The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 5

Sachi Sri Kantha
15 January, 2003]


Is Pirabhakaran a deviant and a merchant of death?

  Is Pirabhakaran a deviant and a merchant of death, as projected by his adversaries? I consider this chapter as the most important of this series, as I demolish the widely circulated opinions presented by Pirabhakaran’s adversaries ( Buddhist Sinhalese press, India’s Poo Bahs and a semi-literate international circle of analysts), by making use of historical, criminological, anthropological studies on assassinations and deaths of power elites in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. I make use of (a) two cross-sectional surveys on political assassinations in the 20th century at the international level and (b) a longitudinal survey of political assassinations in pre-colonial and post-colonial Sri Lanka.  

Based on these uninterpreted (as of now!) historical data, I assert that the karmic theory of death for power holders should gain credence. To put it simply, my take on the karmic theory of death for power holders is as follows: Excessive abuse of power by power holders leads to homicide attempts on them which largely succeed, irrespective of higher level of surrounding security. It is based on the degree of abuse of power. I’m sure that millions of pious Hindus and Buddhists subscribe to this karmic theory. But for reasons of political correctness and expediency not many are willing to articulate it publicly and thus it is not given adequate academic scrutiny.  

For this analysis, I should record that I benefited from the lecture notes of a valuable summer course taught by Prof. Barbara Sirvis (currently, President of the Southern Vermont College) two decades ago at the University of Illinois. The title of that course was ‘Death Education’.  

God bless the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress 

Suppose a zoologist walks along a jungle tract, and comes across two toe nails of a tiger. She then tries to present her finding and its implications to biology to her colleagues in a professional meeting. She provides her analysis relating to the age of the tiger (based on the size of two toe nails found), and the prey of the tiger (based on the remnants of flesh entangled in the toe nails). To this extent, her interpretations would be gladly accepted by her colleagues. Suppose, based from her finding of two toe nails, if this zoologist exaggerates her inferences beyond reasonable limits, to quantify the heart beat of the tiger or the blood proteins of the tiger or the number of progeny of the tiger which lost its two toe nails, then she would be laughed off the podium. This is how new findings are scrutinized in my professional parish. But, in the world of Tamil Tiger observers, scrutiny of facts in context has been a missing element relating to the political assassinations. Thus, much muck is mixed with kernels of truth. In this chapter, I present an analysis of LTTE’s political assassinations as viewed in a world-wide frame.  

In the above-cited example, I chose the gender of the zoologist with a reason, since two of the ranking culprits of such exaggeration on LTTE activities were women, namely Rajani Thiranagama (a medical doctor by training) and Radhika Coomarasamy (a legal scholar by training). Both were human rights activists of a certain caliber, but it is evident from their published pronouncements that their blanket denunciation on LTTE activism is flawed with gullibility in topics which were beyond their understanding. Their flawed literature had served as easy copies for ‘foreign’ area specialists (who do not bother to check the original sources in Tamil language) from USA and elsewhere. Here is an example.   

While web-surfing for research materials on Pirabhakaran a few months ago, I came across a document entitled, ‘The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?’, prepared by the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC, with a date-line September 1999. Author of this document is identified as Rex A.Hudson, and editor as Marilyn Majeska. Even the first paragraph under the sub-head ‘Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is riddled with errors in facts and prejudiced opinions, as indicated below by me within parentheses in italics:  

“The LTTE is widely regarded as the world’s deadliest and fiercest guerrilla/terrorist group and the most ferocious guerrilla organization in South Asia. It is the only terrorist group to have assassinated three (sic) heads of government – Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, and former Prime Minister Dissanayake (sic) in 1994. It has also assassinated several prominent political and military figures. The LTTE’s ill-conceived Gandhi assassination, however, resulted in the LTTE’s loss of a substantial logistical infrastructure, and also the loss of popular support for the LTTE among mainstream Indian Tamils. In 1999 the LTTE made two threats on the life of Sonia Gandhi (Any convincing evidence in support of  this blatant lie  is not divulged. But the author had the temerity  to mention not one but two threats!), who has nevertheless continued to campaign for a seat in parliament.”  

If the readers (which may include American Poo Bahs and politicians) of this report prepared by the ‘Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC’ show ignorance on recent South Asian affairs, it is not easy to blame them since blind regurgitators of mangled facts such as Rex A.Hudson behave like the zoologist I referred to at the beginning of this chapter.  

Assassination is an Act with Two Lead Players and Two Frames  

An assassination is a violent act with two lead players (the assassin and the victim) and two frames. Immediately after the assassination act, in the shorter frame, it appears to the onlookers and listeners of the news that the assassin was the powerful among the two, while the victim was the powerless individual - to either suffer and succumb or miraculously escape. This is the scenario which is presented to the society by the media. However, the hidden longer frame which incorporates vital facts (which in turn led to the assassination event) where the victim is the powerful bully while the assassin and his or her cohorts were the powerless sufferers is conveniently obscured and neglected in non-critical appraisals of the assassination event. This scenario remains true since the most famous political assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 B.C. at the hands of Brutus and Cassius.  

Presenting LTTE assassinations, beginning from Pirabhakaran’s confessional on the killing of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah in 1975, as acts of societal deviants gained currency from the much-hyped book The Broken Palmyra (1990). Though this book has gained an iconic status, none so far has bothered to scrutinize the professional credentials of the four authors – Hoole, Sritharan, Somasundaram and Thiranagama – to pose as anthropologists of Tamil culture. In the preface to their book, the four authors modestly claimed ignorance of history. Simple ignorance is excusable. But ignorance garbed with academic arrogance is inexcusable.  

In this respect, I wish to bring to light an interesting research paper published by Joseph Westermeyer of University of Minnesota in 1973. It was entitled, ‘Assassination and Conflict Resolution in Laos’. The ideas presented by Westermeyer in this paper are vital to the understanding of the fact how, flawed analyses by human rights activists (a la Rajani Thiranagama and Radhika Coomarasamy) can distort the established societal norms. Westermeyer’s anthropological study is pertinent to the Sri Lankan scene in more than one context. His study was conducted in Laos (an Asian country, not different from Sri Lanka in cultural norms, with a majority practising Buddhism.). Also, Pirabhakaran’s acknowledged first assassination (that of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah) occurred in July 1975. The abstract of Westermeyer’s study is as follows:  

“Ten cases of political homicide in Laos were intensively studied, with particular attention to the assassin, the victim, the homicidal event, the provocation, and the social context. Each assassination provided a resolution for a social dilemma which had proven refractory to other means of social problem solving. Certain demographic characteristics and psycho-social correlates of political homicide in Laos resemble those of other cultures.” [American Anthropologist, 1973, vol.75; pp. 123-131]  

For thoughtful digestion, I provide excerpts from Westermeyer’s nine-page anthropological research paper – under the subheadings he had identified in his abstract.  

The Assassin

“These men were viewed as responsible citizens in their various communities. None was known to be particularly troublesome to his village, nor had they shown the erratic behavior or bizarre mentation of phi baa (insane) people. In no case were any of the men incarcerated for their deed, nor was any indemnity paid to the family of the victim…  

The Victim

“None of these people had ever been psychotic; however, the primary victims in cases one through six all had demonstrated deviant social behavior. Victim one had robbed and murdered on multiple occasions to obtain material goods; social sanctions in his village had failed to rehabilitate him…  

In their role as leaders, however, each had exercised poor judgment in discharging his responsibilities to his followership….  

The Provocation

“Assassination was preceded by months or years of dyssocial behavior by the victim. In the three cases involving criminal recidivism, the threat to the group consisted of direct violation against person or property. Social pressure and traditional village law (a private law) had not ameliorated their antisocial habits….  

The Social Context

…Victims in each case held authority over the group to which the assassin belonged. Furthermore, the positions occupied by all four victims were appointed rather than elected ones. Thus, popular vote was not an available means for exerting pressure against the victim, and political means have not evolved for the removal of appointed officials who prove to be incompetent.”  

Now, I present the interesting section of Westermeyer’s analysis which negates the psychological and psychiatric projections on LTTE, made by the authors of The Broken Palmyra. It should be reiterated that of the four who authored the Broken Palmyra book, two (Thiranagama and Somasunderam) were nominally medical scientists and the other two (Hoole and Sritharan) had degrees in mathematics. Among the two with medical qualifications, Somasunderam identifies himself as a psychiatrist. Excerpts of Westermeyer’s analysis under three sub-categories [Assassin as Deviant, Political homicide as societal deviance, and Victim as Deviant] are given below. I have only omitted the reference sources for reasons of brevity.    

Assassin as Deviant

Westermeyer had observed: 

“Much has been made of assassins as deviants in the historical and psychiatric literature, where they are variously described as nefarious, fanatic, lunatic, retarded, sociopathic, unstable, and/or mentally ill. Less of the deviant interpretation appears in the anthropological literature however…. Differences between the historical-psychiatric and anthropological viewpoints may in part be accounted for by the reliance of the former studies on incarcerated assassins; the stress of incarceration might accentuate the observed psychopathology. Or assassins in the complex societies studied by historians and psychiatrists may perforce be more deviant with reference to their fellow citizens than in societies studied by anthropologists.” 

The subsequent paragraph is vital to Pirabhakaran’s much projected role as an assassin. To quote Westermeyer again,  

“On the other hand, informants in societies where assassins remain at large may gloss over their assassins’ deviant behavior, since in most cases they do not view the assassination itself as a criminal or deviant act. Quite the contrary, it is often viewed as a responsible or courageous action. Since the assassins continue their lives as before (perhaps with enhanced prestige), psychopathology may not be so likely to emerge or be noted.” 

Westermeyer ends his section on ‘Assassin as Deviant’ with a quote from Hyams, who had authored a book Killing No Murder; A Study of Assassination as a Political Means [1969, London: Nelson and Sons]. 

“From a social perspective, Hyams assumes neither the condemning nor absolving stance in describing the assassin. Instead, he emphasizes the social function served by the assassin: ‘So the assassin – the genuine assassin, not the murderous lunatic – is, as it were, that particularly sensitive cell of the social body which reacts first and most quickly to preserve the social body.’ 

The authors of Broken Palmyra presented the image of Eelam Tamil society as having become pathological and undergoing stress due to the emergence of LTTE as a lead player in the 1980s. Westermeyer again negates such a view.  

Political Homicide as Societal Deviance

To quote Westermeyer again, 

“Some investigators implicate assassination as a sign of a pathological society, a society in transition, or a society undergoing stress…Work by Dole and Friedrich, as well as these Laotian data, suggest that this need not be so: political homicide can be a functional part of a stable society….In sum, the assassination/social disorganization relationship does not appear to be a simplistic one based on the cross-cultural data presently available.” 

I consider the third sub-category in the analysis of Westermeyer entitled ‘[Assassination] Victim as Deviant’ is the most revealing to understand Pirabhakaran’s projected role as an assassin of Duraiappah. And it is this sub-category which has been completely ignored or hidden for reasons of convenience in the publications of individuals belonging to the Sri Lanka’s human rights industry, who proliferated in the 1990s. Thus, what Westermeyer found in his 1973 study on Laotian assassinations is highly pertinent to the assassinations in Eelam and Sri Lanka of 1980s and 1990s as well.

Victim as Deviant

“The evidence here is perhaps not so ambiguous as it is for assassins and for political homicide…Friedrich (1962) posits tyrannical use of power, struggle for power, or kinship revenge as motivating most assassinations among the Tarascans of Acan…

Among the Laotian cases, half of these instances of social peer assassination involved criminal recidivism. Where the usual methods for modifying antisocial behavior fail, however, there has traditionally been no recourse to state imposed sanctions. Since traditional law has been exclusively a private law, the community would tolerate destructive or dangerous behavior ad nauseum, i.e., until some person or persons became motivated enough to do away with the recidivist. For this category of social problem, then, political homicide has served as a final solution to the problem of social deviants whose dangerous behavior has proven refractory to ordinary means of rectification.

….The victims served in a particular kind of leadership role; they were appointed from further up the governmental hierarchy, rather than popularly chosen by a constituency. These four leaders, ordinary men in other respects, had erred in the same way: they had inordinately abused their power vis-à-vis their subordinate group. By excessive corruption, seduction, disrespect, or indolence, they failed in their responsibilities toward their followers. Since these men wielded considerable power and occupied authoritative positions important to the welfare of their subordinates, their behavior gradually became intolerable to the subordinate group. Eventually, one of their subordinates executed them, and received the approval (and protection) of the subordinate group in doing so.” 

Westermeyer’s conclusion (as well as caveat) of his findings is worth recording, to highlight the context of assassinations of political leaders such as  Alfred Duraiappah, Sam Tambimuttu, Neelan Tirchelvam and rival militant leaders belonging to TELO and EPRLF by LTTE. He wrote,  

“Regarding assassination of political leaders, this small Laotian sample does not lend itself to expansive theorizing. Nonetheless, a common theme prevails: the victim leaders have taken inordinate liberties with the power available to them, or have failed to discharge their leadership obligations. Such leaders appear not to comprehend the traditional responsibilities of their positions: while the elite have always exercised considerable dominion over peasants, such authority is not unlimited…the leader must also commit himself to the well-being and the dignity of the governed. Should the leader ignore these responsibilities, the situation is fraught with danger…Slow, indirect politicking may prove effective given sufficient time. If too slow or inept, politicking may give way to assassination as a means for social problem solving. 

In sum, problems which may lead to assassination are of such magnitude that they threaten the existence of the community. Other means of social problem solving either have been exhausted without effect or are not available. Under such circumstances political homicide serves as a ‘court of last resort’ in social conflict resolution.” 

Since Westermeyer’s study sample was restricted to ‘ten cases of political homicide in Laos’, to analyze in depth the anthropological context of political assassinations by the LTTE, I refer to two additional studies with extensive world-wide samples. But, prior to that, I provide some general facts on assassinations. 

General Facts on Assassinations 

Four modes of death exist for humans. These are, natural death, accident, suicide and homicide. For convenience of remembering, they are identified in abbreviation as NASH. One of the subcategories of homicide is assassination. The English word ‘assassin’ (defined as, one who kills, especially one who murders a political figure) is derived from the Arabic word hashshashin, relating to users of hashish. Political assassination is a sub-subcategory of homicide. 

If one checks the relative percentages of the modes of death in a nation’s population per annum, natural deaths exceeds 90 percent. Other three modes of death contribute at the maximum 8 or 9 percent of total deaths. For illustration, I will provide recent figures for USA and Japan, where statistics on the four modes of death are available. 2 million and 322,421 individuals died in USA for the year 1996. Among these, 2 million and 177,447 individuals (93.76 percent) died a natural death; 93,874 individuals (4.04 percent) died in accidents; 30,862 individuals (1.33 percent) died by suicide; and, 20,738 individuals (0.89 percent) were victims of homicide. The pattern is similar in Japan as well. Among the 896,211 individuals died in 1996, 824,192 individuals (91.96 percent) died a natural death. Accidental deaths amounted to another 4.3 percent. Suicide victims constituted around 3.5 percent and about 0.15 percent of the total deaths were homicide victims. The notable difference between the suicide and homicide percentages between the American and Japanese populations can be chiefly attributed to cultural tolerance of suicide in Japan and societal acceptance of non-restricted use of hand guns in USA. These figures taken together reveal that deaths due to homicide in an year among the larger public in a population with relative social stability comprises less than one percent of total deaths. 

Surprisingly, this pattern does not hold for nominal political power holders, power sharers and power peddlers (among which are to be included informants, spies, collaborators). However, vilifying Pirabhakaran is a cottage industry of the Colombo press since 1985. Here is a short passage of vitriol penned by one W.T.Singha in mid 2002, under the title, ‘Prabhakaran – Is he Goethe’s daemon?’ 

“… Is this that person who was responsible for savagely murdering of a democratically elected President of Sri Lanka, for the suicide bombing of the much loved Prime Minister of India – the grandson of Nehru, and the crème de la crème of Singhalese – Presidential candidates and eminent politicians – for butchering leading Tamil politicians who did not tow the line of Prabhakaran’s racism and for the bomb attacks on internationally recognised Tamil intellects who opposed his sanguinary mania? Did Premadasa, Rajiv, Ranjan, Gamini, Amirthalingam, Lalith, Tiruchelvam, Doraiswami and others deserved such brutal extermination? A single assassination of a high ranking politician is in itself vicious but to arrogate to himself the right to kill leading politicians and eminent people in such great number, mostly for flimsy disagreement or political dissension, could be the perpetration of an evil incarnate or megalomania…” [The Island newspaper, Colombo, July 10, 2002.] 

While (1) paying due allowance the fact that W.T.Singha appears completely ignorant of the classic analytical study of Westermeyer in Laos (60 percent Buddhist) relating to political assassinations in an Asian society not different from Sri Lanka, (2) asserting that as of now, Pirabhakaran had not been convicted in a court of law for the assassinations of all the individuals  mentioned in the above passage, (3) strongly doubting that all these named individuals in their ranks as politicians did not abuse power, and also (4) recognizing the unmentionable facts that four of the named individuals had been previously targets of assassins (Premadasa - JVP in 1987, Rajiv Gandhi – JVP in 1987 and Sikh militants in 1991, Amirthalingam – Sinhalese mob in 1956, Lalith Athulathmudali – JVP in 1987)  other than LTTE, I now refer to the two published studies to refute the views held by correspondents and journalists (not necessarily Sri Lankan) like W.T.Singha and Gamini Weerakoon, the editor of Colombo’s Island newspaper. 

The assassinations of politically powerful persons 

Both studies which deserve attention (but have been conveniently ignored by LTTE’s critics) originate from USA, and are from two institutions with rather impeccable credentials- namely, the New York Times and the CIA. These are as follows: 

1.     James F.Kirkham, Sheldon G.Levy and William J.Crotty: Assassination and Political Violence: A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, New York Times - Bantam Books, New York, 1970, 752 pages. Especially of value for the current discussion is the Appendix A of this report (pp.301-325), which provides data on assassination events from November 1918 to October 1968. This extensive data was collected by Carl Leiden, Murray Havens, Karl Schmitt and James Soukup belonging to the Department of Government, University of Texas, Austin, in 1968. 

2.     Leslie R.Pyenson, Laurence A.Cove and Francic X.Brickfield: Patterns of death in world leaders. Military Medicine, Dec.1998, vol.163, no.12, pp.797-800. Especially of interest is the professional affiliation of the authors, namely CIA, Washington DC. In this interesting analysis, Pyenson and his colleagues have reviewed the deaths of all political leaders, who died between January 1, 1965 and December 31, 1996. 

Leiden and colleagues (1968) had identified the assassination victims into six ranks. To the rank no.1 was assigned, ‘Head of State, head of government, or dictator; former head of state or head of state-elect, e.g: presidents, kings, premiers.’ Pyenson and colleagues (1998) defined their assassination victims (world leaders) as ‘those who at any time during their careers were a country’s principal decision-maker, exercising final authority for formulation and execution of national government policies. The positions they held included monarch, president, prime minister, party secretary or chairman, supreme religious authority or head of junta.’ Thus the data assembled by Leiden’s group and Pyenson’s group are more or less compatible but not identical. Subtle differences need notice. First, while Leiden’s group had pooled the heads of state and former heads of state into a single list, Pyenson’s group had separated the heads of state and former heads of state into two separate lists. Secondly, while Leiden’s group had identified each of the assassination victim by name, country, date of assassination and also included unsuccessful assassination attempts, Pyenson’s group belonging to CIA have not provided such complete details. Thus, the summarised information in the paper of Pyenson’s group has to be believed in good faith. Thirdly, Pyenson’s group had indicated that their study population was ‘non-U.S. world leaders’ since ‘CIA regulations prohibit the study of U.S. citizens.’ This partly explains why their study period begins from January 1, 1965 because by this choice they could conveniently exclude the assassination of President John F.Kennedy from the study population.  

Since the time frame studied by both groups overlap between January 1965 and October 1968, six heads of state and former heads of state who died during this overlapping period would have been counted in both studies. Taking this into consideration, from the extensive tabulated listing of Leiden’s group,  I counted 63 heads of state and former heads of state as assassination victims between November 1918 and December 1964. [Leiden group’s data on heads of state and ex head of state is presented below as Appendix 1.] The study presented by Pyenson’s group, informs that between January 1965 and December 1996, 52 heads of state and 16 former heads of state died by violent means.  

Thus, between November 1918 and December 1996 (a turbulent 78 year period of the 20th century which saw the ascension and decline of communism, vanishing of  overt colonialism, world war and regional wars, genocides, dominance of weapon industry and proliferation of nations), based on the assembled statistics of Leiden’s group and Pyenson’s group, a total of 131 (63 + 52 + 16) heads of state and former heads of state had died violently. This is certainly an under-count, since Pyenson’s group also excluded “countries – essentially a score of island states – with populations less than 250,000”. Furthermore, some reported ‘accidents’ to leaders which resulted in mortality could have really been homicides. 

I wish to further identify the significance of the findings Pyenson’s group which focused on the violent deaths of political leaders who died between 1965 and 1996, since two of the attributed victims of Pirabhakaran’s deeds – namely Rajiv Gandhi (in 1991) and R.Premadasa (in 1993) – would have been counted in this study. The findings of Pyenson’s group are as follows: 

(1)  261 world leaders died between 1965 and 1996. 

(2)  Of these 261 world leaders, 118 died while in office; only 66 (56 percent) died by natural causes. Remaining 52 died by violent (unnatural) causes, of which 35 died by assassination. To reiterate, 30 percent of titular heads of state died by assassination during their terms of office. R.Premadasa was one of the 35 heads of state to die during this study period. 

(3)  Among the 143 world leaders who died after leaving office, 16 died by violent (unnatural) causes, of which 10 were by assassination. Rajiv Gandhi was one of the 10 ex heads-of state to die during this study period. 

What is revealing from this statistic provided by the CIA researchers is that, percentage wise, there is a marked difference between the assassination deaths among larger public and the assassination deaths of heads of state and ex heads of state. In the discussion section of their paper, the CIA researchers inferred as follows:  

“Our first impressions, nevertheless, do call into question some prevalent beliefs or intuitive assumptions, which, in turn, may have practical planning implications. 

(1)  World leaders are not superhuman. By all accounts, they receive the best medicines, technology and professional services their country can offer or import, and generally they can travel to the best institutions in the world when required… 

(2)  It is not at all unusual for leaders to die violently, especially while in office. Death from assassination or other external means occurs commonly among world leaders, often wile they are in office. Almost half of those leaders who died were still in office, and almost half of that group died violently. Overall, violent deaths accounted for a surprisingly large proportion of the totals in both the mortality analysis group (26%) and the 1980 cohort (40% through 1996). By comparison, although it represented only a single year’s experience, in 1993, violent death constituted less than 7% of deaths among the U.S. population.” 

Unfortunately, unlike Leiden’s group, CIA’s Pyenson’s group has not provided the individual details of the deaths of 261 world leaders between 1965 and 1996. A letter sent to Dr.Pyenson’s address in Washington DC. by me, dated Dec.12, 2002, requesting such individual details for research has gone unanswered as of now. Thus, I cannot further comment on the significance of the reported findings. But in their study, Pyenson’s group had stated that their data was gathered “using unclassified information from readily available English-language or translated newspapers, books, periodicals”.  

Also to be noted is that, in their first finding reproduced above, Pyenson’s group use an all-encompassing clause “technology and professional services their country can offer or import” which include medical service as well as security service. Despite all the top-level security they are surrounded with, if such a high number of heads of state or ex heads of state succumb to assassination, I would consider that here is a circumstantial proof for the karma theory in action. As a nominal believer in the karma theory, I have never come across a study like that of Pyenson’s group to provide some statistical support for the karma theory of death for power holders. 

In sum, it is my contention that the statistical data on the assassinations of politicians at international level between 1918 and 1996 convincingly demonstrate that the assassination events of heads of state such as Rajiv Gandhi and Premadasa lie within the probability range of the observed pattern of assassination deaths of power-holding politicians, irrespective of whether LTTE and Pirabhakaran had a direct or indirect hand in them or not. The assassination issue is further muddled with the facts that both Rajiv Gandhi (at the hands of Sinhalese in 1987 and Sikhs in 1991) and Premadasa (at the hand of JVP radicals in 1987) were assassination targets prior to their eventual deaths.

 The oft-repeated claim by LTTE watchers like Rohan Gunaratna that “LTTE is the only terrorist group to have assassinated two heads of government” is also tenuous by omission and deception. It is an open secret that Intelligence agencies like CIA, Mossad and RAW which for all practical purposes technically operate as ‘under-cover terrorist groups’ in the soils of adversarial nations and territories have successfully planned and executed the assassinations of numerous heads of state who were counted in the studies of Leyden’s group and Pyenson’s group. 

Regicides in pre-colonial Buddhist Ceylon 

“The more powerful and prestigious the office, the greater likelihood of assassination.”  was the first conclusion derived by Kirkham, Levy and Crotty (1970), based on the analysis of 81 of the recorded political assassinations or attempted assassinations between 1835 (beginning from President Andrew Jackson) and 1968 (ending with Presidential aspirant Robert Kennedy) in USA. As I know of, such a statistical analysis covering a span of over 100 years on assassinations and attempted assassinations on politicians is hardly available in either Sri Lanka or India, for the equivalent period of 19th and 20th centuries. In the absence of such an exhaustive study, the projection of LTTE’s and Pirabhakaran’s role as assassins or social deviants has a profound bias. However, it should also be exposed that the much-vaunted, pre-colonial Sinhala monarchic traditions of Ceylon accomodated assassinations as a practical tool in the change of regimes. 

British colonial authority Sir James Emerson Tennent’s 1859 work on Ceylon still stands as an exhaustive source book on the despotic and wild form of Buddhist monarchic tradition which prevailed in the pre-colonial Lanka for 2,000 years. I reproduce two paragraphs (with two extensive foot-notes providing statistics on regicides and successions) from Tennent’s observations, which appears under the chapter 6 entitled, ‘The Influence of Buddhism on Civilisation’. To quote Tennent, 

“The long line of sovereigns is divided into two distinct classes; the kings of Maha-wanse or ‘superior dynasty’ of the uncontaminated blood of Wijayo, who occupied the throne from his death, B.C. 505, to that of Maha Sen, A.D.302; and the Sulu-wanse or ‘inferior race’, whose descent was less pure, but who, amidst invasions, revolutions, and decline, continued, with unsteady hand, to hold the government down to the occupation of the island by Europeans in the beginning of the sixteenth century. 

“….Neither the piety of the kings nor their munificence sufficed to conciliate the personal attachment of their subjects, or to strengthen their throne by national attachment such as would have fortified its occupant against the fatalities incident to despotism. Of fifty one sovereigns who formed the pure Wijayan dynasty, two were disposed by their subjects, and nineteen put to death by their successors. [Foot-note by Tennent: There is something very striking in the facility with which aspirants to the throne obtained the instant acquiescense of the people, as soon as assassination had put them in possession of power. And this is the more remarkable, where the usurpers were of the lower grade, as in the instance of Subho, a gate porter, who murdered King Yasa Silo, A.D. 60, and reigned for six years (Mahawamsa, ch.xxxv.p.218). A carpenter, and a carrier of fire-wood, were each accepted in succession of sovereigns, A.D. 47; whilst the great dynasty was still in the plenitude of its popularity. The mystery is perhaps referable to the dominant necessity of securing tranquility at any cost, in the state of society where the means of cultivation were directly dependent on the village organisation….]” 

Tennent continues further and provides an interesting statistic of Sinhalese regicides as follows: 

“Excepting the rare instances in which a reign was marked by some occurrence, such as an invasion and repulse of the Malabars, there is hardly a sovereign of the ‘Solar race’ whose name is associated with a higher achievement than erection of a dagoba or the formation of a tank, nor one whose story is enlivened by an event more exciting than the murder through which he mounted the throne or the conspiracy by which he was driven from it. [Foot-note by Tennent: In theory the Singhalese monarchy was elective in the descendants of the Solar race; in practice, primogeniture had a preference and the crown was either hereditary or became the prize of those who claimed to be of royal lineage. On viewing the succession of kings from B.C. 307 to A.D. 1815, thirty nine eldest sons (or nearly one fourth), succeeded to their fathers; and twenty nine kings (or more than one fifth) were succeeded by brothers. Fifteen reigned for a period less than one year, and thirty for more than one year and less than four. Of the Singhalese kings who died by violence, twenty two were murdered by their successors; six were killed by other individuals; thirteen fell in feuds and war, and four committed suicide; eleven were dethroned, and their subsequent fate is unknown. Not more than two-thirds of the Singhalese kings retained sovereign authority to their decease, or reached the funeral pile without a violent death. See also, Mahawanso, ch.xxiii, p.201.” [Book: Ceylon, vol.1, 1859 facsimile print in 1999, pp.360-361.] 

The statistics presented by Tennent on the Sinhalese monarchs who were homicide victims [a total of 22 sovereigns among 153 - in a period of 2,000 years - murdered by their immediate successors] is astounding and parallels the finding of CIA’s Pyenson’s group on the fate of non-USA heads of state between 1965 and 1996. In a subsequent page, Tennent had provided the following statistic: 

“Of the sixty two sovereigns who reigned from the death of Maha Sen, A.D. 301, to the accession of Parakrama Bahu, A.D. 1153, nine met a violent death at the hands of their relatives or subjects, two ended their days in exile, one was slain by the Malabars and four committed suicide.” [ibid, p.385]  

This means, during a period spanning 852 years, ten of the 62 sovereigns – nearly one in every six – were eliminated by violent deaths.  In the post-Parakrama Bahu period, between A.D. 1153 and A.D. 1527, according to Tennent, fates of seven sovereigns were decided by homicides. [see, Appendix 2 below for a complete listing of sovereigns who were victims of homicide.] In sum, a total of 32 of the 153 sovereigns – one in five who ascended to the throne – were homicide victims, during the 2,000 years of recorded despotic monarchic tradition of the island.  

A Synopsis on the fates of post-colonial Sri Lankan heads of state 

The pattern of death seen for the pre-colonial Buddhist monarchs of the island seems to prevail even in the post-colonial Sri Lanka, lasting only 55 years. The labeling of post-colonial Sri Lanka as a democracy by the international press is a misrepresentation of serious proportions committed by reporters and analysts who do not bother to do their home work. The pre-colonial monarchic tradition continues to hold, so that the Sri Lankan version of democracy is in reality a despotic nepocracy (feudal nepotism laced with bells and whistles of democracy) , with seven of the heads of state emerging from only two families : Senanayakes (father and son) and Bandaranaikes (husband, wife and daughter). Two other heads of state, namely Kotelawala and Jayewardene, were related to these two families by lineage and marriage.  

Of the ten heads of state, two died by assassinations and one died by accident. In addition, there were assassination and devious dethroning attempts on another three heads of state. The data is as follows: 

1.     Don Stephen Senanayake – died by horse-riding accident in March 1952. 

2.     Dudley Senanayake [son of #1] – natural death in 1973. 

3.     John Kotelawala [nephew of #1] – natural death in 1980. 

4.     Solomon W.R.D.Bandaranaike – died by assassination in Sept. 1959 by a cabal of disgruntled Buddhist monks. 

5.     W.Dahanayake – natural death in 1996. 

6.     Sirimavo Bandaranaike [wife of #4; escaped coup d’e-tat in 1962 by state’s armed forces and unconstitutional dethroning in 1971 by Sinhalese JVP] – natural death in 2000. 

7.     J.R.Jayewardene [escaped assassination on Aug.18, 1987 by JVP] – natural death in 1996. 

8.     R.Premadasa [escaped assassination on Aug.18, 1987 by JVP  while serving as prime minister and before his own ascension as head of state] - died by assassination in May 1993 attributed to LTTE, when the country was under a state of war. Belonging to an inferior caste group, Premadasa also escaped a devious dethroning attempt in 1991 by competitors within his own party who belonged to the higher Govigama caste. 

9.     D.B.Wijetunge – still living. 

10. Chandrika Kumartunga [daughter of #4 and #6] - escaped assassination on Dec.20, 1999 by LTTE, when the country was under a state of war. Still living. 

Among the ten post-colonial Sri Lankan heads of state, two outsiders [Dahanayake and Wijetunge] were stop-gap ascensions, following successful assassinations. LTTE is implicated with the dethroning attempts of Premadasa (#8) and Chandrika Kumaratunga (#10), of which that of Premadasa was successful. Technically, when LTTE’s dethroning attempts occurred in 1993 and 1999 respectively, LTTE was in war with its adversary - the Sri Lankan government, and the Sri Lankan head-of-state was the nominal Commander in Chief. 

The despotic nepocracy of post-colonial Sri Lanka reached its zenith, between 1994 and 1999, when the quartet who made vital decisions on behalf of the state consisted of President Chandrika Kumaratunga (a professional neophyte), President’s mother and prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike (then a senile professional invalid), President’s uncle and Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte (a professional imbecile) and the Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar (a  professional sin-eater). That the seeds for despotic nepocracy were sown with the two dethroning attempts on Sirimavo Bandaranaike made by the state’s armed forces in 1962 and the Sinhalese youth insurrection of 1971 should not be overlooked. That the despotic nepocracy had reached a level of troubling concern by the end of 1975 (when the general elections due in 1975 were postponed for the first time by two years) was evident by the famous expose by the Time magazine in its graphic feature, ‘All in the Family’, which showed eleven members of the then ruling clan who were kin of the then prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Even the current President Chandrika was featured in this ‘Ruling clan’ family tree as the ‘Director, Land Reform Commission’. The first paragraph of Time’s brief commentary said it all: 

“ ‘The last word in family planning’ is how Britain’s Guardian described it. The paper was referring to the Bandaranaike clan of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), who have managed to turn government into something of a family affair. At the head of the Indian Ocean republic is Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister and widow of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, who held this post from 1956 until he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959. Since Mrs. Bandaranaike was last elected in 1970, an imposing number of her relatives – both from her own family, the feudal Ratwatte clan, and her in-laws, the equally aristocratic Bandaranaikes – have assumed high office.” [Time magazine, Asian edition, Dec.15, 1975, p.36] 

Thus, even the assassination of the then Jaffna mayor Alfred Duraiappah in July 1975, a loyal retainer of the despotic Bandaranaike clan, by Pirabhakaran has to be viewed from such an anthropological context presented by Joseph Westermeyer. 

To comprehend LTTE’s viewpoint on its unsuccessful dethroning attempt made on President Chandrika Kumaratunga, I present the currently prevailing view of American executive (Presidential) wing of power, as it appeared in a news report originating from Washington DC, relating to Afghanistan campaign. 

“…A presidential order from 1976 bars political assassinations. The president can waive the order, as has been done for Osama bin Laden. But for Mullah Omar [the supreme leader of Taliban] the Bush administration has invoked a old principle of warfare to overcome that restriction. The commander of an enemy army is fair game, and strikes against him are not an assassination but an attack on the adversary’s command and control. Even before the United States unleashed its air strikes, President George W. Bush had made it clear that the mullah was a potential target…” [news report: ‘U.S. admits it’s trying to kill Taliban Leader’, by Michael Gordon and Tim Weiner, International Herald Tribune, Oct.17, 2001, p.2] 

If Bush administration can adhere to the old principle of warfare that ‘The commander of an enemy army is fair game’, there is nothing illogical to advance a claim that the LTTE’s past attempts on two Sri Lankan heads of state also fall within the boundaries of the old principle of warfare. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander as well, isn’t it? I should add that I’m not validating LTTE’s assassination attempts on the two Sri Lankan heads of state. Rather, I have presented an answer to the ‘why’ on the assassination attempts of 1993 and 1999 from LTTE’s point of view. It should not be forgotten that in the context of  war-time strategy, attacks on the adversary’s command and control is not a deviant measure, especially if one like Pirabhakaran was facing such a measure from his adversary. Only an ignoramus and one who is inadept in military tactics could label it as ‘terrorism’.  

Thus, based on the available anthropological, historical and criminological evidences relating to assassinations - assembled in this chapter, I would infer that Pirabhakaran is not a deviant or a merchant of death, as viewed by his adversaries. The contrary point of view will be proved true, only when sufficient data on political assassinations from Sri Lanka and elsewhere can be presented to dismantle the established facts assembled in this chapter. [To be Continued.]


Appendix 1

Successful Assassinations of Heads of State between Nov.1918 and Oct.1968

[source: James F.Kirkham, Sheldon G.Levy and William J.Crotty, 1970, pp.301-325]


Name of Head of State          Country                 Date of Assassination


1. Paes Sidonia                     Portugal                          Dec.16, 1918

2. 2.Habibullah Khan            Afghanistan                     May 17, 1919  

3. Carranza, V.                     Mexico                           May 21, 1920

4. Droubi Pasha                    Syria                              Aug.23, 1920 

5. Dato Eduardo                   Spain                              Mar.9, 1921  

6. Dos Santos Machado        Portugal                          Oct.21, 1921  

7. Granjo Antonio                 Portugal                          Oct.21, 1921  

8. Hara Takashi                     Japan                              Nov.5, 1921  

9. Narutowicz Gabriel            Poland                            Dec.16, 1922  

10. Stambuliski Alexander      Bulgaria                                       1923 

11. Petlura Simon                   Poland                           May 25,1926

12. Obregon Alvaro               Mexico                           Jul.17, 1928

13. Hamaguchi Yuko              Japan                             Nov.14, 1930  

14. Doumer Paul                    France                           May 7, 1932  

15. Tsuyoshi Inukai                Japan                             May 16, 1932

16. Sanchez Cerro, L.M.        Peru                               Apr.30, 1933  

17. Nadir Shah                      Afghanistan                     Nov.8, 1933 

18. Duca Ion G.                    Rumania                          Dec.30, 1933  

19. Sandino, A.C.                 Nicaragua                         Feb.23, 1934  

20. von Schleicher, K.           Germany                          Jun. 1934  

21. Dollfus Engelbert             Austria                             Jul.25, 1934  

22. Okada, Admiral                Japan                               Feb.26, 1936  

23. Saito, Viscount                Japan                                Feb.26, 1936  

24. Sidki Bakr                        Iraq                                 Aug.12, 1937

25. Calinescu Armad              Rumania                           Sep.21, 1939

26. Iorga, Nicolas                   Rumania                           Nov.29, 1940  

27. Enriquez, General A.         Ecuador                           May 31, 1942

28. Boris                                Bulgaria                            Aug.24, 1943

29. Maher Pasha Ahmed         Egypt                               Feb. 24, 1945

30. Mahidol Ananda               Siam (Thailand)                Jun.11, 1946  

31. Villaroel Gualberto            Bolivia                             Jul.21, 1946

32. San U Aung                      Burma                             Jul.19, 1947

33. Yahya ibn Mohammed      Yemen                             Feb.17, 1948

34. Gaitan Jorge E.                 Columbia                         Apr. 9, 1948

35. Nukrashy Pasha Mahmoud/Egypt                             Dec. 28, 1948

36. Arana Francisco Javier      Guatemala                        Jul.19, 1948

37. Al-Barazi Muhsin              Syria                                Aug.14, 1949

38. Zaim Husni                       Syria                                Aug.14, 1949

39. Hazhir Abdul-Hysayn        Iran                                               1950

40. Al Hinnawi, Col. Sami       Lebanon                          Oct.31, 1950

41. Delgado Chalbaud Carlos  Venezuela                        Nov.13, 1950

42. Razmara Ali                       Iran                                 Mar.8, 1951

43. Al Sulh Riad                     Jordan                             Jul.16, 1951

44. Abdullah                           Jordan                             Jul.20, 1951  

45. Liaquat Ali Khan               Pakistan                           Oct.16, 1951

46. Remon Jose Antonio         Panama                            Jan.2, 1955  

47. Al Malki, Lt.Col. Adnan     Syria                               Apr.22, 1955

48. Somoza Anastasio              Nicaragua                        Sep.21,1956

49. Castillo Armas Carlos        Guatemala                        Jul.26,1957

50. Adul Ilah                            Iraq                                 Jul.14,1958

51. Faisal II                              Iraq                                 Jul. 14,1958

52. Nuri Al-Said                       Iraq                                  Jul.16,1958

53. Bandaranaike Solomon       Ceylon                             Sep. 25,1959

54. Majali Hazza                       Jordan                            Aug.29, 1960 55. Lumumba Patrice               Congo                             Jan.17, 1961 56. Yrujillo Molina Rafael         Dominican Rep.              May 30, 1961

57. Rivagasore Louis               Burundi                           Oct. 1961

58. Olympio Sylvanus              Togo                               Jan. 13, 1963

59. Kassem Abdul Karim          Iraq                                Feb. 9, 1963  

60. Ngo Dinh Diem                  South Vietnam                 Nov.2, 1963

61. Kennedy, John F.               U.S.A.                            Nov. 22, 1963

62. Dorji Jigme P.                     Bhutan                           Apr.27, 1964  

63. Al-Shishakli, Gen. Adib       Brazil                             Sep.27, 1964 64. Ngendandumwe Pierre         Burundi                          Jan.15, 1965 65. Mansour Hassan Ali            Iran                                Jan.21, 1965  

66. Mendez Montenegro Mario Guatemala                      Oct.31, 1965  

67. Balewa Sir Abubakar          Nigeria                            Jan.15, 1966  

68. Ironsi Aguiyi, J.T.V.           Nigeria                            Jul.30, 1966  

69. Verwoerd Hendrik F.          South Africa                   Sep.6, 1966




 Appendix 2

Unnatural Deaths of pre-colonial Ceylonese Buddhist Sovereigns

[source: James Emerson Tennent, 1859, pp.320-324]


Chronological       Name of Sovereign                       Date of Ascension

order as sovereign          and mode of death


10                Suratissa – put to death                                         247 BC 11                Sena and Guttika (horse traders) – put to death      237 BC

13                Elala – killed in battle                                            205 BC 18                Khallatanaga – put to death                                   109 BC 20                Panca-Dravida – put to death                                103 BC 23                Coranaga – put to death                                          63 BC 24                Kuda Tissa – poisoned by his wife                          51 BC 29                Amanda Gamani Abhaya – put to death             AD 19 32                Queen Singhawalli (Sivali) – put to death                 33 35                Yasalaka Tissa – put to death                                  52 36                Sabha (Subha) – put to death                                  60 43                Chudda Naga  –  murdered                                    186 46                Wairatissa (Vera Tissa) – murdered                        209 49                Vijaya Kumara – put to death                                 242 50                Sangha Tissa I – poisoned                                     243 60                Sotthi Sena – poisoned                                          432 62                Mitta Sena or Karal Sora – put to death                  433 64                Dhatu Sena (Dasenkelleya) – put to death               459 65                Sigiri Kasyapa – committed suicide                        477 67                Kumara Dhatu Sena – self immolation                    513 68                Kirti Sena – murdered                                            522 69                Maidi Siwu (Siwaka) – murdered                            531

72                Datthapa Bhodi (Dapalu 1st) – committed suicide    547 74                Kirtisri Megavana – put to death                             567 78                Sangha Tissa – decapitated                                    633 79                Buna Mugalan (Laimini Bunaya) – put to death        633

82                Kaluna Detu Tissa – committed suicide                   648 83                Dhatthopa Tissa (Dalupia Tissa) – killed in battle     665

89                Hatthadatha (Hununaru Riandalu) – decapitated       720 120              Wejayabahu 2nd – murdered                                  1186 121              Mihindu 5th – put to death                                     1187 122              Wirabahu – put to death                                        1196  

123              Wikramabahu 2nd – put to death                            1196 129              Nayaanga (Nikanga) – put to death                         1209 148              Jayabahu 2nd – put to death                                   1462 153              Wejeya Bahu 6th – murdered                                  1527