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I spent eight months in jail reading many English books: Karuna

world Updated: Mar 15, 2009 16:47 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Twenty two violent years in the LTTE. Followed by a bitter parting with rebel chief V Prabhakaran. Subsequently, floating a Tamil political party. Last week, rather ironically, appointed as minister of National Integration and Rebuilding in the Sinhala-majority ruling coalition -- Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, popularly known as Colonel Karuna, has indeed had a chequered career. In between, he spent also eight months in a British jail for allegedly traveling on forged documents.

We are sitting in the plush house of one of his colleague’s and the conversation is frequently interrupted by telephone calls. Every time, he says "excuse me" sheepishly before launching in Tamil on the phone.

"I spent the eight months in jail reading many English books. My English has improved. I have also read every word in some dictionaries. Now, I am learning Sinhala,’’ Karuna, 43 and father of three, said.

For Karuna, it has never been too late to learn. He spent decades as the trusted lieutenant of Prabhakaran but after quitting the rebels was quick to denounce the idea of a separate homeland for the Tamils. ``We will never get separate homeland. We need a federal solution to the problem,’’ Karuna said.

The former LTTE leader launched the TMVP in 2004 after defecting from the LTTE following differences with Prabhakaran. Some say foreign intelligence agencies also played their shadowy parts in his defection.

He spent some time in eastern Lanka, his stronghold during the rebel years, before going to UK and getting arrested there. But soon after returning to Sri Lanka in the middle of 2008, Karuna realised that he had been marginalised in his own party with a chief minister appointed during his absence.

``I liked national politics. I wanted to join national politics. I did not want to become the chief minister (of a province) and did not want to maintain small political parties,’’ Karuna – whose four of five sisters are school principals in the country -- said in halting but confident English. It helped that he was in constant touch with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. ``The Rajapaksa brothers (defence secretary Gotabhaya and political advisor Basil) are nice to me,’’ he said. Nice enough to bestow a ministry on him dealing with national integration. ``I can manage everything. Like during my LTTE time, I will use less man power for high profit in the ministry,’’ he said when asked about making his ministry work.

The LTTE, Karuna analysed, is past its prime. ``They cannot come back. No way. Their time is over. They might carry out small, small attacks for a year or so,’’ Karuna said.

Of course, Karuna’s new found friends in the government have a lot to do to keep him out of harm’s way as the former LTTE leader is possibly the number one target on the rebel’s list. Karuna has to change house frequently and his movements are only known to his closest confidantes.

Karuna said he is not worried about his safety. He, however, does remember the last words Prabhakaran told him during their final meeting. "You are a traitor. You have sold the freedom struggle," Karuna said, quoting the LTTE chief. But, as always, Colonel Karuna has learnt to live with it.