Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Will Indian agencies help Prabhakaran flee?

The Sri Lankan army’s assault on the last remaining LTTE bastion in Mullaittivu, about to begin any time, could not have come at a worse time for the Congress-led government.

The Congress party is facing a tough national election where every seat counts and Tamil Nadu, where LTTE chief Prabhakaran is a hero and the fate of Tamil civilians an emotive issue, is to vote soon. It is perhaps this compulsion that prompted chief minister M. Karunanidhi to speak of his admiration for Prabhakaran. From his constituency in Bengal, Pranab Mukherjee spoke once again of India’s concern for civilians last Thursday.

It is not known how long the Sri Lanka army will take to clear the area, but whenever they do, New Delhi will have to deal with the problem of Prabhakaran.

If he is captured alive, India will have to ask for his extradition to stand trial for the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Though New Delhi has consistently called for his extradition, no government wants the LTTE leader in India. He will be a political hot potato and his security a major headache. New Delhi would rather not be saddled with Prabhakaran in an Indian prison.

If the LTTE leader takes the cyanide capsule, which every Tiger cadre is supposed to do rather than be captured by the SL army, he will become a martyr. The PMK and other LTTE supporters, perhaps even Karunanidhi’s DMK, will organise protests and charge the government with not doing enough to protect a Tamil hero. And in an election month the Congress would certainly not want that.

Though the Sri Lankan army denies it, there is speculation Prabhakaran may have fled. Is there a chance of India helping Prabhakaran flee to safety? Officials deny the suggestion as preposterous. But considering that Indian intelligence agencies had close links with the LTTE in the past, this cannot be completely ruled out. Even when the Indian Peace Keeping Force was fighting the Tigers, RAW kept its communication lines with the LTTE open.

In one particular instance in Batticaloa district, the Indian army had almost surrounded a church where some top LTTE commanders were hiding, but the operation failed as the Tigers were talking to RAW.

Giving Prabhakaran an escape route will solve many a problem. Prabhakaran will be out of harm’s way and will be effectively reduced to a has-been. And he will be in no position to come and fight another day.

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