(Kandiah Balasegaran alias Balraj the legendary military commander of the LTTE died of a heart attack on May 20th 2008.This article is an updated amalgamated version of articles written by me in 2008 and 2011 about him. It is being published here to denote the seventh death anniversary of “Brigadier” Balraj – DBSJ)
Three days in May (17th -19th) marked the fourth anniversary of the total military defeat suffered by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE). While a large number of senior LTTE leaders and military commanders including tiger supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran met with their end during this period the greatest LTTE military commander of them all died a year earlier.
Kandiah Balasegaran alias “Brigadier Balraj” the Deputy military chief of the LTTE was spared the ignominy of witnessing the military decline and fall of the tigers in 2009. Balraj regarded as second in command to Prabhakaran in the military sphere died of a heart attack at Puthukkudiyiruppu in the Mullaitheevu district on May 20th 2008.The fifth anniversary of his death was observed by his admirers this week.
Balraj promoted posthumously as “Brigadier” had a formidable reputation as a fearless frontline tiger commander who led from the front. Among his many military feats the crowning achievement was the fight he put up in 2000 at Ithaavil on the A-9 Highway that interdicted transport between the Elephant Pass garrison and the supply lines along the Kilaly – Ezhuthumadduvaal-Nagar Kovil axis for 24 days at a stretch.
It was this manoeuvre that resulted in the fall of Elephant pass on April 22nd 2000.Subsequently in the period 2006 – 2009 all areas under LTTE control including Elephant pass were recaptured by the Sri Lankan security forces.Balraj was not alive then.
The military capability of Balraj was appreciated even by his opponents in the Sri Lankan armed forces. It is said that the armed forces regarded Balraj as the finest tactician-fighter in the LTTE and ranked him above his leader Prabhakaran in that respect
A little known incident that occurred in 2003 illustrates the respect and regard with which Balraj was held by some officers in the Sri Lankan army. The Norway brokered ceasefire was then in progress and an ailing Balraj flew to Singapore with two bodyguards for heart surgery.
Upon his return Balraj found himself “surrounded” by 15 to 20 military officers of captain,major and Lt.Col rank at the Katunayake international airport. The Norwegian officials accompanying Balraj were perturbed as they thought the army officers intended causing harm to Balraj.
That was not so. The army officers with field experience in the north were aware of Balraj’s military prowess and exploits. Despite being enemies on the battle front these officers had a healthy respect for Balraj whom they regarded as a first –class fighter. Knowing that Balraj was returning from Singapore these officers had gathered merely to see him in the flesh. Some smiled and shook hands with Balraj. A few exchanged pleasant words.The Norwegians were relieved that no ugly incident occurred.
The brief encounter at Katunayake demonstrated vividly the admiration with which Balraj was held by some military officers. These cheers from the “ranks of Tuscany” were due to the awesome military reputation of Balraj.
While earning the admiration of his military foes Balraj also commanded the respect and awe of LTTE cadre. Balraj who rose from the ranks earned this position through his military skill and courage. His military exploits were legendary making him an icon for many young tigers to follow and emulate.
While Balraj’s military valour was a source of admiration, he was also well –liked by both the people and cadres for his personal attributes. He was a simple , accessible person without pompous pretensions.
Balraj was one of those rare leaders in the LTTE who was genuinely admired and loved by the Tamil people he associated with. He was simple, courteous and accessible.
Balraj used to listen to the problems of the people and tried in his own way to help resolve them. In doing so he fell foul of some other senior LTTE leaders at times.
Many of the tiger leaders have been responsible for several human rights violations. But the deputy military chief was one against whom there were no serious allegations.
Balraj also incurred the wrath of other senior LTTE leaders when he voiced the concerns of ordinary people.
When the LTTE began interfering with the agriculturists of the Wanni by demanding that they sell their produce to the tigers at rock – bottom prices it was Balraj that the farmers turned to.
When the LTTE took over all sea produce and began exerting a monopoly, the affected fisherfolk turned to Soosai and Balraj.
When Balraj took up these issues with Prabakharan on behalf of the people the LTTE seniors in charge of finance, trade etc were offended.
The Wanni population during the times of LTTE domination was a blend of four types of society.
There were the original inhabitants of the Wanni; then there were the Jaffna people who came in some decades ago; there were also the Tamils who relocated to the Wanni after 1995 – 96 when the LTTE was sent out of Jaffna.Fourthly there was the LTTE, their families and the families of close LTTE supporters.
There were tensions among these four different segments. When such problems occurred the ordinary people preferred to seek the help of “understanding” people like Balraj. He was like a pacifier and bridge builder.
In one glaring instance two members of Pottu Amman’s intelligence division drove their vehicle recklessly and killed a young man.
The LTTE police force led by Nadesan (who later became political commissar) refused to take action. This led to enraged relatives storming the cop shop. It was Balraj who managed to douse passions.
Balraj was not an orator. But he had later developed his public – speaking skills. Balraj spoke directly without fanciful flourishes and touched the hearts of his listeners.
One reason that endeared Balraj to the ordinary people was his easy accessibility and simplicity.
While most LTTE leaders moved about in pajeiro vehicles with many bodyguards Balraj moved about on foot or a bicycle.
He used motor vehicles only for long trips and travelled about with few bodyguards.
People could easily approach him and talk. He did not keep himself aloof. Even Tamil journalists who have met him were full of praise for the man’s opennness and inter – personal skills.
Likewise cadre under his command loved him because of his concern for them and his friendliness.
Apparently many of the top LTTE leaders got cut off and alienated from the people whose cause they claimed to serve. They also adopted a superior attitude towards low – rung cadre. This too was a contributory factor towards the decay and ultimate defeat of the tigers. Balraj was perhaps a solitary exception.
When Balraj died , LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabakharan issued a condolence message. In that Prabhakaran stated “The man who was at the center of many of our Himalayan victories, the heroic military leader, who trained,guided and fought with our fighting formations and conventional brigades is with us no more.”
Prabakharan went on to say of Balraj ” His ability to move the fighting units, his focused actions and his martial characteristics struck fear in the hearts of the enemy. These same characteristics strengthened the conviction and morale of our fighters. They brought us victories”.
In that sense Balraj’s demise exactly a year before the defeat of the LTTE was like a bad omen for the tigers. After his death the LTTE got no major military successes. Without Balraj there were no glorious victories.
Even before his death Balraj’s health had deteriorated making it virtually impossible for him to be at the Frontlines regularly. Yet he used to visit the Manal aaru /Weli – Oya battlefront as frequently as possible and supervise/coordinate the military arrangements there.
Severely afflicted with coronary disease and a kidney ailment Balraj was receiving medical attention at Puthukkudiyiruppu when he died of a cardiac seizure at about 2 .00 pm on May 20th. A three – day period of mourning from May 21st – 23rd was declared by the LTTE.
Kandiah Balasegaran alias Balraj was born on November 27th 1965 in the coastal area of Kokkuthoduwaai in Mullaitheevu district. Interestingly, Nov 27th was observed as “Maaveerar Naal” or Great heroes day by the LTTE in later times. This was because the first tiger “Martyr” Sathiyanathan alias Shankar of Kambarmalai died on that day.
Balraj was one of the few top tigers born in the Northern mainland region known as the Wanni. Most tiger leaders who held top positions in the Wanni were born outside the region.
Though Balasegaran was in every sense a native son of the Wanni soil his family roots too were from the Jaffna peninsula. His ancestors hailed from Karaveddy in the Vadamaratchy division of Jaffna. Balraj’s great – grandfather had migrated to Kokkuthoduwai almost a century ago.
The family engaged in both seasonal fishing and agriculture. In recent times after being displaced from Kokkuthoduwaai , Balraj’s family relocated to the Mulliyawalai – Thaniyootru area in Mullaitheevu and engaged in agriculture.
Young Balasegaran was the fourth in a family of four boys and a girl. He was supposedly the brightest child in the family and his father Kandiah and mother Kannagi were very keen to send him to the university.
This was not to be as Balraj had opted to join the Tamil militant movement while doing his GCE advanced level.He had passed his “O”levels with flying colours.
None of his siblings joined the tigers but some nephews and nieces did so and the son of a brother who did so held a senior position in the LTTE.
Balraj had his primary education at Kokkuthoduwaai in Mullaitheevu district and secondary education at Pulmoddai in the Trincomalee district.
This was because Pulmoddai was closer to Kokkuthoduwaai than Mullaitheevu. There were also some close relatives in Pulmoddai.
Kokkuthoduwaai like Kokkilai and Nayaru were places where a large number of migrant Sinhala fishermen used to come and make “Wadiyas” during fishig season.
As a youngster Balraj used to interact with these Sinhala “visitors” and learnt Sinhala well. He was also able to speak English with reasonable fluency.
An interesting feature about the great tiger military commander is the fact that his militant roots were in the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE).
After the original LTTE split between Umamaheswaran and Prabhan the former had formed the PLOTE .“Suntharam” of Chulipuram played a big role in the new organization until he was shot dead at Chitra press in Jaffna by the LTTE in 1982.
Suntharam had travelled the length and breadth of the North and East and formed clandestine PLOTE cells. Since the PLOTE in those days did not believe in “hit and run “tactics and was preparing for an all – out onslaught these cells were virtually “sleeper” cells.
Balasegaran was recruited by Suntharam while still a student.The youngster was impatient for some action but continued to be a member of the “dormant” PLOTE cell.Graffiti , handmade posters and distribution of leaflets were the modes of political protest.
Meanwhile Lawrence and Saba of the tigers had begun LTTE work in the area and were promoting the movement.
When the July 1983 anti – Tamil pogrom took place and thousands of Tamil youths started joining the militant movements to get military training.
Balasegaran also wanted to do so. But there was family pressure that he continue his studies and enter university. Thus he did not join the rush. Events however began overtaking.
Balasegaran was in Kokkuthoduwaai for school holidays when some youths burned a CTB bus after making crew and passengers dismount at gun point. This act was the first of its kind in the area and there was a backlash. The security officials began arresting youths on a large scale.
Many were assaulted and tortured. Several youths were forced to go underground to evade arrest. Balasegaran was one of them.
Realising that a normal school life was not possible for him any longer Balasegaran decided to join the militant movements. Wanting quick action he thought the LTTE was the best group to join. He severed connections with the “dormant” PLOTE and tried to become a tiger.
For most Tamils at that time all Tamil groups were the same. All were fighting for a common cause.
There was a school master from Jaffna named “Thaas” in the area who was in charge of recruitment for the tigers.Balasegaran approached him. Despite his PLOTE background he was selected and sent to Jaffna. This was in late 1983
Balasegaran found himself in the hands of a tiger operative known as “Bruce” or “Kannadi”. There was a hitch. Balasegaran’s PLOTE link made him suspect in the eyes of the LTTE.
Still the youth’s sincerity was patently visible. So the LTTE kept him but did not send him for military training in India. He was given limited local training and used as a “helper”.Officially he was not made a LTTE cadre but given the nom de guerre Balraj.
Balraj was fond of hunting. He had been on many expeditions in search of game like sambhur, deer and wild boar. As a result he became very familiar with the jungles of sprawling Mullaitheevu district. So the LTTE began utilising him as a guide to negotiate the less travelled jungle trails and tracks.
This was like a period of probation where Balraj’s conduct was scrutinised carefully and loyalty tested. Fate however intervened.
In mid -1984 Balasegaran was travelling in a tractor –trailer with the local tiger leader Lt.Kaandeepan and some other cadres. The army anbushed them at Othiyamalai in the Manal aaru/Weli –Oya region.
Balraj was unarmed and did not fight.However he was accidentally injured in the skirmish with the army though he himself was not a combatant.He was taken to India for medical treatment for injuries to his shoulder.
Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya was now the LTTE military commander for the Wanni region comprising Vavuniya,Mullaitheevu and Kilinochchi regions. Mannar was administered separately.
Mahathaya was in Tamil Nadu for surgery when Balraj was receiving medical treatment.
The “senior” Mahathaya began interacting with Balasegaran and discovered that he was from the Wanni with thorough knowledge of the Manal Aaru/Weli Oya region.
Mahathaya liked what he saw. It was Mahathaya and not Prabhakaran who “recognized in him (Balraj) from the very beginning, the rare martial nature and characteristics that were natural to him”.
Initially it was Mahathaya and not Prabhakaran who helped Balasegaran”develop as an idealistic fighter with great skill and leadership”.
Mahathaya urged Prabakharan then in Chennai that Balasegaran be given military training in India and recruited into LTTE ranks. Prabakharan agreed reluctantly and authorised training for Balasegaran.
This was a departure from the usual LTTE practice where those from other groups were not taken in as regulars.
Though the LTTE chief was reluctant about Balraj ,he later discovered the military potential in him. Prabakharan liked the man and promoted him to unparalleled heights . He even got Balraj married to a close relative.
The fact remains however that Balraj was originally of the PLOTE and that he was a protégée of Mahathaya. In the LTTE propaganda barrage about Brigadier Balraj after his death two salient factors were missing.
One was his PLOTE antecedents and the other was his Mahathaya link.
After recovery Balasegaran was formally inducted into the LTTE in 1984 and given military training in Tamil Nadu as part of the ninth LTTE batch.. His nom de guerre as stated earlier was Balraj.
After training Balraj returned to the Wanni and was absorbed into Mahathaya’s bodyguard unit. Initially he was tasked with cooking meals for fellow fighters.Gradually he was utilised for regular combat also.
Balraj made his mark first in 1986 when he played an active role in taking over the Karadipokku junction in Kiinochchi in what was an abortive bid by Mahathaya to encircle the Kilinochhi military camp. He also participated in the attacks in Thirunagar and Munthirigaikkulam.
When Mahathaya was made deputy – leader of the LTTE he continued to be in overall charge of the Wanni. Jeyam, Suseelan and Paseelan were appointed as military commanders for the districts of Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu respectively.
Paseelan in whose memory the LTTE named one of its home made mortars (Paseelan 5000) recognized the military potential of Balraj and got Mahattaya to assign Balraj under his command. Balraj became Paseelan’s deputy and functioned in the Mullaitheevu district.He was stationed at the Manal Aaru – Weli – Oya region. He knew the terrain well.
In 1987 after the Indo –Lanka accord the Indian army was inducted into Northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Mahendrarajah alias Mahattaya the Wanni commander went over to Jaffna with a contingent of Wanni fighters to supplement cadres stationed in Jaffna. Balraj was one of them.
When war erupted with the Indian army on October 10th 1987, a fierce confrontation took place in the Kopay area. It was then that the LTTE lost its first woman fighter Lt.Malathi after whom a woman’s brigade was named later.
Balraj also fought in the Kopay area. He earned praise by firing on advancing Indian battle tanks with a Rocket launcher. One RPG shell fired by Balraj severely damaged an Indian tank.
When the war with the Indian army continued the LTTE supremo Prabakharan, deputy leader Mahathaya and other senior tiger leaders relocated to the Wanni. Prabakharan himself began camping out in the dense jungles of Mullaitheevu.Balraj also returned and resumed duties under Paseelan.
The LTTE Mullaitheevu commander Paseelan was killed in a clash in 1988 when the Indian Army launched an attack on the LTTE camp in the Thaniootru area.The leaderless LTTE was rattled but Balraj rose to the occasion by hastily assuming command. He managed to beat back the Indian army in that assault.
Thereafter Balraj was entrusted with the Mullaitheevu district command. One of the first operations planned and led by Balraj was an ambush of an Indian patrol near a school in Mulliyavalai. Anticipating re-inforcements, Balraj set up a “cut –out”position to confront Indian troops rushing to the aid of colleagues. Around 25 soldiers were killed in the two clashes.
These successes raised the LTTE morale. Balraj also became known as an efficient and skilful military leader.
One of his plus points was that he led from the front. He would inspire and galvanize tiger cadre by courageously leading them up front into the thick of battle. There was no “bull shitting” at the rear.
In 1986 this columnist interviewed former LTTE Jaffna district commander Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar alias “Col” Kittu for the Indian newsmagazine “Frontline”.
A pertinent point made by Kittu then was about the leadership qualities of LTTE commanders. Unlike others , Kittu said, LTTE field commanders lead from the front and do not direct operations from the rear.
Kittu observed that tiger commanders go out front and call upon cadre to follow by shouting “Come Up! Come up!” instead of egging fighters on from behind by ordering “Go forward! Go forward!!”
This tiger trait identified succinctly by Kittu was something Balraj had in ample quantity. Till he became seriously afflicted by illness Balraj always plunged into thick battle leading from the front.
This was a quality absent in many of the latter day crop of “heavyweight” tiger military commanders. This was a major cause for the LTTE military debacle in 2009.
Rapidly rising from the ranks,Balraj led a series of successful military operations.When the LTTE set up its first infantry division, Balraj was made its commander. It was named after Prabhakaran’s friend and deputy Charles Anthony alias Seelan who died in Meesalai on July 15th 1983.
It was in 1996 that Prabakharan gave Balraj his greatest military honour. He appointed Balraj as deputy – military commander.Prabakharan was then the military commander of the LTTE. Thus Balraj became number two in the military hierarchy.
But Balraj had to pay a ”price” for the honour prior to receiving it.
Balraj’s one – time patron and benefactor Mahathaya had fallen out with Prabakharan . Now Prabakharan wanted to detain and interrogate his deputy – leader.
Prabakharan sent three LTTE leaders to “arrest” Mahathaya. They were Sornam, Soosai and Balraj. This was perhaps Prabakharan’s perverse ruse to test Balraj’s loyalty. Balraj had to act against Mahathaya to prove his loyalty to Prabakharan.
This Balraj did. He went along with the others to apprehend the man who had given him his break and taken him under his wing.But then could he have refused to obey Prabakharan?
Hundreds of LTTE cadre surrounded Mahathaya’s place. Initially a young boy was sent to the house. He knocked on the door and rudely asked Mahathaya to accompany him. The LTTE deputy – leader gave a resounding slap and chased him away.
Then Balraj himself went to Mahathaya’s door. The deputy – leader was taken aback to find his former protegee entrusted with the task of arresting him. The fight went out of him.
When Balraj said “Engalode Vaango Annai” (Come along with us elder brother) Mahathaya promptly agreed. He instructed his 40 odd bodyguards not to resist and asked Balraj to ensure that nothing happened to them. He then went meekly with Balraj.
This was the “acid test ” that Balraj had to endure to prove his loyalty to Prabakharan. This “betrayal” of Mahathaya was Balraj’s stepping stone to greater success and recognition.
The LTTE’s new deputy – military commander began demonstrating his mettle in battle.Balraj’s military record makes interesting reading.
The LTTE’s number two Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya had for long been commander of the Wanni region. The districts of Kilinochchi, Mullaitheevu and Vavuniya came under his command.Mannar district was administered separately.
Thus Mahathaya’s power and influence increased tremendously after the spotlight shifted to the Wanni. The LTTE leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran himself had moved to the Wanni and was accommodated in secret locations in the Mullaitheevu jungles.Protecting Prabhakaran who was a prize target in Indian perception became top priority for the LTTE.
Initially the protection of Prabhakaran was entrusted to Lt. Col Navam who incidently was a Tamil of recent Indian origin. His family had moved to the wanni from the up country after the 1977 anti – Tamil violence.
Lt. Col Navam was in overall charge of Prabakharan’s security in particular and Mullaitheevu defences in general. Balraj functioned as Navam’s deputy.Being familiar with the jungle terrain ,Balraj’s services were indispensable to the LTTE at that juncture.
It was during this period that Balraj began interacting closely with his leader Prabakharan. The LTTE numero uno who at one time was reluctant to induct Balraj into tiger folds due to his PLOTE past was now greatly impressed by his unassuming simplicity and quiet efficiency.
Navam was killed in action when the LTTE launched an attack on the Indian army camp in Nedunkerny. Thereafter Balraj took over informally and was like Mahathaya’s deputy for the Wanni command.
Wilting under the Indian army onslaught the tiger cadres in the Wanni were scattered and demoralised. Communication was a big problem. It was then that Balraj undertook an arduous mission to infuse morale into the LTTE within the Wanni.
With authority delegated by Prabhakaran and Mahathaya, the lad from Kokkuthoduvaai began travelling the length and breadth of the Wanni. He travelled on foot moving from place to place and meeting with tiger cadre in different places. Despite the heavy Indian army presence,Balraj managed to accomplish his mission.
As a result the LTTE in the Wanni got invigorated and began going on the offensive in a limited capacity. A series of attacks on Indian patrols and posts were launched. This restricted Indian army mobility to a great extent. It is said that Balraj was instrumental in motivating tiger cadre through his pedestrian mission
It was during this time that the LTTE inflicted heavy losses on an Indian commando unit which infiltrated the Mullaitheevu jungles in search of Prabhakaran. After monitoring the Indian commando movement Balraj along with Lt.Col Navaneethan led a contingent of fighters to counter attack.
The LTTE split in two formations in the jungles of Pazhampaasi area. One was led by Navaneethan and the other by Balraj. While the group led by Navaneethan conducted a frontal attack on the Indian soldiers the group led by Balraj managed to move clandestinely through jungle routes and attack from behind. The Indians were caught in the middle and were virtually wiped out. The survivors were rescued by helicopter.
The LTTE variation of double envelopement adopted by Balraj in the jungle terrain rattled the Indian army.Thereafter all such jungle operations were suspended.The tigers continued to launch sporadic attacks on Indian installations. Things however began to change after the advent of Ranasinghe Premadasa. Soon the Indian army was on its way out.
After the withdrawal of the Indian army the tiger leader moved back to Jaffna with his retinue. Mahathaya also moved to Jaffna as LTTE deputy leader and president of the LTTE political party Peoples Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT).
There was also a policy change of sorts where the LTTE was now as far as possible encouraging cadre from a particular locality to take up leadership positions there.In keeping with this policy Balraj was made military commander for the Wanni in 1990. Theepan was appointed his deputy.This was the opportunity Balraj had been waiting for to demonstrate his military acumen.
After assuming command Balraj undertook a gigantic public relations exercise. He visited the families of fallen LTTE cadre and consoled with relatives.Balraj also went to the houses of people who had supported the LTTE during the Indian army campaign amidst great risk and hardship. He thanked them profusely and requested continuous support.
Balraj launched three attacks at different times on the Sri Lankan army camps at Mullaitheevu,Mankulam and Kilinochchi. They were all failures and the LTTE retreated after incurring heavy losses.
The A – 9 highway or Jaffna – Kandy road was then under the nominal control of the army from Vavuniya to Elephant Pass. The army had military camps in key areas.Balraj decided to establish control over the A -9 highway in the Wanni.
The army camp at Kokkaavil on the A -9 highway was singled out as a target by the LTTE led by Balraj in the Wanni. A large scale attack was launched under the field command of Theepan and strategic command of Balraj. The army resisted fiercely and inflicted heavy losses on the tigers. Even Theepan was injured.
Instead of calling the attack off, Balraj himself took up field command on the second day. Balraj’s battlefront presence encouraged the tiger cadres. After heavy fighting the camp was overrun. This was the first time that the tigers had overrun a Sri Lankan army camp.
Encouraged by the fall of Kokkaavil the LTTE now set its sights on the Mankulam camp. Although the earlier attack had failed Balraj now devised a new tactical plan. In a black tiger or suicide attack, Lt. Col Borg drove a truck full of explosives into the camp at midnight and exploded himself. Tiger cadres led by Theepan followed in its wake and began attacking.
Meanwhile a second LTTE contingent led by Balraj and Navaneethan moved clandestinely through paddy fields and attacked the Mankulam garrison in the rear. Despite the element of surprise being in LTTE favour, the soldiers fought back valiantly .The fighting went on even after day break. The soldiers behan withdrawing from the main camp and began converging at the adjacent helipad and its environs.
It was then that Balraj executed one of his legendary “leading from the front” attacks. He personally led a reinforced attack on the helipad area and dislodged the soldiers. The helipad area was captured.Balraj however left an “opening” at the Southern end thus enabling soldiers to withdraw and move down several miles to Vavuniya.The LTTE seized a huge arsenal that included .50 calibre guns. This was the first time this happened.
The victories of Kokkavil and Mankulam raised LTTE stock. Balraj also became known as a reputed military commander.
Another operation where Balraj proved his military prowess was the Elephant pass operation of 1991.This was the operation codenamed “Tharai – Kadal – Aahayam ” (Land – sea – Air )and led by Mahathaya to lay siege to the Elephant pass base and capture it.The operation ended in failure and 673 LTTE cadre were killed.
Balraj and his fighters were tasked with the goal of penetrating the complex from the Kurinchatheevu sector.Balraj and his men delivered results by infiltrating through the lagoon and overrunning the military installation set up in the former guest house premises and retaining it till the operation was called off.They destroyed it while withdrawing.
The failure of other LTTE cadre to achieve their objectives led to overall failure of the operation. It was however a personal triumph for Balraj.
The LTTE in 1991 formed its first infantry brigade. It was named after Charles Anthony , Prabakharan’s trusted deputy and close companion who died in Meesalai on July 15th 1983.
Balraj was Prabakharan’s choice to be the first special commander of Charles Anthony brigade. He served so until 1993.Later he had a second stint as Charles Anthony special commander from 1995 -97
One of the innovative features adopted by Balraj in conducting operations was the “amphibian assault”. This was a tactic in which LTTE cadres attacked coastal army camps simultaneously from land and sea. At that time the naval wing known as sea tigers had not developed fully. So LTTE cadres would wade into the sea at a distant point and move through shallow waters on foot. At the given time attacks were launched from land and sea.
A cost effective tactic employed by Balraj in some of these operations was to go in for the sentry posts,bunkers and mini-camps instead of attacking heavily fortified main camps. The first experimental attack using this tactic was in Karainagar in the peninsula in 1991.
A reconnaissance mission was done by “Major”Kinni in the Karainagar naval camp area. Thereafter LTTE cadre led by balraj attacked posts along the Karainagar – Ponnalai area instead of attacking the base itself. Tiger cadres moved on either side of the Ponnalai causeway through shallow waters and attacked the security force positions in a concerted manner.
Balraj repeated this tactic in other areas also. It met with massive success in Vallalaai in the peninsula. Tiger cadres moving through shallow waters attacked and overran 155 posts in the Vallalaai-Thondamanaru area. Another operation in the mainland saw 64 positions being destroyed in the Nagathevanthurai-Poonagary sector.Both these were in 1992.
Another attribute of Balraj was his penchant to conduct reconnaissance missions known as “rekke” himself. Except on rare occasions Balraj himself would scout around the security camp vicinity sometimes going up to the outer perimeter fence.Though extremely perilous and most unbecoming for a military commander,Balraj would rationalise his conduct by saying that he had to personally experience the terrain to launch and lead an attack.
Apart from leading military assaults and offensives Balraj also excelled in strategic defence. He was mainly responsible for defeating, preventing, restricting or nullifying several military offensives by the armed forces.
Some of these were “operation Wanniwickrema” in Vavuniya, Operation ” lightning” in Manal aaru/Weli Oya, operation “leap forward” in Jaffna, , operation” Yarl Devi ” in Kilaly /puloppalai and operation “Agni Kheela” in Elephant pass.
One offensive Balraj failed to thwart was the first phase of “operation Jayasikurui”in 1997 where the armed forces took Omanthai and Nedunkerny. Operation ” riviresa “ phase one in Jaffna where Balraj also participated in defence was another failure for the LTTE.
Balraj was in overall charge of LTTE defences during Jayasikurui till the fall of Puliyankulam. Thereafter erstwhile eastern LTTE regional commander “Col” Karuna took over defence arrangements.
“YARL – DEVI”
Balraj’s finest accomplishment in defensive war was Agikheela on April 24th 2001. The armed forces had moved out from the Kilaly – Eluthumattuvaal – Nagar Kovul FDL’s in a bid to re- take Elephant pass.The LTTE inflicted heavy losses on the army.
Balraj was engaged in preparing for a major amphibian assault in Poonagary –Nagathevanthurai in 1993 when the Sri Lankan army began its “operation Yarl-Devi”offensive. Since Elephant pass was under army control, transport to and from Jaffna was through points at Kilaly in the peninsula and Paranthannalloor in the mainland.”Yarl devi” operation commencing from Elephant pass was aimed at seizing control of Kilaly.
Balraj moved into the peninsula from Poonagary and set up defences at very short notice. The fighting was hectic but Balraj was himself injured during Operation Yarl Devi in the fighting at Puloppalai. He sustained serious injuries on a leg when he was firing an RPG at a T – 55 tank. The injury caused him to limp slightly when walking.Also he suffered pain in the leg when he walked for a long distance. Incidently the LTTE managed to capture a tank for the first time in this.
Despite the damage caused by the injury Balraj continued to function actively. He participated in several operations in the peninsula. It was during this time that Prabhakaran gave Balraj his greatest military honour by appointing him as deputy – military commander.Prabakharan was then the military commander of the LTTE. Thus Balraj became number two in the military hierarchy.
The LTTE’s new deputy – military commander began demonstrating his mettle in battle. But the LTTE itself was driven away from the Jaffna peninsula through the operation Riviresa phased out military campaign.The LTTE began operating militarily in the Wanni.
On July 18th 1996 the LTTE overran the Mullaitheevu camp killing more than a 1000 soldiers. Balraj co-ordinated the operation codenamed “Oyatha Alaigal – 1.” (Unceasing waves)The beleaguered soldiers had fought back and entrenched themselves in the church area by the beach. Meanwhile soldiers were air landed at Alambil to move in and relieve the Mullaitheevu garrison.
The LTTE fought on both fronts. Finally reinforcements under “Col” Bhanu came in. The situation changed in LTTE favour when the T-55 captured at Puloppalai was used in the beach attack.
The military launched “operation Sathjaya – 1” and 2 and captured Paranthan and the greater part of Kilinochchi. Balraj himself fought in these battles but was unable to prevent the army advancing. Meanwhile the army had also reached Mankulam on the A -9 through Operation Jayasikurui. It was only a matter of time before the army from Mankulam would have linked up at Kilinochchi.
It was at this juncture that the LTTE decided to seize Kilinochchi.Balraj conceived, coordinated and commanded the operation.An important component of the military strategy was to prevent reinforcements from Elephant pass and Paranthan reaching Kilinochchi.
Balraj himself took up position at points between Paranthan and Kilinochchi. After fierce fighting the LTTE managed to prevent the army from moving to aid comrades under attack in Kilinochchi. Finally the soldiers withdrew after incurring heavy losses.Kilinochchi fell to the tigers.This manoeuvre by Balraj was the precursor to his remarkable feat later during the Elephant pass battle.
Then came “Oyatha – Alaigal – 3 in 1999 November when the LTTE in a series of co-ordinated offensives overran military camps in Oddusuddan. Karippattaimurippu, Mankulam, Kanagarayankulam, Puliyankulam etc.
Most military gains of “Jayasikurui” were reversed.
“Oyatha Alaigal” or unceasing waves was an on going operation with more battles to follow in the Jaffna peninsula. The greatest of these was the lengthy series of operations to take the strategic military base in the Elephant pass isthmus.
The key element in the LTTE’s “encircle and enfeeble”strategy was the interdiction of supplies along the A – 9 highway between Eluthumattuvaal and Iyakkachchi / Elephant pass. The besieged Elephant pass garrison had to be “cut off” and isolated.
In a bid to prevent such an eventuality the armed forces had fortified a rectangular area extending from Thaalaiyaddy – Maruthankerny along the Vadamaratchy east coast of the peninsula up ro the Puthukkaadu juction on the Jaffna – Kandy road.
This area known as the “Vathiraayan box”included Vathirayan , Pullaa veli, Soranpatru and Maasaar. Thus Elephant pass was assured of continuous supply from Eluthumadduvaal in the hinterland as well as Thaalaiyaddi in the littoral.
How the LTTE breached these impregnable defences amounted to a modern military miracle. It was Balraj’s crowning achievement.
In an ambhibean operation on March 26th 2000 , the sea tigers led by “Col” Soosai succeeded in transporting 1200 cadre from the mainland coast to the peninsular coast.
These cadre led by Balraj landed at Kudaarappu – Maamunai and then moved clandestinely into the interior by walking through the inland lagoon and marshy lands known as “kandal”.
Army posts in Soranpatru and Maasaar were overrun . A 40 foot bund erected by the army at Maasaar was breached by Balraj’s tiger squad.The tigers reached the A – 9 road near Puthukkaadu junction.
Thereafter the tigers led by Balraj moved up and set up positions at a place called Ithaavil near Pallai thus blocking military supplies to Iyakkachchi – Elephant pass.The contingent led by the LTTE’s deputy milit ary chief Balraj took a swathe of the Jaffna-Kandy road between Pallai and Eluthumattuvaal. These included the areas around Arasakerni, Ithavil, Indrapuram. Muhamaalai north and Kovil Kadu.
The area under LTTE control amounted to about 4 km in length and 2 km in breadth. With this move , the LTTE effectively cut off the main road link between the Elephant Pass/Iyakachchi camps and Jaffna. On April 10, the armed forces recaptured a major portion of the road but failed to dislodge the Tigers completely.
The next few weeks saw an intense battle where Balraj and his band of intrepid fighters held on to a strip of land at Ithaavil against formidable odds. There were many twists and turns but Balraj fought on stubbornly beating back attempt after attempt to dislodge him.
After 24 days of fighting the army gave in. Elephant pass was abandoned on April 19th. The LTTE hoisted its flag ceremoniously on April 22nd.
Balraj’s incredible military feat was analysed and dissected in military manuals.
The LTTE under Balraj had demonstrated that it could engage in offensive and defensive positional warfare in deep enemy territory and triumph against superior armed forces without air support.
It was hailed as a paradigm shift in the conduct of “limited wars”.
With this victory and the magnificient resistance displayed during “Operation Agnkheela ” in retaining Elephant pass the LTTE deputy – military chief’s reputation was further enhanced. He became a larger than life legend.
But things changed as Balraj’s health began to deteriorate. He had always had a “heart condition” and this began to worsen. In addition there was diabetes and kidney complications.
When the ceasefire was in progress Balraj went to Singapore with two bodyguards for advanced medical treatment. He obtained heart surgery there. Balraj’s visa application to enter Malaysia for further treatment was refused.
There was trouble on the domestic front too
In keeping with the LTTE policy of arranging marriages within the movement Balraj too had married a woman cadre Varathaa.
She was a close relative of LTTE supremo who had personally arranged the marriage. Varathaa like Balraj had injured her leg in a battle.
Married life however was not a state of bliss. There was temperamental incompatibility and the couple had serious differences. At one stage the wife started “complaining” against Balraj in public places.
This led to arguments and squabbles. Then Varathaa went to the LTTE police station and registered a complaint that Balraj had assaulted her.She also complained to the LTTE leader who was her kinsman.
Prabakharan then intervened and admonished Balraj. He also separated the couple. This increased Balraj’s misery.
In a tragic twist Balraj’s separated wife was stung by a russel’s viper and died.
Though separated , Varadhaa’s death through snakebite caused inconsolable sorrow to Balraj. Apart from physical ill – health it is said that Balraj’s emotional state declined considerably after his wife’s death.
Due to his deteriorating health Balraj began to pursue a comparatively , sedate life. He was involved as a lecturer and instructor at the LTTE’s military academy for officers.
Balraj taught military strategy, planning and tactics.He also provided specialised training for the LTTE commandoes and special forces.
He had earlier been a visiting instructor and demonstrator at various LTTE training camps. The recruits and conscripts liked to be taught by Balraj.
But there was no way in which his services on the military front could end.
In 2001 when “Col” Shankar was killed in a landmine attack by the army’s deep penetration unit a virtual state of emergency was declared by Prabakharan.
Balraj was directed to coordinate a defence strategy to counter the DPU and prevent further attacks. Balraj was engaged in this when the ceasefire was promulgated on Feb 23rd 2002.
During the ceasefire Balraj was sent to the east at one stage to strengthen LTTE defences. This was after the Karuna revolt.
Balraj was in Vaaharai when the tsunami struck on Dec 26th 2004. Balraj was on the coast when he saw the huge waves and fired in the air. This alerted the people who saw the waves and fled inwards. Balraj reportedly had a miraculous escape when he was engulfed by the water.
The last days of Balraj saw his health deteriorate drastically. He used to spend most of his time in a hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu. Yet he would leave the hospital and undertake prolonged trips to the frontlines inspecting and supervising defences.
The raising of the 59 division and its deployment in Manal Aaru / Weli Oya created fresh difficulties for the LTTE. Containing the armed forces in this strategically important terrain was of crucial importance.
Once again Prabakharan turned to Balraj. Despite his ill – health Balraj began staying at the Frontlines for extended periods. This worsened his physical condition.
Finally the end came after being bed ridden for two weeks. Thus ended the life of brave commander “Brigadier” Balraj.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com