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A tale of two Tigers

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;|
Omitted, all the voyage of their life|
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

From Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Former LTTE military commander Karuna Amman was wise enough to take the tide in his affairs at the flood. After years of fighting for a megalomaniac given to fratricidal violence, finally it dawned on him that the LTTE's violent campaign was doomed to fail. He also fell from grace like the LTTE deputy leader Mahendraraja or Mahattaya.

Prabhakaran is the LTTE and the LTTE Prabhakaran; no other person could emerge popular within that organisation. Mahattaya paid with his dear life and those of 257 of his loyalists for a personality clash he had with the leader. The same fate awaited Karuna and a few other Eastern Province LTTE leaders, who were summoned by Prabhakaran to the Vanni in 2004 so that they could also be eliminated. Some of them went to Prabhakaran's lair and never returned. Karuna sensing danger defected with thousands of battle hardened cadres.

Today, Karuna is going places in national politics while his former boss is desperately crying out for help to save his life in an ever shrinking patch of land. Yesterday, we reported Karuna, now a minister, had received a letter confirming his appointment as a vice president of the SLFP. He may be a traitor in the book of the pusillanimous Eelamists who have made a business of the conflict and are living in clover while sponsoring terrorism from a safe distance. But, being a minister and SLFP vice president is certainly better than to be a failed leader who is hiding behind hostages and dying many times before his death!

Prabhakaran could have avoided that fate if he had, like Karuna, taken the tide in his affairs at the flood, when opportunities presented themselves. None is more doltish than a person who antagonises India while trying to carve out a separate state in this country.

Prabhakaran, before embarking on that perilous venture, should have asked himself why even people like MGR had not tried their hands at forming a separate state in spite of their burning desire to achieve that avowed goal. MGR was an ardent advocate of an independent Tamil state but all his contribution to that project was to wax eloquent and make a cat's paw of some daredevil elements like Prabhakaran without burning his fingers. For, he knew it was a Sisyphean task without India's blessings.

Therefore, Prabhakaran should have known better than to try to overtake MGR et al, a task he was not simply equal to. He should have settled for what India offered in 1987 and become chief minister of a merged North-East province.

Hubris and hatred blind people to reality. Prabhakaran destroyed his separatist project the very day he trained his gun on the Indian army. He twisted the knife by killing Rajiv, who had saved his life in 1987, when he was trapped in a small area in the North. By gravitating towards the West he made the same blunder as the late President J. R. Jayewardene, who antagonised India by aligning himself with the US only to eat humble pie at the hands of India.

The Tigers may have appeared to be in labour as regards Eelam even after turning their back on India but it was a false pregnancy.

Prabhakaran must be ruing the day he spurned President Chandrika Kumaratunga's offer of devolution. She offered the entire Northern Province to Prabhakaran on a platter for ten years without elections in 1994. He also contemptuously rejected her Regional Councils package lock, stock and barrel even before the UNP and the JVP shot it down in Parliament in 2000. President Kumaratunga, in spite of all her flaws, was a firm believer in devolution and she was sincere in her attempts to solve the conflict through power sharing. She even risked the stability of her government in 2005 by agreeing to set up a joint mechanism to share tsunami relief with the LTTE much to the consternation of the JVP which left the ruling coalition threatening its very survival.

What she got in return for such conciliatory gestures from Prabhakaran was a human bomb!

Megalomaniacs make good warriors and excel in battle; but they invariably lose war. If Prabhakaran started his struggle like a hero, he has now become a coward of the first order. He will be remembered for his craven act of using a human shield to save his life and not for the battles won. What a way to be remembered!

While Prabhakaran is about to be discussed in the past tense, Karuna is busy fortifying his future. But, what lies in store for Karuna in the SLFP?

Simply because of the presence of minority members at some decision making levels, a political party does not become non-communal. Both the UNP and the SLFP are characterised by ethno-religious glass ceilings which are responsible for the emergence of exclusive minority political parties, to a considerable extent.

Karuna is very likely to find himself stagnating in his present position as an SLFP vice president; and if it is only a comfortable life that he seeks, he will be happy and content. Else, frustration will surely set in, unless the SLFP changes.

There is a pivotal role both the SLFP and the UNP have got to play in bringing about much talked about yet hitherto unattainable national integration. They have no alternative but to transform themselves into parties of opportunity where upward mobility is determined by merit and not parochial criteria.

Karuna's new appointment in the SLFP should not be a mere reward for 'services rendered'. We would like to consider it an expression of willingness on the part of the SLFP to change, pull down walls of prejudice it has built around itself over the years, reach out to all segments of society and evolve as a party where merit takes pride of place. We hope we are not mistaken.

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