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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
After Prabha: Question of Succession
20 October 1996
The main question which arises when one tries to assesses the consequences of Prabhaharan's indictment is can the LTTE survive after him?
The general consensus of the so called experts on the LTTE , both local and foreign, is that it wont - though the reasons they give are, in the final analysis, assumptions based on meager "hearsay" evidence. Their conviction, however, seems always unshakable.
Posters with Prabhaharan's photograph appeared in Wellawatte on Thursday in which it was stated in Tamil Ò He destroys - Our future". This was the day after the indictment of the LTTE leader and his associates was reported in the press. The posters had been put out by the Sudu Nelum movement. Those who reported the matter to friends created some confusion initially because in Sri Lankan Tamil speech, the subtle phonemic shift which distinguishes the word "destroy" from the word "give" is not observed at all. Hence, to some who had just heard about the poster but not of the Sudu Nelum connection, the phrase meant "He gives - Our future".
The government and its political propaganda arm, the Sudu Nelum Movement , are of course, too enthusiastic about "getting rid" of the Tiger leader soon that they do not notice such things.
"Finish Prabhaharan and everything will be fine with the state of Sri Lanka" is patently the thinking behind the government's current actions.
The emphasis is no more on the devolution package ( it has been quite some time since the PA forgot about it) or on the alleviation of the day to day miseries Tamils in the northeast have to undergo by establishing an Interim Administrative Body or on the much hacked subject of third party mediation.
The indictment forecloses the possibility of Prabhaharan being a legitimate party in any future dialogue between the government and the Tigers to bring about a settlement to the conflict.
A suggestion was ventured that the indictment does not preclude other leaders of the LTTE from participating in negotiations, if the need were to ever arise at all that is.
This simply is not possible.
Foreclosing Prabhaharan's future politically further confirms the view that the government has reason to feel quite confident that it can kill Prabhaharan soon.
This has been on the agenda of both the Sri Lankan and Indian governments for many years. But efforts have failed primarily due to the lack of hard intelligence. The LTTE either discovered sources which were providing information about the Tiger leader's whereabouts or systematically confounded them.
However, the government did not take the extreme step of indicting the man and foreclosing his place in any future talks or settlement.
Now that it has taken the step, we may safely assume that terminating Prabhaharan is high on the PA's Eelam War agenda.
Once he goes, it is averred, the LTTE would be quite amenable to negotiations and be willing to enter the democratic mainstream.
(It is understood that the Indian intelligence establishment has indicated quite clearly to some LTTE supporters that the organisation is quite acceptable without Prabhaharan and Pottu Amman.)
Now this is based on two claims. Firstly, that the LTTE would fall apart once its leader dies.
And secondly, that the leadership of what survives his death as the Liberation Tigers would be a group that will be as pliable as the other Tamil groups which entered the democratic mainstream in 1987.
Let me first outline the probable grounds on which it can be argued that the LTTE will disintegrate or at least become weak if Prabhaharan were to be killed.
a) No one in the LTTE has the charisma to command the loyalty of all the cadres, expatriate supporters and representatives, valuable sympathisers in Tamil Nadu, financiers etc., It is Prabhaharan's long involvement in the Tamil movement, beginning in the early seventies, that enabled him to cultivate and cement such a vast spectrum of loyalties. None of the second level leaders, being quite junior, can hope to do this - or so it is believed.
b) Baby Subramaniam who comes next in seniority, being one who has been associated with Prabhaharan since 1974 and a founder member of the Tigers, does not possess the military acumen and organisational skill required to run the LTTE now. And Appaiah Annai who, in terms of seniority, comes next is already in his sixties, though essentially a military man - the one who was initially responsible for the LTTE expertise in landmines. Shankar alias Sornalingam is equally senior. He is in charge of the Air Tigers. But he remains a very low key leader.
c) No single person in the LTTE, except Prabhaharan, holds all the links which are essential to run the organisation in his hand. He is the only person who knows about everything going on in the vast system involving financial transactions, investments, dealings with foreign governments or intelligence agencies, purchase of arms, intelligence operations, global communications, shipping, armouries, underground structures etc.,
The special commanders know what is going on in their sections but have little knowledge about activities in other areas except what they may come to know for purposes of co-ordiantion. For example, Castro who is in charge, at the LTTE's Vanni headquarters, of the organisations's foreign offices will not know about the operations of the shipping section except on very rare occasions. Hence, it may be said that once Prabhaharan is removed from the scene, the sole key to system's complexity would be lost.
d) The LTTE's "court poet" Puthuvai Rathinathurai has actively promoted the cult of the individual since he rose to some influence in the organisation six years ago. He has churned out songs praising Prabhaharan as the sole saviour of the Tamils, as the seond Karikalan
(founder of the Chola empire), as supreme leader etc., Mathaya's problem encouraged him to carry on with his effort with greater enthusiasm. The LTTE recruit's oath was altered to include a pledge to remain loyal to "leader Prabhaharan". This is a far cry from the camaraderie which existed in the organisation until the late eighties. I have known junior members of the LTTE who wouldn't have hesitated to address Prabhaharan as "Thambi" (younger brother). Today "Thalaivar" seems to be the only form of reference to the supremo.
There are some hard-core sympathisers who argue that "Puthuvai" has been solely responsible for the cult of the individual, which they see as being detrimental to the organization's interests in the long term, in that it might become the main impediment to establishing a new, equally powerful leadership after Prabhaharan. They claim that he is "doing this to the leader" in order to promote himself.
e) After Mathaya's fall the gap between the second level leadership with actual power in the field and Prabhaharan is so large in terms of seniority that there is no one among the elite group of his top commanders and section heads who can aspire to the position of successor with any confidence.
In this connection it can be said that even Mathaya was not on firm ground because of the fact that in 1978 while undergoing training as a new recruit at the Thulavil camp in Vavuniya he had decided to abandon the cause and become a seaman like many of his friends from VVT. He had left the camp and was ready to board the Yal Devi at the Vavuniya railway station when Prabhaharan and Uma Maheswaran had found him and persuaded him back to base. ( this was a story oft related by Uma)
The top second level leaders of the LTTE today are Pottu Amman, Balraj and Sornam. Those who add Soosai to this list are not aware of the fact that the Sea Tigers come under the military wing of the Tigers of which the supreme commander is Prabhaharan and commander is Balraj. Of the three Pottu is most senior, Sornam is next and Balraj who joined in 1984 is third in terms of seniority.
Having outlined here some of the factors which might determine the LTTE's survival after Prabhaharan, let us consider the claim that the LTTE will be weakened as a result of his demise and the new leadership that may emerge in his place would be pliable either to Colombo's preconditions for talks or to Indian interests.
Firstly, despite the problems discussed here, it appears fairly certain that Prabhharan, in consultation with his second level leaders and senior members like Baby and Shankar, seems to have unofficially indicated to the rank and file as to who is going to be his successor. This has been so, because there has patently been much speculation in the LTTE in recent times that the government may, with Indian or US - Israeli assistance, assassinate Prabhaharan.
The manner in which the leader of the Shining Path in Peru and the head of the Hisbollah in Sidon were taken out of action seem to have been studied by the Tigers.
The matter is uppermost in their minds today.
"The leader will never let history accuse him of destroying the Tamil struggle by being the cause of the LTTE's disintegration in the event of his death" claimed an insider in the east.
Last year the question of a post Prabhaharan scenario was unmentionable among the Tigers. This year most cadres seem to have a clear idea about how things would work if the leader were to go.
Secondly, from what I know of Pottu, Balraj and Sornam, I can say with certainty that they would be as "unpliable" as Prabhaharan himself.
And finally it should be pointed out that all this has made Prabhaharan take more precautions about his safety which might help him, most probably, survive another long war.