The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 18

Sachi Sri Kantha
[13 October 2001]

A Ramanujan in Military Science

First, read this short passage of what Bertrand Russell wrote in Chapter 5 entitled ‘Science and War’, his short tract, The Impact of Science on Society (1952).

“The greatest men of the Renaissance commended themselves to the powerful by their skill in scientific warfare. When Leonardo [da Vinci] wanted to get a job from the Duke of Milan, he wrote the Duke a long letter about his improvements in the art of fortification, and in the last sentence mentioned briefly that he could also paint a bit. He got the job, though I doubt if the Duke read as far as the last sentence. When Galileo wanted employment under the Grand Duke of Tuscany, it was on his calculations of the trajectories of cannon-balls that he relied. In the French Revolution, such men of science as were not guillotined owed their immunity to their contributions to the war effort.”

da Vinci (1452-1519) and Galileo (1564-1642) – the two brains who set the tone for the dominance of science in the Western hemisphere – were contract scientists whose thoughts enriched the military science of their eras. This trend has continued until now. Enrico Fermi (1901-54) and his colleagues, who split the atom 60 years ago, were intellectual descendants of da Vinci and Galileo. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in dabbling with military science. The downfall of Tamils during the past 500 years in the Indian subcontinent is due to the fact that Tamils were not encouraged by external (colonial and missionary) and internal (societal and religious) forces to think in terms of military science. Pirabhakaran made a change in Tamil thinking.

I measure my words when I state that Pirabhakaran is a scientist – albeit an unconventional scientist. Pirabhakaran’s speciality is military science. Being a practising scientist for over two decades, I can comprehend the ‘scientist mind’ in Pirabhakaran. A stale wisecrack on Pirabhakaran is that he did not have a tertiary education. But corollary to that wisecrack is that, the island where Pirabhakaran was born did not have (and even now doesn’t have) a proper military science program at the university level.

Ceylon had its ceremonial army of course, but the cerebral power of its ranking leaders was so abysmal that they couldn’t even execute successful military coup d'état, not once but twice in the 1960s. When Pirabhakaran came of age in 1972, there were no ranking military thinkers (or defence analysts in current parlor) in the island to brag about. Here is the history of the post-independent period’s Sri Lankan army until 1972, as it appears currently in the Sri Lankan army website:

“The Army Act was enacted in parliament on the 10th of October 1949 which is recognized as the day, the Ceylon Army was raised. The Army was to be comprised of a Regular and a Volunteer force and the initial requirement was to raise the following units in the Regular and Volunteer Forces.

The Regular Force:

An artillery Regiment to guard the coast and the airspace of the Island.

An Infantry Battalion to mainly assist the police in internal security duties, for static guards and ceremonial duties.

A small detachment of Signals to provide communications.

An element of the Service Crops [sic!] for supply transport and barrack services.

A new ordnance Depot

An Electrical and Mechanical Engineer Workshop

A Medical element to handle the British Army hospital in Colombo and the Medical Reception Centre at Diyatalawa.

A Works Services element for repair and maintenance of buildings.

A small Military Police section to maintain discipline

A Recruit Training Depot

The Volunteer Force:

An Artillery Regiment

An Engineer Squadron

An Infantry Battalion

A Medical Unit

A Service Corps Company

There were no formations and all units were directly functioning under Army Headquarters. Temporary field headquarters formed at the time of a requirement as it was done during the 1958 communal riots. The first field formation was raised in 1963, to prevent illicit immigration from South India. This headquarters was known as Task Force Anti Illicit Immigration (TAFII), which was disbanded in 1981. In May 1972, when Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka, all Army units were renamed accordingly.”

In this ‘chronological history of the Sri Lankan army’, the unsuccessful 1962 and 1966 coups did not happen. So much for the factual accuracy and integrity of the Sri Lankan armed forces!

Thus, Pirabhakaran was a self-taught military scientist, like what Ramanujan was for mathematics. Ramanujan is renowned for his mathematical calculations. Similarly Pirabhakaran has proved his mettle in military calculations. Ramanujan’s mathematical caliber couldn’t be assessed by his ordinary peers. The same was true for Pirabhakaran’s military caliber.

Neither Ceylon nor the greater India (encompassing both Pakistan and Bangladesh) did generate a ranking military leader, of international caliber, in the past 200 years. I substantiate this statement with the statistic provided in the reference book, Who’s Who in Military History: from 1453 to the Present Day, authored by John Keegan and Andrew Wheatcroft (Routledge, 1996). This source book lists 699 names. Among these, only four Indian military leaders appear, namely Babur (1483-1530), Akbar (1542-1605), Sivaji (1627-80) and Tippu Sultan (1749-99). Thus, the last military leader of rank from the Indian subcontinent, died in 1799.

Pirabhakaran has been called names by his tub-thumbing political adversaries and power-peddling journalists; a ‘megalomaniac’, ‘a ruthless killer’, ‘a tyrant’, and ‘a terrorist’ are few of these. Ignoramuses in military science fail to note that these labels apply to 99 percent of the 699 names recognized as the great military men, the world has seen since 1453. Also, these labels fit perfectly even to democratic, street-smart politicians like Truman, Johnson, Nixon, J.R.Jayewardene and Premadasa when they waged war.

Watson’s rules for success in science

Why I assert Pirabhakaran’s unusual science acumen is that, he seems to be adhering to more than a couple of rules of success (for a scientist) proposed by James Watson. But, I cannot verify whether Pirabhakaran knows these Watson’s rules, or even whether he knows who Watson is.

Watson is a revered name in biomedical sciences, since he was one of the co-discoverers of the double helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953. He also gained a reputation as a brash, no-nonsense guy who broke the accepted norms and conventions of scientific world. In a talk delivered on March 2, 1993, to honor the 40th anniversary of his famous discovery, he was in his flair. He introduced his five rules for success, as a scientist. To excerpt from his lecture script which appeared in the Science magazine of Sept.24, 1993, Watson’s five rules are as follows:

Rule 1: To succeed in science, you have to avoid dumb people. In the game of science – or life – the highest goal isn’t simply to win, it’s to win at something really difficult. Put another way, it’s to go somewhere beyond your ability and come out on top.

Rule 2: To make a huge success, a scientist has to be prepared to get into deep trouble. Sometime or another, people will tell you that you’re not ready to do something. If you are going to make a big jump in science, you will very likely be unqualified to succeed by definition. The truth, however, won’t save you from criticism. Your very willingness to take on a very big goal will offend some people who will think that you are too big for your britches and crazy to boot.

Rule 3: Be sure you always have someone up your sleeve who will save you when you find yourself in deep s…(four-letter word, rhyming with ‘hit’).

Rule 4: Never do anything that bores you. Constantly exposing your ideas to informed criticism is very important.

Rule 5: If you can’t stand to be with your real peers, get out of science. It’s very hard to succeed in science if you don’t want to be with other scientists. You have to go to key meetings where you may spot key facts that would have escaped you. And you have to chat with your competitors, even if you find them objectionable.

Of these five rules for success proposed by Watson, from the past 15 years of Pirabhakaran’s deeds, one could infer that he has adhered to Rules 1, 2, 3 and 4 with conviction. His adherence to Rule 5 is a toss up. Now, I explain what I mean by these assertions.

Avoiding dumb people: Pirabhakaran routinely avoided the dumb people such as those who represented the Indian Intelligence Agencies and the Sri Lankan politicians.

Getting into deep trouble: Pirabhakaran got into deep trouble by deciding to ‘test’ the skills of his LTTE against the Indian army.

Having someone at hand for protection: Pirabhakaran had two great patrons to protect him in his war against the Indian army. They were MGR (an individual) and the Tamils (a population) living in the North and East Eelam.

Not doing anything that is boring: Pirabhakaran has learnt by historical experience that the round table conferences, ‘All Party Colloquia’, Constitutional amendments, Commissions and peace negotiations with the third degree politicians are time-wasting strategies which deny and postpone the political rights of people whom he represents and thus they have been boring for him.

Baptism by Fire in 1987-90

One tough decision Pirabhakaran took to gain stature among his peer military scientists was the one he made in October 1987 to confront the Indian army which had landed in Eelam, following the Jayewardene-Rajiv Gandhi Agreement of July 1987. That was the war which heralded Pirabhakaran’s arrival among the elite ranks as one of the top military strategists of his era. It was baptism by fire. None of the Sri Lankan army’s generals has the distinction of fighting a foreign army and emerging as a victor in such an encounter. Thus, the source of anti-Pirabhakaran venom spilled by the Sinhalese analysts since 1990 derives from Pirabhakaran’s success in puncturing the armor of the Indian army.

Ten years ago, I wrote an analysis of the LTTE’s war against the Indian army which appeared in the Tamil Nation monthly (Aug.15, 1991). That was before the appearance of Internet as an information medium. During the past 5-6 years, the LTTE’s war against the Indian army has been presented in the Internet from many angles by interested parties. These parties include, Indian army professionals who directly took part in the war with LTTE, Sri Lankan army professionals (Major General Lucky Algama, Major General Sarath Munasinghe for instance) who were mere spectators of this war, and India’s partisan analysts like Subramanian Swamy, S.D.Muni, N.Ram, as well as the friends of Indian army. Quite a number of these observations are biased against the LTTE and obviously made to tarnish Pirabhakaran’s acumen in leading an army. Thus, there is a need to reproduce my analysis in entirety to reach the wider audience.

First I present what I thought (in 1991) about the LTTE’s performance against the Indian army, between October 1987 and March 1989. Then, I will comment on (a) how it was substantiated by the later observations of other participants who played direct roles in this war and had contact with Pirabhakaran, and also (b) how the outcome of Indian army’s confrontation with LTTE, affected the LTTE’s performance in the 1990s.

LTTE’s War with the Indian Army

[Tamil Nation, August 15, 1991]

“George Kohn, the compiler of the standard reference book, Dictionary of Wars (Facts on File Publications, New York, 1986) wrote in his introduction, ‘War has a long and intriguing history and has been a prominent feature of human existence ever since the day when rival men – and women – decided to settle their differences by use of force. In many instances, this history of a people is the history of its wars”. Only the naïve can doubt the truth of these statements.

India’s first military encounter against a foreign adversary was recorded as that of Alexander’s Asiatic campaign (329-325 BC). The Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka became the battlefield for India’s latest military encounter in 1987. Since the Indian army’s war against Prabhakaran’s Tamil Tigers lasted almost two and a half years (October 1987 to March 1990), it is time to review the outcome of this war. Already so many military experts, political pundits and journalists from India have presented ‘India’s version’ of the most unexpected military encounter the Indian army had to face in its post-independence era.

The performance of the Indian army in Sri Lanka was no better than the performances of India’s hundreds of athletes who have participated in the Olympic Games since 1948. Both the athletes and the Indian army men in Sri Lanka shared one common denominator. They failed to produce, gold, silver or even bronze-medal winning performances. But the lack luster performances of India’s athletes and army men have never deterred the post-mortem specialists in India to offer face-saving excuses, reasons etc. etc. to hide their agony.

To analyze the performance of the Indian army (I prefer this usage than the euphemistic, Indian Peace Keeping Force) in Sri Lanka, we first have to reminisce on how this army fared in the earlier wars it faced since 1947. A capsule summary of India’s wars, culled from the authoritative book, War in Peace: Conventional and Guerrilla Warfare since 1945 (edited by Sir Robert Thompson, 1985) is given below.

(1) Sino-Indian War of 1962

Date: October-November 1962

Outcome: Chinese seizure of disputed border region.

Casualties: India; 1,400 killed and 4,013 captured. China; unknown.

(2) Indo-Pakistan War of 1965

Date: April – September 27, 1965.

Main engagements: Lahore.

Outcome: UN policed ceasefire.

Casualties: India; 2,212 dead, 7,636 wounded and 1,500 missing. Pakistan: estimated 5,800 plus dead.

(3) Indo-Pakistan War of 1971

Date: December 3-16, 1971.

Main engagements: Dacca.

Outcome: Independence for Bangladesh.

Casualties: India; 1,426 dead, 3,611 wounded and 2,149 missing. Pakistan; unknown.

To these three, should be added the Siege of Sikh Golden Temple, which occurred on June 6, 1984. Casualties: Indian troops, 55 killed. Sikh militants, 500 plus killed and 1,500 plus captured.

Compared to these short military encounters of the Indian army, their mission against Prabhakaran’s Tamil Tigers became the most protracted one. Though it is a bitter pill to swallow for many, Prabhakaran emerged as a victorious military commander in the most vigorous and mentally bruising battle he faced till 1989.

Between October and December 1987 (the first three months of the war), after a bloody fighting, the Indian forces took military control of the Jaffna region and the Tamil Tigers retreated to the jungle hideouts in the Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar and Trincomalee districts. Yves de Saint Jabob’s AFP news report from New Delhi published in the Mainichi Daily News of Japan (27 January 1988) informed that by January 1988, 350 troops had died and that the war against Tamil Tigers was costing India ‘some 4 million dollars a day’. After another 15 months of war, Barbara Crossette of the New York Times (May 10, 1989) informed the world that, ‘more than 900 Indians have been killed and many thousands wounded’. And these were the ‘official figures’ released from the Indian side.

The secret of Prabhakaran’s survival in times of turbulence (against mind-numbing odds stacked against him) was dependent on three important factors. These are,

1.  his uncanny knack of outsmarting the adversaries in most unpredictable ways.

2.  patronage of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MGR

3.  his support and rapport from the Tamil masses in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Let me expand on these three factors which helped Prabhakaran to fight the Indian army with confidence.

Outsmarting the adversaries

Only outstanding leaders are blessed with this character trait. In this century (20th), leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mao Tse Tung, Marshal Tito, Fidel Castro and Yaser Arafat had this character trait. They were able to survive so many depressing moments (which would have sapped the vigor of ordinary mortals) because they were blessed with this trait.

When fighting a war with an adversary, one has to bring the enemy to your own terms to manipulate the events thereby turning the disadvantages to one’s strengths. Imagine, if Mahatmaji had played according to the rules set by the British high command in London, he would never have won independence for India. Instead, Mahatmaji set his own rules of combat with his adversaries and outsmarted the mighty fire power of the British army.

Prabhakaran dictated his own terms of combat in dealing with his adversaries. As a result he was able to bruise the bloated egos of so many politicians as well as career soldiers during the past 7 years. Who have not bitten the dust against the tactical manoeuvres of Prabhakaran? – Rajiv Gandhi, J.R.Jayewardene, J.N.Dixit (ex-Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka), Lalith Athulathmudali, Gen.L.Sundarji (India’s Chief of Army staff), Maj.Gen.Harkirat Singh (Commander of the Indian troops in Oct.1987), Lt.Gen.Depinder Singh, the manipulating officers of the Indian Intelligence (Research and Analysis Wing), the Chiefs of Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the Officers of the Sri Lankan Intelligence Service.

Patronage of MGR

MGR’s patronage was vital for Prabhakaran’s strategy against his Sri Lankan adversaries and Indian army. During the first three months of the intense combat against the Indian army, the Tamil Tigers fought valiantly with the moral support provided by MGR. Regarding MGR’s critical support for Prabhakaran, one of the reliable Indian journalists, Salamat Ali wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review (February 4, 1988) as follows:

While supporting New Delhi’s policies, MGR continued to back the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, much to the dismay of the Indian Government… MGR also persuaded New Delhi that because of its size the LTTE should not be totally ignored. In carrying out New Delhi’s instructions on the militant groups, MGR went far beyond his brief in the local handling of the LTTE. However, the central government did not consider it prudent to antagonize MGR over the issue of his special favours to the LTTE.

When MGR learned that the July 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord was nearing completion, he tipped the LTTE which moved most of its arsenal to secret hideouts in northern Sri Lanka. MGR also told the LTTE that all militant groups would be disarmed by the Indian Peace-Keeping Force, so they too hid their arms, which later had to be searched out by the Indian troops after a prolonged campaign.

Although the LTTE has been engaged in combat with Indian troops since October, MGR kept his close links with it. His statements on India’s Sri Lanka policy were deliberately vague enough to yield differing interpretations by the LTTE and New Delhi. Until MGR’s death, the LTTE’s speed boats used to hurtle between Tamil Nadu and Jaffna’s northern coast with impunity almost every night.

All the parties involved in the Eelam conflict (Tamil Tigers, Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils, UNP politicians and the Indian decision-makers) were aware that MGR would not last long following his debilitating stroke in October 1984. But they also did not anticipate the unexpected turn of events in MGR’s failing health within a couple of days prior to his death on December 24, 1987. The death of MGR was indeed a major blow to Prabhakaran.

Following MGR’s death, even J.R.Jayewardene cocksurely predicted the demise of Tamil Tigers. The Time (January 11, 1988; Asian edition) reported that, ‘he (Jayewardene) is confident that the 35,000 Indian troops brought in under a joint accord with India will soon ‘finish’ the Tigers’. But Prabhakaran’s rebels recovered from the loss of MGR and they survived the whole of 1988, while Jayewardene retired in disgrace.

3) Support of Tamil people

How much support and rapport, Prabhakaran and his youthful rebels had among the Tamils of Northern and Eastern provinces is distinctly visible when we compare the two reports published, one at the beginning of the war (October 1987) and the second one after 18 months, in March 1989.

Angus Deming and Ron Moreau reporting for the Newsweek (October 26, 1987) wrote,

…they [Tamil Tigers] may also have lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Jaffna Tamils, many of whom support the peace accord and have grown weary of the Tigers’ violent ways. As a result, says one Western diplomat in Colombo, ‘the Tigers don’t have a long-term defensible position in Jaffna city. It’s only a matter of days before they either have to surrender or try to escape’. That was the view of the Indian military tacticians. But, their expectations did not materialize even after pounding the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of non-combatant Tamils living in the Eelam territory.

Barbara Crossette’s article entitled, ‘If the War has ended, why are so many dying?’, published in the New York Times of March 9, 1989, told the continued support Prabhakaran’s rebels enjoyed amongst the Tamils.

…The Tigers, almost unbelievably, have not lost public sympathy, despite their terrorist tactics and the destructions that came in their wake. Over and over again, a visitor to Jaffna hears the Tigers complimented for ‘never letting us down’. Quietly, the Tigers are still a presence in Jaffna town, in villages elsewhere on the peninsula and on surrounding islands. If Indians control the roads by day, Tigers have the ability to cut them by night… Indian troops, fearful of driving alone on the peninsula’s road, roar along in convoys, scattering local people with angry glares and the brandishing of automatic weapons.

The Outcome

Prabhakaran and his rebels had to tackle the Indian army in three phases.

(a)  open warfare

(b)  guerrilla operations

(c)  a political campaign for popular support

Based on the initial outcome of the open warfare (October-November 1987), the Indian army and Indian news media announced ‘victories’ and now it is apparent that their boast was premature and a hollow one. Once the Indian army gained military control during day time (while losing the popular support of the Tamil masses) in the Jaffna region by firepower and air-strike, they were lost about their next move. They presumed that mere show of tank strength could cage the Tamil Tigers but they were sadly mistaken. On paper, it looked like that the Indian army would have disarmed the Tamil Tigers within five days (That was the original estimate of Rajiv Gandhi). The Indian military brains estimated this on the duration of their Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971.

The strength of Tamil Tigers, on paper, amounted to 5,000 plus. Hence the initial landing of 15,000 Indian soldiers in August 1987. This was based on the accepted rules of conventional war that the Indian army needed a 3:1 advantage in manpower and equipment to take on a garrison in prepared positions. Then the agony of the Indian military tacticians became evident when they had to bring reinforcement in excess of 100,000 men. Even this proved futile.

What Rajiv Gandhi’s military advisers failed to calculate was that Prabhakaran’s hard-core army of 5,000 plus was given solid cover by more than a million non-combatant Tamils of Northern and Eastern provinces. Prabhakaran also followed another maxim of Mao’s guerrilla warfare: ‘Strategy is to pit one man against ten, but the tactics are to pit ten men against one.’

In the final analysis, the Indian army was outwitted and out-fought by Prabhakaran’s Tigers. Who will disagree with the comments of one Theepan, a Tamil Tiger field commander:

We are elated to fight the Indians; the whole world admired us for the fight we have given the world’s fourth largest armed forces? (Time: Dec.19, 1988).

The British weekly Economist harbors no love for the Tamil Tigers. It’s Sri Lankan correspondent always reports with contempt about the mission on which Prabhakaran has embarked. However, on the first anniversary of the LTTE-Indian war, the Economist (October 22, 1988) came to its senses and presented a somewhat accurate appraisal of the result. Otherwise it would have lost it’s credibility as a critical commentator of contemporary events. The title of the story was, ‘Rajiv gets lost on a Tiger hunt’. Some excerpts are worth recording for the benefit of those who have not read it.

“More than 500 of its [India’s] 50,000 soldiers have been killed, almost all of them by the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. Three times that number have been wounded… And there is the incalculable damage to the army’s pride from its failure, despite more than a year of effort and a vast superiority of arms, to subdue the Tigers…The Tigers have lost some 350 men since the fighting resumed in earnest last October, and now have around 2,000 in the field…

Tigers are not alone in believing that one day they will get their Tamil Eelam. Some of the Indian officers fighting them believe so too. They have experienced the Tigers’ tenacity in battle and have interrogated Tiger prisoners. They reckon the guerrillas could go on fighting indefinitely.”

The Economist continued its analysis further.

“Even those who do not accept that bleak view now suspect that the Tigers cannot simply be wiped out, as it was once thought they could be. If the Indians cannot do it, the Sri Lankan army, which is half the size of the Indian force in Sri Lanka, seems unlikely to.”

In recent decades (if not centuries), no military general from Sri Lanka had the courage to take on the might of an Indian army. But Prabhakaran took the challenge in a most daring manner and had surprised many of his critics. The Time magazine (April 3, 1989; Asian edition) had written the non-partisan verdict of this war. In its cover story on ‘Super India: The next military power’, there appeared a box-feature, with the caption, ‘Sri Lanka: Case Study of a Disaster’. The last three sentences of the analysis read:

“Some 800 Indian soldiers have died at the hands of the Tigers. India still has 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces committed to the Sri Lanka operation, yet it has failed to put down the guerrillas. The simmering conflict may not be India’s Viet Nam, but it provides the lesson for New Delhi that even an emerging superpower must recognize its limits.”

That certainly was grudging acknowledgement of the victory for Prabhakaran’s army.

Almost a year later, when India withdrew the last of its troops from Sri Lanka on March 24, 1990, Barbara Crossette of the New York Times openly acknowledged the LTTE’s victory over the Indian Army (March 25, 1990). She wrote,

“The defeat of New Delhi’s policy is now complete. Not only has India lost the battle with the Tamil Tigers, at the cost of about 1,200 Indian lives, but it has also lost any hope of direct influence over the Sri Lankan northeast, particularly the strategic port of Trincomalee, whom an Indian-installed provincial government, intended to blunt the Tigers’ political potential, collapsed this month.”

So, in the final verdict, of the three phases which consisted the Indo-LTTE war (1987-90), the LTTE won the two phases (guerrilla campaign and the popular support for political campaign) after back-tracking in the first phase (open warfare). It was the longest war the Indian army has fought since India’s independence. However, the Tamils cannot feel happy about the victory, since it has been achieved at too great cost. The tragedy of the Indo-LTTE war summed up in statistics (only a partial one) should read as follows:

India: 1,200 plus killed and many thousands injured (‘official estimate’)

LTTE: 1,000 plus killed and an equal number injured.

Tamil civilians: 5,000 plus killed and injured.”

Thus ended my 1991 analysis on LTTE’s war against the Indian army. In sum, I would like to reiterate that, I identified three factors which were important for Pirabhakaran and LTTE’s survival against the Indian army’s campaign. These were, Pirabhakaran’s innate intelligence, patronage of MGR, and the mass support from the Eelam Tamil population residing in the North and East of the island. To my satisfaction, J.N.Dixit (Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka from 1985 to 1989), who was one of the chief Indian protagonists in charge of organizing the Indian army’s campaign, also confirmed the significance of all three factors in his memoirs, Assignment Colombo, in 1998. Though I stated in 1991 that the number of Tamil civilians dead was 5,000 plus, subsequent research shows that this figure need to be upwardly revised to 6,000 plus.

J.N.Dixit’s Assessment

Among a dozen of books which have appeared describing the Indo-Sri Lankan affairs of the 1980s, Dixit’s book stands out prominently for more than one reason. First, it appeared in 1998, after the deaths of many of the prominent players of that period. These include (in chronological order of death), MGR, Amirthalingam, Uma Maheswaran, Rohana Wijeweera, Ranjan Wijeratne, Rajiv Gandhi, Athulathmudali, Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and J.R.Jayewardene. Secondly, Dixit’s rank as one of the main protagonists of that era as well as his frankness in penning the political motives of such dead political players provide gravitas to his book, which are not found in other books authored by academics and analysts. Of course, Dixit’s book has its spins and fakes; it has its serious omissions, the most glaring one being the non-mention of civilian causalities in Eelam during the Indian army’s offensives; it has its minor factual errors; and it also has its garnish of ‘We did the best thing – We did the right thing’ bombast. Despite these limitations, Dixit did not mince his words, in describing Pirabhakaran’s blessings. He has noted the talent of Pirabhakaran – the leading military scientist of Tamils – as follows:

“The LTTE’s emergence as the most dominant and effective politico-military force representing Tamil interests was due to the following [Dixit lists six] factors. First, the character and personality of Prabhakaran who is disciplined, austere and passionately committed to the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils’ liberation. Whatever he may be criticized for, it cannot be denied that the man has an inner fire and dedication and he is endowed with natural military abilities, both strategic and tactical. He has also proved that he is a keen observer of the nature of competitive and critical politics. He has proved his abilities in judging political events and his adroitness in responding them.” [Book: Assignment Colombo, 1988, pp.79-80]

What makes a great scientist is the possession of keen observational powers and Dixit’s assessment of Pirabhakaran is nothing but accurate. Later in the book, Dixit again reiterated the success of Pirabhakaran in the following terms.

“I met the leaders of practically all Tamil militant groups during my four years in Colombo. Prabhakaran naturally stands out among them. Regardless of the criticisms and prejudices that I may have about this young man, I cannot help but acknowledge his deep idealism and his political and military skills. His commitment to the creation of a Tamil Eelam, in my judgement, is unalterable. He is taciturn not terribly articulate, but he is clear in his sense of priorities and precise in speech. Events over the years have shown him as an accomplished political strategist and military tactician, qualities strengthened further by his forbearance and his capacity for survival. The only time during the last one-and-a-half decades or so when his leadership and political survival was really in danger was when he was confronted by the IPKF. His surviving the IPKF operations was more due to the political contradictions affecting Sri Lankan and Indian policies than his personal capacities. But his surviving the IPKF and carrying on his struggle has made him a folk hero among his people. His hold on Sri Lankan Tamils may be partially due to the fear of the LTTE, but in recent years he has had widespread political support from Sri Lankan Tamils. In personal life he is austere, highly disciplined and totally committed. He is incapable of compromises and if he does, it has been and it is only for interim tactical purposes. He does not tolerate opposition and he has proved himself to be an accomplished guerilla commander. His political stature and credibility amongst the Tamils have increased over the years. He also has considerable support in Tamil Nadu. I do not see any prospect of his accepting a compromise with the Sinhalese government.” [ibid, pp.320-321]

On the significance of MGR’s patronage to Pirabhakaran’s LTTE, Dixit had emphasized this vital point three times in his book, and Rajiv Gandhi’s disappointment to this phenomenon, as follows:

(1)  “Despite having supported Rajiv Gandhi in signing the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, he [MGR] remained committed to assisting the LTTE. This inclination of MGR was so fundamental that he continued to provide finances and logistical facilities to Prabhakaran even after the IPKF launched operations against the LTTE.” [ibid, p.219]

(2)  “He [Rajiv Gandhi] was disappointed that the late M.G.Ramachandran also continued to provide financial and logistical support to the LTTE, even after the IPKF launched operations against this organization.” [ibid, pp.227-228]

(3)  “It is a fact that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran provided sufficient finances to the LTTE to purchase arms and supplies even after IPKF was launched against this militant group.” [ibid, p.232]

I wish to stress this fact that, Pirabhakaran was blessed in having a great and powerful patron in MGR between 1983 and 1987, which satisfied Watson’s rule no.3 for success in science, which in case of Pirabhakaran was military science. Though LTTE has survived for 14 years since MGR’s death, many of its road-blocks in the Indian political arena has to be attributed to the lack of having a powerful patron in the mold of MGR. (Continued).