Why did Tamils kill Rajiv Gandhi?

C. V. Wignewaran is labouring indefatigably to lead the next Tamil brigade to Nandikadal. Right now, there is no one in the Tamil political arena who represents Tamil extremism more than C. V. Wigneswaran, the unrepentant devotee of Swamy Premananda – a convict who died in a South Indian prison while serving his term for the murder of a Tamil youth and serial rape of under-aged Tamil girls.

Deifying violence and worshipping evil figures who commit mass murders have been an integral part of the violent Sankili-Vellala political culture of Jaffna. The cruel oppression of the Tamil low-castes by the Vellala leaders throughout the feudal, colonial and post-colonial periods has been the norm in the violent Vellala culture of Jaffna. The serial killing of Tamil leaders and Tamil dissidents by Velupillai Prabhakaran is typical of the violent Sankili cult. It is also typical of the Tamil political culture to deify him as Surya Devan. 

At the ideological level, Tamil violence found its ultimate expression in Arumuka Navalar, the highest spiritual guru of Jaffna, who told his followers to kill the blasphemers if they can’t hire someone else to kill. This made Saivism of Jaffna another facet of the Sankili-Vellala cult.

 Tolerant democratic liberalism failed to rise as a ruling ideology to liberate the individual from the tyranny of its inflexible religio-casteist forces. The ideologies and the political forces that ruled Jaffna failed to deliver equality, liberty, justice and dignity to the oppressed Tamil minority. Jaffna was dominated by the Vellala majority which kept the low-caste in their place by imposing its iron-fisted rule.

The oppressive political class/caste at the top demanded total political supremacy and submission to the ruling Vellala ideology which culminated in the Vadukoddai Resolution of May 14, 1976 – the comprehensive political manifesto of the Vellala supremacists who declared war legitimising Tamil violence against the democratically elected state.

Pol Potist Prabhakaranism

 Prabhakaran was the child that came out of the war-mongering Vadukoddai Resolution. The violent casteist culture that kept the oppressed Tamil minority under the feet of the Vellalas during the feudal and colonial periods was the fertile soil for his rise in the peninsula. The transition from the casteist violence of Vellalaism to Pol Potist Prabhakaranism was only a changing of hands from one set of fascist tyrants to another. Both cultures produced violent tyranny. Jaffna produced two prominent political rulers: Sankili and Prabhakaran.

Both were violent killers of Tamils. Liberalism, democracy, socialism, feminism, humanism, egalitarianism are ideologies that failed to win over the deep-rooted Sankili-Vellala cult – the overwhelming force that ruled Jaffna, particularly from the Dutch period. When Jaffna raised the cry of discrimination, they were expressing the fears of the Vellalas losing their casteist power and privileges which remained in force even under British rule and not the mass oppression of the ostracised Tamil low-castes.

 Wigneswaran is the latest manifestation of this Vellala-Sankili cult. He worships two Tamil criminals. He has no inhibitions in devoutly worshipping the convicted criminal Swamy Premananda. He even holds poojas for this murderer and serial rapist. He manufactured legal arguments to defend this criminal who was convicted by an Indian court in South India – please note, not by a Sri Lankan court. He even wrote to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, pleading for his release.

Colombo Telegraph reported that one of the images erected in his temple in Jaffna is that of Swamy Premananda. Mark you, Wigneswaran cannot be dismissed as an eccentric from the hoi-polloi of Jaffna. He studied in the best state school (free of charge – no discrimination there!) and rose to be a Judge of the Supreme in the “Sinhala state” (no discrimination there again!). He moves in the highest social levels of the elitist Sinhala circles in Colombo.

It is reported that A. T. Ariyaratne, leader of the Sarvodaya Movement, too had participated in his poojas. Wigneswaran’s son is married to Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s daughter. This is typical of the Tamil elite. They keep one foot in Jaffna plugging anti-Sinhala-hatred to win votes and the other in Sinhala South to get whatever they can to advance their status and fortunes.

After they extract the best from the South, they revert to their mono-ethnic roots, demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists. They demand the fulfilment of every comma and full stop in the UN Charter, but they have no compunction in worshipping criminals, knowing that they had killed and raped Tamils civilians. Is it, therefore, surprising to find Wigneswaran arguing in defence of Tamil terrorists? Writing in their defence, he says: “The activities of the Tamil youths was (sic) a reaction against State Terrorism.”

Killing of Tamil leaders

 But was Tamil terrorism a reaction to “State terrorism”? If it was a reaction to “State terrorism”, why did the Tamil terrorists slaughter Tamil leaders, the Muslims and Rajiv Gandhi, all of whom had helped the Tamils all the way? What wrong did they do to the Tamils? What wrong did Appapillai Amirthalingam and Neelan Tiruchelvam do to the Tamils to be killed by Prabhakaran? What wrong did Uma Maheswaram, the Chairman  of the LTTE, do to the Tamils to be killed by Prabhakaran? Did he kill his chairman to get even with the “Sinhala state”? Sivaram Dharmeratnam, better known as Taraki, the leading Tamil political analyst of his time, has stated that there were 37 militant organisations in 1983 fighting the “Sinhala state”. (p.81 —  Learning Politics from Sivaram, Mark. P. Whitaker.) 

Each one of them was a killing machine. In time, they disappeared one by one, eliminated by the LTTE. Why did Prabhakaran eliminate these Tamil organisations that were fighting for the same cause, Eelam?  Did Prabhakaran decimate his rivals to help the “Sinhala state”? Or was it because he was a creation that came out of the womb of the violent Tamil political culture? 

Clearly, indiscriminate Tamil violence that went berserk targeting Tamil leaders, dissident Tamils, Muslims, and Indians debunked the myth that Tamil terrorism was a reaction to the violence of the “State terrorism”.  The mindless character of Tamil violence indicates that Tamil terrorism had its origins in the violence of the Sankili-Vellala political culture that ruled Jaffna. Tamil violence has its roots in the Sankili-Vellala cult which established political violence as the norm to counter any threats to the mono-ethnic power of Jaffna.

Tamil violence is an autochthonous force that grew and rose like Jaffna onions from its soil. It needed no external stimulus to break out in full force. The declaration of war in the Vadukoddai Resolution is a clear manifestation of the inherent Tamil violence. It legitimised violence and urged the Tamil youth to take up the gun against the democratically elected state. In keeping with their violent political culture, the Tamil leadership gave the Tamil youth the licence to kill in the Vadukoddai Resolution and the Tamil youth went wild with the new toy of guns in their hands, targeting the Tamil leaders first. 

 Why? Why did Tamil violence target Tamils? According to Wigneswaran’s argument, the Tamil terrorists were response to “State terrorism”. This raises a fundamental question: why did the Tamil fighting “State terrorism” kill Tamils? They should have reacted by targeting “State” actors only. But the evidence proves that Tamil violence indiscriminately fired bullets in all directions.

Besides, the rationale used to justify Tamil violence is that it was necessary to protect Tamils from Sinhala violence and give them security which the state could not or would not give. But Tamil violence began with Tamil youth killing Tamil leaders. 

Velupillai Prabhakaran’s first victim was Alfred Duriyappah, the mild-mannered Mayor of Jaffna. He later assassinated the Chairman of the LTTE, Uma Maheswaran and the rival militants. The list of Tamils assassinated by him is long.  Wasn’t this a recrudescence of the innate Tamil political culture? It was as if the bottled-up violence in the Tamil political culture had at last found an avenue to explode. They took to the firing of guns as if it was another festival of lights. It also means that Tamil violence had no moral limits. If Tamil violence was to protect Tamils, then Tamils killing Tamils makes no sense. It was inexcusable. Above all, it undermined the argument that Tamil violence was a reaction to “State terrorism”.

 Sinhala state certainly was not the primary source of Tamil violence. It is also true that sporadic violence of the Sinhala lunatic fringe, reacting to Tamil provocations, (as seen in the Sansoni Commission report) did alarm the Tamil community and heightened their sense of insecurity. Sinhala violence too has its origins in Tamil politics and violence. Each violent bout of Sinhalese was a reaction to the provocative politics of the Tamils.

Vadukoddai Resolution

The explosion of “1983”, for instance, was a reaction to the chain of Tamil violence that had gathered momentum from the time the Tamil leadership declared war in the Vadukoddai Resolution. The Vadukoddai Resolution legitimising and urging Tamil voice was passed in May 1976. Ever since then the Tamils militants have been escalating their violence, mostly to provoke the Sinhalese as seen in the Sansoni Commission report. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the killing of the 13 soldiers in Jaffna. The killing of Sinhala soldiers was committed deliberately to provoke Sinhala violence. All hell broke loose after that. 

 It was also the known practice of the Tamil leadership to needle the lower-level of Sinhala leadership to provoke them into ethnic violence against the Tamils, as stated by Prof. A. J. Wilson. Tamils invariably gloated in Sinhala violence against the Tamils as it enabled them to win political sympathy abroad. Provoking the Sinhalese into violence against the Tamils paid political dividends internationally. It enabled them to play the sympathy card of a persecuted minority. But the extraordinary feature of Sri Lankan ethnic violence has been that it has not driven both parties to bitter hatred of each other.

There was always space left over for the communities to get back to normalcy within a short space of time. Sri Lankan street violence is like the fizz of a soda bottle: it subsides as soon as it explodes. Besides, the ethnic divide has not been irreconcilable like the visceral Arab-Jewish antagonisms.

 There were some Tamil intellectuals who were disturbed by the absurdity and dared to condemn it. The obscenity of Tamils killing Tamils was unacceptable. Prof. Rajan Hoole was one of them. S. C. Chandrahasan, son of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, father of Tamil separatism and V. Anandasangaree, leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, have openly denounced Prabhakaran for killing more Tamils than all the others put together.

Shocked by the horrors of Tamil violence, Prof. Rajan Hoole asked why such fratricidal violence came from the womb of Jaffna? Now, why did Prabhakaran kill Tamils? Was he reacting to “State terrorism” or was he killing Tamils because he was a product of the violent Tamil political culture? So, was he a “liberator” of Tamils or a liquidator of Tamils? On whose side was he fighting?

 Ungrateful killers

The most glaring example of Tamil arrogance was displayed when Prabhakaran decided to kill Rajiv Gandhi. As a political decision, it was counterproductive. As a calculated strategy to display the “invincible power” of the LTTE, it misfired. It took them nowhere. It was a futile act that boomeranged on the Tamils as a community. They were branded as ungrateful killers. They were compared to dogs who bite the hands that feed them. From all points of view – political, military, power relations with India, his image in the international arena etc., – there was nothing substantial that Prabhakaran could have gained by killing Rajiv Gandhi.

Replacing Gandhi with another Prime Minister would not have changed India’s stance of adhering to an undivided Sri Lanka. So, why did he do it? Killing of Gandhi opened a window into the brutal psyche of Prabhakaran. It certainly confirms that his thinking was driven by “insane fury”. 

A recent book published in Melbourne throws new light on the issue. It reveals that it was the “insane fury” of Prabhakaran that prompted him to kill Gandhi. The following passage from Sabaratnam Sundaramoorthy’s Dare to Differ reveals the hidden cause:

“Killing of Rajiv Gandhi blackened the image of Tigers in the eyes of the world. Many countries that had lot of sympathy for our freedom fighters started questioning the rationale behind this murder. They were not prepared to listen to any reason, or anyone trying to justify it. International media even began to address Tigers as international terrorists. Though Rajiv was not the Prime Minister of India at the time of his murder, the Gandhi dynasty and the way in which the murder took place on  Indian soil  inevitably made the Tigers look like the enemy of India. The editor of The Hindu newspaper went all out to condemn Tigers with venom never shown anytime before.

There was, however, considerable speculation about the death of Rajiv Gandhi. No one dared to implicate Tigers with murder except the Sri Lankan and Indian politicians and the media. So, I decided to find out from Bala (Anton Balasingham) during a conversation as to why we killed Rajiv.

Bala said, “Iysay, when Thalaivar (Leader, Prabhakaran) was there (in Delhi) during talks it was India’s plan to push Tigers to accept their proposals which Thalaivar refused to sign”.

Seeking revenge

During this time Thalaivar was guarded by Indian protective services, the Black Cats, at Asoka Hotel and was man-handled by them in a manner that made the rest of the Tiger participants furious. It made their blood boil to the extent of seeking revenge.  The immediate response was to make Rajiv pay for this and the rest is history.

I said to Bala: “To me, it seems that it was not a valid reason to kill anyone.”

Bala responded: “Sundar, we are talking about Thalaivar who is regarded as our supreme leader. There are thousands who would give their lives for him and for them it’s something they could not bear to see. It was an affront to their pride and dignity. They could not accept anyone manhandling our Leader in such a crude and humiliating manner. How dare anyone lay a hand on him? Many Tamils across the world regard Thalaivar Prabhakaran as a God or an avatar. “

I did not want to question him further on such a history-changing event. Besides, I knew what his answer would be if I questioned him further. Our “Boys” would not simply listen to anyone when they decide to eliminate one deemed to be an obstacle standing in the way to achieve their goal.”

According to this report Rajiv Gandhi was killed not because of any serious political differences but because the Black Cats, the Indian commandos dealing with anti-terrorist activities, had “man-handled” Prabhakaran when he was at Asoka Hotel in Delhi.

“The immediate response was to make Rajiv pay for this and the rest is history,” said Anton Balasingham. Undoubtedly, it was an act of personal revenge. It had nothing to do with the larger issues of Tamil politics.

As stated by the Melbourne Tamil political activist, Sundar, who knew the inside workings of the organisation, hurting the “pride and dignity” of Prabhakaran was not a good enough reason to kill Gandhi. Besides, there was more than the “pride and dignity” of Prabhkaran at stake. The lives of millions of Tamils were hanging on the relationship between Rajiv Gandhi and Prabhakaran. But Prabhakaran was concerned only with his “pride and dignity”. He had only one answer to all his political problems: his “insane fury” to kill.

It reveals the narrow limits of Prabhakaran’s small mind. Balasingham asked: “How dare he lay a hand on him?” There is a point in what Bala says: Prabhakaran should have been treated with some respect.

The Indian Black Cats obviously had given him the third degree. It was not the way to win his heart. The Indians should have handled him with greater finesse. But Prabhakaran had averred that he launched his movement to serve the Tamil people not his ego. So, how did killing Rajjiv Gandhi help the Tamil people? How did the killing of Amirthalingam and Tiruchelvam help the Tamil cause?

“Insane fury”

Killing Tamils who had done so much for the Tamil cause served no purpose. It is obscene. Killing a fellow Tamil because he poses a political threat to his existence is unpardonable. The “insane fury” of Tamil politics was blind. They were killed for disagreeing with the Tamil quasi-state. Is that a valid reason to kill? It is like killing Rajiv Gandhi because he hurt the ego of Prabhakaran. Violence based on “insane fury” is immoral and counterproductive.

Tamil violence was driven by “insane fury”. It has been a part of Tamil political culture. The two leading heroes of Tamil politics, Sankili and Prabhakaran, – both ruthless killers of Tamils – reflect the innate characteristics of the Tamil political culture. The post-Nandikadal anti-Sri Lankan campaigns of Tamils based on human rights is to revive Prabhakaranism and return to terrorism. Tamil activists in Western capitals aim to win through human rights what Prabhkaran lost through brutal violence. Can a return to Tamil tyranny redeem the Tamil people? After centuries of suffering under Vellala and Prabhakaranist fascism, do they not deserve even a modicum of freedom in a democratic state?

Rajiv Gandhi’s story above reflects the arrogant nature of egotistic Prabhakaran who was basking in the glory of his initial military successes. As Bala says, his Tamil followers had elevated him to a deity.  They admiringly overlooked the nature of his “insane fury” that was driving his politics because his violence was promising Eelam. Justifying and glorifying Tamil violence was a political necessity for the Tamils desperately chasing Eelam. After declaring war in the Vadukoddai Resolution, the Tamils had to produce a Sankili to eliminate all opposition.

Prabhakaran was born out of the Vadukoddai Resolution – the imprimatur of the Tamil leadership to take up the gun. The misguided Tamil youth marched all the way from Vadukoddai to Nandikadal propelled by the power to kill authorised in the Vadukoddai Resolution. Tamil tyranny could only live on Tamil violence. Sankili killed because the Tamil Catholics owed allegiance to the King of Portugal. Prabhakaran too killed the Tamils who owed allegiance to his rivals. History repeated itself in Sri Lanka, first as an “insane fury” and then as a cultural habit of egotistic maniacs, (apologies to Marx!). It was the “insane fury” of the Tamil leaders that eventually destroyed the Tamils.

 Killing machines

The immorality is in killing, whatever the cause.  The morality was in both parties putting an end to their killing. One party cannot claim that they have a higher morality that justifies the killings of the “other”. In declaring war against the Sinhalese in the Vadukoddai Resolution, the Tamil leadership assumed the right to kill the Sinhalese for the political reasons outlined by them. It spawned dozens of militant groups — all aiming to achieve Tamil Eelam.  They were all killing machines of the Tamils.

They were armed not only with the gun but also with the war-mongering Vadukoddai ideology that justified killing. They assumed that attaching a political label like “liberation” would give them the moral right to kill with impunity. They assumed that killing for their political cause was the morally correct decision.

The problem is that the other side too believed they had the moral right to kill Tamils for the good of all, just not the Tamils. Each claimed the superior moral right to kill the “other”. Eventually, their righteousness decimated all parties competing for the right to kill.

 Tamil capacity to destroy Tamils is unlimited. Tamil violence is also self-destructive: it kills more Tamils than the enemies. As some Tamils used to say, Prabhakaran was determined to fight until the last Tamil left for Canada. Fortunately, Jaffna was saved for the Jaffnaites by the Sri Lankans before Prabhakaran could eliminate them all. Sunday Observer

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