It was about 3 pm on May 21, 1991.
I, a struggling reporter with a Tamil weekly magazine, and my photographer-friend S Kumaresan left office to cover Jyoti Basu’s visit to Chennai. Our first destination was Mylapore where the veteran communist leader was to address a campaign meeting for the ensuing Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections. In fact, the election fever was at its peak and several leaders had descended on the city that hot day.
On the way, on Royapettah High Road, we happened to meet a friend of Kumaresan’s. “Srini, this is Haribabu. Haribabu, this is Srini,” Kumaresan introduced us to each other. A photographer with a local agency, Haribabu was rushing for an assignment of his own. He was polite but was obviously distracted and was in a great hurry to leave. “I am going to Sriperumbudur to cover Rajiv Gandhi’s visit and I have to take the bus,” he explained.
Kumaresan named a bus stop nearby and asked if he was going there. “No, no. I have to go to Kuralagam [several miles away] and buy a sandalwood garland first. My friends want to garland Rajiv at the meeting,” Haribabu said before revving up his TVS-50 and vanishing into the traffic.
Seven hours later, Haribabu died.
In addition to helping the suicide bomber get closer to Rajiv Gandhi with that sandalwood garland, the young photographer also performed the task of capturing the gruesome assassination on film presumably for the amusement of LTTE supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran. In the process, he got too close.
I will never forget this chilling encounter with a murder participant. The LTTE had taken a bunch of innocent, lower-middle class people—with brothers and sisters to care for—and changed them into a ruthless murder machine.
But there was a bigger irony. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi was only one of the many instances when the LTTE turned against those that wished it well and went out of the way to help. Look at the long list of LTTE’s friends who became its victims. From Rajiv to Ranasinghe Premadasa to Amirthalingam to Neelan Thiruchelvam, some of the most powerful leaders of India and Sri Lanka had helped LTTE remain relevant in the Tamil movement at various points. But when they didn’t show enough enthusiasm for Prabhakaran’s dictatorial ambitions, he ordered their killing. Gratitude is not something that is part of the bloodthirsty culture of LTTE.
It is the same LTTE that wants to break bread with India now. In an interview to Firstpost.com, Prabhakaran’s successor Kumaran Pathmanathan a.k.a. KP called the Rajiv Gandhi assassination a ‘mistake’. “I want to apologise for Prabhakaran’s mistake. Please forgive us, we beg you,” he said.
At first look, the apology that came on the 20th anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination looks weird, unexpected, uncharacteristic and confusing. Why should the LTTE apologise to India, that too now?
On my part, I am worried that India may take this KP character seriously. The overzealous diplomatic geniuses that decide India’s foreign policy—each of whom thinks he is a direct descendant of Chanakya—may cynically support using the LTTE to further our interests in Sri Lanka. Such a foolhardy adventure, if it ever happens, will certainly end in another disaster for India given the LTTE’s history.
But wait. Is not the LTTE defeated, decimated and finished once for all? Didn’t they say that with Prabhakaran’s death, the terror group won’t be able to rear its ugly head again? Then why are we talking about dealing with it once more?
Welcome to the capitalist world of terrorism. The LTTE, like all good anarchists, nevertheless believed in creating a business empire to sustain itself and ended up with assets worth billions of dollars. This empire includes legitimate businesses such as restaurants, shops and newspapers across the world and illegitimate businesses like drug trafficking and gun running. This multinational conglomeration remains intact and is making pots of money despite the death of its chairman emeritus, Prabhakaran.
Somebody should take care of this orphan and nurture it, right? Well, there are quite a few claimants from the old LTTE who have volunteered to become billionaires by doing that. KP, a long-time gunrunner, is only one of them. And luckily for him, the Sri Lankan government has taken an interest in the affairs and decided to throw its weight behind his faction. So you could even say that KP is the chief spokesman of the Mahinda Rajapakse faction of the LTTE.
His chief rival is Nediyavan, or if you care for his tongue-twisting real name, Perinpanayagam Sivaparan. This Russian-educated gentleman now lives in Norway and engages in noble pursuits like extortion and money laundering. He is a senior LTTE leader and a claimant to be the successor to Prabhakaran. He has a history of clashing with KP for control over the lucrative international assets of the LTTE.
In a bizarre coincidence, Nediyavan was arrested by the Dutch police on extortion charges, when KP was apologising to India. Even the terrorist-friendly environment of Norway was not adequate to save Nediyavan from the cases in the Netherlands. It leaves KP free, at least temporarily, to pursue his ambitions.
There is a third claimant to the throne. US-based lawyer Visvanathan Rudrakumaran has formed what is called the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, a setup dominated by the Tamil diaspora living in the US, Europe and Southeast Asia. Given that the LTTE has been declared a terrorist organisation in most of these countries, Rudrakumaran has taken the non-violent, political approach to separatism.
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