The swan who spurned his President for his country

BY ROYDEN D’SOUZA

The swan is deeply symbolic for Sri Lankans. Sinhalese craftsmen building the Buddhist temple in the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapuram (which had the greatest monastic city of the ancient world, dating back to the 5th century BC), carved a procession of swans into the semi-circular moon-stone leading to the entrance of the temple. The swans carved into the ‘sandakada pahana’ or moon-stone symbolise the distinction between good and bad.

It is a similar, basic, essential difference that Maithripala Sirisena seeks to symbolise, as he heads into a face-off with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Presidential election on the 8th of January, 2015.

Sirisena is a man of humble origins, with a rural, farming background, who served the incumbent President’s SLFP for 47 years, till he resigned as party general secretary on the 20th of November. This barely 24 hours after Mahinda Rajapaksa announced a snap election for the Presidency, at the astrologically designated hour.

Those 24 hours in between, gave birth to new possibilities in Sri Lankan politics where none appeared to exist.

The war ended in 2009, but President Rajapaksa was still a national hero. He was still the man who freed his country from decades of misery. Yes, there were murmurs of dissatisfaction about corruption, the huge gap between the rich and poor. Worse still, allegations of autocratic rule and the tyranny of the President’s coterie. But there was none that stood as tall as Mahinda. None to better represent Sinhala pride.

Former Sri Lankan Army chief, General Sarath Fonseka learnt a bitter lesson in the 2010 Presidential election. In a face-off between war heroes, he found himself politically outgunned, and then militarily cornered in a Colombo hotel with only a few of his ‘good men’ by his side.

Five years have passed. Sri Lanka has moved on. Political discourse has shifted its focus and issues of everyday life are largely what remain in the sieve of democracy. Sri Lanka finds itself at the crossroads, yet again. Only this time, it’s a democratic battle between what is being perceived as being good, versus being evil.

Millions being thrown at influential leaders from the government – if political whispers are to be believed – may have succeeded in stemming the gush of rebels breaking government ranks in the week after Sirisena’s coming out parade. The revenge crossover of Tissa Attanayake – general secretary of the UNP – engineered allegedly by no less than President Rajapaksa himself, may have soothed many a frayed nerve in the government. But with the window for nominations having closed, the focus is back on rebellion in both ranks.

The manner in which varied political interests continue to agglomerate around the political seed that Sirisena represents is fascinating. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), or the monks’ party, which was the first to snap ties with the government, has sought and secured the moral high ground by seeking a better and more equitable democracy for all Sri Lankans. With influential monks in the deeply Buddhist Sri Lankan society now willing to campaign for Sirisena in urban and rural areas, they will play an important role in consensus building.

The UNP – if it manages to keep its rank and file united– will bring in important urban, business class and minority votes. The quid pro quo being that Ranil Wickremasinghe be made Prime Minister, once Sirisena abolishes the Executive Presidency on being elected President. Differences and personal ambition saw the New Democratic Front (NDF) crack and wither in 2010, leading to a final-lap dip in fortunes for then-challenger Sarath Fonseka. But this time, as MP Karu Jayasuriya describes it: “We have come together as one, putting aside our personal interests, to fight for a better future for Sri Lanka.” Interestingly, right up till the announcement by Sirisena of his candidature for the common opposition, Karu Jayasuriya was himself – and admittedly so – one of the frontrunners to take on President Rajapaksa in the Presidential race.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) appear amenable to change. The SLMC – though still with the government – cannot afford to ignore the widespread anger among Sri Lankan Muslims over attacks allegedly by the Buddhist extremist Bodu Bala Sena. The Muslim community is unhappy with President Rajapaksa for having failed to crack down on the BBS, despite repeated attacks, and SLMC leaders in private are seething with anger.

Together with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – who appears intent on bouncing back from being written off as a political force – and the JHU’s Venerable Sobitha Thera, Karu Jayasuriya is serving to add much political gravitas and earnestness to Sirisena’s campaign.

Maithripala Sirisena’s move has so far proved to be far more devastating than a simple political rebellion. It has hit hard at the core of the United People’s Freedom Alliance’s and the President’s election plans, for the following reasons:

  • It has completely transformed the political narrative from a jingoistic, nationalist Sinhala majority versus the Tamil minority (and diaspora) into one of economic development, unequal growth, corruption and accountability. So much so, that conspiracies floated by the President’s circles about this being a conspiracy by the Tamil diaspora, etc to target him over so-called war crimes, are not impacting voters.
  • It has effectively divided the Sinhala vote along economic and social lines.
  • The political baggage of the war has been largely left behind. Life has moved on and issues of everyday life, like cost of living, employment, corruption, etc are what people are really concerned about.
  • The debate over how to better the lives of the average Sri Lankan and how to improve the image of the country has brought political allies of the President, like the JHU and SLMC closer to the Opposition. The challenge now lies in getting them together on a united and stable platform that can propel Maithripala Sirisena to victory in this Presidential election.
  • In Maithripala Sirisena, the rural masses and even the have-nots in urban areas have found a rallying point of focus.
  • The overwhelming view about Maithripala is that “he is a good man”, whereas there are very strong undertones of distrust and dissatisfaction with the functioning of the government – even if President Rajapaksa is still seen as the man that rid the country of the LTTE, and a symbol of Sinhala pride.

Interesting things have been happening in Sri Lanka, ever since Sirisena’s rebellion. More often than not, they have revealed more than intended about the mood in both camps.

Take for example the grand show put on by President Rajapaksa at a ceremony organised to return gold jewellery recovered from the possession of the LTTE to their rightful owners amongst Sri Lankan Tamils. Or the grand announcement made by opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena that he would ensure President Rajapaksa is not handed over to any foreign court or country to face a trial for war crimes, were he to lose the election. Although, this was perhaps more a repartee to the government’s accusation that Maithripala’s rebellion was a devious plot hatched by the Tamil diaspora and certain Western interests.

Mostly though, the President has so far come across as playing catch-up. Faced with growing criticism over the Executive Presidency, Mahinda Rajapaksa had to own up to ‘imperfect governance’, promising to do away with the perpetual Presidency in his next term. His latest copy-cat move being offering concessions and aid to kidney patients, after Sirisena set up an aid fund.

Then there’s been the grand wooing of Sri Lankan Tamils with the return of ‘stolen gold jewellery’ and ‘illegally occupied land’, but no real promise of any real change on the ground. No forward movement on tracking down thousands of disappeared persons, or accountability for war crimes. With a consolidated vote bank of over 5.5 million voters, the Tamil National Alliance is sitting pretty waiting to see who woos them better in this election.

And so, while Maithripala Sirisena promises to symbolically lift his countrymen out of the cycle of decaying democracy, there are still many shades of grey that remain.

(Royden D’Souza is a new media professional and he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap)

No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka

Carefully evidenced and powerfully measured, No Fire Zone is a feature length film about the final awful months of the 26 year long Sri Lankan civil war told by the people who lived through it. It is a meticulous and chilling expose of some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity of recent times –  told through the extraordinary personal stories of a small group of characters and also through some of the most dramatic and disturbing video evidence ever recorded. (Text Courtesy: www.nofirezone.org)

Sri Lanka releases pictures of Prabhakaran’s dead body

The Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, General Sarath Fonseka, has confirmed that LTTE chief Prabhakaran’s body has been found on Tuesday morning by the Lankan troops.

The terror chief’s body was found by the 53 Division troops led by Major General Kamal Goonarathne, Sri Lankan military sources said.

A Lankan military spokesman also said that Prabhakaran was in uniform and there were bullet wounds on his head.

Canary Trap brings you exclusive pictures of Prabhakaran’s body released by the Sri Lankan Army.

1. Sri Lankan troops surround Prabhakaran’s body.

Prabhakaran - 3

2. Sri Lankan army soldiers lifting the body of Prabhakaran.

Prabhakaran - 2

3. Prabhakaran’s body was recovered from the battlefield on Tuesday.

Prabhakaran - 1

Earlier, the Lankan military also released a photo of the body suspected to be of Prabhakaran’s eldest son, Charles Antony. According to the sources, Antony was the head of Information and Technology department of the LTTE.

Charles Antony - 1

The Lankan military claimed that they have positively identified 18 bodies of senior LTTE cadres. The list of identified LTTE leaders include:

  • Pottu Amman: LTTE’s Intelligence Wing Leader
  • Bhanu: LTTE military leader
  • Jeyam: LTTE military leader
  • B Nadesan: LTTE’s Political Head
  • S Pulidevan: Head of LTTE’s Peace Secretariat
  • Ramesh: LTTE special military leader
  • Ilango: LTTE Police Chief
  • Charles Anthony: Eldest son of LTTE chief V Prabhakaran
  • Sudharman: Aide to LTTE leader’s son
  • Thomas: Senior intelligence leader
  • Luxman: LTTE military leader
  • Sri Ram:  Senior Sea Tiger cadre
  • Isei Aravi: LTTE female military leader
  • Kapil Amman: LTTE deputy intelligence leader
  • Ajanthi: Female LTTE training in charge
  • Wardha: LTTE mortar in-charge
  • Pudiyawan: Secretary to the LTTE leader
  • Jenarthan: Special military leader

Photos of Prabhakaran with wife, son and daughter

Canary Trap brings you the exclusive pictures of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran’s family.

The photos have been released by the Sri Lankan defence ministry.

1. Prabhakaran and Madivadini in an undisclosed location in India during mid 80’s.

2. Prabhakaran and Madivadini at their wedding.

3. Prabhakaran’s celebrates the sixth birthday of his youngest son Balachandran.

4. Prabhakaran and Madivadini with their most favoured son in an undisclosed location in Wanni.

5. Prabhakaran with family members.

6. Prabhakaran with his son in a swimming pool.

7. Prabhakaran with his family.

 

8. Prabhakaran, Madivadini and children on a sea tiger boat at the Iranamadu tank.

 

 

9. Prabhakaran with son Charles Antony.

 

10. Prabhakaran’s son (Charles Antony) and daughter.

 

Photos of MDMK leader Vaiko with Prabhakaran

The Sri Lankan Army has found photos and videos of MDMK leader Vaiko in the company of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. Vaiko is a known LTTE sympathiser and has been arrested a couple of times by the Tamil Nadu government for his open support to the feared terrorist organisation.

According to media reports, Vaiko made clandestine visits to the LTTE controlled territory in Sri Lanka during the 1980s. The MDMK chief also spent a month in LTTE territory in 1989. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was fighting the Tamil Tigers during the same time in Lanka’s northeast, a media report said.

The photos below have been released by the Sri Lankan defence ministry.

1. Vaiko with LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran

Vaiko - LTTE - 1

2. Vaiko with Prabhakaran in the LTTE controlled territory

Vaiko - LTTE - 2

3. Vaiko in army fatigues with Prabhakaran in the LTTE controlled territory

Vaiko - LTTE - 3

4. Vaiko (R) with the former LTTE deputy ‘Mahaththaya’ (Left)

Vaiko - LTTE - 4

5. The photo behind Vaiko (R) shows him with the gun in the company of LTTE chief Prabhakaran

Vaiko - LTTE - 5

6. Vaiko delivering a lecture to the LTTE cadre

Vaiko - LTTE - 6

7. Vaiko delivering a lecture in the LTTE controlled territory

Vaiko - LTTE - 7

Rajiv assassination mystery unsolved

India is considered to be a rising force in world affairs today – in terms of its economic and technological might – and one person who will be surely missed at this crucial juncture is late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

His vision to see India as a technologically-developed nation is taking shape in contemporary times. Rajiv was killed by a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) human bomb at 10.18 pm (IST) on May 21, 1991 in Sriperembudur, Tamil Nadu. The blast killed 18 people, including nine policemen, and 33 others were injured.

But even after 16 years, the perpetrators of this heinous act have not been brought to book and there is no information about who all conspired to get Rajiv killed. On the contrary, the mystery surrounding his assassination has become more confusing.

The Congress Party, to which Rajiv belonged, is running the UPA government with the help of the same parties (DMK, PMK) that are considered as sympathizers of LTTE and are blamed for his assassination.

The interim report of Justice Milap Chand Jain, looking into the conspiracy angle to the assassination, indicted the DMK for colluding with the LTTE. The report concluded that DMK provided sanctuary to the LTTE, which made it easy for the rebels to assassinate Rajiv.

The Commission report stated that the year 1989 signified “the perpetuation of the general political trend of indulging the Tamil militants on Indian soil and tolerance of their wide-ranging criminal and anti-national activities.”

The report also alleged that LTTE leaders in Jaffna were in possession of sensitive coded messages exchanged between the Union government and the state government of DMK.

“There is evidence to show that, during this period, some of the most vital wireless messages were passed between the LTTE operatives based in Tamil Nadu and Jaffna. These messages, which were decoded later, are directly related to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi,” the report stated.

The Congress subsequently brought down the United Front (UF) government of I K Gujral after the report was leaked in November 1998. The party also demanded the removal of DMK from the UF government, arguing that it had a hand in Rajiv’s killing.

Questions for Congress

Political analysts have raised several questions for this betrayal:

  • Why has the Congress aligned with parties who have been open sympathisers of LTTE and were indicted in the Jain Commission report?
  • Since the inception of the UPA government, why has there been not a single public demand to extradite LTTE supremo Prabhakaran and his deputy Pottu Amman?
  • Why was there no opposition to a woman MP from Tamil Nadu, at whose place one of main conspirator Sivarasan stayed before the assassination, when she was made a minister in the current UPA government?

Sources point out that the Congress party’s total indifference to these vital moral issues is not difficult to understand if one goes into the details of all the investigations that went into the case till now.

After examining the SIT investigation report, Justice Verma Commission report and the Jain Commission report, one can conclude that the Rajiv assassination was not a hit-and-run affair but was a meticulously planned operation that involved actors beyond the LTTE.

Immediately after the assassination, the Chandrasekhar government handed the investigation to CBI on May 24, 1991. The agency created a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under D R Karthikeyan to find who killed Rajiv. The SIT probe confirmed the role of LTTE in the assassination, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of India.

Out of the 26 people who were convicted, four were sentenced to death but they have not been hanged as yet.

Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman, the main accused in the case, were declared “Proclaimed Offenders” for failing to surrender to the court.

Security lapses

The Supreme Court also held that LTTE’s decision of eliminating Rajiv was prompted by his interview to Sunday magazine (August 21-28, 1990), where he said he would send the IPKF to disarm LTTE if he came back to power again.

Rajiv also defended the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord in the same interview. The LTTE decision to kill him was perhaps aimed at preventing him from coming to power again.

Thereafter, the Justice J S Verma Commission was formed to look into the security lapses that led to the killing.

The final report, submitted in June 1992, concluded that the security arrangements for the former PM were adequate but local Congress party leaders disrupted and broke these arrangements.

The Narasimha Rao government initially rejected Verma’s findings but later accepted it under pressure. However, no action was taken on the recommendations of the Commission.

Despite no action, the findings throw up vital questions that have been consistently raised by political analysts. Sources have indicated that Rajiv was time and again informed that there was a threat to his life and that he should not travel to Tamil Nadu.

In fact, then governor of Tamil Nadu Bhism Narayan Singh, broke his official protocol and twice warned Rajiv about the threat to his life if he visited the state.

But Rajiv was prevailed upon by some close circle of party office-bearers (some of them are ministers in the present UPA government) who wanted him to campaign in Tamil Nadu, sources point out.

The LTTE wanted him to come to Tamil Nadu, some state Congress leaders and allies at national level were against his visit, and a close circle of party office-bearers insisted on his visit to the state. Sources point out that this angle should have been investigated by the SIT, but it was not.

Details revealed by Dr Subramanian Swamy in his book, Sri Lanka in Crisis: India’s Options (2007), revealed that an LTTE delegation had met Rajiv Gandhi on March 5, 1991. Another delegation met him around March 14, 1991 at New Delhi.

“Retrospectively, these meetings assumed great significance as they were perceived as a smoke screen deliberately created by the LTTE to lull Shri Rajiv Gandhi into complacency,” the interim report of the Jain Commission stated.

“The message conveyed to Rajiv Gandhi by both these delegations was that there was no threat to his life and that he can travel to Tamil Nadu without fearing for his life,” said veteran journalist and political observer Ram Bahadur Rai.

The aim of these meetings was to lure Rajiv into a trap and make him complacent about his own security by using Congress leaders.

“I did a series of articles after his assassination that pointed out how, after these meetings, Rajiv became complacent about his security and broke security rules in more than 40 rallies,” Rai said.

Dubious commission

Another important observation made by political commentators is that how no Congress leader was killed or seriously injured after the blast. Usually, whenever a national leader (in this case a former PM) travels for an election rally in any state, local and state leaders remain in close proximity. Even this angle was never explored nor investigated.

The questions raised against the Congressmen were never investigated even by Justice M C Jain Commission, set up on August 23, 1991, to inquire into the conspiracy angle of the assassination. The commission was to investigate whether any persons or agencies were involved in the assassination.

Justice Jain submitted a 17-volume interim report on August 28, 1997. The setting up of the Jain Commission was the most unfortunate development for the investigation. According to political analysts, the commission was set up to create more confusion and float dubious conspiracy theories about the assassination.

“The Commission was a part of a conspiracy within the Congress party. The party leaders used the commission to target, settle scores, and finish opponents within the party,” said Rai.

The Commission became an object of mockery as it looked into a number of bizarre conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination. The most notable was the involvement of agencies like Mossad, and CIA in assassinating Rajiv Gandhi in order to destabilise India.

The possible involvement of Sikh extremists, ULFA, Kashmiri militants, and even extremist Sinhala elements and hostile sections of Sri Lankan government was looked into by the Commission.

The Commission also dragged a lot of people like Chandraswami, former PM P V Narasimha Rao, Dr Subramanian Swamy, and many others into the various conspiracy theories.

The final report of the Commission was tabled in Parliament on July 31, 1998. Following this, a Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) was constituted to bring the absconding accused in the assassination case on trial.

The agency has been working for nine years now but they haven’t got anywhere. The Indian public has no idea what the agency is doing. The agency has even failed to make any breakthrough in unraveling the conspiracy behind the former PM’s assassination.

Soft state

The popular belief that Rajiv sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka and LTTE chief Prabhakaran got him assassinated to avenge that betrayal is absolutely baseless.

Sending the IPKF to Sri Lanka was not a personal decision of Rajiv. It was endorsed by the Indian Parliament and hence was a national policy.

So his assassination is a challenge to the sovereignty of India. The person who was killed in the blast at Sriperumbudur was not just a leader of a national party but a former PM of India.

“How can a nation tolerate a foreign terrorist organisation killing a former PM just because they did not agree to his policies,” question political analysts.

But despite these arguments, majority of the political leaders from almost all the parties do not have the desire to seek the truth. Instead, the inquiry commissions have been consistently used to settle political scores.

Considering that 16 years on we have more questions than answers, it gives an impression that anybody can kill an Indian prime minister and get away with murder.