The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 5

Sachi Sri Kantha
19 February 2003]

Being a Tamil Hero 


Andrea: ‘Unhappy is the land that breeds no heroes.’

Galileo: ‘No Andrea. Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’

- Bertolt Brecht, in his play Leben des Galilei

[The Life of Galileo], 1943.


Apart from the word ‘love’, in my opinion, the word ‘hero’ is another of those much abused four letter words. When I was young, I learnt in my primary school English grammar book that ‘hero’ is masculine and ‘heroine’ is feminine. Now, primarily due to Hollywood hacks, the feminine version of the word had been obliterated and the ‘hero’ had been turned into a gender-neuter word. ‘Hero’ also has suffered from status deflation by constant exposure and hype by the media hacks. 

In January 2000, I requested ,and received, a reprint from Dr. Russell Travis of his 1999 presidential address to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. It was entitled, ‘Is the age of heroes gone?’ [Journal of Neurosurgery, Oct.1999; vol.91, pp.531-537]. In developing his address, Dr.Travis had used timing to his advantage, following the year of the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. To quote, 

“After the past year’s worth of political antics, I began to wonder ‘what is a hero?’ Who, other than athletes, like John Elway or Michael Jordan, or country or rock singers, are today’s candidates for the title ‘hero’? Who today would be labeled as the ‘great man?’ Do we still have heroes?” 

Then, he presented six examples of influential heroes: Galileo, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and John F. Kennedy. While many would agree with the first five names, thousands of Americans would have difficulty in identifying J.F.Kennedy as their hero. This address of Dr. Travis' prompted me to turn my attention to the Eelam Tamil heroes.  

To place Pirabhakaran’s status as a Tamil hero in context, first one has to define the word ‘hero’. The well-thumped dictionary in my table – Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary (1980) – provides the following descriptions for the word ‘hero’. 

1.     a man distinguished for exceptional courage, fortitude or bold enterprise.

2.     one idealized for superior qualities or deeds of any kind

3.     the principal male character in a drama, fictional work, etc.

4.     in classical mythology and legend, a man of great nobility or physical prowess. 

Considering his track record for the past two decades, it is not an exaggeration if one states that Pirabhakaran’s deeds can fit into first three of the above descriptions. On the remaining fourth description, while still living, Pirabhakaran’s deeds also have been tagged with the ‘legendary’ appellation and his creation, viz. the LTTE, has demonstrated ‘physical prowess’ in a figurative sense. 

Orrin Klapp’s classification of heroes 

It is not inappropriate to identify the various types of legitimate heroes who were (and are) Pirabhakaran’s contemporaries in Tamil society. Pirabhakaran cannot be studied in isolation and, thus, the heroic deeds of his Eelam Tamil contemporaries in various arenas are identified first. Orrin Klapp, the professor of sociology at San Diego State University for two decades (1949-69), who had researched on social types, developed a taxonomy of heroes in 1962. Klapp’s classification of heroes consists of five types, and within each type there are 3 or 4 sub-categories. Altogether, Klapp recognized 17 types of heroes, as follows: 

1.     Winners: Getting what you wanted, beating everyone and being a champion.

(a)  Strong man

(b) The brain

(c)  The smart operator

(d) The great lover 

2.     Splendid Performers: Shining before an audience.

(a)  Showmen

(b) Heroes of play

(c)  Playboy 

3.     Heroes of Social Acceptability: Being liked, attractive and good.

(a)  The pin-up model

(b) The charmer

(c)  The good fellow

(d) Conforming heroes 

4.     Independent Spirits: Standing alone, making one’s way by oneself.

(a)  Bohemian

(b) Jester

(c)  Angry commentator 

5.     Group Servants: Helping people, cooperation self-sacrifice, group service and solidarity.

(a)  Defender

(b) Martyr

(c)  Benefactor  

These types have been outlined by Gordon Russell in his book, The Social Psychology of Sport (Springer-Verlag, New York, 1993, pp.126-128). 

Tamil Heroes of Eelam 

In 20th century Eelam many heroes emerged by popular recognition and public adoration. Among them were artistes, educators, legislators, public defenders, and icons of protest and valor. Some had academic exposure to cultures beyond Ceylon, due to privilege of birth and affluence. Some did not even enter the universities of the island. But, all were intelligent in their own right. Thus, comparing each one with another is like comparing an apple and orange. But, from my vintage perspective as a keen observer of Tamil society for the past three decades, I provide below examples for each of the above 17 categories of legitimate heroes, who experienced ‘one-of-a- kind’ life and contributed to the Eelam society in unparalleled fashion. The majority of these heroes (those born before 1950) have received recognition in the reference work, A Dictionary of Biography of Ceylon Tamils (1996), compiled by S.Arumugam, and are seniors to Pirabhakaran in age. The following list may seem biased to some, but it is biased against some names (such as phony Mother Teresa wannabes and sin eaters in the services of borderline-demented politicians) who are pampered by the Colombo and Chennai media hype. 

1.     Winners 

(a)  Strong man: S.Thondaman (in the local political arena since 1947 until his death in 1999) 

(b) The brain: Swami Vipulananda, Fr. Xavier Thaninayagam, Prof. Christie J. Eliezer, Prof. A. Jeyaratnam Wilson 

(c)  The smart operator: Prof. S. Vithiananthan, Col. Kiddu (both as unconventional organizers of the Jaffna society in the 1970s and 1980s respectively) 

(d) The great lover: James T.Rutnam (eminent bibliophile)  

2.     Splendid Performers 

(a)  Showmen: G.G.Ponnambalam (both in legal and political arenas), musician Thavil Thatchinamoorthy, endurance athlete V.S.Kumar Anandan 

(b) Heroes of play: cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan 

(c)  Playboy: cricketer Mahadeva Sathasivam 

3.     Heroes of Social Acceptability 

(a)  The pin-up model: poet Kasi Ananthan (in the first half of 1970s) 

(b) The charmer: A.Amirthalingam, C.Rajadurai (from 1956 to 1980 as orators) 

(c)  The good fellow: M.Sivasithamparam 

(d) Conforming hero: S.J.V.Chelvanayakam (for the Tamil masses from 1956 until his death in 1977) 

4.     Independent Spirits 

(a)  Bohemian: Prof.C.Suntheralingam 

(b) Jester: satirist Sivagnanasuntharam (editor of Sirithiran humor magazine and creator of Jaffna’s cynical, wise old man character, Savari Thambar) 

(c)  Angry commentator: journalist S.Sivanayagam, M.K.Eelaventhan (both heroes of non-violence against the high-handedness of Indian Poo Bahs) 

5.     Group Servants 

(a)  Defender: Senator S.Nadesan, Kumar Ponnambalam (both as legal defenders against State oppression of human rights) 

(b) Martyr: Pon.Sivakumaran, physician ‘Gandhiyam’ S. Rajasundaram, Capt. Wasanthan (Miller), Second Lieutenant Malathy, Lieutenant Col.Thileepan 

(c)  Benefactor: Dr.Siva Chinnathamby (as pioneer campaigner of women’s health), ‘Milk White Industries' entrepreneur K.Kanagarajah 

Among the 31 individuals whom I have identified above, with the exception of Swami Vipulananda, all others are Pirabhakaran’s contemporaries. Many, though chronologically older, were Pirabhakaran’s admirers; some, chronologically younger, were his junior associates. Thus, Pirabhakaran’s stature as a Tamil hero is hardly in doubt.  

In my view, despite the sneering of his critics who suffer from ‘sour grape syndrome’, Pirabhakaran became a hero to Tamils in the old fashioned way; he earned it for three of his deeds. First, he established an authentic, vibrant and successful (I use only these three appropriate adjectives to distinguish the LTTE from other fakes) Tamil army – a deed which had not been performed for his ethnic group in the past 400-500 years. In this deed, Pirabhakaran is on par with George Washington who performed a similar feat for the colonial settlers in America. Secondly, Pirabharan stood up against the imperial intentions of Indian army and administrative Poo Bahs, while his fellow Tamil rivals folded their tents in subservience. Thirdly, his LTTE army stood up and scored against the aggression of the Sri Lankan state’s armed forces and para-military elements for more than 15 years, despite heavy odds. 

Heroism in the Battle of Poonagari (1993) 

In 1993, writing under my pen-name C.P.Goliard, I identified Pirabhakaran’s heroism in a commentary using poet Kannadasan’s (1927-1981) lines, following the historic Battle of Poonagari. Excerpts: 

Uyir Mel Aasai (Love in Life) is a mediocre Tamil movie which was released in the mid 1960s. It was one of Jai Shankar’s early movies. The only redeeming feature of that movie, as far as I can remember, was the Paapa [child] song of poet Kannadasan, which was sung by Carnatic diva K.B.Sundarambal. Kannadasan’s verse and Sundarambal’s voice! – splendid, is the only adjective one can use for that super combination. Kannadasan wrote, 

Kelu Paapaa – Kelu Paapaa - Kelvigal aayiram Kelu Paapaa

Ketaal kidaipathu pothu arivu – intha Kelviyil valarvathu pahutharivu.

[Ask child – ask child – Ask thousand questions child

General knowledge you’ll gain – and listening will make one rational.] 

In the subsequent lines, the poet laureate wrote, 

Kadalukku payanthavan karaiyil ninran – athai padahinil kadanthavan ulagai kandaan

Payanthavan thanakke pahaiyaavan – enrum thuninthavan ulagirku oliyaavan.

[The one who feared the sea stood in the shore – the one who rowed it in a boat discovered the world;

The coward becomes an enemy to himself; the ever courageous will become the beacon to the world.] 

The cowards and the courageous – Tamils have played the political game in both these positions in recent times. The recent Battle of Poonagari can be appreciated well when we comprehend that not long ago, Tamils were a laughing stock among the Sinhalese for their cowardice…. [Tamil Nation, London, Dec.1993, p.4] 

I continued: 

“On the Battle of Poonagari, the Economist magazine of November 13th [1993] had presented the verdict succinctly to the world: ‘A Sri Lankan government official was honest enough to describe the military setback on the Jaffna peninsula on November 11th as a disaster. After an attack by 500-or-so Tamil Tiger separatist guerrillas, the army seems to have withdrawn from Poonareen [Pooneryn], its last base on the peninsula apart from the airport. This defeat, the worst single  loss for years, is doubly worrying for the government that seemed set on shooting its way to a solution to a decade of fighting against Tamil guerrillas’. One should also note that the Economist is no friend of the Eelam campaign. 

Kannadasan’s lines, Kadalukku payanthavan karaiyil ninran – athai padahinil kadanthavan ulagai kandaan, is meaningful in two planes. First, scientifically speaking, they praise the determination and courage of explorers like Colombus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan who ‘discovered the New World’ by their bold adventures. Secondly, in historical terms, these lines also chronicle the fall of Tamils from their pedestal as explorers of new land due to an inward-looking mentality, which became dominant five centuries ago (at the same time when Europeans were beginning to explore the sea). This bad trait, caused by caste consciousness, relegated the fishermen to the secondary role in a society which came to be dominated by the Brahmin doctrines. 

So, one can visualize that Kannadasan challenged the Tamils with the words: Paynthavan thanakke pahaiyaavaan – enrum thuninthavan ulagirku oliyaavaan. If he is alive, the poet will be pleased that quite a number of lads and lasses of Eelam do take his verses seriously and put them into action.” [ibid

Continuous Successes in the Battlefield 

That the Battle of Poonagari (1993) was no flash in the pan was demonstrated by Pirabhakaran’s army which kept mauling the Sri Lankan armed forces repeatedly at will. Excerpts from four notable newsreports, between 1999 and 2002,  would suffice. 

(1) Arjuna Ranawana to the Asiaweek magazine

“ It didn’t take long. First a 100-man Tamil Tiger commando unit slipped through the thinly defended government lines. Then three other groups attacked from different directions, putting the defenders to flight. The government’s military base at Oddusudan had fallen. Within a week of the Nov.2 [1999] assault, up to 10 positions in the northeastern Wanni region had met a similar fate. Thousands of government soldiers were falling back, and 18 months of hard-fought advances were largely undone….. 

[President] Kumaratunga put a brave face on the military setbacks. While conceding that considerable terrain had been lost, she said media reports of government military losses had been ‘grossly exaggerated’. Nevertheless, Unceasing Waves 3, as Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran has dubbed the offensive, has rattled the government and dented military morale. Kumaratunga ordered a shakeup in the northern command and imposed censorship on local news organizations. The army chief, Gen. Sri Lal Weerasooriya, took personal command of the garrison town of Vavuniya, just south of the government forces’ redrawn defensive line. He also ordered an inquiry into the defeats. 

The Wanni region is the last significant area of Sri Lanka still in Tamil Tiger hands. For about a year and a half, government forces had been pushing the rebels back, sometimes with unexpected ease. But in the end, say military analysts, the advancing troops had become too thinly spread, even with the injection of naval and air units into the infantry lines. When Prabhakaran’s men punched through a gap between navy and army positions, there was no organized resistance…” [In: ‘Attack and Counter-Attack’, Asiaweek magazine, Nov.19, 1999, p.40] 

(2) Anthony Spaeth in the Time magazine 

“…On April 22 [2000], the Tigers managed to capture a military garrison at Elephant Pass, an isthmus that connects the northern Jaffna peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka….Kumaratunga begged for weapons and ammunition from abroad, and arms dealers from China, Israel, Iran, Russia and Ukraine flew into Colombo, the country’s capital, to strike deals. 

At mid-week, Sri Lanka also begged neighbor India to provide military aid, including ships to evacuate troops from Jaffna and fighter planes to provide air cover. The last time India got involved in the Sri Lanka war the results proved catastrophic for both sides…Not surprisingly, India this time has flatly refused to help evacuate the Sri Lankan soldiers…. 

The army seems inept and almost certainly unable to win the war. The LTTE, having overrun so many military bases, is now considered better armed than the government. Thanks to Kumaratunga’s press censorship, the majority of Sri Lankans didn’t even know of the three-week battle at Elephant Pass until the rout was complete. Now they’re scared. ‘I am wondering whether we can ever get over this.’, says a security guard working in Colombo. Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran told his faithful last November that 2000 would be the ‘Year of War’. He has kept his promise.” [In: ‘Tigers Triumphant’, Time magazine, International edition, May 15, 2000, p.25] 

(3) Anonymous reporter in the Economist magazine 

“ ‘An attacking force always sustains more casualties’, said a Sri Lankan army commander, seeking to dismiss the army’s large losses in an attack on Tamil Tiger rebels. The army said 157 of its soldiers and 190 rebels had been killed. The Tigers said it had killed 300 soldiers for the loss of 48 of its own fighters. Whatever the true figure, it was a ferocious battle. Worse, the army appeared to have gained nothing from it. 

It had apparently aimed to capture the town of Pallai as a prelude to retaking the more important Elephant Pass, a causeway linking the Jaffna peninsula to the southern mainland. Last year the army lost control of the pass in its worst defeat in the 18-year civil war. Without this land route, the government can supply its troops in the Tamil-dominated peninsula only by sea or by air. An offensive, named Rod of Fire, started on April 25th immediately after the Tigers had ended a unilateral truce. The Tigers put up strong resistance, forcing the troops, drawn mainly from the majority Sinhalese population, to retreat to their original positions in Nagar Kovil, Eluthumadduval and the Kilaly lagoon. On April 28th, it was all over and both sides were disposing of their dead. 

The debacle has panicked the government. The stalling of a major offensive led by the cream of its recently modernised armed forces has exposed the precariousness of its grip on the peninsula, which was wrested from the Tigers only in 1996. The government’s earlier claim that the Tigers had called their ceasefire out of military weakness is looking increasingly hollow…” [In: ‘Tiger teeth’, Economist magazine, May 5, 2001, pp.25-26] 

(4) Steve Percy in the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine 

“…The [Jaffna] town’s most noticeable residents are 30,000 troops, who man fortified camps and bunkers at every intersection. At the 51st Battalion headquarters, in one of the town’s two big 1960s-style hotels, a high ranking officer concedes the Tigers ‘have won the war’. He cites their unhindered passage to the town under the peace accord and how they move among the people showing videos for political and recruitment purposes, while extracting taxes from shopkeepers and traders. The army won’t stand in their way, he says. They’ll be back in their barracks by the end of the year, he adds. 

That’s the demand of the Tigers’ local political officer near Temple Road. Sympathizers come and go. On the wall hangs a portrait of Prabhakaran in jungle fatigues with a suicide capsule looped around his neck. A world map forms a backdrop with a yellow Eelam – the promised Tiger homeland – jutting out of the Indian Ocean like a crab with an enormous claw. It appears to be unattached to Sri Lanka….” [In: ‘Highway of Hope’, Far Eastern Economic Review magazine, Aug.22, 2002.] 

Russell Travis, in his above-cited presidential address, drew attention to two components of heroism: courage and fortitude. References to Pirabhakaran, appearing as sound bites, by Ranawana, Spaeth, Percy and the anonymous Economist correspondent in the above-cited passages tell without embellishment the courage component of the LTTE leader as the Tamil hero. Travis also stresses the fortitude component; i.e., the willingness of an individual to suffer personal anguish for the sake of the moral good.  

A few authentic heroes living amongst us now were blessed with both these components. I can state that Nelson Mandela and champion Mohammad Ali (both bona-fide boxers) showed the traits of courage and fortitude in their campaigns against political arrogance and racism. Among the Tamils, Pirabhakaran’s deeds is on par with that of boxers Ali and Mandela. 

An unorthodox Economist Measure of Pirabhakaran’s fortitude 

I provide below an unusual measure of Pirabhakaran’s fortitude. For almost two decades, political decision-making in Sri Lanka and to an extent even in neighboring India had been revolving around Pirabhakaran’s thoughts and deeds. No heads of state have influenced the events in South Asia for such a lengthy period in the post 1975 period like Pirabhakaran.  

As a review, I have assembled, from my personal collection, over 100 news reports and commentaries on Sri Lanka which appeared in London Economist magazine since July 1983 in chronological order. To this, I have added the reports which are currently available in the website of Economist magazine (details of news reports since June 1997). I provide only the captions (sometimes cynical, patronizing, and semi-incomprehensible, as is the style of Economist)  and the dates of issue of these news reports. When the caption is too incomprehensible, I provide within parentheses the specific detail relating to that caption. I have divided the reports according to the time-span of four Sri Lankan heads of state who had to confront Pirabhakaran. Why did I choose the Economist features for this illustration? First, compared to Time and Newsweek magazines, the Economist had provided constant coverage on the South Asian scene, probably due to the colonial baggage and readership captured in its homeland. Secondly, compared to Time and Newsweek, the Economist is a great-grand daddy of journalism, having entered the scene in September 1847, when the British were ascending as the biggest and condescending bullies in the Asian, African and Oceanian continents. Thirdly, in its succinct reports it provides a distinct style of caricature in prose which is amusing, biting but less than real.  

Two notes of caveat are in order. That the journalists practising their trade for the Economist magazine still hide behind a cloak of anonymity, bordering on the Victorian era prudery on sex should be noted. Also, those hiding behind such a cloak of anonymity have loose pens spitting venom and bile against named individuals also reveals the spineless cowardice and contempt to decency. Despite these deficiencies, I chose reports from the Economist magazine since they cannot be tagged as pro-Pirabhakaran literature by any stretch of imagination.  

Jayewardene period

Week of the tiger. July 30, 1983, pp.14-15 (editorial)

Call in the professionals. Sept.15, 1984, p.41

Rajiv’s far horizons. Nov.10, 1984

Back-door and front-door. June 1, 1985. [on refugee immigration]

A small and solvable war. Aug.3, 1985, pp.35-36

Tigers at bay. Feb.28, 1987, pp.28-29.

The push on Jaffna. May 30, 1987, p.30

The Tiger hunt and the failed armada. June 6, 1987, pp.27-28 & 31

When peace became possible. Aug.1, 1987, p.20 & 25-26

Tiger, Tiger, losing fight. Aug.1, 1987, p.13 (editorial)

Still in the balance. Aug.8, 1987, pp.18-19

Non-Tiger terror. Aug.22, 1987, pp.44-45

Not all the guns were handed in. Sept.19, 1987, pp.30-31

It’s war again. Oct.10, 1987, pp.29 & 32

The other side is just as bloody. Nov.14, 1987, pp.24-25 [on JVP rioting]

The other Tamils. Nov.14, 1987, p.25

Costly campaign. Nov.28, 1987, p.28

Bad day at Batticaloa. Jan.23, 1988, pp.20 & 22

All over bar the shooting. Feb.6, 1988, p.22

Tamil Nadu: Get a move on, soldier. Apr.23, 1988, pp.35-36

The Tigers dig their claws in. July 30, 1988, pp.33-34

It still looks like no change. Aug.20, 1988, pp.23-24

Marching orders. Oct.8, 1988, p.32

Rajiv gets lost on a Tiger hunt. Oct.22, 1988, pp.25-26

The Tamils defy the Tigers. Nov.26, 1988, pp.26 & 29

Enter Hydra. Dec.3, 1988, p.28

Democracy’s day of courage. Dec.24, 1988, p.33 

Premadasa period

Whose revolution will it be? Feb.11, 1989, pp.34 & 36

Mathematics for beginners. Feb.25, 1989, pp.32 & 34

Imperial India. Apr.15, 1989, pp.14 & 17 (editorial)

If India leaves. Apr.22, 1989, p.36

Slip sliding away. May 27, 1989, pp.38 & 40

Blood, toil, tears and onions. June 10, 1989, p.32

Riding the Tiger. July 1, 1989, p.29

On with the hunt. July 8, 1989, p.31

Too bad to print. July 15, 1989, p.36

Towards midnight. July 22, 1989, p.31

Time for tea. Aug.5, 1989, p.33

Do or die. Aug.26, 1989, pp.25-26

Agreed on a phoney peace. Sept.16, 1989, p.32

Uncivil wars. Oct.7, 1989, p.38

A catastrophe in the making. Nov.11, 1989, pp.41-42

Shades of Che. Nov.18, 1989, p.40 [on the death of Rohana Wijeweera]

Tigers on the prowl again. Jan.20, 1990, p.38

Old Tigers in new skins. Mar.31, 1990, p.35

Tigers again, fresh from their sleep. June 16, 1990, pp.36-37

Back to the jungle. June 23, 1990, p.31

And don’t come back. July 7, 1990, pp.37-38

Solid Dutch. Aug.11, 1990, pp.37-38

The relief of Jaffna. Sept.22, 1990, pp.38-40

If they get bored with the war. Nov.3, 1990, p.42

Another round. Jan.19, 1991, p.34

Death of a hawk. Mar.9, 1991, p.28 [on the death of Ranjan Wijeratne]

It is not all war. May 18, 1991, p.40

Death among the blossoms. May 25, 1991, pp.27-28 & 35 [on the death of Rajiv Gandhi]

India’s trial. May 25, 1991, pp.15-16 (editorial)

A warning? July 6, 1991, p.35

The battle for Elephant Pass. Aug.3, 1991, p.32

Elephantine mistake. Aug.17, 1991, p.24

The end of One-Eyed Jack. Aug.24, 1991, pp.33-34 [on the death of Sivarasan]

Himself surprised. Sept.7, 1991, p.28 [on Premadasa impeachment crisis]

Under the stones of Sri Lanka. Sept.14, 1991, p.34

Our allies, the Tigers. Sept.28, 1991, pp.36-37

If only. Nov.23, 1991, p.34

Sailing home. Jan.18, 1992, pp.24-25

Mars, not Venus. Apr.18, 1992, p.28

English lessons. Apr.25, 1992, pp.25-26

Taming the Tigers. June 6, 1992, pp.28-29

Term of trial. Sept.5, 1992, p.33

Tea party. Nov.7, 1992, pp.27-28

Birthday present. Nov.21, 1992, pp.26 & 28 [on the death of Vice Admiral Clancy Fernando]

Let’s federate. Dec.5, 1992, pp.28-29

Top Tiger talks about talks. Mar.6, 1993 [Pirabhakaran’s interview; an exclusive!]

Who killed Lalith? May 1, 1993, p.27 [on the death of Athulathmudali] 

Wijetunga period

The Tigers pounce. Nov.13, 1993, p.34

All in the family. Jan.8, 1994, pp.26-27 [on the Bandaranaike clan]

In the Tiger’s den. Mar.5, 1994, pp.32-33

No kite flying in Jaffna. July 2, 1994, p.31

Election leapfrog. July 2, 1994, pp.31-32

Sri Lanka tilts to the left. Aug.20, 1994, pp.23-24

Missing money. Aug.27, 1994, pp.23-26

Murder and mystery in Sri Lanka. Oct.29, 1994, pp.29-30 [on the death of Gamini Dissanayake]

Women and children first. Oct.29, 1994, p.30 [on the political nepotism in South Asia] 

Chandrika Kumaratunga period

Some peace. Jan.21, 1995, pp.31-32

Out of the ashes. Apr.15, 1995, pp.28-29

The victory still to come. Dec.9, 1995, pp.27-28 [on the capture of Jaffna by the government forces]

Terror in Sri Lanka. Feb.10, 1996, p.16 (editorial)

After the bomb. Feb.10, 1996, pp.30-31

A fight over the ruins. July 13, 1996, p.30

Back to the Tiger’s old lair. Aug.31, 1996, p.24

Junius Jayewardene. Nov.23, 1996, p.121 (obituary)

Local difficulty. Mar.27, 1997,

Another bomb. Oct.16, 1997,

A tooth for a tooth. Jan.29, 1998,

Sri Lanka’s unhappy birthday. Feb.7, 1998, pp.27-28

Blood and money. Oct.8, 1998,

Civil war without end. Dec.5, 1998, pp.32 & 37

So that’s democracy. Jan.28, 1999,

Kalashnikov kids. July 10, 1999,

Cries of battle. Sept.23, 1999,

Four terrible days. Nov.11, 1999,

Sri Lanka wants peace, perhaps. Dec.18, 1999, pp.23-24

Victory and war in Sri Lanka. Dec.23, 1999,

Sri Lanka’s new killings. Jan.8, 2000,

A prize from Norway. Feb.24, 2000,

City slaughter. Mar.16, 2000,

The worst defeat. Apr.29, 2000, pp.26 & 29

Sri Lanka’s Dunkirk. May 6, 2000, p.33

The Tamil Tigers close in. May 13, 2000, pp.27-28

Another bomb in the war. June 10, 2000, p.27 [on the death of minister C.V.Goonaratne]

The growing cost of war. July 13, 2000,

Sri Lanka backs away from devolution. Aug.12, 2000, p.24

Blood before the ballot. Sept.9, 2000, pp.34-35

The war the world is missing. Oct.5, 2000,

Sri Lanka votes and hopes. Oct.5, 2000,

A double-barreled verdict. Oct.14, 2000, pp.38-39

Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Oct.21, 2000, p.115 (obituary)

Lynch law. Oct.26, 2000,

Tiger tamed? Nov.30, 2000,

Poker game. Jan.13, 2001, p.29

Hitting the Tigers in their pockets. Mar.8, 2001,

Tiger teeth. May 5, 2001, pp.25-26.

The Tigers pounce. July 26, 2001, [on the Katunayake Airport attack]

No reconciliation. Sept.1, 2001, p.28

Start again. Oct.20, 2001,

Voting in blood. Dec.1, 2001,

A vote for peace? Dec.8, 2001, pp.31-32

The wounded Tigers. Jan.10, 2002,

Viking rule. Feb.28, 2002,

The peace of desperation. Mar.27, 2002,

The Tiger comes out of his lair. Apr.11, 2002,

Meet the new democratic Tigers. Apr.11, 2002,

Smiles that conceal the worries. July 18, 2002,

To Thailand in hope. Sept.5, 2002,

A world of exiles. Jan.4, 2003, 

As one could infer, the caption writers to the Economist magazine are nothing but lobotomized transplants from the tabloid journalism, whose paychecks seem scored solely on the scale of offending good etiquette. Their irreverence is not limited to the citizens of for former British colonies in Asia and Africa. Even the aging Pope doesn’t get any respect from the Economist magazine’s lobotomized slobs who once tagged him with a photo caption - just stating ‘Don’t mention the pill’.

If Pirabhakaran, by naming his organization with reference to Tiger, had handed an easy whip to these caption writers for splashing their feline metaphors, by his endurance and fortitude he also made sure that the same caption writers eat crow on some of their hasty captions such as ‘Tigers at bay (1987)’, ‘Tiger, Tiger, losing fight (1987)’, ‘Back to the jungle’ (1990) and ‘Elephantine mistake (1991)’. The soppy eulogist of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, writing for the Economist even hurled an insult on Pirabhakaran, through the lips of Sirimavo’s daughter, as follows: 

“Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers guerrilla group, who, says Mrs Kumaratunga, probably correctly, is mentally ill. Why so many Tamils are willing to be led by an apparent madman may perhaps be explained by their deep and unshifting suspicion of the Sinhalese, even though Mrs. Kumaratunga has long rejected Sinhala nationalism.” [Economist magazine, Oct.21, 2000, p.115] 

Within the subsequent two years, majority of Sri Lankans have become convinced by the political and theatrical antics of their Head of State that it is not Pirabhakaran, but President Kumaratunga who suffers from arrogance, borderline mental derangement and megalomania. 

A rare Pirabhakaran interview to the Economist magazine 

What is currently unavailable in the website of Economist magazine, I’m interested in placing in the electronic database for researchers. This is a rare Pirabhakaran interview to the Economist magazine, which was published almost ten years ago. Even in the current context, it remains significantly (and even eerily!) relevant – if one overlooks the inserted time markers like the years of war, age of Pirabhakaran and the name of the incumbent President of Sri Lanka. There is also a passing reference to him as a ‘hero’, based on his then physical features – but not on his deeds. So, I reproduce it in full without any deletions. 

Top Tiger talks about talks

[Economist, March 6, 1993]

from our Sri Lanka correspondent in Jaffna 

‘The leader of the Tamil Tigers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, does not often give an interview to a journalist. So why now? During about three hours of talk with Mr. Prabhakaran, what emerged was a desire to negotiate once again with the government. He rejected any suggestion that this arose out of weakness. Victory, he insisted, was his for the taking. 

Yet all is not well within the rebel group. The Tigers are finding it hard to recruit more fighters. Teenagers quickly become veterans. In January ten tigers were reported to have died when a ship said to be carrying arms was interrupted by the Indian navy. Among the dead was Sathasivam Krishnakumar, the Tigers’ number-two and a close friend of the leader. Mr. Prabhakaran says he is too upset to talk about the loss. The Jaffna peninsula, the Tamil area where the Tigers have their stronghold, is a ruined place after ten years of fighting. There is no electricity and not much food. Thousands of people have fled. Those too poor to leave appear exhausted. 

But the Tigers have been up against it before. The Indian peacekeepers invited to Sri Lanka in 1987 suppressed them for a time. A new president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, got rid of the Indians in 1990 and, in return, the Tigers talked peace. Nothing came of this talk, and many in the government believed that the Tigers used the pause in the civil war to rearm. They will be suspicious that this is what the Tigers have in mind now. 

Even his enemies concede that Mr. Prabhakaran is a formidable leader. Despite the toll of the civil war, he appears to retain the support of the majority of Tamils in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, the area which the Tigers claim as the Tamil homeland. He is 37, on the small side, and a bit overweight. With his black hair and moustache and large eyes, he looks a little like the hero that turns up regularly in Tamil films. He dresses in army fatigues, and carries a gun. Around his neck is a black cord at the end of which is a capsule, presumably containing the cyanide which Tigers are supposed to swallow rather than be taken prisoner. 

His house – at least, the house where he gave his interview – is small and modern, and a bit of a drive from the town of Jaffna. There are maps on the walls, but no radio or television or books, although Mr. Prabhakaran appears well informed about affairs outside Sri Lanka, especially wars, in Afghanistan, or in Indochina. Much of the talk was over dinner: noodles and a soft drink. Mr. Prabhakaran’s portliness does not seem to arise from over-eating. He appears to speak only Tamil. Interpreting was done by Anton Balasingham, a much-traveled man – he lived for a time in London – who has been the Tigers’ principal negotiator in the past. 

Is there anything the Tigers might offer than would encourage the government to open negotiations? The Tigers’ demand has been for an independent Tamil state covering a third of the country and holding much of the coastline, a proposal that the government rejects totally. Some politicians in Colombo believe the way to peace is to turn Sri Lanka into a federal state. 

The government is considering the idea, although the majority Sinhalese, who have dominated the government and army since independence in 1948, are believed to be against federalism. It would give the Tamils too much power, some believe. The Tamils would want a high degree of autonomy, particularly over law and order, land and education, all controversial themes. The size of a possible Tamil state within a federation is matter for endless argument. Although Tamils are in the majority in the north, there are sizeable other groups, including Muslims, in the east. 

Mr. Prabhakaran talks of the possibility of a ‘reasonable’ compromise, although it is unclear what compromise he would make. He did say, though: 

‘If a proposal which gives autonomy and satisfies the expectations of the Tamil people is put forward, we are prepared to consider it.’ 

However, he talks of ‘extremists’ in the government. President Premadasa, who has always favoured negotiation, might be willing to try it again, but the army, a growing force in Sri Lankan politics, would probably object. If its view prevails, the Tigers will fight on. Mr. Prabhakaran said: 

‘Victory in a war does not depend on manpower or weapons. Firm determination, valour and love of freedom are the factors that decide victory in a war. Our fighters and our people are full of these.’ 

Sri Lanka’s civil war could continue for a while yet.’ 

The first of the two above-mentioned quotes from Pirabhakaran in his 1993 interview disproves unequivocally the views expressed by Colombo, Chennai, London and New York  pundits that he had down-graded his demand for separate state as a result of  ‘post September 11’ developments. The second of the two above-mentioned quotes shows his courageous and uncompromising stand, which has not wavered for the past ten years. This interview appeared in the Economist when the current Sri Lankan president Kumaratunga and her ‘advisor’ Kadirgamar were non-entities in Sri Lankan politics, and the current Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was an understudy to his current post. 

One thing is still unclear for me. Who was this anonymous interviewer, who talked with Pirabhakaran for nearly three hours? The Economist, as is its wont, has not identified the journalist. Pirabhakaran and Balasingham would definitely can identify this journalist at an appropriate time. If this journalist is a Sri Lankan, I have a hunch that it could have been Mervyn de Silva. I may be right or inaccurate. But the fact that the Lanka Guardian editor had served as Economist’s correspondent for Sri Lanka and the circumstantial evidence presented in the previous chapters of this series on Mervyn de Silva’s sympathetic observations on Pirabhakaran lead me to infer that he could have been the interviewer. But this inference needs verification from the interviewee. [To be continued.]