Speech, a cry for help
Come November and there is a sense of expectation in
political, diplomatic and military circles as well as among the
general public. In the first week of the month, the country
eagerly awaits the Budget proposals.
Then, as ‘Budget fever’ wanes, there has been another event
which is looked forward to in recent years: the annual ‘policy
speech’ of Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
This year, the latter was much anticipated and with good reason:
the Tigers were being subjected to arguably their toughest test
yet, as the military was marching in on them and cornering them
to their strongholds in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu
Also, after the capture of the strategic base at Pooneryn,
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had recently called upon the LTTE to
lay down arms, renounce separatism, so negotiations aimed at
ending the ethnic issue could resume. Therefore, whether
Prabhakaran would respond in any manner to this ‘offer’ was also
an issue of interest.
There was also some speculation as to whether the speech would
materialise at all, given the constraints under which the Tiger
supremo must undoubtedly be operating.
The speech was a reality, but, its tone and tenor is surprising
and appears to reflect the low levels of confidence permeating
through the LTTE at this point in time.
If observers expected a significant paradigm change from
Prabhakaran in his Heroes’ Day Speech, they would have been
disappointed. There were no such revelations. Indeed, much of
the speech was devoted to the rhetoric that has been a hallmark
of the event over the past few years.
But, there were several pronouncements that highlight the LTTE’s
current dilemma. The terrorist organisation has been inflexible
in recent times in its pursuance of armed conflict, although it
publicly proclaims that it is seeking a ceasefire.
As a result, it has become increasingly isolated in the eyes of
the world, resulting in being banned in many key nations. This
year’s pronouncements by Prabhakaran underscore the constraints
placed upon the LTTE as a result.
The LTTE leader argues that his movement has been ‘denigrated’
as a terrorist organisation and that its’ ‘humanitarian
activities’ have been branded as ‘criminal’ activities. This has
only aggravated the racist attitude of the majority community,
The Tiger chief is clearly affected by the apparent support the
war has had in recent times, in the south of the country. His
assertion that ‘from politicians to spiritual leaders, from
journalists to ordinary people, their voice is raised only in
support of the war’ is not quite correct, but is a reflection
that the current military operations against the LTTE have the
tacit support of the majority community.
But, unlike in recent years, when Prabhakaran is known to have
crowed about his successes with gross exaggeration, this week’s
pronouncements have a defensive, defeatist and defiant note.
The current war is a ‘defensive’ war by Prabhakaran’s own
admission and the Tiger chief qualifies that by stating that the
present challenges he faces will be overcome. Significantly
absent from such pronouncements are proud boasts that the
‘Tigers’ would emerge victorious soon, the type of remark that
has characterised past speeches.
Then, there is the obvious pleading to the neighbour across the
Palk Straits, India. Prabhakaran stops short of grovelling at
its feet and seeking pardon for the assassination of Rajiv
Gandhi, but attempts instead to convince that country that at no
stage did the LTTE consider India as an ‘enemy’ force.
The Tiger chief clearly puts a premium value on the recent
support he has been deriving in Tamil Nadu and must surely want
more. So, he claims that the south Indian state has ‘perfect
understanding’ of the crisis and urges them to ‘raise their
collective voice firmly in favour of Tamil Eelam.’
There is, of course, the usual lip service paid to peace talks
where Prabhakaran asserts that the LTTE has ‘never hesitated’ to
participate in peace talks, ignoring conveniently that many such
negotiations were arbitrarily terminated by the Tigers, often
for flimsy reasons.
Again however, there is no commitment to any specific peace
effort and no mention of President Rajapaksa’s offer to resume
talks after laying down arms and renouncing separatism. There is
no concerted war cry either, only a muted call to ‘continue with
Velupillai Prabhakaran’s speech, therefore, does reflect the
predicament he finds himself in. The LTTE has been cornered
militarily and support from the international community is
thinning, given its past record of atrocity after atrocity, even
while Colombo was making generous concessions.
He cannot also call for full scale war for that would only brand
him even more as a terrorist. Hence, he chooses to focus on the
one issue that is left for him to evoke international sympathy:
the plight of the civilians in the North who are affected,
displaced and at times literally caught in the cross-fire.
This he does, and elaborates on the support received for this
cause from neighbouring Tamil Nadu. But, even that could run out
in the context of the recent spate of terrorist attacks in
Mumbai targeting foreigners, which are dealt with elsewhere in
Prabhakaran’s Heroes’ Day S peech for 2008 then is more a cry
for help and an admission that recent events have hurt the Tiger
chief and his organisation considerably. In it, the one thing
that Prabhakaran is not, is being a hero.