By Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon
Mangaluru, December 5, 2023: Meeting a revolutionary insurgent can be a spine-chilling experience. Opportunities are rare when they dare to walk into a government office, especially that of an enforcement agency, that too, to secure release of illegally imported arms and ammunition!
While working in Madras Custom House as Assistant Collector (Preventive Operations), during the year 1984, one day, around 11 AM, the Orderly informed me that there were three people waiting outside to see me. No visiting cards, no names on bits of paper, somebody wanting anonymity? Perhaps an informer? I told the Orderly to send them in.
Three men breezed into the room, the face of one of them appeared strikingly familiar. I had seen him somewhere. His outstretched hand for a shake-hand was firm, Velupillai Prabhakaran, he said. I instantly got it, he was the famous Prabhakaran, founder of the dreaded LTTE – Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE was a militant organization that sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka as a strong reaction to the suppression of the island nation’s minority Tamil population by the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE has been designated as a terrorist organisation by 33 countries, including the European Union, Canada, the United States and India. The other accompanying persons introduced themselves as Balasingham Nadesan and Selvarasa Pathmanathan. Balasingham Nadesan was the Police chief of LTTE, and Selvarasa Pathmanathan was the chief arms procurer for the LTTE. I instantly guessed the purpose of their visit. The Customs had made a secret seizure of weapons and ammunition, at the Air Cargo Complex, imported by misdeclaration, from Germany. It was not disclosed to any media, only the Central and State agencies were appraised about the seizure. Newspaper reports often said that Prabhakaran used to move around with a very powerful semi-automatic handgun at all times. That gave a hidden tension and fear in me. His ruthlessness was well known. Would he whip out the gun and fire at me, for having seized his arms consignment?
Balasingham Nadesan broached the topic of the arms seizure, and requested for its clearance, in the interest of the ongoing liberation struggle in Sri Lanka. I explained to him the implications of a legally intercepted consignment of contraband arms and ammunition. The consignment itself was not in the name of the organization but of some unknown individual, who had not come forward to identify himself as the importer. They gave a patient hearing, without any interruption, and finally sought only sympathetic consideration. I commiserated at the plight of the Tamil refugees and promised to do my best. After another round of firm handshakes, the LTTE supremo and his aides left.
Decades later, I read in the newspapers that Prabhakaran, was killed in a firefight with the Sri Lankan Army on May 18, 2009. His eldest son also got killed. Prabhakaran had boldly stated, "I would prefer to die in honour rather than being caught alive by the enemy". His followers had buried his body along with his favourite weapon a M-16A2 with a grenade launcher, and a weapons cache of as many as 125 suicide kits, 50 mortar bombs, and 25 anti-aircraft guns. His entire family comprising wife and children also got killed in the mad frenzy that gripped Sri Lanka. The LTTE were allegedly involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi the ex-prime minister of India in 1991.
While reading about the ongoing conflict in Gaza, initiated by Hamas, what strikes me is the quality of leadership that the LTTE chief exhibited. He fought along with his men and perished like a hero, whereas the Hamas leaders are hiding in luxurious hide-outs, while their misguided people are bearing the brunt, for a miscalculated offensive. Dreams and fantasies of myopic leaders can land their people into profound misery and agony. Every nation needs to exercise caution while choosing their leaders.
Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd), Ph.D. (Narcotics)
Former Director General of National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics & Multi-Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence India; Fellow, James Martin Centre For Non Proliferation Studies, USA; Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA; Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.; AOTS Scholar, Japan. He can be contacted at email@example.com