Pirabhakaran Mystery; a response to the Hindu editorial

by Sachi Sri Kantha

In his book, Show People: Profiles in Entertainment (1979), critic Kenneth Tynan quoted American comedian Mel Brooks as follows: "I went to the library, and read all the books I could carry Ė Conrad, Fielding, Dostoevski, Gogol, Tolstoy.  I decided that Tolstoy was the most gifted writer who ever lived.  Itís like he stuck a pen in his heart and it didnít even go through his mind on its way to the page." [p.242]

If I may borrow the last line from Mel Brooks, Iíd change only the organ, heart to gall bladder, to describe the passages written by hacks which have spilled into the print and electronic media on the fate of LTTE leader, Pirabhakaran, after the December 26th tsunami attack.  To describe the faked anguish of N. Ram, the editorialist of the Hindu, my borrowing from Brooksí line will be "Itís like he stuck a pen in his gall bladder and it didnít even go through his mind on its way to the page."

The Chennai Hindu newspaper carried an editorial in its January 11th issue.  It was entitled ĎWhere is Prabakaran?í  First, I reproduce it completely for the record, and second, I provide my email response to the Chennai Hindu sent on the same day.  Iím pretty sure that my response will not appear in the Hindu newspaper.  Thus, I present it here, again for the record.

WHERE IS PRABAKARAN?

EVEN IF ONE were to discount reports that the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabakaran, is among the thousands dead or missing in Sri Lanka after the December 26 tsunami, his absence at a time of unprecedented crisis for the people in the LTTE-controlled North-East is passing strange. In the countries hit by the catastrophe, national and regional leaders publicly and visibly rallied to provide direction to a people confused and shattered by the unexpected nature of the calamity and the extent of the devastation around them. In Sri Lanka, the country worst affected after Indonesia, both President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe rose to the occasion. The President cut short her private visit to the United Kingdom and flew back to Sri Lanka immediately to direct relief operations. During her short absence in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse held the fort ably. President Kumaratunga and Mr. Wickremesinghe put aside their rivalry and made similar appeals calling on the Sri Lankan people to rise above all political, ethnic, and religious differences and to make a united effort to rebuild the country. But in North-East Sri Lanka, where some places have been as badly affected as parts of the south, the most important political figure is conspicuously missing. Where is Mr. Prabakaran at this hour of grief and distress for a people he claims only he and his group can lead?

A statement from the LTTE lambasted the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, a state-run radio station and the first to air a report about Mr. Prabakaran's possible fate in the tsunami, for "spreading rumours and speculation." The radio station has since retracted the report but it is interesting that the LTTE statement is not a categorical denial. In fact, it does not say anything specific about Mr. Prabakaran's safety and well-being. Ignoring this detail and assuming that the LTTE leader is alive and well, his non-appearance in public is outrageous by any standard of leadership, considering that of the more than 30,000 people killed in Sri Lanka nearly half lived in the North-East. [by most reports over half lived in the NorthEast - Editor] On December 29, a statement attributed to him and appealing for international assistance for the tsunami-hit regions of the North-East appeared on a few websites. But nearly two weeks after the tragedy, the "national leader," as Mr. Prabkaran is described by the LTTE, is yet to make direct contact with the Tamil people. It can be argued that the LTTE supremo obsessed with his security makes only rare public appearances. Over the last decade, he has not departed from his custom of making a public appearance and speech just once a year, on November 27, a day observed by the LTTE as "Heroes Day." But surely an extraordinary situation demands extraordinary gestures by a leader.

However, the absence of the LTTE leader does not seem to have held up relief operations in the North-East. Despite the extensive toll the tsunami inflicted on its military forces, especially its Sea Wing, the LTTE has managed to project its capability in organising relief. Soosai, the commander of the Sea Tigers who is widely believed to have differences with Prabakaran, has been the most visible member of the LTTE hierarchy post-tsunami, and appears to be leading the task of relief and immediate rehabilitation. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, a front of the LTTE, has stepped up efforts to raise funds abroad, especially from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. For long, Mr. Prabakaran's name alone was used to motivate the Tiger international network. But first Karuna's revolt, and now the tsunami, seems to have transformed the situation on the ground in favour of the Sri Lankan state. Assuming he is alive, the LTTE supremo will be under tremendous pressure to appear in public. Not only will such surfacing be the only way to express solidarity with the people he claims to represent, it is the only way by which he can set at rest the stories aswirl about his fate. [The Hindu editorial, January 11, 2005]

My email response sent to the editor of the Hindu was as follows:

Dear Editor:

Re: Where is Prabakaran?

I read with amusement your editorial [Jan.11] which had a caption, 'Where is Prabakaran?'  The simple answer is, he is in Eelam.

Prabakaran has been in Eelam since 1987, after returning from the "house arrest" in New Delhi arranged by the then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and his then prime advisor J.N.Dixit.  Unlike typical Sri Lankan politicians [such as President Chandrika Kumaratunga, foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and their ilk], Prabhakaran is not in the habit of flying off to other lands, at the drop of the hat. 

Prabakaran is not even a politician.  He is a visionary rebel, in the mold of Subhas Chandra Bose.  Only run of the mill politicians salivate like dogs for camera attention and interviews from journalist hacks.  Tamils in Eelam know well that Prabhakaran lives amongst them and, thus, there is no urgent need for merely 'showing the face' to console the affected public.  Tamils will never forget that since 1987,Prabhakaran has led the LTTE forces against the Sri Lankan and Indian armies, while living among them in Eelam.

Eelam's populace can distinguish well journalists from India [amongst whom the the House of Hindu counts as one],who show fake anguish and pseudo-sympathy in words to their plight and to their travails.

Have you bothered to note seriously, where President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her brother, the tourism minister, Anura Bandaranaike, were when the tsunami struck on December 26th?  The prima donna of Colombo politics was enjoying her Christmas party in the far away United Kingdom, after deserting her Sinhalese constituents on a 'private trip.'  Have you bothered to count how many 'private trips' this prima donna has taken to London in the past ten years?  She cannot relax either in Colombo or anywhere else in the island of Sri Lanka.  For her to relax, she needs to fly to London. 

Prabhakaran, as the Eelam Tamil leader, cannot afford to enjoy these 'private trips' when his followers are suffering.  What a contrast in leadership he has shown from that of the prima donna of Colombo politics and her syncophants! Since 1987, Prabhakaran has been working and relaxing within Eelam's boundaries and not anywhere else.

Another irony is that in your editorial, you make mention of "Karuna's revolt."  I presume that you refer to the one-time military commander of the LTTE, whose name is Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan.  His much touted "revolt" failed miserably in the eyes of Sri Lankans (including Sinhalese), but not in the eyes of jaundiced hacks like you.  Where is Karuna now? He remains addressless and faceless - probably as a 'guarded guest'of Intelligence personnel of either Sri Lanka or India.  When was he seen by the public last time?  Sri Lankans know that, after much breast-thumping bravery, he made a dash to Colombo from his Eastern Front perch last Easter Sunday.  That was eight moons ago.  Have anyone seen him since?  So, the flip side of your query should be 'Where is Karuna?'  Can you bother to enlighten your readers?  I'm pretty sure that you cannot.

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Posted January 12, 2005