite “targets”. Most provincial concillors and key officials are potential targets of assassination.
If the LTTE is to demonstrate that it is still a force to be reckoned with in the east then the provincial poll should have been disrupted. This was not done.
Therefore the tigers will now have to disrupt the new provincial administration. By engaging in deliberate violence the tigers will try and prevent the new council functining effectively.
This is what the LTTE did in the 1988 – 90 period when the India imposed North – Eastern provincial council was set up. The tigers could not disrupt the polls but the elections lacked credibility as it is now.
Thereafter the LTTE tried to sabotage the N- E provincial council through violence but were not able to do it effectively.
Finally the LTTE engaged in dialogue with Ranasinghe Pemadasa and through him scuttled the council in what was a “cutting off the nose to spite the face”scenario.
If the LTTE wants to target the new provincial council then the tigers have to move in large numbers to the east.
In what was perhaps an indicator of the future several tigers trying to infiltrate the east were arrested in Trincomalee recently.
Media reports said that they had come to disrupt the PC poll but that assumption seems to be wrong.
They were from the LTTE intelligence division and formed part of a “pilot” contingent sent to do “rekke” or reconnaissance.
Apparently preparations are being made to send LTTE cadre in large numbers to the east in the future.
Confirming that notion is a recent event that has gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream media.
The first LTTE infantry regiment raised from the Batticaloa – Amparai districts of the east is known as the Jeyanthan regiment. The regiment celebrated its 16th anniversary on May 4th.
A ceremony was held at the Jeyanthan training camp in Olumadhu in the Wanni.
“Col” Keerthy who has now been appointed as special commander of the Jeyanthan regiment delivered a special address at the ceremony.
Keerthy was earlier the head of LTTE intelligence in the East.
Keerthi observed that the Jeyanthan regiment has lost 1580 “heroes” in battle over the past 16 years.
He said that there were questions about when and where the regiment would do battle next.
Kerthi then revealed that the Jeyanthan regiment was now being re-structured with specialised training. The objective he said was to go to the east soon.
In a scathing indictment of the Pillaiyan led TMVP , Keerthi said that it was time to teach a lesson to the traitors and dispel their dream of an effective eastern provincial council.
it was only a matter of time before the Jeyanthan regiment relocated to their home turf and revived the Tamil struggle in the eastern province promised Keerthi.
Amid thunderous applause , Keerthi drew attention to the Jeyanthan regiment motto of “Engum Selvom; Ethilum Velvom” (We’ll go everywhere; we’ll win anywhere).
It remains to be seen whether Keerthi was being truthful or whether he was playing to the gallery in a bid to revive morale.
It is a moot point as to whether the LTTE can spare cadre to the east when the “rear base” in the Wanni is being assailed.
It is however quite possible that Keerthi was indeed being candid and that the Jeyanthan regiment would relocate to the east.
Logistically it is not possible for a large – scale “invasion” but the tigers could slowly infiltrate the east in small groups.
The old “Beirut trail” comprising jungle routes between the north and east has not gone out of use entirely.
It is also possible for limited boat landings from the north into selected points along the eastern coast.
If the Jeyanthan regiment does try to move into the east there is no doubt that their erstwhile comrades labelled now as TMVP would resist them fiercely
It would then be a case of LTTE tigers vs TMVP tigers and the hapless eastern civilians will be caught in the intra-tiger crossfire
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
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