The Sunday Leader

Tracking The Tigers’ Trajectory

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The Tiger Vanquished: LTTE’s Story By M.R. Narayan Swamy

There are books that are a ‘must read‘, and others that are a ‘cracking good read’. MR Narayan Swamy’s latest book on Sri Lanka, The Tiger Vanquished: LTTE’s Story (Sage Publications, 2010), is both. It is an objective, balanced, reliable and fairly authoritative account of the last war, its prelude and its aftermath.

It should be read across the spectrum, by Sri Lankans and non-Sri Lankans interested either in Sri Lanka or the broader themes of insurgency, terrorism and ethnic conflict. The long introduction is the best single text I have read so far on the last war, from build-up and backdrop to its grand finale and present-day prospects.

Prefaced by a cinematically perfect final telephone conversation in May 2009 between a trapped Tiger leader and his family in Europe, punctuated by the ever-louder, ever closer Sri Lankan gunnery, it is a fast paced narrative woven through with analytical commentary. The author is neither Sinhalese nor Tamil and therefore far enough from the emotions roused by the topic, but a journalist from the neighbouring country India with a nose to the ground and an engagement with the Sri Lanka story for decades and therefore close enough to the subject matter.

M.R. Narayan Swamy was on the story which, in the bloody wake of July ’83, was beginning to bulk large in the Indian press. He is still on it, having never taken his eye off the ball. When he wrote his first book on the Tigers, he would not have thought it would be a trilogy, but that’s what it has amounted to. This book is the third of a triptych and brings the story to a close while deftly pinning it to what went on before.

Narayan Swamy is a reporter par excellence and this book is a reporter’s story. Like any good reporter, he tries to cover it from as many angles as possible, balancing the report. He emerges as a specialist on the Tigers and on Prabhakaran in particular. Just as the earlier ones were of the rise and hegemony of the Tigers – and Prabhakaran — this is the book of its and his fall. It is neither pure description nor attempt at military history; it is solid political journalism.

The book traces and fixes the beginnings of the last war, confirming that had the tsunami not hit the island in late 2004, Prabhakaran’s final offensive almost certainly would have and that he didn’t give the newly elected Mahinda Rajapaksa more than a few weeks before he initiated armed attacks unilaterally at the end of 2005. On the political side, as an informed outsider who had observed Sri Lankan leaders grapple with this problem for decades, he discovers the importance of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s clarity and determination in ending it.

He confirms my reading that President Chandrika Kumaratunga spiritedly retaliated against the LTTE by capturing Jaffna in late ’95 and yet inexplicably lost steam shortly after, leaving room for the LTTE to counterattack devastatingly — and repeating that strange shuffle after her successful defence of Jaffna in 2000. The book reminds us of the historical contributions of the three who won the war — Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka – and that is the order of ranking that rises from the narrative.

Narayan Swamy adds considerable value to our existing body of knowledge on the war. He pieces together from Tiger survivors that Prabhakaran expected the Sri Lankan armed forces to stop after the capture of Kilinochchi – helping us understand  just how crucial it was that the offensive momentum was maintained and the old doctrine of ‘negotiations from strength’ was abandoned in favour of a war winning strategy aimed at defeating and destroying the enemy. Narayan Swamy also confirms that Prabhakaran expected the West to intervene and the Indian electorate to turf out the Congress, either of which he thought would provide him a safe exit.

The author breaks a story by revealing that under the BJP administration, Delhi had assigned several top officials of the intelligence agency RAW to join the Norwegian led ‘peace process’ and even help draft the Ceasefire Agreement. Luckily for Sri Lanka there was a change of administration and of attitude in New Delhi.

The record of contemporary history is set straight by the author who has no partisan axe to grind. The erosion in the morale of some of the Tiger cadre during and due to the CFA is captured in the account. Due strategic importance is given, as it usually isn’t in hagiographic renditions, to the Karuna schism (and its weaker precursor, the dissent of Prabhakaran’s deputy, Mahattaya). Narayan Swamy makes clear that Karuna’s was no treachery, as many ultra-nationalist Tamils still have it, but a serious and predictable regional contradiction between Eastern sacrifice and Northern domination which went unheeded and unresolved due to Prabhakaran’s arrogance.

The author’s first (and first hand) impressions of Mahinda Rajapaksa, both as Prime Minister and President, were that here was a man who was ready and even eager for peace but unlike any of his predecessors, was clearly determined from the outset that if war was resorted to by the Tigers, it would be a fight to the finish with the express goal of defeating them utterly. The book leaves no doubt that this, the determined new national leadership, was the single most important of several ‘game changers’ that enabled Prabhakaran to be vanquished.

While there are commentaries that attribute that determination to everything ranging from Sinhala chauvinism to nepotistic need, these beg the question as to why all previous leaders were unable to do so, with whatever motivations however exalted or base. As Lenin once quipped, “there is no such thing as a sincerometer in politics” and it is impossible in serious political analysis to impute motivation in the absence of documentary evidence. Whatever the motivations of Mahinda Rajapaksa, they got the primary job done.

M.R. Narayan Swamy is politically far too literate a commentator to present a mono-causal (still less exclusively Rajapaksa-centric) explanation for the fall of the Tigers. Instead, he identifies a cluster of three factors, all of which came into being in the year 2004. It is this convergence of 2004 that killed Prabhakaran and his Tiger project, argues the writer. These factors were the Karuna breakaway, Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming PM and the Congress returning to office in India.

Narayanswamy’s testimony unwittingly puts paid to the perspective that strikes an anti -Tiger posture but still bewails Mahinda Rajapaksa’s accession to the Prime Ministership over Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar. The author discloses the fascinating detail that Delhi, by this time under a Congress administration, tilted in favour of Rajapaksa over Kadirgamar in the premier stakes. The PM ship was always the staging post for the presidential candidacy, and if Mahinda were not the PM, he would have had far less of a chance of being the SLFP’s presidential candidate and still less prospect of winning. No Mahinda Rajapaksa, no military victory over Prabhakaran — that much is borne out by this book.

This book, especially the substantive introduction and part-predictive postscript, should comprise essential reading for all students of and policy makers concerned with Sri Lankan and Tamil affairs.  It is also relevant reading for existing and aspirant guerrillas and counter-insurgents everywhere.

16 Comments for “Tracking The Tigers’ Trajectory”

  1. Dayan Jayathillake is a marxist who adores Castro. He brought forth much damage to Sri Lanka when he criticised the innocent Queen of UK, while on a diplomatic post in Geneva. The country got a good battering from the British media, thanks to him.

    Dayan J is a Moron who thinks he knows everything but an idiot

  2. nizam

    LTTE is gone. What is next from government? They should immediately seize all the ongoing atrocities against war victims in war zone. There news confirming that government has acquired lands belongs to North and east. They should stop all these political drama and nonsence. official apology from head of state is required for arocities, genocide and war crime committed by successive goverernment and legal procecution should follow against perpetrators. Now way that we can harbour and spend out tax money for war criminals who are in state services.

  3. Lankan

    stupid statement made by JR soon after the 83 riots should be officially withdrawn. His remainis should be unearthed and punished for that statement and his name should be stripped off from the past president list.

  4. ….IF YOU HAVE FINISHED REBELS…WHY MILITARY CAMPS IN NORTH-EAST???? WHY NORTH-EAST SEA IS WELL GUARDED???FOR WHOEM YOU ARE AFRAID???? THIS WAS THE SAME SITUATION DURING 70 S…AND SECURITY FORCES AND SINHALESE WENT ON RAMPAGE….REMEMBER WHAT HAPPEND LATER????

    • deen

      camps still on because still dogs like you are there

      • THIS IS WHY THEY PUT MILITARY CAMPS IN MUSLIM AREA TOO THOUGH MUSLIMS ARE SO SO PATRIOTIC…

        • LEO

          DEAR READERS….

          PLEASE DON’T INSULT DOGS BY COMPARING KOOPU WITH DOGS…..

          DOGS AT LEAST CAN LEARN SOME THING BUT THIS KOOPU IS PREPROGRAMED TO LIVE AS EXTREMIST RACIST TAMIL IN IMAGINARY TAMIL HOMELAND….

          LEO-Melbourne

    • Victor

      So you want security forces to vacate north -east to to enable you to plant seeds of terrorism again !

      • ..NOW YOUR BIG BOSS AND YOUR HEROS ARE PAVING THE WAY….FOR ANOTHER…..SHOW BY THEIR ANTI-TAMIL ACTIVITIES TOGETHER WITH AYATULLAHS…..DONT WORRY VICTOR YOU CAN WASH THE PRISON AT THE HAGUE FREE WHEN YOU HEROS ARE THERE…JUST WAIT…DO YOU KNOW WHERE IS …………………THE HAGUE????

        • LEO

          KOOPU….

          MY DARLING TERRORIST KID….

          LTTE (YOU) STARTED WAR…
          YOU KILLED VAST MAJORITY OF CIVILLIANS INCLUDING TAMILS IN THE WAR…..
          WHAT WE DONE IS CRUSH THE TERRORISTS LIKE ALLIED FORCES DESTROYED HITLER’S FORCES…
          DID THE ALLIED PROSECUTED FOR WAR CRIMES FOR DESTROYING LTTE????

          FOOLISH MAN THEN THINK WHO WILL PROSECUTED FOR WAR CRIMES IN SRI LANKA!…

          LEO-Melbourne

  5. MUCH SAID ABOUT PROPOSED PRIME MINISTER POST TO THIS FELLOW KADIRGAMAR….WHO CANT SPEAK PROPER TAMIL ALSO MARRIED A SINHALEASE…..THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN A PUPPET POST…KADIRGAMAR DID HIS BEST EVERYTHING AGAINST HIS OWN COMMUNITY FOR HIS UNELECTED MINISTER POST…..TAMIL HISTORY WILL TREAT HIM AS A TRAITER…SO FUTURE SINHALEASE…BETTER ERASE HIS NAME FROM NEWS..

    • Victor

      Kadir did his best against terrorists like you, not against his own community. Your own community suffer because of racists like you. You still request west to boycott Lankan goods. Are not tamils part of the country who too will be affected ?

  6. P.Riyad

    Any country has to be aware of regional sensitivity to happenings in one’s country..but that does not mean capitulation. Whilst we respect India’s opinions, we must do what is best for the people of this country first and foremost. All other considerations are subject this nation’s requirements..which means developing strong links across the globe with nations that we are in harmony with..be it Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and even India.

  7. gunda

    The writer seems to be working hard to get a job back in Rajapaksa’s Govt after being unceremoniously sacked from Geneva. His last few utterings in this paper confirm this. He is giving credit to Narayan Swamy and Rajapaksa in this write up. Narayan Swamy is reeling from the humiliation IPKF received from the hands of LTTE during late eighties. He appears to have suffered so badly that he churns out books and articles only about LTTE. The world does not revolve around Narayan Swamy or this writer.

  8. Four of our earlier Presidents tried to rid the terrorists but failed because of their wrong attitude, wrong approach and wrong policies. JRJ would have finished LTTE and Piripaharan a long way back, had he not upset India. Premadase would have finished it, had he allowed IPKF to remain for a few more months. ChandrikaK would have done it had she not mixed the war with ‘Peace thawalams’. Wijetunge of cause didn’t have the political savvy and of cause the time.

    Whatever Dayan and Narayan Swamy says; I say, most credit for eradicating the LTTE menace must go to those of us that worked hard at ground level to elect Mahinda Rajapakse as President of this country against all odds. Thereafter, the credit must go to none other than Mahinda and his brother Gota. They should get 95% of the credit. I say that because; it is the said duo that formulated the strategy to wage the war and carried it to the end. It’s a myth to say people like SF were indispensible. How come, the East was won without SF.? What is not to say that some other army commander would have finished the job quicker? And he may not have done debacles like the one in Alimankada.

    It is the Rajapakses that faced the national and international impediments and workout the tactics to prevail over them. Don’t take my word, just read comments by LTTE rumps here and see who they blame for the demise of their pet project – separatism. Election after election results proved that people by far expect Rajapakses to lead this country along the right track and keep it safe. And the development; it just would follow effortlessly.

  9. Abdullah

    This so-called expert Narayan Samy is a least respected bugger in India. He works for RAW and always tow the line of the corrupt agency.

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