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24th January 1999
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Return of Varatharaja Perumal after eight year exile 

Missing money and political mysteries

By Frederica Jansz
What are the reasons behind Annamalai Varatharaja Perumal's mysterious return to Sri Lanka?

Varatharaja PerumalAn investigation by The Sunday Times has revealed that the controversial former chief minister of the northeast province has returned mainly to rejuvenate the EPRLF, amidst allegations that party funds have been misused. 

Political observers say Mr. Perumal's return will pose a challenge not only to the EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran but also to the LTTE supremo, Vellupillai Prabhakaran. 

Mr. Perumal is known to have had a rapport with successive Indian governments, after President Premadasa forced him into exile. The LTTE sees Mr. Perumal as a direct threat because he represents the Indian interest. Mr. Prabhakaran knows that India will never allow the formation of a Tamil Eelam because it would run counter to India's interest. Moreover since the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, India has banned the LTTE and Tiger leaders have been identified as prime suspects in the killing. The LTTE is also aware that India through Mr. Perumal could play a more significant role in Sri Lanka. 

As for internal matters within the EPRLF, Mr. Premachandran now virtually works for the government as a Director of the Fisheries Corporation, drawing a salary and other official perks. He is being held accountable for finances given to the EPRLF by the Indian Government and its supporters. 

India which played a vital role in the formation of provincial councils in 1988, had released upto 2.5 million of Indian rupees monthly for the administration of the Northeast Council and to maintain the Tamil National Army. 

Some EPRLF cadres allege the party leadership has to give account for more than Rs. 50 million. 

"Funds given to the EPRLF are now largely a family concern and no longer a concern of the party," one official alleged.

Senior EPRLF members told The Sunday Times that some in the party hierarchy had made investments in the film industry, real estate , rent-a-car tours and travel business in India. 

After Mr. Perumal left the country, Mr. Premachandran continued to collect monies from supporters and maintain the balance of monies given by India. 

The group claimed the purpose of the bank robbery was to buy weapons for the Eelam struggle. Subsequently they were all arrested by Inspector Bastiampillai.

Mr. Perumal is also no stranger to President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He had a close friendship with Vijaya and Chandrika Kumaratunga when the two of them openly supported the Indo-Lanka accord. The EPRLF later became an ally of the United Socialist Alliance (USA). 

Mr. Perumal also had good rapport with Y. P. de Silva, then secretary of the USA. Mr. Perumal spoke eloquently for one hour at Vijaya Kumaratunga's funeral. 

Though Mr. Perumal is returning after eight years, EPRLF members believe he is capable of winning a substantial Tamil vote because of his close ties with India and support from the PA. They feel he would be able to revive the party which has virtually been written off as any formidable force in northern or national politics. 

When Mr. Perumal was granted refuge in India, it was am rare instance where a person was taken by the Indian government and kept under its protection, though India repeatedly denied officially having granted asylum to Mr. Perumal. 

On March 10, 1990, Mr. Perumal together with his wife and three children left Sri Lanka on a flight reportedly arranged by India's spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He had suddenly disappeared from his residence opposite the Trincomalee Town Council. He left from the Trincomalee China Bay airport which at that time was controlled by both the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Indian troops. 

From Trincomalee the Perumals were flown to Mauritius, and then to Rajasthan, where they lived for the past eight years. 

Mr. Perumal, his wife and three daughters were given VIP treatment by the Indian government with security being provided by the famed Black Cats. 

Mr. Perumal had been elected chief minister in the provincial elections held in November, 1988. The main Tamil party, the TULF, did not take part. 

The EPRLF leader then was K. Pathmanabha but being a committed Marxist, he did not accept the chief minister's post. Next in line was Suresh Premachandran but he was sidelined because the then powerful High Commissioner J. N. Dixit thought Mr. Perumal would serve India's interest best. 

Mr. Pathmanabha then asked that of the five ministers one should be a Sinhalese and one a Muslim. The ENDLF, a breakaway of the PLOTE, got one ministerial post. 

Mr. Premachandran thought he would get this post. However Pathmanabha insisted that the opportunity should be given to the Eastern people and P. Kirubaharan from the EPRLF was appointed. 

The final list had Mr. Perumal representing Jaffna, Mr. Ganeshalingham, for Trincomalee, P. Kirubaharan Batticaloa, Dayan Jayatilleke the Sinhalese and Abu Yusoof the Muslims. 

Mr. Premachandran lost out completely, remaining an ordinary member despite being second in command. 

Three months later general elections were held. Mr. Premachandran contested on the EPRLF ticket and won. This was the origin of a cold war between Mr. Perumal and Mr. Premachandran. 

Prior to the Presidential election in December 1988, Mr. Perumal had tried to strike a deal with Mr. Premadasa and Ranjan Wijeratne saying the EPRLF would support him. Mr. Premadasa asked Mr. Perumal to support the withdrawal of the IPKF, but the latter refused. 

When Mr. Premadasa in the famous temple speech ordered the IPKF to leave, the Indians were naturally furious. 

This was when RAW came into the scene again. India made an offer to Mr. Perumal that if 10,000 Tamil youth could be gathered they would train and arm them to safeguard the northeast province from the Tigers and indirectly the Sri Lankan forces. Mr. Perumal accepted this offer. 

RAW took direct flights to Trincomalee as they landed at China Bay and immediately initiated training the TNA. Mr. Perumal closed the door to the government of Sri Lanka and maintained relations only with the Indians. He believed Mr. Premadasa would eventually bow to the wishes of India.

Another factor which soured relations between Mr. Perumal and Mr. Premadasa was an incident at the funeral of TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam in 1989. Mr. Perumal gave a state funeral to Mr. Amirthalingam, and when President Premadasa went to pay his respects in Trincomalee, a large crowd threw slippers and shoes at him screaming, "murderer, murderer." 

Mr. Perumal was thought to be behind this move. The President was furious. 

This was followed by the massacre of the TNA while peace talks were held with the LTTE by the Premadasa government. Mr. Premadasa obviously grabbed at the chance to put the Tigers against the Indians as well as Mr. Perumal. The then Indian Prime Minister V. P. Singh in March 1990 agreed to the complete withdrawal of the IPKF. Mr. Perumal realised his days were also numbered. Thus he fled after a tumultuous three years in Northern politics. Now he returns at a decisive stage both for northeastern and national politics.

It's an Indian trap: Gamini

Gamini Fonseka former Governor for the North and East provincial council said Mr. perumal, should be "put in manacles for high treason," instead of being given "a red carpet welcome."

Mr. Fonseka in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times said Mr. Perumal made a Unilateral Declaration for Independence at the time he was Chief Minister in 1989, an offence according to Sri Lanka constitution punishable by law. "In any other country Mr. Perumal would have been arrested and the highest penalty imposed on him," he said.

Mr. Fonseka asserted that India has played a significant role in sending back Mr. Perumal to Colombo- "a trap the present government has walked into," he said. India, he said had two items on their agenda- to secure a free trade pact and to foist Mr. Perumal back into Sri Lanka's political arena to propagate Indian interest. 

He claimed the PA was attempting to create a parliamentary seat for Mr. Perumal. 

Mr. Fonseka also alleged that Mr. Perumal even hoisted a flag supporting the cause of an independent state at Trincomalee in 1989.

Sources close to Mr. Perumal said the EPRLF had designed a provincial flag with an emblem called 'Maharayarl'- the head of a fish and tail resembling a musical instrument called 'Yarl'. This emblem signified the merger of the north and east.

News Makers

Gonibillas and arakku appudis

If ten sentences are exchanged in a dialogue concerning the Wayamba elections, you will be sure that at least three of them will end with the word liquor. Stanislaus Silva is a typical Wayamba man, the Wayamba voter in essence. To profile him would be to profile the Wayamba voter, which is why we profile him today. 

I counted the word liquor at least a dozen times when he spoke, and the important part is that he is not a drunk. But he encapsulates the spirit of this election (pun both intended, and not) by coining the new term "arrack applause.'' Arrack applause is a term that explains in two words what the Wayamba elections really mean this time around . 

The term refers to supporters who have been plied with liquor by the party coordinators . (euphemism for party henchmen) The henchmen have to applaud politicians' speeches everytime there is a pause. But the pungent coinage really is in Sinhalese, and its called "arakku appudi.'' "Arakku appudi '' is applause given at every fullstop period and pause by support karaya's placed on either side of the stage, after they have been liberally soaked with arrack.

"Arraku appudi'' captures the spirit of this election because it's a catchy phrase, but more so because it casts this election in its proper accurate perspective. Stanislaus Silva is a man from the deep south, who has put down roots in Wayamba. Since he is a businessman from the south he implies that his instincts are more accurate than the instincts of sleepy original people from Wayamba. In other words, it is not easy to get past this man. His simple deduction is that the people of Wayamba have been made suckers in this election by big bad crafty political wolves from Colombo and from outside the province,

The people of Wayamba who support these political interlopers have on the other hand suckered themselves. For example, Wayamba is now swarming with imported political thugs from Matara from Matale and all over the country where arrogant MPs reside. These strongmen are determined to sucker the Wayamba people in these polls. 

When he first tells us this, it strikes us that maybe Stanislaus Silva is a bit daft and not a thinker by a long shot. But it doesn't take us long to realise that he is right. At a Wayamba party coordinating centre, several electioneering types come and introduce themselves to us saying that they are "pradeshiya sabha members from Matara.'' 

Their observations of the forthcoming elections drip with comparisons of how PC elections were fought in the Southern province. So Stanislaus Silva is right. Businessmen like him may have migrated to Wayamba from Matara decades ago. But even they wouldn't have bargained for the new breed who have migrated from the deep South calling themselves "political experts.'' 

Those who think that they are sharper than Stanislaus Silva will argue that the Jayawickreme Pereras and the Nawinnas are from Wayamba and that these ''Wayamba originals'' do not need any imports from outside the province to gather around them supporters who will lay down their lives for the chief. Its not that anybody who thinks that Jayawickreme Perera needs no toughs from outside is wrong. Its just that Stanislaus Silva is more correct. 

The core Stanislaus theory is that the Wayamba provincial election is a stand - alone election which therefore is being used by all the rabid political professionals from outside the province as an electoral laboratory . Its like so many Hitler's experimenting with Wayamba's hapless ''Jews.'' 

We were sent to Stanislaus Silva by a hotelier who is a Stansilaus clone in his political thinking and would therefore qualify for this profile in some way . Says this hotelier, also starting his conversation with the liquor equation , that if he had sold ten bottles of arrack before, he sells twenty five a day now because its election time. Most of these spirits are for the gentry who descend on his hotel from Colombo and all other parts of the country doing what they conveniently call "election work.'' 

His reading of the Wayamba voter is even more astute than Mr. Silva's. His description of Kurunegala for instance is that its not an established cosmopolitan business town as say Kandy or Colombo or Batticaloa for example. "Kurunegala,'' he says " is a one day town. Sellers come here in the morning dump their goods and scoot off by evening. Its all transitional and few businessmen from outside put down their roots here in big business.'' 

Then he extrapolates that theory and says that Kurunegala therefore has a less cosmopolitan educated class. (like most of the rest of Wayamba also.) This makes it easy for political imperialists from outside the province to sucker the people of Wayamba. The fact that this election is for Wayamba alone caps this condition which is why Wayamba today is an electorate that is being used by all the political butchers and hit men from the rest of the country for a grotesque and vast experiment of political violence. 

Though there are some of these outsiders who would swear that there is no real violence in Wayamba Stanislaus Silva definitely knows better. Violence in the province of course is hidden he says by a carapace of normalcy and humdrum human existence. But sharp people from Matara like him realised quite sometime back that this business of elections in the province has changed forever. 

This is why he tells any candidate who comes campaigning to his house that the candidate can count on his vote. This is by way of insurance policy, because that way Silva assures that nobody will stone his house the day election results are announced. .Its this underlying anxiety about violence that makes the Wayamba election a violent one and it should be obvious to any political pundit that violence in Wayamba does not mean that the whole of Wayamba is exploding in simultaneous acts of combustion. 

While we are on the way back having discussed all of this, a Wayamba campaign truck comes along loaded with men who must be plied silly with liquor. These particular guys sing in lusty tones. One falls off a lorry. He reminds me of a campaign incident that Stanislaus relates. Some PA supporters were given the task of pasting "gonibilla'' (kidnapper) posters beneath UNP posters to take voters minds back to the so called State terror era. They ended up sticking the gonibilla papers below PA posters. 

Now, those drunks they are definitely Freudian drunks.

Interviewed by Rajpal Abeynayake in Wayamba.

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