Jane Russell and Michael Roberts in Interaction
“Once, while waiting for a CTB bus at Kurumbacciddy Junction in 1974, I saw a blackboard advertising a lecture by the then proto-LTTE which showed speedboats pulling the Jaffna peninsula across the Palk Straits and joining it to Tamil Nadu.”
DEAR JANE, WHEN precisely in 1974?
Yours is an intriguing piece of ethnography … The Tamil New Tigers were a tiny group then…. and the ISSUE IS: who had the vision/imagination to formulate this prospect and/or this propaganda line? KP? Pirapaharan? …………………….. michael
These pictures of fishing trawlers in recent times must serve as an evocation of the high-powered smuggler boats that were active from the 1960s if not earlier …. the argument being one that emphasises (A) navigational skills; (B) Lanka-Indo cross-country networks; (C) criminal bravado and D) the requisite ‘instruments” [boats] for smuggling operations — which, then, became a foundation for the Sea Tiger arms of the LTTE project.
TWO: JANE’S RESPONSES, 3 October 2021
Earlyish in 1974….between February-May perhaps. ……. please see my email sent just now on pivotal role of VVT in LTTE creation….
Jane’s Memo, also on 3 October 2021:
Thanks for that…..these are further thoughts on the issue: as provoked by your intervention…..
VVT was a key element in the LTTE rise to power. The marriage convention in VVT, I was informed by a local resident, was for VVT-born fishermen/smugglers to marry women from families in coastal villages of Tamil Nadu, particularly those with outlaw credentials. Thus, children from VVT grew up with dual loyalties: to the Jaffna peninsula and to Tamil Nadu. But also [adhered to] an ‘outlaw’ creed that brooked no authority, but their own.
VVT was (almost) an autonomous centre of power within the Northern Province. When Mao-Tse-Tung died (9th September 1976), I was staying with friends in a broken down walauwwa on the beach in VVT. Within hours, posters of Mao were plastered all over VVT. I was first surprised that this village of individualistic smuggling-outlaw entrepreneurs would bemoan the demise of the most extreme left-wing revolutionary of the 20th century; and second, I was impressed with the organisational prowess of the local CP-China Wing that enabled such a propaganda-campaign to happen so swiftly. There were posters put up elsewhere in the Peninsula that day, but nowhere as ubiquitous as in VVT.
The values of the LTTE leadership were culled from twin identities of Jaffnese and Tamil Nad coastal villages: and their violent methods from generations of piratical brigandage (cf. British attempts to stop smuggling from South India to the NP in the 1920’s-40’s by closing all northern ports) that had brought such prosperity to VVT. The huge, sophisticated speedboats tied to the VVT jetty in 1976 — far more powerful than anything then employed by the Sri Lankan navy — testified to the success of the smuggling regime.
It is against this backdrop that the cartoon of speedboats pulling the Peninsula across to Tamil Nadu must be judged.
warm regards, Jane
Michael Roberts: Reflections and Surmises arising from This Corpus of Information
The resistance of the Sri Lankan Tamils to what many in their community considered to be offensive Sinhala discrimination was marked by a proliferation of underground strands (for the most part centred in the Jaffna Peninsula, but also involving networks in Mannar District and the Eastern Province). Amidst occasional cooperation, these militant groups were in competition with each other from the late 1970s to the 1990s. Most of the rebel outfits also had encouragement and support from the government of India and from segments of the population in Tamilnadu.
That the LTTE came to dominate the resistance struggle by the year 1985/86 was due to their ruthless efficiency in stifling the capacity of these contenders by eliminating the leaders: (A) the assault on a TELO camp in the Jaffna Peninsula on 29th April 1985 and the systematic elimination of their personnel in the Peninsula by LTTE fighters led by Kittu which saw the decimation of TELO; (B) the assassination of Uma Maheswaran, leader of PLOTE on the 16th July 1989; and (C) the elimination of the EPRLF’s Central Committee as they held a meeting in Chennai on the 19th June 1990.
Note that the LTTE commando team that effected the strike on the EPRLF in Chennai is said to have been led by David, a former officer in the merchant seaman’s world. Speculatively, therefore, I underline the vital importance of the seafaring capacities and smuggling networks of the Karaiyar caste networks within the LTTE in the competition to lead the liberation struggle of the SL Tamils. This capacity, in my conjecture, was sharpened by the organizational genius of KP Pathmanathan, a VVT man who was Velupillai Pirapaharan’s best man at his wedding in India, and who then settled down in Thailand as the logistics head of the LTTE international operations.
The seafaring limitations of the other rebel organisations are indicated by the fact that PLOTE chose Sivaram as their point-man in efforts to send arms to the east from India and the Jaffna Peninsula. Sivaram was from the east, yes. His IQ was of the highest order, yes. But he was from a well-to-do landowning family. Though his knowledge of the jungles was above par, his capacity to locate suitable landing arenas while approaching the coast would have been limited.
An Unsolicited Comment from Retd Brigadier Sri Mudannayake, 12 October 2021
Dear Dr. Roberts
The connection between VVT, PPD [Point Pedro] and few other northernmost hamlets of the JFN Peninsula with Southern India was phenomenal. It is not an exaggeration to say that there were Tamils of that region who haven’t been to Southern Sri Lanka, but have been to Southern India many times. Young men went by boat to South India to watch movies. There were no GPS, radios or radar for navigation or communication. They, being excellent boatmen, sailed boats back and forth by instinct. The expertise was handed over from one generation to another.
There was smuggling of people and contraband from India to SL as well. Spices and foreign liquor went from here, and sarees, sarongs, and textiles came back. It is to control these illicit practices that TAFAII [Task Force Anti Illicit Immigration] was created.
The status quo prevailed until the advent of separatism ideology from Tamil politicians of SL.
A NOTE re Captain David and the LTTE’s Maritime Build-Up in the 1980s
Experienced men and those reliable and wedded to the LTTE’s objective were needed to run LTTE ships and to train cadres who would man future shipping lines. There were many merchant navy officers, sailors and engineers from Velvettithurai (Velupillai Prabhakaran’s home town) and other parts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Some of them had done training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Nautical Engineering College in Bombay (now Mumbai). On Prabhakaran’s instructions, his Jaffna Commander Kittu sent an emissary to meet Captain David, a merchant Navy officer who was on holiday at his home in Jaffna in February 1984. Captain David was asked to meet Prabhakaran regarding establishment of an LTTE shipping service. He was introduced to Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP,’ the LTTE’s Chief procurer of arms, communication equipment and other war items.
“Captain David met Prabhakaran in Chennai in March 1984. Together with ‘KP,’ they chalked out an elaborate strategy to float maritime companies in Southeast Asia, based mainly in Singapore and Malaysia. ‘Arasu Maritime Private Ltd’ was one of their first ventures. The support of Singapore-based Tamils was enlisted for this purpose. An old Chinese vessel, ‘Sun-Hing,’ was registered in Panama in October 1984. The name of the ship was changed to ‘MV Cholan.’ Meanwhile, several firms were floated to make enquiries about military wares. ‘Captain David and Associates’ was one such firm. The ship ‘MV Cholan’ started its voyage in 1985 with general cargo from Southeast Asia to Vishakhapatnam in India. It also carried powerful boat engines, communication equipment, machine guns, tinned food, packet food, camouflage uniform items, tents and raincoats.” (from SL Guardian 2007).
A NOTE: ABOUT Jane Russell by Michael Roberts
A graduate from Oxford University, Jane Russell came out to Sri Lanka in the early 1970s as a student seeking a doctorate under the supervision of Professor KM De Silva (a rather unusual quest). She participated actively in the Ceylon Studies Seminar sessions whenever she was at Peradeniya campus and was among those who spoke from the floor when the CSS organised an All-Day discussion on the The Sinhala Tamil Question in Colombo in October 1973. Her dissertation was devoted to the politics of the Donoughmore era –that is, the events leading to the Donoughmore Commission nad, then, the politics of the years 1931-1948. The poliitcal agitation of the Tamil leaders of the 1920s to 1940s, including the agitation of Jaffna Youth League were amjor interests within this broader framework. Hence, Jane spent a fair amount of time in the Jaffna Peninsula working on the documents avaialble in the libraries there and tapping the thoughts of pertinent personnel. Those spells of research –and what was/is effectively oral history — provide the foundations for the highly significant themes that are addressed in this ‘conversation conveyed in this THUPPAHI piece.
Ferdinando, Shamindra 2011 “KP surfaces again,” 7 February 2011, https://thuppahis.com/2011/02/07/kp-surfaces-once-again/
Bajpaee, Chitiegje 2009 “Uncertainty Rather than Stability Follows Defeat of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers,” 20 August 2009, https://jamestown.org/program/uncertainty-rather-than-stability-follows-defeat-of-sri-lankas-tamil-tigers/
Jeyaraj, DBS 2011 “KP speaks Out; An Interview with former Tiger Chief,” Vavuniya, NERDO.
Roberts, Michael 2009 “The Sinhala Mindset,” December 2009, https://thuppahis.com/the-sinhala-mind-set/
Russell, Jane 1982 Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947, Colombo, Tisara Prakasakayo.
SL Guardian 2007 “Kaarthikeyen on LTTE Shipping Lines,” http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2007/09/karthikeyan-on-ltte-shipping-lines.html
Whitaker, Mark 2007 Learning Politics from Sivaram, London, Pluto Press.
 This line was a passing remark within an important comment by Jane Russell posted on 19 March 2012 in the Comments on an Editorial Memo entitled THE SINHALA MINDSET by Michael Roberts in his Thuppahi website viz https://thuppahis.com/2021/10/03/reflections-on-the-commentary-on-sinhala-mindset/.
 ”Tamil New Tigers” was the name adopted initially by the small network of Rebels who altered their signature to Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam” in 1975 (see
 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_Eelam_Liberation_Organization. Note that the SL government’s writ within the Jaffna Peninsula was weak-to-non-existent in 1984/85 and that Pirapaharan was in India during some s moments in this period so that Kittu was making some of the critical decisions.
 Uma Maheswaran was a nom de plume adopted by Kadirgamapillai (Kathirkamar) Nallainathan, a surveyor who received military training in Lebanon and became chairman of the LTTE in the period 1977-80 …when he was an important part of the LTTE in the period 1977-80 before his disagreements with Pirapaharan saw him move out and found a rival resistance group known as PLOTE. His killing, however, is said to have been a work of factions witihn his declining party. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uma_Maheswaran.
 KP Pathmanathan married a Thai lady and started a family, but continued to direct the international network of the LTTE. KP was replaced by Castro as international head of the LTTE in early 2003 (and then re-inserted at a dire stage in January 2009). This step on Pirapaharan’s part in 2003 was, arguably, a retrograde move that weakened the LTTE machine. KP was only reinstated on 31 December 2008. See Jeyaraj 2011 for some aspects. In what is an outstanding act of international cooperation KP was arrested by the Malaysian Intelligence/Police services in Kuala Lumpur in mid-2009 and despatched to Sri Lanka in a special Air Lanka flight. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was at the centre of this operation and the gossip I have at the back of my mind indicates that Major Udaya Perera was the key liaison officer in Malaysia.
 Apart from the evidence served up by Mark Whitaker (2007), let me stress that I had several conversations with Sivaram in Colombo in the period 1999-2003: once at my sister’s house in Hampden Lane, Wellawatte and twice at the bar (where else!!) at the Savoy Hotel.
 As a lad from Galle, I myself am familiar with reefs and skin-diving, but would be quite lost in guiding small boats (or big ones) from the sea.
 “It was created to control illicit immigration. Not so much to control smuggling of goodies” – Email Note from Retd. Brig. Sri Mudannayake..
 This invaluable reference was sent to me by Siri Hewa of Sydney (an IT whiz-kid and a wine connoisseur).