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Home > Tamil National Forum > Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Prelude to the Indo-LTTE War (1987-90): An Anthology > Part 1 > Part 2 Broiling and Near-toppling of Rajiv Gandhi > Part 3 The Annoyance and Anger of the Sinhalese > Part 4 The Deals of Indian Mandarins of Deception > Part 5 The Rage of Sinhala Buddhist Monks > The Indo-LTTE War (1987-90) - An Anthology. Part 1 > Part 2 > Part 3 > Part 4 > Part 5 > Part 6 > Part 7 > Part 8 > Part 9 > Part 10 > Part 11 > Part 12 > Part 13 > Part 14 >
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Indo-LTTE War (1987-90) - An Anthology
28 February 2008
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
Even after the lapse of two decades, a minor segment of self-loathing Eelam Tamils naively believe that the LTTE’s decision to stand up for the Indian army was foolish. I wonder how they will reconcile with the recent admission of Anand Kumar Verma, the then Chief of RAW, at the time of IPKF Operations, that
One can call this belated mea culpa as his ‘cover one’s butt’ exercise, long after all the principal protagonists [Rajiv Gandhi, J.R. Jayewardene, J.N. Dixit and the then Indian Army Chief, General Krishnaswamy Sundarrajan (aka Sundarji)] except Pirabhakaran had departed from the scene.
To quote, A.K. Verma, from his July 24, 2007 commentary entitled, ‘Sri Lankan Tamils: Anatomy of Indian Involvement ’ [vide, Paper No. 2312 of South Asia Analysis Group]:
This evaluation by the RAW’s top dog of that period has to be tempered with a countering assertion. The RAW operatives who were present in Eelam and Colombo during 1987-90, didn’t fail to work overtime in their plumbing activities. Early in this decade, Bhashyam Kasturi and Pankaj Mehra contributing an analysis entitled, ‘Geo-politics of South Asian Covert Action: India’s Experience and Need for Action against Pakistan’ [Indian Defence Review, Apr-June 2001; vol.16 (2), pp.22-31], had the following observation:
In this part, I have transcribed 9 newsreports, commentaries and interviews that first appeared in February-March 1988.
As the descriptions provided in these 9 items reveal, when February 1988 rolled in, the trust and political marriage of convenience promoted by Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene in July 1987 appeared to be suffering from sustenance drought. For appearance sake, both indulged in propaganda releases.
But, as Susan Tifft reported for the Time magazine (Feb.8, 1988), Jayewardene had “pushed for a withdrawal of Indian troops” due to political pressure in home front, while Rajiv Gandhi “gave Jayewardene no assurances that India would pull out its troops anytime soon.”
As a face-saving formula, while Jayewardene and his coterie had proposed an ‘Indo-Sri Lankan friendship treaty’, the Indian mandarins who were advising Rajiv never took this bait seriously.
William Smith, reporting for the Time magazine a week later (Feb.15, 1988), wrote that
The anonymous Asiaweek reporter had noted a pipe dream of the Indian and Colombo policy makers and their journalist pantaloons of what they expected from the Indian army:
Glaringly, the realistic views (that appeared in the Asiaweek of Mar. 4, 1988) of A.P.Venkateswaran, the sacked Foreign Secretary of India, have stood the test of time. He had stated, “The purpose of a peacekeeping force is not to take sides with one or other of the opposing groups but to separate them so as to avoid a conflict.” And this became the cardinal sin of RAW operatives, that led to the failure of Indian Army’s assigned mission in Eelam.
In chronological order, the 9 news reports, commentaries and interviews are as follows:
Wherever they appear, either dots or words within parenthesis, in italics and in bold fonts are as in the originals.
One, two, many Indias? [India Correspondent; Economist, Feb. 6, 1988, pp. 21-22.]
In the state of Tripura, in India’s far north-east, around 60 people were killed in the three days before a state election on February 2nd. The victims were immigrants from miserable Bangladesh, slain by tribal rebels who resent the newcomers. The heartland outscored the obscure fringes: in Punjab nearly 200 people died last month in attacks by Sikh terrorists on Sikhs who disagreed with them, and on the state’s Hindu minority. From time to time Indians worry that their country’s religious, racial and linguistic divisions are tearing it apart. Do they have more reason to worry now?
Perhaps not in comparison with 1947, when 500,000 – 1m people were massacred during the partition of India from Pakistan; or even 1967, when a countryside rebellion by communists called Naxalites spread across five eastern Indian states. But the violent disruption of the past three years is once again testing India’s ability to hold together as a single antion – a nation of 800m people with six main religions, 16 languages (comprising at least 1,400 dialects) and innumerable castes.
The tensions bound to arise in such a country occasionally burst into violence. The least worrying of these outbursts, except to the victims, are those that take place on India’s fringes and involve outsiders who have recently moved in; they are the kind of thing that often happens in poor countries when new people are being assimilated. That was the case last weekend in unfortunate Tripura. Something similar was behind the recent violence in West Bengal, where the dissatisfactions of the outsiders – Nepalese-speaking immigrants – have given rise to a movement that is demanding a separate state of Gurkhaland. Other separatist groups keep popping up in places like Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland, all of them in the sensitive north-east.
Next on the scale of worry comes the Muslim-Hindu divide. Hindus (of whom there are 640m) and Muslims (90m) have been at each other’s throats for centuries, but things got worse last year when more than 100 people, mainly Muslims, died in riots in Uttar Pradesh. Muslim groups began to flourish all over India; so did an outbreak of Hindu revivalism – one sign of which may be two recent cases of suttee (widow burning) in Rajasthan. Private armies on both sides are being formed in Delhi and elsewhere. Muslims are becoming more organised and rebellious in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim state. Young Kashmiri Muslims have been rioting against the Hindu-dominated central government in Delhi, which, they say, fixed their state’s election last March.
The most menacing cases of racial division threaten India with a real break-up. One of these is the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Ever since Sri Lanka’s civil war between its Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority began, policy-makers in Delhi have been nervous that a misstep could send Tamil Nadu (which is wholly Tamil) sprawling towards secession – especially if the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka went wrong. Last week’s near-riot in the state assembly, followed by the imposition of direct rule by the central government, showed how shaky things still are.
The worst fear of those who worry about the Indian union, however, is Punjab. It is India’s richest state, bordering on both the Hindu heartland and still-distrusted Pakistan, and large numbers of people are involved. Sikh terrorists killed more than 1,000 people last year (and have reached a fifth of that total in just one month this year). That made 1987 the worse year of violence since 1984, when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. For the first time in independent India there is a rift between Hindus and Sikhs, who had always before seen each other as brothers.
Two old answers, and two new ones: In the old days Indians could rely on two main firebreaks to stop sectarian violence from spreading far enough to threaten India’s unity. The first was a ruling party that worked. The country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, built India’s dominant Congress Party around secularism (which in India simply means religious tolerance) and the championship of the poor and downtrodden. These ideals united Indians and gave them an idea of what their country was all about. Nehru combined this idealism with the nuts-and-bolts construction of a strong Congress Party that incorporated minority groups along with local bosses.
This Congress of idealism plus local brokerage began to disapper under Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. Under her rule Congress became a tired monster of a party. It is now full of old codgers hanging on to power for power’s sake. Some internal party elections are a decade overdue. There were high hopes for reform when Indira’s son Rajiv took over in 1984. But Mr Gandhi, who is bad at handling people, has shown more of an aptitude for denouncing the party’s faults than for curing them. Congress is now even more firmly in the control of the corrupt, the self-seekers and the time-servers than it was when Mr Gandhi became prime minister.
The second curb on communal violence was strong leadership. Nehru held India together partly through his own popularity and sense of mission. Mrs Gandhi shifted away from her father’s policy of governing my accomodation and consensus. She tried to do it by force of personality alone. It worked for a while: in 1971 people voted for Indira rather than Congress. But after 1980 her rule deteriorated into a crude exchange by which she showered favours on interest groups in return for their support. At first that included Sikh extremists.
Even so, some Indians now grouse, at least Indira could browbeat India – unlike Rajiv. In recent months the Indian press has had fun portraying Mr Gandhi as a playboy in designer sunglasses and Italian shoes, enjoying caviar aboard Air India One or planning his next luxurious island holiday. The prime minister does not embody an idea of Indianness in the way his mother and grandfather did. He is ill at ease with plain Indians, and lacks the gravity they have come to expect from their leaders.
In the fight against separatism Mr Gandhi perhaps cannot call on the vision of Nehru or the guts of an Indira. But he has something else on his side: time. The 40 years since independence have knitted India together in two ways. The first is social and economic. The free movement of people (to distant universities or jobs, for instance), their intermarriage, the establishment of businesses that trade goods and services and draw on capital throughout the country; all these things have united India and anchored it at the grass roots more than anyone would have dreamed in 1947. The second largest group of industrial workers in Bombay, for example, consists of migrants from Uttar Pradesh, more than 700 miles away. They will have little patience for political extremists staging shoot-‘em-ups in favour of protectionist statelets.
The 40 years have also helped India’s democratic institutions to mature. Parliament is a brash, noisy affair in which a vociferous if chaotic opposition can criticise and challenge the government. The courts are independent, and still uphold the laws which are intended to protect the oppressed. India has a forthright and free press, perhaps the best in the third world. Most important, even humble Indians have come to recognise the power of their vote. Nobody forgets that Mrs Gandhi’s much-hated Emergency was ended at the ballot box.
This twin knitting-together process gives Mr Gandhi his chance. Most Sikhs, most Gurkhas, most Muslims, most Tamils do not want to lose all they have gained from it. Sikh extremists apart, most of India’s separatist groups could probably be calmed if they simply felt that they were getting their fair share of Indian democracy. Mr Gandhi need not be another Nehru or Indira. He can be himself and still parry the separatist threat by undertaking a few tasks: shaping up Congress with internal elections; stopping the fixing of local elections; resisting the temptation to silence an unfriendly newspaper; making it clear that no group which takes up arms can expect to be bought off by cash from Delhi. India is not falling apart. But it could do much better if Mr Gandhi just started showing some enthusiasm for these tasks.
All over bar the shooting [India Correspondent; Economist, Feb. 6, 1988, p. 22.]
Sri Lanka’s most incorrigible optimist is still its president, Mr Junius Jayewardene. He returned home on January 30th from six days of talks in India determined to press ahead with early elections for local councils in his country’s Northern and Eastern provinces. He plans to persist even if the Tamil Tiger guerrillas remain unsubdued and Sinhalese gunmen continue to kill Sri Lankan politicians who support the peace moves. India and Sri Lanka hope the violence can be reduced to a level that will allow provincial voting to take place in accordance with last July’s agreement between the two countries.
Indian defence officials reckon that their soldiers should have the Northern province under some sort of control by the end of this month, and the Eastern province two months after that. Mr Jayewardene agreed in Delhi that India could beef up its peacekeeping force, which now numbers 42,000 men. He hopes to hold the elections by June.
Public opinion in both countries is getting increasingly fed up with how long it is taking to end the civil war. Sinhalese who oppose concessions to the Tamils claim that India is trying to partition the island. India is upset at the number of its soldiers killed, now nearly 700.
The Delhi talks cleared up the worst of Sri Lanka’s misgivings. Mr Lalith Athulathmudali, who as Sri Lanka’s minister for internal security has always worried about India’s troops on the island, told your correspondent that he no longer doubted India’s readiness to withdraw its troops once the agreement was working. The most serious difference between the two countries is over the plan for a referendum in the Eastern province to decide whether it wants to be linked with the solidly Tamil north.
The referendum is due to be held within a year after the provincial elections, though Mr Jayewardene can postpone it. The Indians would prefer no referendum at all. They know that, after Tiger attacks on Sinhalese and Muslims in the Eastern province, the east is unlikely to vote to join with the north. India fears that if the two provinces are not united the whole agreement may become unacceptable to most Tamils. At the Delhi talks both sides avoided any mention of the referendum. One problem at a time is more than enough.
Hello, Goodbye – A Brisk Visit to New Delhi [Susan Tifft; Time, Feb. 8, 1988, p. 13]
By past standards, the official welcome was low key. As soon as his plane touched down last week at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene was driven to the pink-and-beige Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House), where Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and about 50 government and diplomatic officials awaited his arrival. A 21-gun salute was fired, but there were no formal speeches. Jayewardene shook hands with his hosts and walked briskly toward his private suite to begin a five-day stay.
Indian officials said the truncated reception reflected recent changes in protocol, but the business-like tone seemed fitting for Jayewardene’s arrival. The Sri Lankan leader had several potentially disagreeable issues to take up with Gandhi. Chief among them was the slow progress made by Indian troops against the island republic’s separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The continuing bloodshed and increasing military commitment have put pressure on Jayewardene to push for a withdrawal of Indian troops, some of which have been in Sri Lanka since the two countries signed an accord last July 29 aimed at ending the insurgency. Also high on the President’s list was a proposed Indian-Sri Lankan friendship treaty that would, in Colombo’s view, redress some of the inequities in the peace pact.
After two rounds of talks with Gandhi, Jayewardene flew home last weekend with mixed results. On one hand, the leaders agreed to work out ways that would allow some 800,000 refugees of the conflict to return home. On the other, Gandhi gave Jayewardene no assurances that India would pull out its troops anytime soon.
Far from planning to withdraw, the Indian military in recent weeks has moved an additional division into eastern Sri Lanka. That brings Indian strength on the island to over 40,000 combat troops – more than ten times the number initially dispatched last summer. The buildup bolsters New Delhi’s hopes that the Tigers, masters of disruptive hit-and-run tactics who are now concentrated in the Tamil-dominated east, can be subdued long enough to permit the provincial council elections that are mandated by the peace agreement. Last week Jayewardene announced that as a result of his talks with Gandhi, he would call for council elections beginning in March or April.
But that only fanned tensions on the island, where the Sinhalese majority opposes another feature of the accord, a provision that the country’s two Tamil-dominated provinces must be merged before elections can be held. On yet another sensitive voting issue – when general elections for Sri Lanka’s 196-seat parliament might occur – Jayewardene remained mute. The President has postponed national balloting since 1983 because of the Tamil insurgency. Now, despite mounting pressure from Colombo, he has refused to advance the prospective election date of September 1989.
Jayewardene also failed to make much progress in New Delhi on the proposed friendship treaty. Among other things, India wants assurances that Sri Lankan will not offer its ports to any third country for military use. That condition is aimed primarily at embargoing Pakistani, Israeli or US forces. Sri Lanka made such a promise in connection with the July 29 accord, but Jayewardene left the pledge out of the proposed friendship treaty. The omission led India to suspect that the President wanted to dilute other commitments made in the original pact. As a result, the treaty debate promises to be prolonged.
More trouble awaited Jayewardene upon his return. While he was meeting with Gandhi in New Delhi, the Tigers launched a surprise attack on an Indian patrol in the eastern city of Batticaloa, a raid that left eleven dead. The killings brought fatalities in the almost five year-old civil war to roughly 8,000, most of them civilians. [Reported by Qadri Ismail/Colombo, and K.K. Sharma/New Delhi]
Treaty in the Making [Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb. 11, 1988, p. 29]
Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene ended a state visit to India on 30 January describing his tour as ‘very successful’. Largely due to the negotiations during the trip, New Delhi will further bolster the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. The aim is to break the back of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has regrouped in the Eastern Province since suffering heavily at the hands of the IPKF in the Northern Province.
Indian commanders expect to mop up the remaining LTTE resistance in the north within a month and bring the east under control by the end of April, which could pave the way for provincial council elections by June. Back in Colombo, Jayewardene faces formidable problems, including Sinhalese terrorism in the south and dissension within his United National Party (UNP.
Jayewardene, whose tenure as president ends early next year, took along to New Delhi two key ministers, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali who, with Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, are the front runners for the UNP ticket at next year’s presidential election. Dissanayake, who played a key role in negotiating the July Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord, is a particular favourite of the Indian Government.
Athulathmudali, on the other hand, has been lukewarm about the accord, cautiously treading a tightrope in seeking to retain his popularity among the Sri Lankan armed forces and majority Sinhalese, while at the same time not appearing to rebel against government policy. As deputy defence minister, he as well as Gen. Cyril Ranatunge – the joint operations commander who was also on the delegation – had an important role to play in discussions with the Indian defence establishment.
Analysts in Colombo have noted that while there appeared to be complete trust between Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Sri Lankan and Indian bureaucracies are suspicious of each other. One of the main objectives of the Jayewardene visit was to ensure that bureaucrats did not undermine the relationship between the two leaders. The Colombo delegation was keen on impressing on the Indian prime minister that Jayewardene had a greater stake than Gandhi in the success of the peace accord.
The accord itself has not been working as it should. The Indians underestimated the strength of the Tamil Tigers and the process of disarming them has been a costly exercise for the IPKF, resulting in more than 350 soldiers killed and more than 1,000 wounded. Civilian casualties in the Indian operations and the hostility of the Sri Lankan Tamils, who had once regarded Indian troops as protectors, have added to New Delhi’s problems.
Jayewardene has to contend with growing domestic fear that Indian troops intend to remain much longer than they should and that the peacekeeping force will eventually become an army of occupation. He knows very well that the Indian presence will be a key issue at the elections and would very much like the IPKF to complete its task and pull out before the parliamentary and presidential elections expected within the next 12 months. During his stay in New Delhi, Gandhi told Sri Lankan national TV that it was up to Jayewardene alone to decide when Indian troops should pull out. This, from the point of view of the Colombo government, was a most positive statement and has been widely publicised in Sri Lanka.
Colombo was anxious to sign with New Delhi a treaty of friendship and cooperation modelled on the Indo-Soviet treaty, which would include reciprocal obligations. The intention, from Jayewardene’s point of view, was to get rid of what many Sri Lankans perceive to be inequities in the July accord. Although the Indian External Affairs Ministry has been cool on the idea of a treaty, Gandhi himself has said that he had no reservations about signing such an agreement with Sri Lanka.
At the conclusion of the visit, Jayewardene told reporters that the draft submitted by Colombo will be discussed at length during the coming months and the next round of treaty talks would be held before the June elections for the Sri Lankan provincial councils. Having the treaty signed before parliamentary elections, which most observers believe would precede the presidential election, would be a useful campaign plank for Jayewardene.
At home the president has rapped Premadasa – whose recent public speeches have not been entirely to Jayewardene’s liking – by dropping two strong Premadasa supporters from the UNP working committee. He also obtained finance minister Ronnie de Mel’s resignation for what he regarded as a lack of ‘loyalty’ to a five year-old cabinet decision to hold a referendum in December 1982 to extend the term of the incumbent parliament. de Mel said in parliament in December that he had been opposed to the referendum to which he attributed many of the country’s present problems. Despite the fact that replacing de Mel, a gifted technocrat, was a major problem, Jayewardene clearly felt that cabinet and party discipline was more important.
Obviously, the president intends to show the country that he will be calling the shots in the remaining months of his tenure. He has reiterated that it is his constitutional prerogative to decide when to hold a parliamentary election and, despite pressure from the opposition as well as a public demand by de Mel, he has chosen not to reveal his hand on election timing.
Before leaving New Delhi he told the press that the presidential election will be held by the end of this year or early January 1989. When to hold a parliamentary election, he said, is ‘my decision’ and he had not made up his mind on whether to schedule it before or after the presidential election, he said. But most observers agree that Jayewardene will hold the parliamentary polls while he is still in office so that he can appoint the next cabinet. Jayewardene, who will turn 82 in September, has declared that he will not seek another term, but he has not indicated which of the UNP aspirants he will support as his successor.
A Fractious Inheritance: Gandhi strives to hold his country together [William E. Smith; Time, Feb. 15, 1988, pp.38-39.]
‘The state is in tears and is bloodstained.’ – S.S. Ray, the governor of Punjab.
That cry, from a turbulent corner of his immense country, has painful resonance for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Though he is the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru and the son of Indira Gandhi, he never expected to succeed them as India’s leader; seeking his own career, he became a commercial-airline pilot. Only after his brother Sanjay was killed in an airplane crash in 1980 and his mother was assassinated by Sikh extremists in 1984 did Rajiv bow to the widespread feeling that a majority of his countrymen preferred to be ruled by a member of the House of Nehru. Suppressing his previous reluctance, he became India’s seventh prime minister within hours of his mother’s death.
He has since had ample opportunity to ponder that decision. During the past year, India’s problems, as vast and varied as its population of 800 million, have proliferated, raising questions about the country’s future course. One of the most pressing issues, in fact, is population growth; India is expected to have 1 billion people by the year 2000, and thereafter may challenge China as the most populous nation on earth. At the moment, India is laboring under a devastating drought, the worst in this century, a condition that is giving a more desperate edge to political passions.
Though Gandhi was extremely popular when he took office, he is widely perceived today as indecisive, inconsistent in his economic policies and seemingly permissive toward corruption in high places. On the international front, he took a strong stand last July in backing the Sri Lankan government against Tamil guerrillas, who want to establish an independent homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island nation. But by sending 40,000 troops to Sri Lanka to try to keep the peace, India has become embroiled in a savage dispute that has cost more than 360 Indian lives at the hands of Tamil insurgents. The conflict is not likely to be resolved soon.
Most of Gandhi’s problems, however, flow from long-standing separatist and regional disputes within India itself. He did not create them, but some are showing definite signs of growing worse. For the past several months, regional politics have been kept at a steady boil, impelling Gandhi to intervene in crisis after crisis and adding to concern about his ability to govern wisely.
Typical is the situation in the Darjeeling district of the state of West Bengal, where Gurkha militants of Nepalese descent are fighting a guerrilla crusade to create a separate state they would call Gurkhaland. So far, 123 people have been killed. In the northeastern state of Tripura, tribal people are conducting a fierce campaign against Bengali-speaking migrants from neighboring Bangladesh: 105 Bengalis were killed in raids in January alone.
In the fertile northwestern state of Punjab, a five-year insurgency by Sinkh militants, who are pressing for independence from New Delhi and the creation of a country to be called Khalistan, is showing renewed strength. And in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, home of 50 million ethnic Tamils, Gandhi has managed to resolve a vexing political battle, but only by dismissing the state government and placing Tamil Nadu under ‘President’s rule’ from New Delhi.
If there was any good news for the Prime Minister last week, it came from Tripura. In an unprecedented show of force, 25 battalions of national and local security forces kept the peace long enough for state legislative elections to be held. The result was a narrow victory for Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party, in league with its local ally, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti. The coalition narrowly ousted the Marxist-led Left Front, which had run Tripura for the past ten years. The final count: 31 seats for Congress (I) and the TUJS, 28 for the Marxist front. Despite a spate of scattered attacks by the terrorist Tribal National Volunteers, in which more than 100 people died, 80% of the eligible voters turned out at the polls.
In Punjab at least 200 people have been killed by terrorists in the past six weeks. Sikh militants are again in control of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhdom’s most sacred shrine, which Indian army troops stormed in June 1984, thereby inflaming Sikh passions even more – and setting the stage for Indira Gandhi’s assassination five months later.
When the Prime Minister signed a political accord with Sikh moderates in 1985, the agreement was hailed as one of the key achievements of his first year in office. But the terms of the document were never carried out because they were unacceptable to either Punjab or the neighboring state of Haryana. The most prominent item of contention concerns the control of the Le Corbusier-designed city of Chandigarh, which for 22 years has served as the state capital for both Punjab and Haryana. Under the 1985 accord the city was to be ceded to Punjab. But this arrangement was unacceptable to Haryana, and Gandhi has shown no inclination to impose his will.
After declaring President’s rule in Punjab, the government concentrated on defeating Sikh’s terrorists by police action. For a while, it appeared that the strategy was succeeding. Last month’s killings, however, demonstrated that Sikh terrorists could still strike at will. Gandhi hinted two weeks ago that he would consider holding all-party talks in Punjab in an attempt to resolve the crisis, but there has been no sign of action so far. The Sikh factions, in the meantime, are busy squabbling among themselves. President’s rule in Punjab is due to end in May. It has already been renewed for a second six-month term, and can be extended again only by amending the Indian constitution.
In Tamil Nadu, a political farce that led to fistfights on the floor of the state legislature was resolved last week, at least temporarily, by the same resort to direct rule. The rumpus followed the death in December of the state’s popular chief minister, M.G. Ramachandran, a former screen idol. ‘MGR’, as he was widely known, had strengthened Gandhi’s position in the state by backing New Delhi’s policy on Sri Lanka.
After MGR’s death, a power struggle broke out in his party. Rival groups were led by his widow Janaki, 64, and Jayalalitha Jayaram, 39, a close political associate of Ramachandran’s and a onetime actress who had played the leading lady in some 20 of his movies.
Janaki won the first round and was named chief minister, but her victory was short-lived. Challenged to prove her majority in the Tamil Nadu legislature, she discovered to her astonishment that Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party, her husband’s longtime ally, had deserted her. Gandhi accused her party of trying to buy the support of Congress (I) legislators, to which Janaki replied, ‘I was under the impression that Congress would support my government, so why should I try to lure Congress members by illegal methods?’
Two weeks ago, after Janaki had called for a vote of confidence, trouble erupted in the legislature, owing in part to strong-arm tactics employed by the pro-Janaki speaker of the assembly, Paul Hector Pandian. Members threw paperweights, slippers and microphones at one another; opposition groups eventually held a separate meeting and elected their own speaker. Later the same day, Pandian and his newly chosen rival, P. Sivaraman, literally wrestled for control of the speaker’s chair. Tables, chairs and lawbooks went flying. The fighting ended only when Pandian called in armed police to disperse opposition members. Once his adversaries had been banished from the chamber, Pandian declared that the 234-member house supported Janaki by a vote of 99 to 8.
The chicanery gave Gandhi an excuse to intervene in a state where the Congress (I) Party had lost control more than 20 years earlier. Last week he dismissed the Janaki government and dissolved the Tamil Nadu legislature, paving the way for new elections within the next few months. Nobody was happier than Jayalalitha Jayaram, who gloated, ‘A thoroughly rotten and totalitarian government has been thrown into the dustbin of history.’ Former Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who lost out to MGR in 1977, accused Congress (I) of stabbing its partners in the back. Quoting a Tamil proverb, he declared, ‘A frog that seeks shelter under the hood of a cobra has to suffer the consequences.’
Surveying India’s fractious political landscape last week, Rajiv Gandhi could take comfort from the fact that he has held the country together in difficult times. Yet there is a growing sense that the idea of Indian nationhood is under unremitting pressure from many quarters. Says Arif Mohammed Khan, a former member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet: ‘Communal forces are making all kinds of demands of him because they know he can be pressured. People have realized that the country is being run by a pilot, and he can be easily hijacked.’ Gandhi still draws strength, however, from the fact that he remains the leader of the House of Nehru – and no one can yet see an alternative to his continued rule.
Sri Lanka’s War Gets Bigger [Anonymous; Asiaweek, Feb. 19, 1988, pp. 18-22.]
Leaning on her brother’s arm, Vasanthi Sivapathan hobbled into Welikada police station near Colombo. The 38 year-old Tamil woman had come to file a complaint. Police officers listened sympathetically to the sobbing woman recount how her 76 year-old mother and three teenaged children were gunned down in cold blood last November by an Indian jawan (soldier) outside their home in Uduvil, a tiny village 10 km from Jaffna city in Sri Lanka’s north.
Sivapathan said her family and a few neighbours were being led towards a group of Indian Army soldiers when one jawan suddenly opened fire. After the shooting the soldiers simply disappeared, leaving the dead and dying bleeding on the ground. Sivapathan alone among her family survived the murderous barrage, although she caught a bullet in the back. She was later flown south to Sri Jayawardanapura Hospital near Welikada after her brother, a former officer in the Sri Lankan Air Force, pulled some strings.
Shocking though it was, Sivapathan’s statement did not prompt a flurry of investigations when it reached the four-storeyed police headquarters in Colombo. The lawmen have apparently received similar complaints about other alleged atrocities perpetrated by Indian soldiers, who are keeping peace in Sri Lanka’s troubled north and east. ‘The stacks,’ says a police officer in Colombo, ‘are growing alarmingly.’ Indian Army officials in New Delhi, however, vigorously deny that assertion.
Says one: ‘Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene has himself said there have been [only] a few instances where complaints have been received from the public and they have been investigated.’
Nevertheless, India’s peacekeepers are drawing heavy flak both in Sri Lanka and at home. Last July, New Delhi and Colombo signed a pact aimed at ending five years of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. The deployment of Indian troops in the island’s Northern Province in accord with that agreement has angered many Sri Lankans, who accuse New Delhi of harbouring territorial ambitions against its tiny neighbour.
As Indian soldiers begin to die in growing numbers in skirmishes with Tamil separatists, moreover, cries of outrage are being heard across the Palk Strait as well. ‘We thought it would be a danda (stick) fight’, says a soldier convalescing in an Indian military hospital. ‘It was only when our men began to die that we realised this is a battle.’
Worrisome, too, for India is the cost of its military involvement in Sri Lanka, estimated at $1.8 million daily. The country’s defence outlay went up in a year of extreme shortages as New Delhi found itself raising prices for edible oil, coal, gasoline and steel to meet administrative expenditure. Analysts expect defence costs to increase further when India flies more troops into Sri Lanka this week, raising the total strength of its peacekeeping force to 72,000 soldiers.
Indian diplomats are gambling that a strong Indian presence in the north and east will give Sri Lankans enough confidence to vote in provincial council elections that Jayewardene insists will be held by April. Tamil sources in Colombo maintain, however, that the predominantly Tamil population in the north wants the jawans out first because they fear the Indians might help Colombo rig the polls. The elections are crucial to fulfilling a major clause in the peace accord which promised limited autonomy to the Tamil minority through a merger of the island’s Eastern and Northern provinces. The Sri Lankan Parliament last November passed a controversial bill creating provincial assemblies with wide local governing powers.
Decisions on the additional troops and the provincial council polls were reportedly taken during talks late last month in New Delhi between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene. Indian officials feared that, if polls were not held soon, the situation would worsen and abort any chance of an Indian pull-out by a ‘hoped-for’ July deadline.
Despite opposition from Tamil and Sinhalese hardliners, there are positive signs. “Some Tamil groups have asked to be considered as political parties,’ a senior Indian government official told Asiaweek. Some diplomats maintain New Delhi is pressuring Jayewardene to hold polls first in Sinhalese areas, especially in Eastern Province. But under the Proportional Representation system of elections followed in Sri Lanka, both the Northern and Eastern provinces must go to the polls at the same time. Technically, therefore, separate balloting is not possible for select areas within a province.
The ‘foreign hand’ bogey, which the Indian government often trots out to explain many of its political problems, has apparently found an attentive ear in the Indian Army. As one senior officer sees it, Western intelligence agencies have ‘a major interest’ in keeping the situation in Sri Lanka as unstable as possible. Claims he: ‘We have noticed a clear distinction in the official line of the US State Department and its Central Intelligence Agency, which has tried to influence certain sections of the militants.’
While four smaller Tamil rebel groups accepted the peace pact, the powerful Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has continued to fight the Indians. Now virtually outflanked in Northern Province, the Tigers have shifted their struggle to multi-racial Eastern Province.
For the past three weeks, the Tigers have intimidated the local population into participating in a civil disobedience movement. Any resistance has been brutally snuffed out: a senior civil servant in northwestern Mannar district, for example, was shot dead when he refused to close his office. On Feb. 4, Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, Tigers went from house to house in eastern Batticaloa district, warning people to boycott official celebrations.
Naturally, both New Delhi and Colombo are keen that the Tigers are neutralised by April so that provincial council elections can be held peacefully. Towards that end, the Indian Army is ‘saturating’ the east with additional troops, a strategy that paid off in northern Jaffna. ‘The fight will go on until [the Tigers] cooperate or are beaten,’ Jayewardene said on a BBC phone-in program last week. ‘I don’t think they can continue their opposition after April.’
For the first time since the signing of the pact last July, Sri Lankan soldiers will patrol certain sectors in the east. ‘Certain provisions in the accord that kept our forces in the barracks have been changed,’ says National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. ‘We are now taking over some sectors and helping to patrol others.’
This time, however, Asia’s best-equipped army is not making the mistake of underestimating the Tigers. The peacekeepers remember well the initial stages of ‘Operation Pawan’, launched Oct. 9 to wrest Jaffna peninsula from the rebels. In a hastily conceived plan, based on incorrect ground intelligence on enemy capabilities, five Indian brigades pressed towards Jaffna town, a Tiger stronghold.
The outcome was disastrous for the Indians. Powerful Tiger landmines ripped through lumbering Soviet-made T-76 battle tanks; many Indian soldiers also died by sniper fire. In one telling incident, a platoon of elite Sikh commandos was virtually wiped out while attempting to storm a Tiger base.
Ordered to exercise maximum restraint, the army took heavy casualties. Lt.-Gen. Depinder Singh, outgoing commander of the Indian forces in Sri Lanka, called it ‘fighting with one-and-a-half hands tied behind our backs.’ The Tigers, moreover, often used civilians as human shields.
According to an Indian major, R.C.S. Negi, the guerillas’ favourite tactic was to surround a group of soldiers with wailing men, women and children. At a given call, the civilians would drop flat on the ground and the militants would mow down the standing Indians. The army’s casualty rate was slashed when the Indian Foreign Ministry finally pulled out all the stops, tacitly acknowledging that civilian deaths would have to be tolerated.
Even so, the Indian Army has lost some 400 soldiers in four months, a figure that Sri Lankan Lands Minister Gamini Dissanayake says is ‘more than the number of Sri Lankan Army casualties in four years.’ The ongoing offensive is also the Indian Army’s longest one to date. Curiously, these precise factors seem to have changed hardline perceptions of India’s intentions in Sri Lanka. Notes Athulathmudali, a vocal critic of the peace accord in the past: ‘As far as Indian politicians are concerned, they want to get out [of Sri Lanka] as quickly as they can. I believe them because [the Indians] are losing so many people [here].’
The death last December of Maruthur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, the charismatic chief minister of India’s Tamil Nadu State, may also have convinced New Delhi about the wisdom of a speedy pull-out from Sri Lanka. MGR had been the Tigers’ godfather, supplying them with refuge and military training in Tamil Nadu. But the militants soon grew out of control, acutely embarrassing their sponsor. Gandhi finally persuaded MGR to cage the Tigers.
After the signing of the India-Sri Lanka peace pact, the chief minister began distancing himself from the militants. As Dissanayake sees it, the Sri Lankan issue will take priority in the upcoming state hustings, particularly after the split in MGR’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party. He reckons that Gandhi’s Congress (I) grouping, which will also contest state polls, will now want to minimise its involvement in Sri Lanka’s Tamil problem to avoid confrontation with Tamils back home.
Why did New Delhi take on Colombo’s war against the Tamil militants in the first place? ‘To maintain law and order,’ asserts Indian defence analyst Sridhar Rao. He believes that intelligence reports of 150 Pakistani commandos landing in Sri Lanka last May helped make up New Delhi’s mind. Other defence strategists say events on the island forced such a decision. If a military coup against Jayewardene had materialised as rumoured, foreign powers would almost certainly have stepped in, they reckon. An Indian intervention at that point would have been internationally damaging. Therefore, New Delhi settled for the less controversial role of a peacekeeping force, at Jayewardene’s request.
Partly to beat off his own critics, the Sri Lankan president has firmly maintained that the presence of Indian troops in his country cannot be compared with those of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan and Cambodia. ‘I don’t think the Indians would have come on their own accord,’ he said on the BBC program. ‘But they could have helped the terrorists…which is worse. So I invited them.’
The gamble may yet pay off. The interests of India and Sri Lanka appear identical: both want a political solution in the troubled Northern and Eastern provinces, and an early withdrawal of Indian troops on the island. The stakes are high for Jayewardene. If the provincial council polls go smoothly, his government will have realised the political aspirations of the Tamil minority. Peaceful elections, moreover, will also pave the way for presidential polls due by year’s end, to be followed by general parliamentary elections by mid-1989. But should Indian troops fail to establish the peace necessary for the first bout of balloting, Jayewardene may not be able to withstand demands for the ouster of his decade-old United National Party government. And for the Indians, it will mean a long, unpleasant stay on foreign soil.
On the Move: More troops for Sri Lanka [William E. Smith; Time, Feb.29, 1988, p.16.]
In the eastern Sri Lankan town of Batticaloa, the Indian army was on the move last week. After sealing off the area, troops of the Indian peacekeeping force rounded up 1,000 young Sri Lankan males who might – or might not – be guerrilla members of the Tamil Tigers, the island’s main separatist movement, and herded them into the town’s Weber Stadium. There the Indians relied on hooded informants from rival guerrilla groups to tell them which suspects might be Tigers. If one of the informants nodded as a detainee was led past, the suspect was placed in a special group. The three-day effort netted only about a dozen hard-core Tigers, but one of them was a prize catch for the Indians: he was the leader of the movement’s political wing in Batticaloa.
The operation was part of a stepped-up effort by Indian forces to bring the Tigers, who are relatively quiet at the moment, under control. When Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene, 81, visited New Delhi late last month, he agreed with his host, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, 43, that provincial elections should be held in Sri Lanka this spring. Gandhi regards the balloting as a necessary step toward restoring more normal conditions in Sri Lanka, thereby hastening the eventual withdrawal of Indian forces. In the meantime, to prevent the Tigers from disrupting the election process, Gandhi agreed to increase the Indian presence in Sri Lanka to around 60,000 troops.
On the domestic front, Gandhi was also on the offensive last week. For months he had delayed a Cabinet shuffle because of political troubles, including charges of corruption brought by the opposition against him and a number of his friends. His ruling Congress (I) Party has lost considerable support in the Hindi-speaking heartland of northern India and repairs must be made before the next parliamentary elections, which are due to be held by January 1990.
Last week Gandhi accepted the resignations of the chief ministers of two northern states, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, bringing to three the number of chief ministers who have stepped down in the past month. Then the Prime Minister reshuffled his government, firing two ministers and increasing the size of the council of ministers, a sort of extended Cabinet, from 49 members to 60. While some observers assumed that the changes might signal early elections, Gandhi denied that he had any such plans. Said he: ‘I don’t see elections on the horizon.’
Part of New Delhi’s strategy is to contain the military involvement in Sri Lanka, which some have called India’s Viet Nam. That would ease Gandhi’s problems but would not necessarily solve those of Jayewardene, who is finding his country increasingly ungovernable. Every step Jayewardene takes toward peace with Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority sharpens his conflict with radicals among his own Sinhala majority, particularly the extremist Sinhala Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna movement. TVP militants failed to assassinate Jayewardene last August during a daring grenade attack in Parliament, but have since killed more than 70 members of the President’s ruling United National Party.
Last week the JVP struck again. Vijaya Kumaranatunga, a leading advocate of the government’s peace plan – and a well-known movie actor – was shot to death as he left his home in Colombo on his way to lunch with a US diplomat. The assassins fled on a motorcycle. A few hours later, two grenades were hurled into a Hindu temple in Colombo, killing six worshipers. There too the attackers vanished.
Assassinations: A Bloody Vendetta [Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar.4, 1988, p. 16]
As an estimated half-million mourners watched the cremation of the politician in Colombo’s Independence Square, a group of supporters saluted the widow, their new leader. It was reminiscent of a scene in 1959 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party from her assassinated husband, Solomon. Last week the widow was the Bandaranaike’s daughter, Chandrika. The victim: actor-turned-politician Vijaya Kumaratunga, 42, shot down Feb.16 outside his luxury house in a Colombo suburb by two young men on a motorcycle.
Suspicion immediately fell on the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Sinhalese chauvinist group that has vowed to kill all rivals who back last July’s accord with India to resolve the Tamil separatist war. The group claims the pact is a ‘sellout’ to India. Since its signing the JVP has assassinated a police superintendent and Harsha Abeywardene, chairman of the ruling United National Party.
Kumaratunga was leader of the opposition Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (People’s Party). He also headed the four-party United Socialist Alliance, which backs the accord and had been set to name him as its candidate in presidential elections due next January. It was the other coalition leaders who pledged their allegiance to Kumaratunga’s widow at his Feb. 21 funeral. He had been cultivating links with the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, a former Tamil militant group recently recognised as a political party. After his death the EPRLF joined the alliance, and plans to contest the forthcoming Provincial Council elections, a vital step in the accord’s implementation.
Tall, good-looking Kumaratunga broke into Sri Lankan films in 1970. Initially typecast as the clean-cut hero, he soon became a Sinhala screen haeartthrob, appeared in over 60 films and won the prestigious Sarasaviya Most Popular Actor award for the past six years. Hundreds of thousands of mourners formed a 5 km queue to pay their respects to the actor, whose mutilated face was covered. ‘We can’t see his face today but we have his films to remember him,’ wailed a young woman at his bier. ‘But without him, we have no future.’
Can India End Sri Lanka’s Conflict? [A.P. Venkateswaran and Jasjit Singh; Asiaweek, Mar.4, 1988; p. 62]
When New Delhi and Colombo signed their accord on Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict last July, the emphasis was on a political solution. Colombo promised to devolve power to Northern and Eastern provinces, home of most of the country’s Tamils. The Indian peacekeeping force (IPKF) arrived to police the pact, but the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rejected most of it. The war continued. More Indian troops have gone in and casualties have escalated. Now many Indians are questioning their country’s role.
Views of A.P. Venkateswaran [a former Indian foreign secretary]
Q: Should India have gone into Sri Lanka?
A: I think it was a mistake in the manner we did it, without careful evaluation and working out the full package of devolution of powers for autonomy to the Tamil provinces. It is also important that the Tamil leadership be associated with the accord. In today’s context, individuals cannot decide for people without their consent. Now we have the sorry spectacle of both Sinhalese and Tamils fiercely opposed to the accord.
Q: Was India’s military action against Tamils warranted?
A: The purpose of a peacekeeping force is not to take sides with one or other of the opposing groups but to separate them so as to avoid a conflict. However, today we have the IPKF waging a full-scale offensive against the very group which it was ostensibly sent to protect. It’s ironic that the casualties among the civilian population in the Northern and Eastern provinces have been higher as a result of this offensive than the announced casualties of either the IPKF or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Q: How else can insurgency be curbed?
A: Historically speaking, there is no instance of an insurgency being quelled by armed action of security forces except in the case of the communist insurgency in Malaysia. But the situation as well as the circumstances there were very different from what prevails in the Tamil areas.
Q: Should India halt the operations?
A: We have blotted our copybook badly both politically and militarily. It will take decades to remove the bitterness which has been created by our military action in the Tamil provinces. Let us hope that this bitterness will not spill over to Tamils in our own country. It is high time that the effort at armed suppression of those opposed to the accord ceased and political process be restored. All along we have been pronouncing on the futility of attempting a military solution to the problem and have consistently advocated a political solution. It will behove us to follow the advice we have been offering.
Q: What are the long-term implications of the Indian action in Sri Lanka?
A: We have sown the seeds of bitterness for decades even among the people of Tamil ethnic stock in Sri Lanka. Sooner or later the Indian forces will have to withdraw whether peace is restored or not…One can say definitely that when this happens, we will have left Sri Lanka in a worse mess than when we went in.
Views of Jasjit Singh [the director of India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses]
Q: Should India have agreed to go into Sri Lanka after last year’s accord?
A: The question should be viewed in the context of the state of affairs that existed in Sri Lanka in the summer of 1987. The conflict had reached a very high level of militarisation and the possibility of reaching any mutually acceptable political solution appeared far removed. At the same time, it was also clear that a degree of stalemate in the military situation in the Jaffna peninsula had been reached. The leadership in Colombo decided to search for a political solution and to ask India to actively join in the process. In the circumstances, India had little option except to face up to the realities and provide assistance in an attempt to demilitarise the conflict while working towards a mutally acceptable political solution in Sri Lanka by Sri Lankans.
Q: Was India’s military action warranted?
A: It does appear paradoxical that while our objective was to demilitarise the conflict, we had to resort to military action. In retrospect, it is possible to say that the accord should have carried additional safeguards. But as long as the LTTE, which had agreed to the accord, does not implement its part of the commitments, it is difficult to see how military action to disarm them can be discontinued.
Q: Can the situation be controlled?
A: The IPKF certainly has the capability and the political direction to achieve its task at minimum cost. The key to resolving the problem therefore really lies in the political arena, where it should be possible for the leadership of the various groups and parties to come to mutually acceptable and workable relationships.
Q: What results have India’s operations had?
A: The IPKF operation has brought back normalcy and a sense of security to the Jaffna peninsula. I have no doubt that the IPKF will be able to restore peace and security in Northern and Eastern provinces to enable the civil administration to function effectively and for people to conduct their daily lives with a degree of safety. Isolated acts of violence, however, may continue.
Q: When should India pull out?
A: Both a premature withdrawal or overstay could be harmful to the Sri Lankan polity as well as Indian interests. It would be premature to leave the island now.