Originally Published 2004-03-08 11:43:22 Published on Mar 08, 2004
Sri Lanka has remained a fractured country for the major portion of its existence due to the ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. Today, it is again at the crossroads as it awaits the results of the snap general elections, due on April 2, 2004, following the dissolution of Parliament on February 7, 2004 in the wake of seemingly irreconcilable differences between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Inside an Elusive Mind  Prabhakaran: Some Comments
Sri Lanka has remained a fractured country for the major portion of its existence due to the ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. Today, it is again at the crossroads as it awaits the results of the snap general elections, due on April 2, 2004, following the dissolution of Parliament on February 7, 2004 in the wake of seemingly irreconcilable differences between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.

Meanwhile, the latest attempt at a peace process, which started with a ceasefire agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) under the Wickremasinghe administration and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), signed on February 22, 2002, is at a standstill. How one man, Velupillai Prabhakaran, founder and supreme leader of the LTTE, reacts to this situation holds the key to future stability in the island-nation.

In this context, a book authored by M.R. Narayan Swamy, a Delhi-based journalist, examining the life of Prabhakaran from his birth in a Jaffna hospital on November 26, 1954, to the April 10, 2002, international press conference he addressed in LTTE-controlled Killinochchi, is of considerable topical interest.

The book, Inside an Elusive Mind - Prabhakaran came out in the latter half of 2003 and is published by Konark Publishers (290 pages). Narayan Swamy had earlier written a book entitled Tigers of Lanka: From boys to guerrillas, published in 1994.

Inside an Elusive Mind is in three parts, each consisting of 10 chapters. The first part begins with the LTTE ambush and massacre of 13 Sinhalese soldiers in Jaffna in July 1983 that triggered off the deadly confrontation between the group and the Government for nearly two decades. The LTTE was formed on May 5, 1976 by Prabhakaran with the avowed aim of fighting for an independent homeland in the island's north and east for the Tamil minority. Even earlier, he and three of his associates had allegedly taken part in the assassination of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duriappah on July 27, 1975, after which he escaped to the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu, where he was arrested on May 19, 1982 after a shootout in Pondy Bazaar, Chennai.

According to the account given in the book, he was chased, caught and thrashed by a crowd and was later beaten-up by police after he was caught. In December, he managed to escape from police custody while being taken by bus from Madurai to Chennai and fled to Jaffna. The author attributes the fact that he was able to stay in Tamil Nadu without any problem till the shoot-out to the assistance allegedly received by him from local political leaders, including allegedly from the then Chief Minister, M. G. Ramachandran.

The second part narrates what it claims to be India's role in training various Tamil separatist groups, including the LTTE, in September-October of 1983, the return of Prabakaran to India in 1983 and his stay there till January1987, and ends with the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 between the then Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and the-then Sri Lankan President, J.R.Jayawardene and the dispatch of 5000 troops of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka in pursuance of that Accord. Long before Osama bin Laden named his organisation the al Qaeda, Prabakaran had named the camp in the impregnable forests of Mullaitivu district, bordering the North and East of Sri Lanka, from which he organised his resistance to the IPKF as Base One Four

The third part of the book narrates the LTTE's confrontation with the IPKF leading to the eventual departure to India of the latter in March 1990 after it had suffered a loss of 1200 men in its two and a half years-stay in Sri Lanka. It goes on to describe the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE on May 21, 1991. Directions for the dastardly killing were given to Sivarasan, a hardcore LTTE member and Jaffna native, at the end of 1990. The author points out that if only the Indian intelligence had been able to decode some encrypted messages of the LTTE in time they might have been able to prevent the assassination. One of the messages cited by the author as an example was intercepted on May 7, 1991, but, according to him, was deciphered only after the assassination. That message, believed to have been originated by Sivarasan, had said: "If I return to Jaffna, it will be as Pottu Amman's (LTTE's intelligence chief) man, having achieved the incredible feat of assassinating a world leader." What are today known as the Eelam Wars I, II and III and the loss of Jaffna by the LTTE are also covered along with accounts of the various political assassinations carried out at the behest of the LTTE leader.

After going through the book, some ironies spring to mind. Examples: It was during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's time that Tamil separatist groups, including the LTTE, were allegedly given shelter and training, but her son, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE without any qualms of conscience; the founder of the AIDMK, M. G. Ramachandran, lent support to Prabhakaran, who is viewed by today's leader of the AIDMK and Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha, as a detestable terrorist leader who poses a threat to India's national security; Prabhakaran had no hesitation in accepting help from the Sinhalese, his sworn enemy, during President Ranasinghe Premadasa's time, to confront the IPKF, but, after having achieved his objective, he had equally no hesitation in ordering the assassination of Premadasa; and the action of President Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party in forming an alliance recently with the Janata Vimukta Perumala (JVP), one of whose members had assassinated her husband.

In various places, the book highlights Prabakaran's intense dislike for the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India's external intelligence agency. The author quotes Prabakaran as having described the R&AW as "a bunch of betrayers" (p.151) and as "accusing R&AW of trying to arm and smuggle in members of rival Tamil groups who had fled Sri Lanka earlier and taken refuge in India." (p. 170).

The LTTE's deadly use of a special force called the Black Tigers, whose members are motivated and trained to act as "human bombs" has also been touched upon. Prabhakaran is quoted as having stated on the sixth anniversary of the first LTTE suicide attack observed as "Black Tigers' day", on July 5, 1993: "I have groomed my weak brethren into a strong weapon called Black Tigers…The Black Tigers constitute the armor of self-defense for our ethnic group, and also serve to remove the barriers coming in the way of our struggle." (p.249) According to the author, "between July 1987 and November 2001, the LTTE carried out, by Colombo's own reckoning, a total of 54 suicide attacks. The real number would be much more as the LTTE, in keeping with its politico-diplomatic-military expediencies, does not accept responsibility for the attacks on non-military targets…." (p. x)

The book strongly brings out Prabhakaran's determination to achieve a Tamil Eelam. To quote the author, "The Hindu, published from Madras and one of India's national newspapers, put this poser to him in September 1986: "Do you take the commitment to Eelam as a serious political proposition for the Tamil side - not just speaking for yourself or the LTTE? Or is it a bargaining position, meaning you won't give this up until an alternative - a lesser political proposition would come on the agenda? Do you seriously believe that the struggle for Tamil Eelam can be waged on a political front under the present circumstances and seeing the position taken by India?" Prabhakaran was blunt in his response: "Certainly. If you look at our historical background, our experience of struggle over 30 years or so has brought us inescapably to this determination. Therefore we consider that only Tamil Eelam can be a secure outcome for us and there can be no alternative to this." (p144). And again: "We have to achieve freedom by fighting and by shedding blood", he thundered. "There is no other choice. An independent Tamil Eelam is the only solution, the final solution." (p.153)

The author vividly brings out how Prabhakaran had only 40 members in the LTTE, at its inception, but is today more than 10, 000 strong. The ethnic conflict has cost more than 60, 000 lives, of which 17,000 belonged to the LTTE. The author's account of how Prabhakaran ruthlessly eliminated all threats to his group or leadership brings one to the conclusion that Prabhakaran is the LTTE and the LTTE is Prabhakaran.

Narayan Swamy poses some very relevant questions in the preface to his book: "So what in right earnest is LTTE talking to Sri Lanka about now? Is the Tiger changing his stripes? Will Prabhakaran give up his claim for separation and settle for autonomy? Is Colombo ready to shake hands with the Tiger boss - on his own terms? What will happen to the awesome military machine built up by him? Will the man, in a burst of fury, unleash again, with all the power at his command, his self-styled war for separation, as he did thrice before just after professing to renounce the path of violence?"

These are troubling questions to which there seem to be no clear-cut answers except possibly in the elusive mind of Prabhakaran. To these, two more questions can be added: Will there be an LTTE after Prabhakaran, given the elimination of all potential threats to his unquestioned supremacy in the group; also, given the strategic implications of the island becoming two nations, how will India and the US react if they see dangers of the LTTE succeeding in forming an Eelam due to the inept handling of the situation by the country's political leadership? These are important questions on which one finds hardly any open debate either in India or elsewhere.

The author, it would seem, has met Prabhakaran personally only once, but despite this, he has tried to do justice to his analysis on the basis of a wealth of information painstakingly collected. One only wishes that there had been a proper citation of all the open sources used, which would have enhanced the value of the book for research scholars. He has delved into the elusive mind and sought to give the reader a clear picture of what makes Prabakaran tick. Anyone interested in having a broader perspective of Sri Lanka's contemporary history, for whatever reason, would gain by reading this book.

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