The Rajpal Abeynayake Column
By Rajpal Abeynayake

"Shoot Mahathiah, shoot Prabhakaran''
Realpolitik catches up with Velupillai

"The world is constantly changing; so is politics. We rely on the hope that changing circumstances will finally lead to India's recognition of our struggle. India has recognised various liberation movements. At a later stage India may be compelled to recognize us as it did the PLO and SWAPO." - Velupillai Prabhakaran, in an interview with Sudip Mazdumar, Newsweek, 1986.

Perhaps if the Tigers were not so mollycoddled by the international community in the early days of the movement, the LTTE wouldn't have had such outsize expectations.

The PLO came into being when liberation movements were not chic among the Western liberal ideologues. The PLO then gained legitimacy gradually; having a legitimate cause helped considerably.

But, Prabhakaran's route was much headier. When the LTTE came into being, the PLO, SWAPO etc., which Prabhakaran talks about in the '86 interview, had already made liberation movements quite the international darlings, and had also overburdened the collective conscience of the West. So, the Tigers were among the early flower-children of liberation struggles.

That's why the Massachusetts legislature passed something of a resolution expressing solidarity with the struggle of the Tamil people, decades before Prabhakaran became something of a poster boy for suicide bombers worldwide. "Western liberal values are always with the minority,'' grumbled the then National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali in an interview with me, years before the Gandhi assassination. From British liberals to Boston leftists, they were falling over their feet to recognize another PLO in the Tamil Tigers - partly to establish that it is not just the Israelis but others such as Sri Lankans, who are tough on people belonging to races other than their own.

Sri Lankans who tore their hair over what was seen as gross misrepresentations of the Sri Lankan reality in Western capitals, perhaps have to be glad about those early flower-child days of the LTTE, for the LTTE's current bad standing in the eyes of the world.

While Arafat earned his legitimacy, the LTTE, which had it granted internationally on a platter, became murderously cocky. Many suicide bombings later, the LTTE has moved from early legitimacy to virtual international pariah. Around 1998, there were complaints in Geneva for instance that "the World Tamil Movement was a smokescreen for the LTTE, the most murderous guerrillas in the world.'' ("Journal de Geneve et Gazette de Lausanne"). Hilariously, the LTTE had been officially placed in Geneva on a list of organizations termed as "revolutionary terrorists.'' The terminology just about explained the mental confusion the West was undergoing after early support for the Tigers. So, the LTTE was shooed in to the doghouse as "terrorist'', but not before the Swiss Ministry of Confederation had tagged a halfway respectable "revolutionary'' moniker to the terrorist label.

The PLO, meanwhile, thanks in the main to an incontrovertibly legitimate cause, had gained stature that finally could entitle its leader to a Nobel peace prize. That's why it was ironical that on the day Prabhakaran's Wanni press conference was beamed all over the world - the world was still reeling in shock from seeing images of a besieged Arafat in Ramallah, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Yaseer the "legit'' revolutionary was in the doghouse. The "ersatz'' one was being granted a global welcome of sorts, by global media via international satellite.

Such may be the ways of the big bad world, but it doesn't alter the fact that Prabhakaran was partly the West's own creature, whereas writers here have contended that he is "our'' creature or the creation of the incorrigibly insensitive Sri Lankan South. He was the creation of Western pampering, and early mollycoddling by the Western liberal intelligentsia, but that turned out to be good, because the pedestal they placed him on was his eventual undoing. Prabhakaran didn't know the West doesn't like "revolutionary terrorists'' just as long as they are terrorists.

Today he is trying to come back in - a kind of flower-child in nostalgia - but once you spoil your broth with the West and India, it's not easy to get back in the door, no matter how hard you knock. Just incidentally, if Prabhakaran was cocky, the Indians could outdo him in that department. It's just another incident, but I remember reading about it somewhere - and assuredly it was not in Dixit's book Assignment Colombo. One of those Indian Generals who ran the IPKF in Jaffna was interviewed in a newsmagazine, and he was complaining about Dixit. "Our troops withdrew, the Sri Lankan troops charged, and these fellows swallowed cyanide. Now this man blames me. This Dixit. The General let them off. Bhai mene kya bola.'' The interviewer then asks " What was Dixit's approach to your attempts to buy peace with the LTTE?''

Answer: "Once he said, shoot Prabhakaran, shoot Mahathiah. I said, sorry I don't do that. Those were his (Dixit's) orders. When they came to me at 12 o' clock that night for some work, he said shoot them. General, I have told you what I have ordered. Shoot Mahathiah, shoot Prabhakaran. I said I don't take your orders. And we are meeting under a white flag. You don't shoot people under a white flag.''
Shoot Mahathiah, shoot Prabhakaran! These were the orders given by Viceroy Dixit - shoot them under a white flag - and it's not even a scandal in India today! (It's beside the point that the orders were not carried out.)

Prabhakaran came up against this kind of international realpolitik, and for a flower-child, it was like getting yanked by his hair and getting shot at Kent State. One could say he troubled and almost trounced the Indian army - but not true again. The Indian army was about to get him, when the Sri Lankans sent them away. Anyway, all that is history now.

The Indian army is nothing compared to the international opprobrium that the LTTE faces currently - particularly in the form of American and Indian censure. Prabhakaran would wish sorely today that he, like Arafat (who lives to fight another day) had a baptism of fire, instead of being anointed revolutionary godhead by the Massachusetts legislature in those early flower-child days of his in the 80's.

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