This is the story of the man who defined the armed struggle for an independent Eelam for over three decades and who lived by the gun and died by the gun-veupillai prabhakaran. A home grown ruthless war machine and controlled its worldwide network form his hideout and ruled territories under his control with an iron fist: who defied the world and eliminated whoever came in hi way. Including former India Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi: who had fighters ready to kill and die in thousand for him yet he failed leaving the future of Sri Lankan Tamils a big question mark.
The book is a first person account by the author based on his innumerable visits to Sri Lanka during its turbulent years. He looks at the prabhakaran era, a critical phase in the country history objectively, without being judgmental.
S. Murari was associate editor of the Deccan Herald India. After a 17 years stint and the Indian express he joined the Deccan Herald in 1984 as a special correspondent in Chennai covering Tamil Nadu. Over the next two decades he made innumerable visits to sri Lanka and interacted with both Sri Lankan and Tamil leaders.
He covered the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka extensively including the first round of Peace talks between LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government in Thailand as well as provincial parliamentary and Presidential elections in Sri Lanka.
S. Murari started his career with The Indian express and after a 17 years stint in the paper served as the deputy news editor in the Chennai and Bangalore edition. He joined the Deccan Herald in 1984 as special correspondent in Chennai covering Tamil Nadu over the next two decades he made innumerable visits to Sri Lanka and interacted with both Sinhalese and Tamil leaders. He covered the ethnic conflict the first round of peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government in Thailand and covered all the election from 1987 to 2010 including the last president election.
During his stints at the Deccan herald he also covered several international events including two SAARC summits the Mumbai blasts of 1983 and has also visited Kashmir in 1994 at the height of the militancy to interview JKLF leader Yasin Malik. He retired in 2009 as the associate editor of Deccan herald.
The decimation of Prabhakaran and the liberation tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Nanthikadal lagoon in May 2009 is undoubtedly one of the defining moments in contemporary Sri Lankan history. The victory is remarkable because not so long ago, Sri Lanka watchers around the world which include S. Murari and myself were unanimous that neither side could impose its will over the other through military means and the only solution to the protracted ethnic conflict was for the two warring sides to come together and negotiate a political settlement along a federal model.
While the military dimension of estranged Sri Lanka Tamil nationalism has come to an end the problems of economic rehabilitation and what is more important the challenges f ethnic reconciliation and nation building still remain to be addressed by the ruling elite. These important subjects will continue to dominate the political discourse in the island republic in the immediate future.
This interesting and informative book written by Shri S. Murari former associate editor of Deccan Herald provides refreshing insight into the political development of the fractured island from jolly 1987 when the indo-Sri Lanka peace Accord was signed to the present day Shri Murari has visited Sri Lanka several times for an on the spot study of the problem. His through grounding in the subject coupled with lengthy discussion with several dramatic personae is an additional plus factor. What is moe his relations with several leaders went beyond professional contact and Shri Murari has the uncanny Knack of befriending several people. To cite one example his friendship with Shri Anton Balasingham the spokesman and the ideologue of the Tigers enable shedri Murari to have a thorough grasp of the phenomenon of Tamil militancy the fratricidal intra militant clashes and the differences between Prabhakaran and Balasingham. Sri Murari perhaps was the last Indian journalist to have lengthy discussion with Shi Balasingham in London during the latter convalescence.
I recall my conversation with Shri Balasingham at the end of 1983 when he visited me in the university of Madras Chennai India for a chat. In the course of our conversation I pointed out to Shri Balasingham that the sharp differences between New Delhi and Colombo on important foreign policy issues impinging upon Indian security were God-Sent to the Tamil Militatnts. The consequence was the pursuit of the contradictory policy issues impinging upon Indian security were god sent to the Tamil militants. The consequence was the pursuit of the contradictory policy of trying to mediate a solution while providing military training to the Tamil militants. I also pointed out that this situation need not continue for a long time. If Colombo due to the pressure of changing circumstances was willing to subserve India foreign policy goals India will turn out to be the guarantor of Sri Lanka territorial integrity. In such a situation of Tamil militants will be placed between nutcrackers. Shri Balasingham did not respond; perhaps he did not want to think of such a scenario.
I visited Jaffna in the northern provinces of Sri lanka early this year and had an opportunity to interact with a cross section of Sri lanka tamil academics students political activities representatives of NGO and religious leaders. There was no curfew essential good were available and there was the regular crowed devotees in the Nallur Kandaswamy temple. But not even one person was sanguine about a lasting political solution. Everyone hoped for peace but at the same time peace remained a distant dream. The femur lines of the pales tinian poet mahmoud darwsih came to my mind:
Velupillai Prabakaran death in the final battle with the Sri Lankan forces in May 2009 marks the end of a three decades long armed struggle for Eelam an independent homeland for the Tamils. The cause for which Prabhakaran took up arms at the age of 17 and died at the age of 54 was not his but the reflection of Tamil people wish expressed through a resolution passed in 1976 in Vaddukottai Jaffna Sri Lanka Under Indian pressure Militant groups as well as the moderate Tamil united liberation front (TULF) compromised on the goal fo Eelam but Prabhakaran soldiered on with his passing the Eelam dream lies shattered.
Whether he was the cause of the conflict or the product the fact remains that the Sri Lankan Tamil the world over who out of fear or for other reason raised him to the level of a cult figure now feel orphaned.
Comparison are made with Yasser Arafat lifelong fight for a homeland for Palestinians and prabhakaran armed struggle for an independent Eelam. While Arafat adopted means peaceful and violent to reclaim the land that belonged to Palestinians until the jews from all over the world settled in a part of it and created isral in 1948 the Tamil claim of a two nation theory Sinhala and Tamil found no takers as the world power turned their face against ethno nationalism following the collapse of the Suite union and the birth of several nations which were previously under USSR jurisdiction in the late 1980.
Prabhakarn it is said was inspired by Bhagat sing and sub has bose so much that LTTE arms procurer and fund raiser K. Pathmanathan floated the idea of a tunas national government of Elam with the dispora as its citizens much on the lines of Subhas Bose Azad hind after the entire LTTE leadership went down fighting along with rabhakaran. But then neither Bhagat singh nor Subhas bose killed Gandhi. On the other had Prabhakar had ruthlessly eliminated not only Sinhala leaders like R. Premadasa Lalith Athulathmudali and Rajan wijneratne as well as Laxman adirgamar a Tami minister on the government side besides former Indian prime minister Rjive Gandhi but also fellow Tamil militants and moder.tes like Sri Sabaratnam Pathmanabha Appapillai Amrithalingam and Neelam Tiruchelvan.
Perhaps Prabhakaran historic blunder which ultimately proved to be his undoing was the killing of Rajiv Gandhi on the eve of the 1991 Parliament elections call it an act of revenge for sending the India peace keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka in order to enforce an accord that fell short of his dream of independence or an act of desperation borne out of the fear of another IPKF intervention if he was voted bake of power. To any rational thinker it was obvious that there was have been able to score a landslide like he did after his mother Indira Gandhi assassination in 1984 and another military misadventure would be the last thing on his mind. But to a mind like Prabhakaran paranoid about everything nothing should be left to chance and so Rajiv outhit to go.
The killing permanently alienated Prabhakaran from India and its people. Still he chose to live in a fool paradise by believing that India like Sri Lanka is an nation of Several ethnic nationalities and the Tamil of Tamil Nadu would raise against the centre when push came to shove. In the last stages of the Eelam war in April-May 1009 India stayed off course despite an election to the Lok Sabha made emotional at least in Tamil Nadu by the Lankan blitzkrieg brought home by LTTE propaganda CD. Yet the people of the state shoed superior wisdom than the drum busters of prabhakarn as well as sections of the media swayed by ethno nationalism by voting the congress DMK alliance back to power.
In the ultimate analysis Prabhakarn took up arms for the people in course of time he stopped being a people leaders and became a dictator who took an unwilling people along with him on his tortuous route to Eelam ultimately led to nowhere. In short the LTTE armed struggle got disconnected from the people because of Prabhakaran intolerance of dissent. If only the Jaffna Tamil who provided leadership to the armed struggle had spoken up when they ought to have the history of the Eelam struggle might have been different but they found it fashionable and safe to go along with Prabhakaran and paid the price however that is not exactly correct. The Tamil diaspora from Jaffna escaped the pains of the war leaving it to lesser mortals in vanni and the east to suffer in silence till the very end.
Prabhakaran exist has left a leadership vacuum among the Tamils. While the Eelam people Democratic Party (EPDP) the only group which still retains some of the qualities of a guerilla group is part of the government as also the former LTTE eastern commander Karuna the Tamil national Alliance which represented the LTTE voice in Parliament is now rudderless.
What started with the gunning down of Jaffna mayor Alfred Duraiyappah in 1975 and escalated into a full blown civil was after the LTTE landmined an army vehicle in Jaffna in July 1983 leading to the worst ever anti Tamil riots has now come to naught. The war has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives combatants and noncombatants.
At any given point in the struggle for Tamil Eelam which in Prabhakaran perception covered the entire north and east the LTTE physically controlled only a couple of districts that too in the north. At no point did it hold on to any territory in the east as the terrain and population mix consisting of Sinhalese Tamil and Tamil speaking Muslims in equal number made it impossible for it to wage a conventional of even a guerilla war in the end Prabhakaran writ ran only over two of the eight districts killinochi and Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka Situated as they are in the thick shrub jungles in Vanni which provided an ideal ground for a gureilla war.
Though the LTTE was in physical control of only two districts its reach was everywhere. It could strike at will in Colombo more so after in acquired an air arm however nascent it might have been. And all though the struggle more Tamils lived in army controlled areas like Jaffna the east and Colombo than in LTTE administered districts while the million strong Tamil disapora all over the world enriched the tigers coffers those living amidst the Sinhalese felt safe because of the tiger invisible but all pervasive presence.
A point to be noted was that Sri Lanka which had witnessed a series of anti Tamil riots from independent never had a backlash against Tamil after the LTTE emerged as a force post 1983. The Sinhalese who by themselves are not chauvinists and who were often instigated by politicians learnt the bitter way to distinguish plantation Tamils of Indian origin Colombo Tamils and the eastern Tamil from Jaffna and northern Tamil who were the brain behind the insurgency. Even so even the Jaffna Tamils in Colombo felt relatively safe till now thanks to the tigers. Now that the LTTE is wiped out they feel insecure dispirited and despondent as the low turnout in Tamil areas in the January 2009 presidential and March 2009 Parliament elections show.
More important there is no one to fight for their political rights even if they are reconciled to an autonomous region within a united Sri Lanka. After prabhakaran passing. Selvaraja Pathmanathan. Also known as KP who is on Interpol notice in connection with Rajiv Gandhi assassination usurped his position thanks to a multimillion dollar legacy that prabhakaran has left behind. But KP was never a guerilla and it is small wonder that he sued for a peaceful struggle soon after confirming to the world about Prabhakaran Passing. But KP leadership was questioned even within the LTTE before he was ultimately arrested in Kuala Lumpur by the Malaysian police and handed over to the Sri Lankan authorities at Bangkok airport.
When the end game was being played out in the battlefield the question arose as to what would happen to the LTTE after Prabhakaran. In my view an LTTE without Prabhakaran is unthinkable. It was his baby and no one can nurture it the way he did all his life. In any case now that KP has been arrested the LTTE supported desperate attempt to keep the Eelam issue alive by floating the idea of a trans national government lies in shambles with only its US based lawyer Visvanathan Rudrakumar who was never in the thick of the struggle left to take it forward.
While an alternative Tamil leadership will take time to emerge even if such a leadership cannot be as strong or as obstinate as the LTTE proved to be southern consensus will prove to be even more difficult now with Prabhakaran gone.
The all party representative committee (APRC) which has evolved a draft political package has not been represented by the main opposition United national Party (UNP) and the ultra nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in other words there was no southern consensus even at the draft proposal stage. The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as well as the Sri Lanka Muslim congress (SLMC) also kept away. The interim report of the committee has already been given effect to with the holding of elections in the east and the appointment of a former LTTE child solider pillyan as the chief Minister.
The separation of the east from the north brought about by a Supreme court judgment which runs counter to the indo-Sri Lanka agreement has given a quiet burial to the Tamil concept of a homeland. In effect the Tamils have lost contiguous land.
The next question is devolution of powers. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had promised to devolve more powers to the Tamil majority north and east than promised under the 13th amendment to the constitution a product of the Indo Sri Lanka agreement after defeating the LTTE militarily. Now that the military purpose has been achieved India has a moral duty to hold mahinda rajapaksa to his promise.
President Rajapaksa has already made it clear that it will be victor justice by saying that the 13th amendment will be given effect to wherever implementable the amendment he promised during the closing stage of the war is nothing more than an upper chamber like the Rajya sabha in India or the senate in the US but without legislative powers.
His brother basil and Gotabaya Rajapaksa along with the now disgraced army chief sarath fonseka were the ones who ruthlessly prosecuted the war and defeated one of the world most powerful and dreaded terrorist groups and general fonseka has gone on record that Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhalese and if the Tamil want to live here rite must be on our terms fonseka may have been sidelined since the end of the war and arrested after his unsuccessful contest against incumbent president Rajapaksa in the January 2010 election but the pro-Sinhalese sentiment he articulated will find taker among hawks.
As one prominent Tamil journalist pointed out to me after the recent presidential election by backing Fonseka in that election the Tamil have provoked a Sinhala consolidation in favour of Rajapaksa leading to his landslide win. In other words the two communities can never be on the same side of the fence.
Rajapaksa in his address to parliament made it clear that the war was not against the Tamil but against the LTTE and that he would stand by his promise to find a solution acceptable to all communities. At the same time he also said in his victory day address that the country cannot have ethnic enclaves any more. In other words the Tamils cannot claim the north and east as their traditional homeland. If they can live in other part of the country so can the Sinhalese the Tamil speaking Muslims and the Burghers in the north and the east if his contention is carried to its logical conclusion perhaps he is thinking of India where despite linguistic state there is a sense of nationhood.
He feels if he evolves a Sri Lankan identity through the process of assimilation of the minorities the problem will not recur. With that end in view he has brought about a bill to ban parties sporting ethnic tags. It has already been challenged by a faction of the SLMC before the supreme court. Rajapaksa is a simplistic and short sighted approach which ignores years of oppression of the minority Tamil. Assimilation should be through a process of inclusiveness and it can begin only after the wounds of the war have healed. For that to happen there has to be an honourable solution not a victor justice.
As of now his home grown solution relies on the Indo Sri Lanka peace accord which envisages on the Indian model of quasi federal falls far short of the chandrika Kumaratunga proposal of 2000 which envisioned Sri Lanka as a union of regions with an enlarged Tamil province and spoke of a truly federal set up unfortunately in an all or nothing approach the Tigers shot down the package as macuh as chandrika rejected out of hand their counter proposal of interim self government authority as a recipe for serration.
While it will take a while for the government to hammer out a solution its immediate priority will be to resettle the 300,000 Tamils displaced by the war as promised by the president a tall order given the total devastation the war has wrought and the countless number of mines which have to be cleared.
With the united nations (UN) saying that thousand of civilians have died in the last stage of the war Colombo may have stymied that western power move at the united nations human right council (UNHRC) to put it in the dock for alleged war crimes by getting its counter proposal passed with the backing of China, Russia, India and Pakistan. The counter proposal justifies the war as one against LTTE terrorists and calls for massive international assistance to rebuild the war ravaged north. But the war has left behind a generation of bitter Tamils.
After surviving an LTTE assassination attempt and securing a second term as President in 1999 chandrika Kumaratunga told the nation without any rancor that the LTTE was only the symptom and not the disease and even if the group was eliminated the Tamil problem would remain.
Rajapaksa enjoys unprecedented popularity now that he has crushed the LTTE and won a second term with resounding support and followed it up with an equally resounding victory in the Parliament election. But both the election have been won entirely with the Sinhala vote. Will he have the vision to harness this support to resist pressure from Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists and find a solution the Tamil can accept as honourable unless such a solution is found sri Lanka may end up. Losing the war despite having won the battle against terrorism.
I stated visiting Sri Lanka after the singing of the Indo Sri Lanka peace accord of July 1987 between Rajiv Gandhi J.R. Jayewardene. But I got acquainted with the problem much earlier after the 1983 pogrom brought to Tamil Nadu a wave of refugees militant had moderate alike form 1984 to 1987 gave me a historical perspective to the Tamil question. Through frequent visits to Sri Lanka over the next 22 years and extensive travels within that country I acquire first hand knowledge of the complex problem if this book student of Sri Lankan history get a proper perspective it will have served its purpose.
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