Prabhakaran calls him his ‘dove’. That’s Prabhakaran’s prerogative. S.P. Thamilselvan was, officially, the head of the LTTE’s so-called ‘political wing’, a member of the LTTE delegation that took part on occasional ‘negotiations’ with the Sri Lankan Government, and, after Anton Balasingham died, leader of the LTTE negotiating team.
Is this enough to call him a ‘dove’? Does the adjective ‘political’ necessarily mean that he was not part of anything ‘military’, that he was not militaristic? Thamilselvan’s track-record right up to the point of his death only serves to warn the world not to be misled by chosen labels and disguises. For example, an epitaph along the lines of ‘S.P.Thamilselvan: Dove’ somehow sounds ridiculous. Not without reason.
The LTTE has always maintained, explicitly or implicitly, that it does not wish to stray from the military path. It has gone on record to state that it views discussions, interim agreements, ceasefires and such through a strictly militaristic lens. In other words, ‘peace talks’ and ‘ceasefires’ were part and parcel of a larger military strategy.
It was about securing respite when cornered, obtaining time and space to regroup, recruit and re-arm or to secure a political edge if possible in the larger international arena vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan government. Thamilselvan, as an individual and a representative, by assigned role, commitment and indeed rhetoric, embodied this position and the agenda therein.
His role has to be viewed both on terms of what he said and did during the period he officially wore civvies and the LTTE actions of the same period, which, if summarised, amounted to, recruitment, replenishing armoury, assassinating political opponents, picking off personnel in the Security Forces, especially intelligence officers and committing crimes against humanity.
Through all this, Thamilselvan, smiled the happy smile of one who ratified, defended, white-washed and got his kicks from acts of terrorism. When the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar was killed, Thamilselvan smiled.
Each and every occasion when the LTTE killed a political opponent, particularly, members of the EPDP and EPRLF, and later those who defected along with ‘Colonel’ Karuna, he smiled. When the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru sluice, thereby laying waste tens of thousands of paddy fields, he smiled. When his organisation blew up a bus, killing 64 passengers in Kebithigollewa, he smiled. During each of the thousands of occasions when the LTTE violated the Ceasefire Agreement, he smiled.
He even smiled when he vowed that the LTTE would attack economic targets. No wonder he earned the sobriquet ‘Smiling Assassin’!
From the day he joined the LTTE, Thamilselvan strove to establish himself as a capable military man. We don’t know if he wore the same smile back then, but he clearly enjoyed his role as a killer, as a terrorist, as a leader who planned and executed attacks, both on civilian and military targets or in the very least approved and cheered such attacks. He joined the LTTE in 1984, not to talk peace or to make idly.
To kill. He received training in India. Military training, we need to add. When he served as bodyguard to Prabhakaran, he was tasked to kill if necessary. He was once the chief of the LTTE’s pistol gang.
Need we add that these were hardly ‘boys’ and they were certainly not ‘toy pistols’ they were brandishing? They targetted live human beings and when they were done with playing, those targets were no longer alive.
When he was appointed as the area commander for Thenmarachchi, south of Jaffna Peninsula (1987-1991) and later as ‘Special Commander’ for Jaffna, he was required to target and kill.
In Pooneryn, where he suffered a leg injury, he was not exactly sitting back reading newspapers or dictating media communiques indicating peaceful intent. He was required to kill. He killed. Did he turn over a ‘new leaf’ after he was appointed ‘political head’ in the 1990s? No. His task was to justify, to whitewash and in other ways try to erase the ‘terrorist’ tag that his boss had earned over a couple of years.
Later, when his name was inserted into the LTTE’s negotiating team post-CFA, did he become less brutal? No. He could not, because the LTTE simply did not transform itself into a credible non-violent political force and did not even show any indication that they wanted to in the first place.
At the time he was killed, Thamilselvan was in charge of military operations in his favourite killing fields in Pooneryn. Indeed, his last moments were held confabbing with five other senior LTTE military leaders, all of whom were in military fatigues.
After his death, he was accorded the title ‘Brigadier’ by Prabhakaran, and that’s not exactly a civilian honour. He was replaced by one Nadesan, a military man, who was not divested of those military functions.
Thamilselvan was a man destined to die the way he lived. In an ideal world he would still have been alive. Even in a less than ideal world, a world where the LTTE, subsequent to having understood the futility of their ways, entered a truly democratic process of negotiations, he may have been alive.
But these are political spaces that the LTTE has apparently vowed never to inhabit. As such, he was little more than a killer and an approver of killing. He was a terrorist and a mouthpiece for a terrorist. He was required to wear a disguise, but his own leaders made that disguise look the most ridiculous garb on earth.
He could have left behind a history that would paint him in better and more human colours, but he chose the path of bloodshed and screams, chose to cause suffering and destruction, ironically to the very people whose aspirations he was claiming to articulate and defend. His ways were not the way of the dove, and that’s unfortunate. That’s the kindest conclusion one can arrive at, given that the man is no longer around, not even to confess to his sins and plead mercy. We can only say, somberly, “May he rest in the peace that was so anatithetical to his life”.
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