To the readers, I wish to differentiate my position from that of other Pirabhakaran commentators. I categorically state that, unlike some of the other commentators and journalists, I have not met Pirabhakaran in person even once. When an opportunity arrives I will be glad to accept it. So, my analysis of his or LTTE’s actions may be far from perfect. But, unlike other analysts who have written about Pirabhakaran, two inter-twined links (being an Eelam Tamil and being born merely 18 months ahead of him) give me an inside track of comprehending what he is trying to achieve and why he marches to his own drumbeat, rather than being an old-line Tamil politician. Majority of the expert analysts who earn their bread and butter by writing about Pirabhakaran, whether they be Indian or other foreign journalists or Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) commentators belonging to various party colors, do not possess this sense of identity with Pirabhakaran - one may call it, an ethnic bond of same-age cohort - like me.
There’s another difference between me and most of the other Pirabhakaran commentators. I have not earned a penny from my writings on Eelam politics, which began in 1974 during my undergraduate days at the University of Colombo. I earn my living as a professional scientist and science author.
For majority of Pirabhakaran commentators, he is a cash-cow. One wonders how much the likes of N.Ram, Rohan Gunaratna, Dayan Jayatilleka and even the Broken Palmyra scribes cash in per annum by their continuous stream of anti-Pirabhakaran literature. For instance, take a glance at the Frontline magazine edited by N.Ram. He cannot continuously publish articles, interviews and commentaries on other Tamil ministers (Lakshman Kadirgamar, Douglas Devananda and Arumugam Thondaman) who are posturing as leaders in Sri Lanka. Kadirgamar was a non-entity before 1994 and will be again in the not-so distant future. But Pirabhakaran has remained a good copy for Ram for the past 15 years. This aspect should also be taken into account in the Pirabhakaran Phenomenon. He generates good cash flow, even for his critics.
Perfecting the Jimmy Malone offense
From what I can observe, Pirabhakaran has practised what I call a ‘Jimmy Malone offense’. This deserved some degree of special courage. Jimmy Malone was the veteran Chicago cop character played by Sean Connery in the Al Capone bio-picture ‘The Untouchables’. Malone, in his professional wisdom, gives an advice to the young Eliot Ness about tackling the American icon of crime, as follows:
“You want to get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”
Delivered by Connery in his inimitable, riveting voice, that piece of advice would be a manthra for any budding military leader like Pirabhakaran. Some of Pirabhakaran’s successes in creating panic in the adversary’s camp can be attributed to perfecting this Jimmy Malone offense.
First vivid example of this Jimmy Malone offense was demonstrated by Pirabhakaran in May 1985 at Anuradhapura. This is pertinent because by the beginning of 1983, democratic Sri Lanka has been turned into a personal fiefdom of an aged politician J.R. Jayewardene, who was more or less the Colombo’s political version of Chicago’s Al Capone in the late 1920s. Jayewardene pouted democracy but practised all kinds of political thuggery, not only on Tamils but also on his Sinhalese opponents, who included the mother and husband of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Pirabhakaran has acknowledged his debt to the movie characters generated by Clint Eastwood; but one cannot doubt that Sean Connery’s movie roles, as an action-hero of the 1960s, would also have been a strong influence on Pirabhakaran.
A re-appraisal of the Anuradhapura Massacre of May 1985
Dayan Jayatilleka, in his recent vitriolic commentary about LTTE’s 25th birth anniversary has noted,
“May 1985 is when the struggle for Tamil national liberation lost its innocence and heralded the end of its ‘heroic’ phase with the first large scale massacre of Sinhala civilians in the savage incursion into the sacred space of Anuradhapura...” [Island, Colombo, May 6, 2001]
This is vintage Jayatilleka with his blinkers. He has described the ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ components of the LTTE action, but conveniently hidden the ‘why’ component. When it suits him, he would cite the authors of the Broken Palmyra book. But when it reveals something, he will ignore it outrightly. For this Anuradhapura confrontation, Rajan Hoole et al. has provided the background - noting briefly the ‘why’ component. According to them,
“In reprisal for the killing by the Sri Lankan forces of 70 civilians in Valvettithurai and the damage to the homes of Prabhakaran and several other LTTE leaders, the LTTE on 14 May 1985 conducted what came to be known as the Anuradhapura massacre. A few LTTE men drove into Anuradhapura and gunned down about 150 persons with ruthless efficiency and got away.” [The Broken Palmyra, pp.80-81]
Another vignette of truth, which was not highlighted by the authors of the Broken Palmyra, was provided by the Time magazine, in its analysis on the questionable deals carried out by the Indian Intelligence-wallahs in mid-1980s. Excerpts:
“...By late 1984, hundreds of trained [Tamil] fighters were back in Sri Lanka, where they mounted acts of sabotage against government facilities. When attacks on military targets failed to make Jayewardene budge, RAW encouraged killings of Sinhalese civilians to put more pressure on Colombo. Says Uma Maheswaran, leader of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam: ‘A RAW officer asked us to throw a grenade into a Sinhalese cinema or put a bomb in a bus or market in a Sinhalese town. Only we and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front refused.’ Agrees an Eelam People’s leader: ‘The RAW agents offered us money to massacre Sinhalese. But we refused.’ The Tigers [referring to LTTE], by contrast, were cooperative. In May 1985 two busloads of Tigers drove into the ancient Sinhalese capital of Anuradhapura and, in the town’s main bus station, opened fire with automatic weapons, slaughtering 143 civilians there and elsewhere. According to one of the participants in the killing spree, Tiger leader Vilupillai Prabhakaran was in radio contact with RAW agents during and after the massacre....”[Time magazine-Asian edition, April 3, 1989, pp.12-13]
Kindly note that even the Time magazine’s analysis failed to mention the ‘why’ component in Pirabhakaran’s decision to carry out the 1985 attack in Anuradhapura, which happened only after his native town was damaged with the killing of 70 Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan army and when his home was also damaged. Another notable fact in this Time magazine’s report which appeared as a box-story with the caption, “Sri Lanka: Case Study of a Disaster”, was the open accusation of RAW by Uma Maheswaran for ‘encouraging the killings of Sinhalese civilians to put more pressure on Colombo.’ At that time, Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister of India who would have been kept regularly informed by the tactics adopted by the RAW. That after four months of this open accusation of RAW, Uma Maheswaran was bumped off in Colombo by the agents of RAW is disturbing indeed [see also, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon - part 1].
Among the contemporaries of Pirabhakaran, who challenged him for the Eelam leadership, I personally knew only Uma Maheswaran in the mid-1970s, mainly because he was based in Colombo around that time. Then he was full of ideology and brimming with vision for Eelam. Being a surveyor by professional training, in one of the group discussions I attended in Wellawatte (around the 1977 general election period), which I remember even now, he proposed building a coastal railway-track from Point Pedro to Pottuvil. For sure, I would attest that he had dreams in mid-1970s. But he couldn’t formulate proper plans to realize his dreams. He got confused and flouted the Edison’s formula for success - hard work, common sense and ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ - to transform himself into a Tamil politician in mid 1980s. That he later turned out to be failure could be attributed to many factors - the distractions caused by the lure of ‘fleeting’ power (being in proximity with Indian and Sinhalese politicians and the ephemeral doodads of photo opportunities) and vanity, being the main contributing elements.
Why I mention this is that, an in-depth comparison on the careers of Uma Maheswaran and Pirabhakaran could illustrate why one succeeded and the other failed miserably, though both were partners at one time frame of the Eelam campaign. Every human aims to achieve some power. Pirabhakaran was no exception. But for that power to be stable [the word is stable, and not permanent!], one has to earn it the old fashioned way. In politics, business and military circles, those who were anointed with power by crooked means or short-circuit routes have seen their power-base evaporating quicker than they could scream ‘Geronimo’. Varadaraja Perumal is a good example in the past, and Kadirgamar will be a good example for the future.
The Time magazine feature also reported that in 1985 “the [Anuradhapura] killings prompted the Colombo government to agree for the first time to negotiate with the guerillas. The talks collapsed, but the new Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, seemed reluctant to allow RAW to escalate the level of fighting. Later, when India stepped up its support of TELO, the Tigers showed their displeasure at New Delhi’s favoritism by attacking TELO camps and murdering some 150 of its members, thereby neutralizing RAW’s favorite Tamil clients. RAW agents were apoplectic, but realized that they would have to work with the Tigers as the dominant Tamil force....”[ibid]
Simply put, Pirabhakaran’s intelligence was superior in quality to that of the RAW’s intelligence. The Indian mandarins and politicians found it difficult to gulp this fact. The type of retaliatory attacks perfected by LTTE, the Jimmy Malone offense, have been a trade mark for the no-nonsense image of Israeli armed forces led by skilled warriors Moshe Dayan and Yitshak Rabin. Even before Israel was born, President Roosevelt’s army avenged the 1941 Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor by eliminating Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, using a Jimmy Malone manoeuver.
One can argue whether what Pirabhakaran did was ethically correct or not, but for the first time in the recent Tamil history of the island, he stood up to the aggression against Eelam Tamils, with a signature-act which scared the pants out of his adversaries. Until that moment, Tamils have been passive victims of state-supported aggression for decades. That ‘hunted goat’ image would have pleased the racist Sinhalese politicians and the half-baked Marxists like Dayan Jayatilleka who profess a facile love for Tamil rights. Pirabhakaran showed to the Sri Lankan army and its then top-handler Jayewardene, who more or less had begun to behave like an aging Al Capone since 1983, that he had arrived and that he is a real thing that Tamils and Sinhalese have never seen. Rohan Gunaratna had stated in his book, Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka (1993) that Pirabhakaran, while staying in Tamil Nadu, chose Victor Oscar alias Marcelline Fuseless, the then LTTE Mannar commander for leading the Anuradhapura operation. Victor was subsequently killed in the battlefront in Adampan in October 1986.
Commager on State Terrorism
To place in context, I’m of the opinion that Pirabhakaran’s Jimmy Malone offense in Anuradhapura was an answer to the state terrorism. A month following the Anuradhapura operation, a short essay on state terrorism appeared in the New York Times of June 27, 1985. This was authored by the reputed American historian Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998). It is reproduced below in its entirety since it deserves notice in relation to the issue of the proscription of LTTE by the USA, which came into effect in 1997. I will touch on the LTTE proscription by the USA in a later section. First to Commager’s short essay.
Nations aren’t Innocent
‘Nothing can justify the terrorism practised by the Shiites, the Iranians, the Palestinians and other desperate groups who wage war on innocent victims. But then what can justify terrorism as introduced and practised by most of the great powers whenever it served their ends over the past century or so?
For what is terrorism but resort to deadly violence against random and innocent victims, and shattering the fabric of society with dynamite and fire! What is most sobering is that all the Old World nations practised intermittent terrorism throughout the 19th century: the British in India, the Belgians in Congo, the Russians and Poles against their own Jews, the Turks against Armenians.
Americans, too, must confess their own history of terrorism against those they feared or hated or regarded as ‘lesser breeds’. Thus, the extermination of the Pequot Indians as early as 1637; the Sand Creek massacre of some 500 Cheyenne women and children in 1864 - and this after the tribe had surrendered; the lurid atrocities against Filipinos struggling for independence at the beginning of this century; Lieut. William L. Calley’s massacre of 450 Vietnamese women, children and old men at Mylai in 1969.
The formal rationalization - we might almost say legitimization - of terrorism came with World War II when all the major participants abandoned ‘precision’ bombing, directed against the military, for saturation bombing directed against civilians. It was a policy that eventually took the lives of millions of women and children in London, Coventry, Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden, Warsaw, Moscow, Tokyo and scores of other ’open cities’. The climax of all this was the Holocaust in Germany and, in 1945, the fateful use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
By the Vietnam War, terrorism was so taken for granted that it almost ceased to excite comment. The Vietnamese practised it in the traditional form of jungle warfare. Americans practised it more systematically by pouring seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (with none of which we were technically at war) - three times the tonnage on Germany and Japan during World War II.’ [New York Times, June 27, 1985]
Commager wrote this in 1985, and he was an acclaimed historian. I’m perfectly convinced that this essay of Commager wouldn’t have been in the study notes of Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, who bragged about his skills as a terror-buster for a little more than two years, from January 1989 to February 1991.
A re-appraisal of
Rnjan Wijeratne’s assassination