The lost cause of Eelam
Reviewed by D. S. Cheema

Lost Victory: The Rise and Fall of LTTE Supremo V. Prabhakaran
By Maj Gen (retd) Raj Mehta.
Pentagon Security International, New Delhi.
Pages 431. Rs 995.

FOR a moment, one may mistake Lost Victory as a biography of Prabhakaran. However, the book is more than that, for it takes a deep, incisive look at the over 30-year-old Sri Lanka conflict and the man who was considered one of the most effective guerrilla leaders in modern warfare, the man who lived and died for a cause, in this case, his dream of creating a separate Tamil homeland.

The soldier-writer Raj Mehta has quoted extensively many Sri Lanka-watchers, authors and media professionals, which help the reader to judge the events for himself. The writer makes this very clear in Preface, "There is little by way of content in these pages not already known to ... there has been no effort on my part to reinvent the wheel".

The book is divided into five parts. The first part traces thousands of years old roots of the conflict. Details of geography, topography, climate, flora and fauna, demography, etc., of the beautiful island Serendip, later known as Ceylon till 1972 when it became Republic of Sri Lanka, have been painstakingly compiled by the author. The history of Eelam wars by minority Tamils is the focus of this part.

The second part, Velupillai Prabhakaran: The Man and his Ideology, goes into details of many unknown facets of unique personality of the Tamil hero—his personal life and his mindset that shaped him into the top leader of one of the most deadly terrorist outfits of the world. His organising ability, ruthless attitude and brutality, love for good life and other murky aspects, not well known to the world, are presented in lucid details.

The third part deals with some miscellaneous aspects of the conflict, including LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) funding and the role played by propaganda machinery of the parties in Eelam wars.

It is well known that in any war, honesty, ethics and truth are the first casualties. Propaganda war unleashed by both the sides played a decisive role in the conflict, especially in the later years. The author has recorded concern of many Western nations about human rights violations during the war and apathy of government machinery towards the Tamils after the war.

The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord leading to the historical blunder of sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to fight Sri Lanka’s war in 1987 and ultimately withdrawing it in 1989 with a bloody nose is the subject matter of the fourth part, The Indian Intervention. Facts related to this self-inflicted tragedy have been mentioned very objectively, a difficult task for any Indian, especially with a soldier’s background, to do so. It is easy to understand why the author has devoted almost 50 pages to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) that transformed itself into a ruthlessly efficient fighting machine and changed the common belief that terrorism cannot be won over militarily.

Professional armed forces of the world can learn a lot from two chapters, Lessons Learnt and Fighting with Exceptional Synergy: Master Strategists who Won the War for Sri Lanka, while the last part, The Way Ahead, can be of immense value to those engaged in war against terror. It suggests that the task ahead still to be initiated in right earnest manner. Mere acceptance of peace, tranquility and brotherhood amongst the warring factions as the desirable goal is not enough. Adequate attention must be paid by the government agencies to the behavioural implications, delineation of life situations of individuals, groups, families and communities to identify urgent action in an acceptable time frame. This part also brings out implications of China and Pakistan fishing in troubled waters and India’s compulsions of the tightrope walk.

Each chapter has endnotes and references which provide mine of information. Though repetition of certain events in a book of this nature is acceptable, at places, it appears that writer and/or publisher has/have succumbed to the temptation of adding more pages. It is to the credit of the author that he has been able to develop a personal rapport with the readers through some very readable prose, a difficult task when the subject is not perceived by most as their business.