Northern Provincial Council member M.K. Sivajilingam is identified as a politician who always raises his voice on issues confronting the people of the North, a one-time Parliamentarian who created a sensation by contesting from the Kurunegala district during the 2015 Parliamentary elections. As a political bureau member of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) he entered politics at a very young age. Born in Velvettithurai he knew Prabhakaran from his childhood. Once Prabhakaran approached Sivajilingam for assistance to flee to India as there was a threat on his life, but later it boomeranged on him with the attempts made by Prabhakaran on Sivajilingam’s life. In this interview, Sivajilingam discusses his political life, the armed groups that were present in the North and the LTTE. Excerpts from the interview are as follows:
How was the beginning of your political life?
My mother’s younger brother was a lawyer known as Motilal Nehru. In 1965 he contested Point Pedro representing the Communist Party. My uncle was popular with S. A. Wickramasinghe, Colvin R. De Silva, and Pieter Keuneman who frequently visited my uncle’s home. Though I did not understand what they were discussing, I really enjoyed their conversations. During Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s rule when an attempt was made to have scales of marking for Sinhala and Tamil students on gaining entrance to the Universities, I joined the agitation campaigns organized by the Tamil students’ movement as a school boy. They showed their displeasure by protest marches and putting up black flags and opposing the politicians. We realized that these agitations are not going to help in achieving anything, and therefore the youth decided to go for an armed struggle. In 1969 the TELO movement began. The youth who joined started robbing banks, shops, co-operatives and small scale thefts continued. They also got themselves involved in minor attacks on people and through these actions they earned money. I was just sixteen years old when I joined the TELO organization. I joined their political unit and did not take part in
Is there a relationship between you and Prabhakaran, and when did you first meet him?
There is, but it is a distant relationship. Some say that I am the brother-in-law of Prabhakaran. Our relationship is based purely on marriage and not on a blood relationship. I knew Prabhakaran from childhood. We are from the same village and he was my elder brother’s best friend. Those days he used to visit our house and kept on chatting with my brother for hours. On such occasions he had spoken to me also. In 1969 after sitting for the Ordinary Level examination, Prabhakaran became a member of the TELO.
During Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s rule when an attempt was made to have scales of marking for Sinhala and Tamil students on gaining entrance to the Universities, I joined the agitation campaigns organized by the Tamil students’ movement as a school boy
Can you remember Prabhakaran’s childhood?
Prabhakaran’s father was a district land officer. He was a law-abiding government officer. He was also the caretaker of the Velvettithurai Sivan Kovil and was a total vegetarian. He was a strict person and these strictures were enforced on his children too. Prabhakaran’s elder brother could not go bare chested wearing only a sarong like the other children of the village. Whenever they go out they were required to wear shorts. They were brought up under a strict disciplinary system. Prabhakaran was not boisterous when he was a child. Later when he joined the armed groups his father became very angry.
How did you get acquainted with the TELO?
Kumarappa, Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahaththaya were my class mates and with them I joined TELO. I joined it in protesting against the ill-treatment meted out to the Tamil community by the government.
You are the one who helped Prabhakaran to escape to India. Can you describe how it took place?
There was a time when Prabhakaran and TELO worked together. The well known Nirveli Bank robbery in Jaffna at that time was done by Thangathurai, Kuttimany, Prabhakaran and Thevan. They robbed Rs 8.1 million. Ten days after this robbery, Thangathurai, Kuttimany and Thevan were taken into custody by the Sri Lankan Navy at Point Pedro. Prabhakaran went into hiding. Though at that time there were five or six armed groups in the North, till 1983 they all had less than 100 members in each. After this incident, excepting for about a dozen members, all others were arrested.
My mother’s sister’s son was very close to Prabhakaran, and he along with Prabhakaran, went into hiding. Prabhakaran sent me a message through him asking me to help him flee to India in order to escape from the Army. I found him a safe place to stay in the Velvettithurai area. There we discussed many things. Prabhakaran said that most of their comrades had been arrested and we should in some way or other go to India and gather the rest and face the Sri Lankan army.
There was an accomplice of the TELO who owned boats. After contacting him I was able to send ten including Prabhakaran to India, and in order to avoid any suspicion they were sent from a place close to the Velvettithurai army camp. Prabhakaran opted for 05th of June to leave saying that it was a very auspicious day. But however they left only on the 06th of June 1981. Only twenty one years later did I see Prabhakaran again. In 1982 the alliance between the LTTE and TELO broke off. We began to act separately and the LTTE acted as a separate organization. In 1990 I revealed to the Indian media person, Narayan Swamy, how I helped Prabhakaran to escape to India. He had quoted this in the book “Ceylon Tigers”. This angered Prabhakaran and he was furious as to why I made this revelation.
An Indian media person referred to this incident of the slaying of Dass, the TELO leader by the same organization, as a diversion of the Tamil Eelam struggle, and compared it to Sri Sabharathnam chopping off his own right hand. Within a month of this incident the LTTE began to attack us. They were keen to wipe out all other organizations and show to the outside world that they were the only saviours of the Tamil people
On how many occasions did Prabhakaran make attempts on your life?
When they attacked TELO, they stormed into five houses searching for me, suspecting that I was hiding in one of them. In 1989 during the election period, they made two attempts. During 1990-1991 two attempts were made in Colombo. I was shot at in 1994 and had a narrow escape. In 1996, on 25th August a grenade attack was launched at the District Secretariat in Trincomalee. During 1997-1998 they attempted to kill me during my election campaigns. In 2000 too I escaped their attempts. Not only from the LTTE, I had threats on my life from the Army as they suspected me to be a member of the LTTE. The EDPD also attempted to kill me. At that time it was a matter between life and death.
What was the reason for the disagreement between the LTTE and TELO?
In 1984 a struggle between two camps of TELO broke out. I visited the warring camps in the company of Sri Sabharathnam the leader of the organization. He supported one camp and with his knowledge, members of the other group were shot down. After this incident the TELO organization became weak. An Indian media person referred to this incident of the slaying of Dass, the TELO leader by the same organization, as a diversion of the Tamil Eelam struggle, and compared it to Sri Sabharathnam chopping off his own right hand. Within a month of this incident the LTTE began to attack us. They were keen to wipe out all other organizations and show to the outside world that they were the only saviours of the Tamil people. In 1984 on 29th April they launched their first attack on TELO. It was not limited to a single area. There were continuous attacks in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee areas.
If I had remained in Velvettithurai I would have been definitely killed by them. During that time my parents and brothers and sisters lived in the safe house which accommodated Prabhakaran prior to his escape to India. They raided this house and several other house in search of me. I saved my life by fleeing to Mannar. Despite myself being a childhood friend of Prabhakaran and helping him on many occasions he was after my life. I reliably understood that he had given orders to kill me. I was the only one in Prabhakaran’s list that escaped death. Two of my cousins who were assigned to kill me are now living in London. The LTTE fell out with me as I did not join them nor condone their activities. They harmed the civilians in many ways. Our aim was to win the rights of Tamils through a political solution, whereas their aim was to win them through an armed struggle. When I was the Mayor of Velvettithurai they bombed the town hall in their attempt to kill me. But I was saved as on that day I was away in Colombo.
How did TELO become a political party?
In the face of threats by the LTTE I came to Colombo and stayed with my uncle Motilal Nehru and kept away from all these activities for about two years. In 1988 TELO became a political party. In 1989 the Tamil United Liberation Front contested the Parliamentary elections. I was asked by TELO to contest at the elections but I declined. I gave my support to them. During my stay in Colombo the threats on my life continued. I was informed of groups following me on motorcycles.
I continued to be with the TELO. I contested from Trincomalee in 1994, and was the Mayoral candidate from the TELO party at the CMC elections in 1997. Under Chandrika Kumarathunga, the Jaffna Provincial council elections were held. I contested for the Velvettithurai UC and won. In 2001 we formed the TNA with four parties joined together. During a campaign in Kayts, the EPDP attacked us and I was severely injured. Two persons who travelled with me in the vehicle were killed and 29 sustained injuries. However I won in that election and came to Parliament.
We realized that these agitations are not going to help in achieving anything, and therefore the youth decided to go for an armed struggle. In 1969 the TELO movement began. The youth who joined started robbing banks, shops, co-operatives and small scale thefts continued
What is your last recollection about Prabhakaran?
In 2002 the LTTE declared that they needed to meet the TNA. Accordingly, fifteen MPs went to meet Prabhakaran. They met Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman, Soosai, Karuna Amman, Thamil Chelvam and Anton Balasingham in Kilinochchi at the LTTE political office. After twenty one years I met Prabhakaran there. He greeted me saying, “how are you Sivajilingam, you have changed a lot” and I replied we met after a long time and it is natural to see a change. After that we met on several occasions, where we never spoke of our past relationships but spoke only of finding a strategy for a political solution.
Where are the brothers and sisters of Prabhakaran?
His elder brother Manoharan is living in Denmark, one of his elder sisters Jagadeswary, is in India while the other sister is in Canada.
You were one time in the hit list of the LTTE, but many identify you as a LTTE supporter. Why are these allegations levelled at you?
During the war I staged a protest in front of the Indian Parliament urging an end to the war, for the LTTE to hand over their weapons to a third party, to end the war and enter a political journey. I suggested these to Thesam, a Tamil media person. Seeing this the LTTE was offended and scolded me in foul language. I was convinced since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in USA that no freedom struggle could be won by war. I was convinced that any solution could only be achieved through discussion. My view was that power should only be devolved under a united Sri Lanka. Because of these policies I was considered as a traitor by the LTTE. As a politician I will always stand up for the issues of the Tamil People. I appeal to the government to heed their requests. These are seen by some in a different perspective and they call me a ‘Tiger’.