by Sachi Sri Kantha, October 28, 2013
Mr. Villa Anandaram, currently residing in Canada, is a good friend of mine. Our friendship goes back to our classmate days at the Colombo Hindu College, Ratmalana, in mid 1960s. Though we disagreed (and still disagree) on many political and cultural issues of the times, we never allowed such disagreement to taint our friendship. As a rejoinder to the General Vo Nguyen Giap requiem which I posted previously, I provide this email exchange I had with Anandaram recently. In this exchange, we dissected the success of General Giap in 1975 against the Americans and the failure of V. Prabhakaran (the leader of LTTE) in 2009 against the Sinhalese. Anandaram had kindly given permission to use this exchange, in this rejoinder. The script is minimally revised for grammatical errors and spelling consistency.
Oct.17: from Sachi Sri Kantha
Hope you’d have read my thoughts on Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap posted in the Sangam site. [I] would like to know your views, in case if you have some different opinion.
Oct.22: from Anandaram
I don’t think it is right to compare Prabhakaran with General Giap and Ho Chi Minh.
– Prabhakaran was playing the role of both Giap and Ho. It is important that we understand this.
– As a strategist he was clever and [was] probably inspired by Giap’s success.
– But he is not Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh is Uncle Ho to all Vietnamese. Prabhakaran failed miserably at this. There was nothing to unite the Tamils living in North and East, the land Prabhakaran wanted to liberate from the Sinhalese.
– The support he enjoyed because of his heroism and the success of LTTE’s initial military achievements started disappearing when the fight was prolonging without any viable victory.
– The period of peace gave people a hope that there will be no more fight and his generals became lethargic. It was not people’s war anymore.
The interview by John Kennedy you have attached has the answers.
– “If we had fought the Soviet way we wouldn’t have lasted more than 2 hours”; this refutes your argument that technology caused the failure of LTTE.
– “So when I am asked who was the best general, I say the Vietnamese people” ; there was no Tamil people fighting, we had only LTTE.
– “As chairman Ho said, there is never a strategy that is purely military. So our strategy included everything- political, military, economic, diplomatic aspects. And it was not a war fought solely by the military; it was fought by the whole people.” This is a point Prabhaharan didn’t understand. Also his diplomacy was a failure or probably there was no such thing. He was misled by those he depended on this matter including Tamil Nadu politicians.
– We need to admit that Sinhalese politicians were much much better than us in diplomacy and political manoeuvering since independence. Even the [Sinhalese] kings in defending and preserving their identity against the invasion of powerful Tamil kings [were better]. Regards.
Thanks for your thoughts and disagreements with my view. I welcome it. Here are my answers. First, you are mistaken; I compared Prabha only to Giap, and not with Ho Chi Minh. I don’t take it seriously that Prabha was playing the role of Ho – the Eelam theorist. Original Eelam theorist was C. Suntharalingam, though I think the Tribune editor S.P. Amarasingam wrote in 1977, that it was G.G. Ponnambalam (after the Soulbury Commission submissions, and before he joined D.S. Senanayake cabinet). Then, V. Navaratnam (Kayts) picked up the baton. Then, in 1977, it was Amirthalingam after the general election.
Giap’s answer to John Kennedy interview, has to be taken as a hyperbole, to humor the young Kennedy. It is well known that he sacrificed nearly 2 million Vietnamese lives for his victory. That’s why he told that answer; the real generals were Vietnamese people.
One cannot take all the nation’s people into one side of a liberation war. Which liberation army in the world had 100% people’s support? Not Russian, not Chinese, not Cuban, and also not American (in late 18th century). News reports that I checked in 1960s from New York Times also state that, even Giap was aggressive against the traitors and turn coats
(among Vietnamese) – just like Prabha. It shows that even he didn’t have 100% support for his side.
I do agree that Sinhalese politicians (from D.S.Senanayake, JR and even Chandrika) got a better deal in splitting the Tamils, by adopting the British ‘Divide and Rule’ policy, and also playing the Tamils against the Muslims. In this, Prabha was handicapped.
You also have to consider the point that Giap got military support from Russians and Chinese, in chasing the Americans out. And one difference between Vietnam and Eelam was that neither French nor Americans were natives of neighboring land. In Eelam, it was not the case.
Oct.22: from Anandaram
When I said “Prabhakaran was playing the role of both Giap and Ho” I meant that he had to play the role of a military general and a political leader, in which he has failed. He was running a de facto government and was the sole representative of the Tamils. It was not getting 100% support, he never even had 20% support in the East and almost 0% support from the Muslims. It was not his fault – it was the hegemony of Jaffna [that was] resented in the East. Then the Jaffna society was also divided by caste which reflected in the formation of multiple liberation groups. Prabaha tried to resolve this at gun point, which cannot be successful in a long term war.
Even the LTTE started splitting during his time, and after his death in a ridiculous manner. It was one man show and there was no viable strategy to continue. This wouldn’t have been in the case of Vietnam. Definitely Prabha was handicapped. He was fighting India, not just Sri Lanka; a next-door Superpower. It was India’s war [that] Sri Lanka executed. It was not because [of] Rajiv, as many think; it was globalization, and any liberation movement – a strong one like LTTE- in that region is a threat to Indian interest. The world has changed in last 30 years and Prabha didn’t realize it. He was clever, genuine, dedicated fighter; that’s all.
I am not sure if I made my point clear; so adding [a] few more. “As chairman Ho said, there is never a strategy that is purely military. So our strategy included everything- political, military, economic, diplomatic aspects. “- This was missing or inadequate and improper from Prabha. The sympathy of the whole world including American public was with Vietnam, because innocent and public were never targeted. It is ok to be aggressive against traitors, but who are traitors? Anyone who disagrees with Prabha! Almost 1/3 of the Tamil speaking people cannot be traitors. You say “It is well known that he [Giap] sacrificed nearly 2 million Vietnamese lives for his victory.” – Not his victory, [but] the victory of the Vietnamese people. It was not the same with the Tamils after the peace negotiation started. I strongly believe he [Prabha] had bad advisers, 1- Tamil Nadu politicians, 2-Diaspora Tamils, 3- His generals fighting for personal gains. The divide and rule was not just played by the Sinhala leadership. Tamils were divided and Prabha did not address this and thought his military success will make this disappear. Watch the link I sent you on Pilliyan’s speech.
Oct.23: from Sachi Sri Kantha
Thanks for your two mails rebutting my views. I welcome it whole heartedly. I have yet to view Pillaiyan’s speech. I have never bothered to listen to his views, because I hold him and his coterie for killing my good friend S. Raveendranath (ex- VC of Eastern University). Anyway, as you insist, I’ll check it, and will write to you again in two days.
Oct.23: from Anandaram
Pilliyan is a SOB. But there are facts/opinion about the East, mentioned in his speech. My own experience working in the East in 1979-80 will justify his speech.
Oct.24: from Sachi Sri Kantha
Thanks. I did watch first 30 minutes of Pillaiyan’s speech during the 2012 elections. He did impress me a bit, with his Tamil oratory. But, that sort of old-fashioned oratory couldn’t help him to retain his Chief Ministership. What is his status now? He is merely dumped into political oblivion by Mahinda, with ‘a Presidential advisor’ title. Just because, he could make a good speech in Tamil during a election campaign, do you think that he is a good political leader? He was merely bad-mouthing his opponents -that’s all. All he claimed as his achievements, were ‘blessings’ of President Mahinda. He rails against Sambanthan. But Sambanthan himself belongs to the East (Trincomalee), isn’t it?
To continue, my thoughts, I don’t agree that Prabha played the role of both Ho Chi Minh and Gen. Giap. The general consensus is that, Balasingham (the LTTE theoretician) was the Ho Chi Minh, to Prabha’s Giap.
I do agree that Prabha was ill-served by his advisors, especially by Balasingham. He was partly sick, and one could say, paranoid as well. But, I don’t agree that Prabha depended on advice from any Tamil Nadu politicians. MGR was the only politician Prabha respected, because he helped LTTE financially and also turned a blind eye to LTTE activities.
By any means, you cannot say, that Jayalalitha was supportive of LTTE. Even Karunanidhi was not trusted by Prabha. Others (like P.Nedumaran and Vaiko) were tolerated because they at least issued supportive ‘calls’. But Prabha knew that they didn’t have the muscle to influence policy either in Tamilnadu or in Delhi.
The serious handicap Prabha faced was that, for Giap, Russians and Chinese were on his side in 1960s. Nominally, Russia was a superpower, though Americans didn’t recognize mainland China in UN Security Council until 1970s. But in 1990s and 2000s, both Russians and Chinese sided with the SL government, due to their internal separate state Muslim claimants (Chechen in Russia, as well as Uighur and Tibet in China) against LTTE’s interests. At the Security Council level, for Giap, it was 2 (Russia and China) against 1 (USA). But for Prabha, it was 0 against 3 (USA, Russia and China). Ultimately, this was the clinching factor. I don’t consider India was a superpower in the same league as that of UN Security Council members.
In support of my view that General Giap’s Vietcong army did use Vietnamese people to ‘cull’ traitors and enemy agents among them, and “Assassination committees’ were then entrusted with carrying out executions, I provide a PDF file of a New York Times feature by Max Clos, which appeared in August 16, 1964 nearby. This appeared before the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Now, many of the LTTE critics taunt, what did Prabhakaran achieve in 30 years of fighting. I’d mention only two. First, he pummeled the cancer of caste dominancy amongst the Tamils to the core. This was one serious reason why the Brahmin loudmouths in Tamil Nadu were against LTTE. Secondly, Prabhakaran attempted seriously to eliminate the fear component among the Tamils. Here is one appropriate compliment from a Sinhalese scribe, which appeared in the anti-LTTE daily, The Island, in July 28, 2001. I quote only the first paragraph of this commentary.
“The attack on the Air Force base and the International Airport at Katunayake was supposed to be the LTTE’s way of commemorating the 1983 July riots. The Sinhalese public has changed a great deal since the anti-Tamil riots of 1983. In 1983, I remember there were Sinhalese mobs hunting down unarmed Tamils, but when a rumour went around that some Tigers had come to Colombo, there was total panic among the Sinhalese ‘chandiyas’. The Tiger cadres were supposed to have come to Slave Island in central Colombo, but people fled in all directions as far away as Padukka and Avissawella! The only thing in the mind of the Sinhalese public was to escape the wrath of the Tigers.”
Any guess, who wrote this? It was written by C.A. Chandraprema, a latter day biographer of a war deserter named Gotabhaya Rajapaksa! Where was Gota, when Chandraprema wrote this compliment to Prabhkaran in 2001? He had fled all the way to USA, after submitting his retirement papers following two decades of serving the Sri Lankan army!