The Tamil chief minister of Sri Lanka's northeastern province when Indian troops were deployed has returned to the country for the first time after nearly a decade - and a year after the military routed the Tamil Tigers who had repeatedly tried to kill him.
As Sri Lanka prepares for Thursday's nationwide election for a new 225-seat parliament, Annamali Varadaraja Perumal has addressed several meetings for his Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna and in Trincomalee, from where he once presided over the province.
Thanks mainly to the decisive defeat in May 2009 of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Perumal admits he has been able to go into the interiors of Jaffna that had been out of bounds for him for two decades or so when the Tigers were alive and kicking.
Perumal, who was chief minister from 1988-1990, told IANS in a telephonic interview that his interactions with ordinary Tamils had convinced him that people had quietly but firmly buried the dreams of carving out an independent Tamil state out of Sri Lanka.
'Nobody I spoke to is bothered about concepts like separation or self-determination,' Perumal said. 'The topic is mainly about relief and rehabilitation. Yes, there is certain anger against the (Sri Lankan) government. People are sick and tired of all the violence they have seen for so many years.'
'I got to meet people who had been silent for 20 long years due to the LTTE politics of terror,' he went on. 'I addressed meetings of 30-40 people and even hundred people. I wasn't addressing election rallies per se. They were more of interactions with ordinary people.'
He said he was frequently asked about what India, whose shadow has always loomed large on Sri Lanka, proposed to do in the island nation where the defeat of the LTTE has majorly changed the political discourse.
On some days, Perumal said, his first public meeting would start at 9 a.m. and then go on until midnight.
Perumal flew into Colombo March 20 and made it to Jaffna the next day. After some days there he moved to Trincomalee on the east coast. He wants to call on Sri Lankan leaders before returning to India where he lives with his family.
Perumal, now 57, fled from his then seat of power in Trincomalee just before the Indian troops withdrew from Sri Lanka in March 1990 after suffering nearly 1,200 dead in a costly war against the LTTE in the north and east of the country.
He escaped from both the LTTE, which had then dubbed him a 'traitor', and a hostile Colombo, finally taking shelter in India where he was given protection by New Delhi after the Tamil Tigers vowed to kill him.
His last visit to Sri Lanka was in 2001, just a year before the LTTE and Colombo signed a Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement, whose collapse within years led to a war that in turn triggered the decimation of the Tigers.
In his early years in Jaffna, when Perumal was an unknown Tamil activist, he had provided a safe house to LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. But as politics took the two men on different trajectories, they turned foes. Prabhakaran, who loved to settle scores, more than once tried to kill him but failed.
So, is Perumal planning to move back to Sri Lanka for good? He doesn't say yes but hints that might happen.
'When I left Sri Lanka, I was a B.A. graduate. After moving to India I did my Masters in Political Science. I am now about to finish Law. So when I return to Sri Lanka, I will have two more degrees.'