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.
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:
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)”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Interview with Jon Lee Anderson in 1987
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
’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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.’
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
J.L.Anderson: What about the bloody clashes between the Tigers and other
Tamil groups, like the EPRLF [Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation
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.
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
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.
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.’
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
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
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.