Review by Nadesan
General Kamal Gunaratna’s ‘Road to Nandikadal’ surveys the 30-year Sri Lankan separatist war through the eyes of an Army Officer. It is a remarkable book with factual matters reported as well as laced with his reflections on the war. This book in not a history of Eelam War and his views and facts are presented together as a creative nonfiction. History books are normally written with corroborative documents to back up the author’s thesis. Creative nonfiction contains true incidents along with authors’ reflections.
This book gives an insight into the operations of Sri Lankan Army during the 30 years of war and their sacrifices to defend their country. Without them, the country would have been divided like Somalia or Afghanistan. Some Tamils would have been happy if that happened. But the consequences of that scenario would have been disastrous. With the intransigent attitude of war-lord Prabhakaran, the chances are that we would still be fighting and many more killed, more on Tamil side and may be no young men and women left in Vanni.
Looking back it is clear that it is the failure of the politicians to properly identify the issues affecting both communities that gave rise to 3 different arm uprisings from both communities. Two rounds of JVP violent episodes of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna resulted in comparable death and destruction. Apart from destruction, both developments also resulted in foreign intervention, with India stepping in to intervene in domestic affairs. Sinhala hardliners always indulge in anti- Indian rhetoric, but they should remember that the Sri Lankan government invited the Indians in the 1971 insurgency to rescue the country from JVP.
Back to the “Road to Nandikadal”, the book gives an insight into the Army’s strengths and weaknesses during the years as well as the politicians’ inability of providing leadership to conduct the war during the years, resulting in the loss of many precious young lives from both sides of the conflict.
The army alone cannot win the war in any country. An army is always the sharp end of the arrow, but many factors govern the play of killing of the animal by an the arrow before it hits the target. This book only gives an inside view of the movement of the arrow, but many factors, including international and Indian support, intelligence, Tamils like Karuna and Douglas Devananda along with political and civilian leadership involved in finishing the LTTE are left out for others to contribute. To give an example, funds contributed by expatriate LTTErs from France and Australia came to a dead end in December 2005 after these two countries intervened to stop the flow of money. These two countries were contributing large amounts of funds to the LTTE coffer.
A majority of Tamils, a large section of Sinhalese and the international community, believed mistakenly that the LTTE could be brought to the negotiating table to discuss peace. But they failed to read Prabhaharan accurately. He was killing and torturing his own Tamil people not to make peace but to secure his position located deep in the inaccessible jungle. It was his survival and desire to hang on to power that drove him to the edge. He was not the first in the history. I can quote the UNITA leader Jonathan Malheiro Savimbi from Angola who was supported by the CIA. Even Donald Regan invited him to White House. But once America settled with Angola after the end of the cold war, he refused to give up his arms. His intransigence led to his end. He was killed in jungle like an animal and found many days later. He was survived by several wives and dozens of children the latter numbering at least 25, unlike Prabaharan.
The 4th Eelam war was fought ferociously by both sides, in a win or lose battle. This resulted in deaths of over 5800 army personnel and 25000 injured, according to the book . Probably more died in the LTTE camps. As a father I can feel the pain of parents and family. Pain does not have any race nor linguistic or religious identities.
Major General Kamal Gunaratna had an objective appraisal of his enemies. He did not belittle his enemy. He gives credit to the enemies’ bravery and ferocity. LTTE commander Theepan was praised for his Muhamalai battle with the Army.
I have been to Sri Lanka many times and met important people who were involved in the conflict. My understanding is that the communal passions among Sinhalese and Tamils do not run deep. Nor is it unresolvable . It was generated by politicians of two generations to achieve power or to maintain a seat in parliament. Unfortunately, it is the ordinary people who paid for the ambitions of the politicians with their lives. So politicians from both sides need to rethink with an imaginative and compassionate mind.
Tamils have been wallowing in self-pity eternally. This book gives the other side of the information about the war. By reading this book, we learn that everyone is a loser and there are no winners in the war.
There are minor errors in the book like blaming Indira Gandhi for Indian peace keeping forces, but she had already passed away. Another one is about killing Uma Maheswaran which was an inside job of the PLOTE. The printer’s error of duplicating some pages is also an irritation.
There are also a few ambiguities and errors that had crept in. Example : “When asked about his beliefs, he had stated he did not believe in a God”( Page 10). To whom did Prabaharan answer? In another page the author says : ” His (Prabharan’s) bleeding body was brought and dropped at my feet” (Page 2). Bleeding happens when someone is alive and within a few minutes blood clots.
Hopefully the book will be printed again, which will also give the opportunity for some revisions.