LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is mourning his political wing leader S. P. Tamilselvam, who perished in an air raid on Friday together with five others. There are two schools of thought about that killing.
One is that the Sri Lanka Air Force mounted that decapitation strike using intelligence it had gathered on its own it had identified the target weeks ago but desisted from taking it until time was opportune. And the Tigers struck in Anuradhapura. Others argue that Tamilselvam`s enemies within the LTTE leaked information about his hideout, as he had fallen out with the leadership towards his tragic end.
Prabhakaran, as his history reveals, knows more than one way to skin a Tiger, according to the second school of thought. He, as is well known, doesn`t tolerate dissent and goes to any extent to remove from his path anyone who, he thinks, will be a threat to his leadership one day. The de facto deputy leader of the LTTE Mahattaya or Mahendraraja became too popular within the organisation and it was expected that he would one day succeed Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran got him `arrested`, kept in a dungeon and finally murdered together with over 200 of his loyalists. Prabhakaran is also said to have betrayed Kuttumani because he was perceived as a threat. Kuttumani was arrested on a tip-off from the LTTE itself and later killed in the then UNP government-instigated prison riots in 1983. Prabhakaran`s rivals still have serious doubts about how a vessel with Kittu, another popular LTTE leader, on board came to be intercepted in 1993, causing his death. More recently, immediately before Karuna`s breakaway, Prabhakaran sent for both Paduman and Karuna and the SLMM arranged for their travel to the Wanni. An SLAF chopper picked up Paduman from Trincomalee and proceeded to Batticaloa, where Karuna was to board it. Karuna had second thoughts and refused to join Paduman. That was the last seen of Paduman, who is believed to be either killed or incarcerated in the Wanni as his loyalty to Prabhakaran was in question.
The conspiracy theorists claim that Prabhakaran`s decision to groom his son for leadership has resulted in a bitter power struggle and that led to the information leak in question. The battles fought between Sea Tiger chief Soosai`s faction and Pottu Amman`s loyalists in Scandinavia, they say, demonstrate how serious the LTTE`s crisis is.
This view is, however, disputed by the other school of thought, which insists that the full credit should be given to the SLAF for the successful surgical strike mounted after months of intelligence gathering. Military intelligence, the proponents of this view point out, has successfully broken into the inner cells of the LTTE. Even before Tamilselvam fell out with Prabhakaran, they argue, the army long rangers had almost accounted for him, with the benefit of accurate information about his movements and, therefore, Friday`s attack was something to be expected. They ask why on earth the Prabhakaran faction should have helped the SLAF gain mileage with a devastating airstrike and boost its morale in the aftermath of the Anuradhapura debacle. Friday`s air raid also destroyed sophisticated communication equipment belonging to the LTTE, they say, and therefore it is not possible that the LTTE leadership had a hand in the tip-off. Prabhakaran, they argue, could have clipped Tamilselvam`s wings further and relegated him to obscurity after promoting another person for that job, without enabling the SLAF to overshadow the Anuradhapura attack. This argument, we reckon, is tenable. Else, the Tiger leadership wouldn`t have been so rattled and paranoid in the aftermath of the attack.
`Our people are in profound shock and sorrow,` Prabhakaran has said of Tamilsevlam`s death in a condolence message, describing him as a true leader loved by the people and respected by the international community. De mortuis nil nisi bonum! But, it needs to be added that Tamilselvam was no saint. He was a military man with a political face. That`s why he was promoted to the rank of `Brigadier` posthumously. Remember it was he who threatened to destroy targets in the South following the fall of Thoppigala.
Tamilselvam was only a dwarf in comparison to the Tamil political leaders and intellectuals the LTTE has assassinated such as Amirthalingam, Rajini, Neelan, Yogeswaran, Sarojini, Padmanabha and Kadir. The LTTE also assassinated President Premadasa, Gamini and Lalith and almost accounted for President Kumaratunga. In India, it assassinated Rajiv.
Tamilselvam is the highest ranking LTTE leader to have been killed after the pioneer of the LTTE`s crude air wing and Prabhakaran`s personal friend Shankar, who died in an army long ranger attack about six years ago. His killing made Prabhakaran confine himself to his well fortified bunker all the time and opt for a truce, which was also partly due to the fallout of the 9/11 attacks. He was so frightened that he got the Norwegians to insert a special section into the CFA prohibiting deep penetration operations. The UNF government played into his hands by raiding the safe house of the long rangers at Athurugiriya and divulging their identities. The LTTE decimated the entire intelligence network that the deep penetration unit had painstakingly put in place over so many years. But, the long rangers are said to be back in action in the Wanni.
What Prabhakaran urgently needs at this juncture is a breather. His ammunition stocks are running out with no hope of replenishment due to the effective blockade by the Navy, which has sunk as many as eight arms smuggling vessels for the past thirteen months. Now that the army is poised to march on the Wanni and the military intelligence has outsmarted Pottu Amman`s outfit?some foreign defence analysts with a soft corner for the LTTE have warned that the LTTE leader is vulnerable to airstrikes as never before?Prabhakaran might wave an olive branch as a tactical ploy the way he did in 2001, contrary to the belief that he will go all out to inflict heavy damage on the military in retaliation for Tamilselvam`s death.
His message on the killing is devoid of usual threats. It is more an appeal for the consumption of the international community. `Despite the repeated and continuous calls from the international community to find a peaceful resolution to Tamil national question,` Prabhakran has said, `we have not seen any goodwill from the Sinhala nation.` (Emphasis added). He has given something to the peace lobby to hold on to. It will be interesting to see what he has got to say in his `heroes` day`speech which is due shortly.
Prabhakaran has no way of absolving himself of the responsibility for Tamilselvam`s death. But for his decision to plunge the country back into war last year by capturing the Mavil Aru anicut, Tamilselvam would still have been smiling in Kilinochchi, `loved by the people and respected by the international community` as he says.
Having suffered a string of humiliating defeats, Prabhakaran had just scored a win, when disaster struck. Worse, he has run short of surprises for the Sri Lankan state. He has attacked almost every economic or military target from the Central Bank to the Katunayaka airbase killed a President, a service commander and a large number of political and military leaders partly destroyed the main oil installation committed a large number of massacres and blown up civilian targets. But, he has not got anywhere near his goal. Instead, he has to live in eternal fear, encircled in the Wanni with the army threatening to move in any moment. His arms smuggling network is in tatters and intelligence wing has been wrong-footed.
A prisoner of his own violence, Prabhakaran has had to begin from the very beginning after two decades of fighting. He has no one to blame but himself.