Vinay Lal
(May 2009)

It is reported that when the Americans captured Saddam Hussein, one of the first questions that arose in their minds was whether their captive was the ‘real’ Saddam. Their captive, over intense questioning, denied that he had ever manufactured his double. But I suspect that the rumor of Saddam’s double will never entirely disappear, not even after many books have been published, each purporting to give the true and real story of Saddam. The question of the ‘real’ Saddam has many more layers than the Americans can imagine, and one must begin with the question of how real Saddam was to his subjects. He led a shadowy existence, one might say: by his own confession, for fear of his life, long before the American invasion of Iraq, he moved from one spot to another and rarely slept in the same bed twice. So, even when he was not being hunted, he lived the life of a fugitive. Saddam also imagined himself as a Saladin, a Haroun Rashid, even a Hammurabi. When Saddam denied that he had a double, he meant it in more than the literal sense. What is a double to one with multiple identities?

With the death of Prabhakaran, the question of the double will doubtless come up again. Men such as Prabhakaran are always believed to have a double: the mythography of the ‘spectacularly evil one’ can entertain no other outlook. The double is supposed to confound the opponent; but the double is also a sign of the evil one’s moral turpitude, a clear sign of the fear in which he lives. If the villain plots to have his double, his opponents are even keener that he should have one – as if that were a vindication of their moral superiority.

I have read on Tamil diaspora websites that the LTTE denies that Prabhakaran has been killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The man who has been identified as Prabhakaran is, according to his supporters, his double. And it would not be surprising if the LTTE were to produce a photograph or two of Prabhakaran purporting to establish that he is alive, most likely watching with bemusement his body being displayed before TV audiences.

Prabhakaran’s supporters and his detractors are, then, equally invested in the idea of the double. For many of Prabhakaran’s supporters, the will to believe that it is his double that is being displayed is the last desperate act of fealty. It may be well and good to believe that your hero is immortal, but for the present the imperative is to deny the fact of his death and claim that the struggle is alive. For his opponents and detractors, the double points to the moral cowardice of Prabhakaran. The cowardly leader sends others to their death, but has a morbid fear of plunging into death himself. That the idea of the double, however, need not be so utterly compromised or morally vacuous is amply demonstrated by Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha, “The Shadow Warrior.” Set in medieval Japan, the shadow warrior or impersonator, none other than a common thief, plays the part of Lord Shingen, whose death is to be kept a secret for three years. With great skill, the kagemusha creeps into Shingen’s skin and begins to play the part so well that he himself is confounded about his own identity. As Shingen, he keeps the enemies at bay; and when, towards the end, his fall from a horse reveals his ‘real’ identity to others and he is dismissed from the royal household, the members of the clan begin to perceive that the man they had taken to be a mere double was the fount of their reality. With the double’s ignominious departure, the Takeda clan changes course and is sent to a crushing defeat. The kagemusha himself becomes a martyr – but martyr to what, one might ask?