India’s sordid record
Posted on February 20th, 2015

By A.G. NOORANI Courtesy FRONTLINE 

India’s relations with Sri Lanka will heal only if there is a sincere realisation of past mistakes and of the grave damage that India inflicted on a hapless neighbour too small to retaliate. By A.G. NOORANI

ONE hopes that Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to India on February 15 will truly mark a turning point in the relations between the two countries. To accomplish that, India’s outlook and approach will have to change in fundamental respects. India has legitimate security interestsin the region and legitimate concerns in the welfare of the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka. But neither the interests nor the concerns have been served by the policies that India has followed, since 1983, to be precise. Both were inspired by arrogant assumptions of the airs of a regional power” aspiring to be a great power” globally. Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose departure from office was universally welcomed, proved that on both counts, India enjoyed little leverage in 2014. The policies of old now lie in ruins. It would be foolish to continue as before. The situation has changed radically, and India’s interests and concerns will best be promoted by a diplomacy that relies on persuasion and not force.

But change will come about only if there is a sincere realisation of India’s mistakes, the wrongs it committed and the grave damage it inflicted on a hapless neighbour, too small to retaliate in kind. Only time will tell how deep the wounds on the psyche of the people of Sri Lanka are.

India’s armed intervention in Sri Lanka began in 1983; but the great power complex was ingrained in the mind of Jawaharlal Nehru. His successors were worse. What Prof. Kingsley M. de Silva, one of Asia’s most distinguished scholars, wrote in his authorised biography J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka reveals much worse than an assertion of a right to intervene. The fact that A.C.S. Hameed was a Muslim did not bother J.R. at all, but it apparently did bother Morarji Desai, who, on an official visit to Sri Lanka in 1979, pointedly asked J.R. why he did not appoint a Sinhalese for that important position [Minister for Foreign Affairs]. J.R. related this incident to K.M. de Silva in early February 1979 shortly after Desai’s visit” (Volume 2; page 398). Desai’s communal outlook was as manifest as his assumption of a right to meddle in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. Small wonder that The Economist’s Delhi correspondent remarked as recently as January 31, 2015, that India reserves a divine right to meddle in its South Asian backyard”. Incidentally, he noted also that during Barack Obama’s three-day visit, Mr Modi all but aligned India openly with America”. Neighbours must call India uncle”; the great powers must call it brother”.

Any review of the past, to be purposeful, must reckon honestly with mindsets as well as the record. Involved in the exercise is a proper understanding of the proper influence of morality in the making of foreign policy, a hard look at the feudal, unprofessional habits of decision-making on foreign policy and a clear understanding of India’s national interests. The flaws were evident in the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. They have aggravated under Narendra Modi. Nehru at least read the papers, as did Indira Gandhi. Modi does not read. He prefers to listen and decide all by himself. Since 1947, India has followed a highly personalised style of foreign policy in which the Prime Minister’s prejudices and predilections counted for more than the country’s interests.

Armed intervention

In 1991, at the end of the bitter experience of the deployment of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka (Operation Pawan), its Divisional Commander GOC, Lt General S.C. Sardeshpande asked, in sheer anguish, Was India’s national security interest so much threatened by Tamil-Sinhala cooperation that it became our national interest?” The army is deployed only when the nation’s vital interests are involved, interests over which it is prepared to go to war. The IPKF operations not only injected poison in the Tamil society and Indian polity, but also led to loss of credibility in the region and a large section of countrymen.”

He said if the confrontation with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had to be with 50,000 troops treading on foreign soil, it would have been less costly to strangle the LTTE in Tamil Nadu and achieve the same goal” (article in Indian Defence Reviewquoted by Press Trust of India; The Telegraph, February 18, 1991).

The soldier in him failed to understand the low cunning of the political leaders. The LTTE was built up by India in Tamil Nadu to serve as India’s weapon against Sri Lanka in order to extract from it a deal with its Tamil citizens on terms India could approve. Missing in this calculation was the fact that Sri Lanka’s friendship was also a vital national interest and India’s interests, as well as concerns on its Tamils, were best promoted if India won Colombo’s trust. This vital interest and the concern (for the Tamils) were, in fact, not only harmonious but should have been integral elements of a coherent considered policy.

However, the use of force was foremost in the minds of Indira Gandhi as well as Rajiv Gandhi. It is little known that both had planned for armed intervention even as the diplomatic process had barely begun in earnest

The fateful die was cast when JRJ sent his brother, H.W. Jayewardene, to India in August 1983. In her talks with him, Indira Gandhi deftly extracted from JRJ his acceptance of her offer of her good offices to enable a final decision to be reached”. This concept includes no more than transmission of each one’s proposal to the other, whereas in mediation the mediator himself suggests compromises. In her talks with the visitor, the Prime Minister told him that JRJ’s proposals may not meet the aspirations” of the Tamils for whom she sought their due share in the affairs of the country” (see her statement on August 12 and that of HWJ the next day). The crisis was triggered by the killings of 13 soldiers in Jaffna on July 23 and the army’s reprisals. JRJ did what Modi did in the wake of Godhra. He had the bodies brought to the capital, leading to horrendous killings of Tamils. 

Indira Gandhi seized the opportunity. Before her good offices” could even begin, let alone conclude, she began preparations for the use of force against the very side that had invited her, the Government of Sri Lanka.

M.R. Narayana Swamy, who is exceptionally well informed on that dark secret, records in detail how and when India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) began training the Tamil militant groups on Indian soil. The training began in September 1983 at Dehradun, in the hills of Uttar Pradesh. From then on, hundreds of Tamil boys travelled by train from Madras to New Delhi and later in trucks and buses to Dehradun to learn the art of military science from Indian trainers. It was a great moment for the Tamils and a turning point in the campaign for Eelam. The Tamil Nadu police, unaware initially of what was afoot, detained one group of Tamils just before they were to leave Tamil Nadu and recorded their names and addresses before RAW came to their rescue.

To the world, India kept up an innocent facade, insisting that it was not doing any mischief. ‘We deny that there are any [Tamil] terrorists in the southern states of this country,’ an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman said on August 16. ‘We have never interfered with the internal developments of any country in the past and we will not do so now,’ added Indira Gandhi at a public meeting in Bombay on 15 September….

The Indian government had its own reasons for training the Tamils. Sources in all Tamil groups now assert that India was never serious about Eelam and gave them training and arms only to teach Colombo ‘a lesson’ for its pro-West foreign policy. At the most New Delhi would have wanted the Tamils to secure limited autonomy. But it was widely rumoured then—both in Sri Lanka and India—that Mrs Gandhi might do a Bangladesh or Cyprus in the island’s northeast. The rumour was reinforced by what the Indian trainers told the trainees: ‘We have got to finish this soon,’ Shankar Raje quotes an Indian Army officer as telling him, referring to a batch under training in Dehradun. ‘We need a scout force to lead us. You are not going to do the real fighting. But be prepared.’ Shankar added: ‘The message that was given was clear cut. The Indians were going to intervene.’ Douglas Devananda, who now lives in Colombo, said the way the Indian Army officers conducted themselves, ‘we realised that they were only trying to use us (in their gameplan)’.…

From September 1983, until India and Sri Lanka signed the Accord in July 1987, the RAW trained an estimated 1,200 Tamils in the use of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, self-loading rifles, 84 mm rocket launchers, heavy weapons, and in laying mines, map reading, guerilla war, mountaineering, demolitions and anti-tank warfare. Each training capsule lasted three to four months, and rarely six months…. A limited number of Tamils were hand-picked for intelligence gathering. …

Arms deliveries to various groups began in 1984 and went on almost until the 1987 India-Sri Lanka agreement, punctuated by periodic and self-deceiving denials that India was not training Sri Lankans or desiring a break-up of the Island Republic. All three parties in the conflict—the Indian and Sri Lankan governments and the Tamil militants—knew the truth.…

The Sri Lankan government came to know about the Indian training quite early, both from militants who fell into the hands of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) and Colombo’s agents in Tamil Nadu who included Sri Lankans as well as Indians. By 1986, ‘Indian diplomats privately admitted that the RAW was training people,’ former Sri Lankan National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali said.…

On the one hand, New Delhi was pressurising the TULF [Tamil United Liberation Front] leadership to hold talks with Colombo. On the other, it was training the militants to fight the Sri Lankan government. Publicly India was not for Sri Lanka’s break-up. But when the militants, their doubts naturally aroused, questioned their contacts in the RAW about the Indian policy, they were pacified. ‘We will do everything to get you Eelam. Obviously you can’t expect us to say that openly, do you?’ argued RAW officials. Some of the guerillas, new to the world of politics and diplomacy, were satisfied with the reasoning; but seeds of suspicion began to get planted in others. It was the beginning of India’s double-talk which finally brought despair to her Sri Lanka policy.” LTTE leader Prabakaran was in Jaffna when all this began and had to be coaxed to come to India.

If the actual training began in September, the policy decision on embarking on such a course must have been taken much earlier; that is, almost immediately after Indira Gandhi secured Sri Lanka’s acceptance of her good offices”.

Rajiv Gandhi repeated this very ploy. The India-Sri Lanka Accord was signed in Colombo on July 29, 1987. Major General Harkirat Singh, the first commander of the IPKF, records that contingency plans for sending troops into Sri Lanka are said to have commenced at the Army Headquarters from April 1987 onwards, and Lt Gen. Depinder Singh, then GOC-in-C Southern Command, claims that, in June he was given a Chief of Staff directive appointing him as the Overall Force Commander (OFC) of the forces to be inducted into Sri Lanka.” Force was not the last option; it was the first option.

Hitler-style episode

This was well before the Hitlerian style episode in South Block on June 4, 1987, when India informed Sri Lanka of its decision to drop relief supplies over Jaffna. Bernard Tilekaratna, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India, recalled this episode in a review of his Indian counterpart J.N. Dixit’s memoirs Assignment Colombo in the Colombo journal Island of December 10, 1997. The President had offered to send Foreign Minister Hameed to discuss the developing crisis but India had already decided to send its Air Force planes not only five Antonov 22 transport planes but also four Mirage 2000 fighter planes, to escort them. Dixit describes this event in some detail from his end but I too have my painful memoirs.

I had enough contacts in New Delhi to know that this move was planned some days in advance even though it was done in complete secrecy and no details were known. My information was that this would take place by air or through Indian warships and I had conveyed this to the President himself. When I was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs by the then Minister of State for External Affairs, Natwar Singh, who was also a personal friend, and told rather grimly at 2.30 p.m. on 4 June that the aircraft would leave Bangalore in half an hour. My reaction was one of both anguish and sadness. I informed Natwar Singh that surely the proposed airdrop was a blatant violation of our territorial integrity and interference in our internal affairs and I was saddened by the fact that this step would bring Indo-Sri Lanka relations to the lowest level ever in the long history of its close and cordial relationship. As regards conveying the message to the President, I told Natwar Singh the planes might as well leave as scheduled as it would take me half an hour to reach the Chancery and try to send the message. It was at this point that Natwar Singh offered me his personal hotline through to the Foreign Minister and his surprise was so great that it was my impression that this news was received for the first time. In fact I was asked to immediately hand over a letter of protest which I did in the Minister’s office itself before I returned to the Chancery.”

Hitler’s Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop could not have improved on this or on Dixit’s warning to JRJ. In one of my meetings with President Jayewardene late in May 1987, I protested against the blockade of Jaffna and the impact of Sri Lankan military operations on Tamil civilians of the area. I informed Jayewardene of my discussions with Lalith Athulathmudali wherein I had conveyed the message that India would not countenance the fall of Jaffna to Sri Lankan forces when India was still engaged in mediation efforts. I reminded Jayewardene that Rajiv Gandhi’s messages to him were a clear indication that India would be compelled to take action to protect Tamil civilians. Jayewardene was quite upset and he described my remarks as interference in the domestic affairs. …

Jayewardene was not going to allow matters to rest in such obfuscations! He said: ‘Dixit, be precise. Tell me what you personally think will happen when you talk about unpredictable consequences”.’ I said: ‘You will forgive me for saying this Mr President, the unpredictable consequences may be LTTE asking operational support from Tamil Nadu and it might end up with the break-up of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka may not remain a united country.’ Jayawardene looked at me in his typical droopy-eyed irritation and said: ‘Mr Dixit, we are a small country, but I want you to know that I will not succumb to terrorist violence regardless of what you are saying. And please also note that this violence has been and is being supported by your government and your country’” (Dixit; pages 116-117). A threat to break up Sri Lanka four years after it accepted India’s good offices” shows the intent behind the move in 1983. It was to acquire a foothold. 

Partisanship and ineptness

The good offices” were conducted with utter partisanship and ineptness. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in New Delhi in late November 1983, Jayewardene and G. Parthasarathi, the Prime Minister’s Principal Adviser, agreed on certain proposals. Ever apologetic about Indian and Tamil public opinion, not once did India permit similar latitude to Jayewardene. On December 21, 1983, he convened an All-Party Conference to meet on January 10, 1984. Its secretary, E.F. Dias Abeyesinghe, sent out letters of invitation with two Annexures. A” consisted of five press statements, communiqués, and so on. B” was a 14-point proposal as suggestions for the APC’s agenda. It was announced (December 31) that these were not anyone’s proposals. The TULF demurred to Annexure B and refused to participate.

On January 5, 1984, Parthasarathi descended on Colombo as a Pro-Consul and got Jayewardene to issue another set of proposals in Annexure C. TULF now agreed. But, it was stillborn. All Sinhala parties rejected this obvious product of Indian intervention in the internal affairs of our country” as the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) called it while walking out of the APC.

Doubtless, Annexure B did depart from the Delhi understanding. JRJ had procrastinated in view of the Cabinet’s opposition. But, instead of recourse to secret diplomacy, India’s Pro-Consul went to ram the accord down Sri Lanka’s throat. Departures from the accord did not warrant instant rejection of Annexure B by the TULF or the ham-fisted Parthasarathi’s visit.

Both envisaged the establishment of Regional Councils with legislative and executive powers and a Chief Minister”, enjoying majority support, presiding over a Committee of Members of the Council constituted by him”. High Courts were to be set up in each region. The public services and armed forces of Sri Lanka, as well as the region’s policeservices, were to reflect the national and regional ethnic composition, respectively;something India would not dream of conceding to its minorities. Never before had the Tamils been offered such terms. They are no longer available to them thanks to the Tamil leaders’ support to India’s good offices”.

The differences lay in the deference to the susceptibilities of the two communities which each Annexure showed. Annexure B was more explicit on the abandonment of the idea of the separate state and on united opposition to the use of terrorism”. Annexure C deleted it for reasons not hard to understand. It waived the requirement of a referendum and explicitly mentioned the subjects to be assigned to the regions. They included law and order and land policy.

An India sensitive to the concerns of a hapless neighbour would have built on Annexure B. Dixit’s memoirs establish that such skill and restraint are alien to Indian statecraft. It lacks vision, patience and a sense of the practical. Disputes with smaller neighbours continue to fester because India would not relent until late, sometimes never.

Diplomacy verging on the comic

Indian diplomacy even after the IPKF was inducted in 1987 verged on the comic. RAW fully lived up to its acronym. Dixit was humiliated because of his braggadocio. The Army Chief, Gen. K. Sundarji, who had made a mess of Operation Blue Star in 1984, put Don Quixote to shame. Sample these gems of the advice Rajiv Gandhi received prior to the Accord. Dixit: It was time to bypass the LTTE if they remain obstinate.” Gen. Sundarji: Indian armed forces would be able to neutralise them militarily within two weeks” (page 156). Elsewhere (page 337), Dixit adds or three or four weeks”. The tenor of RAW’s Chief Anand Verma’s advice was: These are boys whom we know and with whom we have been in touch and so they will listen to us.” Events showed who were the men and who the boys. As Machiavelli said, a prince is responsible for the advice he accepts. A vain one receives only palatable advice.

One man kept his cool, for which he has received no credit. Minister for External Affairs P.V. Narasimha Rao counselled against haste and against India signing the Accord as a party to it, though he was kept out of the loop. He was of the view that Sri Lankan Tamils should sign this agreement with the Sri Lankan government and we should just be the guarantors… he felt that we must very carefully assess whether the willingness of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government to come to an agreement at that point of time was based on genuine desire for peace and a durable settlement or was it just an interim tactical move… he had reservations about the Indian armed forces moving into Sri Lanka,” Dixit noted.

The entire record is set out in five volumes compiled by Avtar Singh Bhasin in India-Sri Lanka Relations and Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict, 1947-2000 (Indian Research Press, New Delhi, Rs.5,500 for the set). A born archivist, Bhasin served in the Ministry of External Affairs for 30 years and has also compiled documents on India’s relations with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. He had access to the records in the Ministry as well as in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Office. His introduction is comprehensive. He reproduces the secret letters attached to the Accord for military assistance” to Sri Lanka and despatch of some naval vessels” to Colombo to stabilise the situation”—to prevent a coup against JRJ.

Prabakaran was holed in Suite 518 of the Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi, while the Accord was being signed in Colombo. On his return to Sri Lanka, he was quick to point out that the broker had extracted a sizeable commission for his labour. This is what he said in Jaffna on August 4, 1987. This Agreement did not concern only the problem of the Tamils. This is primarily concerned with Indo-Sri Lanka relations. It also contains within itself the principles, the requirements for making Sri Lanka accede to India’s strategic sphere of influence. [An alternative translation of this sentence, closer perhaps to its literal meaning, would be: ‘it also contains within itself the stipulations for binding Sri Lanka within India’s big power orbit’]. It works out a way for preventing disruptionist and hostile foreign forces from gaining foothold in Sri Lanka. That is why the Indian government showed such an extraordinary keenness in concluding this Agreement. However, at the same time, it happens to be an Agreement that determines the political future and fate of the people of Tamil Eelam. That is why we firmly objected to the conclusion of this Agreement without consultations with the people and without the seeking of our views. However, there is no point in our objecting to this. When a great power has decided to determine our political fate in a manner that is essentially beyond our control, what are we to do?” He bided for time to wreck an Accord to which he was not a party and which was imposed on him.

Doomed to failure

The Accord was doomed to failure at its very birth. It was opposed by Prime Minister Premadasa and Senior Cabinet Ministers; by Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her party and by Sri Lanka’s civil society. The IPKF was not given a directive worth the name. The LTTE was led by a nihilist in the mould of the Shining Path of Peru. Prabakaran was a fascist bent on destruction. India had built him up. The moderate Tamils were foolish to a degree. They relied on India exclusively. It was a petty exercise of might against a small neighbour, conceived in hubris and executed in the deceit that had marked India’s policy since 1983. More brazen was Dixit’s plea against denials. 

There were media reports confirming the fact that from 1981 onwards India had provided training, weaponry and logistical support to Tamil militant groups. Larger strategic considerations as well as Mrs Gandhi’s political alliance with AIADMK [All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] in Madras led by MGR resulted in these arrangements. MGR had to advocate the case of India supporting the Sri Lankan Tamils despite its future negative implications for fear that otherwise the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham] leader M. Karunanidhi and other Tamil opposition parties would have accused him of betraying fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka in their hour of trauma and crisis.

I have always felt that India need not have indulged in the mendacity of denying India’s support to the Tamil militants. We should just have kept quiet on the charge. Our response to Sri Lankan accusations in this regard should have been that if there was Tamil militancy, it was due to the discriminatory policies of the Sri Lankan government against the Tamils and that we had no more comments or explanations to offer.”

If MGR followed a policy against the national interests for electoral ends, Dixit accepted the right of a big power brazenly to intervene in the internal affairs of another country because of its own domestic compulsions. The United States resorted to the Iran-Contra deal to conceal its help to the Contras in Nicaragua, for which it was censured by the International Court of Justice. But Dixit professed to offer an alternative doctrine on foreign policy which was eagerly lapped up by sycophants. Unschooled in the rich tradition of realpolitik since Thucydides, Dixit propounded vague, simplistic and sweeping propositions, more in tune with personal traits than international realities. 

His talk on Sri Lanka at the United Services Institution in New Delhi on March 10, 1989, couched in delightful prose, reveals a lot. The chemistry of power, the motivations which affect the interplay of power between societies are not governed by absolute morality. …It is an external projection of our influence to tell our neighbours that if, because of your compulsions or your aberrations (sic.), you pose a threat to us, we are capable of, or we have a political will to project ourselves within your territorial jurisdiction for the limited purpose of bringing you back. Sounds slightly arrogant! It is not arrogant. It is real-politic, and it brings you back to the path of detachment and non-alignment where you don’t endanger our security.”

Earlier, on July 6, 1987, he told Sri Lanka’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Lalith Athulathmudali that Sri Lanka should be aware that whatever the results of these interactions, Sri Lanka’s unity, integrity and stability ultimately depended on good neighbourly relations with India.”

Before long, Rajiv Gandhi had had enough of Dixit. He accepted the RAW chief’s plea that he be allowed to negotiate with Jayerwardene and the LTTE, which it was still assisting even as its men were killing Indian soldiers in Sri Lanka. Bhasin reproduces a revealing document (Volume 4; page 2235). 

It reads: TOP SECRET Memorandum of Director General (Intelligence and Security) Sri Lankan Government to the Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene enclosing a note of his discussions with the RAW Agent, Colombo, 27 April 1988.

H.E. the President,

I had a discussion with Sunil today morning. It appears that his visit is to meet your Excellency, in order to obtain certain assurances if possible, since he is the main negotiator with the LTTE in Madras. It is also significant that his return to Delhi is through Madras. The salient features in my discussions with SUNIL are reflected in Annex. A.

MATTERS DISCUSSED WITH SUNIL:

1. SUNIL is the main and only negotiator with all Terrorist groups and TULF; presently he is in contact with KITTU in Madras, either direct or through his officers.

2. IHC – Mr. Dixit is presently not held in favour by Indian PM< and therefore does not play any significant role in the process of negotiations. The reasons for his loss of influence are: Public disclosures of payments made to LTTE on the eve of the accord, arrogant and overbearing” (SUNIL’s words). By his conduct and actions, is growing increasingly unpopular with Sinhalese and Tamils.

3. Present state of negotiations. All groups agreeable to enter political process; LTTE also keen to do so, subject to certain conditions being satisfied.

4. Lines on which negotiations are presently being conducted to end the war. SUNIL feels that if certain conditions are satisfied, the LTTE would respond by: (a) Surrendering 700 of the estimated 1000 big weapons LTTE have in their possession; they want to retain 300 weapons for their security. (b) With the surrender, a ceasefire would be announced. The LTTE would thereafter publicly support the Accord. The balance weapons would be released gradually thereafter, once the LTTE feel assured that a climate of security has descended on the North and East.”

The RAW functionary must have been senior enough to warrant a cover. He was RAW’s chief, Anand Verma, as Dixit discloses in his memoirs with unconcealed discomfiture.

Jayewardene and Nehru

It is a cruel irony that Jayewardene was a friend of Jawaharlal Nehru and had foreseen India’s potential threat shortly after his country became independent. On July 20, 1940, he wrote to Nehru: Events are moving with such rapidity in the world today that a slave India and Ceylon may be free tomorrow, without a struggle. What of Ceylon? If nothing else happens, is it possible that she may be bartered away by a peace treaty? This is a question that is troubling many of us in Ceylon.”

Nehru replied on August 1, 1940: Ceylon is too small a political and economic unit to stand by itself in the future world. I quite agree with you that there might be danger ahead for Ceylon under these circumstances. It will therefore be highly desirable to discuss the future relations of India and Ceylon, so that our minds may be clear and we should know what we are aiming at.” Why cannot a small country stand by itself”? Why think of the worst-case scenario?

Realities induced second thoughts. On March 19, 1954, JRJ as Minister for Agriculture and Food wrote a memorandum for Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawla ahead of the South Asian Prime Ministers’ Conference in Colombo. He wrote: If we look again at the American scene, we see that the U.S.A. so long ago as 1823 enunciated the Monroe Doctrine and exercised supervision over the entirety of the American Continent, both North and South. It is therefore necessary to see that the states in this region are not cut off from the rest of the world from economic or military aid, such as Pakistan has recently secured from America. India should not be permitted to proclaim a Monroe Doctrine” in the Indian Ocean where she will play the role that the U.S.A. plays in the Atlantic.”

Imagine JRJ’s pain three decades later when he read a confidential note by Sri Lanka’s Director-General of Intelligence and Security, M.M. Gunaratne, dated July 26, 1986. It reported: The transformation of an ill-equipped, ill-trained group of about 50 militants into a well trained, well equipped guerilla force is to be explained by this factor. The Indian Factor has not only spawned the emergence of a Revolutionary Army, but continues to help its sustenance and growth into monstrous proportions. The patronage so extended has taken the following shape. (a) Placing at their disposal, military training facilities, not only in Tamilnadu, but also in North India. Providing training facilities in Intelligence Procurement, in North India. (b) Providing training facilities in Intelligence Procurement, in north India. (c) Providing weapons and explosives. …

In sum, the head and body of the movement are on Indian soil, leaving only the tail to wag here. It is therefore no surprise that Sri Lanka Security Forces cannot cripple the monstrous growth of the movement. It can, therefore be seen that the emergence of the militant movement as a formidable one, its shape, and the path it chooses to take, is governed by the Indian Factor.

Patronage on Indian soil has made it virtually impossible for the security forces to effectively combat the adversary. The second and third features portend an ominous threat to the Constitution and the democratic way of life of the country.” The training camps were precisely pin-pointed.

Indian product

The LTTE, which played such havoc in Sri Lanka and India, was an Indian product. It was India’s help and training which transformed the rabble into a well equipped guerilla force”. It began in 1983 under Indira Gandhi. She personalised her foreign policy. Her favourites were Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Sheikh Hasina and Benazir Bhutto. Her bete noires were Zia, the King of Nepal and JRJ. He had made uncalled for and intemperate comments about her when she was in the Opposition. JRJ was, however, India’s best partner in the peace process for it was S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who injected the ethnic factor in politics for electoral gains and his daughter Sirimavo who consistently took a hard line.

Indira Gandhi made little effort to conceal her help to Tamil militants. Eelaventhah, general secretary of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), was invited to attend the All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in October 1983 as a distinguished guest”. On August 6, 1984, the LTTE issued a statement in Madras stating that it had stepped up its guerilla attacks in northern Sri Lanka. On November 21, 1984, the TELO claimed responsibility in Madras for a bomb blast in a police station near Jaffna. 

Sri Lankans were not slow to point out India’s double standards. On the eve of External Affairs Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s visit to Sri Lanka in July 1983—his second after the one in April 1983—JRJ asked his Foreign Minister to ascertain from India how they solved their communal problem when the extremists asked for a separate State”.

On November 3, 1984, he said: In India, some Sikhs are agitating for a separate Khalistan. In Sri Lanka some Tamils are doing the same. Both movements have spawned terrorists. In both countries, the Central governments seek to settle any dispute that may exist constitutionally and peacefully. The Indian and Sri Lankan governments accuse foreign countries of seeking to interfere. In India, the terrorists who committed the assassination were Sikhs. In Sri Lanka they were Tamils. In India the victim was a Hindu. In Sri Lanka 12 of the victims were Buddhist Sinhalese. In India a few enraged Hindus massacred innocent Sikhs. In Sri Lanka a few enraged Sinhalese massacred innocent Tamils.” The truth infuriated Rajiv Gandhi.

As Bhasin notes in his introduction: In the pre-Agreement period it [India] indulged in the policy, which was seen as promoting and abetting terrorism in a neighbouring country, a charge it frequently made against Pakistan. In the post-Agreement period, it did not hesitate to use armed force to push down the throats of the Tamils an Agreement which they felt was fundamentally flawed and against their interest.” 

Analogy with Kashmir

This brings the analogy closer to the bone—Kashmir. One of Sri Lanka’s ablest High Commissioners to India, Neville Kanakaratne, said in a press statement in New Delhi on July 1, 1994, Our government, like yours on the Kashmir issue, feels that certain problems must be left to be handled by the country. I do not like this kind of double standards and what applies to Kashmir must also hold good for Jaffna in Sri Lanka.”

Precisely—and the double standards extend even more to the issue of external aid to militants. Narayana Swamy writes: No one asked questions when Tamil groups with Indian patronage massacred innocent Sinhalese—although the killings of innocent Tamils by Sri Lanka security forces was always denounced loudly. It would be pertinent for Indians today to look back and see how the average Sri Lankan must have felt over the brazen patronage extended to people dubbed ‘terrorists’ by Colombo. Tamil groups based in Tamil Nadu openly claimed credit for attacks on government/military targets in Sri Lanka—without inviting any criticism from the Indian government. Imagine the Punjab or Sind Legislature in Pakistan announcing monetary aid to Kashmiri/Khalistani militants. Yet this is precisely what the Tamil Nadu legislature did in 1987” (page 331). Pakistan’s National Assembly has done that more than once, sending New Delhi into high dudgeon.

As in Pakistan, so in India, the mainstream media echoed the official line in the name of nationalism”. Both practised media management”. India Today was perhaps the first to report on the training of Tamil militants (March 31, 1984). The Ministry of External Affairs expressed its displeasure to the formidable correspondent Shekhar Gupta, if I remember correctly. Not every journalist can resist such pressures. Offenders are denied access. India Today’s report created a furore in Sri Lanka’s Parliament.

The establishment’s mindset survived radical change. On March 7, 2013, Yashwant Sinha peremptorily laid down commandments for Colombo to obey. They were (1) Withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s Army from Northern Sri Lanka and handing over law and order duties to local police. (2) Implementation of Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Committee (LLRC). (3) Implementation of not only the 13th Amendment, but additional powers (13th Amendment + Plus) to complete devolution of powers. (4) Institution of an independent, impartial inquiry comprising people from outside Sri Lanka. (5) A clear commitment that the guilty shall be punished. (6) India shall not only vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), but take the lead in drafting a resolution against Sri Lanka. (7) Let India convey to other nations in neighbourhood not to interfere in Sri Lanka & Indo-Sri Lanka affairs. Any wonder he proved such a crass failure as Minister for External Affairs after failing as Finance Minister? What if Pakistan were merely to suggest some steps in Kashmir like demilitarisation, punishment to violators of human rights and respect for Kashmir’s autonomy?

Double standards continue

The double standards continue still. National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, could meet Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka but the Foreign Secretary talks with Pakistan were called off simply because Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit had held traditional talks with the Hurriyat leaders on the eve of the Secretary-level talks.

India has two oft-proclaimed interests in Sri Lanka —the Tamils and China. On both, its leverage in 2015 is weaker than what it was in 1985. On both, India can promote its interests and concerns by persuasive diplomacy rather than strident assertiveness. On February 5, 2015, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet decided to go ahead with its $1.5 billion port city” deal with China (The Telegraph, February 6). China’s presence is far too strong to be wished away. Realistically, there is a point beyond which India cannot compete in provision of largesse. But it has a much greater advantage in soft power. It can be and will be used only if there is an honest retrospect on India’s policies towards Sri Lanka since 1983 and an honest awareness of the enormous damage which India inflicted on a great and beautiful country only because it had not the military might to resist India’s aggressive interventions on its own soil and in its national affairs.

2 Responses to “India’s sordid record”

  1. Christie Says:

    ‘Where is my comment? India has been involved with internal affairs of the island since visit by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1927. Indian Union was built by the British. Mr Somasundaram can you tell me of another group of people who lived more than 12 miles aprt across the sea and have the same characters as Tamils all over the world. Tamils and other Indians came to the island en-mass under the cover of British guns, same as in other Indian colonies from Fiji to Guyana.’ Dalit

    This is the second comment a friend of mine Dalit Prawasi commented on this article in Frontline. He also commented earlier and was not published by Frontline.

    Indian imperialists are making life hard for all natives of its colonies.

  2. NAK Says:

    India may have fed and cared for the LTTE but they never waivered from their allegiance to their real masters the CIA.
    The 83 riots simply couldn’t have been for the benefit of India.
    Sri Lankans respect India, not for it’s size or power, but for it is the country that gave us Buddhism.
    That respect India gets are only from the Buddhists and not the others which was amply demonstrated during IPKF.
    If India just cared to nuture that respect they don’t need to entertain any security concerns as far as Sri Lanka is concerened. But the demented power brokers in the south block always wants to have it their way.

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