We had talked for about 15 to 20 minutes when Balasingham began coughing ceaselessly. He could not continue further and we had to end our talk. I was extremely saddened by the conversation as I could see that intensification of the war was going to be inevitable. Such escalation could only result in large scale deaths, displacement and destruction
The LTTE political adviser established very good relations with Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim. He represented the LTTE in all discussions with Norway while communicating regularly with Prabhakaran. Balasingham was primarily responsible on the LTTE side for getting the ceasefire adopted. It came into force from February 23, 2002
The 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom was a watershed. The Tamil guerillas backed by New Delhi became a visible presence in Tamil Nadu. The Balasinghams relocated to Chennai. “Dr. A. S. Balasingham” became the LTTE’s theoretician, chief propagandist and premier spokesperson. Balasingham described then as the LTTE ideologue accompanied Prabhakaran for important meetings
Anton Stanislaus Balasingham the political strategist of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and political adviser to Tiger leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran died 14 years ago in his South London residence. His death was not unexpected as it was known that the doctors had given him four to six weeks to live. Bala ‘Annai’ (elder brother) as he was generally known among Tamils was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, a rare and aggressive malignancy of the biliary system. The funeral was held at the Alexandra Palace in London on December
The life and times of Balasingham is an interesting one. He was a colourful yet controversial figure. He was admired by some and despised by others. This writer’s relationship with Balasingham too has had its ups and downs. I have both criticised and praised him depending of course on the issue at hand. I have written about this man and his role in Tamil affairs on earlier occasions. I shall rely on some of these writings while focusing on him as his 14th death anniversary draws near. I shall however abide by the dictum De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est (of the dead nothing is to be said except good!) while writing about him at this point of time.
Anton Stanislaus Balasingham
Balasingham born on March 4, 1938 was a blend of many strands. His father was from the East and mother from the North. His mother was a Christian and his father a Hindu. His parents were also of different castes. Though raised as a Catholic, Balasingham soon became a rationalist and agnostic. Yet he was deeply moved and inspired by the teachings of Lord Buddha. Balasingham’s first wife was a Jaffna Tamil protestant. His second wife was an Australian woman of Anglo-Saxon extraction. He was a British citizen but yearned for his homeland “Tamil Eelam”, which he believed, was a state in formation.
Balasingham’s grandfather was a “saiva kurukkal” (non-Brahmin priest) from Mandur in the Batticaloa District. His father was an electrical foreman at the Batticaloa hospital. Bala’s mother was from Jaffna town and a former resident of Martins Road. She was a midwife by profession and was working at the Batticaloa hospital when she met, loved and married Bala’s father.
She was later separated and then widowed at an early age. Balasingham along with mother and elder sister moved to the North as a child. They settled down at Karaveddy in the Vadamaratchy sector. Bala’s mother worked as a midwife at the “Ambam clinic” in Karaveddy near the Athulu water tank. They rented out a house near the clinic which belonged to former Palaly Training College Principal, Kandasamy. Two of Balasingham’s nephews were working at the “Virakesari” during the time I was a journalist at the Tamil newspaper. Incidentally my mother too was from Kaddaively in the greater Karaveddy area. The postal address was Thunnalai South,Karaveddy. In later years, Balasingham would often emphasise this and declare that he and I were from the same place.
In his childhood and early youth Balasingham was known as A.B. Stanislaus. He attended Sacred Heart College in Karaveddy and Nelliaddy Central College (later MMV) in Nelliaddy. Karaveddy – was a leftist bastion those days. The legendary Pon. Kandiah and many other ‘communists’ hailed from there. Young Stanny as he was known then also subscribed to leftist ideologies.
One man who profoundly influenced Stanislaus those days was the doyen of Tamil cartoonists Sivagnanasundaram who ran the reputed magazine Sirithiran later. Cartoonist ‘Sundar’ as he was known was from Karaveddy too. It was due to Sivagnasundaram’s efforts that Stanislaus was appointed sub-editor at the Colombo Tamil newspaper Virakesari in the early ‘60s. Former colleagues at the Virakesari speak of him as a man engrossed in reading most of the time. He was not concerned about his appearance and not very particular about clothes. Ex - colleagues describe Bala as being spiritual but not religious.
Things changed soon as Stanislaus got a job as translator at the British High Commission. There was a transformation in his appearance as he opted for smart clothes now. This was not entirely due to the new job alone. Cupid too had struck. He was enamoured of a beautiful Tamil woman at the British Council adjacent then to the HC. She was Pearl Rasaratnam, the daughter of Rasaratnam master at Hartley College, Point Pedro. The family was well-known to my Mother’s family. I remember addressing Pearl as “Poo Aunty” in my childhood. One of my sisters was a flower girl at the wedding of Pearl’s sister. The romance between Pearl and Anton resulted in their marriage on July 16, 1968 at the Methodist Church in Kollupitiya.
Many years later there was an amusing incident in 1985 concerning Balasingham and myself in Madras now Chennai. I was then working at “The Island” and had been given the assignment by Vijitha Yapa, who was the Editor at the time of obtaining interviews from Sri Lankan Tamil militant leaders based in India. I had met with most militant groups but the LTTE was playing hard to get. Finally I was asked to be at a particular spot along Marina beach at 5.30 pm. I did so.
A vehicle drew up at 5.30 pm and LTTE stalwart “Nesan” (an ex-seminarian) driving the vehicle asked me to get in front. He then drove the car to another spot and parked. After a while another vehicle came up behind. A man got down and walked up to our vehicle and seated himself behind. As I turned around, he stretched his hand out and said, “I am Balasingham”.
Nesan then began driving the vehicle in a seemingly aimless fashion through many roads and streets. Balasingham kept quizzing me in a curt manner. The hostile questions indicated they were suspicious of me. I changed track and told him about my family and his deceased wife’s family. Balasingham beamed and told Nesan lets go to “Buhari’s”. So we went there and had a Buriyani meal, exchanging reminiscences about the past and discussing current politics.
Anton’s Wife Pearl
The post-marriage happiness of the newly-weds was short-lived. Anton’s wife Pearl became extremely ill requiring advanced treatment abroad. British authorities were very sympathetic and generous. Both were allowed to go to England. They left Sri Lanka on August 3, 1971. Balasingham continued his higher education in England. But his wife’s condition deteriorated. She had chronic renal failure, ending with her requiring life sustaining haemodialysis. Balasingham discovered in London that he too had diabetes.
It was a life of hardship and sacrifice then with Balasingham having to work, study and care for his ailing wife. She died in November 1976. Soon Balasingham became acquainted with a hospital staff nurse who was also a ‘stranger’ in Britain as she was from Australia. A second romance flourished between the young widower Anton and the nurse Adele Anne Wilby. They married in a simple ceremony at the registrar’s office in Brixton, South London on September 1, 1978.
Balasingham’s MA dissertation at the South Bank London Polytechnic was on the psychology of Marxism. Later he began reading for his PhD on alienation under John Taylor. He never completed his Ph D. But the media generally refer to him as Dr. Balasingham.
Balasingham began dabbling in politics in London. He was essentially a Marxist then and identified with progressive causes. The Tamil Eelam goal was becoming fashionable among Tamil youths and students in London then. It was the then Tiger representative in London, Krishnan who enticed Balasingham into the LTTE. Initially Balasingham was commissioned to write tracts, leaflets, pamphlets, etc. for the LTTE in English and Tamil. Later he did a lot of translation for the Tigers.
The Balasinghams made frequent trips to Tamil Nadu where they met LTTE leaders like Umamaheswaran and Prabhakaran. At that time Uma was the LTTE leader while Prabha was the military commander. Balasingham and Prabha drew close. The Prabhakaran - Uma Maheswaran clash split the LTTE and resulted in the formation of PLOTE. When the LTTE split occurred Balasingham was requested initially to reconcile the factions. He failed to do so. After the split became permanent Balasingham threw in his lot with Prabhakaran though Prabha loyalists were very few when compared to the Uma group at that time. It was in this way that the Marxist made the transition into Eelam Tamil nationalism.
The 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom was a watershed. The Tamil guerillas backed by New Delhi became a visible presence in Tamil Nadu. The Balasinghams relocated to Chennai. “Dr. A. S. Balasingham” became the LTTE’s theoretician, chief propagandist and premier spokesperson. Balasingham described then as the LTTE ideologue accompanied Prabhakaran for important meetings. The year 1987 saw Prabha moving to Jaffna leaving Bala to oversee political work in Chennai. In July Prabhakaran himself was brought to India by helicopter. Together with Balasingham, the LTTE chief went to New Delhi. Despite the LTTE’s non-cooperation India decided to go ahead with the Indo- Lanka accord.
The Balasinghams now went to Jaffna. Balasingham himself was in the Thirunelvely office organising political work. But war erupted soon. Both husband and wife were targets of the Indian army. Adele being a white woman would have been conspicuous in Jaffna. Yet they eluded capture by being constantly on the move and staying with different people at different times. Adele writes of these experiences vividly in her book” The Will To Freedom.”
The Balasinghams made their way back to India and from there to Britain. But Balasingham was back in Colombo again for talks with President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The Government-LTTE talks started and Balasingham led the Tiger delegation. An understanding was arrived at and soon the Indian army was forced to withdraw from Sri Lanka. Once the Indians left the Colombo-Jaffna relationship collapsed. War broke out again.
The Balasinghams were now resident in Jaffna with the greater part of the North being under LTTE control. While Adele Anne helped out with the medical unit and the women’s wing Balasingham attended to political matters. The Jaffna media too came under his indirect control. He also wrote extensively.
The advent of Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994 saw peace talks on the horizon again. But war broke out within a year in April 1995. “Operation Riviresa” saw the LTTE withdrawing from Jaffna peninsula into the northern mainland Wanni. Anton and Adele too re-located. They stayed at Thiruvaiyaaru near Kilinochchi town initially. Later they moved to a house in Puthukudiyiruppu with a large compound of shady trees. It was like blissful retirement for Balasingham. But soon a fresh problem surfaced.
Acute Renal Afflictions
Years of diabetes and an unorthodox life-style had taken their toll. Balasingham was suffering from acute renal afflictions. Medical doctors in the Wanni felt that he had to go abroad for advanced treatment. Otherwise he was a goner they said. Prabhakaran assured Adele Balasingham that he would do everything possible to send Bala abroad for medical treatment. A daring option was pursued.
Balasingham and wife were taken on January 23, 1999 by a Sea Tiger boat personally captained by Sea Tiger Commander Soosai to a LTTE ship at mid sea. Thereafter, the ship proceeded to Phukhet in Thailand. After recovering from the strenuous journey which could have been fatal, Balasingham was admitted to a hospital in Bangkok for examination and treatment. This indicated that an enlarged kidney had to be removed soon.
They moved to Singapore and proceeded to London. After interacting with Norwegian officials, Balasingham relocated to Oslo for surgery and kidney transplant. A young Sri Lankan Tamil in Norway ‘Donald’ volunteered to donate one. After recuperation and recovery Balasingham plunged in zestfully into promoting the peace process. His first public appearance in London was on December 2 ,1999, at the Arena in London Docklands of the Maaveerar Naal observances.
The LTTE political adviser established very good relations with Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim. He represented the LTTE in all discussions with Norway while communicating regularly with Prabhakaran. Balasingham was primarily responsible on the LTTE side for getting the ceasefire adopted. It came into force from February 23, 2002.
Balasingham then made a triumphant re- entry into the Wanni by travelling on a sea plane from Maldives that landed on the Iranaimadhu tank. He was at Prabha’s side at the international news conference held by the Tiger supremo. Balasingham told the media then that he and the LTTE Chief were of the “same mind” and “spoke with the same voice.”
Due to health conditions Balasingham could not stay for prolonged periods in the Wanni but he made occasional visits for consultations. He also led the LTTE delegation at talks with the Government in Thailand, Norway, Germany and Japan.
Presidential polls saw Mahinda Rajapaksa win mainly due to the LTTE enforced boycott. Yet again Balasingham was back to lead the LTTE again at talks in Geneva in early 2006. Balasingham obtained a major concession from Colombo when the Government agreed to disarm ‘paramilitaries’. But the assurance was not honoured. The situation got worse and war intensified.
Meanwhile, Balasingham’s condition got worse. He was diagnosed with cancer and given four to six weeks to live. Despite the terminal illness he wrote the “Great Heroes Day” speech for the LTTE leader in November 2006, That was his swansong. He got worse day by day. Still he met people personally and also talked on the telephone to people. He renewed his friendships and made his peace with those old but estranged friends of his.
I too received a telephone call from Bala in the third week of November 2006. I was surprised as we had not been on speaking terms for nearly three years due to sharp political differences. I was however happy to talk to “Bala Annai” (Elder brother Bala) as many of us called him because I had heard earlier that he was terminally ill and that his days were numbered.
Bala Annai said at the outset that he was telephoning and talking to some of his old colleagues, friends and contacts. I fell under the category of contact in my journalistic capacity as Balasingham had been a very important source of information for many years. Although he did not explicitly say so, I realised that it was a farewell call from a man who was to ”go out gently into that good night” soon.
Balasingham was his customary jovial self with jokes and jibes. As the conversation progressed I sensed that he was seriously worried. It was certainly not over his impending death but something else. Soon it came blurting out. “Thambikku oru Ilavum vilanguthillai. Nilaimai Padu moasamaahuthu. Muzhu Ulagamum Saernthu Puligalai Mongappoaguthu,” (Younger brother is not understanding anything. The situation is becoming worse. The whole world will get together and clobber the Tigers) Younger brother referred to LTTE Supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran who was known as Thamby to those of an earlier vintage.
Balasingham went on to say that the so called international community was infuriated at the conduct of the LTTE. Unless the Tigers did an urgent course correction and acted in an acceptable manner the western nations, China, Japan, Pakistan and India were going to back the Rajapaksa regime and ensure that the LTTE was militarily defeated and destroyed. I asked Balasingham as to why he was unable to make Prabhakaran see the writing on the wall and act accordingly. Bala Annai replied ruefully that he had tried and failed.
Speaking further Balasingham said he had in a direct one to one meeting at Kaeppaapulavu in the Northern mainland of Wanni entreated Prabhakaran to see reason and understand the situation. But Prabhakaran did not budge lamented Bala Annai. “You know how “Veeramaarthaandan” (This was how Balasingham referred to Prabhakaran when annoyed) behaved with me,” asked Bala Annai in Tamil. He then continued to elaborate:
“When I kept on broaching the subject, Prabhakaran abruptly asked me whether I had seen the Tamil movie ‘Autograph’ directed by famous Tamil Nadu film maker Cheran. When I said ‘no’, Prabhakaran said then we must watch it now. So a DVD of the film was played and we watched it on TV in silence. After it was over, I again tried to talk about the situation. Prabhakaran said ‘let’s watch the film again’. So we watched it again. Once it was over I tried again to re-open the topic. Prabhakaran with an impish grin said ‘Innorukkaa Paarppam’ meaning ‘lets see it again. I took the hint and left. When he behaves like that I know from experience that nothing would make him relent”.
We had talked for about 15 to 20 minutes when Balasingham began coughing ceaselessly. He could not continue further and we had to end our talk. I was extremely saddened by the conversation as I could see that intensification of the war was going to be inevitable. Such escalation could only result in large scale deaths, displacement and destruction.
Subsequent events demonstrated that my fears were justified. The beleaguered civilian population experienced a humanitarian catastrophe. Furthermore Balasingham’s ominous foreboding that the International community was going to clobber the Tigers also proved correct. Only they let Colombo do the dirty work and now want to probe alleged war crimes.
Breathed his Last
A few weeks after he spoke to me, Bala “Annai” passed away peacefully at 1.45 pm (British time) on Thursday, December 14., 2006. His loving and devoted Australia-born wife Adele Anne was by his side. As the 68-year-old Balasingham breathed his last. LTTE supremo Prabhakaran conferred the title “Thesathin Kural” (Voice of the nation) upon him posthumously.
D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com