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Sri Lanka's Man of the Decade 1980/1990
Choice by the Sinhala owned Lanka Guardian
edited by Mervyn de Silva
"... A folk hero in Tamil Nadu, Pirabaharan's picture, Hindu Editor, N.Ram told me years ago, could be found in many a suburban home and remote hamlet in the South Indian state's rural areas... But his real claim to fame is that he got the world's fourth largest standing army bogged down in an increasingly futile war in Sri Lanka's north-east... Pirabaharan's war will soon be a case study in the Indian Defence Institutes..."
From the Citation:
It is the Tamil armed revolt that has made the strongest impact on Sri Lanka in the decade that has just ended. In the post 'Accord' period and more dramatically in 1988-89, it is the threat to State power by the JVP led insurgency which has made the Sri Lankan situation, especially after the Presidential and Parliamentary polls, a crisis of the System.
We do not believe that the military successes of the past few months have altered the nature of that threat, though there has been some change in the immediacy and intensity of the danger. In any event we do not believe that the threat to the State would have assumed that particular form but for the Tamil secessionist struggle and its direct political-diplomatic expression, the 1987 Peace Accord, and the presence on our soil of an Indian Peace Keeping Force larger than our own army.
Although we recognise many intrinsic, and distinctive causes, mainly socio economic for the JVP revolt, we do not think that its timing, its fury and most of all its political ideological complexion are unconnected with the Tamil rebellion. As we look back then to the 1980s, and study the decade as a whole, we are inclined to concede primacy to the Tamil threat to the unity, and indirectly, the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.
In that struggle, there is one commanding personality, the LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirabaharan, regarded by many western experts as leader of one of the toughest guerrilla organisations in the world, and by military analysts as a 'genius' in the theory of unconventional warfare. At least one Sri Lankan politician is on record as saying that he might have been an excellent choice as the island's army commander. Though a mere aside, it was no frivolous jest.
Our choice of Pirabaharan as man of the decade is no value judgment. It is a compelling historical verdict based on the turn turn of tumultuous events, and the cruel fate of a little Indian Ocean island struggling helplessly to escape from the vicious grip of a multi dimensional crisis.
The JVP leadership has been decimated. Yet the JVP phenomenon will remain a major and deeply worrying challenge to regime and System. Right now, however, it is the LTTE that once more occupies center stage. For the first time in recent history, a separatist rebel movement is trying to maximise its capacity to achieve its goals through the use of both armed actions and negotiations, by exploiting as far as possible, an inter state conflict and the divergent interests of the two regimes. The question is not whether it will succeed. The question is what is its goal? Is it still Eelam, or is it monopoly/hegemony in a strengthened north-east that is part of a united Sri Lanka? Could it be a sustainable trade off, at least interim, for Eelam?
A folk hero in Tamil Nadu, Pirabaharan's picture, Hindu Editor, N.Ram told me years ago, could be found in many a suburban home and remote hamlet in the South Indian states rural areas. To the Indian newspaper reader too his is a familiar name. But his real claim to fame is that he got the world's fourth largest standing army bogged down in an increasingly futile war in Sri Lanka's north-east, threatening to convert a peace keeping operation to India's Vietnam or Afghanistan - or Lebanon vis a vis the Middle East major Military power, Israel.
Pirabaharan's war will soon be a case study in the Indian Defence Institutes. And as a senior Indian office told me in late 1988, 'we have to learn a lot, and are still learning... at least because your terrain the jungles especially, are somewhat different to ours'. In any event, the army top brass and the Indian strategy planners regard the Sri Lankan experience whatever its human and material cost, as an extremely valuable 'exercise'.
Internationally, Pirabaharan's name has been probably as widely publicised as President J.R.Jayawardene. So he is now our choice as Lanka's man of the 80's.