By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
The first shot in the North-South war , a.k.a. Eelam War, rang out on July 27, (Friday), 1975. Its vibrations shook the foundations of the sleepy villages and towns of Jaffna. It was never going to be the same again in Jaffna. The shock waves shook Jaffna not because the shot was fired at Ponnalai Varadraja Perumal Temple, Jaffna in a time of peace. It was because of the political implications of killing an unarmed pilgrim visiting the temple. Fired at point blank range it killed Alfred Duraiyappah, the mild mannered Mayor of Jaffna, who was alighting from his car for his usual Friday prayers. As the subsequent events confirmed, it signalled the end of an era and the beginning of uncertainty, fear and ominous times to come.
The sound of the first shot continues to echo even today because it was also the first shot fired by Velupillai Prabhakaran. He had just turned 21 then. His first shot removed any inhibitions he had about killing human beings. From then onwards his career rose to dizzy heights not only because of his own ability to kill but also because of his ability to get others to kill on his behalf. As his confidence in killing grew he aspired to be his celluloid hero Clint Eastwood – the Hollywood idol who fixed everything with his gun. He turned his killing others and others dying for him into a cult. Jaffna took to the cult of death like duck to water and it was never the same again.
The killing of Alfred Duraiyappah marks the beginning of the North-South war. It was the very the first shot in Prabhakaran’s war against the rest which he waged for 33 years. He emerged as the Thalaivar (the leader), leaving behind the other rival militants, purely on his ruthless capacity to kill. He had no qualms in eliminating any other Tamil rival as long as it helped to make him “the sole representative of the Tamils”. Eventually, he wiped out the Tamil leadership that passed the Vadukoddai Resolution (May 14, 1976) that empowered him with the gun. He also emerged at the propitious time when the Jaffna elite had legitimised violence and urged the youth to take up arms to wage a war which the ageing Tamil leadership could not undertake. He was the first born child of the Vadukoddai Resolution that legitimised violence to achieve Eelam. Armed with the licence given to him by the Vadukoddai Resolution he went on a spree of killing until it came to a stop at Nandikadal.
Not surprisingly, the last shots of the war also were fired by Prabhakaran when his bodyguards targeted the Tamil civilians fleeing from his Pol Potist gulag into the welcoming arms of the Security Forces. Those last shots were fired to kill the Tamils and protect Prabhakaran who needed the Tamils to shield him from the advancing Security Forces. Prabhakaran’s last shots targeting his own people blasted the myth of the Tamils who believed that the people were behind their “Surya Devan”. The Thalaivar who offered the cyanide pill as the sacrificial symbol of his new religion was now shooting the Tamils for not swallowing the cyanide pills as a show of solidarity with his cause. Tamils fleeing from him was the last blow to his ego. He and the Tamil Diaspora couldn’t accept that the Tamils preferred the Security forces of “the enemy” to “the liberations forces” of the Tamil killer squads. It was a desperate time when the Tamils had no hero to turn to. They ran into the arms of the demonised Sinhala forces who gave them food, shelter, medicine and, above all, peace which their hero could not deliver.
In between the very first shot and the last shots Prabhakaran never ceased killing unarmed Tamil civilians. S. C. Chandrahasan, the son of the father of Tamil separatism, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, and V. Anandasangaree, head of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), are on record saying that Prabhakaran killed more Tamils than all the other forces put together. He began his political career by killing Tamils and also ended it by not only killing his own people who shielded him but also humiliating them by misleading them into a war that ended in total defeat.
The Tamils who were pushed into an inescapable corner by the mono-ethnic extremism of the Vadukoddai Resolution had no alternative but to go along with Prabhakaran. Political events cast upon him the burden of carrying the Vadukoddai Resolution to a conclusion. The Tamils were stuck with him though the cruelties of Prabhakaran left the Tamils in a political and moral vacuum. But Prabhakaran was their last hope to achieve what was promised in the Vadukoddai Resolution. The politics and morality of the Tamils were tied to Prabhakaran. Whatever he did was right and whatever that was done against him was wrong. And when they lost him they found themselves in no-man’s land.
The dominant image of Prabhakaran in Tamil politics point directly to the tragedy, and also the obscenity, facing Tamils : they do not have in their history an inspiring or moral leader to hero-worship other than Prabhakaran. Oddly enough, he is a hero to the Tamils not because he won anything for them. They gave everything they had to him and he failed to deliver. But he is a hero because there isn’t a single other leader who had led the Tamils into battle against a demonised “enemy” on the scale launched by Prabhakaran and held on for so long. He was the lever with which the Tamils were hoping to manipulate the international community. He was the bargaining chip and when he went even the crafty NGO bluestocking, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was emotionally disturbed, fearing that everything she had fought for was lost. She reacted aggressively castigating Dayan Jayatilleka for his speech at the UNHRC which overturned the anti-Sri Lankan resolution sponsored by the Europeans.
The Tamil elite was secretly glorying in Prabhakaran’s victories which they thought brought them some dignity at home and recognition in the international community. But it was tinsel glory. He was fighting a war which he could not win, despite his initial successes. No one had spilt so much Tamil blood for so long and achieved nothing. In the end, when he was on the run, he revealed his true colours : he was not fighting for the Tamils, he was fighting for his own survival using the Tamils as a shield to protect him and his family. His initial idealism had evaporated and the new realities told him that he had to fight for his survival which he equated with the survival of the Tamils. But the Tamils have proved that they could achieve better things by running away from him in search of better worlds than staying with him.
His unrelenting commitment to kill was his strength and weakness. Killing was to him what a “hit” was to a drug addict : he got a kick out of it and he could not survive without it. Adulation and hero-worship distorted his power to think, if he had any such powers at all. He expected the Tamils to fall at this feet, as their saviour, and follow him to the bitter end. It was when the Tamil refused to go along with him all the way that he fired his last shots at the Tamils deserting him. He was the kind of hero who demanded total obedience, particularly when it came to sacrificing their lives. His heroism depended on other Tamils sacrificing their lives for him. He expected to brain-wash other people’s children to die for him while keeping his own kids safely at home, or swimming in his pool in the heart of the dry zone. He dragged the Tamils along with him, at gun point, to keep them as a human shield to protect him. And when the Tamils abandoned him, and voted with their feet to live in a better world, he shot the fleeing Tamils. How great is this Tamil hero who reached the peak of his power by standing on a mountain of Tamil corpses?
However, the fact that he used the Tamils to glorify his own ends on the promise of delivering a goal which he could never achieve is not an issue that concerns his blind followers. Like the shaven-headed Neo-Nazis the cult followers are eager to overlook the failures of the most cruel and ruthless grave-digger, widow-maker and child-abuser produced by the Tamils to bury the Tamils in mass graves. In a perverse way the Tamils embrace his cult of death when they follow his bullet-brandishing flag, or commemorate his birthday. Unwittingly, they are thirsting for his cult of death. When they embrace Prabhakaran they deny life and all the goodness that life has to offer.
This signifies, firstly, the aridity and the hollowness of the history of Jaffna. They have yet to produce a man with dignity and humane values as their hero. Secondly, it points to the hidden layers of the pitiless fascist culture inherent in peninsular politics. Jaffna has been unhappy because it had no hero. It is also unhappy now because it’s hero is the biggest killer of Tamils. The Tamils who claim to have settled down in Sri Lanka even before the Sinhalese stepped in have nothing to show at the end of their journey other than Prabhakaran and his flag which, incidentally, was drawn by a street artist in Chennai. It was a cheap product both in costs and design. Prabhakaran is said to have paid the S. Indian artist a pittance. And the over-all design of the flag had come from Prabhakaran who was impressed with the MGM lion snarling from a ring. He substituted the Chola tiger for the Hollywood lion and ringed the beast’s head with thirty-three bullets against a background of two crossed guns fixed with bayonets.
Since the flag is the highest symbol of a community/nation, representing its values and culture, the LTTE flag should be taken as a reflection of the Tamil culture and the values coming from the depths of the Tamil mind contained in the cranium of of the greatest Tamil hero, Prabhakaran. In contextualising the flag, it can be argued that Prabhakaran and his flag reflect each other’s subhuman beastliness unerringly. It is a flag without a single redeeming feature. There isn’t a single symbol in it that represents humane values affirming its faith in peace, co-existence in a multi-cultural world and an inspiring / uplifting culture. No Tamil has so far rejected this flag as being repugnant to the Tamil culture. They seem to be eager to go along with it, waving it from London to Melbourne, and from Toronto to Timbuctoo.
When a community embraces the symbols of its unrelenting and ruthless persecutor, torturer and killer what does it say of its culture? Doesn’t the symbiotic relationship between the Tamils’ greatest hero and the community means that they both share the same values? Isn’t one the reflection of the other? Consequently, isn’t it logical that the pathological killer of Tamils should chose the Chola Tiger ringed by thirty-three bullets and two bayoneted guns to represent the Tamils and their culture? It can be argued that the symbols in Prabhakaran’s flag represent the Chola warrior cult. Well, if Prabhakaran is the representative of that cult does it mean that the mission of the warrior cult of the Cholas is to eliminate Tamils from the earth? Or that the Tamils have been put on earth to shield Prabhakaran and his family? Doesn’t the Tamil flag and the Tamil Thalaivar, when put together, expose the inherent evil characteristics of the bloody Tamil culture of Jaffna?
Prabhakaran’s rise, growth and death came out of the womb of Jaffna which was historically ruled by a fascist culture of varying shades. In broad terms, Jaffna was ruled by three sets of local rulers in their brief history, leaving aside the colonial masters. They were (1) the Sankili type of tyrant who marched down to Mannar in 1544 and massacred Catholics for swearing allegiance to the Portuguese kings instead of him; (2) the Vellahla subalterns to colonial masters who ruled Jaffna with a “caste”-iron fist and, (3) the worst of all, Prabhakaran, the ruthless killer of Tamil dissidents and his rivals, imitating Sankili’s political culture of killing all those who do not swear allegiance to him. All three aimed to rule the territory as “the sole representative of the Tamils” – a cult that resisted and eliminated, by force if necessary, all rivals. This cult had strong fascist strands which held Jaffna in thrall. In the hands of Prabhakaran the cult of the “sole representative of the Tamils” reached it ruthless extremity. He pursued it to the bitter end applying efficiently the Chinese axiom that there can’t be two tigers hunting in the same mountain.
It was after President Mahinda Rajapakse liberated the Tamils from the fascist grip of Prabhakaran that the Tamils found the opportunity to taste democratic freedoms as never before. They were given the freedom to elect their own representatives without bending into two before fascists to get nomination. They were given the right to vote without fear of their hands beings cut for doing so. Their fear of sending their children to school not knowing whether they would be abducted by Tamil Boko Harams was removed for good. They were able to receive food and other essentials from “the Sinhala government” without substantial quantities being being siphoned off to fatten the fascist rulers and their cadres. They can crack jokes against Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil Wickrermesinghe, or even criticise them without the fear of being hung on the lamp posts of Jaffna. They can owe allegiance to V. Rudrakumaran, the fake Prime Minister in New York, who can’t eve issue a visa to go the toilet, without fear of being massacred by a latter-day Sankili.
Above all, the right of Tamils to run their region by elected Tamil representatives was realised for the first time in their history when President Mahinda Rajapakse held elections in the liberated Northern Province. The Tamil representatives of Northern Province made history when they became the first elected rulers of their own territory. History will record that it is the Sinhala forces that liberated Jaffna for democracy to flourish by dismantling the fascist rule that oppressed the Tamils from the time they established their settlement in the 12th century. And it must be emphasized that democracy is guaranteed in the NP Council only if the centre retains the power to maintain democratic institutions without the provinces being hijacked by future Prabhakarans.
Today a “Sinhala government”, as they are never tired of saying, has appointed a Tamil to lead the opposition. M. Sampanthan can hold his head high with dignity and be proud that a Tamil is officially leading the opposition to a “Sinhala government”. Could he have, as a Tamil, led the opposition to the Thalaiavir of his Tamil government in the Vanni? Could he even have swim in Prabhakaran’s swimming pool? What is the dignity and honour he had when he had to go bending in two to get nomination and votes from a podian like Prabhakaran simply because he wields a gun? Could V. Wigneswaran have given a judgment that went against his revered leader, if he was a judge in Prabhakaran’s kangaroo courts? So in what democratic space did the Tamils ever find their dignity, freedom, honour and respect?
President Maithripala Sirisena is in command of a force far greater than Prabhakaran ever had. But the Tamils have the freedom to oppose him without those guns being trained on them to make them obey his politics. The TULF leader Ananadasangaree once complained that when Mrs. Bandaranaike went to open the Jaffna University they exercised their right to protest, sitting in front of the University in Jaffna — and they did it without getting killed. But under the Tamil Thalaivar they couldn’t even step into Jaffna. That’s the difference between “the Sinhala governments” and the “Tamil government” of Jaffna.
Then again consider how much respect and dignity did the Tamils, who were denied their basic right to worship their God in the Hindu temples, have under the Vellahla casteist fascism? I was there at Maviddipuram Temple when the low-castes were waging their battle to gain entry into the temple run by a brahmin. I saw N. Shamugathasan, the leader of the Communist Party. But I never saw Sampanthan or any other Federal Party leader, including S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, standing up for the rights of the oppressed people of Jaffna. As stated by Bryan Pfaffenberger, who made a study of Jaffna caste system, the Federal Party “tip-toed” out of the issue. They were pussy-footing around the issue fearing that they would lose the vote of the Vellahlas who were in the majority. Having denied the Tamil people their basic right to walk in day time, or to get a drop of water from the high caste wells, for centuries under their sacred Hindu system, the Sampanthans and Wigneswarans have the gall to go round the world and proclaim, with feigned righteousness, that they have been denied their dignity, their respect, their culture by “the Sinhala governments”.
The Tamils have this tendency to live in a permanent state of catatonic denial. They bury their heads in the sand like the ostrich because the reality debunks their myths that feed their bogus fears whipped up by them to survive in peninsular politics. No one can survive in peninsular politics without raising the fears of the Sinhala bogey-man. They thrive in the political culture of hate. The Vadukoddai Resolution was filled with the politics of hate. It contained a caricature of history which demonised the Sinhala-Buddhists to lead Tamil politics to the extreme end of hate demanding a separate state. Filling their politics with hate was a necessity to demand a separate state.
Alfred Duriyappah was killed under the prevailing tense and hate-filled political climate of Jaffna. He had been demonised by the TUF leaders for being a “collaborator” with the Sinhalese. Fledgling militants like Prabhakaran – he was shivering when he shot because it was his first killing, says eye-witnesses – were brain-washed to kill the “enemy / traitors” of the Tamils. The Tamil political elite were on platforms crying for the blood of Tamils like Duraiyappah. The Vadukoddai Resolution had legitimised violence as means to their end. The disillusioned Tamil youth too were responsive to this hate culture. Jaffna was tinder dry with the unbearable heat of hate. It was ready to explode. Pin-pointing the responsibility for the death of Duraiyappah Prof. Rajan Hoole says: “If anyone, it is the TUF and Amirthalingam (its leader) who should bear the responsibility…”(p.18, The Arrogance of Power, Myths, Decadence and Murder, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Rajan Hoole).
Though he posed as a non-violent Gandhian, Amirthalingam did not mind “the boys” killing someone here and robbing a bank there, said M. R. Nayana Swamy, Inside the Elusive Mind, Prabhakaran. “Amirthalingam appears to have considered the TULF and Prabhakaran’s LTTE as two sides of the same coin, one political and ideological and the other armed and military. As later years proved, Amirthalingam was too naive to think thus.” (p. 45 – Ibid).
But the Tamil leadership never took responsibility for the Tamil violence they unleashed in pursuit of their elusive Eelam. They blamed it on the Sinhala-Buddhists. The Vadukoddai Resolution is the ultimate expression of the hate politics of the Tamil leadership. They urged the Tamil youth to take up the guns. They did and the first move they made was to turn the guns on the Tamil leadership that passed the Resolution.
It was too late when the killer of Duraiyappah came back a decade or so later to get Amirthalingam. The karmic forces released by the TULF leader’s actions came chasing after him, like his shadow, and got him in the end. Only the Sinhala police force, demonised and vilified by Amirthalingam and his mates, was there to defend the Tamil leaders under attack by Prabhakaran’s assassins. But even that could not save Amirthalingam.
More of this in the next article.
To be continued.