Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapāharan’s Thinking

Michael Roberts, 13 February 2012

In line with my long-standing interest in currents of nationalist thought, the origins of Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism has always been a topic of interest and has led to a number of interventions on my part, invariably written within the shortcomings of a person who cannot speak or read Tamil.[i] An overview can be found in “The Tamil Movement for Eelam” which appeared first by invitation in the online journal E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association, but has since been printed in Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics. However, readers should also consult other works, especially the books by Nira Wickremasinghe, Lakshmanan Sabaratnam, Neil de Votta, Gerald Peiris and KM de Silva, besides Narayan Swamy’s three books on the Tigers of Lanka, Inside an Elusive Mind and The Tiger Vanquished (see the bibliography below). There is, needless to say, a burgeoning literature on this topic which continues to generate additional fare.

Since the causal factors and processes for the rise of Tamil nationalism and its militancy are many and complex, social science as a discipline struggles to work out how to attach weightages to the many factors that have come into play, especially when one attends to temporality within this historical process.

 Tamil politicians deploy Tiger salute at Pongu Thamil rally in 2003 -Pic from Sunday Times, 28 Sept 2003

Since the Tamil militant organisations in general displaced the parliamentary arms of Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism from the early 1980s in pressing the struggle for a separate state, a study of the processes spawning militancy and armed struggle assumes primacy. This in turn calls for a greater focus on the LTTE and its inspirations and thinking.

Pongu Thamil at Geneva, summer 2003– Pic from Tamilnet

There is little doubt that Velupillai Pirapāharan (1954-2009) was a central force in raising the LTTE into a redoubtable fighting force and in setting up the de facto Tamil state of Thamilīlam (1990-2009). One can also say that he was venerated to the point of deification[ii] both within the regions of Thamilīlam and among the Tamil migrant networks in various parts of the world. It is likely that this veneration remains strong today in certain quarters of the migrant circuit, though the available evidence suggests considerable disenchantment among the Tamil peoples within Sri Lanka, especially those forced through the furnace of war in 2008-09 – a war that failed disastrously.

Given Pirapāharan’s centrality, therefore, the factors that moved him to join the radical youth cells that were emerging in the north and east of Sri Lanka in the late 1960s and 1970s assume significance. Speaking on a priori grounds, one could say that the processes that generated Tamil militancy also served to move him in this direction. But what more can one say in embellishing this tale with particular reference to young Pirapāharan?

Tamil militants in the 1960s were especially influenced by the fiery rhetoric of V. Nāvaratnam, who set up the “Self-Rule Forum” and popularized a comparison of the Tamil people with the story of the Jews by deploying a translation of Leon Uris’s book The Exodus.[iii] Grapevine information indicates that as a schoolboy Pirapāharan was also influenced by one of his early teachers, one Venugopal;[iv] and that at some point in the early 1970s he was mentored by A. Rājaratnam (best known as the father of Thenmoli Rājaratnam, alias Dhanu).

Rājaratnam had been one of the core group in the mushroom organisation known as “Pulip Padai” (Army of Tigers) that had been founded (in Colombo?) in 1961, a body that went to the extent of making “a pilgrimage to Thirukoneswaram temple in Trincomalee, one of the three ancient Hindu shrines in Sri Lanka, to take the oath of allegiance to the new organization.” Here, “they took a bath in the holy waters of theerthakarai, attended the morning pooja at the temple in the wet clothes, received the kalanchi from the priest, walked to Swami Rock, stood facing the rising sun, threw the contents of the kalanchi into the sea as offering and took the collective oath to sacrifice themselves to fight for the freedom of their homeland. They vowed: ‘We dedicate ourselves to redeem the dignity of the Tamil people and liberate our homeland from Sinhala subjugation’.”[v]

While the Pulip Padai faded away, Rājaratnam was subsequently associated with a youth group within the Federal Party, namely, the Thamil Mānavar Peravai (Tamil Student Assembly).[vi] It was during the fervent discussions among such radical networks that young Pirapāharan met Rājaratnam and was persuaded to take the Cola symbol of a crouching tiger as the symbol for the flag that was eventually designed for the Tamil New Tigers in 1972/73 (and eventually for the LTTE).[vii] Pic by Dominic Sansoni  However, we must also allow for the possibility that both Pirapāharan and Rājaratnam were drawn to this symbolism by the example presented by Subhas Chandra Bose who composed a flag for his Indian Legion in Germany which took the Indian National Congress flag with its tricolours of green, white and saffron as background, but replaced the spinning-wheel with the figure of a leaping tiger (Borra 1982).

Pirapāharan had been drawn into the radical circles that were emerging in the Jaffna Peninsula at a very early age as a 14-15 year old: it is known that he attended meetings of the shadowy Tamil Liberation Organisation in 1969 and thereabouts. The TLO was directed by Thangadurai (aka Nadarajah Thangavelu), Kuttimani (aka Selvarājah Yogachandran) and Varadharāja Perumal; and Pirapaharan seems to have attended some clandestine meetings in the company of his older Karaiyar friends from VVT, Periya (Big) Sothi and Sinna (Small) Sothi (Sabaratnam 2009).

Within this broad analysis the ideological inspirations that stimulated young Pirapāharan assume centrality. There is little doubt that he was a man of action from his early days. But those who knew him aver that (a) he was a voracious reader and that he was enthused by “Tamil historical novels which romanticised the valour of Tamil kings and warriors;”[viii] (b) as well as histories detailing the growth of British power in India and the tales of Indian nationalist struggles;[ix] that (b) he would “talk about Israel, and how the Jews were able to establish a powerful country” (Rāgavan 2009b.); that (c) he asked friends who were bi-lingual to summarize selected English works for his benefit; that (c) he had a remarkable memory; that (d) he was “a meticulous planner, efficient organiser and a perfectionist;”[x] and that (e) he was security conscious and adhered to the VVT smugglers’ practice of destroying all photographs of himself at this point in his career.[xi]

This means that the literature that attracted young Pirapāharan becomes data for our analysis, though one must also supplement this process with attention to the power exerted by the film world because of the popularity of Tamil films produced in India among the Sri Lankan peoples. One of his early fighter colleagues, Rāgavan, has indicated (in Kadirgamar 2009) that Pirapāharan liked cowboy and modern war films – a note that is in line with the admiration he expressed at one point in the 1980s for Clint Eastwood (in the latter’s roles as a tough cowboy).[xii]

The Tamil film world also led Pirapāharan to Vīrapandiya Kattabommān, the resistance fighter of early colonial times. Kattabommān was a local chieftain and marauder in Tirunelveli District in the Madras Presidency who fell foul of British power. He was caught and executed in 1799. Within a short time a rich and variegated medley of folk stories retailed in southern India through oral transmission as well as palm-leaf manuscript depicted him as an outstanding man. In the 1940s, some budding Tamil nationalists homogenised these tales into a version which depicted him as an Indian and Tamil freedom fighter who opposed British colonialism. This reading guided a movie that appeared in 1959 with Sivāji (Shivāji) Ganēshan in the lead role.[xiii] This film is widely available in multi-media forms and Kattabommān is a household name among the Tamil peoples of India (Ramaswamy 1994: 311-13).

It was probably no accident that this development was initiated in the period embracing the 1930s to 1950s. Indian anti-colonialism was burgeoning at that time. One activist who was antipathetic to Gandhi’s emphasis on non-violent resistance was Subhas Chandra Bose. Though placed under house arrest when World War II broke out, he slipped out of India on an Italian passport and with the aid of revolutionary networks reached Berlin in March 1941 after an arduous land journey. Bose then proceeded to campaign for a “free India government in Europe;” while assisting the Nazi state in organising Indian regiments recruited among Indian POWs and the few Indian youth residing in Germany (Borra 1982). Eventually, however, the Nazi German regime persuaded Bose that it would be more strategic for him to organise an Indian force in Southeast Asia in cooperation with the Japanese; and he was transported by submarine to this theatre in early 1943.

Rommel with the Free India Legion

The Indian National Army (INA) had already been set up among captured Indian troops by the Japanese in Southeast Asia;[xiv] and Bose was quickly made its leader. Bose generated great enthusiasm among the Indian communities in Singapore, Malaya, Rangoon and Bangkok with his stirring rhetoric. His statements indicate that he considered the Japanese-INA thrust into north-eastern India (viz., the Imphal Campaign) to be a precursor for a civil disobedience movement within India that would metamorphose into an armed struggle. This grandiose vision insisted that “all organizations whether inside India or outside [would then have to] transform themselves into a disciplined fighting organization under one leadership” (quoted in Borra 1982). He formed the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India) in October 1943 towards this ultimate end. A speech he delivered at Tokyo University in late 1944 indicated that in his view India required a political system of “an authoritarian character,” so that the fusion of socialism and fascism that he often advocated clearly had a right-wing cast (Montgomery 1994).

The failure of the Imphal Campaign and the collapse of the Japanese war effort destroyed all these utopian expectations, while Bose himself died in a plane crash in Formosa in 1945. However, Subhas Chandra Bose’s hero status amongst some Indian radicals is indicated by the fact that a few (including Borra) have refused to believe that he died in this manner (replicating the story of Pirapaharan). More to point, this story highlights the probability that Bose’s emphasis on disciplined armed struggle was among the currents of thought that was disseminated among radical circles in India — especially in Bengal, Maharashtra and Taminandu. The soldiers of the INA who returned to India as POWS and the networks linked to the Indian communities of Southeast Asia would have been among the circuits that retailed his message.

In any event the high-profile court martial cases of Indian troops charged by the British with desertion to the Japanese and INA aided in the dissemination of Bose’s lines of revolutionary nationalist thinking.[xv] One active Congress politician who needed little persuasion on this count was the Muthuramalingam Thevar (1908-63) from the Maravar caste community in the south. During the internal faction disputes in the Indian National Congress in 1938-39 Thevar had been part of Bose’s Forward Bloc; and he spent much of the war years in jail or under some travel restriction. He returned to labour and radical politics in the post-war era, being elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952, but resigning in order to concentrate on activity within the Madras Legislative Assembly.[xvi] Such details therefore point to a lacuna that requires filling: what were the currents of thought propagated by Bose that remained vibrant in the Tamil political streams and to what degree did these ideas extol the virtues of Hitler and Nazi Germany?

Note, too, that Mein Kampf had been translated into Tamil in 1944 (Nicholls 2000), indicating an interest in Nazi Germany’s rejuvenation under Hitler. It is possibly through Muthuramalingam Thevar and such fringe political figures as Janardhanan in Tamilnadu[xvii] that the Sri Lankan Tamil activists were encouraged to look towards Mein Kampf and Hitler as pertinent for their struggles. Janardhanan, significantly, had an avid interest in the political situation in Sri Lanka and was among those who assisted the 18-year old Pirapāharan to find lodgings in Koddambakan when he was in exile in Tamilnadu in 1972 (Narayan Swamy 1994: 54, 96).

BoseINA or Azad Hind Fauj

As significant is the fact that Bose had adopted the title “Netaji,” meaning “Führer,” when he was in Germany and insisted that the Indian regiments set up by the Wehrmacht should be trained in the strictest military discipline (Borra 1982; Montgomery 1994). It is therefore feasible that Pirapāharan’s attentiveness to Hitler and German disciplinary codes (see below) sprang from his reading of Bose’s career[xviii] rather than the influence of Tamil political currents.

It is within this regional Indian backdrop that one must take note of young Pirapāharan’s attested respect for Bhagat Singh, Bose, Venchināthan and Kattabommān.[xix] Clearly, those who had resisted the British violently in pursuit of independence spurred his violent pursuit of independence for the Sri Lankan Tamils. There were other inspirations as well. Napoleon Bonaparte was one (Narayan Swamy 2003: 24) – presumably admired for his generalship and military exploits.

 Pic by Shyam Tekwani – 1980s

Che Guevara was another.[xx] During his sojourn in India in the early 1980s he spoke highly of the Latin American revolutionary and the Cuban struggle and even posed for the camera with a beret in the late 1980s (Tekwani 2009). There is reason to suspect that this presentation of self was a propaganda device inspired by Anton Balasingham and meant to cultivate Indian media personnel and the Left radical world in general. Since Pirapāharan sought out a translation of Che Guevara’s writings in 1978/79 (Narayan Swamy 1994: 79-80), we know that this inspiration was significant at that stage. Someone must now investigate whether the enthusiasm for the contemporary Marxist and Naxalite struggles in various parts of the world was part of his thinking in 1968/69 and early 1970s.

In sum, our preliminary findings indicate that young Pirapāharan was inspired by such hero figures as Kattabommān, Bhagat Singh, Bose, Napoleon and Guevara in the period extending from 1969 to the early 1980s. Most of these names have been cited by Narayan Swamy, a premier biographer of the Tamil Tiger movement. But Narayan Swamy missed one inspirational force: Adolf Hitler and his Mein Kampf. We must be thankful, therefore, to two of Pirapāharan’s early colleagues-in-arms, Ganēshan Iyer and Rāgavan, for indicating that Pirapāharan had a copy of Mein Kampf in his possession and that he admired Hitler.

Presenting empirical evidence of Pirapāharan‘s interest in Hitler raises problems. It arouses the ire of Tamils and others[xxi] partial to the Tiger cause who immediately charge you with malicious intentions directed towards a disparagement of the Tiger leader by associating him with a modern-ogre, Adolph Hitler of racist notoriety. Their defensive responses must be treated as just that: an ulcer within their own psyche. Such sensitivity is misplaced. There is a genuine intellectual issue here arising from the first-hand evidence provided by our two sources, Iyer and Rāgavan.

The Meaning of Hitler for Young Pirapāharan   

Three inter-related questions summarize this issue: (A) what did the figure of Hitler as hero connote for young Pirapāharan? (B) what did he extract from Mein Kampf? and (C) what aspects of the history of Nazi Germany and its rise to power in the 1930s captivated him?

Let us move first to the evidence in the words of Pirapāharan’s companions from the 1970s. Rāgavan has this to say (in Kadirgamar 2009):

“Thangathurai [from the TLO and TELO groups] was pro-US and pro-Israel. Prabhakaran was also of the same mindset but he was also, strangely, inspired by Hitler. He had with him a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’. He also was inspired by Bhagat Singh and Subash Chandra Bose. It was a strange combination. On the one hand, I think he had ideas about Jewishness, the state and the formation of Israel. On the other hand, the idea of eliminating the “other” came from Hitler. There was a connection in his mind.”

Ganeshan Iyer (2012) writes thus:

“Above all, Prabhakaran, governed by the discipline and victories of Hitler’s army, is trying to enforce the German army’s practices in to the training of the Thamil Eelam Tigers. He says it is because it was disciplined and firm [that] Hitler’s army has made victories its own. The order was given that as the first part of the army training all being trained should salute as is done in Hitler’s army. Prabhakaran who held in esteem the discipline and firmness of Hitler’s army, wanted the Thamil Eelam Tigers’ army to be its representative. I too did not reject it. … [There was a fierce internal debate as to whether we should adopt the Nazi salute]. In the end, as put forward by Prabakaran, Hitler’s ways were accepted and put in practice.” (emphasis added)

Taken in conjunction with Pirapāharan’s alleged interest in the military manual drafted by Clausewitz, Iyer’s testimony confirms Pirapāharan’s pragmatic orientation. Hitler, for him, meant German military capacity and the advantages of discipline in army and society, with the army serving as pathfinder for society.

A corrective caveat is required here. Pirapāharan seems to have fallen into the common-sense error of assuming that the rejuvenation of Germany from a downtrodden position after the defeat in World War I and the humiliations imposed at Versailles was largely due to Hitler and the Nazi regime. Such a conclusion is only a partial truth at best. Germany’s rapid recovery in the 1930s was made possible by the educational and institutional foundations of German society as it had evolved from the nineteenth century. More specifically, we should take note of a verdict conveyed by Helmut Kuzmics from the University of Graz (email dated 1 February 2012):

The efficiency of the Prussian army and its tradition … can be traced back to the wars against Austria and France 1866 and 1870/71. The German army was probably, as Van Creveld in his work, and Ferguson in The Pity of War, maintain, the most efficient army not only in the First, but also the Second World War. Its success had more to do with the superiority of logistics and technical skills, also the greater degree of autonomy of the middle ranks of the officer corps, than with soldierly discipline in troop-parades or greeting-habits. It was, paradoxically, less bureaucratic than the armies of the US or the British, and provided more freedom of manoeuver for the ordinary soldier by giving orders that formulated clear goals but left the choice of path to achieve them to the lower ranks. … the spirit of the Wehrmacht was the product rather of history than of the Nazis.”

Indeed, as Mango (nom de plume) remarked, “most Western militaries now follow German doctrine on joint operations, mobile operations [and] mission tactics;” while the army which [has] followed the Wehrmacht’s tactical doctrine most closely [in recent times] has been the Israel Defence Force!” (email to Roberts, 1 February 2012). The latter irony has recently been compounded: an experienced officer corps and flexible ground-up operational planning was a critical factor in the Sri Lanka Army’s capacity to defeat the LTTE in the course of Eelam War IV from 2006-09 (Tammita-Delgoda 2009).

Within this broader perspective on the factors that promoted Germany’s rejuvenation under the Nazi regime, one can insert some recognition of Hitler’s place in the scheme of things. David Blacker has recently injected a perceptive point:

What Hitler did bring to the sandbox, however, were the concepts of ideological indoctrination of the military and the political soldier. The latter, in the form of the Waffen-SS, was both the spearhead of the German offensives and the rearguard in its retreat. It was this ideological indoctrination that created a type of soldier who fought on when all military sense told one to give up. It was this that VP admired, and which he tried to incorporate into his Black Tigers; some might say successfully (his emphasis).”[xxii]

Kuzmics modifies this idea in yet supporting it: the Waffen were, indeed, as brutal as suicidal and were “particularly motivated and ideologically committed to the cause of National Socialism;” but their units were mostly constituted in the latter stages of the war (email dated 6 February 2012).

Such suicidal commitment encouraged the practices of Armageddon, such as attempts to hold unto untenable ground. The final apotheosis of this commitment, of course, was when Hitler and a few Nazi leaders swallowed cyanide in their beleaguered bunker in Berlin in 1945. It is this emphasis on total suicidal commitment and dedicated discipline that Pirapāharan seems to have extracted from Mein Kampf and the tale of Nazi Germany.

Logically, one would anticipate that Pirapāharan was also attracted by Hitler’s autocratic disposition and his unquestioned position as supremo. This is confirmed in a whole series of recollections provided by Rāgavan. Pirapāharan, says Rāgavan (2009b), “felt very strongly that the Tamil cause needed to be united behind one single organisation” and was attracted to “Adolph Hitler’s authoritarianism.”

When the major internal row peaked in 1979/80 his opponents complained that he was “being a dictator,” while also alleging that he had been responsible for killing two members of their own organisation.[xxiii] The reference here is to Patkunarajah and Michael (from Batticaloa). Though Sabaratnam claims the execution was a Central Committee decision, Iyer’s recent writings contradict this claim. Michael was deemed unreliable and a “security threat” by Pirapāharan, who consulted Iyer and Kumaraselvam before proceeding to execute him at an isolated spot. Patkunarajah was executed when other Tigers were present after Pirapāharan had consulted’ the Central Committee members individually and received their assent.[xxiv] Patkunarajah had shown dissent on several occasions and it would seem that his outspoken character prompted Pirapaharan’s antipathy.

In any event it was about this period that Pirapaharan “would not agree to anything but a one-man leadership;” and promptly resigned from the LTTE (Rāgavan 2009b). He subsequently recouped his position around 1981 when the arrest of the TELO leaders by the government and other developments led to the re-composition of the LTTE, while Uma Maheswaran’s broke off and set up of the rival militant group, PLOTE. It is against this background that one must interpret a previous quotation from Rāgavan: “the idea of eliminating the ‘other’ came from Hitler.” In my interpretation, “eliminating the other” does not point to the elimination of Sinhalese or any specific racist dimension. Rather, it reveals Pirapāharan’s inclination to eliminate anyone in his circle who posed a challenge to his authority, a tendency which then extended to most of the other forces in the Sri Lankan Tamil world who were competing with the LTTE to lead the Tamil people (Bavinck 2011; Hoole 2001; Rāgavan 2009b). Guided by conversations with Arun Ambalavanar I conjecture that this inclination had been nourished by his upbringing in smuggling Karaiyar circles in VVT, a terrain where secretiveness and coteries were vital ingredients for survival.

This disposition and the pragmatic logic which directed Pirapāharan to pursue this course are revealed in the details regarding the split within the LTTE that occurred in 1979/80 that have been presented by the journalist Sabāratnam, writing in ways that indicate veneration of the Tami leader.[xxv] The dispute within the Central Committee seems to have centred upon a personality clash between Uma Maheswaran and Pirapāharan, precipitated by Maheswaran’s violation of the ascetic sexual code adopted by Tiger personnel through his sexual liaison with their first female cadre, Kandiah Urmila Devi. The internal dispute was so serious that the London branch of the LTTE sent Anton Rajah and the two Balasinghams to Chennai to resolve the disagreement. They failed.

The dispute flared up again in 1980 at a Central Committee meeting at Vavuniya. When Iyer, Nagarajah and Para from the Maheswaran camp proposed that the LTTE should be converted into a mass organisation, Pirapāharan hit the roof and resigned from the LTTE. When he regained control of a re-assembled LTTE rump he brought to the organisation certain conclusions that he had spelt out during the rift. These had been presented in his dialogue with Anton Balasingham and seem to have been recovered by the journalist Sabaratnam (2003, chap. 21). These are said to be Pirapāharan’s words:

“The Sri Lankan state is the oppressor. The state is in the hands of Sinhala chauvinists. Sri Lankan state is using its armed organs, the police and the armed forces, as its tools of oppression. Thus, the police and the armed forces are the immediate enemies of the Tamil people. They are … reducing the Tamil people to subservience. The Tamils should be made to realize that the police and the armed forces are their enemies. … The Tamil people should be mobilized to enter the armed struggle. Doing that through educational campaigns and propaganda would be time-consuming and wasteful. Get the police and the army to do that work for the Tamils. Hit hard at the police and the armed forces. They would attack the people. That will make the people patriotic. People would flock to the militants seeking protection. … Maintaining people’s trust is important and difficult. Discipline is the crux of the whole thing. Protectors should not be immoral. Then the entire resistance movement will crumble (emphasis mine).”

What this viewpoint (especially the highlighted phrases) demonstrates is Pirapāharan’s acute strategic capacity. Internal debate would only encourage factionalism. Seeking mass support called for time-consuming effort and was not required because pinprick guerrilla attacks would stimulate the Sri Lankan state’s armed forces to retaliate in ways that aroused the Tamil people.

Aided then by the idiotic counter-insurgency tactics of the Sri Lankan leaders and officer corps, Pirapāharan’s evaluation was precisely what came to pass in the years 1982 to 2002 after he regained command of the LTTE and pressed forward with this strategy – the term “strategy” being deployed here in considered manner in lieu of the term “tactics.” The pin-prick attacks mounted by the LTTE and other Tamil militants generated a major state-facilitated pogrom in July 1983 (Roberts 1994; Kanapathypillai 1990) and a series of retaliations by the military arms of the government between 1982 and 2001 in ways that disposed the majority of Sri Lankan Tamils to support the drive for Thamililam.

His experiences within the embryonic LTTE between 1978 and 1982 also led Pirapāharan to the following conclusions which he spelt out to Santhosum:[xxvi] “(1) he should build an organization absolutely loyal to him [and] (2) he should have the overriding say in running the organization.” Pirapāharan then underlined his insistence on the strategic need for autocratic power in the mould of a Hitler with the following anecdote: he had faced immense troubles [in the recent past from] men who joined the LTTE in its initial years — most of [whom] were talkers. They [would] split hairs over everything. Each one of them would pull in a different direction.” In this view, therefore, “no guerrilla force would succeed with such men” (Sabaratnam 2003: chap. 21). Pirapāharan had to call the shots (Narayan Swamy 1994: 280).

With retrospective advantage we now know that this standpoint led Pirapāharan to kill any budding leaders within the LTTE who showed sharp dissent and threatened his authority. As Ragavan stresses in concluding his evaluation:  Pirapāharan “refused to accept pluralism and difference of opinion, and saw those as a hindrance to the cause. He mercilessly ordered that opponents be killed, and continued to have loyal followers who carried out his orders without any question or hesitation.”[xxvii] This principle of eliminating all rivals[xxviii] extended to virtually all other Tamil militant and parliamentary organisations committed to Thamililam. His LTTE would be the ruling authority for the Sri Lankan Tamils.

His reading of Hitler, therefore, combined with his pragmatism and his penchant for action in pushing Pirapāharan in this direction. Like Hitler, too, Pirapāharan overreached himself in ways that have been extremely disastrous for most of the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka.



Anon, 2007 “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Independence,” in

Balasingham, Adele 2001 The Will to Freedom. An Inside View of Tamil Resistance, Mitcham Fairmax Publishing Ltd.

Bavinck, Ben 2011 “Pirapaharan as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91” http://thuppahi.wordpress. com/2011/11/01/  as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91

Borra, Ranjan 2007 “Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian National Army, and the War of India’s Liberation,” The Journal of Historical Review, 3/ 4: 407-439.

Chandrakanthan, Revd. A. J. V. 2000 “Eelam Tamil Nationalism,” in A. J. Wilson, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism. Its Origins and Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries, London, Hurst & Company, pp. 157-75.

David, Kumar 2010 “What grade would Sun Tsu have awarded Prabaharan?” Island, 16 May 2010.

De Silva, K. M. 1986 Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-ethnic Societies. Sri Lanka 1880-1985, Lanham: University Press of America.

De Votta, Neil 2004 Blowback. Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Gnanadass, Wilson 2008 “Last of the Tiger Leaders,” Sunday Times, 1 March 2009.

Hellmann-Rajanayagam, Dagmar 1993 “The Jaffna Social System: Continuity and Change under Conditions of War,” Internationales Asien Forum 25: 251-81.

Hellmann-Rajanayagam, D. 1994 ‘The ‘groups’ and the rise of militant secessionism,” in C. Manogaran & B. Pfaffenberger (eds) The Sri Lankan Tamils. Ethnicity and Identity, Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 169-207.

Hoole, Rajan 2001 Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power. Myths, Decadence, & Murder, Nugegoda Wasala Publications for UTHR (Jaffna).

Iyer, Ganeshan 2012a “Military Training in the German Nazi Mould amidst Internal Dissension in the early LTTE, late 1970s,” trans by Parames Blacker, in http://thuppahi.

Iyer, Ganeshan 2012b “My Notes on Experiences with Fellow-Fighters,” chapter 9 in My Entries on the Eelam Struggle, in ….  [as trans, by Gobi Ponnuthurai for Michael Roberts].

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 1997 “Pottu Amman in Jaffna,” Frontline, vol. 114/25, 17 Dec. 1997.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2004 “The Conflicts Within,” Frontline, Vol. 21/7, 27 March 2004.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009 “Prabhakaran: Powerful Symbol of Tamil Armed Struggle,” 29 May 2009, in

Jeyaraj, D.B.S. 2011“Sivaji Ganesan: A doyen among actors in Tamil cinema,” 20 July 2011,

Kaarthikeyan D. R. and R. Raju 2004 The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination. The Investigation, New Delhi: New Dawn Press Inc.

Kadirgamar, Ahilan 2009 “Interview with Ragavan on Tamil Militancy (Early Years),” http://

Kanapathipillai, V. 1990July 1983: the Survivor’s Experience,” in V. Das (ed.) Mirrors of Violence, Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia, Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 321-44.

Mani, A. and P. Ramasamy 2006 “Subhas Chandra Bose & the INA,” Southeast Asian Papers, Seminar organised by the ISEAS, India Club, Singapore.

Montgomery, A. 1994 “Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle for Independence,” Journal of Historical Review, March-April 1994. 14/2: 2-5.

Narayan Swamy, M. R. 1994. Tigers of Sri Lanka, Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Narayan Swamy, M. R. 2003 Inside an Elusive Mind. Prabhakaran, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Narayan Swamy, M. R. 2009 “Prabhakaran: from Catapult Killer to Ruthless Insurgent,” IANS, 18 May 2009 – see [reprinted in The Tiger Vanquished, pp. 165-67].

Narayan Swamy, M. R. 2010 The Tiger Vanquished. LTTE’s Story, New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Perinbanayagam, R. S. 2011 “Caste and Politics,” /2011/08/22/ caste-and-politics/

Peiris, Gerald H. 2006 Sri Lanka: Challenges of the New Millennium, Kandy: Kandy Books, pp. 413-438.

Peiris, Gerald H. 2009 Twilight of the Tigers. Peace Efforts and Power Struggles in Sri Lanka, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Ragavan 2009a “Interview with Ragavan on Tamil Militancy (Early Years),”

Ragavan, 2009b “Prabhakaran’s Timekeeping. Memories of a Much-Mythologised Rebel Leader by a Former LTTE Fighter,” Sunday Leader, 24 May 2009.

Rajasingham, K. T. n. d. “Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination,Asia Times,

Ramaswamy, Sumathi: ‘The Nation, the Region and the Adventures of a Tamil ‘Hero’,” Contributions to Indian Sociology, 1994, n.s., 28: 295-322.

Roberts, Michael 1994 Exploring Confrontation. Sri Lanka: Politics, Culture and History, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Roberts, Michael 1996 “Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide,” Contributions to Indian Sociology 30: 245-72.

Roberts, Michael 2004 Narrating Tamil Nationalism. Subjectivities & Issues, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2005 “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 49: 67-93.

Roberts, Michael 2006 “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24 [reprinted in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo, Yapa, 2010, pp. 203-18].

Roberts, Michael 2010 “Hitler, Nationalism, Sacrifice: Koenigsberg and Beyond … Towards the Tamil Tigers,” in

Roberts, Michael 2012 Inspirations and Caste Threads in the Early LTTE, unpubd, Mss in process.

Sabaratnam, Lakshmanan 2001 Ethnic Attachments in Sri Lanka: Social Change and Cultural Continuity, London: Palgrave.

Sabaratnam, T. 2003 Pirapāharan, [a biography in chapter segments] serialised in http://www.

Sabaratnam, T. 2003b “The Split of the LTTE,” chap 21.

Sabaratnam, T. 2009 “Beginnings of Violence,” draft chapter from his book in press — kindly sent to me.

Schalk, Peter 1997a “Resistance and Martyrdom in the process of state formation of Tamililam,” in Joyce Pettigrew (ed.) Martyrdom and Political Resistance, Amsterdam: VU Press, 1997, pp. 61-84.

Schalk, Peter 1997b “Historisation of the Martial Ideology of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),” South Asia 20: 35-72.

Sivarajah, A. 1996 Politics of Tamil Nationalism in Sri Lanka, New Delhi: South Asian Publishers.

Sivaram, D. P. 1992a “Tamil Militarism – The Code of Suicide,” Lanka Guardian June 1992, 15: 13-16.

Sivaram, D. P.  1992b“Tamil Militarism,” Part 6, Lanka Guardian, 1 Aug. 1992.

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2009 “Sri Lanka. The Last Phases of Eelam War IV. From Chundikulam to Puddmattalan,” Manekshaw Paper No. 13.

Taraki [D. P. Sivaram] 2004a “LTTE develops Asymmetric Deterrence to stall Foreign Intervention,” Daily Mirror 22 May 2004.

Taraki [D. P. Sivaram] 2004b “Strategic Positioning Vital for Military Advantage,” Daily Mirror, 24 July 2004.

Tekwani, Shyam 2009 ‘The Man who destroyed Eelam,”  /20090523/default.asp.

Thottam, Jyoti 2009 “Prabhakaran: The Life and Death of a Tiger,” Time, 19 May 2009,,8599,1899590,00.html.

Van Creveld, M. 1982 Fighting Power: German and US Army performance, 1939-1945, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982.

Whitaker, Mark P. 2007 Learning Politics from Sivaram, London: Pluto Press.

Wickramasinghe, Nira 2006 Sri Lanka in the Modern Age. A History of Contested Identities, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Wilson, A. J.  2000 Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism. Its Origins and Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries, London: Hurst and Company.

[i] See Roberts 1996; 2004, 2005 and 2006.

[ii] Chandrakanthan 2000: 164, 169; Hellmann-Rajanayagam 1994: 172; & Wickramasinghe 2006: 301.

[iii] Jeyaraj 2009; Narayan Swamy 1994: 24 and Rāgavan in Kadirgamar 2009a.

[iv] “In a 1994 interview [Prabhakaran] described a deep-seated anger against the military and remembered an eighth-grade teacher who exhorted students to take up arms against it. ‘It is he who impressed on me the need for armed struggle and persuaded me to put my trust in it,’ Prabhakaran said” (Thottam 2009). This teacher was probably one Venugopal (Jeyaraj 2009). Venugopal has since written about his influence in Tamil (information from Ambalvanar).

[v] T. Sabaratnam 2009. Also see Narayan Swamy 1994: 24; Jeyaraj 1993:289-90; and Wilson 1966: 127, 130). The late T. Sabāratnam was a journalist and has authored a serialized biography of Pirapāharan on web (2003 et seq.). Also see Kaarthikeyan & Raju 2004: 128-29.

[vi] The Mānavar Peravai was composed mostly of “students from the higher classes of the colleges” (Perinpanayagam email, 28 Oct. 2011).

[vii] Rāgavan in Kadirgamar 2009a and Kaarthikeyan & Raju 2004: 128-30, 142.

[viii] Rāgavan 2009b; and Narayan Swamy 1994: 80. The Mahabhāratha and its hero figures are specifically cited to be among the historical literature which spurred Pirapaharan.

[ix] Narayan Swamy 1994: 80; and Rāgavan 2009b and 2009a.

[x] Ragavan 2009a; 2009b; Narayan Swamy 1994: 79-80; Narayan Sway 2003: 64-69, 122 and Taraki 2004a & 2004b.

[xi] Ragavan 2009a; Narayan Swamy 1994: 57 and a personal communication from Ambalavanar.

[xii] A newspaper item from the LTTE’s early days that is firmly etched in my mind (no notes were taken). Also see Narayan Swamy 1994: 59. However, Jeyaraj insists that the reference to Eastwood was a teasing act on Pirapāharan’s part and dismisses the suggestion (2009).

 [xiii] “Sivaji Ganeshan as Kattabomman”; and Jeyaraj 2011. Also see

 [xiv] See “Subhas Chandra Bose: A Pact with the Devil – Between Gandhi and Hitler”

[xv] See “Indian National Army” in

xvi] I am indebted to M. Sathiyamoorthy for referring me to Thevar. The bio-details are from Wikipedia which uses a publication on the Forward Bloc by K. Bose (Madras: Tamil Nadu Academy of Political Science, 1988).

[xvii] I am grateful to M. Sarvananthan for the reference to Janarthanan. Clearly there is a research topic here calling for further exploration.

[xviii] There is more than enough to suggest that Bose’s inclinations towards political choreography of a martial character heralds the Jana Sangh and BJP. When Bose organised a guard of honour for the sessions of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta in 1930, “2,000 volunteers were given military training and organized into battalions. About half wore uniforms, with specially designed steel-chain epaulettes for the officers. Bose, in full dress uniform (peaked cap, standing collar, ornamental breast cords, and jodhpurs) even carried a Field Marshal’s baton when he reviewed his troops.” (Montgomery 1994).

 [xix] Schalk 1997b: 46-48; Narayan Swamy 1994: 51, 80; and Rāgavan in Kadirgamar 2009a.

 [xx] Note Frontline, 30 December 1981.

 [xxi] One of these others was a referee who reported on one of my manuscript articles for the journal Nations and Nationalism, though he was crafty enough to obscure this antipathy. There were, I stress, other reasons guiding the Editors when they rejected the essay. My article is now on web at

[xxiv] Here I am guided by communications from Ambalavanar who has read the whole of Iyer’s serialized work. Kumaran was another early Tiger cadre who was executed by the LTTE high command. The list of those subject to Pirapaharan’s personal animosity may be quite long, with the most outstanding example being the former second-in-command Mahaththaya.

[xxv] Sabaratnam 2003b. Also see Narayan Swamy 1994: 70-71.

 [xxvi] Santhosum was the code name for one of the earliest LTTE fighters, one Umainesan of Ariyalai, who died in action on 21 October 1987. Note that Sabaratnam was from Ariyalai himself and was of Civiyar lineage.

 [xxvii] Rāgavan 2009b.  Note that Rāgavan himself was among those who adhered to this policy till he resigned in 1984.

 [xxviii] See Narayan Swamy 2009.


Filed under authoritarian regimes, cultural transmission, Eelam, Fascism, historical interpretation, life stories, LTTE, martyrdom, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, propaganda, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, world events & processes

28 responses to “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapāharan’s Thinking

  1. Pingback: Victor Rajakulendran’s Tirade at the Exposure of Pirapaharan’s Admiration for Hitler | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Pingback: Victor Rajakulendran’s Tirade At The Exposure Of Pirapaharan’s Admiration For Hitler « Colombo Telegraph

  3. Pingback: An Angry Tamil: Kathiravan confronts Roberts | Thuppahi's Blog

  4. We Sinhalese have a rather authentic version of the ‘Aryan Supremacist’ ideology (having been a part of it in our national/racial mythology), which the young Adolph came to admire and acquire much later as a basis of his ‘Nazism’.

    Common feature is that there was and is social backing for these practices.

  5. Pingback: Another Angry Tamil: Thanga for Pirapaharan as indelible “part of the Tamil psyche” | Thuppahi's Blog

  6. Pingback: Facing Two Angry Tamils: Interpretations Of Past And Present « Colombo Telegraph

  7. Pingback: Addressing Two Angry Tamils: Heat, Distortion, Truth, Fact, Mendacity and Eternal Enmity | Thuppahi's Blog

  8. Pingback: Facing Two Angry Tamils: Interpretations Of Past And Present | Colombo Telegraph

  9. Pingback: Dedicated Soldiers and the Cyanide Pill of Protection | Thuppahi's Blog

  10. Pingback: ‘Niromi de Soyza’s’ first excursion into the media limelight in May 2009 | Thuppahi's Blog

  11. Pingback: Pirapāharan, LTTE and the Tamil Struggle: A Slanted Bibliography | Thuppahi's Blog

  12. Pingback: Enlightened reform a perquisite today in order to counter Sampanthan’s insidious programme of autonomy-to-secession | Thuppahi's Blog

  13. Pingback: Kavudha Rajaa! Who is to be King? Mahinda or Prabhaa? Misjudgements that changed the course of history | Thuppahi's Blog

  14. Pingback: Velupillai Pirapāharan: Veera Maranam | Colombo Telegraph

  15. Pingback: Mixed Messages and Bland Oversimplification in President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Speech - Groundviews

  16. Pingback: Mixed Messages and Dangerous Oversimplification in President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Speech | Thuppahi's Blog

  17. Pingback: The dark charisma of Adolf Hitler | Thuppahi's Blog

  18. Pingback: KP and Gota talk to Greg Sheridan: On the Eelam Wars and the Need of the Hour TODAY | Thuppahi's Blog

  19. Pingback: A Chola Tiger within Wigneswaran Swamy and the TNA? | Thuppahi's Blog

  20. Pingback: From Godse and Gandhi to the Selfless Sacrifice of Tamil Tigers | Thuppahi's Blog

  21. Pingback: Running the Gauntlet in Academia: The Case of “Selfless Sacrifice” — A Rejected Article | Thuppahi's Blog

  22. Pingback: Thuppahi's Blog

  23. Pingback: The Psychology of Totalitarianism via Skya’s treatise on Japan’s Holy War | Thuppahi's Blog

  24. Bruce

    Thank you for this interesting article! I saw an interesting special recently on the History Channel in the US, on World War Two leaders in their youth. It mentioned that young Hitler chose the swastika as his symbol because of its use as a sacred motif in Indian cultures.

  25. Pingback: Hardline Ethnic Mind-Sets: Jane Russell’s Findings and Reflections | Thuppahi's Blog

  26. Pingback: Final Passage for McGuinness and Prabhākaran: Sharply Contrasting | Thuppahi's Blog

  27. Pingback: Rivetting Data on the Jaffna Peninsula and Tamil Politics, 1929-1970s | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply