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


Change UNP; Change the Nation


This is not the type of the post I thought I would make. Politicians don’t SWOT analysis their parties on the net. Barack Obama discusses everything under the sun, but not the Democratic Party issues.

Ajith P. Perera too is very much a part of United National Party. So everyone expects Ajith P. Perera to debug the system before opening his mind in public.

On the other hand, what the heck? This is the age of openness. UNP itself stands on the very pillars of democracy and pluralism. It encourages, not suppresses dissent views. Thus I guess a dosage of straight talk does no harm. Not even at a point Ajith P. Perera is standing for public office. (I am waiting for my number to make the big announcement!)

Added to that some readers, most long term supporters of UNP, have raised genuine concerns about the future of UNP. I have an obligation to answer them.


Is there anything wrong with UNP?

UNP has not shown a creditable performance in a series of recent elections. This will positively change in the forthcoming Western Provincial Council elections, but I will come to that later. For the moment let us only focus on past performance.

It is easy to provide excuses. SLFP shamelessly abuse public resources in its election campaigns; state media offers virtually no space for opposition while private media is threatened to follow suit; some self-concerned UNPers have already crossed the floor to badmouth their former colleagues. The list is endless.

In spite of all that, we cannot solely blame external factors for our poor performance. The genuine UNP supporters like to see the dawn of another JRJ or Premadasa era. When they see we don’t deliver, they feel annoyed. I do not blame them. We are not perfect. We need to find what’s wrong and address.


Where we have gone wrong?

The opinions vary.

A large section seems to think that UNP should blindly support Kurakkan uncle’s war agenda to earn its popularity. I vehemently disagree.

Firstly, why UNP, the only political party with a clear stance on the ethnic issue follow others’ formulae? UNP fervently opposes terrorism of any kind, but simultaneously believes the long term solution to ethnic issue can only be political. ‘Military solution’ is an oxymoron. War victories by the current regime will only be meaningful if supplemented with corrective measures to age old Tamil grievances. Otherwise, terrorism will soon raise its ugly head behind another acronym. Elimination of JVP in 1971 in a genocidal manner did not prevent Sinhala youth taking arms two decades later. Why should that change for Tamil youth? As long as breeding grounds exist, procreate the mosquitoes.

Secondly, the extended intentions of war agenda are dangerous and damaging to the nation in the long run. The war is not just to eliminate LTTE (if so, UNP finds no problem backing it) but also a long list that includes human rights of the Tamils in North and East; Tamil political parties first and the entire opposition later; any dissent voices including those of journalists and eventually the very foundation of democracy. All what Kurakkan uncle wants it to create Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe type dictatorship and continue the legacy of feudal rulers.

Sorry, No. Whatever the name, UNP has no intention of blindly supporting such a feudal dictatorship. We stand for democracy and not feudalism.


The policies of United National Party are crystal clear. They remain largely unchanged from the D. S. Senanayake days and will not change in the foreseeable future. Let me repeat in a nutshell and as I understand.

1. Unity and Equality: United National Party, as its name rightly suggests, is the party of united nationalistic political forces. UNP believes in equality. We do not think one’s ethnicity, race, gender, religion or any other attribute should stand in the way him/her enjoying citizens’ rights and privileges. We believe the country belongs to all Sri Lankans, and not to one ethnic or religious group.

2. Devolution of Power: UNP believes in an undivided (Eksath) Lanka; but not necessarily a system that concentrates power in Colombo. We have seen the flaws of such Colombo-centric governance and introduced Provincial Councils as a solution, which SLFP and JVP initially rejected, but now faithfully follow. We believe in devolving power, not only to Tamils in North but to Sinhalese in Hambanthota as well, instead of accumulating it in the hands of dictators. We believe empowering people not only at regional level but every stratum.

3. Economy: We believe in free markets; liberalization and globalization. We do not espouse unrealistic socialist dreams. We trust the private sector for its abilities. We do not equate suppressing the private sector to nation building. Economy has always thrived under previous UNP governments and there is no doubt it will continue to do so under a future UNP government.

4. Poverty Alleviation: Nobody understands the necessity of poverty alleviation than the UNP. We do not think poverty can be eliminated by redistributing public wealth. UNP had once spearheaded the most effective poverty alleviation program in Sri Lanka, under President Premadasa. What we look for is that. Beat poverty by creating more and more employment opportunities. Let poor stand on their own feet.

5. Employment Generation: UNP strongly believes more and more employment opportunities are the only way towards prosperity. It plans to achieve full employment by developing the private sector and not fattening the already overloaded government structure. To stimulate private sector growth UNP will also give utmost importance to infrastructure building. These may not be the highest priorities in populist agendas but we think in long term and not just the next six years.

I guess all UNP lovers should be proud that in spite of the immense pressure that we still stick to our original principles. We have no intention of changing these policies to enter the populist game.


If not policies, what can be the problem?

As I understand UNP faces serious organizational issues. That happens not just in political parties, but they are more vulnerable. SLFP underwent a similar period when in opposition. It won only 8 seats in 1977 election under the leadership of Sirima Bandaranaike. It could not come out of that misery for 17 long years. However, under the new popular leadership of Chandrika Bandaranaike, it did not take long for SLFP to regain the lost steam.

The poor performance at the recent Provincial Council elections was nothing but a symptom of poor organization. While working in the Eastern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces I have witnessed this firsthand. I visited many areas untouched till then. Given time limitations, even I could not visit so many areas. We surely need more man power. Strong and committed organisaers at ground level was the need of the hour of UNP at the Provincial Council elections. We could have obviously done much better with a stronger organization.


So, what is the solution?

Fortunately we see the remedial measures are already on the way and an improvement of the situation. Western Provincial Council will be the Waterloo for SLFP. UNP is geared to easily win all three districts. We have a solid unbeatable organization in most areas. The challenge is only to repeat that victory at the next Provincial council elections, to be followed by the General Election.

What UNP seriously need are true leaders who can make that victory happen. Fortunately we see many dynamic leaders emerging from the Western Province. This phenomenon needs to be replicated in the other parts of the country. That needs Change; stating from the Change in the way we act.

Barack Obama could make that Change within a period of one year. What made the ‘One woman race’ to end with a first American-African in White House was his sheer determination and organization. I see the same happening in the UNP now.

We are ready to Change the nation. Before that we need to Change UNP.

Let us start with the Western Province.

Sri Lanka’s Economic Independence: A Distant Dream?

Political independence in 1948 economically meant little to Ceylon. It was more a declined economic opportunity – to be a part of a trade empire on which the sun never set could have been far advantageous. Still independence was no excuse for failure. Not every post WWII-independent Asian nation took the wrong turn. Then most were behind us. Now they have surpassed us not just in GDP terms, but even in human development – what we used to boast about. Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, who once dreamt emulating the Ceylonese economic model, describe why and how we failed, in style.


The true independence, if anyone cares to celebrate, gained not in 1948, but in 1170 AD – give or take few decades. That was when Parakramabahu the great –the greatest to ever rule us – not only liberated the isle from the mighty Chola Empire but converted it to an economic powerhouse. Contrary to popular belief, agrarian self-sufficiency was not Parakramabahu’s goal. His futuristic strategy was to be the trade hub of South Asia. Indian, Roman, Arab, Javanese and Chinese traders were frequent visitors to Serendib. The twelfth century ‘granary’ of Asia, probably was the equivalent of modern Singapore.

The dark ages that followed the fall of Polonnaruwa kingdom saw less political stability, more power centers, more civil wars and less trade. Arya Chakravarties of Nallur, arguably the most powerful in the interim period were said to have a large naval force, but still no records that business was their forte. Meanwhile in the South it was more a battle among each other.

Like it or not, it was the Portuguese followed by Dutch, who brought the lost glory. Spices suddenly became hot products; cutting a cinnamon plant was punished by death. British, after capturing Kandyan kingdom in 1815, introduced coffee, tea and rubber – the new economic crops. This gave birth to two classes of entrepreneurs – first British but towards the end of nineteenth century, domestic. The transition from feudal to modern economy materialized many dreams – highways and railways, commercial sea ports, administrative system, fixed income jobs, developed corporate sector, postal service, communication system followed by even quality education and proper healthcare. By the middle of the last century Ceylon successfully eradicated a predicament as serious as foreign invasions to ancient rulers: Malaria

Thus strictly speaking, it was not the Europeans who robbed our independence. Rather it was them who brought it back directing us to a new age. Otherwise Seylan could have easily ended up another Burma, Cambodia or Nepal.

Post independence economic reveries were short lived. The Colombo Plan, which aimed to ‘uplift’ neighbours to our own level, is long forgotten. First Central Bank chief John Exter’s objections to subsidies in the middle of rubber-crisis were met with a Hartal to be followed up with the first populist government in 1956. The rest is history.

To cut short, Singapore had Dr Goh Keng Swee and we had Dr. Nanayakkarage Martin Perera. Both were products of London School of Economics – students of legendary Harold Laski and no doubt, brilliant economists. Strangely they acted in ways diametrically opposite. Their footprints were long seen in the respective economies. By mid 1970s Singapore had a first-rate airline and one of the busiest airports. We had kerosene smelling t-shirts, transparent sarongs (aptly named ‘Ganta mark’) and maniocs – to be eaten twice weekly.


J.R. Jayawardena, sadly the typical scapegoat for every woe, was the one who took us out of that mess. 1978 economic reforms were the beginning of a new era. It made possible almost every economic benefit we enjoy today; banking facilities, garment industry, tourism and information and communication technologies. Post-1978 Economic liberalisation brought more employment opportunities than ever imagined. The impact was so strong that even the SLFP, a political party that traditionally vowed closed statist economic policies, had to embrace open economy in 1994. JVP- the extreme statists hitherto, settled for a hybrid.

Unfortunately, J.R. Jayawardena could not complete the revolution he began – in the backdrop of ethnic tensions and the second JVP insurrection. Reforms in education, power, railway and even agriculture sectors hardly happened. (Interestingly, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, a former finance minister later called four of such sectors as ‘paraassayaas’ or demons, that suck the blood from the national economy) Decision making power, in spite of the 13th amendment, has sacredly maintained at the centre. Enthusiasm in infrastructure building was lost on the way. A sizable fraction of state income has continuously been spent in education and healthcare subsidies. Government grew till it provided job opportunities for every one in sixteen of the population – again, a large section is political henchman. Money printing, at the cost of thumping inflation rates became the norm of the day.

The only break in this vicious system was the two brief years from 2002-3. At least the first year saw a systematic approach in building the economy. We saw Sri Lanka starts shining after a long period of suppression. Then the masses rejected the system – it did not meet their short term goals; government jobs and fertiliser subsidies.

This brings us to the days of ‘national economy’ – whatever it means. Patriotism has many facets. We are back to 1970-77 times, sans queues and barriers. Government takes pride in the number of jobs newly created within, and has absolutely no shame in imposing high taxes (tax on petrol is 189%) and printing money to support war efforts. We believe in isolated economic models that can be ‘plugged out’ from international trade. Protectionism is more a religion. Be Lankan; buy Lankan is the theme of the day. Just like in any sub Saharan African state the opportunities for new ventures are traded under the table. Private sector is looked with suspicion. Bribery remains the best strategy, and centralised now, the process perhaps is less cumbersome. (Just bribe one big man, not five on the way!) The masses are insensitive, as long as they receive their fair share. Money is not the only commodity that makes a mass exodus; brains too do so.

We still cheer for independence and a government that failed to carry out a single economic reform since the day it took office in November 2005.

Is our economic independence a distant dream? You tell me.