'We fought for freedom. We failed'
Shanmugam Kumaran Tharmalingam alias Kumaran Pathmanathan (or simply KP) took over the reigns of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam following the killing of the outfit's chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. He was arrested and brought to Sri Lanka two years ago.
Now under the custody of the Sri Lankan Army, the former LTTE weapons procurer spoke to VK Shashikumar of THL-Mediagrove in an exclusive interview. An excerpt:
When you look back at the war which led to the end of the LTTE, what are the first reflections that come to your mind?
We fought for freedom. We failed. The war is over. Now it is the beginning of a new era. The new world order taught us that we have to live together. We have learnt from our past experience that we should build a bridge between the two races. This is a small country with a small population.
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Image: Kumaran Pathmanathan
'Getting into a conflict with India was a mistake'
Where did your organisation go wrong?
The armed struggle started in Sri Lanka at a time when the Cold War was nearing its end. Our armed struggle was late.
After the Second World War and until the Cold War, the world was separated (by ideology -- capitalism and communism). That was the time when new countries were being born. Separatism was part of this Cold War order.
But the new world order (post the Cold War) changed the global political environment. That is the main reason if you look at reasons why our armed struggle failed.
India is our big brother. Without India's support, we cannot achieve anything. So, getting into a conflict with India was a mistake.
As an organisation engaged in a liberation struggle, we lost the people's support on the ground. It was a lengthy war, over 35 years long. People were fed up. Moreover, there were lot of casualties. People paid a high price.
'Nobody wants the UN war crimes report'
How do you see the controversial UN report on alleged war crimes?
The past is past. The two parties, as the UN report says, have made mistakes. This report would not help any reconciliation. It is disturbing.
If you go to Vanni (the Tamil dominated area in northern Sri Lanka) and discover if the 100,000-odd families there are benefitting from this UN report, then it's a different story. But the truth is that nobody will benefit from this report. The whole country is against this report. You have to understand the ground reality. War is the same everywhere. You cannot distinguish it as a good war or bad war.
The people want food and cloth; they want to restart their life. The UN report is an outcome of a fact-finding mission. Why give it so much weight?
So you are saying that the Tamils in Sri Lanka need education, development and health. Are these the things that are required now?
Exactly! The war ended two years ago, but the people are still suffering. Many things have happened in the past, but we cannot always speak about the past. The war-affected people need food, jobs, clothes and milk for their babies -- basic needs. That's what I am seeking from the international community and the Tamil Diaspora.
'Prabhakaran was not ready to negotiate'
Why do you think the LTTE kept missing opportunities for peace starting from 2002 onwards?
Not only from 2002. Even during the earlier stages, when the late Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi talked to Sri Lankan President JR Jayawardene and arranged some kind of settlement. This was before the 13th amendment. That time too the LTTE missed the chance. Again, when the India-Sri Lanka accord was signed we lost the chance of a permanent peaceful solution.
Especially Prabhakaran. He knew only one thing and that is 'Tamil Eelam' -- a separate State. He was not ready to negotiate. So he is gone with this dream. That's it.
Is it not a fact that some European countries, during the last stage of the war, were trying to rescue the top LTTE leadership?
The LTTE, until the last moment, was unwilling to support an end to cessation of hostilities. Actually, I lost all hope. But during the last moments (of the war), I think it was May 15-16, they (UN and officials from some Western countries) asked me if the LTTE leadership was ready to leave the country. They said give us a list with names and other details. They said they can send a ship so that they could be sent somewhere safe.
I would not like to point out the countries. But all of them were Western countries.
Did they try to rescue you?
Yes. They tried, but it was too late.
On Indira Gandhi's role
Do you think 2002 ceasefire was merely a ploy, a delaying tactic?
Yes. The LTTE, on the one hand, had won some battles, but on the other hand they were in very bad shape. Economically, they were weak. There was shortage of food and other supplies.
The 9/11 terror attack was a big thing. US President George Bush imposed very strict conditions (on armed struggle by non-State actors). Since the attack, all armed struggle and armed movements were outlined as terror organisations. It was a big setback for the LTTE.
We did not know how to come out of this situation; we faced lots of problems.
How do you look back at the Indian involvement in all of this?
In 1980, during the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's period -- that was the time when the Cold War was nearing its end -- Sri Lanka was close to America; India and (former) USSR had a strong alliance. So there were differences. So when our issue burned, Indira Gandhi put the hand on that.
What do you mean by "put the hand"?
At that time, I remember Narasimha Rao was Indian foreign minister. The Tamil Diaspora was invited to meet him. They had talks with the Indian government. That was the first step. The talks were called Thimpu talks. The Indian government called the Sri Lankan side and all the Tamil groups. But the talks failed.
'Rajiv Gandhi's assassination was done with the concurrence of Prabhakaran'
Around that time the Indian government gave (military) training to Tamil youths. So we (LTTE) had a base in Tamil Nadu. We had a (military) base in India.
It was Mrs Gandhi's idea that she may be able to escalate the LTTE's armed struggle to a certain level and use that as a negotiating leverage to settle the (Tamil) issue in a peaceful way. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
After that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came. He was a modern leader and was very fast (with decisions). His approach was different. By then the Indian Research and Analysis Wing was heavily involved with all Tamil groups. There was a misunderstanding between Prabhakaran and RAW.
Then Sri Lankan President Jayawardene and Rajiv tried to sort it out. The LTTE did not accept their proposals. But Rajiv pushed and so the LTTE reluctantly came to an agreement (referring to the India-Sri Lanka Accord). However, in reality, the LTTE rejected the agreement (internally).
Can you tell us once and for all, did Prabhakaran plan the Rajiv Gandhi assassination?
Everyone knows the truth. Everyone knows who is involved in this murder. For example, Desavarajan, he was a member of LTTE's intelligence wing headed by Pottu Amman. Even from those who were arrested at that time, it was very clear who was behind the assassination.
It was well planned and done with the concurrence of Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman.
'Tamil Nadu people must help us'
Are you looking for support from politicians in Tamil Nadu?
The people of Tamil Nadu are very emotional. We have the same language and same religion. We have a link. We should use that emotion positively.
Lives of Tamils in Sri Lanka can change within a week if the people of Tamil Nadu help -- even if three persons came from Tamil Nadu to set up a mushroom (cultivation) project here (in Sri Lanka).
Malaysian people of Indian origin are also coming to teach something. I want to tell the Tamil Nadu politicians, especially Vaiko, Nedumaran, Seeman and Karunanidhi and all others -- the war in Sri Lanka is over.
The people have already endured enough pain. So if you can really help these people, if you have the feeling, then let Tamil Nadu people help these (war) affected people.
To forget the past, the truth about the past must also be told. You are a senior member of the LTTE. You know the truth. Is it not a fact that several politicians and political parties did support and did push several Tamil people into violence? Can you take names?
During our struggle, we sometimes depended on Tamil Nadu. When we started our struggle, it was very clean and we were firm on our policy. We would go to India to buy some things and come back. We did not meet anyone. We did not want to involve Indian politicians.
'TN politicians used Prabhakaran to achieve their goals'
The problem is that we had to eventually meet some politicians in Tamil Nadu to resolve our issues. For example the fight (shoot-out) between Prabhakaran and People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam founder Uma Maheswaran on the streets of Chennai eventually landed both of them in a police station. We had to contact politicians to get them bail. These kind of incidents enabled Tamil Nadu politicians to gain influence over the LTTE.
But we know what the real problem is. In Tamil Nadu, Periyar (E V Ramaswamy) wanted the Dravida Nadu, meaning he wanted Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh separated from the North.
From this base of Dravidian politics emerged Annadurai and Karunanidhi. This ideology failed its course. The Dravida Kazhagam is already 100 years old. Periyar has passed away; everything that he propagated went with him.
But still politicians who emerged from Periyar's movement continue to carry those ideas. They passed these ideas on to Prabhakaran. They influenced him with anti-Brahmin ideas and the goals of the Dravida movement. They told him that his fight was based on the ideology of the Dravida Kazhagam, to struggle against the Brahmins.The Tamil Nadu politicians made him a marvellous hero. They compared him with ancient Tamil Kings. That made him change his course and that's why he made all those blunders, like that against Rajiv Gandhi. They (Tamil Nadu politicians) lost their course and then they moved on to use Prabhakaran to achieve their goals.
'My dream is to see war-affected children happy'
Are you saying the DMK, ideologically, influenced Prabhakaran to plot the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi?
This one I cannot say yes. But you know they (Tamil Nadu politicians) fed him with some kind of influence against the Brahmins. This may be one of the reasons. That's why he hated the Indian prime minister. He (Rajiv) was a young leader and wanted to do things fast. He tried to resolve the Tamil issue as soon as possible.
You have stepped out in the open; you have spoken the truth; you are trying to reconcile yourself with your past and looking forward to the future. Do you have a dream?
I spent 35 years with the armed struggle. For the last two years, I have been under house arrest. I don't know how many more years I have to live. I want to spend the rest of my life with the innocent war-affected children. These children don't have love, they don't have care, they don't have parents, they don't have good education and they don't have a future.I have requested Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse to let me stay with the children in Vanni. I also want to look after the elders who have lost their children in the war and have nobody to look after them. My dream is to see happiness on their face.