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Post subject: Recalling my brief acquaintance with Late Anton Balasingam
Mon Jan 01, 2007 7:29 pm
|Recalling my brief acquaintance with Late Anton Balasingam
By Rajasingham Jayadevan
Copyright © 2005 www.independentsl.com
I first came to know Anton Balasingam in the late1980’s. The introduction was through one of his writings ‘Right of Self Determination of the Tamil people’. For a militant minded youngster like me in the 1970’s and 1980’s, who had faced the adversities and pressures put on the Tamils by the successive Sri Lankan governments, seeing Anton Balasingam’s book in a window display in a Marxist bookshop in Seven-sisters Road in North London was a fulfilling experience. I was exited to see the colourful book and bought a dozen of copies and sent to my friends.
My social and political campaign work started way back in late 1970’s after advanced level examinations. I always campaigned for the right of self determination of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Most of my campaign work was based in London. Immediately after the 1977 anti-Tamil violence (of which I was a victim), which gave me extensive engagement and exposure to very many Tamil political leaders in Sri Lanka, I progressively embraced socio-political life as part of my life. My involvement with the Tamil Refugee Rehabilitation Organisation (TRRO) until I left for the UK exposed me to very many Tamil leaders. I was even working with Minister Douglas Devananda before I came to the UK.
My political campaign work following the death of my mother and brother in the hands of Indian Peace Keeping Force, the Navally Church bombing and my incarceration by the LTTE are very significant in my campaign work. Navaly Church bombing impacted me and I carried out extensive campaign work to the extent to justify the arms struggle of the LTTE.
I was able to make very many political and social friends and the 1997 general elections in the UK earned many friends in the House of Commons.
One summer evening in 1999, I was contacted by the UK spokesman of the LTTE Anton Ramachandran who is usually introduced in the British media as Anton Rajah and is known as Rama Sir in the LTTE circle. He referred to me a request from the LTTE in a convincing way. He said Bala Annai (Anton Balasingam) is critically ill in Vanni and doctors have given him only one month to live. He further said efforts by the Norwegian government and the ICRC to get Bala Annai through Katunayake Airport was not successful as the Sri Lankan President Chandrika and Foreign Minister Luxman Kathirgamar are imposing various conditions for his safe passage to Norway via Colombo.
The conditions imposed by the government were that LTTE must stop engaging in suicide bombings, shooting down planes and recruiting children for their war efforts. He said that LTTE is not prepared to compromise on any of these demands. He also said an offer was given to the Sri Lankan government by the LTTE that it will engage in peace talks if safe passage is given to Bala Annai.
Having failed with the Sri Lankan government, the frustrated LTTE had approached their International Secretariat in Paris and asked its head Veerakathi Manoharan to find ways to get Anton Balasingam to London. He had approached the LTTE activist Miss Elizabeth Packiyadevi Mann for help and asked her to find ways to renew Anton Balasingam’s British passport. Miss Mann, being a member of the Liberal Democratic Party approached her local Member of Parliament Mr Simon Hughes for assistance. Mr Hughes had apparently told her that coming to him will be a futile exercise as being an opposition member of parliament he will not be succeeding in his efforts. However, he was willing to write to the Foreign Secretary. He strongly advised her to approach a Labour Party MP.
Miss Mann had gone out of the way to obtain a passport renewal form from a local post office and Paris Head V Manoharan despatched this to Balasingam. When Anton Balasingam received the passport form he was furious and tore it into pieces. Then he had approached his long standing friend Rama Sir to find ways to get his British passport renewed.
Rama Sir was interacting with Miss Mann and she asked him to contact me for help as she knew my involvement with the Labour Party. During conversation, Rama Sir said ‘this is an historical opportunity if Balasingam could be got down to London’ and asked me whether I could help. Rama Sir knew that I was encountering difficulties with the LTTE head in London A Chrishanthakumar alias A C Shanthan. He promised that Anton Balasingam’s return to London will put Shanthan in the right track.
I considered Rama Sir’s approach as a genuine one. I asked what LTTE would give in return to the British government if passport is facilitated. He said there is assurance from the LTTE leadership that it will engage in peace talks with the help of the British government. Our conversation was very lengthy one and Rama Sir went into details of Anton Balasingham’s health. He was saying about the dire need to undergo kidney transplant operation and stressed that the days are numbered for him.
I told Rama Sir that I will do my best and promised to get back to him. It would have been about 8.30pm when we ended our conversation. I called my local MP, who is my good friend Mr Barry Gardiner (whom I call Barry) at his home and fully briefed him about the request and told him that it will be an historical opportunity to bring peace in Sri Lanka. Barry too was very convinced and pleased that an offer is coming from the LTTE.
My interaction with Barry was always to campaign for justice for Tamil people. His contribution even prior to his election to the House of Commons is praiseworthy. With his help I had acquaintance with former Foreign Minister Derek Fatchet. Barry promised to do all what he can to help me. He wanted to meet my LTTE contact Rama Sir and discuss matters in detail. As agreed both I and Rama Sir met Barry in the House of Commons and discussed matters in detail.
At the end of the meeting Barry told me that he will contact me next day. He also asked me to confirm in writing what was put forward by the LTTE. In my letter I gave an assurance to the Foreign Office that the approach by the LTTE is genuine and in order to strengthen my appeal, I assured them that I am prepared to put my properties as collateral security in case if any mishap takes place in the process. My letter to the Foreign Office was copied to Mr Balasingam.
I was overjoyed when Barry called me around 11.00am next day and told me that he had spoken to Foreign Minister Mr Derek Fatchett and that he had Okayed the issue of passport to Anton Balasingam. He opened the line of communication between me and the Foreign Office. After couple of days of discussions with the Foreign Office, it was decided to issue the passport in Singapore. Anton Balasingam also fulfilled the formalities in completing the passport renewal application form.
As promised, a new passport was given to Anton Balasingam. Rama Sir called me and confirmed that Anton Balasingam was very pleased to get the passport. He then said Anton Balasingam will not be able to come without his wife Adele as her Australian passport too had expired five years ago. This was additional hurdle to overcome and I was worried whether I will be successful in my effort. I referred the matter to Foreign Office. They were very helpful and requested the Australian High Commission to help.
The Australian High Commission was very magnanimous and a new passport was issued to Adele within twenty four hours.
Highly thrilled Anton Rajah told me that this is a major breakthrough and when Anton Balasingam arrives in London he had made arrangement for me, him and Jeyam (Former LTTE head in UK Shekar’s brother) to receive him at the airport. As I had won the confidence of Anton Balasingam, Rama Sir asked me to put my case against Shanthan when I meet him.
I was requested by Rama Sir to maintain utmost secrecy about our efforts to get down Balaingam. Very few people close to me were privy to the knowledge that Balasingam was coming to London. My office colleague Nadarajah Shanmugathassan had the full and first hand knowledge of my dealings, as I had to deal with the matter from work.
After about ten days Anton Rajah called me in the office about 10.00am and said ‘Bala Anna had arrived in the UK’. He confirmed that he and Jeyam had gone to receive the couple at the Airport. Though I was disappointed that he did not keep his promise to take me with him, I did not question him or make issue about it. He told me that Bala Annai is to be taken to Norway for kidney transplant surgery.
I was interacting with Rama Sir almost daily basis. Mr Balasingam returned to London from Oslo after the surgery and I was he was convulsing at home. He advised me that a meeting with Bala Annai will be difficult for a while. I came to know though my contacts that Balasingam had started to meet people. I was very disappointed and phoned Rama Sir and asked him what was going on. I have known Rama Sir as someone living in the steam engine age and reflected my disappointment in the manner he would understand. However, I demanded from him that I wish to meet Mr Malasingam and obtained his address from him. I wrote a letter to Anton Balasingam that I wish to meet him urgently. Following my letter a meeting was arranged and I met Anton Balasingam for the first time at his residence in Streatham in the South West London.
The meeting was very cordial. I took with me various documents including copies of Tamil Guardian. The Tamil Guardian was forcefully taken over by Shanthan from me in 1998.
Anton Balasingam after inquiring about my background said, ‘I have lots of regard for you. You have something special in you. I want you to work with me in the future as quite a lot have to be done in the coming future’.
On my part, I told Anton Balasingam my disappointment about the LTTE operatives in the United Kingdom. I complained to him about Shanthan and asked to reform the London operations of the LTTE acceptable to the people. He told me that LTTE leadership in Vanni had received numerous complaints about Shanthan and they are currently thinking what to do.
During the conversation he advised me to take extreme care with Nagenthiram Seevaratnam who is the Chairman of Sivayogam Trust in London. He told me ‘thamby he is a dangerous man. He wrote bad things about me in the LTTE magazine and as a result the movement had to disengage him’.
My first meeting with Anton Balasingam was a friendly introductory meeting. He gave me his telephone number to contact him directly in the future.
Few days after my meeting, I was contacted by the Foreign Office to arrange a meeting with Anton Balasingam. I contacted him to find out whether he could meet the FCO official. Anton Balasingam asked me to buy some time as he was not ready to meet them. He asked me to tell them that he is still recovering. I passed the message to the Foreign Office despite knowing Anton Balasingam was fit and proper to meet. I was once again contacted by the Foreign Office few weeks later but the same excuse was forthcoming from Anton Balasingam. I found it difficult to tell lies again and again but held my breath anticipating there will be an opening one day.
During late summer night in 2000, my house in Kingsbury was attacked by someone with Molotov cocktail. Luckily the petrol bomb thrown hit a conifer plant and it was in blaze. I woke up disturbed by the glaring lights of the fire-brigade. I immediately ran to my front entrance and enquired from the fire crew what had happened. He said, it was an arson attack and asked me to report it to the police.
Following day, I phoned Anton Balasingam and told him what had happened. He sympathised with me and asked whether I am not scared over the incident. I told him that I cannot live fearing of death all the time. After having exchanges about the incident, he asked me whether I read the news about his car being attacked and damaged by some people. I knew he was referring to the news appeared in the previous days ‘Sunday Island’ news paper, which I read on my way to work in the underground train.
When I told him that I read the news, he told me not to make a big issue about the incident and went on to say all what had happened. He said it was the work of his boys and the vehicle was damaged for a purpose and the Sinhala media is reporting that it is the work of some people opposed to the LTTE. I did not ask any questions from him, as I knew how the vehicle found its way to Anton Balasingam’s 183 Woodmansterne Road, Streatham address. The car was a lottery award at the 1999 Tamil cricket festival. The winner of the lottery ticket was not given the car and coerced to give up the claim. The car later became the property of Anton Balasingham.
I came to the conclusion that the car was damaged in a systematic way to make an insurance claim possibly with the intention to purchase another car to avoid possible bad publicity on the scandal involving forceful takeover of the lottery car.
Following this encounter, I was contacted again by the Foreign Office for a meeting with Anton Balasingam. I knew that I could not keep on buying time and I was feeling embarrassed that I could not arrange one much earlier. I gave the contact details of Anton Balasingam to the officials straightaway. I phoned Anton Balasingam and confirmed that I have passed the details to them as I could no longer drag it on. The Foreign Office official contacted Anton Balasingam and Mr Balasingam later confirmed various issues were discussed with the FCO.
Following this meeting, I visited Anton Balasingam. By this time he had moved to another address 29 Upwood Road in Streatham. This meeting was extremely cordial and Anton Balasingam was in an upbeat mood. We had interactive discussions on various issues and he went to the extent of sharing his experience.
He gave me the first hand account of his dealings with the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran. He praised him for is open support for the Tamil Eelam cause and narrated the story about how millions of rupees were given to him and was taken away from his premises with the police escort.
He also said LTTE’s relationship with Late President Premadasa was the best time for the LTTE and a missed opportunity to resolve the conflict amicably. He went to the extent of praising Premadasa’s private secretary Paskaralingam for personally delivering bags full of currencies in Vanni. He also said that ‘we mishandled a golden opportunity’ during Premadasa time.
The papaya story
One Sunday afternoon I was contacted by Baskaran who was a committed LTTE activist. One of the properties of the LTTE in Wembley was held in his name. The property was occupied by LTTE activists. He was a committed, loyal and trusted activist and had undergone enormous difficulties as result of differences with the LTTE chief in London Shanthan and its finance head Soosaipillai Rupert alias Thanam over bad management of the property held in his name.
Baskaran was a close ally of Anton Balasingam in the early 80’s and is also very close to Rama Sir. When Anton Balasingam returned to London after kidney transplant operation Baskaran approached Rama Sir to arrange a meeting with him. When the date was informed Baskaran was very pleased and went out of the way to see his family doctor who is a friend of his to get advice on what he could buy for a person who had undergone kidney transplant operation. The doctor who is a Sri Lankan recommended to present him tropical papaya (papaw) fruits.
Baskaran went around London searching for quality papayas. What generally found in shops in London are small papayas of medium size Jaffna mangos. Determined efforts of Baskaran help him find couple of big size papayas in some corner of London. Overjoyed by his achievement, Baskaran rang Rama Sir to tell what he got for Balasingam on doctors advice.
Rama Sir became furious on hearing Baskaran and said ‘you are a mad fellow’ and asked ‘do you think Bala Annai will be interested in papaya’. He demanded Baskaran to go with bottles Martel brandy. Disheartened Baskaran abandoned the papaya and went with two bottles of Martel. This incident took place about one month after the kidney transplant operation and Anton Balasingam, Baskaran and Rama Sir had gala time at Balasingam’s house with the Martel bottles.
Poor Baskaran thought everything would be hunky dory for him after his meeting with Balasingam. But unfortunately, things turned savour for him after few weeks. Shanthan-Thanam back-mail machine started impacting Balasingam to go against Baskaran. Baskaran was putting pressure on Shanthan and Thanam to dispose the property, as it was earning bad credit rating for him due to non payment of monthly dues. These two in association with Sivanathan known as Bala Vaathi (a leading fundraiser who had moved from Germany) convinced Anton Balasingam to change his attitude towards Baskaran.
One Sunday afternoon Baskaran phoned and had a lengthy conversation with me. He phoned me immediately after leaving Anton Balasingam’s house. I found Baskaran a shattered man expressionless and unable to believe what had happened to him. He told me that he was summoned to Anton Balasingam’s house that morning by Rama Sir. He had gone there without realising what was stored for him. When he went into the house, he had seen Thanam and Bala Vaathi inside. After about fifteen to twenty minutes, Anton Balasingam walked down the stairs and entered the sitting room.
From the time he entered the sitting room he was staring at Baskaran with very angry facial expression for about five minutes. There was pin drop silence. Then he started to scream at Baskaran with utter filth in Tamil. He did not allow Baskaran to utter a word. He was liberal in his abusive diatribe and it went on for about half an hour. He charged Baskaran that he is an unacceptable character for the movement for demanding the transfer of the property.
I found Baskaran reduced to a walking skeleton for number of months. I could not believe Anton Balasingam will sink to such low level and found myself helpless to intervene and speak to Anton Balasingam as I was able to visualise his mindset. I thought any intervention from me could only worsen the situation. I had to explain my inability to Baskaran and there onwards acted as a consoling voice.
By this time, I also came to the conclusion that Shanthan had played his usual masterly game of winning over the goodwill of Anton Balasingam by playing his apologetic and subservient role by being at the footstep of his master even responding to calls to provide anything from whisky, brandy to emergency on-call duties as an obedient servant.
Sampanthan MP gets the taste of Anton’s diatribe and threat
Mr Barry Gardiner MP contacted me at work and asked me whether I could speak to Anton Balasingam to arrange a meeting with Ira Sampanthan MP who had come to London. Ira Sampanthan MP represented Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in the Sri Lankan parliament. Barry said he could facilitate a room for the meeting in the House of Commons.
I confirmed the message to Anton Balasingam. He said he will get back to me after speaking to the Pirabakaran. Few hours later he phoned to confirm that he could meet Ira Sampathan. I passed the message to Barry and gave him Anton Balasingam’s telephone number to contact him directly.
I recollect the meeting took place next day. Balasingam phoned me after the meeting with Ira Sampathan. The man was very euphoric and told me what transpired at the meeting.
He said ‘naan Sambanthanukku nalla kuduthanan’ (I gave Sambanthan tight). He said he warned Sampathan that if he does not tow the line of the LTTE, he has to face the consequence. He had told him that it is in his and other Tamil parliamentarian’s interest that they speak the same language of the LTTE. The meeting was a monotonous tirade of Anton Balasingam and Sampathan was speechless throughout the meeting. Anton Balasingam had cited the past history of dealing with the enemies to Ira Sampanthan. The meeting took place close doors and Barry was not present.
Anton Balasingam also told me that he had a similar meeting with Joseph Pararajasingam MP previously and told him mouth full. He said he was expecting Joseph Pararajasingam to meet him instead of Ira Samnanthan. He told me that when Joseph Pararajasingam was in London last time he avoided him.
Whenever I listen to speeches of Ira Sampathan MP broadcast in the Tamil broadcasting media since Anton Balasingam’s bashing, I gave scant regard to his comments as I found he had somersaulted from his independent line of thinking since the bashing in the House of Commons. I visualise the predicament under which he speaks elongating the LTTE now. Anton Balasingam has proven that he is good at intimidating people.
Homage to Anton Balasingam
I thought it is appropriate to give a farewell to Anton Balasingam on his funeral day. The message of condolences and appreciations of many prominent leaders and some of the western media aghast me and none portray true character and contributions of Anton Balasingam.
I consider Anton Balasingam’s era was a monumental tragedy for the Tamil people. He was a deceptive person and very evil minded. He had acted like an unrefined lubricant for the killing machinery of the LTTE. I make this statement genuinely, knowing very well that this will upset the LTTE worshipers within the Tamil community.
Anton Balasingam is a self glorifier. Evidently his birth name is Anton Stanislaus but chose to be called as Anton Balasingam. Why and how this name was promoted this way is anyone’s guess, Likewise the self seeking man was more interested in building an image of himself elongating various prominent titles from Dr to most recently calling a Professor. I was surprised to read the Times newspaper (London) reference to Balasingam as a qualified professional. This confirms to the extent he was promoting his self made titles through LTTE media. Anyone questioning Anton Balasingam’s qualifications faced the wrath of his anger.
The fact of the matter is, he was working at South Bank Politecnic in London as part time political tutor for two days per week in the late 70’s after coming to the UK on completion of his service as a Tamil translator in the British High Commission in Colombo. He only worked at South Bank polytechnic for 6 months. One of the student he taught during the brief period was Gana. Gana is the one introduced Panagoda Maheswaran who was studying at that time at City University to Anton Balasingam. Panagoda Maheswaran later became the head of Tamil Liberation Organisation (TLO) and he was responsible for blowing an Air Lanka plane at the Chennai airport in the early 80’s.
Anton Balasingam had good knowledge on the theory on self determination theory and his book on this subject gave the opportunity to call himself a doctor. Balasingam could have presented his publication as thesis and possibly got a Phd but he never did it at any time.
Anton Balasingam and the LTTE played the peace card heavily to get his kidney transplant surgery in Oslo. Peace advocated to gain access to medical treatment was deceptive tactic and the ceasefire agreement that came to being following his surgery was a temporary respite for the LTTE. Anton Balasingam failed to sustain what was achieved, and became a war monger lately until his death.
Anton Balasingam was never accountable to the people. He built an image of himself by speaking at annual hero’s days functions and participating in selected media interviews. He never participated in any public debates or meetings in a much broader way. He used his hero’s day’s speeches to espouse the feelings of the lumpan elements and the Tamil population born within the 30’s years of violent history of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. He knew that they are the backbone of the LTTE support base.
He also ensured that no one competed for his position and ruthlessly marginalised the intellectual base of the Tamil people. He was successful in his efforts and he remained the self proclaimed intellectual representation until his death. He has in fact created a vacuum for the LTTE and time will tell how coming days and months will respond to this vacuum.
Let a new positive era emerge for the Tamils following Anton Balasingam’s demise.
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