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Friday, January 11, 2013

Leaders, Beware of Pride!

Pride “is a very common failing I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed, that human nature is particularly prone to it,” said Jane Austen some two centuries back. And that perhaps is the real reason behind Prabhakaran’s ignominious death.

It does not matter if such a pride results in the death of its owner if he happens to be an ordinary man. But when it comes to a leader, that too, a leader of the kind of Velupillai Prabhakaran, Chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who was espousing the cause of Sri Lankan Tamil minorities for ‘political space’ in Sri Lanka that has largely been denied by the nation, its impact is felt more by the followers than by the dead-owner of the pride. To gain what is being fought for, even an insurgent leadership, as John F Kennedy said, must work towards “gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” Pity, the stupid pride doesn’t allow this simple truth to prevail!

Nor did it allow Prabhakaran, the leader who transformed the LTTE into a conventional army, see the ground realities in Sri Lanka. Even the dramatically altered international perception about terrorism, as a consequence of the 9/11, failed to catch his attention.

It all started in 2002, when Prabhakaran, believing that he was in total control of everything in the North and East Lanka, did not pursue the peace processes initiated by the Sri Lankan government and brokered by Norway with an open mind and, importantly, sincerity of purpose. It was his continued demand for a separate Eelam along with frequent violations of the ceasefire agreements that led to the collapse of the peace talks. Many have dubbed it as “worse than a crime, a blunder”, and truly.

Following this, the deadly impact of the 2004 Tsunami wiped out much of LTTE’s cadre in the East. Then came the defection of his trusted aide Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, alias Karuna, along with a sizable number of eastern cadre— more because of Prabhakaran’s autocratic rule. Of course, it is an aside here that the same Prabhakaran, in one of his interviews in 1986, had thrown his lot in favor of “people’s democracy in a socialist system.” That aside, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India not only distanced itself from the LTTE but also started helping the Lankan government in building its army’s capabilities. With EU and Canada proscribing the LTTE, the flow of funds from expatriates started drying up. And, none of these unfavorable developments mattered to Prabhakaran—an insurgent leader who held sway in his own foolish world of imagination. The result was: underestimating the strength of his adversary—both political and military—and living under the illusion of achieving a separate Eelam for his Tamil brethren.

But its consequences had to be borne by his innocent Tamil brethren: “bloodbath ha[d] become a reality” in the northeastern Sri Lanka where the army and Tamil Tiger insurgents fought their last battle. Reports from Human Rights Watch, a research and lobbying group, indicate that the Lankan army had “indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals, in violation of the laws of the war.” It also accused the Tigers of holding the civilians from their former northern fief hostage and even of murdering some who attempted to flee. Reports also indicate that the army had sometimes shelled the ‘no-fire-zone’—the sanctuary in which entrapped civilians were taking shelter—for the government was eager “to finish this damn [26-year conflict] thing off soon.”

And it did finish it off, though the scenes of terrified children, women and men fleeing the northern beach of Sri Lanka would haunt the TV viewers. Prabhakaran, along with his senior colleagues was killed. Perhaps, that is how all the stories of courage—courage as defined by Prabhakaran: “carrying cyanide in one’s person is a symbolic expression of our commitment, our determination, our courage”—that even maddens madness by being so blind to ‘fear’, are destined to end.

The real tragedy now is: the uncertainty associated with the future of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and the fate of those educated Tamils who had emigrated to other countries to escape the trauma of conflict. This brings to our mind the story of Niromi de Soyza, who at the age of 17 —“as an idealistic 17-year-old ... believed in the power of the individual to make a difference”— joined LTTE in 1987, but after passing through a grueling phase of fighting, felt “broken, physically and emotionally, constantly questioning the purpose of a war that could clearly never be won”, and finally quit the organization saying, “I just can’t cope any more”; “I am tired of this war”; “I am weak.”

And, Niromi de Soyza—the “reckless, selfish teenage” rebel—who has today settled as a happily married mother in an affluent Sydney suburb, is eager to teach all that she has learned the hard way: “…tolerance and empathy, that the end doesn’t always justify the means, and that violence always breeds more violence”, but laments that “I don’t think Sri Lanka has learnt it at all.”

If only this simple ‘rationale’ had dawned on Prabhakaran, history would have been different—the lives of minority Tamils in and outside Sri Lanka would have been different, certainly better than what it is today.

There is, of course, a lesson in it to every living leader: Alas! Pride! Pride and leadership are strange bedfellows.

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