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Home > Tamil National Forum > Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Karuna in Politics: From Brutus to Lepidus
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Karuna in Politics: From Brutus to Lepidus
20 March 2009
What a difference five years make in a turncoat’s political career? Karuna, aka V.Muralitharan, has four notable achievements. These include, (1) A dubious claimant for LTTE legacy, (2) a founder of a new party, who was unceremoniously evicted by his underling, (3) imprisonment in UK for passport fraud, and (4) a SLFP sycophant and a non-cabinet minister in President Rajapaksa’ ever enlarging circus-wagon of ministers.
Five years ago, I made a prediction in a column I wrote entitled, ‘Karuna Quartered’ (July 5, 2004). Here is an excerpt from this column:
A Review at the Hyperbole of Karuna Fan Club
During the weeks of March 2004, Karuna first made a dubious claim to LTTE’s legacy. The reporters from Colombo and Chennai gobbled up what came from his or his spokesman’s mouth and delighted themselves into “splitting” LTTE into “Wanni-faction” and “Batti-faction”. A few like the then Bangkok-based K.T. Rajasingham (Where is he now?) and the Wordsworth-quoting Varadan (Where is he now?), the first spokesman for Karuna, even exaggerated the numbers to project that the Karuna-led “Batti-faction” was larger than the “Wanni-faction”. Karuna and his spokesmen claimed that nearly 6,000 Tamil Tigers were with him.
Later on October 12, 2004, Karuna announced his launch of a new political party with the name Tamil Eela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP). A careful selection of words in the title of his new party. His then handlers thought that (1) Karuna can still claim a dubious legacy of Liberation Tigers (Viduthalai Pulikal), and (2) Tamil Eelam was his dream. Neither of these, he couldn’t prove to Tamil voters eventually.
If there is one Sri Lankan analyst, who can simultaneously serve ego-boosting hyperbole to his patrons and innuendo on his adversaries, Dayan Jayatilleka (the prolific party hopper) is the king. In a column ‘In Defence of Karuna’, Jayatilleka effused praise on Karuna as follows:
Phew! Now, five years later, Karuna’s party has been hijacked by his underling, and his tauted ‘military capacity’ is in shambles. Karuna became internationally known for serving a six month jail term in UK after pleading guilty to identity document fraud. To be kind to Dayan Jayatilleka, one has to agree that Karuna’s great achievement so far has been ‘staying alive’, at the expense of surrendering his pride, honor, and Tamil identity with a twin-leash in neck and scrotum.
Karuna and K.T.Rajasingham
K.T.Rajasingham first lined up himself to play the role of ‘Balasingham’ to Karuna. Subsequently, this opportunistic linking soured in a few years. For what reason, nobody really knows. Maybe Karuna (who was championing the cause of Eastern Tamils) couldn’t politically afford to have a Northern Tamil as his advisor. To answer the question posed in the previous paragraph relating to K.T.Rajasingham, I provide excerpts from a report by Walter Jayawardhana in the Asian Tribune website, “Karuna continues to threaten Editor, Asian Tribune” dated June 11, 2007:
If one has to believe the reports authored by Sonali Samarasinghe and published in the Sunday Leader (Colombo) in Nov.11, 2007 (‘Plot to get rid of Karuna was hatched at a Presidential suite in Geneva’) and Nov.18, 2007 (‘The President’s choice of Advisors and the govt.’s dance with Karuna’), K.T. Rajasingham’s current residence is at “Karl Wahrens Vag 22 B, 73 34 Hallstavik, Sweden”; he had met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Suite No. 1727 Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on June 15, 2007 in a close door meeting and proposed that Karuna deserves ‘shock-treatment’ in preference to his then second-in command Pillaiyan. The Sri Lankan President was in Geneva to attend an ILO Conference.
When Karuna was arrested on Nov.2, 2007 in London for passport fraud, the BBC reported that, “As rebel chief in the East he commanded several thousand fighters, but analysts say his forces now number only a few hundred at most.” [BBC News website, 3 November 2007]. After serving a six month jail term in UK, Karuna returned to the island, only to find that he had lost the grip of his newly formed new party to his once second-in-command later turned adversary Pillaiyan.
It appears that President Rajapaksa, the shrewd Sinhalese politician, can ignore the advice of his old Tamil pal Rajasingham. That Rajasingham and Rajapaksa had been pals in early 1970s had been confirmed to me by the former’s nephew. Rajasingham, in his capacity as the SLFP organizer in the Jaffna district had once invited Rajapaksa (then a rookie parliamentarian) and brought him to his Point Pedro home. This was when Karuna was probably in his short-pants period. But in 2009, Karuna (the brand name) was politically more useful to President Rajapaksa in the island than his old pal Rajasingham, currently domiciled in far away Sweden. Thus, against the proferred wisdom of Rajasingham, President Rajapaksa had embraced Karuna into his circus-wagon cabinet.
Karuna: from Brutus to Lepidus
Karuna’s current plight is that of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (? – d.13 BC), the third member of the Second Triumvirate formed after the assassination of Julius Caesar (100-44 BC). The other two heads being Marc Antony (83-30 BC) and Octavius Caesar (63 BC – AD 14).
History records that Lepidus, a Roman politician who supported Antony was made Pontifix Maximus in 44 BC and went to govern in Gaul and Spain; later was assigned Africa as his share of empire during 40-39 BC. He thought he could maintain himself in Sicily against Octavius Caesar, but his soldiers deserted him. As a result, Lepidus was deprived of all power. Shakespeare in his Julius Caesar (1599) play, portrays Lepidus as weak and ineffective and incompetent. He was allowed only 3½ lines! in Act. 4, Scene 1.
In the coin collection presented nearby, all except Pompei appear in the Julius Caesar play. An introductory text to the play mentions the following about money. “Roman generals owned their armies and paid them out of their own pockets, but the loot of foreign conquest could be vastly profitable and buy political influence at home. Generals minted their own coins with their own ‘heads and tails’ on them. Like today’s coins, money carried designs which symbolized something important to those who used it.”
Come to think of it, money’s role in Karuna’s weakness and flip-flops may deserve an in-depth study. It had been noted that a prime cause for the rift between Karuna and LTTE leadership was Karuna’s dissatisfaction relating to money matters and how he wished to keep an unrestrained control on coin supply. To cover this, later he assigned North-East regionalism as the cause for his split with Prabhakaran. Then, how did Karuna confront his underling Pillaiyan from the East and got evicted from the party he established? Again, the issue was money. The issue that Karuna may have been trapped (during his international sojourns as a member of LTTE’s peace-negotiation panel during 2002-2003) by the wiles of a couple of big league spy rings flaunting money is not an inconvenient one to miss.
The choice words delivered by Marc Antony, penned by Shakespeare, on Lepidus seem to fit Karuna’s past and present plights perfectly. Marc Antony calls Lepidus (behind his back) as, ‘This is a slight, unmeritable man’ (insignificant and undeserving, in current English); ‘He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold – To groan and sweat under the business, Either led or driven, as we point the way’; and, ‘a barren-spirited fellow’ (lacking initiative or ideas of his own, in current English). Also make a note that Karuna’s brother Reggie was killed in 2004.
Read below the 51 lines of Act. 4, Scene 1, featuring Antony, Octavius and the poor Lepidus:
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) since its inception has been a racist, parochial party serving the Sinhalese Buddhist interests. As far as Tamils are concerned, its initials can be framed as Sycophants Lapdogs Freeloaders Party. During the first Sirimavo Bandaranaike cabinet in the early 1960s, Badiuddin Mahmud (a Muslim) served as its minority sycophant. In the second Sirimavo Bandaranaike cabinet of early 1970s, one Chelliah Kumarasooriyar was the new Tamil sycophant. Then came Lakshman Kadirgamar’s 10 year stint as the prime sycophant-lapdog of Chandrika Kumaratunga. Now, Karuna has promoted himself as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s chief sycophant-lapdog. Lets wait and see how far he rides on this SLFP wagon.