The Hindu, May 19 2009
were many important moments in the history of the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam and its supremo Velupillai Prabakaran. The pictures here
provide glimpses from a time when the group enjoyed the comfort of a
base in Tamil Nadu, the support of leaders such as M.G. Ramachandran,
the historic signing of the India-Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987, and the
assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Some recently discovered pictures also
show Prabakaran with family members.
- PHOTO: S. KOTHANDARAMAN
SUPPORT & SYMPATHY: Velupillai Prabakaran with Chief Minister
M.G. Ramachandran in Chennai.
- PHOTO: K. GAJENDRAN
AT HOME BASE: Prabakaran, at centre, is seen with (from left),
his colleagues Swarnam, Mahatiya and Yogi in Jaffna in August 1987. At
right is N. Ram.
- THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
UNUSUAL PROTEST: The LTTE chief breaks a fast he undertook in
Chennai, demanding return of articles seized from his group by the
police. Dravidar Kazhagam leader K. Veeramani is at right.
- PHOTO: PIB
KEY DISCUSSION: A day before the India-Sri Lanka Agreement of
1987 was signed, Prabakaran (at right) is seen with Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi, former Tamil Nadu Minister Panruti Ramachandran and LTTE
ideologue Anton Balasingham in New Delhi.
- THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
AFTER THE ACCORD: With Kittu, Jaffna leader of the LTTE, as he
speaks at Sudumalai after the signing of the peace agreement.
- PHOTO: N. RAM
LANDMARK AGREEMENT: Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan
President J.R. Jayewardene sign the India-Sri Lanka Agreement in
Colombo on July 29, 1987.
DEADLY PLAN: Sivarasan (at right), the leader of the
assassination squad, and suicide bomber Dhanu, who holds a garland,
wait for Rajiv Gandhi to arrive for the fateful Sriperumbudur meeting
THE ASSASSIN: Moments before being assassinated, Rajiv Gandhi
listens to a girl recite a poem. Dhanu, with flowers in her hair, is at
- PHOTO: AP
Norway's Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, right, greets
Prabakaran during a meeting in Kilinochchi in 2004.
Prabakaran at his wedding at a temple near Chennai.
- PHOTO: AP
Soosai, a commander of the LTTE, at Elephant Pass in 2003, and
Pottu Amman, head of the intelligence unit. Both were reported killed.
FAMILY TIES: In a recently discovered picture, Prabakaran is
seen with his parents, wife Mathivathani and son Charles Antony.
End of a warlord & zealot
Velupillai Prabakaran, 1954-2009
CHENNAI: The 37-year-old quest of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam has ended with the death of its founder Velupillai Prabakaran. He
was 54 years old. He was shot dead by the Sri Lanka Army at
Mullivaikkal in Mullaithivu district in northern Sri Lanka. His elder
son Charles Antony, and also the entire top leadership of the LTTE,
including the LTTE’s intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, and the Sea
Tigers chief, Soosai, were killed after being encircled by the Sri
Lankan armed forces. Until the last, Prabakaran, a ruthless and dreaded
terrorist yet ironically remaining an inspirational symbol to thousands
of Sri Lankan Tamils, remained uncompromising on his goal of armed
struggle, a struggle that despite its lofty claims had often manifested
in ruthless violence even directed at fellow Tamils.
Yet in the early 1980s, Prabakaran had indeed appeared eager to be
seen as a revolutionary fighter, in the mould of heroic figures of
legendary revolutions. “Socialism and Tamil Eelam form our political
ideology, our cause,” he had told The Hindu in an interview in Chennai in September 1986. On another occasion, he told Frontline
in November 1985: “We had an ideology from the beginning — that was to
form a socialist State. If we did not give shape to that ideology, it
was because we got straightway into the struggle.”
Prabakaran, who had little patience for the sophistry of political
negotiations, made a virtue out of his sole reliance on violence and
armed struggle. He made clear that he believed in the primacy of the
gun and in the philosophy of “hitting back.” As Yogi, a senior LTTE
leader, told this newspaper in August 1987 after the Indian
Peace-Keeping Force had arrived in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka
consequent to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement: “Thamby
[Prabakaran] would always tell me that he preferred fighters to
Prabakaran had a child-like craving for the LTTE to be recognised
“as the sole representative of the Tamil race.” Unfortunately that
craving turned into a deadly cannibalistic tendency to devour other
Tamil militant groups, thus undermining the struggle for equal rights
for Sri Lankan Tamils. The result was that most of his military
energies were spent on the destructive task of liquidating other
militant leaders and groups. An early chilling indication of
Prabakaran’s fascistic side was his personal gunning down of the Mayor
of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappa, in July 1975. The fratricidal conflicts
with TELO and PLOTE, the gunning down of the soft-spoken leader of
TELO, Sri Sabarathnam and of the EPRLF’s K. Padmanabha revealed that
Prabakaran was no revolutionary fighter as he claimed but a murderous
terrorist who would stop at nothing to achieve his own supremacy.
With the dastardly assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991 by
means of suicide belt-bomber Dhanu at Sriperumbudur, about 35 km from
Chennai, Prabakaran was proclaimed an absconding offender. Prabakaran
was the No. 1 accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The
assassination led to the LTTE being banned by India and further
ostracism internationally with a number of countries including the U.S.
and the U.K. following suit. The assassination marked the beginning of
the fall of the LTTE because it lost public support in Tamil Nadu.
Over the past 37 years, Prabakaran transformed the LTTE into a
formidable military machine. What was first a guerrilla force became a
conventional fighting force offering formidable resistance to the Sri
Lankan armed forces. The LTTE acquired a sea wing and an air force. It
also had a police force, a border security force and home guards. His
control of Jaffna was that of a warlord, as he kept an entire Tamil
population in thrall, virtually sealing the area off from any
democratic challenge from within the Tamil political field.
Prabakaran was drawn into the Tamil struggle after the Sri Lankan
government passed a series of legislations, first aimed at the
plantation Tamils and then against the Sri Lankan Tamils themselves.
Repeated violence against the Tamils in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s
influenced Prabakaran to take to armed struggle. Explaining to Frontline
in November 1985 what impelled him to become a fighter for the Tamil
cause, Prabakaran noted that when he was young his parents “used to
talk a lot at home against the 1958 racial riots directed against the
Tamils in which many people were affected. This affected me.”
He further explained in that interview that when he was at school,
he had private tuitions from a former member of the Tamil Federal
party, V. Navarathinam, In Prabakaran’s words, “He used to talk to us
on various world movements, how nothing can be published by
parliamentary means, etc. I was 15 years old then and I got the feeling
that we also should hit back and that we should have a separate country
of our own.”
So it was that Prabakaran, still in his teens, first formed the
Tamil New Tigers (TNT) in 1972. The tiger was chosen as the emblem
because the tiger represented the Chola flag and stood for Tamil
patriotism and a Tamil nation.
Yet the TNT was a forerunner of the LTTE, just as ruthless and
fascist in its tactics. Apart from the assassination of Alfred
Duraiappa, the record of the TNT included raids on banks, lamp-posting
killing of informants and murdering secret service police officers.
But with all his dependence on violence to achieve his ends,
Prabakaran recognised the utility of non-violent tactics on occasion,
as for instance when he took to the Gandhian mode of protest of going
on a fast-unto-death when the LTTE’s communication sets were seized in
November 1986. Asked how a man who believed in an armed struggle could
resort to a Gandhian non-violent form of protest, he sallied: “The
Irish Republican Army leader Bobby Sands too went on a
A lot of his political inspiration was, self-confessedly, from
India. Early heroes of his school days were ‘Netaji’ Subash Chandra
Bose and Tiruppur Kumaran. He was also an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Prabakaran’s father Tiruvengadam Velupillai was a Land Development
Officer in the employ of the Sri Lankan government. His mother’s name
is Parvathy. Prabakaran, who was born on November 26, 1954, had an
elder brother and two elder sisters. He was the last of the four
siblings. He married Mathivadhani at the Murugan temple in Tirupporur
near Chennai in 1984. His first son Charles Antony was born in 1985,
followed by a daughter Dwaraka. His second son’s name is Balachandran.
He named his elder son Charles Antony because Charles Antony was the
first LTTE fighter to lose his life in a confrontation with the Sri
Lanka Army. The younger son is called Balachandran, in memory of
Madhivadhani’s brother Balachandran, who was also an LTTE member who
died in a clash with the IPKF.