Author: S. Murali
Publisher: Sage Publishers
This is a cold-blooded yet comprehensive post-mortem of the rise and fall of the LTTE and its boss Velupillai Prabhakaran who thought, till nemesis caught up with him, that he could never be vanquished. Murali displays admirable writing and reporting skills to present an otherwise complicated story of Sri Lanka’s Tamil conflict, which lasted over a quarter century, into a chronologically detailed but easy to read work.
Murali was eminently suitable to record the blood-soaked story. As a journalist, he had pursued the Tamil struggle from its humble beginnings, met almost all the actors in the drama, including Prabhakaran, had many interactions with Prabhakaran’s aide Anton Balasingham, and of course repeatedly toured Sri Lanka when the war raged.
The book reveals why the LTTE, which at one time seemed indestructible, ultimately lost the war. One reason was the LTTE’s propensity to kill at will.
Prabhakaran’s first blunder was the 1986 murder of a rival Tamil militant leader, TELO’s Sri Sabaratnam. The worst came in 1991 when a woman suicide bomber blessed by Prabhakaran assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. Murali calls this the Tiger chief’s “historic blunder, which proved to be his undoing.”
Prabhakaran thought, foolishly, that despite the assassination, people in Tamil Nadu would rise in revolt when the Sri Lankan military carried out its final and crushing offensive in 2008-09. Not only did that not happen but India aided Sri Lanka to put down the Tigers.
“The people of the state showed superior (political) wisdom than the drum beaters of Prabhakaran… The tragedy is Prabhakaran believed till the end that when the push came to the shove, India would intervene (to save him).”
Prabhakaran may have taken to militancy for the sake of the Tamil people. But “in course of time he stopped being a people’s leader and became a dictator who took an unwilling people along with him on his tortuous route to Eelam which ultimately led to nowhere”. He betrayed his political bankruptcy when he let Mahinda Rajapaksa narrowly win the presidential election of 2005. He reasoned that Rajapaksa, a Sinhalese hardliner, would unleash a new war which the LTTE would win.
A war did begin, partly because Prabhakaran provoked the new president even before he could settle down. He forgot that a crippling split his group suffered a year earlier in the island’s east had robbed the LTTE of much of its potency. So when the conflict resumed in earnest in 2006, Prabhakaran quickly became history.
Murali shows no sympathy for Tamil Nadu’s politicians who contributed to Prabhakaran’s larger-than-life image. “He was led up the garden path by his drum beaters in Tamil Nadu like Nedumaran, Vaiko and the rest.”
The author has contempt for DMK leader and former chief minister M. Karunanidhi who wrote a poem shedding tears when LTTE leader S.P. Tamilselvan was killed in 2007. The same Karunanidhi kept mum when the Tigers killed fellow Tamils. He shamelessly accused the Indian Army of committing rapes in Sri Lanka and refused to receive Indian soldiers when they returned home in 1990. And comically, when the LTTE was going down, all Karunanidhi could do was to hold “a breakfast-to-lunch” fast in Chennai!