Sri Lankans were shocked and disturbed in the first week of September by two violent incidents directed against a Buddhist prelate and a senior diplomat in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur(KL). In the first incident on Saturday September 3rd the chief Adhikarana Sangha Nayaka of Malaysia – Sri Saranankara Nayaka Maha Thera was attacked opposite the Buddhist Temple at Sentul in KL. This incident however was of a minor nature. In a more serious incident on Sunday September 4th , Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Malaysia Ibrahim Sahib Ansar was assaulted within the precincts of the Kuala Lumpur International AirportKIA). As is well known, the suspected assailants in both instances were members of the neo-fascist political outfit known as the “Naam Thamizhar Katchi (We Tamils Party) in Malaysia.
What must not be lost sight of in this regard is the salient fact that none of the victims were the intended targets of the perpetrators of violence initially. The real target of the neo-fascist Tamil thugs was none other than former President and current Kurunegala district MP, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Tamil groups campaigning against the entry of Mahinda into Malaysia had initially gone in search of the ex-president to both the Buddhist temple and the International airport. Though the Buddhist monk was manhandled and the High commissioner was assaulted they were not the original targets of the mobs. The real target of the “We Tamil” elements -wearing black tee-shirts with images of a tiger and Veluppillai Prabhakaran the former Leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) – was Mahinda Rajapaksa who is described by his detractors as a “war criminal”. It is felt that the violence directed at the Maha Thera and High Commissioner were to a great extent “side effects” of the Anti- Mahinda campaign. Ironically Mahinda Rajapaksa the real target was unscathed but the Thera and Envoy became victims of violence.
It is against this backdrop that a multi-million ‘rupee or ringgit’ question has to raised! What would have happened if the Malaysian Tamil “Naam Thamizhar” gang had been able to physically attack ex – Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa and perhaps inflict grievous injuries upon him? This question assumes a serious nature in the light of security arrangements actually provided for Mahinda Rajapaksa during his four day visit to Malaysia. No official security had been sought by Sri Lanka for the Sri Lankan ex-president. Mahinda himself did not submit a special protection request to the the Foreign ministry. In fact he preferred to keep the Govt in the dark until his travel arrangements were finalised. Against that backdrop , it was indeed fortunate that the Naam Thamizhar gangs had not been able to get hold of Mahinda Rajapaksa at any point despite several attempts.Had that happened the consequences may have been drastic indeed.
Putra World Trade Centre
Sri Lanka’s ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa went to Malaysia to participate in the 9th International Conference of Asian political parties(ICAPP) held from Sep 1st to 3rd at the Putra World Trade Centre(PWTC) in Kuala Lumpur. The dates coincided with the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) where pride of place was given to current party leader and President Maithripala Sirisena. Many political observers opined that the “Medamulana Machiavelli” was attending the ICAPP in Malaysia to conveniently avoid the SLFP convention where the ex – president would have had to play third fiddle to Maithripala Siriena and Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Former Badulla district MP Udith Lokubandara who currently serves as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s private secretary interacted with Malaysian officials to make arrangements for the ex-president’s Malaysian visit. The Sri Lankan Foreign ministry was not informed. Preparations to visit Kuala Lumpur were kept under wraps till everything was finalised. Media speculation whether Mahinda Rajapaksa would attend the SLFP event or not ended with a statement being released on behalf of Mahinda by his personal secretary Lokubandara.
The ICAPP conference held every two years was attended by members of the ruling Govt too. Minister of Primary Industries Daya Gamage and Deputy Minister of Petroleum Resources Development Anoma Gamage along with Kegalle District Govt MP Sandith Samarasinghe were the Govt delegates at ICAPP. Earlier minister of special assignment Dr Sarath Amunugama and State Minister of Highways Dilan Perera were also due to attend the event but they did not. From the opposition side were ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ex –cabinet minister and present Opposition MP from Colombo district Dinesh Gunawardena , former minister and present Kurunegala district MP Johnston Fernando,Kandy district MP Lohan Ratwatte and former Parliamentarian and ex – Muslim affairs minister A.H.M. Azwer.
Representatives of 72 political parties from 36 countries attended the 9th ICAPP Conference. Most of the delegates were accommodated at Hotel Istana Kuala Lumpur on Jalan Raja Chulan. Mahinda Rajapaksa however stayed elsewhere at the Kuala Lumpur Shangri-La Hotel on Jalan Sultan Ismail. While Dinesh Gunawardena and AHM Azwer stayed at Istana along with Govt delegates the rest of Mahinda’s entourage also stayed with him at Shangri-la. These included his secretary Udith Lokubandara, two official bodyguards and two unofficial aides cum security personnel.
The personal security of Mahinda Rajapaksa was an issue of concern as there was a large concentration of Tamils in Malaysia many of whom were hostile towards Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to an informed source from SLFP circles close to Rajapaksa, his aides in Colombo had sought special protection for the ex-president from Malaysian officials. A Malaysian Govt minister involved in organizing the ICAPP meeting had personally promised high security including a Police escort vehicle and personal security officers. It was on the strength of such assurances that Mahinda had ventured to Malaysia but when he arrived in Kuala Lumpur there was no security provided said the SLFP source.
Barisan Nasionale Coalition Govt
Much water had flown along the Klang and Gombak rivers under Malaysian bridges after it became known in Kuala Lumpur that a visit by the Sri Lankan ex-president was to take place. The pro-tiger lobby among Malaysian Tamils had been unaware of the impending visit until the last week of August 2016.It now swung into action determined to prevent the entry of Mahinda Rajapaksa into Malaysia. Tamil political activists wanted the ruling “Barisan Nasionale” coalition Govt led by the United Malays National Organization(UMNO) to ban Mahinda Rajapaksa from entering Malaysia. The Raison D’etre proffered was that Mahinda Rajapaksa was a “war criminal” a familiar refrain among many members of the global Tamil Diaspora. The crux of the matter is that despite multiple accusations , no tribunal has pronounced Mahinda Rajapaksa a war criminal as alleged by Tamil activists. In fact he has not even been hauled up before a court in this regard.
This salient fact has not deterred Tamil political activists in Malaysia from demanding that war criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa be prohibited from entering Malaysia. Earlier when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President in Sri Lanka, he was scheduled to attend the World Islamic Economic Forum(WIEF) in Johor Baru, Malaysia from Dec 4th to 6th 2012. Tamil organizations got together and staged massive protests. A broad Malaysian Tamil coalition cutting across party lines was formed with the objective of preventing Rajapaksa’s entry. It was called the “Thamizhar Panikkuzhu”in Tamil and the “Tamil Action Force”in English. Various protest demonstrations were held and complaints to the Police were made. Finally there was an announcement that President Rajapaksa would not be attending the WIEF due to “unavoidable circumstances”. The protests ended after the visit was called off.
Having tasted success in 2012 the Tamil Action Force alliance mounted a similiar campaign against Rajapaksa’s visit this year too. An announcement was published in Malaysian Tamil media on August 24th that Mahinda Rajapaksa was coming to Malaysia and that it should be stopped. The premier political party representing Tamils in Malaysia is the Malaysian Indian Congress(MIC). It is a key constituent of the current Malaysian Govt. Other Political parties with a large Indian membership like the Indian progressive front(IPF) and Peoples Progressive Party(PPP) are also part of the ruling coalition. More than 75% of the Indians in Malaysia are Tamils.Young Tamil leaders of the MIC youth front were at the forefront of the protest against Mahinda Rajapaksa. They too were part of the Tamil Action Force.
A joint memorandum urging that Rajapaksa be denied entry was signed by 25 Malaysian Tamil organizations and presented to the UMNO led Govt.With several Malaysian Tamil ministers and deputy ministers being members of the Govt most Tamil activists thought that the ruling regime would retract the invitation extended to Mahinda Rajapaksa thereby aborting his visit. MIC youth leaders had persuaded the Tamil ministers within the Govt to press for a ban on Rajapaksa’s entry. MIC National youth chief Chandran Sivarajah played a key role in this exercise. In a bid to exert additional pressure, 48 complaints were made to the Malaysian police that a war criminal was going to enter Malaysia. It was urged that either the Police should forbid Mahinda Rajapaksa’s entry or arrest him on Malaysian soil and deport him.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
The Malaysian Tamil pressure did have an impact on the Malaysian Govt. At one point it was even decided to Politely “request” Rajapaksa to call off his trip to Kuala Lumpur.After much agonizing, it was finally decided almost at the last minute to let Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage arrive in Malaysia as originally envisaged. However the govt would not extend any privileges or extra treatment to the Lankan ex-president. No special security was to be provided except of course the general security given to all delegates. As such there was no Police escort vehicle or Personal ecurity officers as promised when Mahinda landed at the Kuala Lumpur International airport. Some Malaysian ministers may have expected Mahinda Rajapaksa to turn back on his own when security was not provided. But that did not happen.
Rajapaksa’s arrival in Malaysia despite their protests upset the Malaysian Tamil activists. The arrival undermined Malaysian Indian Congress youth leaders within the broader Tamil anti-Mahinda alliance. Furthermore it paved the way for the neo-fascist “Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam” or “We Tamil Movement” in Malaysia to seize the intitiative. The Naam Thamizhar movement in India has registered itself as a political party called “Naam Thamizhar Katchi”(We Tamils Party). It is led by a person called Senthamizhan Seeman whose given name at birth was Sebastian Seemoan(Simon is called Seemoan in Tamil)
Seeman a film director cum actor has been obnoxiously racist. He was detained in Tamil Nadu for many months for publicly threatening to kill Sinhalese in India as retaliation for Tamil Nadu fishermen being killed. He was deported from Canada some time ago for making racist remarks threatening the lives of Sinhala persons. Seeman was also denied entry to the USA and turned back at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Seeman’s movement has a leaping tiger as its symbol. His younger followers wear black tee –shirts with Prabhakaran’s portrait and describe themselves as “Karumpuligal” or black tigers. LTTE and pro-LTTE elements in India and abroad are able to wave tiger flags or wear tee-shirts with images of a tiger and tiger supremo Prabhakaran openly under the pretext of being Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam/Katchi supporters.
Seeman’s political party “Naam Thamizhar Katchi” has thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil members from the global Tamil Diaspora. Party branches have been opened in many western cities. Pamphlets are published and circulated regularly.The membership fee is 100 US Dollars per year. Most of this money goes directly to Seeman.In addition Seeman also gets hefty donations from tiger supporters abroad. Seeman’s party contested all 234 Constituencies in Tamil Nadu at the recent 2016 elections. The campaign was financed by pro-tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora. Some even went to tamil Nadu to do election propaganda.The party fared miserably losing everywhere and polling only 1.1% of the total vote. Seeman contesting Cuddalore electorate came fifth .
Humiliating Electoral Debacle
Despite this humiliating electoral debacle in his Tamil Nadu home turf, Seeman continues to retain some influence among gullible, impressionable youngsters in the global Tamil community. In Malaysia, Seeman’s stock rose up after he addressed a Tamil nationalist conference in February 2013 and appealed to Tamil emotions.Thereafter Malaysian Tamil youths enflamed by Seema’s fiery rhetoric swelled up the ranks of Naam Thamizhar in Malaysia. Since it was only a movement and not a party in Malaysia youths from different political parties became “We Tamil” members.
The Naam Thamizhar/We Tamils movement has become a strong contender with the Malaysian Indian Congress youth front in capturing the hearts and minds of Malaysian Tamil youths. The president of the Malaysian Naam Thamizhar “Pertubuhan”(Organization) is A. Kalaimughilan.The 26 year old businessman from Rawang is also the chief coordinator of the Tamil Action Force.It was Kalaimughilan who led the assault on Sri Lankan High Commissioner Ibrahim Saheb Ansar at the Kuala Lumpur International airport on September 4th. He has been charged along with 32 year old taxi driver V.Balamurugan for that attack in courts.
With Mahinda’s arrival in Malaysia becoming imminent, the Naam Thamizhar sprang into action. 400 complaints were lodged with the Police at various places within a period of ten hours. It was also planned to stage a demonstration opposite the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) where the ICAPP conference was to be held in association with other Tamil groups. No demonstration was to be staged at Istana Hotel where delegates were staying due to security enforcement. Demonstrators were not allowed anywhere near the place. Mahinda himself was not staying at the Istana but the Tamil elements did not know that. Had they known a demonstration may have been staged at Shangri-La hotel where Mahinda was staying.
An anti- Mahinda demonstration was held opposite the PWTC on the first day of the conference on Sep 1st. .Mahinda Rajapaksa skipped the opening ceremony. Tamil demonstrators numbering over a hundred shouted slogans at the venue. Effigies and portraits of Mahinda were torn, trampled and burnt. Placards urging war criminal Mahinda to get lost and get out of Malaysia were waved.There was however much intra-Tamil friction within the protesters. Many Tamil organizations resented the “Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam” trying to hog the megaphone and steal the limelight. There were minor scuffles.Tamil leaders appealed publicly for unity and urged demonstrators not to expose the divisions among them to the “enemy”. At one point a water bottle was thrown at the Police leading to much tension. While the anti-Mahinda demonstration was going on real the target of protests –Mahinda Rajapaksa- was not there. Ramayana was being enacted without Ravana!
Demonstration Opposite High Commission
On the second day Sep 2nd also there was a Tamil demonstration outside the Conference venue. The previous day’s clashes among demonstrators had led to several organizations pulling out of the protest. The number of demonstrators had dwindled. Besides Mahinda’s absence from the conference led to much confusion. Some thought he had even returned to Sri Lanka.Tamil protesters also staged a demonstration opposite the Sri Lankan High Commission located on Jalan Keranji on the same day. Nothing untoward happened. The demonstrators raised the usual anti-Mahinda slogans, waved placards, burnt Mahinda effigies and departed. The Malaysian Tamil protesters were still confused over the whereabouts of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Malaysia.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was at the ICAPP conference on the 2nd day. In spite of the anti-Mahinda protest no special security was provided to him by Malaysian authorities. When special protection was requested again, the Malaysian officials said that security arrangements provided to all delegates could be given to Rajapaksa along with other delegates from the hotel to the venue. So Mahinda had to go to Istana Hotel from Shangri-La and accompany other delegates to the PWTC conference venue. He had to do the same thing on the following Sep 3rd too.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was present at the ICAPP conference for most of the day on Sep 2nd and for about half a day on Sep 3rd. He made the most of it by interacting with delegates fom other countries. According to SLFP sources the ex –president held constructive one on one discussions on the side with ministers from China, Vietnam, Nepal and Palestine. The icing on the cake was a half hour tete-a –tete with Malaysian Prime minister Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.
Saturday Sep 3rd saw Mahinda Rajapaksa planning to visit Buddhist temples to pay homage. He first went to the Brickfields Buddhist Maha Vihare. It was founded in 1894 by the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society(SAWS) which is the oldest registered Buddhist Society in the Klang Valley.The chief incumbent of the Buddhist Maha Vihara is the Ven. Datuk Kirinde Dhammaratana Thero .Mahinda went to the Brickfield Maha Vihara and spent about 45 minutes there . He was next scheduled to go to another Buddhist temple at Sentul.The chief monk at the Sri Lanka Buddhist temple in Sentul is the Venerable Sri Saranankara Maha Thera.He was appointed the Chief Adhikarana Sangha Nayaka of Malaysia in January 2007 by the Malwatte Mahanayake Thera in Sri Lanka . The title “Sangha Keerthi Sri” has also been conferred upon him by the Malwatte Mahanayake.
Ven Sri Saranankara Maha Thera
Having got wind of Mahinda’s intention to visit a Buddhist temple, Malaysian Tamil demonstrators gathered outside the Sentul Sri Lankan Buddhist temple. Either through wrong information or miscalculation they seemed to have overlooked the historic Brickfield Maha Vihara. Rajapaksa had intended going to Sentul after Brickfield. After hearing that a protest demonstration was in progress outside the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple the ex-president dropped the idea of going to Sentul. The Ven Sri Saranankara Maha Thera was duly informed.
The Buddhist prelate who is immensely popular in Kuala Lumpur due to his simplicity and friendly disposition ventured out of the temple and engaged with the demonstrators. He told them that Mahinda Rajapaksa was not coming to the temple. While the Venerable Sri Saranankara Maha Thera was talking to some of the demonstrators two tiger tee-shirt clad men got close to him and asked”Where is Mahinda?”. The monk replied “I don’t know” and turned away.At this the men got angry. One grasped the Buddhist prelate’s chin and asked “Engay. Engay?”(where, where). The other punched the monk on his shoulder saying “Bhikkuvai Rendu thattu thattanum”(lets give two shots to the Bhikku)
An ugly incident was averted by some of the other demonstrators who remonstrated with those seeking to assault the prelate. It became clear that the demonstrators were sharply divided. Members of the Naam Thamizhar movement were more extreme in their approach and had a tendency to engage in violence. The non – We Tamil demonstrators were against violence and wanted to protest through acceptable forms such as shouting slogans or waving placards. They were horrified at the Naam Thamizhar goons trying to manhandle Sri Saranankara Thera in front of his temple. Several Tamil demonstrators formed a protective ring around the Buddhist monk and escorted him into the temple precincts.
The Malaysian Police were alerted and an anti – riot squad was at the spot within 15 minutes. The cops dispersed the demonstrators numbering around 40. They left the place after shouting anti-Mahinda slogans and burning his effigy. A few of the more senior and sensible demonstrators went inside the Buddhist temple premises with Police permission and apologized to Sri Saranankara Maha Thera for the incident. To his credit,the Buddhist monk accepted the apology and said he understood the situation and would not make an issue out of it. True to his word the Buddhist prelate issued a short statement downplaying the incident and allaying fears in the minds of Buddhist temple devotees in Malaysia.
Anti-Rajapaksa Protest Group
The incident however widened the chasm between Naam Thamizhar movement members and representatives of other Tamil organizations and Non –Governmental organizations. A statement dissociating themselves from the attack on the Buddhist monk was issued on behalf of organizations other than the Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam. The statement issued under the name of “Anti-Rajapaksa Protest Group was signed by A.Rajaretinam –RAPAT, A. Elangovan – MIETA, M. Satees –PSAT and S.Barathidasan –PSAT. Relevant excerpts from the statement were as follows-
“We strongly condemn the uncivilized act of certain individuals, unrelated to our peaceful protest. The attack on the Buddhist monk is wrong and should not have happened. There is no question about it and we leave it to the authorities to take necessary action on that matter. We are very sure that, the police had identified the culprits and will follow up on the matter. A group of individuals approached the monk and attacked the monk. The majority protesters at the place of incident, protected the monk and sent him into the temple compound.The small group of people does not represent the entire protesters. And a message of apology was conveyed to the particular monk, later by the representatives of the organizers…………… “We would like to stress once again that, the incident has got nothing to do with our peaceful Anti-Rajapaksa Protests carried out in past three days”.
Even as the ICAPP summit was going on at PWTC another event was also taking place in Kuala Lumpur. This was the Pacific Asia Travel Association(PATA) trade fair. The Sri Lanka Tourism promotion bureau as well as Sri Lankan Airlines were featured in the PATA trade fair. Sri Lankan High commissioner Ibrahim Ansar declared open both Sri Lankan pavilions at the trade fair. More than a dozen representatives from Sri Lanka were present at the PATA event.
The Lankan envoy organized a reception cum dinner for the Sri Lankan delegates and representatives to ICAPP and PATA. The dinner was scheduled for the evening of Sep 3rd at the High commissioner’s residence. Ex –president Mahinda Rajapaksa was also to be at the dinner. High commissioner Ansar received a telephone call around noon on the 3rd from ASP Faizal of the Malaysian Police special branch. The Police official said they had got a tip off that some miscreants were plotting to throw fire boms known as Molotov cocktails (petrol filled bottles with a burning wicks)at the High commissioner’s residence. Thereafter Police provided protection to both the High Commission premises and the High Commissioners residence. The dinner went off very well in a cordial atmosphere on Saturday night with Mahinda Rajapaksa also being present. No incident occurred. Special Police protection was withdrawn from dawn on Sep 4th.
Prime Target Mahinda Rajapaksa
It was on Sunday September 4th that the Sri Lankan delegates to ICAPP returned home. High Commissioner Ansar accompanied Cabinet Minister Daya Gamage and Deputy minister Anoma Gamage to the Airport around noon on Sep 4th in keeping with protocol requirements. Activists from the Naam Thamizhar movement hovered in the Airport vicinity keeping a look out for Mahinda Rajapaksa their prime target. They expected the ex-president to return home with other Sri Lankan delegates to the ICAPP conference on Sunday. When the tiger tee-shirted gang could not get hold of Mahinda they targeted High commissioner Ansar and assaulted him.The assault incident was written about in detail in these columns last week.
Mahinda Rajapaksa however stayed behind on the 4th. The ex-president along with his entourage departed from Kuala Lumpur quietly in the early hours of Monday Sep 5th. There was no security provided by Malaysian authorities though requests were made due to the Sunday assault on the envoy. Fortunately there were no Malaysian Tamil gangs at the KL Airport when Mahinda exited from Malaysia. The Tamil activists may have thought Rajapaksa had already left. They may also have not had the guts to launch another attack at the Airport thinking there would be tight security. Whatever the cause Sri Lanka’s ex –president was able to visit Malaysia and return home safely despite being targeted by pro-LTTE Malaysian Tamil elements.
The entire episode gives rise again to the question raised at the beginning of this article. What would have happened if the Malaysian Tamil “Naam Thamizhar” gang had been able to physically attack ex – Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa and perhaps inflict grievous injuries upon him?
This article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appears in the “Daily Mirror” of September 23, 2016, it can be reached via this link:
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org