Britain’s Channel 4 TV aired the documentary Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings in its Dispatches programme on Tuesday, September 5, 2023, at 11. 05 p.m.
Prior to the telecast, Channel 4 Dispatches stated that the documentary has “exclusive interviews with high-placed whistleblowers, who allege that some Sri Lankan Government officials were complicit in the bombings.
The Channel 4 documentary featured three ‘whistleblowers’.
One was Hanzeer Azad Maulana the former aide of Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP) leader and Batticaloa District MP Sivanesathurai Chanthirakanthan alias Pillaiyaan, who is currently the State Minister. for Rural Road Transport.
The second was Ex-Police officer Nishantha Silva, the Police sleuth who probed the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, and who in the process of doing so, interrogated Gotabaya Rajapaksa intensively.
The third was another top Sri Lankan Govt official, who remained anonymous without his image being shown. Both Azad Maulana and Nishantha Silva are reportedly living in Europe now.
Although three whistleblowers were featured in the documentary, the star among them was Hanzeer Azad Maulana. The allegations levelled by him against persons such as Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Suresh Sallay and Pillaiyan helped the documentary filmmakers to make out their case.
The importance of Maulana’s role in the documentary was acknowledged by Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself. He said in a statement Hanzeer Azad Maulana that the central allegation in the documentary “Hinges on claims made by one Hanzeer Azad Maulana, an applicant for political asylum in Europe.”
It is against this backdrop that this column focuses on whistleblower Hanzeer Azad Moulana.
Who is this former aide to TMVP leader and State minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakantha alias Pillaiyan and why has he dared to take this bold step of blowing the whistle?
Although three whistleblowers were featured in the documentary, the star among them was Hanzeer Azad Maulana. The allegations levelled by him against persons such as Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Suresh Sallay and Pillaiyan helped the documentary filmmakers to make out their case
The man known as Hanzeer Azad Maulana hails from Maruthamunai in the Eastern Province. Maruthamunai is a predominantly Muslim coastal area about 360 km from Colombo.
It is part of the Kalmunai Electoral Division within the Amparai District. Hanzeer’s father was Mohammed Aliyar Mohammed Mihilar. Hanzeer’s given name is Mohammed Milhilar Mohammed Hanzeer. Azad Maulana is not his real name. It was a nom de guerre he adopted after joining the Thamil Makkal Viduthalap Puligal(TMVP).
Hanzeer’s father Mihilar was Left-oriented in his political thinking. He also got along well with members of the Tamil community especially those from the adjacent Tamil village Paandiruppu.
The Tamil militant organization Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) had a strong presence in Paandiruppu. This led to Mihilar becoming a member of the EPRLF even before the 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom.
After Black July Mihilar received arms training at the EPRLF camp in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu.
Thereafter he worked for the EPRLF in the Amparai District and was appointed to the Central Committee. The Indo-Lanka accord of 1987 brought about the Provincial Councils scheme through the 13th Constitutional Amendment.
Unlike the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the EPRLF backed the Indo– Lanka accord and cooperated fully with India to hold Provincial elections in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The EPRLF contested the first elections to the Northeastern Provincial Council comprising both the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Mihilar himself was a candidate. He also campaigned actively for the EPRLF. The EPRLF along with the newly created Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) formed the first administration of the merged Northeast Provincial Council.
Mihilar however was not elected to the first and only NE PC.
Annamalai Varatharajapperumal became the first Chief Minister of the Northeastern Provincial Council. Mihilar went to Trincomalee and worked as an official at the Provincial Council office.
Things changed after the Indian Army was withdrawn in 1990 March. Fearing a massacre at the hands of the LTTE, most of the EPRLF front liners fled to India. Mihilar was one of them
Kanthasamy Padmanabha, the amiable Secretary-General of the EPRLF along with many cadres moved to the Orissa (Now Odisha) State.
Mihilar too went to Odisha and served as one of Padmanabha’s bodyguards. The EPRLF continued to maintain its main office at Choolaimedu in Kodambakkam, Chennai.
On June 19th 1990, Padmanabha came to Chennai (then Madras). Mihilar too accompanied him. Padmanabha was at a flat in Zachariah Colony near the EPRLF office in Choolaimedu with some visiting EPRLF stalwarts from Sri Lanka, when the LTTE struck.
A tiger squad led by Kiruban and one-eyed Sivarasan burst in and fired away. Padmanabha and 12 others were killed. Among those killed was Padmanabha’s bodyguard Mohammed Mihilar.
Mihilar had four children, two girls and two boys. Eldest son Hanzeer born in 1983 was only seven when he lost his father. The family was in dire straits. The EPRLF in those days had a trust fund from which it helped the families of members killed by the armed forces or other militant groups like the LTTE. This financial aid was of great help to the family then. Subsequently, Hanzeer’s mother married again.
Mohammed Hanzeer studied at the Maruthamunai Shams Madhya Maha Vidyalaya. He was a bright student who entered Peradeniya University in 2003 to do a Bachelor’s degree course in Agriculture.
Having financial difficulties in pursuing higher studies, Hanzeer turned to Douglas Devananda for help. Douglas who had broken away from the EPRLF, was the leader of the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP).
However, Devananda had been the commander of the EPRLF’s military wing known as the Peoples Liberation Army, when he was in the EPRLF. Hanzeer’s father Mihilar was closely associated with Douglas. So, when Mihilar’s son sought his help, the EPDP Leader felt he had to help the son of his erstwhile comrade at arms.
The EPDP was then running a weekly paper called the Thinamurasu. Douglas gave Hanzeer a job at Thinamurasu.
Hanzeer Mohammed was fluent in Tamil and English. He was well-read and was a very good writer in Tamil. He was also capable of translating from English to Tamil. So, Mohammed Hanzeer began to work at Thinamurasu, while pursuing his higher education at Peradeniya.
Since he had lectures for only four days a week, Hanzeer would spend three days in Colombo working for Thinamurasu. He wrote political articles under pseudonyms and also translated news and articles from English into Tamil.
Some months later in 2004 Hanzeer dropped out of Varsity and requested Douglas for a job. Devananda was then a Cabinet Minister. The Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation came under his purview.
Former Amparai District MP Markandu Gunasekaran alias Shankar was the Chairman of Cashew Corporation. Hanzeer was appointed as the Chairman’s Secretary.
After some months Hanzeer resumed his studies again and eventually graduated.
The meeting went well. Both Karuna and Pillaiyan took an instant liking to Hanzeer. It was arranged that a monthly stipend would be paid for services rendered. The amount agreed upon was in five figures. This was how Mohammed Hanzeer teamed up with the TMVP
Meanwhile, the LTTE underwent a major split in 2004 when its Eastern regional commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Col. Karuna revolted against LTTE Supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran’s leadership.
The breakaway group known for a long time as the LTTE Karuna faction, aligned itself with the Sri Lankan Govt and its armed forces and intelligence services.
The Karuna faction with State backing took on the LTTE in the East. Karuna’s deputy Pillaiyan (Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan ) based himself in Batticaloa as field commander.
A political party known as the Thamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TEMVP) was also formed.
Later the name was changed to Thamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal. (TMVP).
After Mahinda Rajapaksa became President in 2005 November, he appointed his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Defence Secretary. The new Defence Secretary utilised the TMVP in a big way in the war against the LTTE. The TMVP was given the green light to function openly as a politico-military outfit.
It was at this point that Mohammed Hanzeer’s life changed. He was summoned by Douglas Devananda for a meeting in April 2006. Douglas told Hanzeer about the TMVP going to function independently as a political party. According to Douglas, Karuna’s group had come out of the LTTE and was now trying to proceed on the democratic path.
The EPDP leader told Hanzeer that they must encourage the Karuna Group and said that the TMVP required the support and help of people like Hanzeer. Hanzeer was asked whether he would help the TMVP.
Hanzeer hated the LTTE which murdered his father in Madras.
He also regarded the LTTE which massacred Muslims in cold blood at various places in the east and chased away the Northern Muslims at gunpoint, as a Fascist entity. Since the TMVP had split from the LTTE and was combatting it, Hanzeer agreed to work with the TMVP. This was his way of seeking vengeance for his father
Thereafter a meeting was arranged by Devananda, in which Hanzeer met TMVP leader Karuna and deputy leader Pillayan.
The meeting went well. Both Karuna and Pillaiyan took an instant liking to Hanzeer. It was arranged that a monthly stipend would be paid for services rendered. The amount agreed upon was in five figures. This was how Mohammed Hanzeer teamed up with the TMVP.
Nom de Guerre
Initially, Hanzeer had to adopt a nom de guerre. He was asked to choose a name for himself Hanzeer chose the name Azad Maulana. The name Maulana (some spell it as Moulana or Mowlana) means ‘our master’ and also refers to those regarded as descendants of the Prophet.
In practice, however, those who are not descendants of the prophet also tend to use the name. Many add the name Seyyed or Zeyyed to it as a prefix.
In Sri Lanka, there have been quite a few Muslim politicians with the name Maulana like former Minister Alavi Moulana, former Batticaloa MP Ali Zaheer Moulana and ex-Senator Mashoor Moulana, who, like Hanzeer, is from Maruthamunai.
In Hanzeer’s case, his choice of Azad Maulana was inspired by the great Indian educationist and freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was generally known as Maulana Azad or Azad Maulana. Azad opposed the creation of Pakistan and was a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity.
Mohammed Hanzeer now known as Azad Maulana’s duties in the TMVP were three-fold. He had to work as a journalist on the Tamil fortnightly Thamil Alai. He had to teach young members of the TMVP the political history of Sri Lanka with particular emphasis on the ethnic crisis. Most importantly he was appointed the accredited spokesperson of the TMVP. Hanzeer was proficient in Tamil and English and reasonably fluent in Sinhala.
Soon, Azad Maulana became a public figure giving media interviews and conducting press conferences.
He was also the public face of the TMVP. As time went on TMVP leader Karuna began to use Azad Maulana as an interpreter in dealings with the Government, Govt officials, members of the armed forces and Intelligence Service personnel Azad Maulana’s influence and importance grew and he became almost indispensable to the TMVP.
The TMVP asked him to move from his residence in Panadura to the two-storeyed TMVP office premises in Narahenpita. Apart from an increase in his monthly stipend, Azad Maulana was given two cell phones and a motorcycle for his use by the TMVP.
Also, he was absorbed into the TMVP party hierarchy and made a Central Committee Member.
Mohammed Hanzeer now known as Azad Maulana’s duties in the TMVP were three-fold. He had to work as a journalist on the Tamil fortnightly Thamil Alai. He had to teach young members of the TMVP the political history of Sri Lanka with particular emphasis on the ethnic crisis. Most importantly he was appointed the accredited spokesperson of the TMVP. Hanzeer was proficient in Tamil and English and reasonably fluent in Sinhala
In 2007 there was an internal coup in the TMVP resulting in Karuna being ousted. Pillaiyan became the new leader.
Azad Maulana latched on to Pillaiyan, who also needed Azad. In 2008, elections were held for the Eastern Provincial Council, The TMVP contested as part of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
In an unexpected move, Pillaiyan became the first Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. Pillaiyan appointed Azad Maulana as his Coordinating Secretary in addition to being the TMVP Spokesperson.
Everything seemed hunky-dory for Mohammed Hanzeer alias Azad Maulana. What happened thereafter will be related in the second part of this article next week.
D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org