Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vignettes of the War Ghathakaya (The Butcher) By Keerthi Warnakulasuriya

article_imageReviewed by C. A .Chandraprema

Senior Divaina journalist and defence correspondent Keerthi Warnakulasuriya’s Sinhala book Ghathakaya (The Butcher) is not just about Prabhakaran despite the title and the photograph of Prabhakaran on the front cover. It would perhaps have been better to call it ‘Vignettes of the War’ or something like that because that is what it is – a collection of self contained writings on various aspects of the war. One article that immediately caught my attention was one essay on D.P.Sivaram a former colleague of ours in The Island. Warnakulasuriya has pulled no punches in his description of Sivaram as an LTTE agent. Sivaram, who later became the editor of Tamilnet had many Sinhala friends including the present writer and we all knew he was LTTE, but such was his personality that we liked him nevertheless. After he was abducted and killed by a rival Tamil political group in April 2005, it was Dayan Jayatilleke who said in anguish that Sivaram may have been an LTTEer but every LTTEer is not a D.P.Sivaram.

Warnakulasuriya’s main accusation against Sivaram is that he was trying to build up the theory that the Tigers could never be defeated, through his writings first in The Island and later in other newspapers. This certainly was true. He has on many occasions told even the present writer  things to that effect. He was in fact one of those who kept saying that Jaffna could never be captured because the casualty rates among the civilians, military and the tigers themselves would be too high to make such an operation feasible. Yet the Chandrika Kumaratunga government took Jaffna disproving everything that Sivaram and others had been saying.  The exercise that Sivaram engaged in was not in his best interests. He was producing theory in favour of an outfit over which he had no control. When he said that the armed forces would never be able to capture Jaffna, he expected the LTTE to stay and fight or at least blend into the population and carry out guerrilla attacks on the armed forces.

Sivaram never bargained for what the LTTE actually did. They fled the area taking the population with them, thus making the advance of the army that much easier. Later, the people came back to their homes and Prabhakaran ended up with nothing. After his theory about Jaffna failed, another thing that Sivaram used to say is that Prabhakaran was invincible. He never said this directly, but he would say that some Tamil nationalist in Fiji had published an advertisement in a Fijian newspaper (A.S.P.Liyanage fashion)  with just a photograph of Prabhakaran and the words "By the grace of god, invincible." Many people both local and foreign did in fact think Prabhakaran was invincible. Sivaram has told the present writer also about that Fijian advertisement but I never swallowed that story. For eight years from 1994 to the early part of 2002, I used to say in my lectures at the Ranjan Wijeratne Academy for Political Education that if someone shoots Prabhakaran he will definitely die, but  the problem was in finding someone who can shoot him.

The last time I met Sivaram just two days before he was abducted and killed, Siva tried a different pitch with me saying that Prabhakaran was like the Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost a brave and audacious rebel unbowed by the blows of adversity whose most noteworthy characteristic was his indomitable will. Well I listened to his pitch but was never convinced. I liked Sivaram for all his attempts to market the LTTE to me even though it is quite obvious that journalists like Warnakulasuriya did not. Sivaram was a genial friend, a wonderful conversationalist and all that but I am constrained to agree with Warnakulasuriya that Sivaram did have a dark side to his character. During the JVP insurrection in the late 1980s, it was Sivaram who had coordinated the provision to landmine technology from PLOTE to the JVP.  The JVP was using those landmines to kill Sivaram’s Sinhala friends in the left movement in Colombo. I remember Dr Rajitha Senaratne who was then in the Mahajana Party telling me how he always drives at breakneck speed when going to attend the funerals of left wing activists killed by the JVP. The JVP knew that left wing leaders would be coming along the road from Colombo for the funeral and there was a risk of landmine attacks. Dr Senaratne’s  theory was that if one went fast enough, even if the vehicle went over a landmine, hopefully because of the speed the vehicle was travelling at, the explosion would hit only the rear of the of the vehicle and he would survive.

That was all Sivaram’s handiwork. He was a man who had enormous personal charm. The fact that he gave landmine technology to the JVP should have been enough to make the present writer hate him. Yet I covered up for Sivaram and did not publish his name when I wrote my series on the JVP even though I did mention the fact that it was PLOTE that gave that know-how to the JVP. That perhaps was the extent of Sivaram’s personal charm. He was shielded even by persons whose lives he put at risk. Besides, to become a backer of an organisation like the LTTE needs a twist to your character.  Siva did have his dark side and there were obviously people who were not as good natured or forgiving as the present writer which is why things turned out the way they did in April 2005.

Warnakulasuriya’s book has some interesting episodes of the war such as the high drama surrounding the importation of multi-barrel rocket launchers to Sri Lanka with the transport planes bringing them from the Czech Republic being delayed at various airports by interested parties. It is little known episodes like this about the war that makes Warnakulasuriya’s book interesting. Another episode is the daredevil exploits of Inspector Nilabdeen who crossed over to LTTE held territory in the east in search of evidence of Prabhakaran’s involvement in the Central Bank bombing of 1996.  Prabhakaran had awarded the LTTE operative who had organised the hit on the Central Bank a special plaque to commemorate the success of the event and this was kept in the home of  the main suspect.  A team of officers had crossed over to the LTTE held area disguised as Tamil civilians and brought the trophy along with the father of the main suspect. When the trophy was dusted for fingerprints, some of those found were those of Prabhakaran.

The fingerprints of Prabhakaran were never available with any intelligence service in Sri Lanka, and they had to seek the help of the Tamil Nadu police to get Prabhakaran’s fingerprints which had been obtained when he was arrested following the Pondy bazzar  shootout in 1982. The fingerprints on the trophy and those provided by Tamil Nadu had matched and that was how Prabhakaran’s direct connection to the Central Bank bombing was established forensically. The vignettes of the war in Warnakulasuriya’s book would be of interest to the English readership as well and he should consider getting a good English translation done.

(The Island)