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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Anton Balasingham: the Articulate Bandmaster

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Anton Balasingham: the Articulate Bandmaster

15 December 2006
[see also Anton Balasingham - One Hundred Tamils of 20th/21st Centuries]

Anton Balasingham served as the articulate bandmaster of Eelam Tamil nationalism for nearly 28 years (since 1978) with distinction. He has had his highs and he has had his lows. But he stood his ground without shirking his responsibilities. More importantly, he couldn�t be bought by our adversaries in Colombo, New Delhi and by the mandarins  functioning in other capitals of the world. with perks and promises. Sure he was ravaged by disease and physical deformities. But his mental and moral health was faultless for an average human.

Twenty two years ago, when the current Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was a non-entity in international media (though he had anointed himself as the President of the Sri Lanka Committee for Solidarity with Palestine since the early 1970s), Anton Balasingham was quoted in a Wall Street Journal editorial (June 22, 1984) entitled, �Indira�s Tigers�, as follows:

� �Our basic alliance is still with the PLO�, admitted A.S.Balasingham, a Tiger leader. �But we maintain active contact with the other groups like the Zimbabwe African People�s Union�and the African National Congress (the South African guerrilla group)�

This was one of the earliest press notices for Balasingham, as the prime spokesman for Tamil Tigers. In this particular editorial, the Wall Street Journal, the prime mouth piece of American moneybags, was highly critical of the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. It�s chief gripe was that, Indira Gandhi has permitted Tamil militants for military training in Tamil Nadu. Just think about it now. Balasingham�s name in a Wall Street Journal editorial, acknowledged as �a Tiger leader�. This was when, a mention of PLO and African National Congress meant like showing red flag to a raging bull. In 1984, the now-revered leader and visionary Nelson Mandela was still serving his long sentence in prison and he was a terrorist to the moneybags in Washington DC and their servile Sinhalese political crackpots in Colombo.

As such, it is no surprise that during the last two decades, Anton Balasingham has been a target of (1) arrogance of the upper class Tamil snobs with tertiary degrees and academic tails from Western brand name universities; and (2) derision of journalist coolies who embedded themselves with the Sinhalese party mandarins for their wages and perks. Prevailing views on the functional relationship that existed between Balasingham and LTTE leader Pirabhakaran are mostly banal and subjective to the whims of the proponents. The authors of the much hyped Broken Palmyra (1990) book had written in mildly pejorative phrases, this Balasingham-Pirabhakaran bond. It largely reflected their puffy, putrid minds. However, M.R.Narayan Swamy, in his Tigers of Lanka � From Boys to Guerrillas (1996), had presented a balanced, common sense view held by Eelam Tamils on the Balasingham-Pirabhakaran bond.

I should acknowledge that in my book, Pirabhakaran Phenomenon (2005), Balasingham�s contributions to Eelam Tamil nationalism had been relatively muted. This was because, by choice, I wanted to give preference to the thoughts and deeds of (1) ranked LTTEers who were not living, as of 2004 (such as Col.Kittu, Lieut.Col.Victor, Lieut.Col.Kumarappa and Black Tigers who had died in action), and (2) a couple of ranked LTTEers (Mahathaya and Col.Karuna) who turned into traitors to the organization. Nevertheless, Balasingham�s thoughts were not completely obliterated in my book. I had highlighted specifically an interview he gave to John Colmey for Asiaweek magazine in 1990.

Students of Eelam Tamil history have one specific reason to mourn the death of Balasingham. He will be taking with him to the grave some vital secrets about LTTE�s vibrant history, to which only he is privy to. But as one who stood by Pirabhakaran for almost three decades in fair and foul weather, Balasingham is entitled to take some secrets with him to the grave. If the diabolic plans of Lalith Athulathmudali�s (the then Sri Lankan Minister of National Security) gumshoes of planting a bomb in his residence had worked to perfection, Balasingham�s life would have come to a premature end in Madras two decades ago. But, we Eelam Tamils are fortunate that Providence protected Balasingham and his Adele from that tragedy.

To celebrate the life of Anton Stanislaus Balasingham (1938-2006) and for electronic record, I provide below two interviews he gave to Jon Lee Anderson and Amarnath K.Menon in 1987 and 1991 respectively. J.L.Anderson�s interview took place while Balasingham was residing in Madras. When Menon came to interview him in 1991, Balasingham was at Kondavil, Jaffna. Though more than 15-19 years have passed since these appeared in print, they still are worth reading. 

Balasingham�s Interview with Jon Lee Anderson in 1987

[courtesy: War Zones, by Jon Lee Anderson and Scott Anderson, Dodd Mead, New York, 1988, pp.198-201. The dots indicating editing of the interview tape by the authors, and words within parentheses in the text are as in the original. The introductory sentences in italics also are reproduced, as in the original.]

The enigmatic �theoretician� of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) coyly shrugs off suggestions that he is its real powerbroker, but he seems clearly that. Anton Balasingham, 48, is a ruggedly handsome man with deep-brown skin, a resonant actor�s voice, and piercing eyes.

In an upstairs conference room at the Tigers� Madras office, Balasingham, freshly bathed and relaxed in a white dhoti and cotton shirt, elegantly smokes a British brand of cigarettes. A young Tiger disciple at the end of the table listens raptly. On the wood-paneled wall there is an early photograph of Fidel Castro, a pro-Palestinian poster, and, prominently, a framed photograph of a �martyred� Tiger commander. His building is both an office and a home. At one point, Balasingham�s Australian wife, wearing a colorful Indian dress, comes to take out the pudgy yellow dog that lies at her husband�s feet.

Our organization was formed in 1972 to fight back the ever-mounting state repression against our people. From the beginning, the Tigers were an armed organization. Of course, the movement emulates Marxism and Leninism, but we have�charted our political program not on orthodox Marxist principles. It is a combination of nationalism and socialism, intermixed together to mobilize people. Our objective is to liberate not only our repressed Tamil people from state repression but also to create a socialist society where there should be economic equality, and so on and so forth.

From 1976 onwards, we have expanded gradually our military activities. First, against the state intelligence in Tamil areas. We�assassinated political traitors who colluded with the Sinhala government. We killed police agents who were rounding up our members. And finally, we eliminated the police secret service in Tamil areas. Then we launched attacks on police stations, hmm? And, in the meantime, the Sri Lankan [government] sent its military forces to the north and east and we had to confront the armed forces.

July �83 marked a turning point in the history of our struggle. There was a massive racial violence, as you know, in which hundreds of Tamil people were massacred. This gave a new momentum to the struggle. It led hundreds and thousands of young men to join the liberation organizations, and it also gave birth to other liberation groups of different ideological perspectives.

And the cycle of violence, or rather the cycle of repression and resistance�was aggravated. The Tamil political parties became defunct, their leaders sought refuge in Madras, and there are no political, democratic institutions, as you would put it, but rather�national liberation movements with socialist ideologies emerged and, among us, contradictions emerged.

You would have heard about conflicts between our organizations and how we were�compelled to take action against certain groups who turned against the public�Finally, the Tigers emerged as the dominant military organization.

Apart from the armed trained guerrillas we have, you find supporters, sympathizers, carriers, people doing various sorts of work. And also, vast, vast numbers of the civilian masses are also involved in the struggle now, hmm? We are constantly recruiting, strengthening ourselves, mobilizing, because of the fact that the Sri Lankan Army is constantly expanding, strengthening its forces. We know the struggle is going to expand and we have to fight a very long battle, a long war.

It�s not a question of numbers; it�s a question of commitment, courage, dedication. You know, our fighters carry cyanide pills. When they�re cornered or about to die, they swallow the pill. That signifies the commitment of our fighters, that they are prepared to die for a cause. Whereas the Sri Lankan soldiers are paid servants of the state; they fight for wages. And when they see a few casualties, they withdraw to the camps. That�s the situation. So even though they are large in number and are using highly sophisticated weaponry, they cannot match an iron-disciplined organization like ours.

J.L.Anderson: So the peasants were repressed. But you don�t seem to be a man of peasant origin. What happened to you to bring you where you are today, in exile, involved in an armed group?

Balasingham: I come from a very poor family in Jaffna and, of course, we were subjected to various forms of repression. It was extremely difficult for a man like me to enter universities there or study. We are self-made people.

But my generation of Tamils are lucky, in the sense that we didn�t experience the horrors of state violence as the present generation of young people are. They have no access to education; their lives are threatened. They have two choices; either to join a liberation movement or to go to Western Europe as refugees. There is no other way for a Tamil youth. If they are rounded up by the military, they are put into camps, tortured, and sometimes put to death. There are nearly three thousand innocent Tamil youths kept in army camps. So that is why you find large numbers of youth joining the liberation struggle. And, of course, we have to politically guide them, channel the revolution, liberate the people so that the older generation, like me, are also involved.

J.L.Anderson: So you went from being in a poor family to being here, but what happened in the interim? You say it was difficult for you to get into university, but you did get in, didn�t you?

Balasingham: (sighs) I had a long, complex personal history, but, uh�it�s not that important. I went to foreign countries, studied, and then came back in 1978. But I can tell you one thing. I�at the early stage, I was a journalist, a writer, so I had an acute perception of the complex realities of the struggle. And�yes, I had a perception of a life that is entirely different, and a background that was different, but, spiritually, I am with my people.

I came to Madras in 1978, met Prabakaran [Tiger leader] and�became their political advisor, theoretician, and the spokesman of the movement. And, since July �83, I gave up everything and came to Madras, and since then I am permanently working for the movement.

Sri Lanka is carrying out a campaign, that they are confronted with terrorism, instead of characterizing our struggle as an ethnic problem. They are simply reducing the whole complexity of the ethnic problem into a phenomenon of terrorism. And they say, �These Tamils are Marxists and they want to destroy the state and bring about a communist regime here.�

We are trying to put across our case, that we are not terrorists, but patriots defending�involved in a defensive struggle for our people. And our objective is to find freedom, security for our people, and if a viable alternative political solution is offered, we are prepared to reconsider our struggle for secession.

J.L.Anderson: What about the bloody clashes between the Tigers and other Tamil groups, like the EPRLF [Eelam People�s Revolutionary Liberation Front]?

Balasingham: It�s a struggle for supremacy. They want to destroy us politically and, to our shock, we found, uncovered, some documents from an EPRLF comrade, that there was a plan, a plot was worked out, in which they were planning to launch a sudden, unexpected attack on the Tigers. And all the details of the plan we have got. So what happened was�we had no other alternative but to take immediate action, because otherwise they would launch an attack on us. We decided to strike back. For self-defense. Now we have taken control. We have arrested almost all the EPRLF; most of them have surrendered without much resistance in the north and east. There are pockets of resistance here and thee, but these will�fizzle out.

So, as a consequence, the Tigers have emerged as the sole politico-military organization in Tamil Eelam. And all the other tiny groups, like EROS [Eelam Revolutionary Organization Struggle], are falling in line with us. EROS doesn�t want to have any conflict with the Tigers. They are more mature politically, and militarily very wise. (chuckles) Now, they have accepted our leadership and (uproarious laugh) we have built up a very cordial relation.

Say, for example, there are four or five groups, each imposing various taxes, getting money. Somebody will come and ask you for money and you give money to the Tigers, and then EPRLF will come and demand money, then the other organizations will demand � then you will get frustrated. What the people here want is a single movement, committed to the struggle. That is the general opinion among the Tamils.

So now, a single movement has come. The fight is over. It is true it is unfortunate � it�s a tragedy � that we had to fight, but it is inevitable and unavoidable in our situation.�

Balasingham�s Interview with Amarnath Menon in 1991
[courtesy: India Today, Oct.15, 1991, p. 98; interview by Amarnath K.Menon. The introductory sentences in italics are reproduced, as in the original.] 

In the heart of Tiger territory at Kondavil in Jaffna, visitors are a rare sight. Last fortnight, Principal Correspondent Amarnath K.Menon spoke to LTTE ideologue, Anton Balasingham, in the bomb-ravaged town. Also present was Yogaratnam Yogi, secretary of the LTTE�s political wing, who broke into the conversation occasionally to attack the Indian media. Balasingham spoke at length on the LTTE�s role in Jaffna, but skirted the issue of its involvement in Rajiv�s assassination with remarkable finesse, arguing they didn�t even know �who some characters described as LTTE men are�. Excerpts: 

Q: Have the post-Rajiv assassination developments in India caused a setback to the LTTE?
A: Why are our supporters being held in Tamil Nadu? 

Q: You didn�t answer my question.

A: Our image has been damaged. There are international repercussions. But we have sympathy among people in Tamil Nadu due to the legitimacy of our cause and our cultural links. If Jayalalitha tries to cut those links, it will be counter-productive. Since we are a major politico-military force, India must revise her position. 

Q: There are reports of your selling arms to Naxalites in India.

A: These stories are rubbish. We desperately need the arms. We are confronted with a big war here. 

Q: From where do you get arms?

A: In ambushes. China is giving arms to Sri Lanka in order to contain India. Ultimately we get them. 

Q: What are the LTTE�s strengths and weaknesses?

A: We have thrown the Sri Lankan Army out of Jaffna Fort, Mankulam and Kokkuvil. A few camps are left and we are trying to get rid of them. Vast areas are under our control. Politically, we are for negotiations. But Sri Lanka has put stumbling blocks like asking for Pirabhakaran�s presence at the talks. There is also an economic embargo on since June. People are suffering and the economy is crippled. 

Q: Have you improved your fighting capability?

A: Yes. The Elephant Pass battle is a demonstration of our ability to fight a regular war. It took 10,000 Sri Lankan troops 24 days to advance 5 km with tactical naval and aerial support. We have introduced an anti-aircraft system and also use locally-produced mortars that can carry 1,000kg of explosive over a mile. 

Q: Do you have popular support?

A: More and more people are backing us. Coping with hardship is now part of their life. The economic embargo has made them feel that Colombo doesn�t view them as Sri Lankan citizens. Food prices are high and unemployment is soaring. We are trying to develop a self-sustaining economy through cooperative farming and cottage industries. 

Q: How do you choose your cadres?

A: There is a six-month political and military training before commissioning. The cyanide pill they carry is a symbol of the willingness and courage to sacrifice one�s life for a cause. 

Q: How do you motivate recruits?

A: Our army commanders move forward and set an example, unlike generals in traditional armies. We are a small nation fighting a big enemy. We must have motivation. We are unique in our fighting ability. 

Q: What is the administration�s role in LTTE-controlled areas?

A: We have not eliminated it. But we have our own system and collect our own taxes. The party looks after law and order in the absence of a court. If there is a major problem, appeals can be made to Pirabhakaran. 

Q: How about funds?

A: People who have money contribute. We also get money from Tamil expatriates. But, since banks don�t allow over Rs.1,000 to be withdrawn at a time, we have a clandestine system to convert foreign currency.



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