Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Prabhakaran's Eelam dream – What went wrong

When he started off as the head of a motley group of eight in the 1970s, no one could believe that Velupillai Prabhakaran would one day be the world’s most dreaded terrorist. During his career, first as a rebel and then as the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he suppressed all dissent within Lanka Tamil community and managed to bring the plight of the minority Tamils into international focus. The Tamils world over hail him for refusing to compromise on the Tamil cause. But despite all the years of struggle, Prabhakaran’s Eelam dream remains a dream. The man continues to lose international support, support from the people he is fighting for.

The recent fall of his de facto capital Kilinochchi and other territories have further added to the thorns in his cap. As Basil Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and advisor, puts it, “It has been 30 years for the LTTE and they have not been able to grab power. They have reached their peak and from this point onwards, it can only be a coming down”. One wonders whether he is the same man whom JN Dixit, India’s former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, once extolled as an accomplished political strategist and a military tactician? What exactly has gone wrong with Thambi? Has he become a liability for the Tamil cause? If affirmative, where exactly are his faultlines?

Tactical/Judgemental Errors
According to B Raman, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Prabhakaran has made the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils hopeless by a series of judgmental errors and tactical and strategic blunders. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi remains the most prominent one till date. By assassinating India’s most charismatic leader Prabhakaran lost out on crucial India support. As MR Narayan Swamy, a veteran Sri Lanka observer puts it: “Were Prabhakaran to be ever asked what he considers the worst mistake of his life, he might well say it was the killing of Gandhi.” He didn’t hesitate to attack former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who has shown the greatest sensitivity to Tamil aspirations among all Sri Lankan leaders. Prabhakaran has time and again scuttled peace overtures – be it the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, devolution package offered by Chandrika Kumaratunga or the ceasefire brokered by Norway. Prabhakaran had no faith in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and he had made up his mind to sabotage it even before the negotiations were concluded.

Prabhakaran is demi-god for his men. He is always right and his orders are carried out blindly. Those who question have no place in the LTTE. “His position is maintained with absolute ruthlessness and he has total control over all resources. There is no pretence of democracy,” says Brig SP Sinha (retd). Analysts agree that if people try to show him reason, he shows them doors. This is precisely what happened with Karuna – Prabhakaran’s most trusted aid. “In 2001 and 2002 when LTTE had lost 16,000 cadres, I told Prabhakaran to agree to a political solution on a federal form of government and the late Anton Balasingham also agreed with me but he asked us to drag the peace talks on for five years so that he could rearm and strengthen the LTTE. Now his refusal to see reason now that a total of 22,400 cadres have died and his begging India to help him is the biggest joke in his Mahavir Day speech,” Karuna was recently quoted as saying in The Island.

Loss of Karuna meant loss of the East, which was a source of revenue, cadres and political prestige. The report in the daily further said that when India intervened in 1987 to set up a provincial council to stop killings, she did not want a separate state in Sri Lanka. But Prabhakaran’s dogged attitude was the obstacle for reaching a political solution for the problems of the Tamil people. It is precisely because of this attribute that Prabhakaran’s struggle is dubbed as “personal megalomania”. Over the years, his concern for Tamilians and the goal of creating a just and free society for them has been overtaken by his egotism to the extent that he now believes that he alone represents the aspirations of all Tamils.

“For Prabhakaran only one thing mattered – establishing an independent Tamil Eelam; he was convinced that the LTTE alone was committed to this ideal and all other Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups and politicians compromised and cheated people,” says former CBI Director DR Kaarthikeyan. It was due to this reason that he clashed with rival militant groups. A report in the Daily News by HLD Mahindapala said that Prabhakaran burnt 86 TELO boys alive in Ariyakulam. He bombed and shot 66 boys and girls of the EPRLF in Kandankarunai.

Changing Stripes
It is a known fact that Prabhakaran keeps changing sides to suit his needs. This is one of the reasons why neither Sri Lankan government nor India could ever trust him. He befriended India when he wanted to fight Sri Lanka and vice versa. He shook hands with President Premadasa to oust the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and once that was achieved, he went back to fighting Sri Lanka. He claimed to be India’s friend even as the LTTE forged links with militant groups plotting against New Delhi. According to Narayan Swamy, “without letting the Indian government smell a rat, he bought weapons from the international arms bazaar, while being base in that country. Even as he spoke highly of India publicly, he schemed to finish off those within the Tamil militant movement considered close to New Delhi”.

Killing Machine

For Kumaratunga Prabhakaran is a “merciless megalomaniac” who has killed every single person who has opposed him. His first victim was the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiyappah. He shot him down in 1975. The bloodletting has gone on unabated since then. “Both Prabhakaran and his agents rely exclusively on racist violence as the one and only tool to carve out their racist enclave of Eelam. Herein lies their fatal flaw. They refuse to accept that violence, which paid some dividends initially, has run out of its use-by-date,” says Mahindapala. It is because of his insatiable appetite for killing that he is facing increasing isolation from the local as well as international communities. With his belligerence, the LTTE supremo has besmirched the image of Tamils in the eyes of the international community and all this has badly hit LTTE funding.

The average Tamil youth is frustrated. Going by the recent news reports, most of the Tamils in Lanka are following Prabhakaran’s dictat out of terror, not out of love and this is where Thambi has suffered a major setback. “Prabhakaran will fight till the last Tamil man goes to his grave or to Canada,” remarked former Chief Minister of Sri Lanka's short-lived North-Eastern Provincial Council, Varatharaja Perumal.

So what exactly is the LTTE’s numero uno up to now? With the Sri Lankan government strengthening its hold over the rebel-held areas and international community standing close by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side, Prabhakaran does not have much to look forward to. Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Minister, D.E.W. Gunasekera believes that the LTTE is in deep crisis and its leader will soon commit suicide or run away. But is it so easy to write off Prabhakaran? Will he bounce back? If yes, then what would be his next move? Watch out this space for more...


Eileen said...

Many good points in this piece. I went to Sri Lanka the first time in 1978 on a youth exchange program and when many people -both Tamil and Sinhalese and Muslim, Buddhist and Christian were trying to find a way to live in peace. Much later, while living in Canada, I heard the most horrific stories from Sri Lankan Tamils which led them to flee. Yes, the discrimination against Tamils and various mistreatment was always strong, and Prabakharan brought attention to the problem, but in my own personal opinion, he has destroyed any chance for Sri Lanka to have civil harmony and decades of development. Indian culpability in contributing to this cannot be overlooked, but there is, at heart, a megalomaniac who rules by fear. The unfortunate result are lives, livelihoods and a nation broken apart. I am not someone to advocate for war, but I really hope that Prabhkharan and his time are finally coming to an end.

Syed Ali Mujtaba said...

Well a great writeup and nice sum up. I just want to connect it with Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, another megalomaniac character who met his end in operation blue star. Bhindrawale use to have a pot kept with name slips inside it. He use to call his hitman and ask him to pick up a slip from the pot and who evers name figured has to be finished off. Any one who resisted was asked to go only after writing his name on a slip and put in the pot well Prabhakaran represnts same kind of mentality. Prabhakaran shot into fame from chennai and was seen firing in crowded pondy bazar running after someone when he picked up with him a brawl in tea cafe there. He along with others were living in Indira Nagar locality. There is no doubt that he is India's baby, a time when india trained aided and abated terrorism in sri lanka, wht a fate, the same terrorism has become a thorn in india;s body, its fighting here there n every where. the rustic indian saying you reap what you sow has come true.

Prashant Dhulia said...

Yes, I would now like to know where the LTTE chief is hiding. And whether will he be able to bounce back? This has been a good attempt by the writer to give us readers an idea about the LTTE-Lanka govt clashes.

K. Sriram said...

Hi, I am living in Seattle. The article interests me because LTTE, I feel, had deviated a bit from his main cause. But I doubt it will be easy for the Sri Lankan Govt to nab Prabhakaran as he must have had gone into a safe haven by now. The real challenge lies in catching him. Till then, LTTE can't be written off.

Megan Mills said...

In my view, it's not a matter of what any of us think of Prabhakaran or the LTTE but the circumstances to have made such a movement surface, how the LTTE has been worn up by its environment, AND realising that for Sri Lanka there can be no normalisation of politics.

The majority community's politicians are not advocating a 'solution' but are intent upon a 'Buddhist' theocracy generally intolerant of the island's significant minorities. There is no chance of civil harmony or a political solution as should cause us to ask WHY Sri Lanka will not cede ONE province for a Tamil/generic minority jurisdiction as Would end the war.
Organisations such as the LTTE forever depend upon passive/active support, a reason that Tamil civilians have been the regular targets, not stray victims, of SLAF operations. The present situation will see MANY Tamils provide 'hard' support given their lack of alternatives, and their wish to avoid yon internally displaced persons' facilities that the international community, ahem, will continue to discuss as refuges they are not. To the great credit of ordinary war zone Tamils, many will survive, just as they withstood the appalling 1990s blockade, the results of the Tsunami in coastal areas, and now a repeat of 1990s conditions replete with blockade as the international community seems to see as quite acceptable.

Many civilians shall be 'hard' LTTE supporters given the organisation' s access to antibiotics, basic rations and sutures, particularly given the most cowardly performance of international NGOs in leaving despite funding rationales, in several important examples, stressing their staying with civilians, seeing to food and medical relief.

Given current events in the North, and fully aware of the LTTE's defects, it is difficult not to write: GO GIRLS!

A country is not striving for 'harmony' that again bombs defenseless civilians, will not issue exit permits, or allow Red Cross supplies on the A-9.

One needs to ask what would or will become of the ordinary Tamil if the LTTE did not exist/is obliterated.

Rosy Mishra said...

Very well-researched and balanced piece.

zsivaz said...

"He didn’t hesitate to attack former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who has shown the greatest sensitivity to Tamil aspirations "

Interesting I agree Chandrika was the most "sympathetic" leader - yet she still carpet bombed Jaffna killing - which is illegal. Deliberately killing hundreds of innocent Tamil civilians.

Hence Prabakaran was fully justified in his attempts to assassinate Chandrika. The fact that Chandrika the most lenient/sympathetic sri lankan leader towards the plight of Tamils still deliberately carpet bombed Jaffna - only highlights the need for a separate land/sanctuary for Tamils hence Eelam.

Very worrying when you think about it. Funny how know one denounced or condemned Chandrika as a terrorist but are quick to point the finger at the LTTE leader.