On Sunanda Deshapriya’s ‘nationalist’ angst


by Malinda Seneviratne


Sunanda Deshapriya, former convenor of the Free Media Movement and forced-to-resign employee of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (for pilfering money) is livid. He has written to the Ravaya expressing chagrin about the powers that be going soft on ‘KP’, the former head of the LTTE’s international network and, according to many, the key player in the terrorist outfit’s global crime operations and weapons procurement (‘KP veeraya – api kawda’ or ‘KP is a hero, who are we?’; Ravaya of August 29, 2010).

Sunanda has a point. There was a time when those who opposed the military offensive or who were reluctant to criticize the LTTE were called LTTE Proxies, Closet Tigers and so on. The term ‘traitor’ was thrown around loosely and especially at those opposing the Government right up to the end of the war and especially at those bringing up human rights issues and agitating for international intervention to stop the war. Sunanda is perplexed that the Government is not calling KP any names.

The Government did not call Karuna Amman any names either. Pilleyan too was spared. The difference between the Sunandas and those like KP, Karuna and Pilleyan is that the latter were ‘practitioners’ and the former ‘apologists’. One could argue that apologists are also practitioners of a kind and as such are not innocent. One could say ‘there are degrees of culpability’, that punishment (and name-calling) should fit the crime, but I believe there is a BIG DIFFERENCE between killers, arms suppliers, crime bosses etc., and apologists, pickpockets (in a relative sense), political whiners (given to running to key players in the international community at the drop of a hat) etc. The former are directly involved in blood-letting, the latter are launderers. Their actions may all contribute to the same outcome (ethnic cleansing, genocide, displacement, dismemberment, death etc) but the crimes themselves are of different kinds.

Sunanda has pointed out that while KP, arguably the senior-most LTTE leader (or ex-LTTE leader, if you wish) alive, is enjoying the friendship, good will and hospitality of a Government that seems to have forgiven and forgotten, the foot soldiers of the outfit are languishing in rehabilitation centres. Sunanda is upset by this injustice. I am too. Political efficacy is one thing but if it is deferred to at the cost of compromising the principle of equality in judicial procedure, then there will be negative fallout that outlasts governments, the political/criminal lives of terrorists and political configurations of the moment.

There were many ways to handle ‘KP’. There is a legal hitch, given his history, but there’s a legal ‘out’ as well: presidential pardon. Such mechanisms are made for abuse and should be carefully used. KP’s situation is unique. It is an issue that has arrived in a post-conflict situation where healing is the objective. Subject to the objection of the rank and file being treated differently what appears to be the relatively ‘soft hands’ approach on KP can be seen as having some logic. There is a time to fight, and time to lay down arms; there is a time to be resolute in the decision not to concede and a time to be pliant. There has to be political wisdom to be able to make the right choices of course. As of now, this approach seems to be far superior to dressing KP in chains and throwing him to the corner of dark and tiny room with a bread-and-water diet.

It all depends on the terms of association. There has to be some ‘agreement’ that makes sense. The fault lies in the fact that the Government has not revealed to the people what this agreement is. The CFA was authored in secret. That was ‘agreement away from the public eye’. This too. The circumstances are different of course and the threat is certain less today than it was on February 22, 2002. Still.

‘The agreement’, as far as we can construct it is based on evidence available, seems to be something like this: ‘KP has agreed to play ball and while he keeps playing within rules specified by the Government, he will be allowed to be on the ground; if there’s infringement, he will be thrown out’. It is too vague as of now and too secretive for my liking, even though I am not opposed to the general fostering of forgive-forget spirit.

On the other hand, there is, as Sunanda points out, the question of Sarath Fonseka. Is his ‘crime’ nothing more nothing less than ‘not toeing the line’? If that is the main point of justice-determination it is very disturbing. Ideally, forgiving and forgetting should not be part of a deal; it ought to be an option exercised without calculating ‘return on investment’. As things stand we have to conclude that it is not magnanimity but political deal that has seen KP being treated the way he is and Fonseka being charged and sentenced the way he has been.

As for Sunanda, we must keep in mind that he doesn’t have any right to weep any tears for Fonseka and his fate nor begrudge KP the good times that have unexpectedly arrived. It is not just about crime and punishment, deals and agreements. This is a two way street. The basic determinant of resolving differences and reaching agreement is the professed intent to leave the past behind and work together. Sunanda is not interested in either. He shows no remorse. As such his is a brat’s whine, nothing more.

KP’s no ‘hero’ and Sunanda knows this. He’s at best been given a long leash and therefore a bigger circle to operate within, which, we must acknowledge, is miniscule compared to the world he owned before capture and before the LTTE sent him to the wilderness. KP is no longer ‘villain’. Yes, he’s not being called the names that the Government has used on people like Sunanda. That vocabulary is outdated now. It looks to me that Sunanda wants those categories to remain forever. Maybe that’s what makes his bread and butter today.

So, sorry, he does not deserve the ‘hero’ tag. Neither should anyone give him respectability by calling him ‘traitor’ which is something he can put on curriculum vitae wherever he’s holed up now to remain relevant (by vilifying Sri Lanka). He was and is a petty thief, given to pilfering money from I/NGOs by maintaining double-receipt books, shuffling designations and such. ‘Petty’, let me hasten to add, ONLY in a relevant sense. The man made bucks. Big ones. Nothing compared to the LTTE’s war chest of course, but theft is theft and thieves cannot be heroes.


Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at

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