As others see him...
Anita Pratap, first journalist to
Jyotindra Dixit, India's Foreign
Professor Marshall R Singer
General Depinder Singh, Overall Force Commander of the Indian Peace Keeping
General S.C. Sardesh Pande, IPKF
Divisional Commander, Jaffna
Major General Harkirat Singh, Indian
Peace Keeping Force's First Commander in Jaffna
Prasanna Dahanayake, Sri Lanka Army
M.R.Narayan Swamy, Author of Tigers of Sri Lanka
Jane's Sentinel, World Defence &
Intelligence Information Resource
Anita Pratap, the first journalist to
interview Velupillai Pirabaharan...
"...The myth was
bigger than the man. That was in the early '80s, when I met LTTE leader Velupillai
Pirabaharan for the very first time... Today, the man is bigger than the myth... In one of
her interviews to me, (Sri Lanka) President Chandrika Kumaratunga had said "even the
best guerrillas must tire of fighting and war". That was five years ago. Pirabaharan
is better than the best. His energy and commitment to his cause show no signs of flagging.
From a hit-and-run guerrilla fighter, he has evolved into a mastermind of conventional
battles, the commander of a national army that forced the world's fourth largest army to
retreat and is now giving the Sri Lankan
army a run for its money.
The more wounded Pirabaharan is, the more ferocious he becomes - it's
not for nothing he chose the tiger as his emblem. His stealth, timing, cunning, ambushes -
all are inspired by the tiger. And like the tiger, his courage is raw and proud. Some time
back, I had asked him what he had learned over two decades as a guerrilla fighter. He
answered, "He who dares, wins." That was the headline given to the interview
when it was published in Time. Five months later, I happened to travel in Europe and the
US and was amazed to see the number of Sri Lankan Tamils wearing T-shirts with that
legend. Pirabaharan has spawned a worldwide legion." (Anita Pratap reporting in
Outlook on The Best Guerrilla
of All, June 2000)
Jyotindra Dixit, India's Foreign
Secretary in Assignment in Colombo...
"The LTTE's emergence as the most dominant and effective politico-military force
representing Tamil interests was due to the following factors:
First, the character and personality of its leader V
Pirabaharan who is disciplined, austere and passionately committed to the cause of Sri
Lankan Tamils' liberation. Whatever he may be criticised for, it cannot be denied that the
man has an inner fire and dedication and he is endowed with natural military abilities,
both strategic and tactical. He has also proved that he is a keen observer of the nature
of competitive and critical politics. He has proved his abilities in judging political
events and his adroitness in responding to them.
Secondly, he has created a highly disciplined, and dedicated cadres, a manifestation of
which is inherent in what is called the 'cyanide cult.' Each regular member of the LTTE
carries a cyanide pill and is pledged to committing suicide rather than being captured by
The third factor is the cult and creed of honesty in the disbursement and
utilisation of resources. Despite long years spent in struggle, the LTTE cadres were known
for their simple living, lack of any tendency to exploit the people and their operational
The fourth factor has been the LTTE's ability to upgrade its political and military
capacities including technological inputs despite the constraints imposed on it by Sri
Lankan forces and later by India.
The fifth factor is a totally amoral and deadly violent approach in dealing with those
the LTTE considers as enemies.
The sixth factor is Pirabaharan's success in gathering around him senior
advisers with diverse political, administrative and technological capacities, which
contributed to effective training of his cadres, optimum utilisation of the military
equipment which he had, and the structuring of an efficient command and control
system. (Assignment Colombo, by J N Dixit, Konarak Publishers,
Marshall R Singer, Ph. D. Professor of
International and Intercultural Affairs, Graduate School of Public and International
Affairs - University of Pittsburgh...
"As far as I can tell most ordinary Tamils support the Tigers, not necessarily
because they like them, but because they like the Sri Lankan - or Indian - armies less. The
Tigers are ruthless and authoritarian but they are not corrupt - they don't tolerate
stealing, bribery or rape, things other armies are famous for. In fact they are
perceived as being single minded in their defence of Tamils. They are so disciplined that
when captured, they swallow cyanide capsules that they carry with them at all times,
rather than risk revealing anything under torture." (Statement before US
Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing
on Sri Lanka November 14,1995)
Depinder Singh, Overall Force Commander of the Indian Peace Keeping Force...
"Numerous questions were to be asked as to why the IPKF could not
capture or kill Pirabaharan; another equally wild allegation was that the IPKF had orders
not to kill Pirabaharan. Apart from the impossibility of singling out an individual target
for destruction or protection in such an environment, we must remember that by virtue of
the fact that the LTTE had an effective junior leadership, the loss of Pirabaharan could
never have resulted in the disintegration of the LTTE.. This (book) is a left
handed salute to the LTTE whose deviousness cannot overshadow their incredible motivation
and magnificent fighting prowess, for which the Indian armed forces will always have a
healthy respect." (Lieutenant General Depinder Singh in "The IPKF in
Sri Lanka " published in 1992)
General S.C. Sardesh Pande, IPKF Divisional Commander, Jaffna...
"I have a high regard for the LTTE for its discipline,
dedication, determination, motivation and technical expertise... I was left with the
impression that the LTTE was the expression of popular Tamil sentiment and could not be
destroyed, so long as that sentiment remained... Our unit and
formation commanders too came under the mental hypnosis of the LTTE. They
would graphically explain how well entrenched the LTTE was in the minds of
the people, how ungrateful people were to us, how elusive the LTTE was, how
perfect it was in the midst of the people and in its actions, how effective
was its grip over the public and so on - virtually admitting that it was an
impossible task and all our endeavours were pointless.
commander was relating vividly how the LTTE cadres - including their women -
fought so bravely, killed our soldiers in fierce combat and proved to be our
bane in early October '87 in the Jaffna University Campus. I thought he was
doing a good PR job for the LTTE. There was no doubt about the proportion of
exaggeration in the indirect kudos accruing to the LTTE. The Brig had to be
told to make use of his professionally critical faculties in evaluating the
LTTE and not illogical awe. A lot of such roughage which had been allowed to
enter the cerebral recesses of some of our unit and formation commanders had
to be evacuated and their thinking disabused of self-invited cant. Mentally
such influence was dangerous. I too frequently fell prey to this
weakness, but made conscious and equally frequent efforts to shake loose
from this hypnotic state; and, I think, I largely succeeded...
" (Lieutenant General S.C.
Sardesh Pande in "Assignment
Jaffna", published in 1992)
Major General Harkirat Singh, Indian Peace
Keeping Force's first commander in Jaffna...
".... The Tamils have sacrificed [a lot],
the LTTE is highly motivated and there is one aim: Eelam. Independence. Till they get independence
they are not going to stop... They have fought their entire
lives in the jungles. I have flown over the jungles with Mahathya, the number two man
to Pirabaharan, in my helicopter. We flew over the jungles of Vavuniya and he explained to
me how they fought against the Sri Lankans all these years. So they knew each inch of the
land. We would push them out of Jaffna, they would get into the jungles. Then you would be
fighting them for the next 10 years...
Pirabaharan learnt on television that the [Indo
Sri Lanka] Accord had been signed and they were not party to it. It was one reason why
the LTTE never accepted the Accord and India's stand. If we had taken the LTTE into
confidence, they would have known the whole thing, their terms would have been put across
to Jayewardane, and the situation would have been different. Dixit was in a great hurry to
get the Accord signed...
Pirabaharan is not a small man. He is the leader,
a charismatic leader of the LTTE. His life is very precious. And a very simple man. No
bullshit about him. His wife lived with three saris - one she wore, one she washed and one
was ready to wear. That is all. They never drank Coca-Cola. They offered us Coca-Cola, but
never drank it themselves. They drank that goliwala soda... Pirabaharan
spoke to me in English many a time. He appeared well-read.... they [the LTTE]
were very cordial. They would take me anywhere. I had lot of time for them...".
Interview with Josy Joseph, 30 March 2000)
Prasanna Dahanayake, of the Sri Lanka Army...
"We ought to take the people into our
confidence..... just as Pirabaharan is doing. Instead of taking the people into our
confidence, we seem to be lying to the people. ... the Tiger casualty figures given so far
by the (Sri Lanka) government is equivalent to the whole population of the north. ....The
Tigers, on the other hand, take video shots of their operations and distribute copies
among their public and recruits to gain their confidence... the army seems not to have
studied too well the capability of their main opponent - Velupillai Pirabaharan. Pirabaharan
is a 'military genius' and his political power has given him an advantage to combat our
political and military leaders. He has often outwitted, outmanoeuvred and outclassed our
military and political leaders. Why is this so? Today after 18 years of battle,
most of the victories, sadly, belong to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and we are
continuing to fool ourselves... the man behind the weapon is always more important than
the weapon itself and that this has been repeatedly proved by the LTTE
forces....Pirabaharan has virtually beaten our forces on land and sea...." (Major
General Prasanna Dahanayake in an interview reported in the Sinhala owned Sunday Leader, 6
M.R.Narayan Swamy, Author of Tigers of Sri Lanka...
Madurai provided Pirabaharan ample time to go through all that he had achieved and what
he had failed to since taking to militancy almost a decade earlier. It was time for
introspection and for reading and preparing for the years to come. It also gave him a good
insight into the Indian polity; how it functioned and how it could be subverted if one had
the right links.
Nedumaran had reasons to be impressed. He remembered seeing Pirabaharan in Jaffna in
1981, but the latter had not revealed his identity then. Naturally he was shocked when he
came face to face with Pirabaharan in prison. "For several reasons I did not tell you
(who I was)", Pirabaharan told him. It was a plus point for a man who believed in
... The Tigers often went without food or sleep, but never hesitated to heavily spend
on newspapers, Indian and foreign magazines and a wide spectrum of leftwing literature.
They also bought glossy books and journal on arms and ammunition. ..
In the meantime, Pirabaharan began experimenting with a code language in a major way.
He had tried it in other forms earlier in Jaffna, giving each Tamil alphabet a number.
"It is for safety," he had told friends.
Now, in Tamil Nadu, with more heads put together, the code looked a lot tougher to
understand or decipher. An Indian who witnessed the experimentation mistook the secret
language to be Chinese or Japanese.
Money remained a problem. Pirabaharan and his associates usually managed to survive on
bread and jam. It meant Pirabaharan had to suppress his love for non-vegetarian food,
crabs in particular. Nedumaran often encountered the Tigers with hungry looks on their
faces, but they would shy away from admitting the truth when asked if they had had food.
When Pirabaharan was not dreaming about Eelam or discussing with Nedumaran ideas on a
Tiger flag and uniforms, he would relish Tamil literature, particularly books on and by
Subash Chandra Bose,
Castro and Che Guevara. He even had a
Che book translated from English into Tamil so that he
could go through it without help.
He was not overtly religious, but would occasionally walk up to the historic
Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai. He dressed
crisply but simply and expected others to do so. He shaved everyday and scolded those who
did not. His motto was talk little and hear more. But otherwise he
treated his colleagues with respect. There was no bullying, when he talked, others
listened. (M.R.Narayan Swamy in Tigers of Lanka -
Early Beginnings to 1983)
Jane's Sentinel, World Defence
& Intelligence Information Resource...
"(LTTE's) 43-year old charismatic leader and military commander,
Velupillai Pirabaharan (whose nom de guerre is Karikalan), is a highly disciplined,
dedicated, self-taught, military genius...In the LTTE, all members are fighting cadres and
do not receive remuneration. The exceptions, only a handful, play an advisory or
supportive role...Cadres are given responsibility not according to seniority but strictly
on performance. Cadres are not promoted to a rank but only responsibilities of command.
Cadres are ranked only posthumously by taking into account their service, as well as the
circumstances of their death..." (Jane's
Sentinel examining the success of the LTTE in resisting the Sri Lankan forces, 4 September