Brigadier” Balraj: Fifth Death Anniversary of Legendary LTTE Commander Who Led From the Front
Kandiah Balasegaran alias Balraj
(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 fifth 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.