The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Darwin’s message on the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ provides a glaring prediction on the impending fate of Eelam Tamils in the island. Sinhalese and Tamils have been two adjoining tribes in the island for centuries, ‘minding their own business’. That the Tamils in the island are less numerous is a given. On top of that, if the Tamils become less powerful, their survival is in question has been best understood by Pirabhakaran than other Tamils of his generation or earlier generations, even though he would not have read a line from Darwin. Among the influencing processes (war, slaughter, cannibalism, slavery and absorption) mentioned by Darwin, Tamil-speaking Colombo Chetties of the 18th and 19th centuries have turned into ‘Sinhalese’ by the absorption process. Slaughter at regular intervals since mid-1950s had depleted the Tamil population. Slavery also plays its insidious role of turning some born Tamils (Names need not be mentioned) into ‘hiding’ Sinhalese. Thus, it is not a surprise that Pirabhakaran’s call for a war against the fanatics of Buddhist Aryanism did elicit favorable response among the younger generation of Eelam Tamils in the early 1980s.
Strategies adopted by Pirabhakaran
To counter the fangs of Brown-skinned Buddhist Aryanism, the following strategies were adopted by Pirabhakaran’s Tamil Tigers. First, severing the complete reliance of Tamils on parliamentary politics. Secondly, establishing a truly viable Tamil guerrilla army – as opposed to the logorrheal pyrotechnics of fringe Leftists of previous generation, like N.Sanmugathasan. Thirdly, adopting a ‘Hit where it Hurts’ strategy in military confrontations. Despite the choleric outburst of self-anointed, partisan human rights activists, in each of these strategies, time has proved that Pirabhakaran’s choices were not inappropriate for the occasion.
One can wonder how many Tamils would have chuckled on the observation made by Vipul Boteju, one of the retired army brigadier generals, to Amal Jayasinghe, prior to the recently held Sattahip negotiations between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. According to the Agence France-Presse report,
“Retired army brigadier general Vipul Boteju believes it is the military strength of the Tigers that forced the government to talk with them with the help of Norwegian peace brokers. ‘If the [Sri Lankan] army was even half an inch taller than the Tigers, the talks would not have been necessary’, Boteju said. ‘It is the corruption in the army, and conversely, the dedication among the Tigers that brought about this situation.’” [Sept.15, 2002]
This candid appreciation from a former battle field opponent of Pirabhakaran deserves merit and proves that the second and third strategies I have listed above did succeed to a significant level, against domineering odds. While knowledgeable combatants like Vipul Boteju had complimented the ‘dedication among the Tigers’ for their stupendous feat, Tamil Tigers have hardly lacked doom-sayers as well. Here is an example, penned in 1990, by the Tamil Tiger-loathing amateur historians:
“The Tigers’ history, their theoretical vacuum, lack of political creativity, intolerance and fanatical dedication will be the ultimate cause of their own break-up. The legendary Tigers will go to their demise with their legends smeared with the blood and tears of victims of their own misdoings. A new Tiger will not emerge from their ashes.” [Rajan Hoole et al. in The Broken Palmyra, 1990, p.367]
Gandhi on Prostitutes and the Parliament
Eelam Tamils have produced quite a number of professionals who have enriched the parliamentary debates of colonial and post-independent Sri Lanka. Among those who have passed from the current scene, G.G.Ponnambalam, C.Suntheralingam, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, C.Vanniasingham, A.Amirthalingam, V.N.Navaratnam, E.M.V.Naganathan and M.Sivasithamparam were leading debaters with conviction, who were chosen by the Tamil-speaking population to represent them at the parliament between 1930s and late 1970s. All of them adhered valiantly to the Gandhian concept of non-violence to fight for the rights of Tamils, but ignored the admonition of Gandhi on the barren state of parliament controlled by the hands of wily adversaries.
Einstein once remarked sarcastically that ‘It’s of no use if the wrapper is of better quality than the meat it covers’. Parliamentary democracy as inherited from the British imperialists was nothing but the ‘wrapper’ of Einstein’s description and the ‘meat’ [the rights of Tamils] it was supposed to protect has begun to stink even before D.S.Senanayake, the first prime minister of then Ceylon, died in 1952. Gandhi had warned about the flaws of parliamentary politics in 1909, and among all the Eelam Tamil leaders, it is now evident that only Pirabhakaran took serious note of Gandhi’s warning.
What was Gandhi’s warning? I will quote from Erik Erikson’s classic work:
“In 1909, on his return from a most discouraging trip to England, where he had found that the Imperial Government was half helpless and half unwilling to support Indian self-respect either in South Africa or in India, Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, a rather incendiary manifesto for a man of peace. Written on a steamer in less than a week, it staked out a sphere of leadership reaching from utterly personal and local concerns to the very limits of India. The motto is: Home Rule equals Self Rule and Self Rule equals Self-Control. Only he who is master of himself can be master of his ‘house’, and only a people in command of itself can command respect and freedom…” [Book: Gandhi’s Truth – On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence, 1969, p.217]
Erikson continues on Gandhi’s opinion:
“There follow sweeping denigrations of the British Parliament and of the ‘free’ press, of civilization in general and the railways in particular, of lawyers and doctors, all of whom are said to prostitute, infect, weaken, and cheapen the Indian people, who enjoyed Home Rule in the ancient past…
‘Prostitution’ is a word used rather often in this document; …the British Parliament is first referred to as the Mother of Parliaments and then derided as no better than a prostitute or an otherwise ‘sterile woman’. To justify such a comparison the pamphleteer uses rather strange metaphors. The Parliament, he says, is like a prostitute – ‘under the control of ministers who change from time to time’. The word ‘under’ appears again and again in what is in all probability not a conscious pun: ‘Today it is under Mr.Asquith, tomorrow, under Mr.Balfour, and the day after it will be somebody else’. Rather than being ‘under one master all the time’, then, Parliament is used by a series of prime ministers who exploit this institution for their purposes without making it fertile, with the result that ‘its movement is not steady but it is buffeted about like a prostitute’….” [ibid, pp.219-220]
What Erikson did not stress on Gandhi’s attitude to the British parliament also is notable. Though a trained lawyer, Gandhi was not a parliamentarian. Period. As an activist, who concentrated on deeds and not words, Gandhi would have felt that the parliament set-up prostituted the words which need to be used sparingly. Demagoguery by tub-thumping oratory became the norm since the parliamentary tradition rooted in India and Sri Lanka. Keen observers have recorded how S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, the brown-skinned Hitler-imitator, exploited such oratorical technique to pour scorn on his opponents in the 1950s. Two examples are given below:
“I heard Bandaranaike speak at a mass rally near the Kandy market, a shortwhile before they killed him. It was a classic discourse in Sinhala. He poured sarcasm on his UNP adversaries, quite effortlessly. One had to hear him pour vitriol through the microphone to comprehend the contempt he reserved for the ancien regime. He intonated in the most ironical of voices. People listened to him with rapt attention. He knew he was giving a command performance.” [A.Jeyaratnam Wilson, in Lanka Guardian, Aug.1, 1993, pp.9-10]
“S.W.R.D.[Bandaranaike] used, in his usual contemptuous style, to lift his forefinger when speaking, and harangue the crowd, telling them that when ‘a Bandaranaike’ lifts his forefinger, there is not a single man in the country who could lift his own forefinger above that of the Bandaranaikes.” [S.Jayaweera, in Lanka Guardian, Feb.15, 1997, pp.13-14]
While Jeyaratnam Wilson’s observation on padre Bandaranaike was made in 1959, two decades ahead of this observation, the tart-tongued 37 year-old young Tamil leader G.G.Ponnambalam had pulled the populist mask of Bandaranaike and aptly prophesied him as ‘pocket Fuehrer’. This has been noted by Jane Russell in her book, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution 1931-1947 (1982, p.157) as follows:
“In January 1939 at a meeting in Balapitiya, Bandaranaike appealed to the electors in this vein:
‘I am prepared to sacrifice my life for the sake of my community, the Sinhalese. If anybody were to try to hinder our progress, I am determined to see that he is taught a lesson he will never forget.’
At the conclusion of the meeting, a lady in the audience, Mrs.Srimathie Abeygunawardene likened Mr.Bandaranaike to Hitler and appealed to the Sinhalese community to give him every possible assistance to reach the goal of freedom. (Hindu Organ, January 26, 1939). This reported remark caused G.G.Ponnambalam to term Bandaranaike ‘the pocket Fuehrer’ (Hindu Organ, May 24, 1939).”
In the same page, ahead of this passage, Jane Russell also had cited Ponnambalam’s speech at the then State Council in 1939, as a member of Point Pedro constituency, with a footnote that the young Tamil leader had visited Nazi Germany in 1938:
“This is our home. We are inhabitants of this country and we have as much right to claim to have permanent and vested interests in this country, politically and otherwise, as the Sinhalese people. We do not propose to be treated as undesirable aliens. We will not tolerate being segregated into ghettos and treated like Semites in the Nazi states.” (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, 1939, col.890)”
The problem faced by the Eelam Tamils was different in plane from the problem faced by the Jews in Nazi Germany. Hitler did not have a wife and a daughter who came to be elected following the demise of the Fuehrer. His mistress had committed suicide with him. But in Sri Lanka, following the assassination of ‘pocket Fuehrer’ in 1959, the Sinhalese public chose pocket Fuehrer’s Frau (Leader’s Wife) as the ‘weeping widow’ Sirimavo, who carried out the first ethnic cleansing in the armed forces of the island and held power from 1960 to 1977, with an intermittent 1965-70 period as the Leader of the Opposition.
Following pocket Fuehrer’s Frau, 1994 saw the rise of Tochter Fuehrer (Daughter Leader) replacing her mother. The despicable assassination of a noted sympathiser of LTTE who had tussled openly with Tochter Fuehrer in the 1990s, G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr. - the son of G.G.Ponnambalam - in January 2000, by the Gestapo-style agents in Colombo exposed the fangs of Buddhist Aryanism prominently. It may not even be a hyperbole to think whether Tochter Fuehrer was taking a revenge on the son of Ponnambalam who had aptly tagged her father with the mischievous monicker ‘pocket Fuehrer’.
This is because, the British academic Jane Russell, who had described the political antics of the pocket Fuehrer of colonial Ceylon in her 1982 book, was also unceremoniously deported from the island in 1996 on flimsy grounds, though she has been a resident in Sri Lanka for 23 years. Reports and letters on this issue had appeared in the Colombo press. [Shelani de Silva, ‘Britain takes up Russel issue with Lanka’, Sunday Times, April 21, 1996; Mangalika De Silva, ‘Jane Russell: that infamous deportation, Sunday Times, May 11, 1997; Preethi Jayaratne, ‘Jane Russell forgotten’, Sunday Times, April 25, 1999].
While pocket Fuehrer’s Frau could distinguish herself as a grand practitioner of tub-thumping oratory, since early 1970s for two decades, Premadasa – who can be tagged as Schatten Fuehrer (shadow Fuehrer) - hijacked pocket Fuehrer’s oratorical scorn and harangue effortlessly. His parliamentary speech during the Motion to deprive the civic rights of none other than Fuehrer’s Frau in 1980 was a landmark in such despicable oratory. When one heard that speech, one could have wondered whether Premadasa was avenging the defeat of his mentor [A.E.Goonesinghe] by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the early 1930s, by pouring scorn on Bandaranaike’s widow in 1980.
Pirabhakaran on the Sri Lankan parliament
It is revealing that in one of his earliest interviews to Anita Pratap in 1984, Pirabhakaran had expressed similar sentiments to Gandhi’s on the parliamentary system of Sri Lanka.
Interviewer: ‘What made you opt out of a conventional system and spearhead a liberation movement which you knew would be outlawed?’
Pirabhakaran: ‘The democratic parliamentary system, or what you refer to as the conventional political system in Sri Lanka, has always tried to impose the will of the majority on the minority. This system not only failed to solve the basic problems of our people but, in fact, aggravated our plight. For decades, the repression by the State has made the life of our people miserable. The non-violent democratic struggles of our people were met with military repression. Our just demands were totally ignored, and the oppression continued on such a scale as to threaten the very survival of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It was these circumstances which led me to form our liberation movement. I felt that an armed struggle was the only alternative left to our people, not only to ensure our survival but ultimately to free ourselves from the Sinhala oppression. I have always been aware that our movement would be outlawed. It is for this reason that we organised our movement as a clandestine underground structure from its inception.’
[Sunday Magazine, March 11-17, 1984]
That Pirabhakaran is not imperfect in his 1984 assessment of the parliamentary democracy as practised by the Sinhalese politicians is proved by the later observations made by non-Tamil natives of the island. In 1992, ex-diplomat Izeth Hussain tagged the prevailing system as ‘nonsense democracy’. To quote,
“…Sri Lankan democracy was made nonsensical by the 1977 Government. It will be remembered that under that Government we were deluged by an unrelenting torrent of rot about Sri Lanka’s far-famed five-star democracy, a performance that was vastly impressive for its sheer zaniness. The more appropriate term might therefore be ‘nonsense democracy’ [Lanka Guardian, July 15, 1992, pp.11-13]
Recently, another ex-diplomat K.Godage (who is a voluble Pirabhakaran critic nonetheless) had labeled it as ‘deformed democracy’ [see his commentary: ‘MPs disgrace the country’, The Island newspaper, Colombo, July 29, 2002]. Godage even reiterated Pirabhakaran’s viewpoint, if not by word – but in spirit, as follows:
“Sri Lankan democracy has a form all its own. It is deformed. For many years we confused Majoritarianism with democracy. Most politicians understood democracy to mean the vulgar business of majority rule; a situation where the Opposition has no role whatsoever in the governance of the country. This simplistic and vulgar understanding of democracy prevails seventy years after universal suffrage was introduced and fifty three years after we started to govern ourselves.”
Thus, Pirabhakaran’s first strategy of severing the complete reliance of Tamils on parliamentary politics to defang the Brown-skinned Buddhist Aryanism is not without merit.
Following the footsteps of Mao in preference to Gandhi
I provide below, excerpts from my past writings, in 1988 and 2001, originally written as a defence on Pirabhakaran’s strategy to LTTE’s critics, namely David Selbourne (an Oxford University academic cum journalist) and the authors of the Broken Palmyra (1990) book.
In a rebuttal to David Selbourne, written at the height of LTTE-Indian army confrontation, I had superficially pointed out the reasons why the Gandhian method of non-violence agitation failed in Sri Lanka. I was forced to write this rebuttal since Selbourne had expressed some condescending sentiments on the Eelam Tamil leadership of the past. To reproduce excerpts of my thoughts:
“Selbourne also sarcastically observed that ‘the Gandhian way is not available, since the Tamils have no Gandhi’. I raise objection to this statement. When he was leading the struggle against the British rulers, the great Gandhi was also ridiculed from many corners. Leo Rosten reminisced; ‘They called him (Gandhi) a crackpot, a hypocrite, a mystic. To the rajahs and maharajahs in their palaces, he was a preposterous rabble rouser. To the Indian politicians struggling for home rule, he was a deluded demagogue. To an incredulous Parliament in London, he was a trouble maker in a nappie.’ [refer, Readers Digest, July 1983]. Look at the Who’s Who annual reference books, published by A.C.Black of London for the years 1930 or 1931. You cannot locate an entry on Gandhi. He was a non-entity to the British rulers even in 1930.
To be fair by the Sri Lankan political leaders of yester year, Tamils had a Gandhi, in S.J.V.Chelvanayakam. He was an exception among the politicians of Indian subcontinent for two reasons. First, in a region known for religious bigotry, though being a Christian, he commanded the respect of majority Hindu Tamils for two decades. Former prime minister of Ceylon, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, who was born a Christian, had to become an adopted Buddhist to lead the Sinhalese. Secondly, Chelvanayakam (like Mahatmaji) was not recognized for tub-thumping oratory. Instead, he was a man of action. Chelvanayakam organized Gandhian-style satyagraha campaigns and other non-violent resistance movements in the mid 1950s and early 1960s. But unfortunately, Gandhian methods couldn’t perform any trick for Tamils in Sri Lanka. There are many reasons for the failure of Gandhi’s techniques in Sri Lankan atmosphere.
(1) Mahatmaji was lucky to have the British as his opponents. He himself had acknowledged that his tactics could not have worked against any other enemy, who is less civic-minded. Praise the British rulers for being good sports.
(2) Gandhi was fighting an oppressor who was living and planning his moves, thousands of miles away from the battle scene. But Chelvanayakam had to fight an oppressor who was (and is) living next door.
(3) Gandhi and his followers could enter and leave the jails under British rule without much physical agony and with no threat to life. No one denies that they suffered mental torture. In Sri Lanka, considering what happened to the 52 Tamils in Welikade jail in 1983, one’s life was (and is) in jeopardy when incarcerated even for political reasons.
…The Westminster model of parliamentary democracy could work in the United Kingdom to cater to a single ethnic and single religious constituency. It has failed to take firm root in other countries with multi-ethnic and multi-religious constituencies. So, the younger generation of Tamilians drifted towards the military ideology of Mao Tse Tung, since 1977. One may label it as a reckless move. But it remained as a practical alternative. And among Tamils of Sri Lanka, a small faction led by trade unionist N.Sanmugathasan had espoused this cause, though not with much popular support…” [Tamil Times, London, March 1988, pp.14-15]
In my commentary [originally written to commemorate Gandhi’s 53rd anniversary of death] which appeared in the now-closed Tamil Nation website, on January 31, 2001, I have mentioned the shifting of Gandhi’s thoughts from non-violence agitation to recognizing the value in violence agitation along the decades, and the reason why such a shift occurred. I wrote this commentary to negate the argument of the authors of The Broken Palmyra (1990), who had blindly extolled the virtues of non-violence, in chapter 7 of their book entitled ‘A Perspective on Nonviolence’ (pp.376-385). Expressed opinions of Rajan Hoole and colleagues in this chapter have completely ignored Gandhi’s as well as Nehru’s caveat on the limitations of non-violence strategy. Excerpts from my commentary are as follows:
Fuel from a Freedom Fighter
“Though non-violence was his chosen method of agitation, Gandhi did not underestimate the need for violent methods to overcome aggression of the demonic State and its authorities. This is because, especially during the last decade of his life, he recognized the limitations of non-violent methods against adversaries who were rabid, reckless and not given to reason. It could be inferred that though he developed the non-violent confrontation with his oppressors [British imperialists] in the late 19th century in South Africa, the events of Second World War as well as the parallel liberational war conducted by Mao Ze Dong in China, made Gandhi to realize that his non-violent methods of agitation had limits.
However, selective regurgitation of Gandhi’s thoughts on overcoming fear by the politicians and pundits (who had their own axes to grind) had made it difficult for millions to agitate against oppression. One possible reason for this occurrence is because the popular autobiography of Gandhi, The Story of My Experiment with Truth, comes to a close in the year 1921. But he lived for another full 26 eventful years, during which he continued to write passionately and modified his beliefs according to the new developments in India and the world.
Let me offer six quotes of Gandhi [between 1940 and 1947, when the Aryan Nazi oppression peaked and was vanquished by the Allies] on the use of violence, as culled from the book, The Way to Communal Harmony – a Gandhi anthology, compiled and edited by U.R.Rao [Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1963]. The original dates of these quotes from the Harijan newspaper are mentioned at the end within parentheses.
‘Every Indian, be he Hindu or any other, must learn the act of protecting himself. It is the condition of real democracy. The State has a duty. But no State can protect those who will not share with it the duty of protecting themselves.’ [Harijan, Feb.10, 1940]
‘Self-defence can be violent or non-violent. I have always advised and insisted on non-violent defence. But I recognize that it has to be learnt like violent defence. It requires a different training from that which is required for violent defence. Therefore, if the capacity for non-violent self-defence is lacking, there need be no hesitation in using violent means.’ [Harijan, Mar.2, 1940; suggestion to Manoranjan Babu and other friends from Noakhali, regarding the difficult situation faced there by the Hindus.]
‘I have said that for those who do not believe in non-violence, armed defence is the only remedy. But if I am asked to advise how it can be done, I can only say, ‘I don’t know.’ [Harijan, Oct.16, 1940; in the context of terrorization of Sindh Hindus by Muslims, Gandhi received a letter from Shamlal Gidwani holding Gandhi’s advice of non-violence as contrary to the teachings of Lord Krishna.]
‘Cowardice is impotence worse than violence. The coward desires revenge but being afraid to die, he looks to others, may be the Government of the day, to do the work of defence for him. A coward is less than man. He does not deserve to be a member of a society of men and women.’ [Harijan, Sept.15, 1946]
‘What I saw and heard showed me that people are apt to forget self-respect in order to save themselves. There is no Swadeshi and Swaraj for persons who will not sacrifice themselves or their belongings for their honour.’ [Harijan, Jan.5, 1947]
‘My Ahimsa forbids me from denying credit where it is due, even though the creditor is a believer in violence. Thus, though I did not accept Subhas Bose’s belief in violence and his consequent action, I have not refrained from giving unstinted praise to his patriotism, resourcefulness and bravery.’ [Harijan, Nov.16, 1947]
It is interesting to ask why Gandhi, towards the end of his life, came to acknowledge the need for violence against oppressors. I think that he came to understand that the arsenal of oppressors were becoming more powerful. When he began non-violent agitation in South Africa, Gandhi’s adversary was not using aerial bombs. But in the 1930s and 1940s, air-attack became a chosen arsenal for aggressors against their opponents and non-combatant civilians. This could have made Gandhi to reluctantly revise his complete reliance on non-violent agitational methods.”
Then, I commented on the quasi-pundits who have critiqued Pirabhakaran for his use of suicide warriors using the cyanide pill.
“The quasi-pundits [including the Indian Tamil opinion makers such as N.Ram, Cho Ramaswamy and Subramanian Swamy as well as the scribes belonging to the spurious University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna] in their sermons, show revulsion to Pirabhakaran’s addiction to cyanide pill. But Mahatma Gandhi has endorsed such a mode of action for freedom fighters. Here is one of his quotes in late 1947, written after Indian independence.
‘Man does not live but to escape death. If he does so, he is advised not to do so. He is advised to learn to love death as well as life, if not more so. A hard saying, harder to act up to, one may say. Every worthy act is difficult. Ascent is always difficult. Descent is easy and often slippery. Life becomes livable only to the extent that death is treated as a friend, never as an enemy. To conquer life’s temptations, summon death to your aid. In order to postpone death a coward surrenders honour, wife, daughter and all. A courageous man prefers death to the surrender of self-respect. When the time comes, as it conceivably can, I would not leave my advice to be inferred, but it will be given in precise language. That today my advice might be followed only by one or none does not detract from its value. A beginning is always made by a few, even one.” [Harijan, Nov.30, 1947]
Exactly two months after this passage appeared in print, the Great Man met his death peacefully at the age of 78 years and 120 days.”
It should be stressed that Gandhi was not alone in shifting his belief on the limitations of non-violence vehicle during the 1940s. His equally talented contemporaries like Bertrand Russell and Einstein, who were ardent pacifists during the First World War, also shifted their stance to support aggression against Hitler’s Aryanism during the Second World War. Bertrand Russell had reminisced as follows:
“Even during the First War I had maintained publicly that some wars are justifiable. But I had allowed a larger sphere to the method of non-resistance – or, rather non-violent resistance – than later experience seemed to warrant. It certainly has an important sphere; as against the British in India, Gandhi led it to triumph. But it depends upon the existence of certain virtues in those against whom it is employed. When Indians lay down on railways, and challenged the authorities to crush them under trains, the British found such cruelty intolerable. But the Nazis had no scruples in analogous situations. The doctrine which Tolstoy preached with great persuasive force, that the holders of power could be morally regenerated if met by non-resistance, was obviously untrue in Germany after 1933. Clearly Tolstoy was right only when the holders of power were not ruthless beyond a point, and clearly the Nazis went beyond this point.” [in Autobiography, 1975, Unwin Paperbacks, London, ch.12, p.431]
Einstein, as is typical of him, was brief to the point. In a letter to a pacifist student, dated July 14, 1941, he had stated, “Organized power can be opposed only by organized power. Much as I regret this, there is no other way.” [in, O.Nathan and H.Norden eds. Einstein on Peace, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1960, p.319].
Thus, it is nothing but ignorance and hot air on the part of the authors of The Broken Palmyra (who have had nominal tertiary education) and the pseudo-Gandhian commentators in India to project a view that Pirabhakaran, without the benefit of tertiary education, was foolhardy and irrational to reject the path of non-violence for his objectives.
The Strategy of ‘Hit Where it Hurts’
That Pirabhakaran’s adopted strategy of ‘Hit Where it Hurts’ to de-fang the Brown-skinned Buddhist Aryanism was beginning to show results by 1992 was revealed by the following realistic appraisal of the situation by Mervyn de Silva. Wrote the editor of Lanka Guardian,
“…The unwinnable war goes on, with each massacre not underlying that self evident fact but strengthening the conviction of ‘wannabe’ winners of the Glory Boys Club that only more men, weapons and a Sinhalese ‘Patton’ or ‘Sharon’, is needed to storm Jaffna, fly the flag and bury Prabhakaran.
The irony is that the ‘enemy’ Prabhakaran, is one of these gifted and daring guerrilla commanders whose mindset is totally, unalterably militarist. Unless he is captured, he cannot be converted. And capture you can’t, since he has anticipated the possibility and carries his cyanide capsule with him. It is the self-same cyanide which also denies ‘intelligence’ to the security forces. Without ‘intelligence’ the war cannot be carried deep into enemy territory. Since all front-line fighters are armed with the capsule, the chances of gathering productive intelligence are slim.
No great reader, Prabhakaran knows the truisms instinctively. The army cannot be everywhere while the guerrilla can be anywhere. If the guerrilla is not losing, he’s winning; if the army is not winning, it is losing. Your armchair pundit will say ‘recruit more, double the strength of the army, buy the most modern weapons and equipment’. All that means money, and the willingness of Sinhala youth to join the army. But recruitment has become exceedingly difficult, while desertions multiply. Where does that leave the gung-ho militarist?
Second, our budget is controlled by the IMF and the World Bank, the Aid Consortium. They have placed limits on arms spending, and the limits have narrowed, with the threat of an ‘aid squeeze’ for non-compliance with such percentages on defence, more and more serious. So one doesn’t have the money to recruit the soldiers from the queues that aren’t there; or far too short to recruit enough to meet your target.” [Lanka Guardian, Nov.1, 1992; pp.3-4 & 7]
Compared to this realistic appraisal of the Sri Lankan situation in 1992, the following fallacious pontification by the authors of The Broken Palmyra made in 1990 expose their myopic overlook. Wrote Rajan Hoole and his colleagues, in their ‘Final Thoughts’ for this book:
“The LTTE’s political line, its obstinacy and shortsightedness left us without any substantive achievement. Even at present, their moves pave the way for total subjugation to Indian domination. For example their recent warning to boycott the civil administration, if heeded, will remove from people the little control they have over civil structures, thereby creating conditions for Indian authority to encroach fully into the society. Thus the move is counter-productive and would signal doom, as control of the civil life of the community slips by default into Indian hands.” [p.400]
This viewpoint when read 12 years later proves unequivocally how far these authors of The Broken Palmyra allowed their minds to wander from reality in assessing Pirabhakaran’s strategy. But one should admit that Mervyn de Silva, though with a liberal Sinhala bias, could read well the mind of LTTE leader, as he opined as follows:
“An incredibly gifted and unrepentant militarist, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE supremo, has no great faith in democracy but he appreciates the importance of popular opinion. He knows that the armed struggle that he launched well over a decade ago is all about land and people. He is not impressed with ‘power’ or authority in the abstract. From the very beginning, he has grasped the geo-political – the crucial role of the East, and externally, the vital importance of Tamil Nadu. Both dominate his strategic thinking, except that one factor becomes more crucial than the other in a political-military struggle, which he does not, and cannot, control. What the LTTE leader fears most is a closely coordinated Delhi-Colombo policy.” [Lanka Guardian, Feb.15, 1994, pp.1-2]
One should qualify Mervyn de Silva’s opinion that Pirabhakaran “has no great faith in democracy”. Like Gandhi, who tagged the British Parliament with the prostitutes, Pirabhakaran lost faith not in democracy per se, but only in the version of prostituted democracy as practised in Sri Lanka since Independence.
Postscript on the Origin of Sinhala Maha Sabha
In part 43 of this series, I had mentioned that six of the sources I checked for the origin of Sinhala Maha Sabha provide four answers: 1937 [K.M.de Silva; A.Jeyaratnam Wilson], 1935 [S.J.Tambiah], 1934 [C.Woodward; R.Nyrop et al.] and 1932 [Samarasinghe and Samarasinghe]. To this, should be added the year 1936 as the fifth answer, as indicated by Jane Russell in her book, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution 1931-1947, published in 1982. This is not an issue of nit-picking on years. I wanted to know, how much Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 influenced the rise of brown-skinned Buddhist Aryanism in colonial Ceylon.
It appears that Jane Russell may be correct, since she mentions the month of the year as well. The relevant chapter is provided below to identify the individuals who were active in this caucus and to demonstrate the waffling behavior of padre Bandaranaike on issues. To quote Jane Russell:
“The Sinhala Maha Sabha was founded in November 1936. Its inaugural meeting consisted of a heterogeneous collection of the more radical young Sinhalese politicians, including S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, R.S.S.Gunawardena and Dudley Senanayake. A number of teaching figures from the Sinhala literary world, including Piyadasa Sirisena and Munidasa Cumaratunga, and a number of lesser figures involved in local politics, and men interested in the culture and religion of the Sinhalese community were also present. Sirisena proposed Sinhala Maha Sabha as the name of the society; Bandaranaike countered this with a suggestion that the name adopted be Swadeshiya Maha Sabha, or ‘the Greater Congress of the Indigenous Peoples’. This latter suggestion was opposed by Cumaratunga and others, including Abeygunasekera, the State Council member for Nuwara Eliya and Sirisena’s suggested name was adopted. At this point several participants at the meeting, including Dudley Senanayake left the newly-formed society.” [pp.141-142]
Then, in the following page Jane Russell continues to mention how Bandaranaike came to lead the Sinhala Maha Sabha and in two foot-notes include G.G.Ponnambalam’s – the then rising star of Tamil politics representing the Point Pedro constituency in the State Council - observations, which are worth reproducing.
“By the late 1930s, Sirisena and Cumaratunga had severed their connection with it, and the Sinhala Maha Sabha had developed into a very effective political organisation under the leadership of Bandaranaike. In State Council it was nominally the largest of the political groupings in 1939 [Foot-note: According to G.G.Ponnambalam, the Sinhala Maha Sabha had thirty Members in Council. This was a gross exaggeration on Ponnambalam’s behalf; in my estimation there were at the most fifteen Sinhala Maha Sabha Members in Council, of which only the handful on Bandaranaike’s Executive Committee were effectively unified. Hansard, 1939, Col.959.], and it had a very substantial following among the electors in the Sinhalese provinces. The Ceylon Tamil political leaders cited the existence of the Sinhala Maha Sabha as a dire threat to their continuance as a differentiated community in Ceylon. [Foot-note: For example, G.G.Ponnambalam’s speech (‘The Sinhala Maha Sabha caucus is of very deep, sinister significance….(as e.g.)…the Sinhala Maha Sabha meeting at Anuradhapura when the Tamils were called usurpers and there was an injunction issued that a Dutugemunu should arise and throw these usurpers out.’ Hansard, 1939, 890ff.)"
In sum, Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 influenced strongly the Buddhist Aryan demagoguery in colonial Ceylon and Bandaranaike exploited it via his Sinhala Maha Sabha vehicle. As revealed, originally he preferred the name of Swadeshiya Maha Sabha in place of Sinhala Maha Sabha. He lost out at first to the literati. Then, after the departure of literati Sirisena and Cumaratunga who stood for the name Sinhala Maha Sabha, Bandaranaike captured the leadership; but continued the activities of his caucus under the name Sinhala Maha Sabha which was more expedient politically. Hitler gave a bad name to the ‘Aryan’ cause. Thus, following Hitler’s demise in 1945, Bandaranaike muffled his ‘Aryan’ voice for a while and joined the UNP with his clique when it was formed in 1947. In September 1951, the Sinhala Maha Sabha was reborn as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, whose leadership has remained within the pocket Fuehrer’s family for the past 51 years. [Continued]