What if LTTE’s Prabhakaran were alive…

By N. Sathiya Moorthy 

Plain and simple, if Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is alive, as claimed, he has to be brought to book before the Indian courts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, which too needs to be reopened.

This is independent of whatever decision the Sri Lankan government takes on prosecuting him for the brutal killing of then President Ranasinghe Premadasa and a host of others.

Equally important, Indian agencies too may have to become more alert than already about the revival of the LTTE, given the nebulous political situation in Sri Lanka, including the Tamil North.

In India, this time round, their reach, outreach and possible links may go beyond southern Tamil Nadu, to places as far away as New Delhi and Kolkata (to and from Nepal), Mumbai, and other southern states, especially Kerala and Karnataka with their extended coastlines.

All of it requires a more balanced approach to handling the fall-out, real, and imaginary, from the Thanjavur ‘revelations’.

The Centre has to balance national and political imperatives of the ruling party – where the track record of the past eight years does not really augur well.

In turn, for the government of Tamil Nadu, where the LTTE is an off-again-on-again live issue, senior minister and ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) deputy general secretary, S. Duraiimurugan, lost no time in clarifying that ‘It is not a local matter (for us to comment upon). Instead, it is for the prime minister and Union home minister (to take cognisance of).’

In the temple town of Thanjavur on Monday (13), octogenarian pan-Tamil leader Pazha Nedumaran (now 89) and the equally or even more controversial Sri Lankan Tamil poet politician Kasi Anandan claimed that Prabhakaran was alive and well — but did not disclose the source of their information, and naturally the whereabouts of one of the most wanted ‘fugitives’ in contemporary history, especially of Sri Lanka and India.

According to them, Prabhakaran’s intelligence chief ‘Pottu’ Amman, A-2 in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, where the boss was A-1, and who too was believed to have been killed in the final battle in Sri Lanka’s ethnic wars, in May 2009, was alive and well, ‘somewhere in Africa’.

At least this version has been doing the rounds from time to time, since the war’s end in 2009.

As may be recalled, the Sri Lankan armed forces had displayed Prabhakaran’s body with an identifiable bullet-wound on his forehead.

At one point, Pazha Nedumaran himself declared that all claims that Prabhakaran was alive were untrue, and was made possibly with the intention of cashing in on the sympathy wave in Tamil Nadu politics.

Hence, it is all the more reason for him to speak up about his sources, then and now.

Nedumaran should know. Having commenced his political career in a pan-Tamil outfit long before Prabhakaran and LTTE began making news, he established his cadre credentials when his parent-party merged with the Indian National Congress in the early sixties.

However, after the death of the late K. Kamaraj, his mentor and godfather in the Congress, especially after the party had lost power in the state in 1967, he began drifting away, until he chanced to meet Prabhakaran.

The latter was already a fugitive, who had escaped Sri Lankan law for the killing of Tamil police officer Bastian Pillai, provided him food and shelter, and became his political guide, if not mentor.

Times changed, and soon, Nedumaran began referring to Prabhakaran as the ‘supreme leader of the world Tamils’, especially ‘Eezham’ Tamils as the Sri Lankan Tamil society has been calling itself ever since the ethnic issue blew up on its face.

The unmentioned intention of those in Tamil Nadu subscribing to such a view, at least up to one point, was to strip the title that the DMK had conferred on party supremo M. Karunanidhi, without asking anyone, possibly including the latter.

Born Kathamuthu Sivanandan, 85-year-old Kasi Anandan was among the handful of pro-LTTE Sri Lankan Tamil leaders — the rest of them were from the overseas Diaspora — who had met Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi only days before the latter’s assassination on May 21, 1991.

It is unclear if the CBI-SIT that probed the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case quizzed Kasi Anandan, and what information, if any, they culled from him.

It is again anybody’s guess how the Indian authorities have allowed him to stay on in the country, after the ‘needle of suspicion’ had reportedly fallen on him.

In comparison, the government had declared another Sri Lankan Tamil leader, M. K. Sivajilingam, persona non grata after he had appeared in an election rally in Chennai, thus seeking to influence and interfere with domestic politics.

Lately, Kasi Anandan’s Sri Lankan Tamil detractors have been openly dubbing him as ‘Kaavi’ Anandan in social media posts, the phrase meaning ‘saffron’ in Tamil.

The implication is that he has moved closer to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

As if by cue, soon after the news of the duo’s Thanjavur news conference hit the international media, a section of Tamil politicians and political analysts from the Sri Lankan Tamil community, squarely attributed it to Indian intelligence agencies, especially R&AW — but without seeking to establish the why, how and what of it, as has always been their wont.

From an Indian legal and judicial perspective, Prabhakaran is dead and gone.

The multi-disciplinary monitoring agency (MDMA), which was set up to complete the unfinished task of the CBI-SIT, sought and obtained closure in the pending case with respect to Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman (real name: Shanmuganathan Sivashankar) from the ‘designated court’ in Poonamallee, near Chennai, as far back as 2010.

It was based on Sri Lankan reports about a local court ordering closure in the murder of moderate Tamil leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, in which again the duo was among the accused.

The MDMA, set up in 1998, did not or could not produce the death certificate of the two, as the Sri Lankan authorities were not known to have obliged.

However, Sri Lankan reports of the time had claimed not only Prabhakaran’s estranged lieutenant, ‘Col’ Karuna (Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan) but also the leader’s next of kin had identified his body.

The Sri Lankan authorities lost no time in pooh-poohing Nedumaran’s claims that Prabharakan was alive.

Their army spokesman went on record to say that they had enough material to prove that he was not, including A DNA test. He was only reiterating what was known and accepted.

Incidentally, observers of the Sri Lankan scene were anticipating some such news of the Nedumaran kind, though not something as audacious as this one.

Recent reports among Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora groups had claimed that Prabhakaran’s daughter Duwaraka had been sighted recently, and that she was alive and well.

As may be recalled, almost since the end of the war in 2009, such rumours have been doing periodic rounds, especially in the case of Pottu Amman, Duwaraka and Prabhakaran’s wife, Mathivathani, as the Sri Lankan authorities did not display their bodies (and obviously could not locate them either).

However, over the past few years, all such rumours had died almost a natural death, especially inside Sri Lanka, where the moderate Tamil political leadership had enough to fight for and fight over — both with the Sri Lankan State and among themselves, too.

Now, the Indian authorities have a twin task on hand.

One is to reconfirm and re-assert that Prabhakaran is dead, after all.

It may require seeking assistance from Interpol, and also involve the technical re-opening of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, and more so, the investigations, formally or otherwise.

Needless to say, whichever agencies is tasked with it, have to begin by questioning Nedumaran and Kasi Anandan.

It could be the CBI, which had originally handled the case, or an MDMA, or more appropriately the National Investigating Agency (NIA).

However, the question will remain if the NIA would have the jurisdiction after the Supreme Court had ruled that the Rajiv Gandhi assassination was not an ‘act of terror’, and also reasserted the same when the CBI-SIT moved a review petition.

This would raise more fundamental questions about the approach and attitude of the higher judiciary in matters of national security and pertaining to ‘acts of terrorism’, as intended by the Legislature and enforced by the Executive.

In the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the apex court held that that it was only an ordinary crime punishable under the Indian Penal Code and not under the empowered ‘Terrorist and Disruptive Activities’ (TADA) Act.

Later, in the ‘Vaiko case’, pertaining to the pan-Tamil politician from Tamil Nadu, the court said that mere statements, even if in a public rally, in support of a ‘banned organisation’ by itself would not constitute an ‘act of terror’ under the law.

It is another matter that even the IPC has provisions and punishments for ‘provocative statements’ creating communal disturbances and/or a law and order situation — but the court would not admit in the case of ‘terrorism’, especially when the LTTE has repeatedly been banned under the law since 1991.

Incidentally, Vaiko, leader of the MDMK, in a loaded statement, has sort of expressed disbelief at Nedumaran and Kasi Anandan’s claims.

He said he would be happy if Prabhakaran was indeed alive, but was still unable to obtain confirmation from any of the Sri Lankan Tamil sources (who generally are alive to and aware of such information).

Vaiko, as also a host of other pan-Tamil leaders like VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan and T. Velmurugan, founder of the Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi, were all reportedly invited to participate in the Thanjavur news conference, but they chose to stay away.

They are all electoral allies of the ruling DMK.

Indications are that the organizers of the Thanjavur tamasha, if it could be called so, did not sound out any leader of the ruling DMK, though they did appeal to the state government, as also the Centre, to take note of their claims.

In doing so, their five-paragraph news release referred extensively to the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean waters, going as far as to claim that Beijing dare not attempt any such thing when the LTTE was active.

The thinly-veiled message was for the Tamil Nadu government to pressure the Centre, which in turn should pressure the Sri Lankan administration, to give the island’s Tamils their due.

However, the statement did not refer to New Delhi’s position for the ‘full implementation’ of power devolution to the Tamils under the India-facilitated 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, enacted as far back as 1987.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who was in Colombo recently, had impressed upon President Ranil Wickremesinghe, and also Sinhala and Tamil politicos, in the matter.

Incidentally, the Indian position on the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution has remained unchanged through the past decades of government and leadership changes at the Centre, at times with ideological changes, attitudes and approaches, too.

This apart, India, especially beginning with southern Tamil Nadu, has to be doubly cautious about the possibility of the revival of not only the LTTE by its hidden remnants but also other pan-Tamil militant groups in the state, as they have been waiting for a moment like this to trigger the imagination of sympathetic youth and also the already-converted.

For now, daily newspapers, both in Tamil and English, have played down the news conference, but the same cannot be said about the mushrooming YouTube channels, which are giving tough competition to television news channels.

However, for the nation’s mission on the LTTE front to succeed, there should be no blame-game just now as branding the DMK rulers has been a pastime for their detractors, not all of them politicos.

Already, a section of social media is active in the reverse, with some finding fault with state BJP chief K, Annamalai making two quick succession visits to Sri Lanka, in recent months, the second one in the company of his predecessor in office and incumbent Union minister of state for fisheries, L Murugan, a fellow Tamil.

There are also seeming efforts by interested groups to package it all as an effort by the BJP to pressure the ruling party in the state and paint Chief Minister Stalin in all shades of grey, and if it stuck, then in black, too.

Whatever that be, with the Erode East assembly by-election only days away, on February 27, and the Lok Sabha polls expected by May next year, the governments at the Centre and in the state cannot leave things to chance.

It requires a lot of mutual trust and coordination, both at the level of political leadership and the police agencies, at all levels.

The chief minister may have to set up a direct hotline with relevant authorities and ministers at the Centre lest ill-informed persons in his access play upon their imagination and create scenarios that may not be true on the ground or elsewhere, too.

Through his nearly two years in office, Stalin has handled the Sri Lankan ethnic issue with care and caution.

He has left all issues pertaining to Sri Lanka proper to the Union government, which is mandated by the Constitution in matters of foreign relations.

Where Indian fishermen are attacked or Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in the state-run camps are involved, he has either written to Jaishankar or provided additional funds for their upkeep.

The DMK also seems to be alive to the reality that the LTTE issue or even Prabhkaran’s death are not electoral issues in the state, though they do create a lot of dust and noise in the interim.

The theory got proved when Vaiko, then a sort of spokesman for the LTTE in the state, lost his native Sivakasi seat to Congress greenhorn Manickam Tagore, at the height of the war’s conclusion in May 2009.

Today, when a Congress candidate, E. V. K. S. Elangovan, is in the fray in the Erode East assembly by-poll, there are suggestions for using Nedumaran’s statement against his candidature.

For now, actor-politician Seeman, whose Naam Tamizhar Katchi has a candidate in the by-poll, has not bitten the bait offered by Nedumaran & Co.

Considered as much a ‘Prabhakaran loyalist’ as Nedumaran and others, Seeman seems inclined to live down his pro-LTTE image and substitute it with a lager pan-Tamil image that is relevant to domestic politics.

Incidentally, his candidate polled a none-too-small 10,000 votes in the 2021 elections, which the Congress won for the DMK alliance.

At the same time, lately, states ruled by non-BJP parties have seen responsible ministers at the Centre, including Prime Minister Modi at times and Home Minister Amit Shah, making politically-loaded statements, pertaining to terrorism.

Recently, in Karnakata, where assembly polls are due in a few months, Shah made a loaded statement, referring to neighbouring Kerala (a possible reference to ‘Islamic terrorist contacts’).

Such innuendo in the case of Tamil Nadu can only harden popular sentiments even more, and force the hands of the DMK, too, in an election year.

In context, there could be no name-calling of the kind that the BJP’s Annamalai, for instance, indulged in after a gas cylinder was blasted in a car, in communally-sensitive Coimbatore, blaming it all on the ruling party and the state government.

This was after the state government had lost no time in inviting the NIA to take over the investigations, as if to show that it had nothing to hide or anything to cover up.

-N .Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator and this article was originally featured on Rediff.com 



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