A TRUE BELIEVER
Gotabaya Rajapakse is a true believer. His life’s
mission was to wipe out the LTTE. While there are those
who considered this to be an impossible task, Gotabaya
had no such qualms. He believed that he could accomplish
in three years what others had failed to achieve in over
approach appears to have been similar to the one used to
crush the JVP in the late ’80s — that is, fight fire
with fire. As in that other bloody crackdown, his
strategy was not just to defeat the enemy on the battle
field, but also to destroy its support base. He did not
differentiate between those who provide money and
services, such as safe houses out of fear and
intimidation, and those who do so out of conviction.
Both met with the same punishment.
who objected to “disappearances” and extra-judicial
killings were not human rights activists, they were
“anti patriotic busy bodies” at best, or LTTE
sympathisers at worst. The systematic elimination of
those suspected, or perceived, to be LTTEers, both in
the south and in the Jaffna Peninsula, was so
successful that the armed forces were able to declare
that the peninsula has largely been cleared of LTTE
Wiped out the JVP hardcore
sense Gotabaya Rajapakse could be identified as a
re-embodiment of Ranjan Wijeratne, who, as deputy
defence minister and foreign minister in President
Premadasa’s government, presided over the crackdown that
wiped out the JVP hardcore as well as thousands of
others who were perceived to be JVP sympathisers.
Although the methods used yielded results in the short
term, that episode took the country back by at least a
Wijeratne also used the JVP crackdown as a cover to go
after the underworld. Dozens of underworld leaders were
killed by a special army unit that worked outside the
control of legal law enforcement agencies. The killings
were blamed either on the JVP or on the many goon squads
that operated in the country at that time. Recent
mysterious killings appear to be uncannily similar.
midst of the cold war the Western world had no sympathy
for a bunch of left wing insurgents trying to overthrow
a democratically elected government, and so, by and
large, they turned a blind eye to the massive human
rights violations that took place under Wijeratne’s
probably puzzles Gotabaya and the government is why the
same international community is up in arms when the
current government decided to use those same methods to
battle a group of ‘terrorists.’
Unfortunately for Gotabaya and the government, the world
has changed since the 1988-89 JVP crack down. There is
no sympathy towards governments, even those that are
democratically elected, that violate the basic human
rights of its people, even in the guise of fighting
‘terrorism.’ Besides, if the target is a minority race
that has been discriminated against over decades, the
issue becomes even more potent.
Gotabaya Rajapakse, air attacks on Colombo were
temporary set backs; and international concerns over
human rights violations are headaches that his brother
the President has to cope with.
Perhaps, as an American citizen, he believes, along with
President George W. Bush, that terrorists and their
supporters have no human rights and that the laws of the
land do not apply to them. And being the President’s
brother, Gotabaya gets to do what he wants to do.
Bandaranaikes and the Rajapakses have this in common;
politics is “the family business” for both clans. While
his three brothers took to politics, Gotabaya joined the
not an outstanding officer of the calibre of Kobbekaduwa
or Wimalaratne, but he was considered to be a solid,
reliable soldier. In an army that was often seen as
corrupt, he had the reputation of being a financially
honest man. In the early ’80s, selection for Staff
College training was an indication that one’s military
career was on the right path.
1983, Gotabaya, was sent to Staff College in India and
his future appeared to be bright. But then, for reasons
known only to him, Lieutenant Colonel Gotabaya Rajapakse
quit the army in 1991 and emigrated to the United States
of America. And that would have been that, had brother
Mahinda not been made President in 2005.
Single minded commitment
lived for one and a half decades in the United States,
Gotabaya returned to the island with a single minded
commitment to a cause — the elimination of the LTTE.
face-off between Velupillai Pirapaharan and Gotabaya
Rajapakse the country sees two people with matching
mindsets squaring off against each other. Both are
hardnosed, uncompromising, inflexible; both displayed
single minded commitment to their cause; both showed
minimal concern for democracy, human rights, and
international repercussions. And both held on to a
simple philosophy; either you are with us, or you are
end it was Gotabaya Rajapakse who triumphed.
HIS STRENGTHS WERE ALSO HIS WEAKNESSES
Pirapaharan was an exceptional man. He had to be. To
dominate a country and set its agenda for two and a half
decades is no mean task. True he got lots of help from
an unimaginative and weak leadership of the Tamils and
establish the pre eminent terror organisation in the
world is no mean task. To do that Pirapaharan had the
right ingredients, single minded commitment, the
ruthlessness and the ability to inspire others. But most
important was his absolute conviction that his way was
the only way to win the rights of “his people,” and his
way to use terror against all opponents — the Sinhala
state, the Tamils who had enough of him and even Rajiv
almost all other Tamil rebels groups — there were at
least 32 in the mid ’80s — had a political ideology,
Pirapaharan had none. He was not a socialist, a
communist or a capitalist. His sole objective was the
creation of a separate state for the Tamils under his
absolute rule. Democracy was anathema for him. There was
no room for dissension or criticism. He was after all a
product of the country’s political system where power is
a tool to be wielded ruthlessly.
leaders who inspired people and won their total loyalty
either had charismatic personalities or were brilliant
orators. Pirapaharan was neither. But his strength was
that he understood his weakness. Instead, he crafted a
myth by being elusive. Only a few cadres have ever seen
him and he rarely made public speeches. The few who did
meet the leader were the suicide cadres just before
leaving on a mission.
1983 riots propelled this rag tag rebel group into a
major force. In the first decade Pirapaharan achieved
his first aim — to be ‘the sole representative of the
Tamil speaking people.’ To achieve that he murdered the
elected Tamil political leadership and then wiped out
all the other Tamil rebel groups.
the Muslims — the other ethnic group that speaks Tamil —
refused to play ball and accept him as their leader, he
evicted 80,000 out of the Northern Province and ordered
his cadres to massacre as many as possible in the east.
His hope was to force the Muslims to flee and make the
north and east an exclusive Tamil area.
too failed and he no longer was the sole leader of the
‘Tamil speaking people’ but the sole leader of the
‘Tamil people,’ a slight but significant amendment that
must have hurt his ego no end.
A creation of the Sinhalese
However, Pirapaharan was a creation of the Sinhalese. If
not for him, the Sinhalese would have never even thought
of treating the Tamils as equals. It is Pirapaharan’s
use of terror that forced the Sinhalese to even discuss
devolving power and to abolish laws and systems that
made them second class citizens.
‘Sinhala Only’ policy, the standardisation of university
entrances were all aimed at keeping the Tamils down. It
is Pirapaharan that gave the Tamils a sense of dignity.
Pirapaharan succeeded where the democratically elected
Tamil leadership failed for two and a half decades. What
the Tamil political leaders failed to achieve by
appealing to reason, Pirapaharan did by using fear.
tragedy for the Tamils in particular and the country as
a whole was that Pirapaharan was politically naïve. If
his single minded commitment was what made the LTTE what
it became, then his inability to be flexible and
realistic ultimately led to its down fall. A successful
guerrilla leader knows when to turn his battlefield
success into political victories. Pirapaharan failed to
understand the new world order post 9/11.
Terror no longer acceptable
use of terror was no longer an acceptable weapon to
achieve freedom. There were no longer ‘freedom fighters’
in this world but mere terrorists. The 2004 peace
process with all its faults may have been Pirapaharan’s
last chance to win the legitimate rights of his people.
The LTTE since then faced the real threat of being
irrelevant in the search for a political solution to
the Sinhalese are magnanimous in victory and any
solution offered by the government leads to meaningful
devolution, the death of 100,000 people and the
suffering of many millions would be in vain.
whatever happens, Velupillai Pirapaharan will go down in
history as having failed in his mission — to create a
separate state exclusively for Tamils in the north and
east of the country.