Writing about a revolutionary leader and a military genius like Velupillai Prabakaran of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is not an easy matter. He has so many outstanding achievements so much so it is rather difficult to emphasize one or two aspects without touching on other related ones.
While governments and forces against the genuine aspirations of Tamils have castigated him in extreme terms to the people of Tamil Eelam and the Tamil Diaspora Prabakaran stands out as one of the great leaders of all times. He will be always remembered for generations to come as supreme individual who organized and galvanized the Tamils to fight not only against racist oppression but also to yearn for the creation of a separate state-Tamil Eelam. It is the utter dedication and commitment of Prabakaran and his close aides that have given much hope for Tamils all over the world to stand up as equals to others.
The struggle for the coveted prize of Tamil Eelam has invariably involved both the direct and indirect participation of the Tamil Diaspora. The LTTE’s constant pronouncements for the need for Tamil Diaspora support and Prabhakaran’s rationalization of Tamil Eelam as the ultimate expression of global Tamil solidarity has invariably provided great hope for Tamils in places like Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa and not to speak of Tamil Nadu, Europe and North America.
In a more particular sense, the discrimination and marginalization of Tamils in these places have naturally influenced them to become sympathetic to the larger cause of Tamils in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka. Needless to say, some sections of the Tamil Diaspora have gone to the extent of providing material and moral support to the cause of the LTTE.
Overseas Tamils betrayed by their own leaders and faced with extreme ethnic and religious discrimination secretly wish they have a leader like Prabhakaran to take up their cause. Since the start of the Eelam War, the Tamil Diaspora has been closely following the events in the island. In the 1980s and 1990s, many demonstrations have been organized to support the cause of the LTTE.
During these demonstrations, Tamils have proudly displayed pictures and portraits of Prabakaran so much so raising concern about the radicalization of Tamils of South Indian origin in places like Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa have a great sympathy for the LTTE in general and the courageous leadership of Prabakaran.
In the past, these segments of the Tamil population looked to leaders in Tamil Nadu for cultural leadership, but now they are turning more and more to the leadership of the LTTE. It has become quite clear to Tamils of Indian origin that the Dravidian leadership in Tamil Nadu especially after the demise of Periyar Ramasamy offers not cultural or intellectual vision for their advancement and progress. In a specific sense, the narrow politics of Kalainjnar Karunanathi and Jayalalitha, the current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, offers no hope for world Tamils.
It has been commonly observed that the LTTE’s alleged assassination of Rajiv Gandhi deprived them of the much needed support from Tamil Nadu. While there is no concrete proof of LTTE’s involvement in the murder of Gandhi, the propaganda generated in the aftermath of this episode did register decline in support. However, it was the opportunistic role of some political parties and leaders that gave the general impression that Tamils in the state would shy away from the LTTE for good.
Nothing can be further from truth. My recent visit to Tamil Nadu and discussions with few groups provide indications that Tamil in the state will never abandon their brothers and sisters in Tamil Eelam. While they might have some reservation about the LTTE and about its alleged links to the murder of Gandhi, they fully support the quest for an independent Tamil Eelam.
If not for the presence of the dreaded Prevention Of Terrorism Act ( POTA ), more and more ordinary Tamils would be able to express their opinions openly. Moreover the role of leaders like Vaiko Gopalaswamy and Nedumaran attests to the fact that Tamils in Tamil Nadu will never sever their historical and cultural ties with those in the island of Sri Lanka.
There are basically two important reasons for the support of the L.T.T.E. in general and Prabhakaran’s leadership in particular. The first reason for support is usually associated with military prowess of the L.T.T.E., its victories against the Sri Lankan armed forces, the heroic role of the Black Tigers and others. It is this external role that has provided much support for the L.T.T.E. However, there is second reason that is very often not well elaborated and this relates to the L.T.T.E.’s role in the socio – economic transformation of the Tamil society.
While the L.T.T.E. has fought heroic battles and today is in control of more than 80 percent of the territory in the North and East of the island of Sri lanka, such an achievement has come about because of the progressive internal role of the outfit. L.T.T.E.’s internal organization of the Tamil society – removal of caste barriers, liberation of women, eradication of old customs and traditions and others have given a unique role to the L.T.T.E. in the evolving history of Tamils.
It is the progressive and egalitarian outlook of the L.T.T.E. that has endeared the organization to hundreds and thousands of youths, ready to give up their lives for the future cause of Tamil Eelam. More than its military prowness, its role in the social transformation of the Tamil society is the most attractive of the organization’s representation of Tamils.
While I have admired the battle – field successes, the natural leadership of Prabakaran, its unselfish quest for Tamil nationhood, I was most struck by the outfit’s social agenda – the need to shape and transform the caste – ridden Tamil society. One really wonders whether the L.T.T.E. could have managed to mobilize the youths of the North and East without liberating the human potential from the constraints of caste, class and gender.
It is the external and internal dimensions that endeared me and many others to the L.T.T.E.. I supported the Tamil independence movement even before having the opportunity to meet their leaders. The writings of Anton Balasingham on the Tamil national question from a Marxist perspective provides a powerful rational as to why the quest for Tamil Eelam is a progressive one.
His writings were highly theoretical and very convincing. Prabakaran’s speeches and some interviews were inspiring : his rationale for Tamil Eelam predicated on the basis of global Tamil solidarity was an eye opener. They coincided with my own writings on Tamil Diaspora nationalism.
From the early 1990s I wanted to visit the Tamil homeland, but unfortunately the war prevented me from doing so. The ceasefire arrived between the two warring parties in early 2002 provided me with the golden opportunity. In fact, I was asked to provide a ten-day course on federalism to the senior political cadres of the L.T.T.E. I gladly accepted this assignment. One or two days before my return, I had the rare opportunity of meeting the living history / legend himself – Veluppilai Prabakaran – the pride and asset of the oppressed masses.
After dinner and before he parted, he remarked the following words to me : “Thamilanukku oru nadu thevai” ( Tamils need a country ). I was totally overwhelmed by the manner in which these words were expressed and l could not help how singularly be was committed to attain the Tamil cause. Really, it took me a while to regain my composure. Such was the impact of my first meeting with the greatest Tamil hero of modem history.
I have met so many leaders in the course of my life, but my meeting with Prabakaran was something else. I was overwhelmed by his presence, his deep knowledge of world politics, his utter commitment to realize the aim of Tamil Eelam and not the least, the ability to withstand any odds in realizing the vision for Tamils. I have not met such leaders and I don’t think there will be a leader like Prabakaran in another one thousand years. He is a living legend-the pride and property of Tamils.
I met Prabakaran once again in December 2003 with my family, wife and two daughters. Again we had dinner and spent some time talking about politics, the future of Tamil Eelam, and the problems faced by Tamils abroad. My second meeting merely reaffirmed the greatness of this man in leading the Tamil cause. His courage and dedication convinced me that Tamil Eelam was within his grasp, it was just a matter of time.
When posed questions about the threat posed by the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 episode, he remarked that it should first build bridges, buildings and highways in Tamil areas before bombing them. In other words, his message was that there was nothing to bomb in Wanni.
Prabakaran is not the least intimated by the big powers. The LTTE fought the Indian forces before the latter left the shores of the island shamelessly. The United States stuck in the Iraqi quagmire is hardly in a position to extend its military tentacles to crush the LTTE. While the LTTE is determined to pursue the Tamil cause, it is not mechanically orientated.
It is always open to a negotiated settlement although it has not given up the quest for a separate state, it is prepared to discuss with the Sri Lanka government to reach a solution that would be in line with the objectives of internal self-determination.
The LTTE controls more than 80 percent of the territory in the North and East of the island. It has a standing battle-tested army and a powerful sea-wing and not to speak of its own police force, judiciary, tax-system, customs, immigration and administration.
Despite the presence of a de facto state, the LTTE is still pursuing the option of discussing the interim self-government proposal with the government of Sri Lanka. It is this magnanimity that seems not to be appreciated by the international community. It is not too difficult for the LTTE to unilaterally declare independence.
Centre for History,
Political Science and Strategic Studies
National University of Malaysia.