India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam
Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka 1985 /89,
Foreign Secretary in 1991/94 and
National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister of India 2004/05
received (India's) support ...as a response to
(Sri Lanka's).. concrete and expanded military and
intelligence cooperation with the United States, Israel
and Pakistan. ...The assessment was that these presences
would pose a strategic threat to India and they would
encourage fissiparous movements in the southern states
of India. .. a process which could have found
encouragement from Pakistan and the US, given India's
experience regarding their policies in relation to
Kashmir and the Punjab.... Inter-state relations are
not governed by the logic of morality. They were and
they remain an amoral phenomenon....."
1. On Indira Gandhi and India's Motivations in 1981-83
Excerpts from a Paper by J.N. Dixit
on Indian Involvement in Sri Lanka and the Indo Sri
Lanka Agreement: A Retrospective Evaluation in
Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka, International Alert
Publication, February 1998
"...It would be relevant to analyse India's
motivations and actions in the larger perspective of the
international and regional strategic environment, obtaining
between 1950 and 1981 President Reagan was in power and the
Soviet Union was going through the post Brezhnev
uncertainties preceding Gorbachev’s arrival on the scene.
Reagan was talking about "Evil Empires" and "Strategic
The Soviet Union under Chernenko and
Anndropov was equally confrontational. The conflict in
Afghanistan following the Soviet military intervention in
that country, was at the height of its intensity. Pakistan
was an ally of the United States and its main instrument in
containing the Soviet advance into Afghanistan. Zia-Ul-Haq
in Pakistan was taking full advantage of US interest in
utilising Pakistan as a frontier state to further US
strategic objectives in the Central Asian region.
The quid pro quo that Pakistan demanded was
political, material and military support to enhance
Pakistan's strategic capacities against India. Israel
continued to be the northern point of the "arc" of
containment which the US Government was creating on the
South Western flank with the Soviet Union, stretching, from
Turkey and Israel, via the Gulf, up to Pakistan. Sino-Indian
relations remained uneasy despite the restoration of full
diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1976.
There was a parallel in US and Chinese
interests in containing Soviet attempts at extending its
area of influence in Afghanistan. India was being perceived
as a supporter of Soviet movement into Afghanistan and was
therefore being targeted with political and economic
pressure to reduce Soviet - Indian strategic equations,
political and technological cooperation. China and Pakistan
were encouraging suspicions about India in Nepal and
Bangladesh as part of this exercise.
The rise of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka and
the Jayawardene government's serious apprehensions about
this development were utilised by the US and Pakistan to
create a politico-strategic pressure point against India, in
the island's strategically sensitive coast off the Peninsula
of India. Jayawardene who was apprehensive of support from
Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka Tamils was personally averse to Mrs.
Gandhi, and was of the view that she could not control the
Indian -Tamil support to Sri Lankan Tamils. He established
substantive defensive and intelligence contacts with US,
Pakistan and Israel. The Government of India was subject to
internal centrifugal pressures in Punjab and Kashmir and
portions of the north east during this time.
Tamil militancy received support both from
Tamil Nadu and from the Central Government not only as a
response to the Sri Lankan Government's military
assertiveness against Sri Lankan Tamils, but also as a
response to Jayawardene's concrete and expanded military and
intelligence cooperation with the United States, Israel and
The assessment was that these presences
would pose a strategic threat to India and they would
encourage fissiparous movements in the southern states
of India. Had not the (1983) anti-Tamil riots occurred, the
Jayawardene Government's plan was to steadily increase the
military capacity of the Sinhalese Government and to provide
the US, Pakistan and Israel with a continuing presence in
Sri Lanka in support of Sri Lanka's anti-Tamil policies.
One ripple effect of this would have been Tamil Nadu being
disenchanted with the Central Government of India, if the
latter remained detached and formalistically correct about
Sri Lankan developments which in turn could lead to some
sort of Tamil secessionist movement in India, a process
which could have found encouragement from Pakistan and the
US, given India's experience regarding their policies in
relation to Kashmir and the Punjab.
The 1983 riots precipitated matters.
Emotions were high in Tamil Nadu. Mrs. Gandhi had to respond
to the situation. There was the domestic political and
overall national security rationale which resulted in Mrs.
Gandhi sending the Minister for External Affairs, Narasimha
Rao and then her Chairman of Policy Planning, Mr. G.
Parthasarthy to Javawardene as special envoys, the objective
being to persuade Javawardene to reconsider his options on
the basis of ground realities and the logic of regional
geopolitics. The message was that India does not demand a
break-up of Sri Lanka, nor would India countenance Sri
Lanka's policies which posed strategic threats to India, and
also that India was quite willing to mediate between the Sri
Lankan Government and its Tamil citizens to evolve a
In normal terns of international law and principles of
neutrality was Mrs. Gandhi correct in giving political and
material support to Sri Lankan Tamils ? The answer is
obvious and has to be in the negative. Sri Lanka should have
been allowed to sort out its own problems. India should not
have interfered in any way and even if developments in Sri
Lanka endangered India's interests, India should have
tackled them without interference. Had Sri Lanka been
several hundred miles away from the coast of India this
approach could have been adopted. But Sri Lanka was only 18
miles away from Tamil Nadu. Inter-state relations are not
governed by the logic of morality. They were and they
Unilateral adherence to morality, if it affects your very
existence as a united country, may be admired as an
idealistic principle. But it is neither desirable nor
practical if another country deliberately indulges in
policies which are amoral and at the same time pose threat
to you. So practical corrective action has indeed to be
On General Walter's visits to Sri Lanka in 1983/84 [Excerpt
Colombo by J N Dixit]
(One of the factors which influenced Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi) was the visits of US General Vernon Walters to Colombo in October 1983
and then again in 1984. Walters was a senior figure in the US strategic and
intelligence establishment. Walters had followed up the first visit to Colombo
with a visit to India also. General Walters was perceived by the Indian
establishment as a confirmed Cold War warrior. He was known to be the
subterranean architect of many of the anti-Indian aspects of US policies on
matters of India's national security.
Walters gave detailed information to Mr Jayewardene about India
providing training and other logistical facilities to Sri Lankan Tamil
separatists in India. He also agreed to act as an intermediary between Sri Lanka
and Israel to ensure Israeli arm supplies and intelligence support to the island
nation. The quid pro quo suggested by Walters was that Sri Lanka should provide
strategic intelligence gathering facilities against India in the proposed Voice
of America broadcasting station to be established in that country. Walters also
agreed to facilitate the employment of British mercenaries and Pakistani
military officers to support and assist Sri Lankan security forces. India had
confirmed information about the discussions Walters had on Sri Lanka, both in
Colombo and in Washington. This certainly did not improve Mrs Gandhi's mood or
attitudes on the Sri Lankan situation.
During his second visit in 1984, General Walters told the then
Sri Lankan Minister for National Security, Mr Lalith Athulathmudali, that the
United States had satellite photographs of training camps for Tamil separatist
groups in India and that he had told his interlocutors in New Delhi that if
India kept on denying the existence of such camps and did not close them down,
the US would release these satellite photographs to the media to embarrass the
Government of India...
I must also mention that General Vernon Walters found both Mr
Parthasarthy and Mrs Gandhi's Principal Secretary Dr P.C. Alexander rather
"difficult and unsatisfactory", according to his assessment conveyed to Sri
One is not surprised because General Walters with his sense of
self-importance must have been reduced to a state of unpleasant shock that some
odd Indian natives should see through his motivations, and could tell him that
India mould not be taken in by his sophistry and that we had assessed his
mission precisely for what it was in terms of the facts gathered on what he was
doing in Sri Lanka. I cannot help coming to the conclusion in the light of my
dealings with the Bangladesh war also, that Vernon Walters' was a pale imitation
of the role which Kissinger tried to play during the East Pakistan crisis 12 to
13 years earlier.
To sum up, General Walters' shuttle diplomacy only heightened
tensions and generated an adversarial relationship between India and Sri Lanka.
Perhaps that was the predetermined purpose of his activities at that point of
On Rajiv Gandhi's Actions in 1985 and the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement [Excerpt
Colombo by J N Dixit]
1985, Rajiv Gandhi decided to stop all training and
assistance to Sri Lankan Tamil groups
In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi decided to stop all training and
assistance to Sri Lankan Tamil groups to ensure the success
of the mediatory efforts he had initiated. An aircraft
carrying military equipment for Tamil militants in Madras
was intercepted. Another important step was the capture of
an equally large consignment of arms by Indian authorities
from a ship which had docked at the Madras port late in
1985. It was apparently meant for the Tamil militants in Sri
As Indian material assistance stopped, the Tamil
militants sought linkages further afield. Tamil expatriate
communities in different parts of the world provided funds
and also arranged the purchase of arms and equipment.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was the most
effective and successful amongst Tamil groups in expanding
these worldwide connections. We had information about the
LTTE having sent their cadres for training with Hamas and
other Palestinian militant groups in Libya, Lebanon and
Syria. To cap it all, the LTTE even sent its cadres for
training with Mossad in Israel, the details of which are
available in the book
By Way of Deception
by Victory Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, with the
description of a hilarious situation when Ostrovsky faced
the problem of preventing the LTTE cadres and Sri Lankan
security personnel from coming face to face in an Israeli
training camp where the opposing parties were being trained
By 1986, the LTTE had also acquired a couple of sea-going
ships with foreign registration, which brought in supplies
and equipment for them to Tamil Nadu or off the port of
Trincomalee, from where these were trans shipped on small
boats equipped with powerful outboard motors to various
point on the coast of north-western, northern and
north-eastern Sri Lanka. The LTTE's emergence as the most
dominant and effective politico-military force representing
Tamil interests was due to the following factors:
First, the character and
personality of its leader V Prabhakaran who is disciplined,
austere and passionately committed to the cause of Sri
Lankan Tamils's liberation. Whatever he may be criticised
for, it cannot be denied that the man has an inner fire and
dedication and he is endowed with natural military
abilities, both strategic and tactical. He has also proved
that he is a keen observer of the nature of competitive and
critical politics. He has proved his abilities in judging
political events and his adroitness in responding to them.
Secondly, he has created a highly disciplined, and
dedicated cadres, a manifestation of which is inherent in
what is called the 'cyanide cult.' Each regular member of
the LTTE carries a cyanide pill and is pledged to committing
suicide rather than being captured by the enemy.
The third factor is the
cult and creed of honesty in the disbursement and
utilisation of resources. Despite long years spent in
struggle, the LTTE cadres were known for their simple
living, lack of any tendency to exploit the people and their
The fourth factor has been the LTTE's ability to upgrade
its political and military capacities including
technological inputs despite the constraints imposed on it
by Sri Lankan forces and later by India.
The fifth factor is a totally amoral and deadly violent
approach in dealing with those the LTTE considers as
The sixth factor is
Prabhakaran's success in gathering around him senior
advisers with diverse political, administrative and
technological capacities, which contributed to effective
training of his cadres, optimum utilisation of the military
equipment which he had, and the structuring of an efficient
command and control system.
By the end of 1986, Prabhakaran was disillusioned with
his Indian connection. The pressure generated on the LTTE
after the Bangalore SAARC summit made him decide that he
must shift his base to Sri Lanka for a long struggle. His
judgment has been proved correct with the passage of time.
When he shifted to Jaffna by January 1987, the anti-Tamil
lobby in the Jayewardene government got a strong point to
argue against any compromises with the Tamil minority.
was explicitly told not to show the agreement to
Prabhakaran and give him only an outline of it"
I rang up the first secretary (political) at our mission
in Colombo, Hardeep Puri, to tell him to proceed to Jaffna
immediately and to inform Prabhakaran about the details of
Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and to get his response as well
as on his willingness to come to Delhi for an exchange of
Puri was explicitly told
not to show the agreement to Prabhakaran and give him only
an outline of it. Puri went to Jaffna the same day.
It had been decided to show the agreement to Prabhakaran in
the presence of a competent Tamil interpreter later.
Puri returned from Jaffna after holding discussions with
Prabhakaran on July 19 and 20. Puri confirmed that
Prabhakaran was generally agreeable to the proposed Accord
and that he had only two pre-conditions: (a) the Sri Lankan
forces should close down all the military camps set up in
the Vadamarachi region after May 25, 1987 and withdraw to
older camps/barracks; and (b) he would like to be taken to
Madras and Delhi in an Indian Air Force plane, implying
thereby New Delhi's recognition of the LTTE.
He also expressed a wish to call on M G Ramachandran and
Rajiv Gandhi. This information was conveyed immediately to
the Prime Minister, who confirmed that the demands would be
met. Rajiv Gandhi directed that Prabhakaran be airlifted
from Jaffna on July 22 and brought to Delhi.
In the meanwhile, First Secretary Puri had proceeded to
Jaffna to organise the airlift of Prabhakaran, four members
of the LTTE political committee, Prabhakaran's wife and
children, to Delhi via Madras. Prabhakaran and party were
airlifted by two helicopters of the Indian Air Force from
the grounds of the Suthumalia Aman Kovil Temple on July 24
to Trichy from where they were taken by special aircraft to
Madras. Prabhakaran called on the chief minister of Tamil
Nadu and proceeded to Delhi, leaving his wife and children
behind in Madras. His political adviser in Madras,
Balasingham, was also asked to go to Delhi.
I met the Prime Minister three hours after reaching
Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi approved of the draft agreement and
agreed to visit Colombo on July 29.
Detailed discussions were held with Prabhakaran by Indian
officials on July 25 and 26. At the first meeting organised
on July 24 at Ashoka Hotel, director of the Intelligence
Bureau, M K Narayanan, Joint Secretary Kuldip Sahdev, First
Secretary Puri and myself met Prabhakaran and his colleagues
and explained the details of the Agreement clause by clause.
Prabhakaran suddenly did a volte face and said he was
not in a position to endorse the agreement. He said
he was not aware that the Agreement was going to be signed
directly between the Governments of India and Sri Lanka.
His expectation was that he would get a chance to call on
the Prime Minister when he could submit the demands on the
lines on which the Agreement should be signed and that he
would be allowed to negotiate with Jayewardene and finalise
Prabhakaran also said he could not endorse any Agreement
which kept the merger of the northern and eastern provinces
temporary. He also said that no agreement should be signed
without all the military camps of Sri Lankan forces being
closed down in the northern and eastern provinces. The
meeting was inconclusive.
I told Prabhakaran
that this was the fourth time he was trying to embarrass the
Prime Minister of India. I recalled that he had done
Thimpu, again in August/ September 1985 and then again
in Bangalore. I told Prabhakaran that he was being shown the
final draft of the Agreement, which he should study before
taking a final decision. It was the assessment of Indian
officials that Prabhakaran had changed his mind after the
discussions held in Madras on his way to Delhi.
First Secretary Puri and Under Secretary in the Ministry
of External Affairs Nikhil Seth had a three-hour discussion
with Prabhakaran on July 25 when they explained the draft
Agreement to the LTTE delegation with the help of
Balasingham and our Tamil interpreter. Prabhakaran demanded
another meeting with MGR before his meeting with Rajiv
Rajiv Gandhi invited MGR and Food Minister S Ramachandran
to come to Delhi immediately to persuade Prabhakaran to
endorse the Agreement. MGR reached Delhi early on July 26,
by the PM's special aircraft.
Accompanied by Narayanan, Joint Secretary (PMO) Ronen Sen
and Kuldip Sahdev, I called on MGR and briefed him about
Prabhakaran's attitude. After a preliminary discussion with
Prabhakaran and the LTTE delegation, MGR summoned me for a
meeting with them in his presence at Tamil Nadu House.
I had a lengthy exchange with Prabhakaran on all the
details of the Agreement in the presence of MGR and S
Ramachandran. But Prabhakaran remind indecisive and demanded
that he be sent back to Jaffna. MGR told him to be patient
and stay back in Delhi for further discussions.
had no intention of signing an agreement that did not
have the endorsement of Tamil groups'
In the meantime, Rajiv Gandhi met MGR and representatives
of all the Opposition parties in Parliament in Delhi. The
proposed Agreement was explained in full and the endorsement
of the Tamil Nadu government, the Congress party in
Parliament and all the Opposition parties was obtained
personally by the Prime Minister. He held further
discussions with senior members of his Cabinet and MGR on
how to tackle Prabhakaran and the LTTE.
At his meeting with Prabhakaran on July 28, Rajiv Gandhi
persuaded him to go along with the Agreement even if he did
not formally endorse it.
Prime Minister agreed to Prabhakaran's return to Jaffna
after the Agreement had been signed so that Prabhakaran
ensured the implementation of the cease-fire and surrender
of arms. India also gave the necessary assurances of the
LTTE's future security, participation in Sri Lankan politics
and its major role in the proposed government of the
As far as the LTTE and Prabhakaran were concerned,
Hardeep Puri had conveyed categorical assurances from India
that Prabhakaran would have safe conduct, that he would be
airlifted from Jaffna by an Indian Air Force helicopter and
that he would be dropped back in Jaffna regardless of
whether or not he agreed with the proposals mooted for
finding a compromise on the ethnic problem. India acceded to
every request of his concerning his visit to Delhi between
July 23 and August 21. He was allowed to bring along his
senior advisers, his bodyguards and members of his family.
We arranged for his discussions with the chief minister of
Tamil Nadu before he reached Delhi.
Two other points of criticisms voiced by Prabhakaran in
later years -- that he was kept under coercive custody,
denied permission to communicate with anybody during his
stay in Delhi, and that he was afraid of his life itself --
had no basis in fact. The original plan was to put him up in
one of the government bungalows in the centre of New Delhi
with appropriate security. He was not satisfied with this
arrangement. He said he would like to stay in a sufficiently
public place than in an isolated bungalow. He was,
therefore, put up in one of the VIP suites of the Ashoka
Hotel. His advisers were lodged in the same hotel.
Expressing lack of confidence in the Delhi police, he
wanted more specialised personnel to provide him security.
This was provided at his specific request. His advisers were
present when the Tamil Nadu chief minister and Indian
officials met him in Delhi, during each of the meetings. He
was provided with telephone facilities to talk to his
friends and associates in Tamil Nadu. He was also provided
with STD and IDD facilities and he ran up a bill running
into thousands of rupees on telephone calls during his
nine-day stay in Delhi in July/August 1987.
The only restriction placed on him was one which the
Governments of India and Sri Lanka placed on themselves too.
The media was not allowed to be in touch with any party
negotiating the agreement for legitimate and obvious
reasons. Such a sensitive agreement could not be negotiated
with the dubious wisdom and commentary of the media
affecting its progress.
It must also be mentioned that the details of the
agreement had been discussed by Hardeep Puri with
Prabhakaran and his colleagues and some very senior LTTE
sympathisers before Prabhakaran was brought to Delhi for
discussions with Rajiv Gandhi. Apart from Prabhakaran,
Hardeep Puri had discussed the outline of the Agreement with
LTTE leaders Yogi, Thileepan, Constantine, Santhosan, and
Rahim. In the meetings Hardeep Puri held with Prabhakaran on
July 19 and 23, 1987, Prabhakaran's colleagues -- Mahatya,
Kumarappan, Johnnie, Thileepan, Yogi and Shankar -- were
The point in recalling all these details is to establish
that the LTTE complaint that Tamil groups were not fully
informed about the Agreement and that they were duped into
it is totally at variance with facts. India had no intention
of signing an agreement that did not have the endorsement of
Tamil groups. This approval was very much there, from the
TULF at the one end of the spectrum to the LTTE at the other
Rajiv Gandhi had come to the conclusion that neither the
Sri Lankan government nor the Tamil groups, especially the
LTTE, would reach any agreement and come to a durable
compromise unless India took a direct hand in the matter. He
had become sceptical about President J R Jayewardene's
intentions and was clearly disappointed at the obdurate
attitude of the LTTE and other Tamil groups.
My advice to him after the failure of our initiatives at
the Bangalore SAARC summit was that India's purely mediatory
efforts were not likely to succeed. I was of the view that
India had to shift its role from that of a mediator to a
peace-maker and the guarantor of such peace if the crisis in
Sri Lanka was to be resolved.
It was also my considered opinion that the LTTE's
insistence on the creation of a separate Tamil state in Sri
Lanka, based on ethnic, linguistic and religious
considerations, would have far-reaching negative
implications for India's unity and territorial integrity
too. The LTTE's clandestinely publicised objective of a
Greater Eelam would have its impact notably on India but the
rest of South-East Asian countries with Tamil populations.
I was convinced that the LTTE's objective of creating a
separate political entity, purely on the basis of language,
ethnicity and religion, would be a challenge to the plural
multi-dimensional democratic identity of India as well as
other similarly placed countries in the region.
Having seen the LTTE in operations, both in the political
and military fields, I also felt that, despite the
legitimacy of the Tamil aspirations articulated by it, the
LTTE was essentially an authoritarian organisation that
relied on violence to settle all differences of opinion.
An example of the mindset of LTTE leadership is provided
by a report about a journalist asking Prabhakaran some time
during 1986 as to who were his role models in politics and
military operations. First came Subhas Chandra Bose in all
the power and majesty of his position as the supreme
commander of the Indian National Army.
The other ideal Prabhakaran mentioned was the American
actor Clint Eastwood in his personification as the hero who
avenged injustice with ruthless violence. I cannot vouch for
the total authenticity of this story for the simple reason
that this was not said to me. But I am inclined to believe
in the veracity of such a response by Prabhakaran, given his
intense commitment to the Tamil cause and his personality as
a militant leader. My suggestions to Rajiv Gandhi were based
on these assessments.
A series of meetings amongst Indian officials were held
under the chairmanship of Minister of State Natwar Singh,
Foreign Secretary K P S Menon, and the Prime Minister
himself. There were in-depth discussions between July 19 and
21, about the possible ramifications of India and Sri Lanka
signing a bilateral agreement (without Tamil participation)
to resolve the ethnic crisis.
I distinctly remember Rajiv Gandhi raising the question
as to whether the LTTE would really abide by the agreement,
which India was bound to implement as a guarantor. Rajiv
Gandhi raised this question in the context of the doubts and
misgivings Prabhakaran had expressed when Hardeep Puri
provided details of the agreement to him on July 19.
Rajiv's question was primarily addressed to the then
secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing, S E Joshi, who
was cautious in his response. He said the LTTE was not a
very trustworthy organisation and the agreement in a manner
went against their high-flown demand for Eelam. Joshi was
about to retire. His successor Anand Verma's response was
that the LTTE owed much to India's support, that it was the
LTTE which conveyed the message to N Ram of The Hindu,
which initiated the whole process of discussions on the
Verma expressed the view that if the LTTE was guaranteed
an important role in the power structure in the Tamil areas
of Sri Lanka, and if the merger of the northern and eastern
provinces was somehow made permanent (whatever be the
interim political arrangements proposed) and if the LTTE
cadres were absorbed into the administrative set-up of the
new province, the LTTE would endorse the agreement,
especially as it was being guaranteed by India. The general
tenor of his advice was that "these are boys whom we know
and with whom we have been in touch and so they will listen
My colleagues Gopi Arora, IB Director Narayanan, Foreign
Secretary Menon and Joint Secretary Kuldip Sahdev had doubts
about the LTTE falling in line. I shared their worry to some
extent, which prompted me to raise two questions in one of
First, whether MGR and the Tamil Nadu leadership would
endorse the Agreement?
Secondly, if the LTTE created a situation, after the
Agreement was signed, which might compel us to exert
pressure on it to remain committed to the Agreement, would
we be able to do it successfully?
Rajiv Gandhi said he had been in touch with MGR and other
Tamil leaders, and that they were supportive of the
Agreement. On the second question, about the implications of
India having to confront the LTTE, Rajiv Gandhi asked the
then chief of the army staff General K Sundarji what his
The general's reply was that once the LTTE endorsed the
Agreement, they would not have the wherewithal to go back
and confront India or the Sri Lankan government. He went on
to say that if the LTTE decided to take on India and Sri
Lanka militarily, Indian armed forces would be able to
neutralise them militarily within two weeks. So, there need
not be any serious worry on this score.
While the TULF and Tamil militant groups other than the
LTTE endorsed the Agreement without any fundamental
reservations, the LTTE clung to its misgivings till the end.
Mainly because of three reasons. A political
compromise and the revival of the democratic process in the
Tamil areas of Sri Lanka would deprive the LTTE of its
dominant political and military role. Secondly, the
Agreement did not ensure the total withdrawal of the armed
forces from the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. Nor did it
specifically provide for the return of large number of
Tamils to areas around Vavunia in the northern and the upper
reaches of the Mahaveli Ganga river basin from where they
were evicted. Successive Sri Lankan governments had evicted
Tamil residents from these areas and settled Sinhalese in
these areas so that the Sinhalese could benefit from the
development projects and the new agricultural lands being
created as part of the Mahaveli River Basin Development
plans. Tamil resentment at being deprived of this land was
The LTTE wanted these grievances to be redressed.
Realistically speaking, there was no prospect of persuading
any Sri Lankan government to vacate these lands, after
having made them (the Sri Lankan government) concede the
merger of the northern and eastern provinces and declaring
merged provinces a Tamil homeland. Thirdly, the LTTE
wished to be recognised as the sole representative of all
Sri Lankan Tamils. They were not happy about New Delhi and
Colombo acknowledging other Sri Lankan Tamil groups as
partners in implementing the compromises envisaged in the
These were the concerns and anxieties with which
Prabhakaran arrived in Delhi on July 23. The discussions he
had with Indian officials, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu
and Rajiv Gandhi have already been related. Two additional
points of interest in terms of the assurances given to
Prabhakaran deserve to be mentioned.
First, both the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and Rajiv
Gandhi assured Prabhakaran that LTTE would be a major
constituent element in the interim government of the
proposed merged North-Eastern Provinces. Second, that the
Government of India would give the necessary financial
assistance to maintain the LTTE cadres before they got
absorbed into the administration of the new province.
Prabhakaran had pointed out to Rajiv Gandhi that since
1983, he was sustaining his cadres by imposing taxes on the
population of Jaffna and marginally in the Trincomalee and
Batticaloa districts whenever possible. He said since he was
going to surrender arms and as it would take time for his
cadres to be absorbed into the administration and police
forces, he would have to take care of his cadres. He
demanded about three to five crores of rupees (Rs 30
million to Rs 50 million) for this purpose for a period
of six to eight months.
I was not present at these discussions, but I was
informed about them by the concerned agencies. Prabhakaran
wanted this money to be distributed through his local
commanders on the basis of his estimates and suggestions.
Rajiv Gandhi agreed and these resources were channelled to
the LTTE as far as I know, through the concerned agencies of
the Government of India.
The various Tamil groups and the LTTE were
not fully satisfied with the Agreement. Prabhakaran told
Rajiv Gandhi in the initial stages of his discussions with
the latter that he did not know that India was going to sign
the Agreement. He thought that India would finalise the
draft and submit it to the Tamil groups, especially the
LTTE, which in turn would sign the Agreement with the Sri
Lankan government after appropriate negotiations.
India originally thought that Sri Lankan
Tamils should be signatories to such an agreement. Rajiv
Gandhi pointed out that this was his original message to Sri
Lanka and to the Tamil groups. He then pointed out that it
was the LTTE which stressed that the Agreement should be
signed between India and Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran had no
answer. He assumed an ambiguous stance.
Prabhakaran made a serious of demands for
an immediate follow-up, once the Agreement was signed. He
wanted Sri Lankan government forces of all categories to
pull back from the whole of the North and Eastern Provinces.
He wanted management of the law and order handed over
entirely and immediately to his cadres. He was not happy
about the tentative provision for holding a referendum on
the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces by the end
He wanted the merger to be declared
permanent and irrevocable. He not only wanted all Tamil
refugees in India as well as within Sri Lanka to be
resettled and rehabilitated, but the Sinhalese people in
north-central Sri Lanka, settled there since the mid-fifties
under the Mahaveli colonisation schemes, to be uprooted and
replaced by Tamils.
Even the moderate Tamil political party,
the TULF, in a communication to Rajiv Gandhi immediately
after the signing of the Agreement articulated somewhat
similar demands. Prabhakaran, while generally agreeing to
the surrender of arms, demanded that he and his senior
leaders should be allowed to retain their arms for personal
protection, a suggestion which was accepted by the Sri
Lankan and Indian authorities.
Prabhakaran was flown back to Jaffna as
promised by Rajiv Gandhi on August 2. He had already
indicated that a ceremonial surrender of arms would take
place on August 4 and 5. Rajiv Gandhi insisted that the
surrender of arms should not be described as 'surrender'. I
had messages suggesting that the whole exercise should be
described as: 'laying down of arms by LTTE in the larger
interests of the peace and well-being of the Sri Lankan
people,' a suggestion which was readily agreed to by
The most significant event in Jaffna
immediately after the signing of the Agreement and the
arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Force was a large public
meeting which Prabhakaran on August 4, on the grounds of the
Sudumalai Temple. His speech was militant and not fully
supportive of the Agreement. He said he had agreed to
generally endorse the Agreement only on the insistence of
the Government of India and because India had always been a
source of strength and support to the Tamils. The Agreement
did not fulfill all the Tamil aspirations.
While he had agreed to the contents of the
Agreement, he reserved his options for the future course of
action on the basis of his assessment of how the Agreement
was actually implemented. His endorsement of the Agreement
did not mean abandonment of the basic Tamil demand for Eelam
which he had been advocating over a period of time.
The tone and content of the speech was
totally contrary to the commitments he had given to M G
Ramachandran and Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi. The text of the
speech and its translation reached me late at night. I
immediately requested my Sri Lankan Tamil contacts in Jaffna
to find out what Prabhakaran's motivations and plans were in
the light of the speech he made. The response I got was that
he had generally endorsed the Agreement because he
considered good relations with the government and people of
India vital to the Tamil cause. He, however, had some
reservations which he had to articulate.
He said the second reason for the tone of
his speech was because he had to carry Sri Lankan Tamil
public opinion with him. He could not be seen abandoning his
entire set of demands including the establishment of Tamil
Eelam. That was why he hedged his commitments regarding the
Agreement. I was informed that the surrender of arms would
take place as scheduled and that he would remain in close
touch with the headquarters of the IPKF.
The arms surrender ceremony took place on
August 5 in Jaffna. Defence Secretary Cepalle Attygalle,
senior representatives of the Sri Lankan Red Cross, the
district officer in charge of Jaffna and General Harkirat
Singh of the IPKF represented Sri Lanka and India
respectively. Significantly, Prabhakaran did not come to the
ceremony to lay down arms. He sent the then political
advisor to his high command Yogi along with Mahatya and
Prabhakaran explained later that he did
not himself come for the ceremony because he was concerned
about his security. It was, however, obvious that his
absence at the ceremony was also a political gesture of
reservation and withdrawal, which both India and Sri Lanka
took note of.
Prabhakaran had met Lt General Depinder
Singh, GOC, Southern Command, before he returned to Jaffna.
Lt General Depinder Singh later revealed that Prabhakaran
told him (General Singh) that he did not trust
either the Indian Research and Analysis Wingh or the
ministry of external affairs. He hoped that the Indian Army
would stand by Tamils now that it was in Sri Lanka. I cannot
confirm the authenticity of this report, but this
conversation has been mentioned partly in General Singh's
memoirs and partly by some Sri Lankan authors who had
written about Indo-Sri Lanka relations during this period.
The surrender of
arms was only symbolic. It was a farce. Only a couple of
truckloads of old weapons were brought to the ceremony. The
weapons brought during the following days and weeks were
patently inadequate in number and quantity. I recall some
newspaper correspondents asking General Depinder Singh as to
what he would do if the LTTE did not surrender arms as
promised by them and as envisaged in the Agreement. Depinder
Singh's one line response was: "In that case we would go
after them and get the arms."
The statement was interpreted in the
Sinhalese press as a clear articulation of Indian policy
that India would function impartially to implement the
letter and spirit of the Agreement. Our Sri Lankan Tamil
contacts were not very happy about this statement of General
Depinder Singh. I told them that what General Singh had
stated was legally, politically and operationally correct
and that the implementation of the Agreement in all its
details was for the welfare of the Tamils, and that his
statement should not be misunderstood.
The Sri Lankan government desired some
preliminary discussions with representatives of Tamil groups
about the establishment of the interim provincial government
of the north-eastern province and various aspects of the law
and order situation. Prabhakaran desired these discussions
to be held in Jaffna. After some prodding, he sent a
delegation consisting of Yogi, Balasingham and some other
second rung leaders of LTTE to Colombo for these
discussions. They came and stayed at the residence of one of
the first secretaries of the Indian high commission in view
of the security concerns they had.
The discussions were, however, botched up
for two reasons. First, because of the undulatory approach
to discussion specific issues which the Sri Lankan
government representatives adopted. Secondly, the LTTE
representatives were not happy about the logistical
arrangements and the manner in which they were treated by
the concerned Indian official. It was agreed that the Sri
Lankan government would come up with specific suggestions
regarding the constitution of the interim governing council
and they should develop some powers straightway to the
proposed interim north-eastern government. They could then
start working on the constitutional amendments to implement
the devolution package.
The LTTE was in daily touch with the IPKF
headquarters in Jaffna. Prabhakaran was a frequent visitor
to the Headquarters Officers Mess. By the middle of
September, however, the LTTE decided to pull back from the
'limited co-operation' stance it had taken on the Indo-Sri
Lanka Agreement. Indian military personnel faced
demonstrations forcibly organised by the LTTE against the
Sri Lankan government and also against Indian policies.
Thileepan -- an idealistic and committed
LTTE leader -- commenced a fast unto death in one of the
main temples of Jaffna, taking the stand that the Indo-Sri
Lankan Agreement did not fulfill Tamil aspirations and that
India was not doing enough even to implement the provisions
of the Agreement. The situation was becoming critical just
about five weeks after the Agreement was signed.
At this stage, pressure was generated by
leaders of the civilian population in Jaffna on the high
commission to set up the interim council for the proposed
north-eastern province. There were messages from Delhi
directing me to urge Jayewardene to nominate an interim
governing council in consultation with various Tamil groups
as early as possible.
Prabhakaran was in the meanwhile refusing
to enter into any discussions about the constitution of the
interim governing council with local Sri Lankan government
representatives or with the Indian army authorities who were
now practically conducting the civilian administration of
After the token surrender of arms,
Prabhakaran remained entrenched with his closest advisers
and military cadres in the Jaffna university area and in
strategically selected points throughout the Jaffna
Prabhakaran was insistent that Jayewardene
should first devolve all the required powers immediately to
the interim governing council. He was not willing to wait
for the necessary constitutional amendments and procedural
requirements to be completed. In fact, he viewed the delays
with profound suspicion.
The LTTE's own intelligence sources must
also have given him fairly accurate information about (Prime
Minister) Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali trying to
sabotage the agreement, perhaps even preparing to resume
military operations against the LTTE either through the
instrumentality of Janatha Vimukti Perumana cadres or
through military and security personnel who could be
encouraged to rebel against Jayewardene's authority.
General Harkirat Singh was getting
increasingly perturbed by the civilian demonstrations
instigated against the IPKF by the LTTE and the agitated
political overtones that marked the discussions held by the
LTTE leadership in Jaffna with Indian army officers. He sent
messages to army headquarters seeking my presence in Jaffna
to bring the temperature down.
Having had some insight into the working
of Prabhakaran's mind as well as his reaction, I was totally
reluctant to have any discussions with him. Most of his
interactions with Indian representatives were through
personnel of our intelligence agencies over the years. I
told Delhi initially when they asked me to undertake these
discussions that Prabhakaran's old and established Indian
contacts should undertake this task. But General Harkirat
Singh viewed the matter differently. At one stage, he even
complained about the high commission being unwilling to take
on its political responsibilities.
The LTTE supremo wanted
to be acknowledged by Delhi as the sole representative
organisation of Sri Lankan Tamils
I kept receiving messages from Joint
Secretary Kuldip Sahdev that I must persuade Jayewardene to
devolve some substantive powers to the proposed interim
provincial council and that I should discuss the composition
of the interim governing council with Prabhakaran.
Ultimately, Delhi decided to give me a rap on the knuckles.
I received a call from Foreign Secretary K P S Menon
directing me to proceed to Jaffna immediately for
discussions to finalise the arrangements for the
establishment of the interim governing council.
These orders were followed by a telephone
call from Ronen Sen, joint secretary in the Prime Minister's
office, stating that it was a direct order from Rajiv
Gandhi, which did not leave any scope to indulge in
arguments or defer compliance with. These orders came to me
between September 10 and 17, 1987. I conveyed a message to
IPKF headquarters to the effect that I would reach Jaffna
for discussions with Prabhakaran on all those matters he was
The reply I got asked me to reach Jaffna
for discussions on September 21. I received another message
on September 19, stating that Prabhakaran himself would not
come for the meeting and that I should have discussions with
Balasingham, Yogi and Mahatya. I asked General Harkirat
Singh to convey to Prabhakaran that I would come for the
discussions only if Prabhakaran himself was present and that
his presence at the conference site in the IPKF camp should
be confirmed to me before I took off from Colombo for
Jaffna. After some dithering, Prabhakaran agreed to come
himself. These exchanges delayed the first meeting by two
days. I met Prabhakaran thrice in the second half of
I was given advance information by my
colleague Kuldip Sahdev that the agenda for the discussion
would be: First, listening to the concerns Prabhakaran had
been articulating after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka
Agreement. Secondly, to persuade him to withdraw public
agitations against the IPKF he had been engineering and to
put an end to the fast by Thileepan. Thirdly, to finalise
arrangements for the establishment of the interim governing
council. Fourthly, to indicate to him the powers which would
be devolved to this interim governing council by the Sri
Lankan government immediately. I was also to brief him
generally about what further action Colombo would take to
fulfill the provisions of the agreement for meeting Tamil
demands, including the time-frame within which these process
are likely to be completed.
I met Jayewardene on September 21 to find
out his views on the points I was to discuss with
Prabhakaran. Jayewardene authorised me to tell Prabhakaran
that he (Prabhakaran) would be appointed chairman of the
interim governing council and chief minister immediately and
that he could continue in the position till elections were
held for the establishment of the permanent provincial
assembly and the board of ministers. He also said that some
administrative and routine law and order powers would be
devolved to this interim governing council. There was the
promise of devolving some financial powers too.
Jayewardene said that other matters of
detail Prabhakaran might raise could be sorted out through
mutual discussions. While he was willing to do his best,
Jayewardene said he would not be able to rush things
according to the demands of the LTTE because he had the much
more important task of ensuring that the agreement did not
get nullified by a massive Sinhalese upsurge, which could
not be ruled out.
I landed in Jaffna on the morning of
September 23 after getting confirmation that Prabhakaran had
reached the IPKF headquarters. Before I go into the details
of this phase of developments I must mention that the LTTE
had sent me a memorandum ten days earlier, listing five
Firstly, that the interim government
should be formed quickly with a clear majority for the LTTE.
Secondly, that nominees of other groups to
the interim government should be finalised in consultation
with the LTTE.
Thirdly, the police force in the
north-eastern provinces would be constituted by the LTTE.
Fourthly, there would be devolution of
powers immediately to the interim government on the
maintenance of law and order and on all other
responsibilities except foreign affairs, defence,
immigration, customs, etc.
Fifthly, that the Tamil detenues who were
given political amnesty should be released immediately.
At the meeting I had with him, Prabhakaran
referred to these issues, saying he had assurances from
Rajiv Gandhi on all of them, which were yet to be fulfilled.
The Sri Lankan army had not been confined to barracks,
neither all over the north or the east. Nor had the army
moved out of schools and colleges, without which the
refugees could not return to their homes.
There were no indications that the Sri
Lankan government would dismantle Sinhalese colonies of
recent origin in Vavunia and portions of Trincomalee from
where the Tamils had been evicted. Prabhakaran wanted
Colombo neither to undertake any rehabilitation work
directly nor re-open police stations till the interim
government was fully operational.
Prabhakaran objected to some Tamil groups
opposed to the LTTE being allowed to come back to Jaffna and
to the eastern province. He specifically complained about
EPRLF and TELO cadres coming to Tamil areas, claiming, that
these groups were armed by Indian intelligence agencies and
that they had a brief to attack and reduce the strength of
the LTTE. The LTTE supremo wanted his outfit to be
acknowledged by Delhi as the 'sole representative
organisation of Sri Lankan Tamils.'
He felt that India was reluctant to give
this status to the LTTE. It was because of all these reasons
he launched a peaceful agitation to protest against the
'non-implementation' of the accord. Prabhakaran also
expressed his bitterness that the repeated messages he sent
to Madras and Delhi for military assistance against the
Sinhalese army during Lalith Athulathmudali's Operation
Liberation went unheeded.
I told him that the main reason for the
delay in the formation of the interim government of the
north-eastern province was that he had not sent his nominees
for this interim governing council for nearly six weeks from
the beginning of August to the middle of September. He just
chose to ignore a message I had sent to him in this
connection sufficiently early. Once he delayed his
nomination the whole process was delayed. All the same, he
was assured that the demands he had articulated would be
fulfilled to the extent possible with full support from
At the same time I cautioned him that the
government of Sri Lanka was an equally reluctant partner in
the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement. So, if he gave the slightest
chance to Colombo to claim that India and the LTTE had not
fulfilled their commitments under the Sri Lanka accord, the
agreement would be declared redundant. I requested
Prabhakaran to be realistic about issues like evicting the
Sinhalese from areas they were settled in since the late
1940s and 1950s which was an impossible task for any
government in Sri Lanka.
I, however, assured him that more recent
colonies established in the 1980s and the proposed Sinhalese
colonisation programmes could be stopped once the interim
government took effective control over the north-eastern
As for the additional issues mentioned, I
told him that while India acknowledged the important role of
the LTTE in Tamil affairs, the endeavour should be to create
a united Tamil front to implement the provisions of the
Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. I suggested that he could try to
establish equations with other Tamil political parties and
militant groups to ensure that they participated effectively
in the new provincial government.
Prabhakaran's response was that while he
could work with EROS and TULF, it would be difficult to
develop an equation with organisations like PLOTE, TELO and
EPRLF. When I pointed out that EPRLF had some influence in
certain Tamil areas, specially in the east and that carrying
the group with him would be useful, Prabhakaran was
ambiguous in his response.
The discussions held on September 23 were
inconclusive. Prabhakaran first wanted confirmation that
Jayewardene would agree to the creation of an interim
governing council with expanded membership of 12 in which
the LTTE would have a guaranteed majority of at least seven
members, with the right to nominate one of the Muslim
representatives and the chief administrator. Prabhakaran
also sought categorical assurances that powers regarding the
maintenance of law and order and for collection of certain
categories of taxes would be handed over to this interim
government, with LTTE cadres begin given a major portion of
responsibility for policing the proposed north-eastern
When I conveyed these demands to
Jayewardene, he agreed reluctantly to delegate his executive
powers regarding law and order and policing to the proposed
interim governing council. But he could not devolve the
powers of taxation as extensively as the LTTE desired.
Jayewardene said he would like to have a panel of two or
three names selected by the LTTE from which he would choose
the chief administrator or administrator in council of the
north-eastern province pending the elections of the
provincial council for the north-east. He agreed to let the
LTTE have the majority in the proposed interim governing
council. Prabhakaran remained dilatory during the
discussions that followed on September 26.
By this time, the physical condition of
the LTTE leader, Thileepan, at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple
had irretrievably deteriorated. Earlier, had asked me to
personally go to the temple where Thileepan was on fast
surrounded by crowds to request him to break the fast. I
told him I was quite willing to do so provided I had a
guarantee that he would yield. But Prabhakaran could give no
such guarantee, as Thileepan was an idealist and committed
The IPKF and our intelligence sources had
informed me that the plan was to take me to Thileepan at the
Nallur Kandaswamy temple, subject me to a massive
anti-Agreement and anti-Indian demonstration and then to
reject my request with a lot of publicity about the Indian
high commissioner's effort being spurned.
I was clear in my mind that I would not
subject the Government of India to such a humiliation. So I
told Prabhakaran that unless I had an assurance that
Thileepan would break the fast I was not prepared to make a
futile effort. It was Thileepan who went on a fast for which
there was no provocation in objective terms. And it was the
LTTE high command's decision to support his fast in which
neither the Government of India nor its people were
Thileepan expired half way through the
discussions between September 23 and 28. It was an
unnecessary and avoidable tragedy. told me that the lute's
capacity to support and implement the Agreement was badly
affected by the death of Thileepan, as he had expressed a
wish that LTTE should withdraw from its commitment to the
Agreement. I took the stand that a decision in this regard
rested entirely with Prabhakaran. But if he scuttled the
agreement even before it was given a chance of
implementation, he should not look to India in future to
fulfil his aspirations.
In the meetings on September 26 and 28,
Prabhakaran said the readiness of Sri Lanka to meet some of
his demands was not enough. The Government of India should
also fulfil certain demands. The Indian media should stop
criticism of the LTTE for not surrendering all its arms and
for organising demonstrations against the IPKF. The IPKF
should leave the maintenance of law and order to LTTE cadres
in Jaffna. That the IPKF should also not interfere with the
demonstrations and relief distribution processes being
undertaken by the LTTE.
I told Prabhakaran that till the interim
government was formed and took effective charges of these
responsibilities, the IPKF's involvement was an integral
part of its peace-keeping obligations. Prabhakaran was also
told that if he kept instigating civilian disturbances and
agitations, he would have only himself to blame for things
not settling down.
Disclosing that he had sent a request for
some more funds for the maintenance of his cadres to Delhi,
Prabhakaran sought my intervention to expedite it. He
promised to withdraw the agitation against the IPKF and the
local administration after the interim government came into
being. Prabhakaran reluctantly agreed to abide by the
conclusions reached and the agreements arrived at in the
agreed minutes of the discussions held between me and him
from September 26 to 28.
He, however, refused to sign these agreed
minutes himself, arguing that it was a political document
and that he was primarily a military leader. So he would ask
Mahatya to sign this Agreement upon which I told him that my
colleague, First Secretary Hardeep Puri, would sign the
agreement on behalf of the Indian delegation. This was the
only document which Prabhakaran formally authorised for
signatures by the LTTE in relation to the Indo-Sri Lanka
India's Security Concerns came to be Addressed in the Exchange
of Letters between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka President
J.R.Jayawardene, preceding Signing of the
Indo Sri Lanka Peace Accord [Excerpt
Colombo by J N Dixit]
"...I mentioned to the (Sri Lanka) President
that while the
Agreement and its Annexure would cover all aspects related to the ethnic
problem, India's concerns about India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations and
India's political and security concerns had not been taken care of. The
President was told that the Prime Minister of India also, would, like him (the
President), be taking enormous risks in signing such an Agreement in terms of
Indian public opinion and, therefore, there must be some formal understanding
between Sri Lanka and India on India's concerns which should be embodied in
another Agreement or exchange of letters.
When Jayewardene asked me to be specific about India's
concerns, I said that Sri Lanka should give assurances to
India on the following points:
1. Reduction and phasing out of foreign military
and intelligence personnel in Sri Lanka from the United
Kingdom, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa and so on.
2. Sri Lanka should reorganise its foreign and
defence policies and reduce its involvement with USA,
Pakistan, China, Israel and South Africa.
3. Sri Lanka should give some assurances to India
that its seaports and airports would not be utilised by
foreign powers which were antagonistic towards India or
which affected India's security interest negatively.
4. Sri Lanka should fulfil the assurances which it
gave in 1985 that India would be given an opportunity to
maintain the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farms and that Sri
Lanka would prevent foreign broadcasting stations like
the Voice of America from being utilised for military
purposes by countries like the United States, West
Jayewardene said that these were excessive demands being
made at the last moment. He was, however, reminded politely
that these concerns of India were specifically mentioned to
him between April 29 and May 5, 1985 by Minister
Chidambaram. I recalled that I had repeated these concerns
and requests to Jayewardene on June 9, 1985. Minister of
State Natwar Singh did the same on November 24, and again
between December 17 and 19, 1986. I pointed out that India's
co-operation with Sri Lanka to solve the ethnic problem was
predicated on Sri Lanka giving positive responses on these
important concerns of India. The President consulted
Minister Gamini Dissanayake and Finance Minister Romaie de
Mel over the phone on these points raised by me. He then
directed me to proceed immediately to the offices of the two
Ministers to discuss details of how this particular issue
should be dealt with.
At the end of the meeting with these Ministers, it was
agreed that the points raised could be covered by means of a
letter which should be carefully drafted. I said I would get
a Draft Letter covering these points prepared when I
proceeded to Delhi for consultations on the proposed
Agreement and bring it back for approval...."
Dixit on Assignment Colombo - Interview with Frederica
Jansz, Sri Lanka Sunday Times, 16 November 1997
India's former High Commissioner Jyotindra Nath Dixit -
unpopular and controversial but acknowledged as a master
diplomatic strategist during the most crucial years
in Indo-Lanka relations - is in the news again with his book
"Assignment Colombo". In an interview with The Sunday Times,
Mr. Dixit who had been slammed by some critics as a
self-styled Viceroy, said he remains convinced that what he
did was for the well being of both India and Sri Lanka.
Mr. Dixit, in Colombo to promote sales of the book, gave
candid replies to the questions posed to him.
Q: There is criticism against you that your book "Assignment
Colombo" has been written after most of its chief actors
are dead, thus preventing verification of facts. Also that
this is a book any good journalist could have written.
A: If the insinuation is that I deliberately waited for
people to die before writing the book, it is a peculiar
criticism to make. If you read my introduction I have said
that I am sorry that many of the chief actors have passed
away. However certain inborn prejudices will continue.
Why hasn't any good journalist written such a good book so
far? I have no doubt that any good journalist could have
written such a book if accessibility to such facts
was available. Basically why I wrote this book was because I
thought there was a lot of misunderstanding about India's
motivation. So I thought it necessary to give a proper
perspective to the people both of India and Sri Lanka. This
too from a person who was a witness to
events and controversies of this period.
Q: You laud the attempt made by India to solve Sri
Lanka's ethnic conflict, blaming President J.R. Jayewardene
for failing to implement key clauses in the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Is this the main reason that why the attempt at peace
A: It was the most important reason. Apart from that,
also a lack of co-ordination, a lack of comprehension,
Prabhakaran's motivations were all contributory
factors. However Mr. Jayewardene from 1983 to 1987 did not
do much to address Tamil aspirations. He was slow to address
Tamil grievances, giving the LTTE a chance to get back.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga however has made a
substantially good set of proposals. It is more than
what was envisaged in the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Q: In the context of the situation then, do you still
believe the Indo-Lanka Accord was the best way to resolve
Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict?
A: Well, your opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe says
the Indo-Lanka Accord was the best solution offered so far.
What better proof do you want?
Q: You have been heard to say that if there is a next
time where India may possibly intervene in Sri Lanka's
conflict, India would not leave as it did the last time.
What do you mean by that?
A: It is my earnest hope that India never would
have to go into Sri Lanka again. But I am speculating
when I say that if India gets involved again it will
not come away leaving its job half done. My initial
feeling is that India will be cautious about getting
involved again but in the event of
some extraordinary circumstances, if any such situation
arises, India will act on the basis of its
previous experiences and exercise extreme caution.
Q: You have referred to Prabhakaran as one whose
commitment to the creation of Eelam is unalterable, also
that the rebel leader is an accomplished
political strategist and military tactician. Isn't that
contrary to the perception you had of him when you were the
A: This is the benefit of hindsight. The way Prabhakaran
has managed things has led me to this conclusion. After ten
years I do have a different perception of the man. However
the only point which I maintained at the time and do so even
now is his commitment to Eelam which is unalterable.
Prabhakaran reluctantly agreed to the Indo-Lanka Accord at
the time because he did realize the need to be realistic and
not fall out with India. But yes, my judgment of the man has
changed within the past ten years, after reading many
reports and newspaper items on Prabhakaran and the LTTE.
Q: You say that India stepped in to protect the rights of
the Tamil people and safeguard the unity of Sri Lanka? But
many doubt the sincerity of that claim.
A: If we were not sincere it was easier to simply support
the LTTE's claim and let the LTTE divide Sri Lanka. The
Indian armed forces lost some 2000 men because of which Sri
Lanka is still a united country. India also was gracious
enough to withdraw when Mr. Premadasa insisted.
Q: Was India at the time using Sri Lanka's ethnic
conflict to extend its political domination over the
South Asian region?
A: That is baseless. If India wanted to extend
political domination over the region, our tactics would
have been to weaken Sri Lanka, and to divide it. Our
withdrawal when we were asked to go is proof that we had
no intention of imposing ourselves on the Sri Lankan
people or the Government. There is not a single case
where India has gone to any country in the region and
outstayed its welcome.
Q: Don't you think it natural that the Sinhalese people
should have had concerns and fears regarding India's role in
1987 and thereafter? You seem to have ignored this factor in
A: I have not. My book is focused on explaining the whole
context in which India got involved in Sri Lanka's ethnic
conflict, and the motivation for India's policies. I take it
for granted that the Sinhalese people did not like it very
much. If you refer to the chapters on the JVP, I have
acknowledged the fears of the Sinhalese people regarding
India's role at the time.
Q: Why have you not referred to the Indira Doctrine which
said that no foreign power could go to the assistance of
another small power in the region if it was inimical to
A: If you read the whole chapter on motivations, I have
given every detail of the considerations which led Indira
Gandhi to get involved in Sri Lanka. I may not have called
it the 'Indira Doctrine' in my book, but the Israel's, US,
and Jayewardene factor, all led to India's involvement in
Sri Lanka. If any small or big country in our neighbourhood
creates a situation which threatens India's interest
shouldn't India intervene? Do India's neighbours expect it
to indulge in self-destruction? Will Sri Lanka do that?
Will Pakistan do that? Any country will take action to
safeguard it's interest.
Q: Whom are you referring to when you refer to India's
fears about a 'hidden hand' tending to destabilize India
with Sri Lanka as a base? What real evidence do you have
when you make this allegation?
A: At that time the Pakistani involvement, Israeli and
American involvement supporting Sri Lanka's anti-Tamil
campaign, caused considerable concern for India.
Q: But wasn't India being hypocritical? After all India
soon had secret talks with Israel and established diplomatic
relations with it?
A: That was after the Soviet Union collapsed. Then the
whole picture changed. How could it be hypocritical? The
Cold War was a reality upto 1990. Our
adversarial relationship with Pakistan still continues. We
established relations with Israel only after we had hard
evidence that the PLO and other Arab countries were
negotiating with the Israelis. It was only in late 1991 that
India overcame its concern over the United States.
Q: During your controversial term as India's High
Commissioner in Sri Lanka, some observers felt that you at
times stepped outside your line of duty or acted as
A: My line of duty and my responsibilities were defined
by the Government of India. My responsibilities are not
subject to definitions by any extraneous agency
or individual. I acted strictly according to the brief and
instructions given to me by my Prime Minister
and Government. I am not a politician. I am a career officer
and I have no desire to answer questions on my role in Sri
Lanka. I know I wasn't a very popular envoy, but one lives
and survives and let me say this, that I am not for half a
second defensive about what I did as India's High
Commissioner in Sri Lanka. I remain convinced that whatever
I did was for the well being of both India and Sri Lanka.
Q: How do you read the situation in Sri Lanka today? Are
you hopeful of peace being achieved?
A: Going by what I have read it does not give me much
hope. I don't wish to say more about the internal situation
in Sri Lanka.