Mischief by KT: The Northern Province Chief Minister Candidature

| by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Asian Tribune

( April 24, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) K.T. Rajasingham, both owner of and writer for Asian Tribune, has reported on April 19 2013 that the “Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi [Federal Party or FP] Leadership has decided on Retired Justice C.V. Wigneswaran as the Chief Minister candidate in the forthcoming Northern Provincial Council Election.” He further reports that “Wigneswaran has been contacted and he agreed to accept the offer provided if [sic.] it is forthcoming from [the] Tamil National Alliance and not merely from the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi.”

After saying the candidature has been offered to Wigneswaran and has been conditionally accepted, Rajasingham goes on strangely to write in the present tense that Mr. Mavai Senathirajah M.P., Mr. C.V.K. Sivangnam, Deputy General Secretary of the FP, Professor S.K. Sittampalam, Senior Vice President of the FP and N. Vidhyatharan, Media Secretary of FP are [my emphasis] all in the fray for the candidature. That exposed the match as ongoing and not settled.

Rajapaksa’s Agent K.T. Rajasingham

Before evaluating Mr. Rajasingham’s report it is good to note some matters of public record. According to The Sunday Leader (Nov. 25, 2007), Rajasingham proposed to President Rajapaksa a new EuroAsian TV and Radio to do propaganda for the government. Rajasingham successfully sought rights to rebroadcast Rupavahini telecasts. He also solicited some Euros  22,000 per month per continent. Rajasingham plaintively told the President “about the hardship he experienced as he has so far not obtained any sponsorship from any government organizations” in the form of advertisements, and was assured attention to the matter by the President.

In the minutes of that presidential meeting at Geneva’s Intercontinental Hotel, Rajasingham comes out plotting with Rajapaksa to create a split for “our security forces,” and attempts to dump Karuna Amman saying:  “Anyway both of them [Karuna and Pillayan] would be of no use if the security forces’ higher-ups think that they can make use of them in a battle against [the] LTTE in the north. The better option is to cause another split and have some one [sic.] in the LTTE from the Jaffna district to work with our security [my emphasis] forces in the North.” We see him trying to ingratiate himself as Rajapaksa’s sole agent and confidant, calling his friend and co-agent Douglas Devananda “an opportunist.”

The secretly funded Asian Tribune therefore has poor quality journalism as to be expected. We recently saw Rajasingham banning the writings of Dr. Laksiri Fernando because of, as Rajasingham wrote to Fernando, the “gradual change in your position which is gradually developing contrary to the stance of Asian Tribune.” In measure of the quality of Asian Tribune we read in Colombo Telegraph of Asian Tribune’s links to Sri Lankan military intellgence, and that the Swedish Court of Appeal found that Rajasingham and the World Institute for Asian Studies are liable for gross defamation of Norway News  journalist Nadarajah Sethurupan: “The Court of Appeal upheld the District Court’s decision to order Rajasingham and the World Institute for Asian Studies to pay to [sic.] Norway News journalist Nadarajah Sethurupan SEK 125,000 (about USD 20,000) plus interest from 2 November 2005.”

That defamation suit brought the links between Asian Tribune and the Sri Lankan intelligence services to the fore as Rajasingham called as his witnesses Capt S. K. Ranatunga from Sri Lanka’s Defence Unit, who came all the way from Sri Lanka saying his official boss Prof. Rohan Gunaratna had advised him to appear as a witness. Also called was the Director of National Intelligence and former Director of Military Intelligence, Brig. Kapila Hendawitharane. But in the event their testimonies did not sway the court.

Sethuparan is believed to be the same Dirty Sethu who, with his sites nitharshanam.com and neruppu.com, was an LTTE activist. His journalism with staid beginnings in Colombo’s short-lived Express Newspapers, may be judged from edited photographs from porn-sites through which Dirty Sethu sought falsely to portray anti-LTTE activist Rajasingham Jayadevan in his sites.

Website Rankings – Few Read Asian Tribune
Few read Asian Tribune. K.T. Rajasingham had been an agent for the SLFP in its worst period, 1970-77, and was very unpopular and made a living through sinecures in government cooperatives. Apparently unable to assess how the community perceived him, he stood as a parliamentary candidate in Point Pedro, his own home-base, in the 1977 general elections. The results saw the TULF’s K. Thurairatnam winning with 12,989 votes and Rajasingham trailing far behind in fourth place with a mere 614 votes.  Allegations have also been made that Rajasingham ran a human smuggling operation from Bangkok to Norway/Sweden. Although these allegations are from pro-LTTE organizations and persons,  or from otherwise unbalanced persons, they are sufficient to depress Rajasingham’s standing in the Tamil community further.

Naturally the ranking of asiantribune.com is one of the lowest for Sri Lankan news portals as worked out by http://digsitevalue.org/s/asiantribune.com. (To look up the ranking of any other site, the part asiantribune.com has to be replaced by that site’s address). The worldwide rankings as of the time of writing for Sri Lankan English language sites are

1) dailymirror.lk ranked #9,317;
2) dailynews.lk ranked #25,736;
3) island.lk ranked #34,322;
4) sundaytimes.lk ranked #40,133;
5) colombotelegraph.com #94,161;
6) tamilnet.com ranked #102 632;
7)asiantribune.com ranked #132 344;
8) thesundayleader.lk ranked #133,707.

(As a matter of curiosity, the Tamil language site tamilwin.com cited in this article is impressively ranked #28,700, just after dailynews.lk which is mainly for advertisements and obituaries rather than staid news. Tamilnet's downward spiral has already been noted elsewhere).

The Daily Mirror does well although we see more hardcopies of The Daily News and The Island. It is because this ranking has nothing to do with hardcopies. Although this ranking is based mainly on popularity (the number of persons visiting), it also uses the period of existence, time for page to load, etc.. What is surprising is the position of The Sunday Leader which I recall doing much better a few months ago. Colombo Telegraph does very well considering that it is yet to celebrate its second birthday.

Given this situation, the Asian Tribune news report on the candidature of C.V. Wigneswaran would not have been taken seriously except that tamilwin.com dignified the Asian Tribune story the very next day, April 20, merely saying that the news report from an English language agency. This gave the story currency and respectability. Tamilwin.com is closely associated with the FP’s Kilinochchi MP S. Sritharan and it is difficult to fathom why they dignified the story. Interestingly the Terrorist Investigation Division is trying to ensnare Sritharan, according to M.A. Sumanthiran, by raiding Sritharan’s office in Kilinochchi, and claiming “to have recovered some explosives and, astonishingly, condoms and pornographic material!” But at the same time we see Sritharan highlighted positively in Asian Tribune, translating an Indian news report from Tamil and running a story on his demands for war crime investigations in a Tamil news site in India. It would seem that Asian Tribune is trying to cultivate Mr. Sritharan for some devious reason.

Mischief-Making – the Real Situation
Asian Tribune and its quality aside, what is the real situation with regard to the elections? The date of the elections, the government once stated, would be in September and then the Elections Commissioner said August. The latest is from Rajapaksa. He will set the date after he has consulted astrologers. Clearly the Elections Commissioner will go along with a date that astrologically suits just one candidate. There is no longer even a pretence to neutrality and the signs are ominous.

Although Douglas Devananda has said he would be the government’s chief ministerial candidate, it is widely believed that he would finally not risk losing his cabinet portfolio. Further, other SLFP Tamils in Jaffna would create problems if Devananda is given this additional prominence. Former EPDP MP Thavarajah has now moved to Jaffna from England where he was hiding. The speculation is that he is vying as Douglas’ proxy and has been summoned by Douglas for that purpose.

The TNA for its part is absolutely determined to have a common candidate. If the Tamil vote is split, with such a large military presence, the government can possibly win with the soldiers’ and their wives’ votes and a few more. TNA sources fear that the stories about the return of so-called Jaffna-based Sinhalese families displaced by the LTTE’s ethnic cleansing are really to fatten the electoral registers for rigging purposes without having to bring anyone to Jaffna to live there and vote.

The TNA itself has no constitution and the decision on the common candidate will be informal and therefore complicated. At the last meeting of the FP in Colombo early this month, the matter was discussed only informally and not as part of the agenda. It was the fear that Colombo members may dominate the process and that that would be counter-productive because some them have UNP and other connections and may get in by obtaining the blessings of Mr. Sampanthan and Mr. Senathirajah who live mainly in Colombo.

It was therefore generally the consensus that a list of party loyalists and qualified outsiders should be assembled, their CVs distributed and finally a decision taken by vote. A lot therefore needs to be done before the common candidate is decided upon, unless someone subverts the consensus.

The Asian Tribune report is therefore false and probably initiated by military intelligence officials through their agent to cause mischief. And if anyone offered the candidature to Wigneswaran it was to create more mischief through a fait accompli.

Suresh Premachandran of the EPRLF reportedly wants to be the common candidate but in terms of moral stature, support and claims based on seniority in and service to the party, he stands no chance against Mavai Senathirajah and Prof. Sittrampalam, both of whom already have the authority and following flowing from their high posts within the FP; nor does Premachandran  stand a chance against C.V.K. Sivagnanam who was offered the Chairmanship of the Interim Council under the 1987 Accord and had to turn it down because of J.R. Jayawardene’s machinations.  

Besides, Suresh Premachandran would need to overcome a lot of baggage. He has to live down his reputation as the head of the Mandayan Group, assassins hunting down LTTE men and dissidents. There are also questions of his loyalty after he cosied up to the LTTE and stood by while his former EPRLF colleagues who did not cross-over to the LTTE with him were murdered. The article Robert's Indictment of June 21, 2003 from The Daily News on the murder of Premachandran’s abandoned friend Robert Subathiran reveals the sense of betrayal by former colleagues that remains to be addressed. If he is the common candidate, to win he would need to rely on the public ignoring these ghosts from his past on the grounds that the government must not be allowed to win at any cost.

There are others too, like M. Sumanthiran and N. Vidhyatharan, who might well be immensely popular. Sumanthiran’s standing stems from his legal services to the party and the public, and widely read effective speeches in parliament and abroad; and Vidhyatharan’s through his services to the Uthayan newspaper and its sister, the Colombo-based Sudaroli. There is also sympathy for him because of his unlawful arrest in February 2009, though released for lack of evidence by intervention of the courts after 2 months’ incarceration.

A senior, responsible Hindu in the FP Central Committee said that, after Sampanthan who as a national figure cannot take on provincial office however high it might be, only Sumanthiran and Justice Wigneswaran have the legal knowledge and ability to deal with the Sinhalese and the intricacies of governance. But he added that Wigneswaran is hampered and compromised by his child recently marrying that of Vasudeva Nanayakkara, an uncompromising ally of Rajapaksa’s with a two-spouse, two-home, two-caste, two-religion family. Rather incredulous, I asked if Vasudeva’s antics will affect Wigneswaran and got a rhetorical response, “What else will it do?,” saying that Vasudeva has even flaunted his unmarried spouse during a visit to Jaffna where conservative feelings run deep. My inquiries show that few know of this wedding but confirm that if Wigneswaran does become the candidate many Vellalas who form the intellectual backbone of the FP will find his marriage alliance difficult to stomach and give some other reason for not supporting him.

There are those in the FP who strongly believe that Premachandran is backed by India and pointed to the presence in Jaffna of one Aingaranesan from India after years there. He had left his family and job there and has been living in Jaffna for some time now with no visible means of support, working for Premachandran. These  older Federalists are focused on educational qualification and offered their opinion that many of these persons had not gone beyond grade 3 or 4 and feared becoming sidelined in the party. To them Wigneswaran’s intellectual standing will win the day.

When it seemed that a Federal Party candidate was the most likely to emerge, Premachandran and others floated the idea of Justice Wigneswaran. Extremists like Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Guruparan Kumaravadivel are against the TNA but, I understand, agree on the need not to split the Tamil vote. They too would therefore like a nonparty man or woman as a way out. Tamilnet.com also seems to promote Wigneswaran indirectly, even drawing attention to his Trincomalee base.

Wigneswaran may in the end prove to be the likely way out.

The Cosmopolitan Justice Wigneswaran
Wigneswaran is a popular figure in Colombo. An eminent jurist who had risen to the Supreme Court, he is much respected, especially for his frank speech on his last day on the bench critical of the judicial system. He is also admired for publicly speaking up for federalism as the only solution to the country’s ills. He had a national following, being seen as a person around whom the opposition to judicial meddling, both Sinhalese and Tamil, could rally. Energized by his speech, persons from CIMOGG/OPA organized and widely advertised a meeting just after his retirement in 2004. Then the seminar was suddenly called off. I was informed that a senior member from the Attorney General’s had visited Wigneswaran on the Chief Justice’s instance and warned him of dire consequences if he said anything in contempt,  and as a result Wigneswaran had to go “suddenly” on vacation to Australia. The organizers gave the trip as the reason for cancelling his talk. Many felt let down.

Whether Wigneswaran should have taken that vacation or stood his ground, he has remained a hero to many, especially Tamils who lack educated leaders like him of unquestionable stature in Sri Lanka. He was cosmopolitan, leading a sheltered private life among Colombo socialites. Talk among his socialite friends about his cute wine glasses and liquor collection set him out as everybody’s man, the typical lovable, happy-go-lucky Colombo Tamil with Sinhalese and Tamil friends, caring little for partisan ideology.

When Justice Wigneswaran came to Methodist College Colombo as the chief guest before his retirement, I believe it was to the Tamil Cultural Festival (Kalai Vila), I was in the audience. He spoke in impressive English first and then excellent Tamil in a booming voice, making him immediately loved by the largely Tamil audience. He was political too. I think it was here that he alluded to his high appointment using the phrase “one swallow doesn't make a summer” – meaning that the appointment of a Tamil to such high office as his does not signal that all is well with us Tamils. We identified with him and what he was saying. He had the impeccable image of a cosmopolitan man and any of us would have been proud to have that Wigneswaran as Chief Minister of the North.

That previous Colombo-based happy-go-lucky Wigneswaran as justice kept to his socialite wine-drinking circles. Uncommitted to the rigours of Aristotle as socialites are wont, he could comfortably write a eulogy for his electrical engineer-turned-lawyer friend R.E. Thambiratnam wishing “May his Soul rest in peace for ever!,” and at the same time take to preaching Siavism in the secular press.  I take it that Wigneswaran’s attitude to religion was not rigorous, which is after all his absolute right and no one could quarrel with him. That Thambiratnam, clearly a close personal friend, was married to a Sinhalese and his daughter to a high-ranking Sinhalese army official, further indicates Wigneswaran’s cosmopolitan ethos and credentials.

Politicking or Religiosity with Age?
There are signs of late that Wigneswaran is politicking for elected office. If he wishes to try to be Chief Minister it is his right.

I suppose if outward signs of religiosity are required in electoral politics, he needs to produce them. My thoughts went back to Dec. 2012 when Justice Wigneswaran began his speech before a lawyers’ group with the long recitation of what I take to be Sanskrit mantras.  He appears to have now switched image from his previously secular one after his marital ties to the bohemian Vasudeva Nanayakkara with the social, religious and legal complications of his two living spouses. Wigneswaran plays up his Trincomalee roots and takes on speaking engagements in the North-East at organizations like the YMHA. He wears the symbols of his religion like the holy ash and pottu. All that is fine. It is his right – so long as he will be everyone’s Chief Minister if and when that comes to be.

A good example is Sampanthan who goes to the temple often with the attendant paraphernalia but never imposes his religion on others. Sumantiran told me that once he walked up to a temple in the East in procession with Sampanthan and was left comfortably alone outside when the others went in.

Final Analysis
Many of us, including myself, would be happy to endorse Wigneswaran and vote for him if we could, and work with him. Whatever happens between now and the elections, I hope there is one Tamil candidate and that, whatever his or her strengths and weaknesses, all Tamils will vote for that candidate.

What did K.T. Rajasingham and his intelligence services handlers hope to achieve by this story? I believe they sought to set off an internecine quarrel within the TNA and FP by short circuiting the consensus to go about slowly and deliberately towards a vote on a common candidate. When in fact no decision was taken by the TNA on any one candidate, they probably used someone in the TNA without the authority to tell Wigneswaran that he had been selected and thereby set-off bitter enmities between Wigneswaran and the others who wish to be the candidate. Rajasingham would not have dared to cook up that part of his story where Wigneswaran told Asian Tribune that he would accept an invitation from the TNA. For if untrue Wigneswaran would deny it. But it seems premature and rather naive for someone with Wigneswaran’s judicial experience and training to have swallowed this story about his selection by the FP. He needs to be sharp and vigilant.

But in the process Asian Tribune and the intelligence services might have inadvertently strengthened Wigneswaran who could turn out to be a formidable opponent to anyone the government can put forward.