Indo Lanka relations before China War and After – Part III
Posted on March 12th, 2014

By Bandu de Silva

Shift of Policy

 India’s shift of policy towards Sri Lanka from a positive one to a negative one, can then be traced to the ascendancy of the opposition to power under Mr.Jayewardene, replacing Mrs.Bandaranaike. The Indian government watched his inclinations, his criticism of the predecessor’s policy of Non-Alignment as being pro-Soviet, which was a position held by the West, his abandonment of Socialist economic policies and opening the economy to heavy foreign investment and launching the accelerated Mahaweli Scheme which brought massive foreign participation in the form of Aid projects, all sent different signals to India as the country moving politically and economically, to the western orbit. India even sent its own agents to watch the proceedings at the Paris Aid Consortium, as I observed.

Sri Lanka’s woes over northern Tamil terrorist insurrection began to take formal shape from  this point onwards. It manifested itself first in the form of Tamil Nadu providing safe-haven to northern insurgents progressing into military training and financing by the Tamil Nadu government, to finally, take over for more sophisticated training and supply of arms by RAW  which operated under Indira Gandhi’s direct supervision. The role of RAW in creating the ethnic riots in July 1983 has not been studied though there were clear indication of such a destabilizing process. The root cause of the riots, the killing of 13 soldiers by the LTTE in Jaffna  in an ambush through the planting of a deadly claymore mine, itself resulted from the arms  sophistication that the LTTE and other groups received in India. The observations of the (Rtd).General Harikirat Singh who led the Indian IPKF forces in the north and East initially about sophisticated quality of military training given to Sri Lanka Tamil insurgent groups was commented upon in the last article.

The refugee exodus to India after July 1983 riots, which gave New Delhi an alibi to intervene, was largely, stage managed. The LTTE later developed a strong sea-tiger force which became a hazard even for international shipping, but even began experimenting with the manufacture of submarine crafts.

The intrusion by Indian Air Force Mirage Fighter Air Craft carrying missiles with orders to shoot if there was any opposition, which was commented upon in the previous article, was a warning to Sri Lanka with India’s military might to stop the war against the LTTE when the Vadamarachchi campaign was going on successfully. At the same time, Indian Minister of External Affairs, Natwar Singh who accompanied senior Minister Chidambaram to Colombo, expressed India’s intention to invade Sri Lanka if the warning was not heeded. (This was communicated to me by Former Foreign Minister, A.C.S.Hamid since he knew my old relationship with Natwar Singh as former diplomatic colleagues in Beijing).

General Harkirat Singh observed that contingency plans to deploy Indian forces were already made by April 1987, i.e. four months before the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The Le Monde correspondent who accompanied India’s “Mercy Mission” (Operation Poomalai) by missile carrying Mirage escorted transport planes in 1987, too saw evidence of military preparations for a military intervention. The accord was signed on 29th July 1987, a Clause of which provided for the President of Sri Lanka to call for military assistance, but within hours of signing, Gen. Harkirat Singh had taken a flight to Pallai airport in the Jaffna peninsula, and not to Colombo, to consult with the President, who was the Commander-in-Chief in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan army was confined to barracks, and had no more role except to provide intelligence to the IPKF command. The idea of the IPKF coming on invitation of President Jayewardene, which even Gen.Harikirat Singh recorded, was as sham.       

The application of this newly defined policy became manifest later when India, imposed through “Letters Exchanged” along with the so called “Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord” in July 1987, whereby exclusive rights for India were obtained at the strategic Trincomalee harbour which is considered essential for India’s forward defence. Besides, the Accord ensured that WW II Oil storage wells would not be leased to any other nation but to India. These issues were not part of the problem over which India came to intervene in Sri Lanka’s internal affair which arose from Tamil militancy in the north and the east, but gave a clear indication as to what India’s interest was in using the local Tamil dissatisfaction to gain India’s strategic requirements.

Attraction of the British Legacy

            How the British legacy in India became a factor in making India’s neighbourhood policy is considered in this section. Though Nehru was a liberal minded statesman, new India under him found itself unable to shake-off the attraction of expansionist colonial policies which the former British Raj had left behind. This became evident from the way India under Nehru himself, and continued by others later, was not willing to abandon the old British claims to territory in border areas which the British colonial regime had established by expanded use of superior western armed forces. These included claims to areas in the North and North East, contesting China’s counter- claims and pursuing to the East, in the direction of Burma, border claims established also by the British. In reply to China’s three point solution to the border dispute Zhou ”en- lai’s latter of 25 October 1962, Nehru’s response was “India would never submit whatever the circumstances and however long and however hard the struggle may be.”(Janson, GH.1996, Afro-Asia and Non Alignment, N.Y p.333).. 

Burma agreed to peacefully settle the border issue with india, except not committing on the position of the trijunction which India and China were disputing.

Equation of Indian Military Might

Notwithstanding the early positive thinking on the part of political leadership of independent India, the possession of power emanating from the presence of a well trained large armed force left behind by the British which India had to share with the newly created state of Pakistan but the bulk of which went to India, remained a factor which the political leadership could not ignore but had to take into full cognizance in evolving India’s final trends in foreign policy. The demands of the military establishment itself could not be ignored. Consequently, military power was going to play a significant role in moulding India’s foreign policy in the region. 

Pakistan’s membership in Western military alliances through Baghdad Pact and SEATO provided more reasons for building up India’s overall military strength including Naval and Air Force just as much as there was demand from these two sectors for parallel development matching the ground forces. Later, the challenge posed by China following the border war and other claims to territory in the North- East made this need an urgent necessity. These compulsions made India not only to strengthen her military, Naval and Air power and even to acquire nuclear capability, which advantage China already possessed. Consequently, when “Buddha Smiled” ”that was the Code word used by the scientists – in the Thar dessert when India’s first nuclear device was successfully tested, Pakistan too responded by announcing success in testing its own nuclear success. (For “Buddha Smiled” see Strobe Talbot’s “Engaging India, (2006). 

Less emphasized is the fact that India came to possess an Air Craft Career long before China which is being conceived as a naval threat not only in the China Seas but also in the Indian Ocean. Now one finds that despite India possessing nuclear capability and refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and having a treaty of strategic relationship with the Soviet Union, she was able to forge a new security relationship with US under Clinton administration.




Change of profile

From an earlier dimensions as an entirely peace loving country, India’s profile now changed into a major regional military power. This has progressed under Obama ”Manamohan Singh administrations into nuclear partnership.

Looking at it in another way, as most countries explain their military build up, it can be understood as a defensive build up. Nevertheless, the fact remains that India has become a militarized country which is not without its implications on India’s neighbourhood bilateral policy. 

There are other compulsions which make India not to neglect the military option. These arise from India’s own domestic situation of not being a cohesive political entity, but a conglomeration of diverse entities consisting of formerly directly administered territories, others semi-independent states on whom the British had foisted Residency arrangements, and still others who were independent princely states, all of them with heterogeneous populations divided on the basis of language and religion, social customs  et al.……… It was through the ingenuity exercised by independent India’s early leadership that these various entities were later woven into a unified administration but India even to this day, has to come to terms with issues arising from this unified but out-pouring arrangement. This situation, along with problems like in the state of Kashmir and Jammu and North East, where insurgent activity is rampant, made it necessary for India to have large military force to back the political power at the Centre. This was seen when Premier Nehru threatened to use armed forces when South Indian separatism reached highly emotional proportions.

How the Military Equation came to affect neighbourhood relations

Like in many other states, India’s policy towards her immediate neighbours, was no longer being viewed in respect of the small neighbours  as an equal relationship except in rhetorical sense, but as one arising from military strength behind it, as the rising regional power. This is something that the present External Affairs Minster, Salman Kurshid, tried to disavow recently in his “No Big Brother but equal partners” stance. 

This power equation in relationship among states which has been historically an ever present reality and has not lost its relevance throughout the ages, in the case of independent India, began to be reflected in respect of Pakistan, and later, China, as a defence-oriented  relationship, but in respect of relations with Sri Lanka and her former northern neighbours like Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal, as military-power oriented relationship. The US Ambassador in New Delhi, John K.  Galbraith and even K.M.Panikkar, India’s later Defence Minister, saw the border clash with China as caused by Indian military trying to respond to popular demand and provking Chinese military reaction.  The Indian armed forces became fully involved in the break- up of East Pakistan.

Though it was not India’s declared policy in relationship with neighbours, these developments show how this power equation has come to remain a dominant factor at the bottom of India’s strategic thinking over Indian neighbourhood policy from the inception of India’s independence. This is a reality which is not easy to shake off. 

Shift from Peaceful Neighbourhood to Indian Strategic Plan

            Despite Prime Minister Nehru’s declared intentions to forge a foreign policy of peace and friendship and settle issues peacefully and in a just manner, there was always a parallel line of thought emanating from India’s defence circles ” note the discussion above on “The Equation of India’s Military Might”- which was not on all fours with the diplomatic line which was manifest in Premier Nehru’s original thoughts. With the adversarial relations with Pakistan on one side which resulted in military confrontations, and again after border clashes with China, Nehru himself could not resist the demand for the need for India to be militarily strong. Nehru’s declaration to fight to the end however long and however hard it may be, as seen by Ambassador Galbraith, demonstrated this latent quality. Sen Gupta quoting learned scholars who carefully studied the Indian and Chinese stances say, they have been persuaded despite their sympathy for India, to blame the fighting for Indian obstinacy and shortsightedness. (p.163). The Soviets earlier and the Chinese Communists were less unflattering in reference to India which they saw as an imperialist left over, with a Congress dominated by “reactionary monopolists”.  

            For India, seeking a security relationship with the former Soviet Union which was having its own share of problems with China, was a development to be expected in the old Kautilyan sense. Mrs Banadaranaike, rightly  feared that India was looking for US air power against China which was later confirmed by Galbraith and others. This has now turned full cycle with the US security cooperation with India. This military approach of India (second line of strategy ) then did not arise purely from the clash with China but evidence indicates that it has been a dormant feature in India’s strategic planning. 

Shifting relations with Sri Lanka

Despite the ostensibly demonstrated friendship from time to time, and the two countries developing a harmonious relationship to work together in international forums since late 1956, through common commitment to the policy of non-alignment under Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike regimes, the island had earlier been considered falling within India’s strategic zone for the defence of India. This was but an idea that was kept under close wrap, until it was given vocal expression by K.M.Panikkar, under what came to be known as the “Panikkar Doctrine” which has since found a permanent niche in India’s strategic planning and came to an operative situation when there was a regime change in Sri Lanka after the collapse of Mrs.Bandaranaike’s rule and the rise of J.R.Jayewardene leading to an Executive Presidency rule. On India’s side, it marked the rise of Indira Gandhi to the centre of Indian politics.

Under the Panikkar Doctrine, Sri Lanka was conceived as essential for India’s forward defence system in the direction of the Indian Ocean. Under Indira Gandhi’s leadership from 1977 onwards, after regime change in Sri Lanka, when the country came to be named as one from whose direction a threat to India’s security existed, this security consideration came to be openly manifested in India’s policy  declarations. India’s determination to stop such a threat from the direction of Sri Lanka  was demonstrated. (Indira Gandhi in  Lok Sabha).

Under Premier Rajiv Gandhi, as India’s diplomatic representative in Sri Lanka, High Commissioner J.N.Dixit, as noted earlier, gave vocal expression to India‘s new policy with his “no permanent friendships; but permanent interests” postures.

It was time for Sri Lanka to understand that the Nehru’s ostensible policy which was conceived as maintaining  peaceful relations with neighbours, had been sent to the back-burner. The adage used by Dixit which was nothing but strictly Kautilyan, the big-power threat was demonstrated when he told President JR Jayewardene that India would not permit the Sri Lankan Army to over-run Jaffna after Vadamarachchi success. How Dixit demonstrated body language, how India would deal with Prabhakaran, described in his book “Assignment Colombo,” holding his clenched fist and stretched fore ”finger to his temple  was another display of Indian power-equation. President Jayawardene could not have been amused. He would have offered the Indian diplomat another Shivas Regal for the road!  That adventure cost India the lives of over one thousand Jawans and several thousand maimed for life, is another matter.

 It is this new definition of Indian foreign policy which has continued since and still continues to dominate India’s policy towards Sri Lanka, notwithstanding External Affairs Minister Kurshid’s recent remonstrations of not wanting to play “Bg Brother”. This came to be reflected in India’s support for US Resolutions in Geneva in 2012 and 2013 and will be demonstrated again in March this year in Geneva.  Anything said to the contrary, is mere rhetoric.

A contrast with the Burma Equation 

The application of India’s military might in Sri Lanka contrasts with that of avoidance of such power against Burma when General Ne Win reversed U Nu’s pacific policy and expelled the Indians from that country without compensation and facilities to repatriate assets and was seen passage of Assamese and Nagaland insurgents to use its territory to proceed to East Pakistan and China for arms training, and obtain arms, because that country which was under the military regime had close relations with China and was seen as an important element for the security of India’s eastern states. There was no case of proximity playing its role in favour of India in the case of Burma in contrast to the situation in Sri Lanka.

 Indian military power was but used in a big way to dismember Pakistan’s eastern territories where Pakistan was vulnerable. That pointed to the contrast in situations and that Sri Lanka became a target for manipulation simply because of her military weakness. Not to speak of any deterrent, the island had only a small ceremonial army and a few thousand Policemen for civil duties when India began training the militants in sophisticated arms. They even had modern AK assault weapons even before the Sri Lankan forces which had WW II vintage rifles thought of them. Gen Harkirat Sing says RAW did not have records of how many weapons had been issued to the Sri Lankan Tamil insurgent groups. 

Strategic Interest behind Sri Lankan Devolution

            The Gandhi-Jayewardene accord also, more importantly, sought a devolution process, where by the Centre’s stronghold in two provinces close to India’s territory, would be weakened and near two thirds of the sea coast of the island including the strategic harbor of Trincomalee could become an easy target for India anytime.  This is the essence of what Rajiv Gandhi stated publicly in Chennai on return from signing the Accord in Colombo, and senior Union Minister, Chidambaram told Congress Party in Virudnagar in Tamil Nadu not so long ago, that there will be two Tamil States in Sri Lanka before long. A deeper meaning lies behind these declarations. The situation which has now arisen which shows that already, the NPC has passed resolution calling for an international inquiry on the events of the last phase of the war and Chief Minister Vigneswaram himself has gone on record supporting an international inquiry, goes to show how Centre’s objectives and the peripheral administration’s objectives are clashing. The NPC is also silent on the issue of south India fishermen poaching in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters which has affected the livelihood of Northern fishermen. 

Many see the Sri Lankan issue as a Tamil Nadu issue. It is not. In the final analysis, it is very much India’s strategic issue, of keeping the Sri Lankan pot boiling, so that she could intervene any time, in India’s strategic interest, as she did before. This is the reason why India does not want Sri Lanka to decide her own priorities in the way of devolution of power, but insists on devolving as per 13th Amendment to the Constitution which India forced on Sri Lanka, and on 13 plus. Already, even within a few months of its coming into existence the NPC is passing resolutions which look towards Tamil Nadu than to Colombo. Senior Minister Chidambaram was half right when he told the Congress  in Virudhanagar a few years back that there would soon be two Tamil states in Sri Lanka.  He might have, as well completed by saying “two Tamil Nadu states” in Sri Lanka, like “Ila-Nadu” in Cola times.

[To be Continued]

8 Responses to “Indo Lanka relations before China War and After – Part III”

  1. Nanda Says:

    “NPC is passing resolutions which look towards Tamil Nadu than to Colombo.”

    Stupid joke. If the executive president cannot stop this, why we need him ?
    If our buggers cannot stop this, they should resign and never ask Sinhala voter to vote. Our buggers have joined Tamil Nadu jokers as political bankrupt jokers.

  2. Lorenzo Says:


    If the EXECUTIVE president cannot bust the NPC, what’s the damn use of him and his powers!

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    NPC is getting ready to pass another resolution BANNING the army from going close to schools and administration offices.

    They plan to pass it just days BEFORE March 28 when US resolution against SL is due.

    Dissolve the damn NPC at least now fools.

  4. Nanda Says:

    Then they will ban police from going close to brothels entertaining Endians.
    Finally they will pass another resolution to ban MR from entering Jaffna.

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    Remember the Endian diplomat Kabaragoya case?

    USA has DROPPED all charges against her and Endia and USA are in bed again!! As expected.

    Only fools believed it was a major US-Endia problem!

  6. Christie Says:

    Our thinking has to change. If we still beleive in the Indian brainwashing of us then what the writer says may be true. There was no India before British made it. Indians who went on the back of British to Brirtish Dominions realised their luck long before the collapse of the British power. Indians in British tropical dominions started to congress long before the British collapse. Mohandas, J Nehru, Bose were the major leaders.

  7. Christie Says:

    Bapu the well known Indian colonial parasite was involved with Jaffna Youth Congress. a racist org with a Socialist flavour and the racist trade unins long before the British collapse. JYC was the nursery for the well known and celebrated Sinhala Socialists. Or should I say JYC was the Bapu of Sinhla Socialists.
    Burma suffred most under the Indian colonial parasites. By the time Burma got independence three quarters of its arable land was in the hands of Indian colonial parasites. They produced the milled ricce in Chartered mills for the Indian colonial parasites in the British Dominions in the Tropics. Remember “millchard haal” that was very cheap.

  8. SA Kumar Says:

    Dissolve the damn NPC – that what NPC & TNA wants to happen !!!
    Nothing to loose policy !

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