The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 22

Sachi Sri Kantha
[10 November 2001]

1989 - The Year of Indian Intrigue

“A statesman is an easy man – He tells his lies by rote
a journalist makes up his lies and takes you by the throat”

-W.B.Yeats (in his 1938 poem: The Old Stone Cross)

Rote Lies 

When it comes to the spread of lies, William Butler Yeats was apt in his assessment of statesmen and journalists. In my search for the origin of ‘Pol Potist’ label on Pirabhakaran, I came across two more relevant citations, which substantiate my viewpoint (see, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – part 21). In fact, the Pol Potist label was first tagged to Rohana Wijeweera in 1988, an year before his assassination. Here is an excerpt from the Time magazine’s commentary by Marguerite Johnson.

“While most Sri Lankans think the JVP is the only force that could break Jayewardene’s iron clad on power, they do not view it as an alternative. Privately, some politicians compare the JVP’s elusive leader, Rohana Wijeweera, to Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge head widely held responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. Even in its stronghold in the South, the savagery of the JVP generated more fear than support…”[Time magazine, International edition, Nov.28, 1988, p.13]

Wijeweera’s profile was a carbon copy of Pol Pot’s profile. Both were bred in the milieu of Theravada Buddhism cum half-baked communism. While Pol Pot went to France for his higher studies and absorbed the leftist ideology, Wijeweera made his pilgrimage to Moscow. Later, both Pol Pot and Wijeweera became fanatics of the Chinese brand of communism. Thus, the comparison of Wijeweera to Pol Pot is not without some merits.

Only after the assassination of Wijeweera in November 1989, the Indian hacks (especially N.Ram) began an insinuation campaign against Pirabhakaran, by tagging his movement as Pol Potist. This campaign gained momentum following Rajiv Gandhi assassination in May 1991. The following excerpt from a Newsweek report, filed by Steve Le Vine from Madras reiterates this point.

“…To Indian police, the careful plotting of the murder and the cold calm of the killer point to the Black Tigers, a suicide-attack unit of Sri Lanka’s notorious rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tigers deny responsibility, but the Gandhi assassination has nonetheless embellished their reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous and disciplined guerrilla armies. ‘There is no one like them’, says N.Ram, a Madras journalist who has studied the Tamil rebels for years: ‘They are totally self-sacrificing’.

The Tigers are also ruthless. Their international network of moral and financial support is more sophisticated than the Irish Republican Army’s. Their brutality approaches that of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge or Peru’s Shining Path…”[Newsweek magazine, July 1, 1991, p.13]

Those journalists, comparing Pirabhakaran to Pol Pot in brutality, also exhibit their ignorance in numbers. Though it may sound ghoulish, I wish to compare the deaths attributed to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and Pirabhakaran’s LTTE to prove the fallacy perpetrated by number-challenged journalists. Pol Pot, who was the head of Khmer Rouge, is blamed for the death of at least one million Cambodian citizens (of a population of 7 million) between April 1975 and December 1978. If for argument-sake, Pirabhakaran has to be placed in the same ranks with Pol Pot for ‘brutality’, Pirabhakaran’s LTTE should have killed 2.7 million Sri Lankans from its current population of 19 million. As I have estimated (see, the Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – part 14), the total number of military and civilian deaths in Sri Lanka since 1983 stands around 66,540. Among these, LTTE is responsible for the death of nearly 2,300 Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim civilians. Thus, there exists an incomparable three-order difference (three zeros) in the number of persons killed by the LTTE and those who perished under Pol Pot. By recorded number of deaths during 1971 and 1989-90 periods, two Sri Lankan heads of state (Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Premadasa), who were also Theravada Buddhists, show convergence with Pol Pot in killing their own civilian ethnics than Pirabhakaran.

One snippet in this Steve Le Vine’s report which piqued my interest was the following blurb on Mahattaya.

“Prabhakaran sees traitors everywhere and quashes them quickly. He once decided his top deputy ‘Mahattaya’ Mahendrarajah was growing too powerful, and ‘[reportedly] made Mahattaya bow down to him on his knees 100 times’, according to a Tamil intellectual close to the rebels. The Indian police speculate that Prabhakaran, once friendly with Rajiv Gandhi, turned on him after peacekeeping troops dispatched by the Indian leader in 1987 began moving against the rebels.” [ibid]

Now, I will try to summarise the subliminal messages delivered in this Newsweek report, which appeared few weeks after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

The Indian Intelligence wallahs had convinced themselves that LTTE was behind Rajiv Gandhi’s murder.

(1) Brutality of Tamil Tigers ‘approaches that of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge’.

(2) An unnamed ‘Tamil intellectual close to the [LTTE] rebels’ in Madras paints Mahattaya as a victim of Pirabhakaran’s bullying. This intellectual could have been one of the handlers of Mahattaya for the Indian Intelligence wallahs.

(3) The story leak that Mahattaya had been punished by Pirabhakaran suggests that Mahattaya would be extricated from the charges of involvement in Rajiv Gandhi assassination. This later turned out to be true.

The truth in the anecdote about Mahattaya being asked to do 100 ‘push-ups’ can be verified only with Pirabhakaran. I leave this issue to other investigators. However, when did Mahattaya fall out with Pirabhakaran and who precipitated this split are of interest to many. Before analyzing the implications of Rajiv Gandhi assassination to Pirabhakaran, I wish to recapitulate the events of 1989.

1989 - The Year of Indian Intrigue

The year 1989 is significant for Sri Lankans for multiple reasons. First, Premadasa assumed presidency in that year. Secondly, parliamentary elections were held after a lapse of nearly 12 years. Thirdly, Rohana Wijeweera was assassinated by the state’s law enforcement operatives. For Eelam Tamils, the year 1989 saw the notable assassinations of the following:

July 13: TULF leaders Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran, in Colombo.

July 16: PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran, in Colombo.

September 21: human rights activist Rajani Thiranagama, in Jaffna.

It is my premise that these four assassinations were inter-linked and circumstantial evidence and motives suggest that Indian intelligence operatives (Research and Analysis Wing) at that time were conspirators for these assassinations. Motives are manifold. Embarrassing the LTTE leadership and creating confusion in Premadasa’s camp (Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran assassinations), protecting the release of embarrassing details on the ‘stage-managed’ 1988 Maldives Coup Plot (Uma Maheswaran assassination), protecting the image of Indian policy makers by means of neutralizing criticism on the human rights front (Rajani Thiranagama assassination) and covering up the IPKF’s military quagmire in Eelam are the main motives.

As I have observed in the Part 1 of this series, the assassinations of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Uma Maheswaran occurred between June 1 and July 29. The then President Premadasa made his Battaramulla declaration on June 1, requesting the Indian army to leave the island by the end of July 1989. As I also pointed out in the Part 1, a premature obituary of Pirabhakaran also appeared in the Madras Hindu, following the murders of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Uma Maheswaran, claiming that Mahattaya had ascended to the LTTE’s leadership.

Narayan Swamy, in his book Tigers of Lanka, has described in a paragraph how the Eelam Tamils were perplexed by the Indian intrigue. To quote,

“[Eelam] Tamils were confused by Indian policies and actions. While the militants were trained and armed to fight, the TULF was prodded to talk peace to Colombo. When the militant groups looked askance, they were told that the talks were a fake; when the TULF brass made queries, they were informed that peace was the ultimate goal and the militants were only being used to force Jayewardene to make concessions on the negotiating table. The TULF’s Amirthalingam played along, in the process angering his own supporters. Eventually he too felt let down by New Delhi and decided to befriend the Tigers. And the LTTE just gunned him down.” [2nd edition, 1996, pp.328-329]

Narayan Swamy is partially correct. But he failed to elaborate on the significant facts about which section of LTTE assassinated Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran, and whether Indian intelligence operatives were behind it to embarrass Pirabhakaran and Premadasa, who at that time had developed cordial relationship. However, Narayan Swamy has opined about Pirabhakaran’s distrust of the Research Analysis Wing (RAW) of Indian intelligence operatives. States Narayan Swamy,

“It was the LTTE which the RAW never succeeded in controlling or manipulating. How did this happen? This is where Velupillai Prabhakaran’s Machiavellian qualities come to the fore. Prabhakaran used India (including RAW) as long as he wanted to; he never allowed anyone to use him. He considered India (Tamil Nadu in particular) important to his war designs and banked heavily on the south Indian state. The contacts and hideouts there proved useful to him for years. RAW thought it could control the LTTE by giving it weapons. It was wrong. Prabhakaran got into the good books of MGR. So no one could harm him in Tamil Nadu… No member was allowed to interact with RAW officials without authorization.” [ibid, p.329]

Assassins: Mahattaya’s Protégés

I want the readers to focus on the identity of assassins. The assassins of Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran have been identified as Vishu, Aloysius and Vignan. Chief assassin Vishu has been identified as Mahattaya’s ‘right-hand man’ [Narayan Swamy’s book Tigers of Lanka, 2nd ed, 1996, p.222]. All three were killed subsequently by the security guards who were posted at the residence of TULF leaders. Uma Maheswaran’s assassins were not identified immediately, but that job was attributed as the work of ‘PLOTE’s dissidents’.

Rajan Hoole, the friend of Rajani Thiranagama, in his anti-LTTE diatribe entitled, ‘Suffocation of truth and its political implications’ (Sunday Observer, Colombo, Oct.26, 1997), mentions the name of “Senkathir, a protégé of Mahattaya’s who was accused of being Rajini’s killer by the EPRLF.” On the fate of Senkathir, Mr.Hoole had written,

“During 1991 he [Senkathir] is said to have disappeared in a confrontation with the Sri Lankan Army near Vavuniya. But his body was not brought home. He was duly commemorated as a martyr in Nelliady. His own community was however strongly convinced that his death is an inside job. Others held that Senkathir had gone over to the Sri Lankan Army”

Thus, Rajan Hoole, the self-anointed grapevine digger on LTTE, is not sure about the fate of Senkathir. But he has noted that Senkathir was a protégé of Mahattaya. My curiosity was aroused by the coincidences of Mahattaya’s protégés tagged as assassins of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Rajani Thiranagama, whose deaths occurred within a narrow span of less than ten weeks. Within this tumultuous ten-week period, there had also been an attempt on Pirabhakaran’s life by the RAW operatives, which failed. Now, to clarify the gray areas of the Indian intrigue, I quote from Rohan Gunaratna’s observations made in 1993.

“[Around April 1989] when news reached RAW that Premadasa had established a communication with the LTTE… disinformation specialists at RAW fed a story that Prabhakaran had agreed for peace talks with the Sri Lankan government due to a serious injury Mahattaya had suffered and therefore needed urgent medical treatment.

In order to confuse the Sri Lankan government, RAW generated a story that Prabhakaran had been killed. This received wide publicity in Sri Lanka and in India. News reports stated that the killing was an altercation over Prabhakaran’s dictatorial ways. RAW reported that Kopalasamy Mahendrarajah alias Ajit Mahattaya, the LTTE deputy commander had assassinated Prabhakaran. Disinformation specialists at RAW supported this claim by stating that the public were mourning at several places in northern Sri Lanka and garlanding Prabhakaran’s picture placed at public places. Further information was fed to the public through the media and other channels that an audio-cassette by Mahattaya announcing the death of ‘dear Brother’ had been released and that Mahattaya, the new commander of the LTTE, had called for a conference of the area commanders. The IPKF and individual military sources confirmed the slaying of the LTTE leader.” [Book: Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka: The Role of India’s Intelligence Agencies, 1993, pp.284-285]

Though Gunaratna failed to specify exactly when this happened, this bizarre promotion of Mahattaya by the RAW operatives following the assassinations of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Uma Maheswaran. Gunaratna also had observed in another location of his book, what RAW operatives did to counter Premadasa’s Battaramulla declaration of June 1, 1989. According to him,

“RAW proposed a three pronged plan of action to bring the situation under Indian control.

(a) Stage anti-pullout demonstrations in the North and East and accuse the Government of Sri Lanka of breaking the Accord.

(b) Point out that the capability of the LTTE of attacking Tamils still remains and that the Government of Sri Lanka is incapable of controlling the LTTE

(c) The Citizens Volunteer Force (CVF) training to be augmented to make it a quasi army under Indian supervision and control

Rajiv Gandhi approved the plan.” [ibid, p.355]

From my understanding, what is of interest in relation to the assassinations of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Ms.Thiranagama is the point (b), which was executed using Mahattaya’s protégés. Gunaratna has further indicated,

“A total of seven letters, of which six were made public by the Sri Lankan government, except the last letter of Rajiv Gandhi to Ranasinghe Premadasa, were exchanged between the Governments of Sri Lanka and India on the question of the withdrawal of the IPKF from Sri Lanka, from June 1, 1989 to July 7, 1989.”[ibid, p.290]

Less than a week later, Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran were assassinated in Colombo by Mahattaya’s protégés.

Coverage of Amirthalingam-Yogeswaran Assassinations

I provide below three versions on the coverage of assassinations of Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran, as presented in three books.

The authors of Broken Palmyra (1990), who presented themselves as non- sympathizers of Amirthalingam’s politics, wrote,

“For reasons well understood in Colombo, the affiliations of their killers remained for months, officially at least, a mystery. By early 1990, however, the press in Colombo started treating people to conflicting reports in keeping with the general spirit of the times. The Colombo based Tamil daily, the Virakesari, carried reports according to which, at public meetings in the North and East, LTTE spokesmen gave reasons why they killed Amirthalingam. The English language press on the other hand, carried reports quoting senior LTTE spokesmen in Colombo, denying the LTTE’s having a hand in the killings. Interestingly, the denials and the affirmations sometimes appeared on the same day.”[p.426]

India’s foremost policy wonk of that era, J.N.Dixit, in his book Assignment Colombo (1998), placed his spin briefly as follows:

“The LTTE’s apprehension that Amirthalingam may wean away Sri Lankan Tamil public opinion to the democratic mainstream of Sri Lankan politics led to the LTTE killing him.”

I would state that Dixit is cryptic about the conspirators of Amirthalingam’s assassination. My analysis of the events in 1989, and the circumstantial evidence, point towards RAW operatives as the conspirators of Amirthalingam assassination. The RAW operatives used the Mahattaya’s wing of LTTE to accomplish this task to discredit LTTE.

Amirthalingam’s biographer, T.Sabaratnam, in his book The Murder of a Moderate (1996) has presented the following details on the assassination.

“There was a great deal of confusion about the political identity of the killers. Some said that Visu, who headed the LTTE political wing in Vavuniya after the disappearance of Dinesh, had left the movement. Others said that Visu was still with the LTTE. The LTTE London head-office, however, issued a statement denying any involvement. It condemned the murders and charged that forces inimical to the then LTTE-government talks had committed them to discredit the LTTE. ‘The LTTE learnt with deep distress the tragic demise of the TULF leaders. Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran. We suspect that diabolical forces are at work to discredit the organization and to disrupt the current peace talks between the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka’.

The LTTE denial failed to remove the doubts of the people about its involvement. The great importance that the government attached to the current peace talks was reflected in the manner the government-controlled newspaper, Daily News, treated the story on 14 July [1989]. It said, ‘The authorities were checking on the possibility that an attempt was being made to falsely father the killings on the LTTE, high ranking officials said.’ [p.11]

Sabaratnam had continued further:

“In August 1989, [Minister of State for Defence, Ranjan] Wijeratne brought Inspector General of Police Ernest Perera to meet the press. Perera said a person named William W.Mariyadasan of Anderson Flats, Narahenpita, had been arrested and that he had made a confession. He and Nadarajah Sathyanandan of Kashapa Road, Narahenpita, had identified the assassins when the inquest into their deaths were held on 21 July 1989. No relatives had come forward to identify or claim the bodies of the killers…”

About what happened ultimately to Mariyadasan, was reported briefly by Sabaratnam as follows:

“Mariyadasan was indicted in the Panadura High Court. The police produced the confession they obtained from him under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The court accepted the confession as proper evidence and convicted Mariyadasan for 7 years rigorous imprisonment. But the Appeal Court held the confession inadmissible and discharged him on 9 February 1995. It held that the confession was in fact not given by Mariyadasan.”

Thus, the confusion on the ‘political identity’ of the assassins of Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran is understandable. For Sinhalese politicians, hacks and propagandists the ‘dead’ Amirthalingam became more useful as a smear paint on Pirabhakaran, than the living Federal Party stalwart and TULF leader Amirthalingam who toiled for Tamil rights in his own limited ways until his death. Even now, Amirthalingam’s name is cited frequently in the editorials and speeches of hypocrite Sinhalese opinion makers to show how bad the LTTE is, but they never pledge that they would like to fulfill what Amirthalingam really wanted for Eelam Tamils when he was living. Also, for the RAW operatives, who sapped the Madras-exiled TULF leader from 1983 to 1988 like parasites feeding on a wounded host, a ‘dead’ Amirthalingam (in the hands of Mahattaya’s protégés) became a convenient handy whip to beat the LTTE.

A Paradox in the assassinations of Duraiappah and Amirthalingam

I noticed a paradox in the assassinations of Duraiappah and Amirthalingam. Duraiappah was assassinated in 1975. With candor, Pirabhakaran had claimed in 1986 that he was involved in that assassination. His adversaries, the scribes of Broken Palmyra for instance, whole-heartedly believe this. Here, the assumption is ‘Pirabhakaran is telling the truth’. Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran were assassinated in 1989. LTTE denied responsibility (see above). Pirabhakaran’s adversaries do not believe this to be true. If the 1989 assassinations are believed by Pirabhakaran’s adversaries as LTTE-instigated, applying this same logic, 1975 assassination shouldn’t be accepted as LTTE-instigated, since the working premise for the 1989 assassination is ‘Pirabhakaran will not tell the truth’.

Only solution for this paradox seems to be: ‘Pirabhakaran tells the truth for one assassination; but does not tell the truth for another assassination’. Isn’t this funny? But, at least it shows that the frequency of Pirabhakaran telling the truth is higher than those who work in the same league, such as politicians, army generals and Intelligence operatives of all nations. (Continued)