1980s: When Lankan militants roamed TN

1980s: When Lankan militants roamed TN

June 11, 2010   09:50 am

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CHENNAI: Douglas Devananda is not the first Sri Lankan Tamil militant leader to meet an Indian head of government while facing criminal proceedings in India. The most important one, as many can easily guess, was none other than the slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who met late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi inNew Delhi in July 1987.

 

 

In the run-up to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement on July 29, 1987, Gandhi had Prabhakaran flown in from Jaffna to brief the militant leader on the provisions of the accord and seek his support for his implementation. The LTTE leader was then an ‘absconder’ too as he had jumped bail in the case relating to a shootout in Pondy Bazaar in Chennai on May 19, 1982. Prabhakaran and rival militant leader Uma Maheswaran had spotted each other and both opened fire. He was granted bail later that year, but the case was never pursued, as the government and intelligence agencies took over the matter of dealing with Tamil militancy. It was only a matter of time before Prabhakaran left the country’s shores by clandestine boat.

 

 

There was nothing surprising about the manner in which cases involving Tamil militants were instituted and then forgotten, as the 1980s was a period of permissiveness towards the presence of armed militants and their occasional crimes. Armed and trained by India, leaders and members of various militant groups treated India, particularly Tamil Nadu, as their safe haven, to which they could retreat whenever they were injured or needed breathing time. There were quite a few training camps in the state, functioning under the patronage of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which virtually ran India’s Sri Lanka policy then.

 

 

While there was overall sympathy for Tamil militant groups in Tamil Nadu, they were also close to political leaders. Then chief minister M.G. Ramachandran had special affinity towards Prabhakaran, while DMK president M. Karunanidhi, then the opposition leader, was known to be close to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) headed by late Sri Sabaratnam. The state became a hunting ground for the LTTE, which eliminated the EPRLF leadership in Chennai on June 19, 1990, when it mowed down the group’s leader K. Padmanabha and 13 others.

 

 

Fraternal fighting among these groups often spilled over to Tamil Nadu. There was only one occasion that the state police sought to rein in Tamil militants. This was in October 1986 when then state police chief, late K. Mohandas, cracked down on all groups and seized their weapons and communication sets. A distraught Prabhakaran, who felt that the confiscation of wireless set had crippled the organization, went on an indefinite fast. Pro-LTTE leaders put great pressure on the MGR regime to return the weapons and communication equipment. The government ultimately caved in, and the LTTE got a bonanza as a result. They got back not only their own arms and ammunition, but the weapons that were previously held by other groups also.

 

It was not until the EPRLF massacre and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination 11 months later that the state’s leaders realized the consequences of infusing gun culture in Tamil Nadu. – (The Times of India)


Picture: Uma Maheswaran

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