Lessons for India from Decades long Sri Lankan National Tragedy
Obscurantist, anti-Muslim, anti-Christian and anti-science Hindutva types are Fracturing India's' Heterogeneous Polity
I was having a walk along with the Bangladesh ambassador, a close friend , on the beautiful manicured Park around Lake Herastro, very close to the Indian Residence in Bucharest. It was soon after the beginning of the 1983 Civil War in Sri Lanka, when Sinhala government naval ratings and other forces had went on a killing rampage even into prisons, where Tamilians were jailed. Based on my readings of history, polity and international law and relations, my instinctive reaction was that Sri Lanka was no longer a State, when state authorities and security forces were used to wage a savage war against its own citizens.
There is now some peace with a new President after the unexpected defeat of Mahinda Rajpaksa.But the wounds suffered for more than 3 decades would take long time to heal !!
It should be a lesson to obscurantist, anti-Muslim anti-Christian and anti-science Hindutva crazies who are daily fracturing Indian polity, because Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party BJP got, a thumping majority in the parliament, but only obtained 31% of the votes cast. I have always maintained that India does not even have a representative democracy because a very irrational, and undemocratic copy of the British electoral system. No one even talks about changing it and making it more representative. Thus, what is being done in the name of democracy in India by Narendra Modi and his colleague's is, bringing in totally conservative ,obscurantist and pro-party people as Governors, Chief of various public societies and organisations, including National Censor board is anti-democratic in nature.
There will be blowback .Just wait for Delhi Assembly elections in 3 weeks time.
So far Modi government has done exactly what Congress had done, positioning their lackeys in all organisations of importance. Thus BJP is no longer a party with a difference. It is the same as others, except that so far brazen loot, which was being carried out by Congress politicians, ministers and others has apparently been somewhat reduced. Hopefully!
Those who have followed the history of Sri Lanka since early 1980s should see the result of discrimination, deprivation and open hostility against minorities. In this case Sri Lankan Tamilians and Sri Lankan Muslims, who got together to defeat Sri Lankan Strongman Pres Rajpaksa with absolute power .According to media reports he even tried to bring in military when it was imminent that he was losing the polls, called two years before his term was to end. Fortunately, the military and the legal advisers stopped him from going ahead.
Regarding India's Sri Lankan policy doing Rajeev Gandhi's regime, see the article below by a very experienced and sober journalist Inder Malhotra . There is no doubt now or even then that the government's policy on Sri Lanka was a total disaster and not well thought of.
Now posted back to Delhi ,I had then gone to Chandigarh for a few days. When I switched on TV channel I was aghast that at Marina beach in Madras, Congress leaders, including Rajeev Gandhi declared the trap in which India has been led into by wily fox President Jayewardene of Sri Lanka as the greatest agreement of century between the two countries.
Later in 1989 when I was establishing the Foreign Service Institute for new entrants to the foreign service and for diplomats from other countries, I had just organised a module on how to cope with terrorism and terrorist activities keeping in view terror groups from Punjab supported by Pakistan and from Sri Lanka in South India .The program followed is given below.
Crisis Management Program Outline and Daily Schedule
MONDAY JUNE 12
0930 Inauguration by Hon'ble
Sh P Chidambaram, M.O S
10151115 Political Violence and Terrorism a historical overview
1115-1130 Tea break
1130-1300 Foreign Policy and Legal Aspects of Terrorism
1 300-1400 Working Lunch
1400-1 530 Psychodynamics of terrorism
1530-1600 Tea break
1600-1730 Theories and practices in Crisis Management
TUESDAY JUNE 13
1000 1300 Dealing with crisis situations- negotiating skills and techniques
1300-1400 Working Lunch
1400-1600 Dealing with terrorists— a simulation exercise
1600-1630 Tea break
1 630-1 730 Organisation of terrorist and militant groups in India
WEDNESDAY JUNE 14
0930-1100 Media and Crisis Management
1100-1130 Tea break
11301300 International Terrorist Groups I
1300-1400 Working Lunch
1400 1 530 International Terrorist Groups-ll
1530-1600 Tea break
1 600 1 730 Smuggling and Narco-terrorism
THURSDAY JUNE 15
1000 1300 Case study of terrorist incident : analysis and conclusion
1 300 1400 Working Lunch
140O-1730 Case studies in terrorism
1) Mhatre murder case (Birmingham)
2) Hijacking of Indian Airlines plane in Dubai
3) Attempted hijacking of PAN AM Aircraft at Karachi (Sept 1986)
4) Dec 1988 PANAM Aircrash
FRIDAY JUNE 16
1000-1300 Simulation exercise: Indian Ambassador held hostage
1300-1400 Working Lunch
1400-1 530 Institutional Arrangements for Crisis Management
1530-1545 Tea break
1545-1630 Video film —'Crisis Management'
But I wonder if the FSI still organises such a module, since terrorism has become even more important and serius threat than 30 years ago. Remember 2611.
After this module I had Mani Dixit, our High Commissioner in Colombo and a major advisor on India's Sri Lanka policy who was visiting the Ministry to come over and speak to the foreign service trainees. It was a wishy-washy lecture, which impressed no one. Of course, the young trainees did not put any difficult questions. So I asked Mani what were the main objectives of the policy which we had followed. To make his task easier , I gave the example of Syria. I said for Syria's strategic defence and foreign policy a regime in Lebanon was very critical as had been proved since the creation of these two states after World War II. Damascus was aware of the importance of having a pro-Syrian regime in Beirut and if not, at least a neutral one. Damascus was therefore prepared to pay any price to keep Lebanon friendly and certainly not hostile.
This has been proved since then although because of manipulations and interference , led by Washington and its NATO allies , neighbours Jordan and Turkey ,with money and arms supplied by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf countries. Syria has been put into a grave situation about its integrity and sovereignty. I am giving the example of what a country should know about its strategic objectives , threats and a price one must be prepared to pay for it.
We got no satisfactory or sensible response from Mani Dixit. The fact that India's Sri Lanka policy was a total disaster is now well acknowledged and accepted. However, Mr Dixit later on became Foreign Secretary and those dealing with Sri Lanka in the Ministry of external affairs were given choicest of the posts, in spite of failure of the policy.
PV Narsingh Rao was then External Affairs minister .It was my experience that whenever asked for any comment or observation on India's foreign policy , Rao would parrot, "Asked Ronen (Sen)", foreign policy adviser to the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.. Narsingh Rao, in spite of the fact that he was home Minister when the terrible killings of Sikhs took place in Delhi and elsewhere following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi , later became PM . Rao as Prime Minister slept through the afternoon, when the Hindutva ruffians and ragtag were bringing down the Babari Mosque , brick by brick. He thought he was very smart and it will make him popular with Hindus. He did destroy the Congress party in north India from which it has never recovered. Whatever was left of the Congress party has been destroyed and eradicated by an undeserving Prime Minister , who could not even be elected to the parliament ie the last occupant of 7 ,Racecourse Road, Dr Manmohan Singh.
Another policy maker on our policy on Sri Lanka and LTT E was a senior official of India's external intelligence agency appropriately with an acronym RAW . I overheard a very senior RAW official proclaiming in the corridors of South block that he could make LTTE's brutal leader Prabhakaran do anything which he wanted him to do. We all know the results .It was LTTE which organised the assassination of Rajeev Gandhi. According to my sources, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination has never been properly investigated, something it was said was delayed by Narsingh Rao, much to the anger of Sonia Gandhi. According to most foreign service officers there is disdain if not contempt at what RAW officers do abroad. And gory details come out about the squabbles from inside RAW , maltreatment , wasteful expenditure and defalcation of funds meant for discretionary use.
K.Gajendra Singh, 20 January, 2015.Delhi
Rear view: Lost in Lanka
Written by Inder Malhotra |
By the middle of 1987, Rajiv Gandhi was besieged by many domestic problems of extreme gravity. Yet he decided to mediate in the catastrophic ethnic strife in neighbouring Sri Lanka between the ruling Sinhala majority and the highly aggrieved Tamil minority concentrated in the northern and eastern regions of the island republic. The problem had begun long ago, when the Sinhala-dominated government imposed Sinhala as the only language of the country, and it escalated so fast as to become nearly intractable. India's policy on Sri Lanka, which Rajiv inherited from his mother, was as complex as the situation in the island.
Indira Gandhi did not like the efforts of Sri Lanka's veteran and wily executive president, J.R. Jayewardene, to draw in the United States, some west European countries and Israel, to help out with his difficulties. She wanted the problem of Sri Lanka to be resolved with Indian assistance without any "any foreign intrusion". So she had seen to it that her foreign policy advisor, G. Parthasarathy, and a nominee of Jayewardene worked out an arrangement for devolution of power to the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka that would be acceptable to the Sinhala majority also. The effort remained a work in progress. At the same time, she was keen to ensure that Sri Lankan Tamils did not feel let down by India. There was so much sympathy and support for them in Tamil Nadu that they could use the Indian state as a safe haven and also a training field, with the Central government benignly looking away.
Rajiv did not like this and changed the policy. Meanwhile, of the various Tamil groups resisting Sinhala domination, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged as the most influential and powerful. Eelam in the name stood for complete independence. This was the brainchild of its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran who, as the world witnessed, was a "brutal fighter".
The old fox, Jayewardene, was usually in awe of Indira. But he found it easy to deal with her son and successor. Fairly early during their negotiations, the two agreed on a new approach. The Sri Lankan government had so isolated the northern Tamil area as to virtually force India to do some "bread bombing" of Jaffna to enable the starving people to eat. Yet, the two sides broke new ground soon enough. New Delhi and Colombo decided to sign an agreement on solving the problem and to cajole or coerce the LTTE to accept it. The Rajiv-Jayewardene accord was duly inked on July 29 in Colombo in an immensely tense atmosphere. But, as Rajiv's MoS for External Affairs K. Natwar Singh (who later became foreign minister) has recorded in his autobiography, One Life Is Not
Enough, its implementations created more problems than it solved.
In the first place, even while the agreement was being signed, Sri Lanka's prime minister, R. Premadasa, and a senior minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, made no secret of their opposition to it. Something even more startling happened a little later. Seeing that Jayewardene was talking seriously to Rajiv surrounded only by Sri Lankan officials, Foreign Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao asked Natwar Singh to go and find out what was afoot. Rajiv told him that Colombo was a besieged city and Jayewardene feared that there might be a coup before nightfall. So he had asked for an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) immediately. To Natwar's question of whether he would like to consult his senior colleagues before sending troops, Rajiv replied that he had already ordered a division of the army to get to Colombo as fast as possible.
Before signing the agreement, Rajiv had sent for Prabhakaran in Delhi, and was apparently satisfied with the LTTE supremo's verbal acceptance of the draft accord. Tamil Nadu's hugely popular chief minister, M.G. Ramachandaran, was also in Delhi and reportedly gave Prabhakaran a lot of money. However, when asked to surrender arms, as required by the July 29 accord, the LTTE insisted on a series of preconditions, including the release of all Tamil prisoners in government custody and a halt to Sinhala colonisation of the island's eastern region. How terribly high the Sinhala rage against Indian intervention in their country was became known at the time of Rajiv's departure for home. At the guard of honour, a Lankan soldier tried to hit him with the stem of his gun. The prime minister's youthful reflexes saved his life. At the Bandaranaike International Airport, the Sri Lankan prime minister was conspicuous by his absence. When asked about this "discourtesy", Rajiv blandly replied: "Some presidents have a problem with their prime ministers, and some prime ministers have a problem with their presidents." The latter part of the statement was a clear reference to his row with the then president, Giani Zail Singh.
For a short while, an uneasy peace lasted in Sri Lanka. But even the Tamils of that country turned against India because the IPKF had to storm and capture the LTTE headquarters in Jaffna, though at a high cost. Several IPKF commanders have written books about the often vague and even contradictory instructions from Delhi. This should explain why the much-respected Indian army suffered a dent in its image. Over a thousand Indian soldiers were killed. In 1989, when Rajiv was defeated in the election, Premadasa had replaced Jayewardene as Lanka's president. He lost no time in demanding the IPKF's withdrawal. The new Indian prime minister, V.P. Singh, was happy to undo what Rajiv had done. When the first batch of the IPKF landed in Chennai, no one in the Tamil Nadu government was willing to receive it. Only the governor, P.C. Alexander, welcomed them.
Even more sadly, there is no memorial for the IPKF anywhere in India. Only the Sri Lankans have built one in Colombo. Evidently, they realise that India spilled blood and spent from its treasury to save their country's unity.
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator