The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 8

Sachi Sri Kantha
[27 June 2001]

Pirabhakaran as a cash-cow

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
(March 1991)

Quite a number of anti-Eelam websites maintained by the front organizations of the Sri Lankan and Indian Intelligence agencies (see for instance, the South Asia Terrorism Portal) include the assassination of Minister Ranjan Wijeratne as an LTTE operation. I feel that contradictory views to this opinion also deserve exposure for clarifying an issue, which has not been investigated in depth.

I present four opinions on the assassination of Minister Wijeratne - two by Sinhalese (Rohan Gunaratna and Mervyn de Silva), one by an Indian journalist and one by the devotees of Madhu Church.

(1) View of Rohan Gunaratna (an analyst linked to the Sri Lankan Intelligence arm)

As one would expect, Gunaratna implicated the LTTE in the untimely death of Wijeratne. Here is his description:

“On March 2 [1991], Sri Lanka’s most powerful and most heavily guarded Minister of State for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne was killed by a car bomb which was detonated right in Colombo. Commenting on LTTE transmissions monitored by Sri Lankan security forces, a security official revealed: ‘An apparently elated LTTE voice was clearly heard over the intercepted broadcast as saying the LTTE had more than acomplished its purpose by leaving the scene of the bomb explosion without any clues’. The LTTE London office denied the killing of Wijeratne but said his death would be a ‘relief’ to the Tamil minority. Sathasivam Krishnaswamy alias Kittu, who heads that office said: ‘The LTTE acknowledges that he [Wijeratne] symbolized the Sri Lankan racist and oppressive system and was instrumental in the murder of thousands of innocent Tamils’. Investigations revealed that the bomb which killed Wijeratne had been placed inside a parked car, and was triggered off by its driver Prem, a member of the elite Black Tigers, specializing in suicide attacks.

“Ranjan Wijeratne, speaking to the author [Gunaratna] two days before his death, said that 5,000 men were being trained and sent to the front every six weeks. He said that four fronts were established - Palaly, Vavuniya, Mannar and Mulaitivu. He was hopeful that the strength of the army will be raised to 100,000 by December 1991. He said that the LTTE war could be won, but the political and security elements had to be coordinated. But his vision was not to be; within 48 hours, he had become the latest casualty figure in a steadily rising death toll of a cruel civil war spanning almost a decade. The Sri Lankan government was visibly shaken by the assassination of its most powerful Minister. In his place, Premadasa appointed Prime Minister D.B. Wijetunge as the Minister of State for Defense.” [Book: Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka, 1993, Colombo, p.457]

I would like to focus on the phrase ‘most powerful Minister’. That is one clue to probe the mystery of Minister Wijeratne’s assassination. In a previous page of the same book, Gunaratna provides hints of the power struggle which broke out in 1990 between Premadasa and Wijeratne. The relevant passage is as follows:

“The prelude to [Eelam] War [1990] was a conflict of interests between the two powerful men - Ranasinghe Premadasa, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Sri Lankan armed forces, and his Minister of State for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne, who on another front had just saved Sri Lanka from falling into the hands of the JVP. Wijeratne’s intention was to crush the LTTE in the same manner that he had dealt with the JVP. This would have assured him honour and even the subsequent presidency of Sri Lanka (foot note: In an interview two days before he was killed, he confirmed his intentions to the author). Wijeratne comprehended the contours of the conflict and his solution was complex - it was more than asking the IPKF to leave, or arming the LTTE to dislodge the TNA, or working out a peace pact with the LTTE. Wijeratne wanted the IPKF to ‘finish off’ the LTTE. He had assessed that the JVP threat was insignificant by mid-1989. Initially, he vehemently opposed the arming of the LTTE and initiated a dialogue with India on the fate of its proxy army - the TNA. But, Premadasa’s agenda was different and was often in conflict with his most powerful minister - Wijeratne had to tow the line or resign...” [ibid, p.434]

Now, one can see that by late 1989 (within an year of ascendancy as President) Premadasa had become concerned with the power and glory which has accumulated to Minister Wijeratne. But in the previous year, it was because of Wijeratne’s efforts, Premadasa was able to ward off the intra-party challenge for the presidential stakes mounted by his rivals Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. In his eulogy to Wijeratne, journalist Ajith Samaranayake had stressed this fact as follows:

“Ranjan Wijeratne’s was a brief but a remarkable political career. A blunt, tough-talking man, who brought the discipline of the plantations which he revered to the business of politics, the tall, silver-haired Minister was a quixotic personality, an emerging legend wrapped in an enigma. A dedicated UNPer, he reconciled all problems by invoking the party code. He was the party man par excellence...

“Widely regarded as an excellent organizer, he is well known as having backed Mr.Premadasa’s claim to succeed President Jayewardene at a time when other claimants were in the field and uncertainty prevailed. Under President Premadasa his rise was even more rapid. He was Foreign Minister and thereafter Minister of Plantation Industries but always the President’s deputy as the State Minister of Defence...” [Lanka Guardian, March 15, 1991, p.8]

Though Kittu had issued a denial, one should note that Rohan Gunaratna’s version implicating LTTE in the assassination of Wijeratne was written in late 1992, when Premadasa was still in power. Now, to Mervyn de Silva’s prognosis on the involvement of multiple actors in the demise of Wijeratne.

(2) View of Mervyn de Silva (an independent analyst of stature)

Mervyn de Silva, under the pseudonym Kautilya, wrote the following eulogy to Wijeratne, entitled, ‘Death of a Soldier’. Excerpts:

“Mr.Ranjan Wijeratne was made a general posthumously but he was in fact a soldier in civvies, always pure white trousers and tunic. He was the party’s front-line commander, and once installed State Minister of Defence, Commander-in-Chief de facto in two wars - the war against the JVP in the South, and the much longer war in the North-East...

“In his essential simplicity, he thought he could crush the ‘Tigers’ as effectively as he did the JVP. He didn’t grasp the essential differences - the most important of which was motivation and the discipline exemplified in the cyanide capsule. He believed, somewhat naively, that more men, more arms, more money could give him the victory he had scored so triumphantly in the South...

“While local detectives are investigating whether the high-tech explosive was brought here in a container, the Sunday Times added that links with a local casino chain operated by a Singaporean operator may prompt the policeto seek Interpol help...

“In a society torn by divisive conflict, the violent and the unseen, and by both steadfast allegiances as well as by changing loyalties, Ranjan, unknown to him, became a point of intersection between those contemporary forces, competitive claims diverse and fierce issues. To name a few, military solution/political settlement; old UNP/new UNP; Sinhala nationalism/Thomian liberalism; ‘law-and-order’/dissent, opposition; army/party, etc. etc.

“No wonder so many theories, from the Singaporean connection; to LTTE/EROS, DJV/EROS; inside-job/ and any ‘mix’ of these. What interested me was how each individual and opinion group, quite often dispassionately, almost pre-selected as salient this or that detail which suited best his/her version. The Rashomon Effect...” [Lanka Guardian, March 15, 1991, pp.6-7]

I will expand on Mervyn de Silva’s thoughts on the Rashomon Effect in the next chapter, after I present the analyses of Rajiv Sharma and John Colmey. This ‘Rashomon Effect’ was to repeat in the assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi, R.Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake which followed Wijeratne’s.

(3) View of Rajiv Sharma (a journalist, probably with links to the Indian Intelligence arm)

Rajiv Sharma, a journalist living in New Delhi, authored a book ‘Beyond the Tigers: Tracking Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination’ (1998). In this book, Minister Wijeratne’s then boss President Premadasa has been pointed out as the main culprit. The relevant passages are as follows:

“An ugly side of Premadasa was reported in the press during the investigations of the assassination of his political rival and minister of state for defence, Ranjan Wijeratne. Wijeratne was the former chairman of the ruling United National Party, to which Premadasa belonged. A popular figure with the military brass, Wijeratne was entertaining hopes of replacing Premadasa. On March 1, 1991, Wijeratne was holding an unscheduled meeting with the Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force when Premadasa barged in unannounced. The embarassment writ large on the faces of the assembled men was only too vivid for Premadasa to miss. None spoke. A much worried Premadasa retreated in silence. The following morning, when Wijeratne was driving to his office in his bullet-proof Mercedes, he was blown to bits.

“Murky aspects of the hidden Premadasa-Wijeratne rift came to the fore in a crucial interview Premadasa Udugampola, former head of Sri Lanka’s bureau of special operations, gave to M.D.Nalapat in The Times of India. Udugampolam who was forcibly retired at the age of 57, by his government when he was DIG [Deputy Inspector General of Police], had incurred the wrath of the ruling establishment for demanding an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the murder of Wijeratne...”

(4) View of devotees (as presented by John Colmey, an American journalist)

I cannot leave out another interpretation of Minister Wijeratne’s assassination, since it describes the faith of the persecuted. In 1992, John Colmey, the Asiaweek’s correspondent based in Colombo, wrote a lengthy travelogue-essay on his trip to Jaffna, along the lines of Julian West (see, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon - part 7). The relevant passage is as follows:

“...On Feb.28, 1991, Deputy Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne gave a stiff warning to 9,000 refugees at Madhu Church. If they didn’t leave and allow the armed forces to move on nearby Tiger positions, he told the press, he would bomb the camp. The next night, with the sound of artillery fire in the distance, hundreds of refugees knelt before a statue of the Virgin Mary that welcomes visitors to Madhu with open arms, palms turned up. Near midnight, say the people who prayed that night, a ‘miracle’ happened. The statue’s arms began closing and opening repeatedly. They considered it a sign to stay.

“The morning after the ‘miracle’, Wijeratne and more than 25 others were killed in Colombo by a massive Tiger car bomb. The army’s march through Madhu veered in another direction. Priests at the church don’t believe the statue story. But they admit it partly explains why the Madhu Church refugee camp now has nearly 30,000 residents, with more on the way...” [Asiaweek magazine, August 14, 1992, pp.66-79]

No comments from me on this ‘miracle’. But miracle or not, three other personalities mentioned in Colmey’s feature who had some choice words for Pirabhakaran had untimely deaths. In the first part of his essay, Colmey described the activities of Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne as follows:

“51, a legend in the Sri Lankan army. He has been cited for bravery seven times. He has commanded or planned almost every major army offensive in Jaffna Peninsula in the past ten years.”

Colmey continued,

“When I leave Wimalaratne I tell him I may see Prabhakaran in Jaffna. I ask if he has a message for him. ‘Tell him’ he says with a broad smile, ‘there’s a devil waiting to meet him on the other side.’ [ibid]

Colmey also reported the aerial bombing of Durga Devi Devastanam Goddess Temple, about 1.5 km from Tellippalai town. Excerpts:

“A helicopter pilot reported spotting people moving in the temple area. The response from Air Force Command, according to a monitored and recorded transmission: ‘Hit it’. Two Siai Marchettis and a British built Avro attacked the temple and refugee camp three times....”[ibid]

By the time Colmey’s feature appeared in the Asiaweek of August 14, 1992, Brigadier Wimalaratne along with his friend Maj-Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa had been called to their Maker. Another politician with the name Mohammad Ashraff was reported in that 1992 feature as saying he would like to ‘slit Prabhakaran’s throat’. Ashraff, as all know, died last year in a helicopter crash. Even reporter Colmey faced problem with President Premadasa. His lengthy essay in the Asiaweek would have irked the paranoid Premadasa, since nothing was written about the President, while Brigadier Wimalaratne’s achievements received abundant praise. Colmey was expelled from Sri Lanka on the orders of Premadasa. [Continued]