Monday`s protest by the Karuna Group (TMVP) in Batticaloa against the LTTE and the TNA could be considered an attempt to deal a psychological blow to the LTTE, which fears an imminent military onslaught in the Wanni. Karuna`s deputy Pilleyan, who is leading the TMVP at present, has described the rally as a success. But, his detractors pooh-pooh his claim saying he resorted to coercion to bring people for the protest. Dozens of SLTB buses, they say, were used to transport civilians to the Weber stadium, where the TMVP flexed its muscles.
The Karuna Group is an offshoot of the LTTE and its modi operendi cannot be different from its parent, though they are no longer together. By the way, how does the LTTE bring people to its rallies? It uses naked force. Anyone who dares defy its orders is done for. Now, the people under its gun are being forced to hand over one member from each family as a combatant. Expatriates who have their kith and kin in the Wanni have to contribute to the LTTE`s war chest so that their near and dear ones won`t be harmed. Strangely, mum`s the word on the part of the critics of the Karuna Group as regards the LTTE`s violence. For them sauce for the goose is not necessarily the sauce for the gander. Anyone who defends the LTTE or pulls his or her punches over its terror has no moral right to be critical of others` violence.
Never mind the LTTE and the Karuna Group. Even the Rathu Sahodarayas in the past used similar tactics when they held processions in the South. They took out people including school children at gun point. Remember in the late 1980s, they forcibly took out a rally against the then government, which used helicopter gunships to strafe the protesters. The township of Tissamaharama, where the march was staged, was strewn with dead bodies, many of them were found inside a famous temple.
The so-called democratic parties are using other methods such as handouts to `pull crowds` for their rallies which are full of drunkards sozzled to the gills doing salsa, rumba and bop. Kasippu and food are freely dished out with five hundred rupee notes. Even the gentlemen and gentlewomen of civil society are now doling out money to attract crowds to their events to impress their donors. When the JVP holds a rally in Colombo, there isn`t a single JVP activist in any other part of the country. They are all bussed to Colombo. (In fairness to them, it must be added that they are not lured by food, liquor or money.)
Does that mean the methods that Pilleyan is alleged to have employed to swell the numbers at Monday`s rally were right. Nay! Such methods must be condemned by one and all unreservedly. Whether or not Pilleyan used coercion to bring people for his rally in a bid to boost his ego and impress his backers in the military and the government, who facilitated that `grand` event on Monday, he, to us, is a coward. For, he is notorious for his violence against innocent men, women and children. Real freedom fighters live in the hearts of the people, who are prepared to die for them. Such heroes never abduct children and forcibly recruit them into fighting units.
Rallies, however mammoth they may be, are no barometers of popular support. Time was when the LTTE was capable of crippling Batticaloa at will. It would stage hartals at the drop of a hat and organise well attended protest marches. Today, the outfit can hold massive rallies in the Wanni. But, this is what the respected human rights group, the University Teachers for Human Rights (J) says in its latest Special Report, about the real situation in those parts of the country: `Several LTTE leaders who deal with the people know the extent of resentment and the curses uttered out of their hearing. Instances of popular jubilation have also been reported when air force bombers hit an LTTE target. At a place 12 miles north of the frontline, a senior LTTE leader told some friends, `Should the Army advance this far, the people would rebel against us!``
Today, we have the Karuna Group flexing its dirty muscles in the East. Tomorrow, it may be some other organisation. Nothing is so certain as the unexpected! While the IPKF was present, the Tamil National Army (TNA?not to be confused with the present TNA) reigned supreme in the North-East Province. The East has seen several such monsters during the past two decades.
If Karuna or Pilleyan is desirous of becoming a real freedom fighter, he has to be different from his former boss in the Wanni. Dissent must be tolerated in the East and the right of anyone to engage in democratic politics recognised, while the people are given freedom to choose their representatives. Pilleyan has erred very badly by seeking to banish the TNA from the East.
True, the TNA parliamentarians have sold their souls to the devil of the Wanni but they have had no alternative. When Hitler began to march out of Germany, it was not just individuals who sided with him out of fear but even some sovereign states. During the second JVP uprising, artistes, journalists and politicians enslaved themselves to the southern terrorists.
If the TNA members are `blocking development` in the East, as the Karuna Group claims, then let them be dealt with either politically or legally. Who has given Pilleyan the power to punish anyone? Does he think the East is his grandma`s estate?
It is incumbent upon the government to have his threats probed immediately and ensure that he behaves. We don`t want Pilleyan or Karuna to do what Prabhakaran used to do in the East, do we?
Did the government `clear` the East to enthrone a different monster?
What the Easterners need most is not demonstrations either for Karuna/Pilleyan or against Prabhakaran. All that they need is some democratic space to rebuild their war-ravaged lives. Let their hearts and minds be won through the creation of an environment where they can live peacefully.