In my view of Tamil Resistance, Prabakaran by Adele Balasingham, March 1, 2003

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Excerpts from * Will to Freedom, The: An Inside View of Tamil Resistance
by Adele Balasingham, March 1, 2003

“…Mr.Pirabaharan was a frequent visitor to our house; in both an official and personal capacity. He would come alone with his bodyguards and on other occasions with his family. By mid 1998 we had known and lived with the legendary leader of the Tamil liberation struggle Vellupillai Pirabaharan for twenty years. During those years of personal and political relationship we have been deeply involved in experiences with him that led to an understanding and insight into one of the most complex and commanding personalities determining the politics of Sri Lanka.

Those twenty years of relationship embraced an epoch in the struggle during which we walked through many good times together and traversed and triumphed over periods of adversity in both his political and personal life. Over this span of time we had seen the ideals of freedom of a young militant progressively transforming into a concrete reality. Parallel to the march towards the liberation of his people, Mr. Pirabaharan has emerged as a living symbol of national freedom and has grown in adoration to become a venerated figure amongst his oppressed people.

Security concerns have compelled Mr. Pirabaharan to adopt what many have mistakenly labelled a ‘reclusive’ life style. His secluded existence under conditions of continued war and his inaccessibility to the media have made him the most misunderstood and feared guerrilla leader of our times. He has, of course, become most successful and popular in his spectacular military campaign. His military ability has often perplexed the many professional military minds in the world. So what is it that has earned this short, stocky, neat man so much love from his people on the one hand, and notoriety from the world on the other?

How do we account for the contradiction in his people’s perception of him, and the vilification by the world? Mr. Pirabaharan, born in the coastal village of Valvettiturai on 26th November 1954 was a sixteen year old teenager when he took up arms and became involved in the political struggle of his people. He was, in other words, a ‘child soldier’ if we use the language of today. From those early days he has never lived a ‘normal’ life. As his commitment deepened, he mobilised and organised a group of radical youth who shared his views into an underground guerrilla organisation and launched an armed resistance campaign.

His daring guerrilla attacks brought him to the attention of the state authorities and he became a ‘wanted’ man living an underground life in Jaffna. His bold armed challenge to the might of the Sinhala state earned Mr. Pirabaharan a noble reputation and he became a heroic figure amongst his people. The shrewdness and intelligence he successfully deployed in challenging the state was viewed by the people as their triumph and an assertion of their pride and identity. Mr. Pirabaharan’s sustained and successful armed resistance against mounting state oppression has earned him the mantle of national leader of the Tamil people’s struggle for freedom and independence. This noble objective fuels his passion and dominates his spirit. The struggle has become his life and he has become the struggle.

Although Mr. Pirabaharan would never make any pretensions to being a theorist or an ideologue, his politics place him squarely in the camp of a patriotic nationalist. Mr. Pirabaharan’s nationalism is not a manifestation of Tamil chauvinism or racism, as many Sinhala critics would like to argue. His national sentiment arose from a determination to resist Sinhala racist oppression that aims at the destruction of his people. In other words, the racism of the Sinhala state made him a fierce patriot, a passionate lover of his oppressed nation.

His deep love for his people, their culture and more specifically their language, fuels his dedication and determination to secure their survival. For him, uncluttered by abstract concepts and theories, the problem confronting the Tamil people is clearcut and simple and the struggle for freedom is just. His psyche is deeply rooted in the soil of his motherland, the Northeast, which he always refers to as Tamil Eelam. He has an unshakeable view that his people have a right to live in peace, dignity and harmony in their historic homeland. His perception of Tamil Eelam is neither secessionist nor expansionist.

For him, Tamil Eelam belongs to the Tamils and they have the sovereign right over their territory. Indeed, he has neither demonstrated nor articulated any aspiration to annex traditional Sinhala territory nor does he dream of an expansionist greater Eelam as projected by some Indian critics.

Mr. Pirabaharan has always maintained individuality and creativity in fashioning the mode of the armed struggle of the Tamil people. Though he was familiar with the history of the national liberation struggles and freedom moments of the other countries of the world, he did not embrace or capitulate to any established models or theories of liberation warfare.

For him, methods of struggle should evolve from the objective conditions unique to each struggle. He devised his own methodology of warfare suited to the necessities and conditions of the struggle of his people. Some of his methods and tactics of warfare have earned him severe condemnation, particularly among the Sinhala political and military analysts. Yet he has defended his ‘ruthless’ tactics as a necessary means to protect his weak and small nation of people against a strong, powerful and ruthless enemy….”

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As others see him…

 Anita Pratap, the first journalist to interview Velupillai Pirabaharan…

Pirabaharan “…The myth was bigger than the man. That was in the early ’80s, when I met LTTE  leader Velupillai Pirabaharan for the very first time… Today, the man is bigger than the myth… In one of her interviews to me, (Sri Lanka) President Chandrika Kumaratunga had said “even the best guerrillas must tire of fighting and war”. That was five years ago. Pirabaharan is better than the best. His energy and commitment to his cause show no signs of flagging. From a hit-and-run guerrilla fighter, he has evolved into a mastermind of conventional battles, the commander of a national army that forced the world’s fourth largest army to retreat and is now giving the Sri Lankan army a run for its money.

The more wounded Pirabaharan is, the more ferocious he becomes – it’s not for nothing he chose the tiger as his emblem. His stealth, timing, cunning, ambushes – all are inspired by the tiger. And like the tiger, his courage is raw and proud. Some time back, I had asked him what he had learned over two decades as a guerrilla fighter. He answered, “He who dares, wins.” That was the headline given to the interview when it was published in Time. Five months later, I happened to travel in Europe and the US and was amazed to see the number of Sri Lankan Tamils wearing T-shirts with that legend. Pirabaharan has spawned a worldwide legion.” (Anita Pratap reporting in Outlook on The Best Guerrilla of All, June 2000)


 Jyotindra Dixit, India’s Foreign Secretary in Assignment in Colombo…

“The LTTE’s emergence as the most dominant and effective politico-military force representing Tamil interests was due to the following factors:

Velupillai PirabaharanFirst, the character and personality of its leader V Pirabaharan who is disciplined, austere and passionately committed to the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils’ liberation. Whatever he may be criticised for, it cannot be denied that the man has an inner fire and dedication and he is endowed with natural military abilities, both strategic and tactical. He has also proved that he is a keen observer of the nature of competitive and critical politics. He has proved his abilities in judging political events and his adroitness in responding to them.

Secondly, he has created a highly disciplined, and dedicated cadres, a manifestation of which is inherent in what is called the ‘cyanide cult.’ Each regular member of the LTTE carries a cyanide pill and is pledged to committing suicide rather than being captured by the enemy.

The third factor is the cult and creed of honesty in the disbursement and utilisation of resources. Despite long years spent in struggle, the LTTE cadres were known for their simple living, lack of any tendency to exploit the people and their operational preparedness.

The fourth factor has been the LTTE’s ability to upgrade its political and military capacities including technological inputs despite the constraints imposed on it by Sri Lankan forces and later by India.

The fifth factor is a totally amoral and deadly violent approach in dealing with those the LTTE considers as enemies.

The sixth factor is Pirabaharan’s success in gathering around him senior advisers with diverse political, administrative and technological capacities, which contributed to effective training of his cadres, optimum utilisation of the military equipment which he had, and the structuring of an efficient command and control system. (Assignment Colombo, by J N Dixit, Konarak Publishers, 1998)


Marshall R Singer, Ph. D. Professor of International and Intercultural Affairs, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs – University of Pittsburgh…

“As far as I can tell most ordinary Tamils support the Tigers, not necessarily because they like them, but because they like the Sri Lankan – or Indian – armies less. The Tigers are ruthless and authoritarian but they are not corrupt – they don’t tolerate stealing, bribery or rape, things other armies are famous for. In fact they are perceived as being single minded in their defence of Tamils. They are so disciplined that when captured, they swallow cyanide capsules that they carry with them at all times, rather than risk revealing anything under torture.” (Statement before US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Sri Lanka November 14,1995)


Lieutenant General Depinder Singh, Overall Force Commander of the Indian Peace Keeping Force…

“Numerous questions were to be asked as to why the IPKF could not capture or kill Pirabaharan; another equally wild allegation was that the IPKF had orders not to kill Pirabaharan. Apart from the impossibility of singling out an individual target for destruction or protection in such an environment, we must remember that by virtue of the fact that the LTTE had an effective junior leadership, the loss of Pirabaharan could never have resulted in the disintegration of the LTTE.. This (book) is a left handed salute to the LTTE whose deviousness cannot overshadow their incredible motivation and magnificent fighting prowess, for which the Indian armed forces will always have a healthy respect.” (Lieutenant General Depinder Singh in “The IPKF in Sri Lanka ” published in 1992)


Lieutenant General S.C. Sardesh Pande, IPKF Divisional Commander, Jaffna…

“I have a high regard for the LTTE for its discipline, dedication, determination, motivation and technical expertise… I was left with the impression that the LTTE was the expression of popular Tamil sentiment and could not be destroyed, so long as that sentiment remained… Our unit and formation commanders too came under the mental hypnosis of the LTTE. They would graphically explain how well entrenched the LTTE was in the minds of the people, how ungrateful people were to us, how elusive the LTTE was, how perfect it was in the midst of the people and in its actions, how effective was its grip over the public and so on – virtually admitting that it was an impossible task and all our endeavours were pointless.

One formation commander was relating vividly how the LTTE cadres – including their women – fought so bravely, killed our soldiers in fierce combat and proved to be our bane in early October ’87 in the Jaffna University Campus. I thought he was doing a good PR job for the LTTE. There was no doubt about the proportion of exaggeration in the indirect kudos accruing to the LTTE. The Brig had to be told to make use of his professionally critical faculties in evaluating the LTTE and not illogical awe. A lot of such roughage which had been allowed to enter the cerebral recesses of some of our unit and formation commanders had to be evacuated and their thinking disabused of self-invited cant. Mentally such influence was dangerous. I too frequently fell prey to this weakness, but made conscious and equally frequent efforts to shake loose from this hypnotic state; and, I think, I largely succeeded… ” (Lieutenant General S.C. Sardesh Pande in “Assignment Jaffna“, published in 1992)


Major General Harkirat Singh,  Indian Peace Keeping Force’s first commander in Jaffna…

“…. The Tamils have sacrificed [a lot], the LTTE is highly motivated and there is one aim: Eelam. Independence. Till they get independence they are not going to stop… They have fought their entire lives in the jungles. I have flown over the jungles with Mahathya, the number two man to Pirabaharan, in my helicopter. We flew over the jungles of Vavuniya and he explained to me how they fought against the Sri Lankans all these years. So they knew each inch of the land. We would push them out of Jaffna, they would get into the jungles. Then you would be fighting them for the next 10 years…

Pirabaharan learnt on television that the [Indo Sri Lanka] Accord had been signed and they were not party to it. It was one reason why the LTTE never accepted the Accord and India’s stand. If we had taken the LTTE into confidence, they would have known the whole thing, their terms would have been put across to Jayewardane, and the situation would have been different. Dixit was in a great hurry to get the Accord signed…

Pirabaharan is not a small man.He is the leader, a charismatic leader of the LTTE. His life is very precious. And a very simple man. No bullshit about him. His wife lived with three saris – one she wore, one she washed and one was ready to wear. That is all. They never drank Coca-Cola. They offered us Coca-Cola, but never drank it themselves. They drank that goliwala soda… Pirabaharan spoke to me in English many a time. He appeared well-read…. they [the LTTE] were very cordial. They would take me anywhere. I had lot of time for them…”.   (Rediffusion Interview with Josy Joseph, 30 March 2000)


Major General Prasanna Dahanayake, of the Sri Lanka Army…

“We ought to take the people into our confidence….. just as Pirabaharan is doing. Instead of taking the people into our confidence, we seem to be lying to the people. … the Tiger casualty figures given so far by the (Sri Lanka) government is equivalent to the whole population of the north. ….The Tigers, on the other hand, take video shots of their operations and distribute copies among their public and recruits to gain their confidence… the army seems not to have studied too well the capability of their main opponent – Velupillai Pirabaharan. Pirabaharan is a ‘military genius’ and his political power has given him an advantage to combat our political and military leaders. He has often outwitted, outmanoeuvred and outclassed our military and political leaders. Why is this so? Today after 18 years of battle, most of the victories, sadly, belong to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and we are continuing to fool ourselves… the man behind the weapon is always more important than the weapon itself and that this has been repeatedly proved by the LTTE forces….Pirabaharan has virtually beaten our forces on land and sea….” (Major General Prasanna Dahanayake in an interview reported in the Sinhala owned Sunday Leader, 6 December 1998)


M.R.Narayan Swamy, Author of Tigers of Sri Lanka…

Madurai provided Pirabaharan ample time to go through all that he had achieved and what he had failed to since taking to militancy almost a decade earlier. It was time for introspection and for reading and preparing for the years to come. It also gave him a good insight into the Indian polity; how it functioned and how it could be subverted if one had the right links.

Nedumaran had reasons to be impressed. He remembered seeing Pirabaharan in Jaffna in 1981, but the latter had not revealed his identity then. Naturally he was shocked when he came face to face with Pirabaharan in prison. “For several reasons I did not tell you (who I was)”, Pirabaharan told him. It was a plus point for a man who believed in secret work.

… The Tigers often went without food or sleep, but never hesitated to heavily spend on newspapers, Indian and foreign magazines and a wide spectrum of leftwing literature. They also bought glossy books and journal on arms and ammunition. ..

In the meantime, Pirabaharan began experimenting with a code language in a major way. He had tried it in other forms earlier in Jaffna, giving each Tamil alphabet a number. “It is for safety,” he had told friends.

Now, in Tamil Nadu, with more heads put together, the code looked a lot tougher to understand or decipher. An Indian who witnessed the experimentation mistook the secret language to be Chinese or Japanese.

Money remained a problem. Pirabaharan and his associates usually managed to survive on bread and jam. It meant Pirabaharan had to suppress his love for non-vegetarian food, crabs in particular. Nedumaran often encountered the Tigers with hungry looks on their faces, but they would shy away from admitting the truth when asked if they had had food.

When Pirabaharan was not dreaming about Eelam or discussing with Nedumaran ideas on a Tiger flag and uniforms, he would relish Tamil literature, particularly books on and by Subash Chandra Bose, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He even had a Che book translated from English into Tamil so that he could go through it without help.

He was not overtly religious, but would occasionally walk up to the historic Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai. He dressed crisply but simply and expected others to do so. He shaved everyday and scolded those who did not. His motto was talk little and hear more. But otherwise he treated his colleagues with respect. There was no bullying, when he talked, others listened. (M.R.Narayan Swamy in Tigers of Lanka – Early Beginnings to 1983)


Jane’s Sentinel, World Defence & Intelligence Information Resource…

“(LTTE’s) 43-year old charismatic leader and military commander, Velupillai Pirabaharan (whose nom de guerre is Karikalan), is a highly disciplined, dedicated, self-taught, military genius…In the LTTE, all members are fighting cadres and do not receive remuneration. The exceptions, only a handful, play an advisory or supportive role…Cadres are given responsibility not according to seniority but strictly on performance. Cadres are not promoted to a rank but only responsibilities of command. Cadres are ranked only posthumously by taking into account their service, as well as the circumstances of their death…” (Jane’s Sentinel examining the success of the LTTE in resisting the Sri Lankan forces, 4 September 2000)

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