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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Can the renegade Karuna deliver his Big Magic?

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

Can the renegade Karuna deliver his Big Magic?

14 July 2004

Life goes on as usual in Batticaloa town and in its interior. The Army has stepped up patrols and occasional checks on the main roads of the town. But no one appears to be too hassled by this. But whenever I run into friends, acquaintances or relatives, they invariably tell me that I am foolish to be back. "You would be shot dead like Nadesan. Leave now", they say. But Batticaloa is my home. This is where I was born and grew up. This is the only place in this wide world where the evening air is sweetly suffused with memories of the girls whom I once loved and the bars where I made merry in my first heady forays into manhood. This has been my home despite years of a deadly internecine war between the LTTE and another Tamil militant organisation to which I belonged, despite years of threats posed by the (formerly) much-feared 'Razeek Group', despite the dire uncertainties of life in the east during Eelam War III. (I am a reluctant sojourner of Colombo)

Therefore I won't let the 'Karuna Affair' dislodge me from the only place I wish to settle down at the end of my travels, I tell my friends. "The fox that lives in the Palmyra grove won't be startled by the rustling of fronds," says the Tamil adage. But no one appears to be convinced. "Leave before they kill you", they insist. All these people, regardless of their political persuasions, are convinced that Karuna and his men do not like the Tamil journalists of Batticaloa. They say that his men murdered Nadesan and threatened others with death because he wants no Tamil journalist around.

This is not a good start for Karuna. Bad press is bad for the kind of business he intends to do in Batticaloa with the aid of his new found ally, Douglas Devananda.

The renegade's dislike of the Tamil press was obvious as soon as he decided to quit the LTTE. Not a single Tamil journalist was informed of his decision. The independent Tamil press was completely ignored by Karuna during his short-lived rebellion despite repeated appeals by them seeking interviews to present his side of the story. Tamil journalists in Batticaloa were not even allowed to visit the LTTE-controlled areas during the rebellion. Those who reported the exodus of Jaffna families were threatened. Karuna's men burnt thousands of copies of the Tamil daily 'Thinakkural' and threatened its local correspondent Shan Thavarajah with death. Several lesser-known local journalists such as Venugopal were kept under house arrest.

Instead, Karuna was seen welcoming with open arms the Sinhala press, including irrationally anti-Tamil Sinhala nationalists, and international media at the Meenaham Base.

Needless to say, this did not go down well with Tamil journalists. Karuna had rubbed them on the wrong side. Also the majority of the newspaper reading public in Batticaloa did not like the way in which the Sinhala nationalist press in Colombo was gleefully promoting the renegade to proclaim the end of the Tamil cause. All this embarrassed Karuna's supporters.

In fact, 'Siva', an undergraduate of the Eastern University from Koddaikallar who was close to him during the 'rebellion', took up the matter with the renegade commander and strongly advised him against giving interviews to Sinhala nationalist media indiscriminately. "Ultimately we will have to rely on the Tamil press to reach out to the people of Batticaloa. Hence, it is not prudent to alienate Tamil journalists", the undergraduate had told him. Karuna had said he would consider the matter. Period.

The murder of Nadesan and the continuing threats to local journalists shows that his attitude hasn't changed.

Bad press is not a good start for Karuna.

But in Batticaloa, his association with the Sri Lanka Army and the EPDP is turning out to be worse than bad press.

"My brother was shot dead on Karuna's orders for buying some provisions for the Morokkoddanchenai Army camp. Now he had joined the military. What is he going to tell hundreds of people like me now?" asked a man who had come to see Batticaloa MP Jeyanandamoorthy three days ago.

As more details of the renegade commander's close association with the Army and its intelligence emerge, even his covert supporters in Kiran and Valaichenai are beginning to have second thoughts.

It has been well recorded by two Presidential Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances and by independent human rights groups that the Tamils of Batticaloa have had very bitter and bloody experiences with the Sri Lankan armed forces in the past. The deep psychological wounds are yet to heal. Memorials, widows and orphans are constant reminders of the massacres, mass arrests, rape, torture, interrogations, assassinations etc., by the military in Batticaloa. One cannot erase these bitter memories etched deeply in the collective psyche of Batticaloa with a single wave of the 'Karuna Wand'.

Talking of magic, let us look at the manner in which people in Batticaloa are reacting to more information that is coming out regarding the renegade commander's financial dealings.

On March 8, 2004, four days after Karuna went public that he was quitting the LTTE, the registrar of companies issued a certificate of registration to a new company called 'Mahajala Export and Import Company (Private) Limited' under his hand and seal. The registration number of the company is N (PVS) 36846. The memorandum and articles of association of the company were prepared and witnessed by S. Thurairajah, Attorney-at-Law, Notary Public and Commissioner of Oaths.

The chairman of 'Mahajala Export and Import Company (Private) Limited' is Mrs. Vithyapathy Muralitharan. The managing director is her father, Kanthaiya Santhirasekeram of Kallady, Batticaloa.

Vithyapathy is the real name of Karuna's wife 'Nira'. The company appears to have been a front for funneling money embezzled from the LTTE's coffers in the east.

Twenty five million rupees were deposited in her name in a private bank in Wellawatte when the company was registered.

'Mahajala' means big magic. Interestingly, Karuna's personal aide and spokesman Varathan who abandoned him recently says that he found it difficult to cope with Nira's "avarice" and dictatorial manner when they were staying in the safe-house in Mount Lavinia, which, according to Varathan was allegedly provided and looked after by the military intelligence.

Nira joined the LTTE in 1989. She was trained in intelligence work in Jaffna. She was sent back to Batticaloa after the Indian Army left and was soon promoted as the head of the women's wing of the LTTE's intelligence unit in the district. She was married to Karuna in Jaffna on the day President Premadasa was killed by a suicide bomber in Colombo - May 1, 1993. 'Kuhanesan' the person who was (and still is) in charge of Karuna's secret personal financial and business transactions was Nira's driver when she lived in the Wanni. (Kuhanesan was one of the Tamil men who were arrested with arms in the Hingurakgoda temple).

Speaking about an argument that he had had with her in the alleged military intelligence safe house whether Karuna had any popular support in Batticaloa, Varathan accuses her of goading the renegade with false visions of a business and political empire in the east. Karuna had also registered two companies with Kuhanesan as chairman.

In sorting out the state of financial ruin in which the renegade commander had left the district, the LTTE's auditors and accountants have found that he has borrowed more than thirty million rupees from local societies and businessmen. Karuna had obtained the monies directly through Kuhanesan. There are no records of the borrowings or of how they were spent. However, the LTTE has promised to repay the loans over a period of time it has negotiated with the creditors.

Revelations about Karuna's financial misdemeanour have not endeared him to the hundreds who paid heavy taxes to the Tigers under his command. The renegade eastern commander was so strict about extracting 'tax' that even scores of die-hard LTTE supporters were clamped behind bars for months until they paid up the amount demanded of them. Some rich farmers and businessmen fell into permanent ruin, unable to withstand the haphazard but harsh tax regime imposed by Karuna and his men in Batticaloa. This eased greatly only after the LTTE headquarters started sending more than ten million rupees a month to the erstwhile eastern commander.

"We put up with all their demands and paid our hard earned money because they sacrifice their lives for us, for the sake of our future well being. I cannot forgive anyone who takes that money for his personal use", said a friend in Kaluwanchikudy, talking about Kuhanesan's transactions with him. He had to stop building his house after Kuhanesan had demanded an amount almost equal to the cost of construction.

One hears hundreds of stories like this in the towns and larger villages of Batticaloa. And none of the victims in these stories are going to laud Karuna for starting 'Mahajala Export and Import Company in his wife's name.

Meanwhile, I checked on a claim by an NGO in Colombo that Karuna has started collecting 'tax' in Batticaloa. This is baseless. Some of Kuhanesan's private transactions have been confused for tax.

The supporters of Karuna in the corridors of power in Colombo overlook many obvious common sense facts about the situation in Batticaloa in their over enthusiastic vision of Karuna as one who is going to wrest the east from the Tigers - at least politically.

The renegade's "Big Magic' (Mahajala) dazzles them yet. They hear only what they like to hear because the march of folly has already begun.



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