In this article, we compare two kinds of public authority under conditions of civil war. We study two villages in eastern Sri Lanka, both of which came under LTTE rule during the 1990s and 2000s. The first case study describes a rural development society, which was co-opted by the LTTE to rule the village. The second describes the leaders of a Hindu temple, who defied LTTE attempts to settle temple-related conflicts. Conceptually, we draw on the notion of the public sphere as a space of encounter between the rulers and the ruled. This perspective helps us come to grips with the convoluted political landscape of war. Our two case studies suggest that public authority and sovereignty are mutually constituted. We argue that both forms of power are reworked in the encounter with the public sphere. A sovereign aspirant like the LTTE does not simply impose itself on society, it encroaches on it. This involves contingent efforts of reigning in other forms of public authority, some of which are more defiant than others. Conversely, public authority not only derives validity from sovereign endorsement, but from contestations around sovereignty as well.