gun to pen: The story of˙Sivaram
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
The mortal remains of Dharmeratnam
Puvirajakeerthi Sivaram were laid to rest at the family burial
grounds of Aalaiadycholai in.....
with India: Will the manthram work ?
- a man with rare charisma
gun to pen: The story of˙Sivaram
coffin on the way to its final resting place in
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
The mortal remains of Dharmeratnam
Puvirajakeerthi Sivaram were laid to rest at the family
burial grounds of Aalaiadycholai in Batticaloa on May 2.
Though a Hindu by birth Sivaram was not cremated.
Most Batticaloa Tamils unlike their
Jaffna counterparts bury and not cremate their dead. The
ancient Tamils of India and Sri Lanka did so till
Brahamic rituals of Aryanisation replaced˙Dravidian
customs. It is noteworthy that Batticaloa Tamils follow
this practice still. It denotes that they are children
of that soil with vintage history and roots.
Sivaram loved his home and native land.˙To
him the greatest pleasure in life was to stand atop the
Puliyantheevy bridge over the Batticaloa lagoon and enjoy the
gentle "thendral" (Southern breeze). It was fitting
indeed that his family resisted pressures by the Tigers to
bury him elsewhere. It was Sivaram's wish that he should be
buried at Aalaiyadicholai. It was only last year that he wrote
A large crowd of relatives, friends and
admirers bade farewell to this brave warrior of the eastern
soil. "Taraki" he may be to the English oriented
rest of the world. Here in his native soil he was "Kungi"
to his relatives and "Essaar" (SR) to his friends.
His militancy and journalism may have caused much controversy
elsewhere but he was simply a 'homeboy' in Batticaloa. In his
life of 46 years, he had accomplished much in the wider world.
But for eternal rest he had to come home.
The incredible saga of this ardent
eastern Tamil nationalist who never gave up his visionary zeal
for Thamil Eelam is a tale that needs to be told. The story of
many self-made captains of commerce is a tale of rags to
riches. In Sivaram's case, his political evolution was a 'from
gun to pen' story.
He was the scion of a family tracing
back its roots to more than three centuries. His grandfather
was the legendary S. Dharmaratnam known as "Dharmaratnam
Vannianaar." He represented the Batticaloa South
constituency in the colonial state council from September 17,
1938 to November 20, 1943. The Batticaloa South constituency
consisted of all areas in the present Amparai District and the
territory south of Batticaloa town. Areas north of Batticaloa
town and the present Trincomalee District comprised another
Dharmaratnam and his brother Rajaratnam,
a lawyer by profession owned extensive tracts of land - from
Verugal to Pottuvil in the old Batticaloa District.
Dharmaratnam's son, Puvirajakeerthi was Sivaram's father. He
was one of the earliest Batticaloa Tamils to be educated at
Cambridge University. Dharmaratnam Vannianaar was a well-known
hunter. It is said that his political opponents poisoned him
on a hunting expedition leading to deteriorating health. It
was this that led to his resigning from the state council.
Sivaram's mother was Maheswariamma. Her
maiden name too was Dharmaratnam. Both she and her sister,
Nageswariamma were married. Siva's father was generally called
Keerthy or Dharmakeerthy. Sivaram's mother's people had their
roots in Point Pedro. One of her brothers was the lawyer
Mailvaganam; another brother was the medical practitioner
Velupillai. Both made a name for themselves in Batticaloa.
Sivaram's father's sister was married to the famous Tamil
scholar Prof. Kanapathipillai.
Sivaram was born on August 11, 1959,
the fourth in the family. His siblings are Sooriyakumar,
Sooriyakumari and Seshakumar. His step sisters and brother are
Meena, Parvathy, Arundathi and Neelakandan.˙Sivaram's wife is
also of Govinthan Road in Batticaloa. Her name is Yogaranjini
but is called Bhavani. They have three children,˙namely
Vaishnavi (16) Vaidehi (13) and Seralathan (10). The son was
his pride and joy.
Sivaram hailed from an eastern Tamil
elitist background. The land reforms of the '70s impoverished
the family to some extent. Their family home at Lady Manning
Drive was a place where all friends of the children were made
welcome. Siva's mother Maheswari was a cultured and gracious
lady. She was both modern and progressive while retaining old
world values of hospitality and family affiliations.
She was enlightened enough to know that
true knowledge and wisdom came not from educational
qualifications but through the school of life. Thus she
allowed Sivaram to charter his own course in an unconventional
way. One thing however was her encouraging him to read widely
and voraciously. She would give him money to buy any book he
desired. It was this reading that helped Sivaram acquire much
learning that was denied many of his contemporaries.
He was eclectic in his intellectual
appetite - Marx, Shaw, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Kautilya, Sun
Tsu, Clausewitz, Jomini, Omar Khayyam, John Donne, Auvaiyaar,
Thirumoolar and the various Sithar Padalgal etc. were devoured
and digested at a relatively early age. It was this affinity
for reading that led Sivaram to pioneer the Vasagar Vaddam or
Readers Circle in 1980. He was scheduled to go on Friday to
Batticaloa as chief guest for the silver jubilee ceremony.
Fate decreed otherwise.
He was educated at St. Michaels
College, Batticaloa and at Pembroke and Aquinas in Colombo. He
entered Peradeniya University in 1982. After studying English,
Tamil and Philosophy for the GAQ he focused on English
thereafter. He never completed his degree. The 1983 July
violence saw him being a displaced undergraduate to Jaffna. He
dropped out in 1984 and took to full time guerilla warfare.
His nom de guerre in the movement too was SR. Even while at
Peradeniya he would suddenly disappear from lectures for
extended periods to do his 'political' work.
Sivaram's fascination for armed
struggle began much earlier. Even during his school days he
had a distaste for the non-violent student politics of the
day. According to his former schoolmates, Sivaram had felt at
a very early age that only force would work with the Sinhala
state and that 'ahimsa' tactics were a waste of time. This
however did not prevent his volunteering with the Gandhiyam
movement and helping resettle refugees in the early '80s.
Sivaram was originally a home-grown
militant. A group of young men in Batticaloa town and Kallady
formed their own indigenous Batticaloa group. The livewire of
this was a lad called Suresh. This was in 1983. This group had
no name. Almost at the same time another Batticaloa group
called the 'Nagapadai' or 'Cobra force' also emerged in the
east. It is erroneously believed that Sivaram belonged to the
Cobras because many of its members were subsequently absorbed
into the People's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The group to which Sivaram belonged
accomplished two operations. It botched up a third bank
robbery. Its primary success was the robbery of more than 350
guns from the Batticaloa kachcheri arsenal. The young militant
group had one firearm with which they held up the guards. This
gun belonged to Sivaram's family. The stolen guns were hoarded
at Kalladi and Kaluthawalai. These originally belonged to
Batticaloa farmers and had been confiscated by the authorities
due to the security situation.
A second operation was the robbery at
the Highways Department. A lot of equipment including an
exploder were taken. These robberies irked the security
apparatus that launched an intensive search. The 11 members
belonging to the group scattered and went underground. Sivaram
went away from Batticaloa. The LTTE also took note of this
indigenous eastern militancy. A Tiger cadre named Ram came to
Batticaloa, made contact and recruited seven of the 11 into
the LTTE. The Tigers and PLOTE also absorbed most of the cobra
Sivaram being away from Batticaloa was
left out. He was extremely disappointed. By this time Sivaram
had reached a decision that he should join the LTTE. SR was
essentially a man of action. To him the continuous pattern of
guerilla attacks by the Tigers was appealing. He also had deep
admiration for Velupillai Pirapaharan, a self-made guerilla.
His friends say that he went to the Jaffna university to study
the militant movements and make his choice. While in Jaffna he
also joined groups of undergraduates collecting money for
refugees. He travelled extensively in Jaffna and the Wanni.
Sivaram decided that he should join the
LTTE. An appointment with Mahendrarajah alias Mahaththaya was
arranged through a friend then known as Kandiah Amman. Sivaram
had read up well on theory of guerilla warfare and tried to
impress Mahaththaya with his knowledge. Siva also said that he
would conduct political classes for recruits. Mahaththaya was
not receptive. He may have even felt threatened by this eager,
young man's earnestness. Mahaththaya refused to take him into
the LTTE. Sivaram tried his luck again with Krishnakumar alias
Kittu. He too declined asking Sivaram to concentrate on his
studies and help them in writing tracts and pamphlets.
A deeply disappointed Sivaram now tried
his chances with PLOTE. An eastern Tamil, Yogan Kannamuthu
helped him join the PLOTE. Another Tamil from Batticaloa,
Ramalingam Vasudeva was also a high ranking member of the
PLOTE now. Sivaram had worked closely with him in the
Gandhiyam. Subsequently Sivaram was to become a close
relative. Vasudeva's wife's sister was proposed in marriage to
Siva. He agreed and got engaged. Unfortunately Vasudeva was
killed by the LTTE in 1987. Nevertheless Sivaram got married
After joining PLOTE, Sivaram underwent
military training in Oratha Naadu. But he was used for
politics and was very much in demand conducting political and
military theory classes for PLOTE recruits. Besides the PLOTE
never undertook major military operations. There was a time
when the PLOTE had the largest number of cadres.
Sivaram conducted classes in India and
the north-east. At one point he was placed in charge of the
military section in Batticaloa. It was during this stint that
Sivaram ordered the execution of two suspected PLOTE
dissidents, Ahilan and Selvan. This led to a disciplinary
inquiry in which SR was exonerated. His detractors however
continue to rake up this matter to denigrate him. This is
happening even after death.
Later on Sivaram supported the Eeswaran
faction of the PLOTE, which criticised Umamaheswaran's
leadership. This opposition by Eeswaran and the faction led by
Paranthan Rajan led to the famous conference after which the
PLOTE split. Sivaram however changed his stance in a
controversial twist and supported Umamaheswaran. It is said
that Vasudeva played a role in shifting his allegiance to
Umamaheswaran. Consequently Sivaram was elevated to the PLOTE
Contacts in the south
Sivaram travelled about in the south
and Colombo during the 1983-87 period. He made a lot of
contacts and friends during that period. Among these were
Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ossie Abeygoonesekara. He also
established links with the JVP then. Former JVP Secretary,
Upatissa Gamanayake and PLOTE Military Commander, Manickam
Thasan were first cousins. Their mothers were sisters. This
connection was used for political purposes. Interestingly
Sivaram was also close to the strongly anti-JVP alternate
group 'Vikalpa Kandayama' members.
The Indo-Lanka accord of July 29, 1987
saw the PLOTE accept it with some reservations. The accord
paved the way for the PLOTE to relocate officially to the
south and make a transition from armed struggle to democratic
politics. The PLOTE formed a political party, the Democratic
People's Liberation Front (DPLF). Its first president was
Dharmalingam Siddharthan. Its first secretary was none other
than Dharmeratnam Sivaram. A new phase in Sivaram's life was
beginning. This flirtation with post-accord politics was the
forerunner to Sivaram's transition from gun to pen.
Awards are familiar stuff for the likes
of me darling but its not often I see the likes of you tilting
forward and stretching out your paws eagerly to receive one.
But receive one you did, not 10 days ago. By whom I know not,
the institution does not readily come to mind. And for what
exactly, eludes me for the moment... but wait, it will all
come back to me... oh yes... for being a python... No that's
not it, right... was it iPod?... No. I remember now, an icon.
Yes 'indeedy,' a National Youth Icon. A sort of fuzzy
religious image on a totem pole popular with the young set.
But the grand prize was not only for this darling if I recall.
It was also for being the epitome, the fount, the bedrock, the
embodiment, the bosom of Sri Lankan values... or words to that
An Icon eh? What was that chap smiling
like a vanishing Cheshire really presenting you with, hmmm?
Were they trying to say that you were a painting on a small
wooden panel used by the early Christians or were they merely
attempting to call you an object of devotion? Take your pick
or take mine. To be quite candid m'dear, sooooo many
variations to this Greek word. Are these award givers alluding
to the fact that you may be called from time to time an
Iconoclast? A wench who makes it her mission to destroy
established beliefs or institutions? Or God forbid could they
have been addressing their minds to things vigesimal, and
referring quite subtly to you being somewhat of an icosahedron?
You know doll. A polyhedron with 20 faces!
It's all very puzzling. Specially those
20 faces of yours. But I'm dying to jot down a list of your
most celebrated values darling. Let me see now. Katai pittu
you said of Ranil, a man who confuses you to such an extent
you say that you don't even know from which bodily orifice he
speaks. Well my darling unless he has recently swallowed your
denchers, it seems pretty obvious. And some might even have
cause to comment that he speaks from the same one you speak
from. Tch! Tch! darling, what torrid images you help conjure
up in the minds of the martyred proletariat. They have enough
drunken abuse and incestual imagery in their bally mud huts
without you adding to it.
But mocking the physical appearances of
your opponents is common stuff for the common man and the
common leader. And we know you are a woman of the people.
Another common chap, the red-faced
Weevil has this same habit also. The other day he happened
rather testily to castigate some national peace council
chappie for wearing bottle-bottomed glasses.
Then again take the CEB and the CPC.
Not too long ago when the Greens were scurrying about trying
to restructure the bally places, you and your red henchaiyyas
screamed slogans on the streets waggling your fingers and
wagging your tongues protesting they were selling off the
Paradisian boodhalaya, what! Serves you right. Now you see the
end result? You in hot soup. Manipulation of the masses for
cheap short term personal gain is I know a value not only you,
but also your dear daddy holds close to your bosoms.
How can we forget your brave words last
week strategically uttered just two weeks before the donor
forum, that you don't care if you lose your presidency or
others lose their ministries but you will sign the joint
mechanism. Darling, I said it then and I say it now. It is
easy to give something up at the tail end of it. Of course you
don't care about the presidency. In a few months you have to
pack up your toothbrush and tootle off anyway. As for not
caring about others that is just another treasured trait in
the fabric of Paradisian culture.
Neither can one forget your eloquence
darling. Like the common or garden Paradisian and or even the
common or garden Amunugama you randomly call people kaalakanni
, sarpayo ,hivallu, golubello, ballo, etcetera, etcetera. You
incite the common man to riot and call upon them to hit and
kill. Gahuwath gahanawa, Maruwoth maranawa, you say. And you
say it because you know it is the language of the common man.
The Red Weevil who used to chop off heads will tell you that
in the south many a drunk is found in the bushes with a knife
in his stomach.
No sir, no due process, no democracy,
no court houses for you. And who can blame you when you think
the whole judiciary is corrupt. Like the common man with the
kasippu bothale in one hand and the end of his sarong in the
other, you too talk like a loose cannon, stampede like a
hippopotamus in heat, butt like a enraged bull and hit below
the belt. No siree, no alien values for you. What was it you
said the other day? Oh yes, the constitution must be burnt,
you said. Darling surely! You don't mean the very one from
which you derive all this heady power? Foul and forked tongue
dear. That's the problem with the Paradisians. And all this
time the Indian chiefs thought it was the white man who spoke
with forked tongue. Obviously they didn't travel south of the
Like the common Paradisian you too
think you are a professional without learning a profession.
Nobody could handle the tsunami relief in Paradise except you,
were your words to the foreign press. Five months on, I
applaud your efficiency in dealing with the tsunami dear, none
could have done it better.
I am as always subject to correction
darling but from my very comfy sofa and through the smoke
swirling from my cigarette and the bubbles rising in my Moet
and Chandon, all I can see in the Paradisian value system is a
violent nature, a foul mouth, loose cannon speeches with no
substance, defamatory language, ethnic intolerance, religious
intolerance and a lazy outlook.
Anyway come to think of it, I must
congratulate not only you, but also the institution that
presented you this prestigious award. My darling for upholding
Paradisian values to the hilt, you m'dear are the perfect
choice. I can scarce forbear to cheer. But be wary darling.
The red-faced Weevil is right behind you. Sooner or later I
have no doubt he will out do even you as the upholder of
Toodle oo for now.
It's getting fruitier and nuttier at
this time of the year. We are not referring to the mouth
watering mangoes such as Karatacolombang drooping down from
the trees or the luscious cadju puhulang that birds are
beating us to, but Sri Lankan politics. We are referring to
long established, solidly based Sri Lankan institutions
collapsing, not for any other reason but bad governance.
Ananda College, a long established and
indigenous school, is one such institution, Sri Lankans,
whether they have studied there or not, could be proud of. It
came up during colonial times as a school of the Buddhist
Theosophical Society against tremendous odds and on its own
strength turned out to be one of the best schools in the
country. On its roll are many outstanding professionals,
sportsmen and political leaders. It has been among the leading
schools consistently producing the best results at the GCE O/L
and A/L examinations. Last week, it was temporarily shut down
by the Education Ministry in the manner failed state
universities are being periodically closed down.
Over to the courts
We say the situation appears to be
getting nuttier because now the Public Service Commission has
decided to take the Education Ministry to courts over the
closure of the schools and the suspension of Ananda's school
Not only Ananda, but many other leading
schools appear to be in line for similar treatment by the
A state ministry under the overall
direction of the Executive President of the country is being
taken to courts by the Public Service Commission that is also
appointed by this all powerful Executive President! Could
anything be fruitier and nuttier?
In the field of sports, we see the same
kind of stupidity: cannibalisation of national sports
Cricket was one game we Sri Lankans
were justly proud of. In a short time after entering the
international arena, we became the World Champions. But we see
the barbarians have entered the gates and are in the process
of decimating this game in Sri Lanka, This week we had a front
page picture of some sturdy individuals entering the
headquarters of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board. They were not
cricketers or distinguished visitors to Sri Lanka Cricket
headquarters, but officials of the Criminal Investigations
Department entering to wrest control for the Sports Ministry.
This is one of the many examples of the government of
President Kumaratunga doing the right thing in the wrong way.
Driving out bookies who have entered
the board rooms of cricket at a time when the ICC is
attempting to keep out bookies is the right thing. But what is
happening right now is making Sri Lanka cricket look like a
Many other sports bodies are heading
for disaster. Take rugby which was administered by the crme-
de- la crme of the country. Run by individuals such as
Supreme Court Judge E.F.N. Gratien and directors of sterling
companies operating here at that time, its administration was
flawless and above board. It was then said to be a 'rowdies
game played by gentlemen.' Now the gentlemen part of the game
is all gone.
There are many other national games on
the 'production' line of destruction.
The government has overall control of
the administration of all sports at the national level under
the Sports Ministry. But what is Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga,
nephew of Vijaya
Kumaratunga, and President Kumaratunga's ˙nominee whose only
qualification appears to be film acting, doing in this world
of sports? As the Sinhala saying goes, 'he is playing pandu'.
The situation within the ruling UPFA is
even more hilarious. The JVP partner in the coalition is
locking horns with the SLFP now on almost all vital issues and
asking the SLFP to leave if they cannot stick to the original
agreement that brought them together. But no one seems to be
departing. Co- existence for mutual survival to enjoy the
perks of office as long as possible, is the name of the game.
There are serious issues that divide
them: Privatisation of the Ceylon Electricity Board and the
Ceylon Petroleum Corporation are just two - and now the so
called 'joint mechanism' for the distribution of tsunami aid.
Sri Lanka has become the laughing stock of the world by being
unable to distribute tsunami aid worth millions or even
billions of dollars donated by foreign organisations and
countries. Could there be a better instance of bad governance
What is most hilarious is the issue of
the 'joint mechanism' for distribution of tsunami assistance
by the government and the LTTE. A foreigner asked us:
"What is this joint mechanism that has resulted in the
entire country threatening to kill one another?" And we
did not have answers and there appear to be none - or is it
only a handful who know the detailed plans of this joint
The closure of Ananda College is a
typical example of stupid governance. For well over a decade
it has been known that school principals and other leading
officials of schools, including those of private schools, were
pocketing money for admissions to big schools both in Colombo
and the provinces. The pressure of entry is so great now that
bribes are being demanded for admission to even small schools
that have been hitherto unheard of. Obviously something had to
be done. But the way in which the government or the president
went ahead to tackle the problem was obviously wrong.
President Kumaratunga and some in her
government may think that teams from the Presidential
Secretariat or Presidential commissions are wonderful and are
acceptable to the people. They are not. Under the present
constitution, the president is the most partial of politicians
and all presidents have unabashedly used their executive
powers for political gain. During her first term in office,
deployment of the Presidential Security Division for various
purposes such as the prevention of public demonstrations by
the media, resulted in tremendous uproars. Thus, investigation
by a Presidential unit into the alleged acts of the principal
of Ananda College and the act of suspending him from office
was obviously the wrong thing to do when the issue is viewed
from any perspective.
Unacceptable modus operandi
The first is the acceptability and
credibility of the report of the investigation conducted by
this Presidential Investigative Unit. The second is the act of
suspending the principal from office on this questionable
report. An acceptable course of action would have been an
investigation conducted by those such as reputed impartial
citizens, perhaps including alumni of the school or the
Bribery Commission. Even if the Presidential Unit's report was
to be considered, it should have been presented to an
impartial body of investigators before a decision was taken.
The summary decision taken against this
principal was apparently taken by those who are unaware of the
deep loyalties and commitments - former alumni of the school
numbering thousands of respected citizens, present students
and even the Buddhist public, including monks- have for the
To all these persons, Ananda is
something special. And to suspend a principal for alleged
acceptance of bribes is not simply an insult to the principal,
but to the school as well. There are many loyalists of Ananda
who believe that there are conspiracies directed against the
school by those alumni of non-Buddhist leading schools. These
may be figments of their imagination, but acts such as that
against the principal taken in the full glare of media
publicity gives credence to such beliefs.
There has been an outcry against heads
of private schools as well for long years on the same charge.
But they are being left out. It could be that since they are
not of the government they have been ignored, but those who
have been smitten by the acts of the PIU will not be consoled
No doubt there are others concerned as
well, such as parents of children who had their brood admitted
to schools on false and forged documents. Public
investigations could expose these hitherto respectable ladies
and gentlemen. But this has been a system that has prevailed
for long years.
The decision to crackdown on crooked
principals is a right decision but implemented the wrong way.
It is simply bad governance as has been the case with the
proposals for the privatisation of CEB and the Petroleum
Corporation, actions taken against the Cricket Board, other
sports organisations and many other issues such as the 100
metre rule on buildings by the beach, and now the joint
mechanism for tsunami aid.
The hallmark of the Chandrika
Kumaratunga mode of governance is: 'I don't give a damn for
any kind of criticism.'
Little wonder it is 'always breakdown.'
with India: Will the manthram work ?
The joint communiqu issued following
the visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Sham Saran and his talks
with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar and Foreign Secretary S. Palihakkara
indicated the growth of stronger economic ties between the two
countries. But a significant omission was the proposed
Indo-Lanka Defence Agreement which was expected to have been
signed at the time of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
before President Chandrika Kumaratunga seized three ministries
including that of defence and staged a virtual coup.
Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Lakshman Kadirgamar
The fact that not a word has been
mentioned about it in the joint communiqu˙by the Foreign
Secretaries of India and Sri Lanka is indicative that this all
important agreement has been put on the shelf for reasons that
have not been disclosed by either side.
What form the agreement would have
taken we are not aware of, but since India has been
reiterating ever so often that it 'stands for the unity,
integrity and sovereignty of a united Sri Lanka' would have
led to the presumption that in case of dire threats on these
aspects to Sri Lanka, Indian help would be forthcoming. But
that would not have been necessarily so, because when Sri
Lanka was indeed threatened by the LTTE during the Elephant
Pass debacle, India's assistance was not as forthcoming
whereas countries such as Pakistan made positive
It was reported that the Indians, in
the proposed defence agreement had suggested that the use of
the Palaly Airport would have been solely for the use of the
Sri Lankan and Indian security forces about which Sri Lanka
had hemmed and hawed. But whatever the provisions of the
agreement may have been, it was viewed as having potential for˙a
positive contribution to the defence of this island against
the threat of separation. And it would have been beneficial to
India as well because of the LTTE threats such as the Interim
Self Government Authority proposals that had a provision for a
separate maritime zone extending into the territorial waters
of India. No doubt, India could have countered such threats
any time, but it did give indications of the ambitions of the
LTTE leader. There have been no official pronouncements on
this defence agreement but it does appear to have been
The last issue of The Sunday Leader in
its column Pot Shots bared the reasons. The report said that
while Ranil Wickremesinghe had believed in carrying forward
the peace process with an international security net in place,
he considered India as the trump card because of its military
strength and geographical proximity. Wickremesinghe, it was
contended, hoped to safeguard Sri Lanka from another terrorist
attack while also keeping the LTTE on the peace track with
this defence agreement.
But that was not to be. When the SLFP
took back the reins of power, the LTTE through its supporters
in Tamil Nadu had warned the Indian government that if such a
defence agreement was signed with Chandrika Kumaratunga in
power, it would be terribly disadvantageous to the Tamils of
Sri Lanka. The coalition Congress government of India is very
much dependent on the votes of Tamil Nadu parties to stay in
power. Tamil Nadu parties such as the DMK, MDMK, PMK and the
UPA strongly back the LTTE and their leaders like MDMK Leader
Vaiko had met leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,
and˙Congress Leader Sonia Gandhi and contended that signing
such a defence pact with Kumaratunga could lead to much unrest
in Tamil Nadu. It does appear that the Tamil Nadu factor has
once again altered Indo-Lanka politics.
Coalition politics are fickle and for
the major parties to stay in power, they have to at times be
prepared to permit the tail to wag the dog. We see it in our
own country. It has happened in Bangladesh too and India is no
Politics of survival
This is also a sobering thought for
those who believe in the manthram: 'friendship with India.'
Certainly friendship with India is essential for Sri Lanka's
welfare, but the repetition of this manthram whenever in
difficulty and running to New Delhi is not the ultimate
Sri Lankans should by now be familiar
with the vacillating Sri Lanka policy of New Delhi and˙realise
that Indian foreign policy is captive to what has been called
Tamil Nadu compulsions. It was so in the 1980s and it is the
same now. This is an age when principled politics of yore have
given into coalition politics - the politics of survival.
Sri Lanka policy, is now viewed by many Sri Lankans as India
seeing the LTTE as a separatist force which is a threat to the
unity of India and thus would lend support to a Colombo
government to defeat the LTTE. Certainly India would counter
any threat to its unity and sovereignty but does it consider
the LTTE to be such an immediate threat? While Sri Lankans
both from the UNP and the SLFP have been going on bended knee
to India asking its assistance, India during the past decade
has been remaining aloof on most issues concerning Sri Lanka.
This is possibly after the IPKF fiasco and the assassination
of Rajiv Gandhi. But if the LTTE does pose a real threat to
the security of India, this will no doubt result in an
immediate Indian reaction.
On the other hand, Colombo politicians
are presuming that India trusts them beyond doubt, but the
entire problem surfaced when the J.R. Jayewardene government
adopted a pro-Western foreign policy ditching the earlier
Indophile policies of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The militant
groups were the tools of Indian destabilisation of Sri Lanka
in the 1980s, when Colombo got too uppity in the eyes of the
New Delhi Brahmins.
Indian stance unclear
The world has changed very much since
the 1980s when Indira Gandhi went ahead to establish India as
the regional power of South Asia. Today, it is said that India
wants to be an economic power rather than the predominant
power in the poorest region of the world. Yet is India
prepared to permit other powers to enter the region and start
establishing themselves? There were signs of concern in New
Delhi's Foreign Ministry˙last year when Western powers moved
into Lanka and commenced playing key roles in the peace
process. Whether there has been a change in the thinking in
New Delhi since then is not clear.
Sri Lanka, it appears has no choice on
the issue of a defence agreement with India. However much we
desire for such an agreement, it will be Big Brother's
decision. But we have to think of ways and means of keeping
our country together. A question to ponder at the very
beginning will be: will this manthram chanted by our leaders -
UNP and SLFP ever so often - 'friendship with India' ever
- a man with rare charisma
By Gamini Weerakoon
The expression of grief from most
quarters of the Colombo media over the tragic death of
Dharmaratnam Sivaram alias Taraki is remarkable in that his
political ideology differed very much from that of his
Sinhalese sympathisers. Yet, this man of a few words had an
indefinable quality that captured the rapt attention and
respect of his readers even though some of them did not go
along with his thinking, especially on what he wrote in the
last few years.
But there was affection and admiration
for him, who in his own way, openly backed an anti- Sinhalese,
ruthless terrorist organisation while living among the
Sinhalese. Whether it was his macho past-a former guerrilla
fighter, military commander of PLOTE having opted for
democratic politics- his plain sincerity and honesty or his
ability to understand a point of view different from his is
hard to guess. Siva, the swarthy, bespectacled man of medium
stature, certainly had a rare charisma.
It was sometime in 1989, that to my
surprise, I received a call from Richard De Zoysa, who met
with his tragic death in the same way as Siva. He asked me
whether The Island would like to have a columnist who was
extremely knowledgeable about the north-east conflict. I was
surprised because Richard and I were mere acquaintances and
had nothing in common, but he cleared my doubts.
He said something like this: "I
know you and I will not agree on many things and this
columnist too does not go along with your thinking, but we are
aware your paper publishes many points of view- even those
that go against your editorial views," he said.
We met a few days later at the Art
Centre Club. It was about 18 years ago and Siva looked almost
a youth. He was not over effusive and canvassing for a job. He
was terse and said he could write a weekly column for the
Sunday Island on matters concerning the north and east. We
spoke about the prevailing situation in the north and east at
that time and I was very much impressed by his knowledge and
interpretation of events. I offered him the highest payment
made for a free-lance contribution at that time by my paper.
He had left it to me to find a nom de
plume and since both of us wanted his identity to be kept
confidential, I on my own decided on the feminine name of 'Tharakki'.
But the best laid plans of editors are blown sky high by
sub-editors who want to make their own contributions. When I
saw the article in print, the name was Tarraki, the name of
the former deposed Afghan dictator! Siva was amused and so we
let it be and later it took various forms until the present
name of 'Taraki' came to be.
His first article - if I remember right
- "Military Strategies of the Tamil National Army" -
caused consternation amongst
political, military, diplomatic, journalistic, and NGO
paid informants to some of these organisations. There
were many inquiries made including one whom I suspected to be
a paid informant to the military who was working in our
office. He was not a journalist and was called the 'Colonel
Blimp.' He asked me for the columnist's identity and I laughed
in his face reminding him about the journalistic practice of
keeping identities secret.
He walked off in a huff. But he had enough resources to
'spy' on me and have those who came to my office watched. In a
few weeks, he identified Siva who used to come in with his
column every week. That was how Taraki's cover was blown,
although some with fevered imaginations now have produced
their own versions involving themselves.
I had no problems with Siva's column.
He obviously read my mind and knew my limitations under the
law and my feelings towards the LTTE and the Indian
involvement. He, most of the time kept away from writing about
ideology and instead wrote on military strategies and
operations. This was sailing very close to the law such as the
Prevention of Terrorism Act, Official Secrets Act, Public
Security Act etc. but I was willing to take that risk. During
his entire stay with The Island, I had no problem and I cannot
recall a single instance of drastically editing a column of
In the few years he was on The Island,
Siva came to be regarded as an oracle on north- east affairs.
He was much sought after. Siva was offered an IVP travel grant
by the American government which he accepted and took off
promising to return and write about his American tour. But
that was not to be.
After his US tour he crossed over to
Canada. One night I received a call from Canada from a former
journalist of The Island, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, who had a rendezvous
with Siva in Ottawa. They were in high spirits and were deeply
appreciative of the good times they had working together with
me. I was delighted that they appreciated working together
with me - two Tamil colleagues. This was indeed a refreshing
change from those namby- pamby, half -baked
who are still hell bent on calling me a 'chauvinist'
because I write in support of all Sri Lankans including the
Sinhalese and do not spit on my own people
Siva then went over to London. There I
believe he met another Tamil journalist, a very strong LTTE
activist working for a British TV organisation.
Siva had introduced this journalist to me in Colombo
and this person appeared to have a very strong influence over
Siva's political thinking. I believe that Siva, in London,
swung over to the LTTE from the neutral stance he had taken
earlier towards this organisation.
He came back to Sri Lanka and joined
another organisation and his writing by then was positively
pro-LTTE. He later edited the North-East Journal and finally
Siva died poor as it happens almost to
every good journalist. The whole nation weeps when journalists
die in a tragic manner, but forgets about them the next day.
Siva was a free-lance journalist, one who was paid by the
article. There was no pension or provident fund for him. He
leaves behind only his writings, which surely will become a
part of the history of this country and of course the profits
he earned for his newspapers to those institutions. But
nothing for his family.
those funeral orators and obituarists who wept for him also
give a thought to his wife and three children he has left