Having reached fifty, what is in store for LTTE leader Pirabhakaran? While his admirers would wish him a ‘long life’, his adversaries (both local and non-local varieties) would dream of something different from his admirers. Thus, its opportune to review how five of Pirabhakaran’s illustrious predecessors (in his chosen fields of expertise) experienced the post-fifty phase of their lives.
First, I begin with M.G.Ramachandaran (MGR), one of Pirabhakaran’s mentors and benefactors. On January 12, 1967, five days before he reached fifty on January 17, 1967, MGR was shot by M.R.Radha, one of his peers and elders in the Tamil drama and cinema professions. Thus, MGR was fighting for his life when he reached 50. His political career was given a great boost by this unexpected turn of events and MGR was elected as a Member of Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu a few weeks later, in addition to propelling his mentor C.N.Annadurai for the chief ministership of the State. Ten years later, MGR would himself become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1977, in which post he continued until his death on December 24, 1987.
Secondly, the father of Eelam Tamil nationalism, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam (1898-1977), when he reached 50 on March 1948 had barely begun his career as a legislator, having won the Kankesanthurai constituency in the 1947 general election. Chelva would form his Federal Party at 51 (in 1949), and even suffered defeat in1952 general election; nevertheless, the racist politics of short-sighted Sinhalese leaders made Chelva as the seer of Eelam Tamils in 1956. Chelva’s pre-eminent status among Eelam Tamils was not usurped by anyone until his death in April 1977.
Thirdly, the father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). When he reached 50 in 1919, Gandhi was barely beginning to register as a ‘name’ and ‘face’ in India’s freedom struggle. His revolutionary strategy of ‘mass participation by non-physical violence’ was even an anathema to the money-bags of Chennai and elsewhere. Using acumen, strategy and his personal appeal to illiterate masses, Gandhi pushed his lethargic ‘seniors’ in the Congress Party to the side. Gandhi’s status as the foremost foe against British imperialism for almost the next three decades, until his assassination on January 20, 1948, was hardly usurped, though there were a couple of worthy challengers (Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Subhas Chandra Bose) in colonial India.
Fourthly, the hero of Vietnam liberation, General Vo Nguen Giap (1911- ). When he reached 50 in 1961, General Giap had already achieved his fame as the one who chased the French imperialists from Vietnam. Still, his fight and ultimate victory against the Americans in the Vietnam War (~1965-1975) was awaiting him.
Fifthly, the South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela (1918 – ). When he reached 50 in 1968, tagged as a ‘terrorist’, Mandela was in jail ‘for life’. His purported ‘crime’: promoting violence and agitating against white racism. He would languish in jail for another 20 odd years, till February 1990, until his opponents realized the futility of keeping a freedom fighter within bars. Mandela would ultimately be decorated with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, at the age of 78.
Overall, the political careers of MGR and Chelvanayakam began only after they reached 50. Until then, they had distinguished themselves to Tamils in their first calling as a movie actor and as a civil lawyer. Mahatma Gandhi blossomed into a freedom fighter only after he reached 50. General Giap had had his laurels fighting against French, but his more tougher opponent (American) in the battle-field was waiting in the wings, Giap reached 50. At 50, Mandela was languishing in jail, devoid of international recognition and even shunned by the international mainstream media and self-anointed human rightists like the Amnesty International.
One can postulate that the lives and experiences of Pirabhakaran’s five illustrious predecessors show parallels in LTTE leader’s past, present and future as well. Like General Giap at 50, it is a given that Pirabhakaran will face a major adversary in the battle-fields. Like Mandela at 50, Pirabhakaran’s freedom of movement remains restricted by the machinations of his local and next-door adversaries. Like Mahatma Gandhi at 50, Pirabhakaran is also pretty determined to fight racism and white imperialism by his strategy. Like MGR and Chelvanayakam at 50, Pirabhakaran also has plunged into ‘politics’ – not for personal gains, but for respect to his proclaimed motto, objectives and goals.
by Sachi Sri Kantha
26 November 2004