by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
A noteworthy feature of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been the special manner in which it glorifies death and pays homage to dead tiger fighters.
Fallen LTTE members were eulogized as martyrs and referred to as “Maaveerar” or Great heroes.
The departed tigers were buried in cemeteries known as “Maaveerar Mayaanangal” (great hero cemeteries) and memorials called “Maaveerar Thuyilum Illangal” (sleeping abodes of great heroes) were constructed.
[a Heroes day cut out in Elephant Pass, 2005]
November 27th of each year was declared the “Maaveerar thinam” or great heroes day. This was the date on which Sathiyanathan alias Shankar died of gunshot injuries in 1982. He was the first LTTE cadre to be killed in combat.
Subsequently the entire week from Nov 21st was proclaimed as great heroes week. Various events paying homage to the memory of fallen tigers were held in North-Eastern Sri Lanka and abroad.
The highlight of November 27th was a public address by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in which he outlined current policy objectives of the tigers.
Prabhakaran also paid public tribute to his “maaveerar” and lit the “eegaichudar” or sacrificial flame on that day.
Apart from this special annual ceremony the LTTE also honoured its leaders and cadres immediately after death . Elaborate funerals were held and memorial meetings were organized.
Leaflets were issued and posters put up. Tigers and tiger supporters in the Diaspora also held a variety of events in memory of the fallen tigers.
Against this backdrop of the LTTE making a fetish out of death one would have expected a series of commemorative events in the aftermath of LTTE leader Prabhakaranâ€™s demise on May 18th this year.
The LTTE’s head of International Relations (euphemism for global tiger chief) Selvarasah Pathmanathan alias KP a.k.a. Kumaran announced formally over radio on the morning of May 22nd 2009 that the Tiger leader was no more.
This was followed by a special press release dated May 24th 2009. In that KP stated-
“We announce today, with inexpressible sadness and heavy hearts that our incomparable leader and supreme commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam attained martyrdom fighting the military oppression of the Sri Lankan Government”.
KP went on to emphasise . “We share the sorrow and despair of all the Tamils in Sri Lanka, The Diaspora and the Tamil speaking people of the world”.
Pathmanathan also called for a week of mourning to pay tribute to his leader and other fallen “freedom fighters and civilians”.
“We have declared the week beginning Monday, 25 May 2009, as a week of official mourning paying tribute for the supreme sacrifice by our beloved leader. During this week let us celebrate his supreme sacrifice and his contribution to the betterment of the Tamil world. Let us also mark the sacrifices of all the commanders, freedom fighters and the civilians who also laid down their lives.”
In the aftermath of KP’s public acknowledgement and call for mourning ,many people including this writer expected a massive outpouring of grief and sorrow to manifest itself through well-organized demonstrations and commemorative meetings.
I have been one of the few Tamils who criticized and condemned Velupillai Prabhakaran when he was alive, powerful and dangerous. Now that he was no more I did feel that the Tamils who equated him to a living God should pay homage to his memory.
Whatever his faults there is no denying that Prabhakaran was a historic figure who should be posthumously honoured at least by those claiming to be his followers.
Apart from the LTTE supremo a very large number of senior LTTE leaders and commanders like Soosai,Bhanu, Jeyam, Nadesan, Sornam etc had also died. Earlier in April another set of prominent tigers like Theepan, Gaddafi, Vidusha, Durga etc had also died.
Most of the senior tigers killed had devoted decades of their life to what they regarded as the Tamil cause.They deserved honours in their own right.
In such a situation I did expect many commemorative events to proliferate in the “Thamizh koorum nallulakam” (Tamil-speaking good world ).
Tiger propagandists when exhorting Diaspora Tamils to contribute or demonstrate come up with a familiar refrain “do your historical duty (varalaatrukkadamai)”.
So I thought the Diaspora will now do its historical duty and pay tribute to the LTTE leader and others.
With the LTTE being deprived of territorial control in Sri Lanka there is absolutely no chance of any pro-tiger event including a commemorative meeting being held in any part of the Island right now.
But one did anticipate large-scale memorial meetings paying tribute to Prabhakaran and senior tiger leaders being held in many cities in the west by Diaspora tiger elements.
Presently the LTTE enjoys “visible” support only among sections of the Tamil Diaspora and segments of Tamil Nadu population in India.
Since it is virtually impossible to display any public support for the LTTE in any part of Sri Lanka it was the “varalaatruk kadamai” of the Diaspora to pay homage.
A whole month has passed since the demise of both the LTTE and its leader but the astonishing reality is that not even one public meeting has been held abroad so far to commemorate Prabhakaran or other members of the LTTE.
Only grieving family members held religious and cultural observances privately in memory of their dear ones.
The familiar memorial meetings and commemorative events held on a grand scale to glorify fallen tigers are conspicuous by their absence. It is as if the Diaspora had dropped the LTTE like a hot potato after its defeat and Prabhakaran and other top tigers had ceased to exist in Diasporic consciousness and conscience.
The actual situation however is somewhat different.
Basically many sections of the “tiger” diaspora are in a state of denial.This state of affairs is aggravated by the deliberate campaign of misinformation and disinformation by some LTTE activists.
Furthermore divisions within Diaspora tiger elements have also contributed to this state of affairs. Chief among these causes is the opposition to KP’s leadership by vested interests among overseas tigers.
As a result of this bizarre situation ,Prabhakaran and his senior deputies are being denied an opportunity of being commemorated at least by fellow Tamils of the Diaspora.
In a cruel twist of fate the man who bestowed titles like “Maamanithan” (great human) or “naatrupatraalar” (Patriot) on dead LTTE supporters himself lay dead on the shores of Nandhikkadal lagoon.
Now in a further twist Prabhakaran and other leaders had been denied even a simple public commemorative ceremony paying tribute.
When he was alive these same Diaspora praised him to the skies but after death not even one public event paying homage has been held.
When a few attempts were made to hold memorial meetings , tiger goon squads descended on the venues and intimidated the organizers into abandoning the projects.
Usually tiger hooligans disrupt meetings by rivals or dissidents. Now it was becoming an intra-tiger practice.
Strangely enough the prime casualty in all this is none other than Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP himself. A revolt has been fomented against him by sections of the Diaspora LTTE establishment.
It is typical of the LTTE to conduct vicious vilification campaigns against those who fall foul of it. This writer has often been the victim in these orchestrated campaigns.
In this instance the overseas tigers have launched a slanderous , defamatory campaign against KP himself. He is the target of an intra-tiger assault aimed at undermining his credibility within the global Tamil Diaspora.
The chink in KP’s armour was his hasty announcement a few days earlier that the LTTE leader was alive in a safe location. This was presumably done to refute initial media reports that Prabhakaran was dead.
The exact reasons behind KP’s announcement is a matter for speculation. According to some sources close to KP the global tiger chief had been in receipt of information that Prabhakaran had reached a safe location and hence his forthright assertion that his leader was indeed safe.
Subsequently KP received confirmation that Prabhakaran was indeed dead and that the earlier information was wrong. A thoroughly shattered KP went into seclusion for a day and then began consulting a few senior activists and supporters.
Realising that the armed struggle had conclusively ended and convinced that the immediate need was to facilitate the speedy resettlement of displaced civilians and secure the early release of detained tiger cadres and families , KP decided to lead the overseas tigers into a new non-violent political future.
The announcement about Prabhakaran’s death and the call to observe a week of mourning was the first step in this direction. Once the community commemorated the deaths and paid tribute to the leader and other commanders the people could face up to a bleak, uncertain future in a more organized, practical manner it was felt.
But KP found an unexpected revolt in expatriate tiger ranks. Influential sections within the LTTE overseas structure refused to accept the fact that Prabhakaan was dead. They raised doubts about Prabhakaran’s reported death.
For years and years the LTTE and its acolytes had constructed a myth around Prabhakaran. He was omniscient and omnipotent. The Thalaiver was infallible and invincible. He was portrayed as a demi-god for whom there could be no demise.
When I reported in December 2007 that Prabhakaran had received very minor injuries in aerial bombardment there was a massive campaign by tiger supporters against me. The essence of this campaign was that no harm could ever befall their beloved leader.
So when KP himself announced that the supreme leader was no more the Diaspora was dumbstruck. Nurtured for years on a diet of make believe and pretence the shocked Diaspora supporters simply refused to believe that their immortal leader was an ordinary mortal.
At this juncture the anti-KP elements struck back. They refuted KP’s announcement and commenced an underhand campaign to vilify Pathmanathan as a traitor spreading falsehoods.
This suited Diaspora elements wanting to disbelieve the unpleasant truth and believe in the pleasant lie. A responsive chord was struck and an anti-KP tide was on the rise.
Despite his new appointment as global tiger chief KP was on a weak wicket as he was yet to consolidate his grip on the Diaspora tiger structures.
Pathamanathan at one time had been in charge of three major LTTE functions .
Firstly he was chief arms procurer or head of the overseas purchasing dept an euphemism for arms purchasing.This was called KP department then.
Secondly he was in control of all fund raising activity for LTTE overseas.
Thirdly he was responsible for supervising the administration of LTTE overseas branches and front organizations.
He was then very powerful and the most influential tiger abroad
After the ceasefire of 2002 there was a re-structuring within LTTE.
There were allegations of financial irregularity and sexual impropriety against KP.
The man who poisoned Prabhakaran’s mind against KP was reportedly former tiger political commissar Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan and intelligence chief Pottu Amman.
Another problem was that KP had become too well-known to the international intelligence agencies and was also wanted by Interpol. This restricted his mobility. Besides he was also not in good health.
So KP was relieved of duties and sent to pasture. KP himself married a Thai national and embraced domestication.
Different people were entrusted with KP’s earlier responsibilities. But KP still gave advice and guidance to those doing arms purchase.
Manivannan alias Castro was placed in charge of overseas administration He removed all office â€“ bearers appointed by KP and put his own people in.
Meanwhile KP proved to Prabhakaran that the charges against him were baseless. Prabhakaran’s faith in KP was restored. But KP declined the offer to re-assume his earlier position.
KP was thus unofficially retired.
But a hard-pressed Prabhakaran turned to KP at a time of need. KP was given the post head of International relations again an euphemism for International chief of LTTE.
But there was a cold war right from the start. Castro resisted the change and his loyalists did not co-operate fully with KP.
Since the military situation was precarious on ground the main focus of Prabhakaran and hierarchy was on countering the military juggernaut. So the KP-Castro cold war continued abroad.
Now Castro is no more but those appointed by him are still defying KP.The greater part of the overseas structure remains opposed to KP.
After Prabhakaran’s death the situation has worsened because KP derived his authority from the supremo. Now in a post-Prabhakaran situation he is virtually powerless.
Earlier when the war escalated, regular contact between the Wanni tigers and the Diaspora structure began declining. So Castro appointed one person to be in overall charge of all LTTE offices and front organizations abroad.
This person known by the nom de guerre “Nediyavan” (tall man) operates from Scandinavia , shuttling among countries like Sweden,Norway and Denmark. Those in charge of tiger offices in different countries were controlled by Nediyavan on behalf of Castro.
Nediyavan issued internal instructions to all the Tiger fronts and office-bearers that Prabhakaran was yet alive and that KP’s directives were to be disregarded. Thus KP’s call to mourn Prabha and others went unheeded.
Almost immediately after KP went public on Prabhakaran’s death there was also a public denial. This was by Kathirgamathamby Arivazhakhan the head of the LTTE Intelligence division’s external wing.
Arivazhakhan issued a statement on May 22nd evening from an undisclosed location asking people not to believe “engineered rumours”.
“Our beloved leader is alive,” he said and added that the LTTE leadership will make contact with its people at a suitable time in future.
“These rumours have been set afloat to confuse the global Tamil community which has been voicing support for the liberation of Tamil Eelam,” Arivazhakhan further said.
This development brought about a “convergence” of sorts between Castro loyalists and Pottu Amman’s operatives abroad. Despite their differences both groups joined together to oppose and undermine KP.
Consequent to the “intelligence” group getting into the act a “special” news item was published in the LTTE Tamil media abroad. This was purportedly a statement issued by someone called “Vetrikkumaran”.
This Vetrikumaran was described as the commander of the “Yaarl Sellum Padaiyani” or the forces going to Jaffna. This statement too said the leadership was safe and sound and that the next military phase of the LTTE would begin shortly.
The dazed Diaspora in a state of denial latched on to these assertions. Facing the Diaspora was the stark reality of a virtually demolished LTTE. Along with such demolition, the Eelam dream was also destroyed.
Now hope was being offered that it was not so. The leader was not dead and the tigers were not vanquished. The armed struggle would continue it was being said. So tiger supporters bereft of hope opted to hitch their wagon to this fantasy star.
Also began a systematic campaign of denigration against KP. The aim was to erode his credibility and undermine his authority. KP’s weak point as stated earlier was his hasty announcement that Prabhakaran was alive.
Now that was being used against him. KP was portrayed as a traitor contradicting his own assertion at the behest of sinister agencies.
Even during earlier times when KP was all-powerful his identity and authority was not known to most ordinary members of the Tamil Diaspora. Only the active LTTE and pro-tiger elements knew all about KP.
As mentioned earlier when KP was re-appointed the prevailing official LTTE structure was hostile to him. This hostility and resistance to his authority found a fresh impetus after VPâ€™s death.
KP’s pragmatic approach and announcement of giving up the arms struggle made many hard-liners resentful. The hard-liners living in illusion found KP’s comparatively rational approach of ending the armed struggle unacceptable.
Generally key figures in various LTTE structures in overseas offices are ganged up against KP.
There are some stalwarts supporting KP. Intra-LTTE divisions are emerging.
Generally hard-liners are opposed to KP. The pragmatic ones are supporting him.
There are also the lucrative fund-raising mechanisms. A whole lot of people are running the LTTE financed enterprises. Those not wanting to let go fear KP may replace them and are thus revolting against him.
The weapon utilized by these anti-KP elements is the Prabhakaran issue.
Some realize Prabhakaran is dead but opine that the truth should not be revealed because all fund raising would effectively end if the fact is known.
Other fanatical hawks argue that the struggle for Eelam can continue only if people believe Prabhakaran is alive.
A vicious campaign malingering KP as a traitor and being in the pay of Colombo (SIS), New Delhi (RAW) and Washington (CIA) is on.
They accuse KP of deliberate lies in saying that Prabhakaran is no more whereas “Thalaiver” is safe and sound in a hidden location.
He is accused through this multi-faceted campaign of even having betrayed Prabhakaran to the armed forces. On the one hand they deny Prabha is dead and on the other accuse KP of causing his death.
Politicians in Tamil Nadu like Vaiko and Nedumaran are also saying that Prabhakaran is alive and that KP is a traitor spreading lies and rumours. They charge Pathmanathan as being in the pay of intelligence outfits.
Thus the Tamil Diaspora is generally confused and a lot of Tamils are parroting the negative charges against KP.
However the anti-KP sections are damaging him immensely.
Pathmanathan’s views are blacked out in most tiger media organs. His call to mourn Prabhakaran is spurned.
KP loyalists and supporters are afraid to voice their support openly due to the threat of violence. The LTTE that uses violence to terrorize opponents is now caught up in the culture spawned by it.
A loose coalition opposing KP argues foolishly that Prabhakaran is alive. These forces are not organized as a cohesive body.
Also there is no single person capable of challenging or replacing KP at present.
In the forefront of those opposing KP are Jeyachandran alias Jeya annai the editor of “Tamilnet” website and KP Regi the executive-director of Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO).
Jeyachandran is in Norway and Regi in Britain.
The trio comprising Nediyavan, KP Regi and Jeyachandran are leading the anti-KP campaign.
Lurking in the background was the shadowy Arivazhaghan and the intelligence operatives.
In an unexpected turn of events the intelligence outfit changed its stance on June 18th exactly a month after Prabhakaran’s death.
The statement issued on behalf of Arivazhaghan confirmed that Prabhakaran was indeed dead and had attained martyrdom.
It was said that information about battlefront events from May 15th-19th was hazy and that was the cause of the earlier announcement stating Prabhakaran was not dead.
Subsequently the LTTE intelligence division had verified Prabhakaran’s death. The leader had fought and died on the battlefield.He had neither surrendered nor been captured.
The statement also cleared Pathmanathan indirectly by referring to his two contradictory statements.
The intelligence wing statement apologized to the Tamil people for misleading them earlier about Prabhakaran being alive.
The shift by Arivazhaghan is a tremendous boost to KP. The Nediyavan-Jeya Annai-KP Regi trio is weakened.
With the intelligence division’s external wing confirming Prabhakaranâ€™s death it may be possible for KP to persuade other tiger activists to accept reality.
KP has been quietly fighting back by enlisting the support of comparatively saner elements among the pro-tiger Diaspora. He hopes to consolidate himself gradually.
The quixotic move to form a “transnational Tamil Eelam” administration by the LTTE abroad is also seen as a desperate attempt by KP to establish his authority over the Tamil Diaspora.
If the intelligence wing supports him KP can strengthen himself further.
If KP is indeed asserting his authority the Diaspora would commence paying public tribute to Prabhakaran and others. Commemoration of the fallen tigers could be the barometer of KPâ€™s strength.
It remains to be seen as to whether KP will eventually consolidate his grip over the well-oiled, lucrative overseas LTTE structure.
Contrary to news reports about a “rump” the tiger structure abroad is a powerful organization.
If KP fails to establish control and the revolt continues the fragmentation of the tiger Diaspora is inevitable.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
June 18th 2009