Velupillai Prabhakaran | වේලුපිල්ලේ පිරබාහරන් | வேலுப்பிள்ளை பிரபாகரன் (1954-2009)

He was a terrorist, no doubt, but Prabhakaran deserves an obituary, even in a language he barely understood.

When Lanka Guardian, edited by Mervyn de Silva then, chose Prabhakaran as the ‘Man of the Decade’ in 1989, there was no dispute. He wasn’t a martyr – Osama Bin Laden too wasn’t when he was considered for TIME’s Man of the Year in 2001 – but Prabhakaran was one individual who changed the destiny of a country. Not that it would have been a Singapore, but at least it could have been a country better known for its tea, than for terrorism.


Sinhalese typically saw him as their arch enemy. (Many are eagerly waiting for the good news to start grand celebrations. It can happen any time now.) Feelings of Tamils were mixed. While some showed a passive solidarity, thousands spend hours on net eulogizing their Surya Thevan – The Sun God. “Terrorist to one” they said “…a freedom fighter to another” Only a handful of educated Tamils saw him in his true terrorist outfit. To the rest he was the typical smiling, child-kissing politician. At least few Tamil boys and girls were ready to exchange their lives for a last supper with him.

There was nothing ‘elusive’ about Prabhakaran, as political pundits liked to remind us. Had he shaved his thick moustache, spoken Sinhalese quoting religious texts and worn national dress probably with a shawl, Prabhakaran could have passed for a typical Sothern politician, with his big belly and smile. Lack of education (He was a tenth standard dropout, just like Wimal Weerawansa) might not have been treated a serious flaw. He could have easily been a minister in President Rajapakse’s jumbo cabinet. In fact, his once second in command made it.


Little is known about Prabakaran’s early history. This is what Wikipedia says.

Velupillai Prabhakaran was born on November 26, 1954 in the northern coastal town of Velvettithurai. A Hindu by birth, he joined the student group TIP, during the standardization debates. In 1972, Prabhakaran founded an organization named Tamil New Tigers (TNT) which was a successor to many initial organizations that protested against the post colonial political direction of the country that pitted the minority Sri Lankan Tamils against the majority Sinhalese.

In 1975, after becoming heavily involved in the Tamil movement, he carried out his first political murder against the mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah, by shooting him at point blank range while he was about to enter the Hindu temple at Ponnaalai. The assassination was in response to the 1974 Tamil conference incident, and the Tamil radicals had blamed Alfred Duraiappah, because he backed the then Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) implicated in the violence as well as for allegedly betraying the Tamil nationalist sentiments in the Jaffna peninsula.

In May 5, 1976, the TNT was renamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers.

Some of these facts are disputed. Contrary to the popular belief, there is a school that believes Alfred Duraiappah was killed by a rival  gang. With nobody to certify, these minor details will now be forever lost.

Prabhakaran’s political origins were closely linked with the splitting up of nation on cultural and linguistic lines in mid 1970s, what was later termed as an ‘ethnic issue’. A radical youth in his early 20s, he was in the ideal position to exploit the increasing gap between Tamil politics and the mainstream. He was more the ‘first among equals’. Uma Maheshvaran, Sabaratnam and even Kuttamani – assassinated by Sinhalese prisoners in the immediate aftermath of 1983 Black July were either his seniors or equals. Instead of condemning, the senior Tamil politicians like Amirthalingam encouraged the growing unrest among youth, certainly to be exploited for their own political objectives. Little did they realize they nurtured a treacherous scorpion, who would one day bite the same hands that fed him. Then it was too late.

Prabhakaran was never guided by any strong political ideology. All he had was shamelessly hijacked SJV Chelvanayakam’s political agenda. His political immaturity never let him change the boundaries of the original map of the mythical Tamil Eelam. It was based on the first colonial segregation of administrative districts (only five then) and included not just present North and East but parts of Puttalum and Polonnaruva districts, where no Tamil inhabitations exist now. Wthere he was too dumb to imagine the majority presenting such a vast geographical area in a plate of silver or that was only a cover for receiving the continuous support of Diaspora Tamils, the younger generations of whom had little idea of the issue is not clear. Now he is dead and gone, we will never know.

Further, Prabhakaran’s mythical state of Tamil Eelam, was a only cut down version of the feudal state Rajapakse is planning to create in South. It was meant to be a monarch, with a royal family and all, not even a twentieth century autocracy. There wouldn’t have been even a trace of modernity. Just like Rajapakse wants to take us few centuries back to the days of King Rajasinghe, Prabhakaran wanted the resurrection of the dynasty of Nallur kings. He certainly wouldn’t have tolerated elections, a parliament or an opposition. Had it ever materialized, it would have been an isolated kingdom, with no Diaspora Tamil ever wanted to return or invest in. In fact, Diaspora Tamils have never tolerated Prabhakaran as their ‘king’ for too long. He was only their instrument against the real or imagined oppression by Sinhalese majority.


What made Prabhakaran’s larger than life image was his ability to survive for thirty long years against both the Sri Lanka forces and IPKF. Rest of the rebels, including Minister Douglas Devananda laid down their arms and joined mainstream, but not him. In retrospective, Prabhakaran’s survival should not be a surprise. The Government of Sri Lanka never. had a consistent strategy to match his. Successive governments attempted to find an everlasting solution to the ethnic issue, through democratic means rather than focusing their strengths on eliminating Prabhakaran or LTTE, till somebody made it his life mission. Past presidents, three of them from UNP, knew when ethnic issue was solved Prabhakaran would cease to exist. However, none of them, till Ranil Wickremasinghe bravely did, sacrificing his political future at least temporarily, offered a viable solution to the ethnic issue. There was hardly any attempt to win the moderate Tamils. So the opportunity was forever lost with Prabhakaran receiving a walkover. The only Sri Lankan leader who ever politically weakened Prabhakaran was Ranil Wickremasinghe. It is not a surprise he fondled such a grudge against Wickremasinghe.

A myth fondly propagated by the present government is that Mahinda Rajapakse alone defeated LTTE. He didn’t. Jaffna peninsula, the historical stronghold of Tamil rebels was overtaken by security forces in 1996, during Chandrika kumaratunge regime. Killinochchi was only their temporary shelter. LTTE was further weakened during the Ceasefire period as the return to normal life after a long last war made many leave the movement. The restart of economic activities were the main reason for the fast disintegration of the LTTE at the time of the fall of Ranil Wickremasinghe’s government. The security forces, under Mahinda Rajapakse regime hit this already weakened set up. So it is unfair for the current government to disregard the indispensable contributions of the former President Chandrika Kumaratunge and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, in making a job lot easier for them. In the dog-eating-dog world of Sri Lanka politics however, it is too much to expect such a gratitude.

Even a bigger myth is that the ethnic issue will vanish with Prabhakaran. Well, he didn’t create it, so why assume his demise would bring end to the hatred between the two communities? Contrary to what President Rajapakse wants us to believe (in vain), the mistrust between the Sinhalese and Tamils will continue. Tamils will never recognize Rajapakse as their leader. So even though the armed struggle is over temporarily the Herculean task of uniting the nation remains to be a task to be completed by a more capable and wiser leader then the present President.


Back to Prabhakaran. Did he achieve anything worthwhile for his community? The answer is a big NO. Ethnic (Jaffna) Tamils are worse off than they were in 1970s. More than half of the Tamil population has already left for good. Thousands of Tamil families had to live with eternal grief of losing one or more family members. Ethnic Tamils, the largest minority in Sri Lanka then, has now reduced to the pathetic third place after Muslims and Indian Tamils. Jaffna, the second most advanced city in Sri Lanka, with its famous education system, is now far behind. As a community Tamils, at least the unfortunate ones to still remain, have moved ten or twenty years backward. They were termed as terrorists across the world. North and East have become more and more economically dependent on Colombo. At least for the next few years, till a UNP government implements a political solution, they will be remotely controlled from Colombo. All thanks to Prabhakaran.


Prabhakaran’s life was a book of mistakes – a manual of how not to do things – but even among them there are three big blunders. First was the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Whatever the reasons, with this emotional act, he lost the only possible international ally. (Had India been neutral it would not have been so easy to eliminate LTTE) The second was his decision to kill civilians – irrespective of their ethnicity. Even ethnic (Jaffna) Tamils were not spared in these random killings. The southern equivalent of LTTE, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) never killed civilians and had a section of masses supporting them till the end. Majority of the Sinhalese were not racists and till mass civilian killings began in Colombo and Anuradhapura some were even politically sympathetic to their cause. Killing of innocents changed that forever. The third and the biggest mistake was Prabhakaran’s decision to indirectly support Mahinda Rajapakse in the 2005 Presidential election. If not for the LTTE’s boycott Ranil Wickremasinghe could have been the President and could have brought a more humane and ever lasting solution to the ethnic issue. Now that opportunity is lost forever. A political solution is only a dream under the present regime.

Prabhakaran is no more a hero than Hitler or Pol Pot, but he is a legend that will live on. I am sure for centuries to come mothers use his name to scare little children. I am personally happy to see the ‘king maker’ gone. In future people of this country will elect their leaders, not Prabhakaran.

(Edited photographs are from


16 thoughts on “Velupillai Prabhakaran | වේලුපිල්ලේ පිරබාහරන් | வேலுப்பிள்ளை பிரபாகரன் (1954-2009)

  1. What a change of heart? Ranil has asked UNPers to hoist the national flag! Have you done that also? Rail, SB, Gayantha all have gone on record praising the government (not only the army this time) for winning the war. We know that you are againstthe war. But can we assume that yon are also with Ranil, Gayantha and SB?

  2. Mr. Ajith,

    This is an independent analysis of the life and times of Prabhakaran. Well written. Congratulations.

  3. no tears for dead veluppillai prabhakaran..he was the master mind of terrorism..he encouraged terror in whole,sreelanka is fee from disasters..prabhakaran got what he deserves..throw his dead body in forest..nobody wants his dead body

  4. An analysis with biased and unbiased comments.All deserve to live in peace in the country.
    Its for the best that the Brutal Terrorist leader is killed.

  5. Good article. People in tamilnadu who are protesting today for prabhakarans death, please read this article. Tamil is a just language, nothing greater or lesser than any other language. Just keep it simple. This guy is a criminal who is responsible for deaths of thousands. There are so many people dying in burma, bangladesh, nepal.. ask these tamil politicians to fight for them too.. Guys it is an internal issue of Srilanka, why the heck you should involve (as if our country has no other problems).

  6. mr ajith,

    u re saying the truth which doesnt hav the power at the moment, one day it will reveal , we are silently waiting for that day,

  7. An extremely Good Analysis of the Mess Prabhakaran Created – more for innocent Tamil people in my humble opinion. My congratulations

    I disagree to an extent of Ranil winning if Prabha did otherwise – I think, as a candidate from one of the 2 main parties, Ranil should have known about ALL possibilities – please remember that the last presidential elections were held under trying economic conditions with then President Chandrika, many government ministers, prominent Buddhist monks, many parties, the two pre-election polls (conducted largely in Colombo) supporting Ranil and the then Government neutral. If Ranil did not know what was to happen in the north and east (same as he did not know that Chandrika was dissolving his government) and didn’t do anything about that, that’s Ranils own BIG MISTAKE – I wont blame Prbha for that.

  8. Mr Ajit,
    How do you justify killing and discrimination of tamils since 1948?Land grabbing, murder, rape,robbery and much more by sinhalese? After many years of violence by sinhalese governments and sinhalese people, Prabaharan decided to defend. He wanted to free tamils from the chauvinist budhist government.

    The Tamils grievances is over 60 years old, while the arm struggle has been going on only for the last 30 years. Soon after the Sri-Lankan independence, the Sri-Lankan government was quick to implement anti-Tamil policies, making the Tamils feel aliens in their own native land, and depriving them of basic rights. Tamils were protesting against the discrimination in a Ghandian way (that is what people do in democratic countries), but the Sri-Lankan government chose violence as a weapon to suppress the Tamils legitimate aspiration, and force them into submission.Unitary Srilanka was an error and the cause of all the destruction
    Unitary Ceylon was an error: British Politician. A Conservative Party politician in the United Kingdom, Dr. RachelJoyce, apologised Sunday for the error of Colonial Britain in making a unitary Ceylon out of two nations, the Tamils and the Sinhalese. The amil people have lived on the island currently called Sri Lanka formillennia – in their own contiguous, distinct, geographical territory.

    They lay claim only to the territory they have historically lived in.In fact, the 3 million Tamils of the island constituted a selfgoverning nation until invaded and occupied by Colonial powers in particular Britain, who amalgamated them with the Sinhala nation purely for convenience. In retrospect, this cultural naivety was a mistake that has caused problems since independence”.

  9. Hello Ajit,

    Yes, you have the information to support your arguments. The leader of Tamils is dead now; the country is celebrating the victory. You as an author failed to get opinion from Tamil who have been tortured, jailed and wounded. One day the Sri Lankan political leaders will regret for what they are doing for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Being as a Tamil is very painful because I need to read all kind of critics about the civil war and Tamils has rights in that small Island.

    I have 3 siblings live in 3 different country and we don’t get to see each other. We are mentally suffering and fighting for the better future for our generation. My generation will not be Tamil anymore, because they are integrated with the culture where I live now. This applies to many others.

    There are hundreds of Tamil living in the detention camps in North part of the country. There 50 more thousand soldiers will join with Military for their missions. However I didn’t have the guts to fight for any rights back home. People were been called terrorist if they did fight for their rights.

    There will be time when a smart Singhalese become a powerful leader for Singhalese to build the country.

  10. I dont think theese sinhalise piple can giv answer. In aljazira news covorage, once theese military bastards mentioned that the 2 year child who found dead with his mother after the military attack on public was a ‘ terrosist’. go to hell.

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