|In his book, Show People: Profiles in Entertainment (1979),
critic Kenneth Tynan had quoted American comedian Mel Brooks as
follows: “I went to the library, and read all the books I could
carry – Conrad, Fielding, Dostoevski, Gogol, Tolstoy. I decided that
Tolstoy was the most gifted writer who ever lived. It’s like he
stuck a pen in his heart and it didn’t even go through his mind on
its way to the page.” [p.242]
If I may borrow the last line from
Mel Brooks, I’d change only the organ, heart to gall bladder, to
describe the passages written by hacks which have spilled into the
print and electronic media on the fate of LTTE leader, Pirabhakaran,
after the December 26th tsunami attack. To describe the faked
anguish of N.Ram, the editorialist of the Hindu, my borrowing from
Brooks’s line will be “It’s like he stuck a pen in his gall bladder
and it didn’t even go through his mind on its way to the page.”
The Chennai Hindu newspaper carried an editorial in its January 11th
issue. It was entitled ‘Where is Prabakaran?’.
First I reproduce it completely for record, and secondly I
provide my email response to the Chennai Hindu sent on the same day.
I’m pretty sure that my response will not appear in the Hindu
newspaper. Thus, I present it here, for record.
Where is Prabakaran? - [Hindu Editorial 11 January
Even if one were to discount reports that the leader of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabakaran, is
among the thousands dead or missing in Sri Lanka after the
December 26 tsunami, his absence at a time of unprecedented
crisis for the people in the LTTE-controlled North-East is
In the countries hit by the catastrophe, national and
regional leaders publicly and visibly rallied to provide
direction to a people confused and shattered by the unexpected
nature of the calamity and the extent of the devastation around
them. In Sri Lanka, the country worst affected after Indonesia,
both President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Leader of the
Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe rose to the occasion. The
President cut short her private visit to the United Kingdom and
flew back to Sri Lanka immediately to direct relief operations.
During her short absence in the immediate aftermath of the
disaster, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse held the fort ably.
President Kumaratunga and Mr. Wickremesinghe put aside their
rivalry and made similar appeals calling on the Sri Lankan
people to rise above all political, ethnic, and religious
differences and to make a united effort to rebuild the country.
But in North-East Sri Lanka, where some places have been as
badly affected as parts of the south, the most important
political figure is conspicuously missing. Where is Mr.
Prabakaran at this hour of grief and distress for a people he
claims only he and his group can lead?
A statement from the LTTE lambasted the Sri Lanka
Broadcasting Corporation, a state-run radio station and the
first to air a report about Mr. Prabakaran's possible fate in
the tsunami, for "spreading rumours and speculation." The radio
station has since retracted the report but it is interesting
that the LTTE statement is not a categorical denial. In fact, it
does not say anything specific about Mr. Prabakaran's safety and
Ignoring this detail and assuming that the LTTE leader is
alive and well, his non-appearance in public is outrageous by
any standard of leadership, considering that of the more than
30,000 people killed in Sri Lanka nearly half lived in the
North-East. On December 29, a statement attributed to him and
appealing for international assistance for the tsunami-hit
regions of the North-East appeared on a few websites. But nearly
two weeks after the tragedy, the "national leader," as Mr.
Prabkaran is described by the LTTE, is yet to make direct
contact with the Tamil people. It can be argued that the LTTE
supremo obsessed with his security makes only rare public
appearances. Over the last decade, he has not departed from his
custom of making a public appearance and speech just once a
year, on November 27, a day observed by the LTTE as "Heroes
Day." But surely an extraordinary situation demands
extraordinary gestures by a leader.
However, the absence of the LTTE leader does not seem to have
held up relief operations in the North-East. Despite the
extensive toll the tsunami inflicted on its military forces,
especially its Sea Wing, the LTTE has managed to project its
capability in organising relief. Soosai, the commander of the
Sea Tigers who is widely believed to have differences with
Prabakaran, has been the most visible member of the LTTE
hierarchy post-tsunami, and appears to be leading the task of
relief and immediate rehabilitation.
The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, a front of the LTTE,
has stepped up efforts to raise funds abroad, especially from
the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. For long, Mr. Prabakaran's name
alone was used to motivate the Tiger international network. But
first Karuna's revolt, and now the tsunami, seems to have
transformed the situation on the ground in favour of the Sri
Assuming he is alive, the LTTE supremo will be under
tremendous pressure to appear in public. Not only will such
surfacing be the only way to express solidarity with the people
he claims to represent, it is the only way by which he can set
at rest the stories aswirl about his fate.
My email response sent to the editor of the Hindu was as follows:
Re: Where is Prabakaran?
I read with amusement your editorial [Jan.11] which had a caption,
'Where is Prabakaran?'. The simple answer is, he is in Eelam. He has
been in Eelam since 1987, after returning from the "house arrest" in
New Delhi arranged by the then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi
and his then prime advisor J.N.Dixit. Unlike typical Sri Lankan
politicians [ such as President Chandrika Kumaratunga, foreign
minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and their ilk], Prabhakaran is not in
the habit of flying off to other lands, at the drop of the hat.
He is not even a politician. He is a visionary rebel, in the
mould of Subhas Chandra Bose. Only run of the mill politicians
salivate like dogs for camera attention and interviews from
journalist hacks. Tamils in Eelam know well that Prabhakaran lives
amongst themselves, and thus there is no urgent need for merely
'showing the face' to console the affected public. Tamils will never
forget that since 1987, Prabhakaran has led the LTTE forces against
the Sri Lankan army and Indian army, while living among them in
Eelam. Eelam populace can distinguish well journalists from India
[amongst whom the the
House of Hindu counts as one], who show faked anguish and
pseudo-sympathy in words to their plight and to their travails.
Have you bothered to note seriously, where was President Chandrika
Kumaratunga and her brother the tourism minister Anura Bandaranaike,
when the tsunami struck on December 26th? The prima donna of Colombo
politics was enjoying her Christmas party in far away United
Kingdom, after deserting her Sinhalese constituents on a 'private
trip'. Have you bothered to count how many 'private trips' this
prima donna of Colombo politics have taken to London in the past ten
years? She cannot relax neither in Colombo nor anywhere else in the
island of Sri Lanka. For her to relax, she need to fly to London.
Prabhakaran as the Eelam Tamil leader cannot afford to enjoy these
'private trips' when his followers are suffering. What a contrast in
leadership he had shown from that of prima donna of Colombo politics
and her fart catchers? Since 1987, Prabhakaran has been working and
relaxing within the Eelam boundaries and not anywhere else.
Another irony is that in your editorial, you make mention of one
"Karuna's revolt". I presume that you refer to one-time military
commander of LTTE, whose name is Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan. His
much touted "revolt" failed miserably in the eyes of Sri Lankans
(including Sinhalese), but not in the eyes of jaundiced hacks like
you. Where is Karuna now? He remains addressless and faceless -
probably as a 'guarded guest' of Intelligence personnel of either
Sri Lanka or India. When was he seen by the public last time? Sri
Lankans knew that after much breast-thumping bravery, he made a dash
to Colombo from his Eastern Front perch on last Easter Sunday. That
was eight moons ago. Have anyone seen him? So, the flip side of your
query should be 'Where is Karuna?' Can you bother to enlighten your
readers? I'm pretty sure that you can't.
Sachi Sri Kantha
Center for Human Evolution Modeling Research,
Kyoto University-Primate Research Institute,
Inuyama City 484-8506, Japan.