Review by Vinoo
Author : M R Narayan Swamy
Over a dozen assassinations, scores of internecine murders, over 60,000 deaths, one man at the centre of it all. Velupillai Prabhakaran. The only book about one of the most wanted men in the world. The first profile of the world’s most ruthless guerilla leader claims the book. Indeed. This book is a good read on the root cause of the Srilankan ethnic crisis and gives us a peek into the complicity of the roles played by India, Srilanka, various Tamil outfits and Prabhakaran. And stuck in the melee was the Tamil who continues to suffer and is now forever condemned to be just a second citizen. While you don’t always empathize or agree with Prabhakaran and his ‘methods’, it is impossible not to salute him for what he stood for and what he almost pulled off. Yeah, in retrospect it is easy to say that the LTTE was finished the day they assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, but then that was bound to happen. India’s agenda was different and all they wanted was for the LTTE to be a pawn, which Prabhakaran was smart to see. RAW, with the help of other Tamil groups, had tried to have him killed, according to Prabhakaran.
Further, the IPKF excesses, the rape of thousands of Tamils by the Indian Army, was more than reason enough. The Indian Government equipping groups like ERPLF, TELO, ENDLF which were all but decimated by Prabhakaran, to checkmate LTTE, is really what bothered him the most. Prabhakaran decided to teach India, and Rajiv Gandhi, a lesson they wouldn’t forget or forgive. The book details the organized attacks on Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1977,1981,1983 (the by now infamous ‘Black July’) which time and again seemed to reiterate the fact that Tamils could at best be a second citizen in Srilanka. The simmering discontent is a build up of years of pent up dissent over the treatment meted out to Tamils. A bloody revolution was forced on the Tamils and then Velupillai Prabhakaran took up the role of their leader. Quoting from the book : ‘In 1987 LTTE even recruited their own Police Force and ran a parallel government in the North and East’. I sure would like to get my hands on the LTTE mag ‘Porkural’ to get an idea of the scale of the parallel government the LTTE ran. ‘The wily Jayawardhene had accomplished something close to being Machiavellian. He had managed to pit India, a country that for years had supported the Tamil cause, against its most aggressive champion, the LTTE’.The IPKF was bound to have a tough time “what can these boys in lungi and shorts do to the world’s most powerful militaries?”. This was to hit the Indian Army and disgrace them in the time to come. Interestingly when Srilanka wanted IPKF out, they started equipping LTTE with weapons from June 1989 under Premadasa. It continued support to LTTE against the pro-India Tamil National Army. This again was a coup that Prabhakaran pulled off. He, of course, was biding his time and as he said he’d take anyone’s help, even the enemy’s. Most of the LTTE territory is now heavily guarded and it is impossible not to see men in uniform (Army and Navy), predominantly from the Sinhala community, and specifically in the Tamil dominated areas. One drastic change I noticed in Lanka from my last trip to this is, Indians seem to be a favourite with the Sinhalese now while the Tamils look at us with a bit of suspicion, a sense of being let down. And, rightly so. After all we equipped the Srilankan Army almost to make sure the Chinese don’t score over us. India is known to have heavily equipped the Srilankan army against the LTTE, which had become a monster it had created and it could no longer control. It is no secret that the LTTE was trained and equipped by India, under Indira Gandhi, to make sure there wouldn’t be an US base in Srilanka. This was during the heights of the Cold War. India’s support for the Srilankan Army was also a statement on who India was now allying with on the global platform. Very interesting read, this book. Starting with Chellakili, Kittu, Seelan among others, this book details the various people who were part of LTTE and were Prabhakaran’s trusted lieutenants. The book also gives us a peek into the many characters and the various Tamil groups that played a role in the Sinhala Tamil conflict in Srilanka. It will be interesting to read the sequel to this book as this doesn’t detail the split between Karuna and Prabhakaran, which many believe led to the end of LTTE. Karuna is now part of the government but it is quite obvious that he or for that matter Chandrakantha alias ‘Pillaiyan’ (Chief Mnister of Srilanka East Province) is not much of a favourite among the Tamil population. They are both seen as traitors. I sure missed visiting Jaffna, Mullaittivu, Vanni, Mannar, Vavuniya, Velvettithurai and Batticaloa this time. Sigh! Calls for one more trip to Lanka, and soon.
Useless trivia : The LTTE logo was designed by a Madurai-based artist. The initial form and concept, in the form of a sketch idea in 1976, was supposedly Prabhakaran’s. The sketch was to incorporate the head of a roaring tiger, paws outstretched, with two rifles and 33 bullets set against a circle around the tiger’s head. Starting 1976, 33 years is what Prabhakaran supposedly predicted it would take to have a Tamil eelam. One bullet for every year from 1976. He didn’t have any left for 2009.