Politics
Prabhakaran’s web of deceit

By Tisaranee Gunasekara
"In my life I’ve always gone for broke" Hitler to Hermann Goring on the eve of the Second World War (quoted in Hitler — 1936-1945 — Nemesis: Ian Kershaw).

"The suicide cult involves a leader with such unbounded faith in himself and his cause, that he unflinchingly sends a stream of young Tamils into the flames of self-immolation. He will stop at nothing, and that needs to be understood".

University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) Jaffna (Bulletin No. 22 — 30.1.2000)

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s perception of the LTTE and its persistent violation of the MoU is very much like President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s perception of the state of the Lankan economy during those seven bad years she was in charge of it. The Lady displayed a profound disregard for facts, ignored or distorted the figures of her own Central Bank and believed that under her expert guidance the economy was booming (she once drastically reduced unemployment by including "unpaid domestic labour" in the category of employed persons). Similarly the PM is clinging with equal tenacity to his belief of a reformed, peace loving Tiger, ignoring and indeed suppressing the mounting evidence to the contrary. "The prelates had earlier expressed fears about the way the Wickremesinghe regime was going about the peace talks with the LTTE. Wickremesinghe had personally intervened to stop the media from carrying the prelates’ criticism" Hindustan Times (5.5.2002). This obstinate refusal to face the unpleasant reality reminds one of a comment by JM Barrie (the creator of Peter Pan): "Facts were never pleasing to him. He acquired them with reluctance and got rid of them with relief. He was never on terms with them until he had stood them on their heads" (Love Me Never or Forever).

History shows that each peace process begins with messages assuring the targeted political leader that s/he is the only hope of the suffering Tamil people and this time there will be peace. After all which leader can resist the chance of becoming the one to end the war and to bring peace to a tortured land and a suffering populace? And for a while the Tigers seem so reasonable, so moderate in comparison with some of the more vocal democratic Tamil leaders. The Tigers do not demand new constitutions or even constitutional amendments; they do not talk about provincial councils or regional councils; they have rarely mentioned the word, federalism. They ask for some simple favours, a few practical requests which can be attended to without causing a political furore, without constitutional amendments and parliamentary majorities. And so it goes on until the Tigers have caused sufficient changes on the ground in their favour.

Interestingly the first major Sinhala victim of Mr. Pirapaharan’s web of deceit was Vijaya Kumaratunga. That was in the heady 1980’s when the LTTE was running a parallel administration in Jaffna under the able guidance of Kittu and his young second-in-command, Rahim. It was still the age of innocence for the Tamil struggle and the worst of the internecine blood-letting was in the future. The LTTE took two Sri Lankan soldiers captive (they were probably the first Sinhala prisoners of war) and invited Vijaya who was at the head of the anti-racist struggle in the South to come to Jaffna to obtain their release. It was implied that the two soldiers would be released into Vijaya’s care because of the courageous struggle he was waging against the forces of Sinhala chauvinism and for a political solution to the ethnic problem in the South. And Vijaya went to Jaffna twice, once with Ossie Abeygunasekara and the second time with a group of Buddhist monks, political activists and the families of the two soldiers. But the Tigers went back on their word and refused to release the two soldiers, forcing Vijaya to come back empty handed and with his prestige and credibility dented.

Perhaps the Tigers’ little charade with Vijaya was a dry run, for more important things to come. Given the sameness of the method it is surprising that so many obviously intelligent people fell for it. The LTTE’s phenomenal success was due precisely to the inability/unwillingness of other political players (of all ethnicities) to face up to reality by understanding the nature of the Tiger. Perhaps nothing symbolizes this fatal failure more poignantly than a photograph of four young Tamil men taken in the mid 1980, on the occasion of the formation ENLF (Eelam National Liberation Front), an umbrella organization uniting all the major Tamil guerrilla groups, apart from the PLOTE. That picture depicted the top leaders of the four groups, their arms linked in an expression of unity and defiance: Sri Sabharatnam (TELO), K. Pathmanabha (EPRLF), V. Balakumar (EROS) and V. Prabhakaran (LTTE). At that moment it would have needed the power of a seer to know that within a few years Sabharatnam and Padmanabha would be dead, cold bloodedly assassinated on the orders of Prabhakaran and that Balakumar would dissolve his organization and become a mere appendage of the LTTE, in order to escape a similar fate. A never ending night of long knives was needed for the LTTE to become the ‘sole representative’ of the Tamil people and Mr. Pirapaharan to become "a living god."

The big lie

The aversion of the LTTE to democratic elections (expressed through its mouthpiece, the TNA) is an indication that despite a brutal campaign which systematically eliminated anyone and everyone who could have posed a political, military, social or moral challenge to the Tiger, a segment of the Tamil society still refuses to back the LTTE. Mr. Pirapaharan cannot afford to allow the holding of local government elections in the North and the East because like all previous elections (including the general election of 2001) this would prove that the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamil people. The LTTE’s failed attempt to take Jaffna in 2000 was another occasion which debunked this Tiger myth of ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer’ - ‘One Leadership, One Policy.’ Faced with the prospect of imminent LTTE takeover, the people of Jaffna opted for the Sinhala army over their supposed liberators. ‘A particular factor that has helped army-civilian relations is a general perception by the former that they and the Jaffna civilians are on the same side - or at least neither wants the LTTE to win. This came to the surface during the darker days following the 10th May when the LTTE tried to move into Jaffna City. After listening to propaganda speeches, the LTTE cadre had come there expecting the people to be grateful for being liberated. It came as a shock to them to find that the people were trying all available ruses to get away from them, and this then turned to anger" (UTHR — Jaffna: Bulletin No. 24 - 7.9.2000). As a Tiger spokesman asked at a public meeting in Wanni: ‘Whenever our cadre go to a place in Jaffna, they are immediately surrounded by the Army. How do you think that happens?’ (Ibid: Bulletin No. 23 — 11.7.2000).

This gap between a large segment of the people of Jaffna and their ‘liberators’ is highlighted by many humorous anecdotes, some of them retold by senior LTTEers such as Thamil Eelam Art and Cultural Department head and the LTTE’s poet laureate Puthuvai Rathinathurai (who was the chief guest at the Jaffna Pongu Thamil): ‘During the operation to capture Elephant Pass, our cadre moved into Vadamaratchy East near Nagar Kovil. An angry young woman came at them shouting, ‘I was going to marry the army captain tomorrow and now you have come and spoilt everything’ (Ibid). Another senior leader related a story about a woman from Jaffna who was injured during the fighting and was taken the LTTE to Mallavi hospital in the Vanni. When told where she was upon regaining consciousness some days later, her reaction was: "How on earth am I to get a pass to get back to Jaffna?" (Ibid).

Resistance

Even after the Wickremesinghe regime sacrificed the people of the North and East to propitiate the Surya Devan, some of the passive resistance continues. The Amnesty International recently blasted the LTTE for continuing to forcibly conscript children, an indication that there aren’t adequate volunteers to join the ranks of the Tigers. Similarly the LTTE is extorting money partly because there are not enough voluntary contributions from the people in the ‘Tamil homeland’. And some of the civilians are protesting: "We know that the government has now relaxed the ban on most of the items. But the taxes are still being imposed. We know that the LTTE is not spending on war. Then why should they impose a tax on us," says a resident of the northern Kilinochchi district" (Gulf News — 5.5.2002). The pro-LTTE web site, Tamil Net confidently predicted that more than 200,000 people will participate in the Jaffna Pongu Thamil; but the actual numbers turned out to be much smaller (80,000 according to Eelam Nation). Similarly the LTTE’s May Day rally was not a great success, with only about 5000 participants, many of them school children. In other words, a considerable segment of the populace is courageously resisting the Tigers by not joining, by not contributing money and by staying away from LTTE events, despite the adverse circumstances.

The UTHR-Jaffna warns that the LTTE tries to ‘bring out the bestial element in man’ and ‘its ultimate purpose (is) to unreasonably vilify, provoke and bring out the worst in the Sinhalese’ (Ibid). An important strand in Mr. Pirapaharan’s latest web of deceit entails provoking the Sinhala people into acts of violence which would justify the LTTE and damn the cause of Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. With the acceptance of the "sole representative" theory comes the danger of anti-Tamil pogroms, since the equating of the Tigers with the Tamil people can be used to justify attacks on Tamil civilians in retaliation for Tiger depredations. Consequently Mr. Pirapaharan’s web cannot be untangled without championing the cause of those forgotten and ignored Tamil people who are still unwilling to accept the LTTE’s fiat. The regime instead of acting as a spokesperson and an apologist for the LTTE should take up the issues of ordinary Tamil people, specially the ones oppressed and persecuted by the LTTE. This means first and foremost defending the people of the North East from the illegal activities of the LTTE (conscription, extortion etc.) and holding local government elections on time. That way it can press for the best deal for the country, while retaining the support of the international community.

For the Southern Opposition the anti-Accord campaign by the JVP and the SLFP in the late eighties provides the best example of how not to struggle today. And now that it looks like that old alliance is being revived, it is important to ensure that the old methods are not being resorted to. Instead it too should champion the cause of the Tamil people persecuted by the Tigers by forming alliances with anti-LTTE elements within the Tamil polity and society. That (and a focused — i.e. an anti-terrorist and not a Sinhala supremacist - campaign against the immediate de-proscription of the LTTE) is the only way to wage an effective struggle against the present policy of appeasement without undermining national interests and providing the LTTE with an excuse to justify in the eyes of the world, the launching of the Fourth Eelam War and the bifurcation of Sri Lanka.


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