Prabhakaran: the man is dead, the myth destroyed (Comment)

May 20th, 2009 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mayank Chhaya
Velupillai Prabhakaran may not have visualised his own macabre end as a mud-covered and practically naked corpse on a makeshift stretcher, but that is how it turned out to be. Despite the inherently cruel voyeurism of officially publishing the pictures of his body, Sri Lanka had to do so if only to prevent mythologies from being built around someone whose childhood hero was ‘Phantom: the ghost who walks’.

The photographs displayed on the website of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order, offer some telling insights into the final moments of the world’s most ruthless insurgent.

The personal effects recovered from Prabhakaran included a Thuraya satellite phone, a preferred means of communication among terrorists and insurgents, a pistol, a dog tag, and his Tamil Tigers identity card.

It is extraordinary that an official agency of a sovereign government would find it appropriate to use the kind of description accompanying the photographs. It is gloating and derisive in its tone.

“Ironically, he was found with no cyanide capsule, but with his identity card and the dog tag, as to prove his identity if he managed to seek refuge with some unknown saviour. He was certainly not a man enough to fight a single battle against (the) Army. Instead, he tried to save his life until the last moment. Not for a single second he wanted to commit suicide, he tried to escape betraying his most loyal followers before a soldier shot him down. We are not going to comment on how he died….. Simply, he was the best of the cowards.”

According to the ministry, Prabhakaran’s body was identified by Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran, the minister of national integration and reconciliation, who once fought for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and Daya Master, its former media spokesman.

Colombo’s entire claim of victory rested on it effectively carrying out a version of the habeas corpus. Without the physical evidence of his death, the Sri Lankan government would have found it impossible to lend its campaign a persuasive closure. It is instructive that even with the pictures of the body being published, the sympathisers of the Tamil Tigers have claimed that Prabhakaran is still “alive and safe.”

The purpose behind not sanitising the photos seemed to be to convey to his surviving followers that in the final analysis their hero was nothing more than an ordinary mortal who hid behind a carefully cultivated persona. That is unlikely to deter the remaining members of the Tamil Tigers outside Sri Lanka from believing that what was on display was an imposter and not the real Prabhakaran.

It is not clear whether his body will be handed over to his family or kept for more tests. It is not inconceivable that the Sri Lankan government may apprehend that handing over the body could lead to a troublesome funeral.

There were reports soon after the fall of Kilinochchi, the LTTE capital, in January that Prabhakaran had sent away his wife Madivadani and 10-year-old son Balachandran. It was not known where they might have gone but they can rightfully claim his remains. Whether Colombo will oblige is another matter since it is fraught with problems.

(20.5.2009-Mayank Chhaya can be contacted at

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