Succession stakes in LTTE:
After Prabha, who?
Nehru, who?” This was the multi-crore question going around
Indian political circles in the late ’50s and early ’60s of the
Jawaharlal Nehru, who was Indian Prime Minister since
independence from the British, strode the political arena like a
colossus! It was unimaginable then to conceive of a time when
Nehru would be no more.
It was even harder to think of a worthy successor to this giant
among Indian leaders of that era. And then on May 27, 1964,
Nehru died at the age of 74. Gulzarilal Nanda became acting
Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kumarsamy Kamaraj was All India
Congress President then. Under his smooth leadership, the
Congress arrived at a consensus decision about the future PM.
After Nehru, who?
The diminutive Lal Bahadoor Shastri was the Congress Party’s
answer then to the question, “After Nehru, who?”
Two years later, Shastri died. Once again Gulzarilal Nanda was
This time Morarji Desai staked a claim to be PM. But Kamaraj,
displaying great leadership qualities, managed to ensure that
Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi would become PM. The question
“After Nehru, who?” was answered well.
The question of succession in a political organisation or
country becomes a complicated issue when a larger than life
leader has been at the helm of affairs for a long period.
Like the absence of trees under the banyan tree’s broad canopy,
lesser leaders do not sprout when a great leader is dominant.
Even if there are other leaders, they appear to be pygmies
compared to the political giant of a leader. People fear that a
suitable successor of equal ability would not be found.
This kind of leadership crisis afflicts both democratic and
non-democratic entities. Even despots and dictators are mortal.
Sceptre and crown come tumbling down, often.
In spite of exciting political drama, democratic parties and
countries manage to resolve questions of succession clearly and
without violence. If violence does occur, it is more of an
exception than the norm.
But things often get murky in non-democratic organisations.
Unless there is a designated successor who is both powerful and
acceptable to the power structure, the succession stakes are
bound to be bloodied.
A contributory factor to this state of affairs is due to the
inherent characteristics of a totalitarian structure. Potential
successors are not encouraged or groomed. Very often, they are
purged or liquidated.
The leadership stakes in an authoritative entity are mired in
intrigue and power struggles. Fanatical followers refuse to
countenance the fact that their leaders are not immortal and
viciously attack those who dare state evident truths.
Question of succession
The question of succession is treated as a “prohibited”
zone. It is regarded as “sacrilege” to even discuss such a
Many years ago a Tamil radio in Canada interviewed Pazhaniyappan
Nedumaran, the pro-Tiger Tamil Nadu politician.
One of the questions asked was, “Who do you think will succeed
Prabhakaran?” Nedumaran refused to answer such a hypothetical
LTTE members and supporters in Canada were extremely critical of
the radio for raising such a question. “How can you even think
of such a thing?” they thundered.
An unhealthy personality cult has been built around LTTE Supremo
Velupillai Prabhakaran. His sycophantic disciples describe him
as the “Suriyadevan” (Sun God). Some call him a modern avatar of
Lord Vishnu or Lord Muruga (Skanda).
A panegyric written by Tamil Nadu poet Arivumathy and sung by
the exquisite singer Nithyashree Mahadevan begins thus, “Engal
Thalaivan Prabhakaran, Antha Muruganukke Ivan Niharaanavan” (Our
leader is Prabhakaran; He is equal to that Murugan).
However much LTTE supporters glorify Prabhakaran, the reality is
that the Tiger Supremo, like all men, is not immortal. When the
time comes, he cannot evade the God of Death, ‘Yaman.’
Like his bete noire from the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP),
Douglas Devananda, the Tiger Supremo is a great survivor. He has
often escaped death by the proverbial hair’s breadth.
State of denial
On November 28 last year the Sri Lankan Air Force bombed one
of his hide-out bunkers in the Jeyanthy Nagar area of
Kilinochchi. Prabhakaran sustained very minor injuries on his
back, shoulder and arm.
Sixteen days later the LTTE released pictures of a uniformed
Prabhakaran garlanding a photograph of former Tiger ideologue
and Political Advisor Anton Stanislaus Balasingham. It was to
commemorate Balasingham’s first death anniversary on December
The recent bombing incident raised several uncomfortable
questions for the LTTE. What would have happened if the bombing
was fatal? What would happen in a scenario where the LTTE Leader
is no more? After Prabhakaran, who?
The stock response of most LTTE supporters is to emulate the
ostrich and bury their heads in the sand. They refuse to accept
that such a situation is possible. It is a state of denial.
When this columnist broke the story about the bombing in The
Nation newspaper, the reaction of many LTTE stooges was hostile
denial. In a convoluted version of ‘killing the messenger’
syndrome, this columnist was the target of a vituperative,
LTTE elements may “feel good” after such attacks, but the ground
reality remains the same. Once again it has been proved that the
LTTE Leader is physically vulnerable.
The simple truth which Tiger acolytes deny, gloss over or ignore
is that Prabhakaran, like all human beings, can die. It may not
be due to an Air Force air strike or deep penetration squad
landmine, but he is certainly not a “Saahaa Varam Petra Mahatma”
(a great soul who will not die).
It could be from illness, accident or even snakebite. One of the
certain things in life for all humankind is death. But the LTTE
and supporters seem unable or unwilling to accept this.
The LTTE and the LTTE’s armed struggle revolve around
Prabakharan. There is no designated leadership that would
succeed him. Complicating matters further is the fact that the
LTTE has systematically destroyed the vast leadership potential
within the Tamil community.
Apart from losses in war, the LTTE has lost leaders like Nizam,
Ramanan, Kaushalyan, Gangai, Amaran, Shankar, etc., to
landmines, sniping, ambushes and cold-blooded assassinations.
LTTE Political Commissar S.P. Tamilselvan was killed in an air
raid. Several leaders have escaped death often.
The LTTE Leader escaped serious injury on November 28. He has
had several narrow escapes in the past.
However hard it may be for the die-hard Tiger supporter to
stomach, the inconvenient truth is that, Prabhakaran may not be
so lucky next time. In such an eventuality, who would succeed
him in the LTTE? After Prabha, who?
There is no easy or obvious answer because the Tiger Leader in
recent times has carefully and deliberately avoided grooming
such a successor or officially designating a ‘No. 2.’
There has been a very good reason for this as far the LTTE
‘Numero Uno’ is concerned. Delving into LTTE history briefly is
necessary to understand why.
When a few tiny groups and individuals came together and
formed the LTTE on May 5, 1976, the Tigers had a command
structure of a five-man council.
Both Umamaheswaran and Prabhakaran were members of this council.
Uma was also chairman of the council and LTTE while Prabhakaran
was its military commander.
When the original LTTE split and Umamaheswaran formed the
People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the
majority of the Tigers went with Uma.
A dejected Prabhakaran teamed up with the Tamil Eelam Liberation
Organisation (TELO) led by Thangathurai and Kuttimani for a
After the arrests of Kuttimani and Thangathurai, the LTTE began
functioning independently again. Prabhakaran himself was in
India for a long time.
In his absence, a triumvirate comprising Seelan, Mahathaya and
Ragu ran the movement on ground. But any statement or leaflet
put out by the LTTE was attributed to “V. Prabhakaran – the
Prabhakaran, who was under house arrest in Madurai for the
shoot-out with Umamaheswaran in Pondy Bazaar, made a break and
escaped to Sri Lanka in 1983. Thereafter, he asserted his
leadership of the LTTE on ground.
The 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom saw the politico-military
landscape change. Prabhakaran went over to Chennai (Madras then)
and ran the LTTE from there. His cadres conducted guerrilla
warfare in the north and east.
There were different regional commanders but Ravindran, alias
Pandithar, a childhood friend of Prabhakaran, was in overall
charge of both provinces.
Pandithar, based in Jaffna, was also both the military commander
and political commissar for the district. He was the accredited
LTTE ‘Vice Captain.’
Pandithar was killed in Atchuvely in January 1985. Thereafter
Prabhakaran did not appoint an overall north east commander.
Instead, he maintained contact with each individual regional
commander. They were all equals. There was no first among
One reason for this was the LTTE Leader’s caution. He did not
want any single regional commander to become all powerful and
pose a possible challenge to him in the future.
It was also easier to promote healthy competition among
individual regional commanders. Besides, all of them reported
directly to him via wireless communication and took orders only
Prabhakaran returned to Sri Lanka in January 1987 and directed
LTTE operations on ground.
It was in 1987 July that Prabhakaran nominated a de jure
‘No. 2.’ This was none other than Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah,
alias Mahathaya, who was until then the Wanni regional
Prabhakaran did so on the eve of his departure to India by air
to meet Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi. Mahathaya’s elevation was an act
The LTTE Leader feared that something could happen to him in
India. Therefore, he wanted someone to run the LTTE if
After making Mahathaya the deputy leader, Prabhakaran also
appointed him as acting leader prior to his departure. He gave
instructions that everyone should obey Mahathaya and that the
Acting Leader could countermand any order sent by Prabhakaran
himself from India.
This was because the LTTE Leader suspected he may be detained by
Indian authorities and could be forced to issue orders
detrimental to the Tigers.
Prabhakaran returned from India but the Indo-Lanka Agreement was
signed. Prabhakaran took over leadership of the LTTE again but
Mahathaya remained deputy leader of the LTTE.
Later Mahathaya was also made president of the LTTE’s political
party, the People’s Front of Tamil Eelam (PFLT).
At one point serious differences emerged between Prabhakaran and
Mahathaya. A ‘cold war’ was on.
The Tiger Leader asked his ex-Jaffna Commander Sathasivampillai
Krishnakumar, alias Kittu, to return home from abroad. Kittu,
however, committed suicide when the ship in which he was
travelling was surrounded by the Indian Navy in international
Had Kittu returned safely, he would have been appointed deputy
leader and accredited as successor to Prabhakaran.
There was, however, further trouble in the LTTE paradise. Pottu
Amman, the LTTE Intelligence Chief ‘uncovered’ details of an
alleged conspiracy involving Mahathaya, who had already fallen
out of favour with Prabakharan.
Mahathaya was accused of conspiring with the Indian Research and
Analysis Wing (RAW) to kill Prabhakaran and take over the LTTE.
After prolonged incarceration, Mahathaya was executed.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of this charge, the LTTE
Supremo felt that anyone appointed officially as deputy leader
would be vulnerable to machinations by his enemies.
He also felt that designating an official successor could bring
about many intra-LTTE problems. Prabhakaran also felt that such
a nominee would be preyed upon by various intelligence agencies.
Still there was low-key speculation about possible deputy leader
The affection displayed by Prabhakaran towards his ex-Political
Commissar Thamilselvan gave rise to the theory that Thamilselvan
was being thought of as a likely successor. But ‘Brigadier’
Thamilselvan was killed in air strike on November 2 last year.
Another favourite of Prabhakaran and a potential successor was
Vaithilingam Sornalingam, alias ‘Col.’ Shankar. But he too was
killed in a landmine explosion on September 26, 2001.
Against this backdrop, succession stakes in the LTTE remain a
tricky question. Is there a mechanism within the LTTE that could
ensure smooth succession?
The highest decision making body is a central committee
comprising 32 persons. These include all regional commanders and
heads of different divisions.
But Prabhakaran calls the shots in this. Though a certain amount
of discussion is possible, there is no vote taking. Ultimately
the central committee approves Prabhakaran’s diktat unanimously.
The central committee is a virtual rubber stamp.
As such, the central committee may be required to act
independently for the first time only to select a successor.
What an irony!
The most senior Tiger in the hierarchy is a man whom many do not
know of. It is “Baby” Subramaniam, the head of the LTTE’s
Education Division. He now has a de-Sankritised nom de guerre, ‘Ilankumaran.’
Most senior Tiger
Ilankumaran, hailing from Kankesanthurai, is a founder
member of the LTTE. He has remained steadfastly loyal to
Despite his seniority, Ilankumaran is not a fighting man. Until
1991 he spent most of his days in India. Ilankumaran, known as
“Baby” Subramaniam, coordinated all propaganda and political
activity for the LTTE in Tamil Nadu, India.
He cultivated many Tamil Nadu politicians and promoted the Tiger
cause. It was he who established links with M.G. Ramachandran.
Under present circumstances, this Tamil Nadu connection would be
perceived more as a liability than an asset by hardcore Tiger
Ilankumaran was responsible for a revised educational curriculum
for school children in LTTE-controlled areas. Along with LTTE
Inland Revenue Chief Thamilendhi, it was he who conducted the
‘Pure Tamil Drive’ in Tiger-dominated regions.
All Sanskritised names were Tamilised. Likewise, English names
were replaced with pure Tamil names. Bakery became ‘vethuppagam’
and bank became ‘vaippagam,’ etc.
In the harsh world of ‘power struggles,’ these accomplishments
are of no use. Even if Ilankumaran is made leader or acting
leader on account of his seniority, it is only a matter of time
before he is dethroned or reduced to a puppet.
Also by nature and temperament, the mild-mannered “Baby” is not
likely to pursue power or hold on to it ruthlessly.
With the demise of Appiah Annai and the semi-retirement of
Thevar Annai and Basheer Kakka, the only other senior from the
pre-July 1983 days who is active in the LTTE in the Wanni is the
dreaded Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman. Pottu joined the LTTE in
1982. He was a ‘helper’ long before that.
Contender for the crown
All the other senior Tiger commanders like Soosai, Bhanu,
Sornam, Jeyam, Thileepan, Balraj, Nadesan, etc., joined the LTTE
after July 1983.
Apart from Pottu’s seniority, there is also another factor that
makes him a serious contender for the crown.
As Intelligence Chief, Pottu Amman wields enormous power now.
His minions have infiltrated all sections of the LTTE.
This extraordinary power and influence makes Pottu Amman the
favourite in LTTE succession stakes. Already Pottu Amman acts
like a de facto deputy leader. It would not be difficult to be
de jure leader after Prabakharan
He is regarded as a staunch Prabhakaran loyalist and acts as the
cat’s paw of the Tiger Supremo.
The only man who could have effectively challenged Pottu Amman
for leadership was former Batticaloa-Ampara Commander
Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan, alias Karuna Amman.
Both of them were blue-eyed boys of the big boss and there was
simmering tension between them. But Pottu emerged victor in the
battle of the Ammans. Karuna was ejected as ‘thurogi’ or
In such a situation, the succession stakes seem a virtual
Even if Pottu Amman takes over after Prabhakaran, he would not
dare step into his Leader’s position formally.
When C.N. Annadurai split from the Dravida Kazhagham (DK) and
formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) in 1949, the party
constitution did not provide for a ‘thalaiver’ or leader.
In an act of sentimentality, Annadurai said that the only leader
he acknowledged was his mentor and DK Chief, E. V. Ramaswamy
Naicker, popularly called ‘Periyar’ or great man. Annadurai said
that the DMK leadership would be vacant till Periyar himself
filled it at some point in the future.
Administrative power of the party was in the hands of the
‘amaippu seyalaalar,’ or organising secretary. It was only in
1969 that Annadurai’s successor, Muttuvel Karunanidhi, got the
DMK constitution amended and created the party president post.
Likewise, it would be practically impossible for anyone in the
LTTE to even dream of instantly filling Prabhakaran’s place.
There would be inevitable resistance from cadres and strong
supporters. The transition can only be gradual.
It would be difficult for Pottu Amman or any would be successor
to ‘fill’ Prabhakaran’s shoes automatically. There has to be an
interim period before such an eventuality.
Two options are possible. One is for a leadership committee
chaired by Ilankumaran to run affairs for some time. The other
is for a cabal of senior Tiger leaders to provide an informal
Pottu Amman will be the most powerful person calling the shots
in either set up.
Arguably, there could be an unexpected aspirant for the
leadership stakes too. This ‘dark horse’ could be a filly or
colt from the family stables.
Prabhakaran’s wife Mathivathany is now being seen increasingly
in public. She ceremonially opened an elders’ home recently.
Already her ‘influence’ is visible in the overseas branches of
the LTTE. Mathivathany is the daughter of Erambu Master in
Plum positions in the LTTE overseas branches and institutions
have been given to those of Pungudutheevu origin. Their passport
to success is Mathivathany Prabakharan.
The other possibility is Prabhakaran’s eldest son Charles
Anthony, who was named after Seelan. Charles Anthony, alias
Seelan, died on July 15, 1983. The LTTE’s First Infantry
Division is named after him.
Charles Anthony Jr. has reportedly obtained a pilot’s licence
and aeronautical training. He is involving himself with LTTE
activity nowadays, it is said.
‘Vaarisu arasiyal,’ or dynastic politics, is a common phenomenon
in South Asia. It is widespread in both national and regional
levels. Can the so-called first family of Tamil Eelam be immune
to this common affliction? Only time will tell!
If the family enters, then even Pottu Amman may have to give in.
He will, however, remain the power behind the throne.
A collective leadership under a nominal head from the family is
also a possibility. Pottu Amman will dominate such a set-up too
from behind the scenes. The succession will ultimately be
determined by the manner in which Prabhakaran exits.
If Prabhakaran himself can ensure who the successor would
be, then the transition will be smooth. But this seems unlikely
at the present juncture.
If the LTTE top guns are unable to agree on the successor, there
could be utter chaos. Intra-Tiger conflict of an internecine
nature could erupt. The absence of a father figure like
Balasingham would be keenly felt then.
Another factor to be noted is that outside agents could decide
the LTTE’s fate. The dominant line of thought in some countries
is that a regime change is necessary in the LTTE.
If these countries are powerful enough to remove Prabhakaran,
then it is they who will choose the successor. The successor
will be a puppet on a string.
There is, however, a long-term question. Will the LTTE be as
effective without Prabhakaran at the helm? The answer is “No”!
The LTTE without Prabhakaran is like the Ramayana without Lord
Rama. If Prabhakaran is no more, it would not be an immediate
end of the LTTE. It would, however, be the beginning of the end
for the LTTE.
No viable alternative
Prabhakaran himself is basically responsible for this
situation. He has built up the movement around his dictatorial
leadership and personality cult. He is projected as the all
powerful Messiah who would lead the Tamils into the Promised
Land of Tamil Eelam. He has made sure of the absence of a viable
Like Louis the 14th of France, it is a case of “After Me, The
If Prabhakaran goes, the LTTE will go too. That’s the situation
today. The decline and fall of the LTTE would be inevitable. The
deterioration would be drastically rapid.
In the final analysis, the questions of succession after
Prabhakaran and the future of the LTTE without Prabhakaran,
etc., would all become unimportant because the Tigers would fast
become a non-entity if and when Prabhakaran is no more.
Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)