Prabakaran unleashed

Print edition : April 27, 2002

Prabakaran has a horrendous track record, and New Delhi must send out a clear signal that it will not hesitate to capture and bring him to justice in India.

ON April 10,the reclusive Velupillai Prabakaran emerged from his hideouts to address the world media in an effort to show that he was now ready to seek a political, rather than a military solution to Sri Lanka's bloody ethnic conflict. Amongst the correspondents who were present was one Swami Vigyanand, dressed in the robes of a monk. The good 'Swami' claimed he was attending the press conference as a representative of a publication of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). According to reports from Sri Lanka that have been featured in newspapers such as the Dawn of Karachi, Vigyanand had visited Sri Lanka on around 10 occasions since 1999. He had travelled extensively in areas controlled by the LTTE, quite obviously with the assistance and concurrence of the LTTE during these visits. Asked about his views on the LTTE, Vigyanand is reported to have replied: "I made it clear to them (LTTE) that we (VHP) have nothing against their struggle," adding: "I said we have a problem with Islam and Christianity and we are trying to build Hindu unity."

The words of Swami Vigyanand need to be placed in perspective, by first recounting some of the ugliest facets of Prabakaran's "struggle". While Prabakaran now claims that he is seeking to protect the democratic rights of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, what emerges from any study of his past actions is that he can only be characterised as a psychopath, with scant regard for human life, or human suffering. The one instance that still remains etched in my memory is the callous manner in which he made a teenage student Thileepan go on a fast and die in 1987, even as he was consuming choice delicacies, while negotiating his demands with Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit at the Palaly Airbase in Jaffna in August 1987. But Prabakaran also has a track record of having killed more political leaders from the Tamil community, than from among his proclaimed enemies - the Sinhalas. He started on this course by murdering the popular Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappa in 1972. He then eliminated the then most popular Sri Lankan Tamil militant leader, Sri Sabarathinam, in 1986, earning the wrath and condemnation of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi, who held Sabarathinam in high esteem.

The assassin Dhanu closing in on Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur near Chennai, on May 21, 1991.-

Prabakaran's track record of killing prominent Tamils is horrendous. Members of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) still recall and respect the tactical skills and valour of the LTTE's former military commander, Mahattya. It was Mahattya who personally led the fight against the Sri Lankan Army while Prabakaran was for several years living in Tamil Nadu, spending a lot of his time watching video tapes of Clint Eastwood movies. Yet when Prabakaran felt that Mahattya had attained a stature that could pose a challenge to his unquestioned hegemony, he had no hesitation in executing his most successful military commander. Prabakaran's intolerance of any opposition to his hegemony is evident from the manner in which he engineered the killings of respected Tamil politicians like A. Amirthalingam, Alalasundaram and Dharmalingam of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and his assassination of perhaps the most articulate proponent of the Tamil cause, Neelan Tiruchelvam. The list of those whom he killed includes prominent Tamil human rights activist Sam Thambimuthu. But perhaps the most gruesome example of Prabakaran's determination to eliminate physically all potential rivals was the killing of nearly 20 leaders of the rival EPRLF (Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front) group led by its supremo, K. Padmanabha, in broad daylight in the very heart of Madras city. There appears to be little doubt that it was the inaction on the part of the V.P. Singh government in responding to this act of terrorism on Indian soil that emboldened Prabakaran to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

It is, to say the least, odd that a representative of the VHP should seek to make common cause with the LTTE in building "Hindu unity" in Sri Lanka. Prabakaran has never defined the LTTE's objectives in religious terms. The Tamils of Sri Lanka have never alleged that the Sri Lankan state has curbed their religious rights. Their struggle has always been to meet what they have felt were their legitimate linguistic, political and economic aspirations. It is true that Prabakaran has terrorised Tamil-speaking Muslims in northeastern Sri Lanka, destroying two mosques and killing over 100 Muslims in the Eastern province. He has even driven out over 70,000 Muslims from their homes in northern Sri Lanka. But these pogroms were undertaken for political and not religious reasons. Prabakaran's primary opponents have been the Buddhist Sinhalas. Outfits like the VHP and the Shiv Sena regard Buddhism to be a derivative and an extension of Hinduism. Further, Prabakaran has strong allies in the Anglican Church and is hardly going to please the VHP in fulfilling its goals of curbing the activities of Church groups. But India should remember that it is not in its national interests to promote separatism in Sri Lanka, whatever the justification. Any suspicion in Sri Lanka that groups close to the ruling establishment in India empathise with the LTTE would be highly counter-productive. It is all very well for the VHP to claim that it is involved in promoting Indian spiritualistic values abroad. It is, however, quite another matter when VHP representatives seek to show understanding of groups like the LTTE, or indulge in activities that promote communal suspicions or differences abroad. New Delhi should make it clear it will deal strongly with those who indulge in such activities.

SRI Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has taken a courageous initiative in seeking to build bridges of peace with the LTTE. But past experience has shown that whenever Prabakaran feels the heat he adopts tactical shifts. He had no compunction in seeking a deal from the short-sighted President Ranasinghe Premadasa when he was under pressure from the IPKF. He then proceeded to assassinate Premadasa when the situation changed. The post-September 11 global environment against terrorism and measures like the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 are placing restrictions on the vast flow of funds that the LTTE receives from Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate communities in countries such as Canada and Australia. Even though there may be some sympathy and support for Prabakaran in sections of the ruling National Democratic Alliance in India, he knows that there is little chance of his receiving support from India in the pursuit of his long-term aims. In any case, he has chosen to remain deliberately vague about his long-term aims and has not renounced either the armed struggle or his claim for a separate "Tamil Eelam".

Given the fact that the LTTE is a banned organisation in India, New Delhi has rightly chosen to avoid any involvement in the proposed dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. While India should not do anything that would inhibit or hinder the proposed dialogue, it is imperative that it should relentlessly move ahead with measures and moves to secure the extradition of Prabakaran for his role in masterminding the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. New Delhi should not forget that in assassinating Rajiv Gandhi in the middle of a national election campaign, Prabakaran sought to undermine the very basis of India's democratic processes. The people of India can neither forget nor forgive this action of a foreign terrorist group aimed at undermining its electoral processes. It is an action that was as, if not more, outrageous than the December 13 attack on Parliament House. The Tamil Nadu Assembly has now passed a resolution urging that the Government of India send the Indian Army to Sri Lanka, with the consent of the Sri Lankan government, in order to capture Prabakaran if Sri Lanka is unable to extradite him to India.

In these circumstances, it is rather surprising that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee indicated that he was inclined to consider sympathetically the request of the political ideologue of the LTTE, Anton Balasingham, to visit and live in India for medical treatment. Balasingham has connived with and sought to justify the horrendous acts of terrorism perpetrated by the LTTE for around three decades. There is little doubt that any such approval accorded to Balasingham will be viewed as a serious weakening of India's intention to bring Prabakaran to face trial in India. India is already regarded as a soft state in its neighbourhood. Rather than being seen to be weakening its stand against the LTTE, India should send out a clear signal to Prabakaran, and to the world at large, that although the Sri Lankan Government may have its compulsions in dealing with him, India will not hesitate to use all available means including the use of special forces, to capture and bring Prabakaran to justice in India.

G. Parthasarathy was Information Adviser to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the spokesman of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka.

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