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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2967

21 Heroes and One Coward

By Palitha Senanayake

Twenty one LTTE cadres lost their lives during the recent pre-dawn attack on the Air Force base at Anuradhapura. Those 21 were supposed to be from the ‘Elite Black Tigers’ of the LTTE. ‘Black tigers’ are the ones prepared to be enlisted on suicide missions. In the eyes of the LTTE these young men are heroes who made the supreme sacrifice with their lives in the service of their community

It takes years for the LTTE to build a suicide cadre. A lot of brain washing first to build up an inveterate hatred towards the target the mission is aimed at, and then some reasoning to convince the suicide cadre that his mission would be beneficial to the ‘cause’. The LTTE has been saved by the initial preliminaries because the initial ‘ground work’ necessary for such a brain washing had already been done by the Tamil elite politicians of the last generation.

At the turn of the independence the high class Tamil politicians by virtue of their disproportionate representation considered themselves to be the rightful heirs to the post British colonial administration of Ceylon. The fact that they fail to reach an agreement, with the departing British Secretary of the colonies, on an administrative mechanism that ensured their privileged position in the post independent Sri Lanka left them with a bad taste and a sense of ‘lost aspirations’ .

They knew with a democratic system of elections the juggernaut of the Sinhalese will take over the country. They even opposed the introduction of universal franchise to Ceylon in 1935 for the same reason. Yet they had no idea how they could contain it. The advent of Chelvanayagam and the sentiments of the Church, whose interests were also at stake, helped them to manufacture not only ‘grievances’ but also a ‘communally expedient history’ for Sri Lanka. The reforms brought by the Governments of the post independent Ceylon to redress the language rights and a ‘demographically balanced’ education were all interpreted by vested interests as measures designed to ‘marginalized the Tamils’. A Hindu intellectual once told me that ‘For a Hindu vengeance is mine, but for a Buddhist vengeance is thine’

This communal milieu spawned a plethora of Tamil rebel groups in the early 70’s and they all fashioned their names with an ‘Elam’ part, such as Tamil Elam Liberation Organization (TELO), Elam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) etc. Elam was the name given by the separatist lobby of Tamil politicians of the Federal Party (Party for the Tamil State in Sri Lanka). However there was one rebel group that had a name with the tiger insignia and they called themselves the New Tamil Tigers (NTT). The leader of this rebel click was a man named Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

He was a school dropout and when his father Thiruvenkatham Vellupillai, in his eagerness to put him back on track introduced him to a tuition master, he was more inclined to discuss the glorious Tamil history of the Chola Empire and their exploits with the master. The Chola’s invaded Sri Lanka n the 11th century and enthroned themselves up to Gampola. The insignia of the Chola Empire was the Tiger and that was the insignia of the NTT and Prabhakaran. Even though Prabhakaran showed immense potential as a warrior his personality was far from balanced. As he himself realized this fact, he consented to have the suave Uma Maheshwaran as the figure head leader of the NTT, which later transformed into the LTTE, to give the movement a semblance of a political cause. Uma Maheshwaran was eventually killed by the LTTE on the orders of Prabhakaran for having an alleged affair with a girl in the movement.

From his small days Prabhakaran showed proclivity to adventure and crime. As a boy his favorite pastime was to shoot down birds with his catapult. His idol was Clint Eastwood and he was a regular patron of the cowboy and war movies and would have pictured himself in the hero’s role in those movies. He ran errands for the smugglers who frequented the Velvettithurai beach, which was the backyard of his family house, and became their favorite ‘thambi’. Whenever he got a chance he accompanied them in their escapades to the Indian shores

His hallmark however, from his boyhood, was his circumspectness. Even while playing games he was not the one to get caught. He paid attention to detail and made sure of the safety above all. An Indian journalist once wrote that when Prabhakaran toured India as a youth he got one of his accomplices to take a photograph of him, discreetly holding a AK 47 rifle, near the statue of a Tamil hero. Then when wanted to take the photograph of the statue itself he had problems holding both the rifle and the camera. His accomplice noticing this offered to relieve him from the rifle, but Prabhakaran would have none of it because he wouldn’t part with a gun even under such unsuspecting circumstances. He also had the ability to stay motionless in one posture for hours.

A Tamil youth called Miller was the first candidate to undertake a suicide mission. In 1987, the covert and overt operations of the terror activities had reached a peak. For every terror activity of Prabhakaran, President Jayawardene would react with a retaliatory military operation. An Indian undercover agent called ‘Puri’ had already established his links with the LTTE. A bomb went off in the Pettah bus stand killing more than a hundred civilians. President Jayawardene in his anger ordered an operation in the Tiger infested areas. This area included Prabhakaran’s home town Velvettithurai and the troops ravaged it.

Prabhakaran was livid and he wanted to teach a lesson to the troops for advancing in to his home base which he thought was impregnable. The troops were stationed at Nellaidy in Jaffna which they used as their operational headquarters. Miller had exceptional driving skills and he was also becoming ‘restless’ according to his handler, as he had been fully prepared as a suicide candidate. Prabhakaran hatched the diabolical plan. Miller was to drive an explosive laden truck in to the operational headquarters of the SL army at Nellaidy and ram it in to the building exploding himself and the truck, entombing hundreds of troops.

Miller had an ‘audience’ with his leader Prabhakaran, took one last meal with his mother, took a sip of soda and drove to his death on the 5th July 1987. That was the beginning of a new cult in Sri Lankan terrorism or probably in global terrorism. Its similarity to what Osama Bin Larden accomplished on Sept 11 should be striking. Yet the point is Prabhakaran was 15 years ahead and he always set the trends in uncompromising terror.

Since then Prabhakaran has committed thousand of Tamil youths to be suicide cadres against targets that he considered were threats to his organization. This included high ranking military officers of both Sri Lanka and India, political leaders, Ministers, and also President Premadasa of Sri Lanka and Sri Rajiv Gandhi of India. Specially when one consider the last two names, it should be conceded that both these leaders were enamored by Prabhakaran initially and were sincere in solving this issue in the best interest of the Tamil community and the Sri Lankan state. It is very unlikely that there would be leaders more emendable than them in the future, in these countries, for Tamils to reach a compromise with. Yet Prabhkaran keeps committing the Tamil youth to murder in the name of a ‘Tamil cause’.

There is a belief in the Tamil psyche that when a man dies for his community he is destined to be born in heaven. Prabhakaran, no doubt, used this to his maximum advantage. When he first arrived on the scene, the Tamil politicians had exhausted their avenues of trying to outwit the Sri Lankan leaders in to conceding part of the country as the Tamil homeland. Their protests were now increasingly met by force by the Government. In that scenario the advent of Prabhakaran with his ability out wit the security forces was just what the Tamil leaders wanted and therefore was called the messiah.

It is said that it was Amirthalingam, the leader of the TULF, who introduced Prabhakaran to Balakumar of EROS, as the most promising young radical, to link him with the Tamil Diaspora. But 30 years hence Prabhakaran has presented the Tamil community with only a few permanent graves where thousands of Tamil youths are buried. Among those graves one is likely to stumble upon even the graves of those very leaders who bred and nurtured him to become the ruthless terror he is today. Often ‘wartime’ leaders do not become good ‘peacetime’ leaders. Prabhakaran is so much a genius in terror that he knows not, either how to come out of it himself nor to help the Tamil community out of it. He is a man to whom the means of the struggle has become an end in itself.

The peak in Prabhakaran’s power was from around 1994 to about 2004.When the Indian army left the shows Prabhakaran had no ammunition to fight. The peace overtures of President Premadasa gave him the ammunition and the stature he so badly wanted. Then came the period of Chandria Kumaranatunge and her putative peace. She white washed all the LTTE crimes, marginalized the military and advocated a ‘political solution’. Although she came to power on the Sinhala vote she acted as an ambassador of the Tamil cause denigrating the Sinhalese and the ‘historical discrimination’ said to have been brought upon the Tamils. Her confused peace and disoriented war cost the country an unprecedented number of lives and economic havoc. At the end of her term the LTTE came to be known as the most ‘successful terrorist organization’.

She had no compunction when Ranil Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister granted them a separate area of control, acknowledged their administration, and a recognized their army. While this pushed the LTTE very close to satisfying the conditions required to have their area declared as a state of its own, Wickremesinghe’s Ceasefire agreement did not bargain anything in return and not even an ‘assurance of peace’ in return. It was an agreement that gave the LTTE everything they wanted including legitimacy in the international arena and all what they had to do in return was to hold the fire against the troops as long as they wished. The approach of Chandrika and Ranil to this issue has been so naïve that it convinced Prabhakaran that unbridled terror and intransigence are the best tools in dealing with the Sri Lankan leadership. The blunders of the asinine Sinhala leaders have fed on Prabhakaran’s ego in no small measure.

After 30 years of devastation and on the threshold of being declared a terror community, still there are Tamil youth who are prepared to do the bidding for Prabhakaran and die for him to live. What the Tamil psyche do not realize is that with every death the community become weaker and hence the death while may serve the cause it does not really serve the community. Hence the community may shrink while the ‘cause’ bloats up. Prabhakaran has now hijacked this ‘cause’ and has become the beneficiary of all the deeds committed in its name.

Prabhakaran killed Uma Maheshwaran for not being celibate which was a cardinal requirement of the Tiger movement. But today Prabhakaran is married with his children studying in the UK. How come he has not outlived his usefulness?

Prabhakaran is living today when the others in his pursuit have died because circumspectness has been his hallmark. The one who consider safety paramount above everything else, as Martin Lutherking jr has said, is a coward. Even by the Tamil community’s own thinking ‘if those who die for the community are heroes, the one who embolden himself, at the cost of those who die for the community, has to be a coward’.

- Asian Tribune -

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