The 12th cross street in Chennai’s neighbourhood of Indira Nagar may be one of the posh addresses today. But 23 years ago, it was the home of names that went on to become among the most dreaded terrorists in the world. Vellupillai Prabhakaran was one of them.
I met him in one of the rare audiences he gave to journos on the “Lanka beat” in the company of his mentor and LTTE’s ideologue Anton Balasingham.
Though Prabhakaran had been visiting India before but it was only in 1986 that he allowed his public appearances — during interactions with the press or when he went to MGR (M G Ramachandran), then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister who was his group’s benefactor.
Always preferring a recluse’s style to keep up the enigma around him, Prabhakaran was before the media – to show that why his own group was the most fiercely loyal to the cause of Eelam (a separate homeland).
He wanted to say he was not a terrorist but a lawful combatant fighting for his homeland. Chennai was the home of other Tamil militant groups like TELO, EPRLF and EROS.
Prabhakaran always sought to distinguish his LTTE as the best to get the most favoured attention. That his desire sowed the seed for a chain of fratricidal killings was not lost to many because of frequent clashes between them on Tamil Nadu’s soil.
The fiercest fights in the mid 1980s were between several Tamil secessionist groups rather than between these Tamil groups and the Sri Lankan Government.
To our questions, Prabhakaran answered in a distinct Sri Lankan Tamil accent, leaving UK-educated Balasingham to do the elaboration in English. I still remember how Prabhakaran responded.
“Can we afford to be peaceable in our ways in the face of a ruthless enemy? We certainly cannot, that’s the truth. But you know we maintain high standards of discipline and morality in our practice.”
I could not help asking him whether he indeed carried cyanide with him. Prabhakaran looked at Balasingham who gave me the reply, “as long as we have this cyanide round our neck, we have no need to fear any force on earth!”
In 1987, Prabhakaran left for Jaffna in a boat to apparently never return to Tamil Nadu.