Back Ground History
According to the Mahavamsa , written in the 5th Century A.D by an unknown Buddhist Monk where it, purports, that the King of Ceylon , Vijaya was the Grand Son from the Union between an Indian Princess and a Lion who landed at Tambapanni on the North- West Coast of the Island, which was then under the Protection of the Buddha. It is also believed that he was accompanied by seven hundred Aryan followers from Singhapura in Orissa ( India) , who were founders of the Sinhalese Race. Archaeological excavations also point towards “ a Single matrix of Culture & Identity which bound South India and Sri Lanka- during the period (800-200 B.C). The Ethnic problems started early, which established the pervasive Sinhalese idea that they were the chosen guardians of Buddhist Sri Lanka, whereas the Tamils were said to be Heathens and Invaders. The Mahavamsa describes how the Sinhala King destroyed 32 Tamil Sub-Kings before he killed Elara- who was then the Tamil King and seized his Capital Anuradhapur. Buddhist Monks viewed that since the Tamils were non- Buddhist they were Sub- human and so killing them was no sin. At that time Eelam was the name for a modern Tamil homeland derived from the name Elara , the unfortunate last Monarch of Anuradhapura. In the year 1215 A.D a Tamil Kingdom was once again reestablished, around Jaffna and some cordiality and contact was maintained between the Sinhala Kingdom in the South and the Tamil Kingdom in the North.
British Role and Period
In 1505 A.D Portuguese sailing boats which were blown off-course also sailed into the Colombo harbor .The Sinhalese allowed them to land and even started trade from this small port which later became a Portuguese Colony . However In 1560 the Viceroy of the Indies learnt of the persecutions of the Christians by the Hindu Tamil King of Jaffna which lead to a punitive expedition ordered by the Viceroy and Jaffna fell after a hard battle . While the City was being looted , the Priests of one of the Temples put up a fierce resistance. The Portuguese suspected that they were trying to preserve treasure in the Temple precints, so they raided it, but instead they found a casket covered with precious stones containing a tooth set in Gold- the fabled Buddha’s tooth normally kept at a Temple in Kandy which used to be lent for the Jaffna Festival.The Portuguese later organized a public ceremony in 1561 and, the Tooth was first ground to powder in a mortar, then burnt in a Brazier and finally the Ashes were scattered across the Seas. In 1833 the Island became a single Administrative unit. In the 19th Century substantial British sponsored Tamil migration from South India also took place . These were the Laborers who sought work in the Coffee and Tea Plantations. The British always followed the policy of pitting one Community against the Other.
Divide and Rule Policy
As late as 1953, a Census revealed that there were 984,327 Indian Tamils in Ceylon and they were made Non Citizens and disfranchised. There was a back lash and a fight ensued between the under represented Sinhalas and the Indian Tamils. The anglicized Sinhala Elite, were seeking Independence from British Rule and it was then, that the Ceylon National Congress comprising Sinahalas and Tamils was formed. The Chosen Leader however was a distinguished Tamil Politician. A number of Political Parties were formed and later One of them was by a Marxist known as the Federal Party but in Tamil it was called ( Ceylon Tamil State Party ) . This higligted the Communal Tensions and arguments began to be born . World War II had also contributed to change the Position further, and the fervor then was also for Eventual Independence . The Tamils suggested a fifty –fifty scheme with 50% for themselves and 50% for the Sinhalas. This however was rejected. The Final Constitution which was adopted in 1948 was a Unitary Setup , which did not work. The Relations of Minorities to Majorities, particularly the Tamil Minority in the Northern and Eastern Provinces was the most difficult problem faced.
STATELESS PEOPLE – The Question of Citizenship
What precipitated matters further was the Ceylon Citizenship Act 0f 1948 and the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act of 1949, which laid down stringent requirements and the documentation for Eligibility of Citizenship. However it was seen that only the Tamils of the Indian Region were called upon to prove their Claim of Citizenship which few Indian Tamils could do. Certainly Justice was being denied to INIDAN TAMILS. These prophesy came true when, Bandaranaike was Elected on a Sinhala only platform. (Earlier one of the aristocratic Sinhala had to apologize to an audience because he could not address them in the Sinhala language). To accommodate him the two language Policy was appended and Sinhala became the Official Language, with NO Tamil included in the Cabinet!!!This situation led to a Civil Disobedience movement which ultimately led to the Bandaranaike – Chevelvanayakam pact which recognized Tamil as the language of the National Minority of Sri Lanka and also contained provisions for Provinces Providing Regional Councils . It was in Dec 1947 that Prime Minister Nehru and Senanayake the Prime Minister Designate of a soon to be Independent Sri Lanka met and Signed a six point formula, embodying the Form of an Agreement between India and Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, later Senanayake unilaterally decided to define what Sri Lanka Citizenship would be. The main clause put was that a Person must have continuously resided in Sri Lanka since 1946 – and before that a prospective Citizen should have lived on the island for seven years if married, and 10 years if unmarried in order to claim domicile. He had in addition to produce Documents establishing such antecedents which most Estate workers at that time neither possessed nor could they acquire. It was only in 1964, when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike visited New Delhi with a Plan to ensure the Deportation of the Tamils rendered Stateless. As Mrs Bandaranaike was preparing to return home, she received an unexpected invitation for one final meeting with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in which An Agreement was drawn up whereby India agreed to accept 5,25,000 out of an estimated 9,75,000 Stateless Tamils whereas Sri Lankans would only provide Citizenship to 3,00000 others. It was also agreed that the repatriation would take place over a period of fifteen years. The fate of 1,50,000 other plantation Tamils was left undecided!!!
The repatriation process however proved to be tardy and slow and Sri Lanka further slipped from the Indian mind. In the 1980’s the Geopolitical and Socio-Cultural composition of South Asia propelled India to perceive herself as the SECURITY MANAGER of the Region. Suddenly an overt active Intervention started in Sri Lanka when P.V Narsimha Rao was the External Affair Minister and he flew to Colombo even without awaiting an Invitation !!! With in a week of his return Indira Gandhi declared in the Lok Sabha that India had a vested interest in the happenings on the Island and it was not just another Country.
Policy of Divide
However the Sri Lankan Army in May 1985 attacked Velvettiurai and killed 250 Tamils.Five days later the Tigers struck back. Dressed in Army uniforms, they hijacked two buses and drove into the heartland of Sinhala Culture, which lay far away from the LTTE bases in Eelam.They machine –gunned the Worshippers around the sacred Bodhi Tree and its adjacent Temple killing 150 persons. Thereafter, they made a daring and successful getaway through Sinhala Territory. A shock-wave went through the Sinhalese People when Tamil booklets were distributed which sneeringly asked, “ Mr. President, before you settle 30,000 Sinhalese families in our Homeland how capable are you in defending your own heart-land?” This incident shattered the Sri Lankan Governments illusions of easy success against the Tamils. The reprisals against the Tamils continued and for the First Time the LTTE and TELO Guerrillas launched Frontal Attacks against the Sri Lankan Army.
India’s Initial Planning
It was End December 1985 (when I was the Director General of Military Operations) at Army Headquarters, New Delhi, when I was informed that India could be in for trouble with the Sri Lankan Government . The Sri Lankans had started to ban the movement of Boats which crippled the Fishing Operations of the Tamils and besides they wanted to settle 30,000 Sinhala Families in the North . The families would be armed and trained by the Sri Lankan Government to fight the Tamils. Due to this the Tamils were reacting by bombing trains, buses and were on a killing spree which could affect India.I was directed to prepare a plan where Military intervention by India could take place and how India should react to the situation. The Military Operations Directorate already had information on Sri Lanka. We studied the Topographical details as also the Sinahla- Tamil problems and their roots. How could the Sinhala Government deny the Citizenship Rights to Tamils? We also were already aware that this was an Ethnic problem, fraught with grave dangers to India and given the Troops available, a Plan was drawn up which recommended that in case Indian intervention was required, India must be in a position to take- over the Administration from a particular mid-point in Sri Lanka, isolate the Southern half of the Country and then work our way towards the North via the Eastern Batticaloa- Trincomalee area and head on to Jaffna. The Plan was drawn keeping in view that the Indian Government had always backed the LTTE and the Tamils, right from early Eighties. The Sinhalese-Tamil relationship was surely drifting and we had Intelligence that even the Tamils were being trained and they were being sent to Protect their own interests in Sri Lanka.We were also aware that the External Affairs Minister was sent to Colombo in 1983 when fighting broke out and the Government at the Centre was not on the same wavelength with the DMK in Tamil Nadu. The Guerrillas were emboldened by such overt Indian concern for Tamils in Sri Lanka. They demanded a Government in exile in March 1984.Despite India’s refusal to grant permission for a Government in exile , The Sri Lankan Government reacted by imposing a total blockade along the maritime boundary with India. Jayewardene also launched his diplomatic offensive by asking for troops from Beijing, the USA and the UK. We also were aware that Sri Lankans had already signed an Agreement with the Israeli Intelligence agency Mossad. They had also hired a group of mercenaries of the SAS to set up their Intelligence organizations to combat the Tamil Guerrilla Threat.
Keeping the above in mind, we appreciated that we would have to undertake an Operation which would involve all the three Services, Airforce, Navy and the Army.We would also be required to train together, before we actually launched the Operation. We did not have detailed information about the Topography of Central Sri Lanka and what was the status of the tea-plantation areas i.e. whether they were Tamil or Sinhala dominated. This was important since we contemplated to air-drop our Para- Troopers to secure a Central line then air-drop Commandos at various ports so as to be able to progress with the Operations. For this purpose some Officers from the Intelligence Directorate at Army HQrs accompanied me to Sri Lanka in order to confirm the latest Topographical and other information.If we were going to fight and commit our troops then they must be trained to fight under those conditions and secondly we must have Intelligence, both Political and Topographical as well as knowledge of the Ethnic problems. It was a question of nine lakh Tamils being thrown out of Sri Lanka and sent back to Tamil Nadu as Refugees.
The 1971 Bangladesh Operations were very much on my mind, while I was preparing this Plan, as it was necessary to draw up the Operation Plan very intricately. The Plan drawn-up was to be presented to the three Services and it was decided by the Chiefs of Staff to begin Training and Familiarization for this Operation. However, soon after the Plan had been presented, I was transferred to Chandimandir as the Chief of Staff of the Western Army. I was later quite surprised when on June 4, 1987, I was informed that the Bangalore airfield was alive with unusual activity and when I enquired, I was told that India was dispatching Food supplies to Tamils in Sri Lanka since the Sri Lankan Government had cut –off their supply lines.There were certain additional clauses negotiated between the Governments of India and Sri Lanka under the Indo- Sri Lanka Accord, whereby the Indian Army agreed that they would act as a buffer between the Sri Lankan Army in the South and the Tamil Militants in the North . I fail to understand how our Military Leadership at that time could have been so blind so as to agree to a proposal of this nature, without realizing the grave consequences that were bound to follow and who cleared the new Plan in the Government? Was this plan put up to the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Meanwhile, on June 12, a ship “Island Pride” carried 20,000 tonnes of food supplies from India to Jaffna and disembarked Mr. Hardeep Puri who was then First Secretary (Political) at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. In Jaffna , Hardeep pressurized the Commander and President of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to approve a possible Indo- Sri Lanka Accord. The short, stocky, swarthy, thirty- three year old Prabhakaran gave his qualified acquiescence and recognized India’s Geo-Strategic interests and said that he would not oppose the Accord. In return Puri promised a package deal for the Tamils, which included the Recognition of Tamil as an Official Language, the merger of the Tamil claimed Northern and Eastern Provinces into a single unit and the devolution of real authority to a newly constituted elected Provincial Council.
Prabhakaran also visited Delhi and met the Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi . Prabhakaran , with his immediate family and three Commanders of the LTTE, were flown from Jaffna to Trichi to New Delhi. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr. MG Ramachandran , who was Prabhakaran’s mentor, also joined to allay any fears and suspicions. In striking contrast to this the remaining Tamil Groups were simply informed of the forthcoming settlement and were brought to Delhi to give their approval. It was said that the Accord would only be an Interim Agreement. Meanwhile the Leader of the Main Opposition Party “Sri Lanka Freedom Party,” Mrs Sirimovo Bandaranaike announced her meetings with the members of the Buddhist Sinhalese to oppose the Accord. Rioting continued in Colombo despite a curfew and 19 people were killed. Even then Mr. Dixit hopped between Delhi and Colombo to finalize Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to sign the Historic accord. Prabhakaran met Rajiv Gandhi and Rajiv took serious note of Parbhakaran’s reservations. The Cabinet Committee for Political Affairs met soon thereafter but not to discuss Prabhakaran‘s reservations but whether Rajiv should visit Colombo since there were disturbances there. Rajiv decided to go since Dixit felt if he did not do so, then it would add to Jayewardene’s problems. He left New Delhi early in the Morning. Rajivs plane landed at Colombo to a noisy welcome- 10,000 Sinhalas including Saffron clad Buddhists were violently demonstrating against the Accord. The Welcome gun-salute was followed by the sounds of small arms fire. The Police were resorting to firing. Five persons were killed. Rajiv and Sonia drove off in a Bullet Proof car that had accompanied them from New Delhi. Dozens of beaming, Self Important Indian officials got into other cars and followed. The whole convoy sped through the deserted smouldering and sullen streets of Colombo to the Galle Face Green- the vast expanse of greenery overlooking the sea in the heart of Colombo. A Ceremonial reception was held but Premdasa and six of his Cabinet Colleagues were conspicuous by their absence. The Indo- Sri Lanka Accord was signed in the 17th Century Presidential Palace.
Main Points Discussed
• Recognition of Unity and Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of Sri Lanka
• Cessation of hostilities
• Surrender of arms by the Tamils
• Union of Northern and Eastern provinces
• A referendum to be held in the Eastern Provincies to help Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalease residing there to decide whether they wished to remain a Part of the Province
• Repartition of 1,30,000 Tamil refugees from India to Sri Lanka
• Equal status for Tamil with English and Sinhala being the official language
• India to provide Sri Lanka with Military assistance to implement these proposals
• India would prevent its territory from being used by the Tamil Militants.
• Sri Lanka agreed to disband its brutal and ill-trained Home Guards
• Withdraw all Paramilitary Forces from the Northern and Eastern Proveniences.
It was clear that India had decided to intervene in Sri Lanka. A Core Group was created under Natwar Singh then Minister of State for External Affairs, and it included the Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force, Cabinet Secretary, Defence Secretary , Members from PMO office, Intelligence Bureau and from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) . As late as June 1987 the plans for a Military Force to physically separate the Sinhalas and the Tamils in the North and East of the island was taken and Rajiv Gandhi returned after signing the Accord on July 30. A Naval Guard of Honor was readied for his inspection. Just before the Ceremony, Indian Security Personnel demanded that the Honour Guard personnel be checked. However during inspection of the Guard of Honor , a Rating let out a yell , stepped forward and hit Rajiv Gandhi on the back with the butt of his rifle. The PM’s security men stood transfixed. No attempt was made to whisk him away or to get at the Assailant. The Rating was arrested but later given an amnesty!!!
Rejection of Accord
What India chose to overlook at this juncture was this rejection of the Accord by the LTTE. On July 29,1987, an Indian DMK Member of Parliament , Mr. V Gopalaswamy , went to Room No 581 of the Ashok Hotel in New Delhi and found that Prabhakaran and his Associates were still there. The MP says he was prevented by Guards to enter the room. A year later Gopalaswamy described the telephone call he had received from Prabhakaran the next day: “We have been betrayed by the Government of India. I have been stabbed in the back. Brother, I am also wearing a cyanide capsule around my neck. I have thought of committing sucide but I cannot. There are thousands of my brothers in Eelam. I cannot take that decision.”
Prabhakaran chose not to mention another part of his agreement with India whereby he would be paid five million Indian rupees a month for the maintenance of his Cadres . In addition the LTTE would enjoy a majority in the Interim Administrative Council and India would provide one billion rupees for the rehabilitation of the Jaffna peninsula.
The payment to the Tigers did not become public knowledge till April 3, 1988, when it was reported in the Observer by Dhiren Bhagat, a nephew of an Indian Military Hero, Lt Gen P S Bhagat, the first indian Officer to get the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. It was reported that Prabhakaran had asked for the Money to be paid in Sri Lanka currency, while India’s contention was that it was in Indian Rupees, with the result that LTTE would get twice the amount it had asked for , Only one of the monthly payments was made before India and LTTE fell out.
On July 30, 1987, as soon as copies of the Accord became available the Indian Army got orders to move into Sri Lanka. They were given the Task which was to disengage the Tamil militants LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army, clear the minefields, booby traps and to physically interpose themselves between the two Opposing Forces. This Operation was to be completed speedily and with minimum force Sundarji was then the Chief of Army Staff. About 8,000 Soldier were moved into Sri Lanka and were dispersed in Penny Packet units to interpose themselves between the opposing forces. Heavy weaponry was left behind and they were given just a little more than the minimum ammunition scale. When Indian troops arrived in Sri Lanka they received a delirious welcome from the Tamils. Despite scarcity of food, they were offered coconut based sweets, garlanded and thanked the Army. All this gave the feeling that there would be little fighting. However on August 4, Parbhakaran returned to Jaffna and received a huge welcome. He addressed the Crowds. And said that this Agreement did not concern only the problem of the Tamils,but also took into account Indo- Sri Lanka relations and the Principles which suited the Requirements which would make Sri Lanka accede to India’s Strategic sphere of influence. This agreement contained disarming the Tamil without working out a Guarantee for their Safety and Protection. The LTTE however refused to surrender their arms. They declared that under no Circumstances the Liberation Tigers will leave for their Motherland of Tamil Eelam.
The Indian Army managed to get a surrender of only 400 weapons. The LTTE claimed this was 85 % of their arms. The Indian Army believed it was 50%, in reality it was less than 15%.
On Aug,5, at Batticoloa, the Politically mature and Moderate leader, Francis, was replaced by Suresh Karuna, a Firebrand Leader who had been Prabhakaran’s bodyguard earlier. The stage was set for a war between the LTTE and the Indian Army.
The first Casualty followed a false celebration of peace by the Tamils in Trincomalee. A Sinhala crowd had begun to assemble and in the fight that followed a Tamil was killed. The IPKF stood silently watching the episode. On the Political front, it was the LTTE 23years old Chief of the Political wing Amrithalingam Thileepan, who went on fast unto death to seek redress of the Tamil complaints. He chose the immensely popular Nallur Kandaswamy temple as the venue of his fast. His Demands included the release of all Political prisoners held under anti- terrorist laws, end of a Sinahals colonization of Tamil areas, disarming of Home Guards and closure of all Army and Police camps in the Tamil dominated areas. By Sep 24 Thileepan was near death. He had not had a sip of water for nine days. Tamils in Sri Lanka were no longer viewing the IPKF as Saviors. A violent Tamil mob collected in front of an IPKF camp at Mannar. The Indian troops were compelled to open fire and a Tamil died. In less than two months the Indians and not the Sinahals were killing the Tamils. The same day JN Dixit rushed to Jaffna and gave vague assurances which failed to satisfy the Tamils. It was a case of Too little, Too late. Thileepan died the next day. A hush descended in the Tamil dominated areas.
On Oct 2, while India celebrated Mahatama Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary, the IPKF in Sri Lanka was attacked by a Sinhalease mob in Trincomalee. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a statement in Parliament on Nov 9 in which he said, While the LTTE promised to support the Agreement they started a propaganda Campaign against India through their illegal broadcasting facilities. They organized disturbances in Jaffna, disrupting normal life. They threatened all Tamil Civilians who disagreed with them and they hunted down and massacred 100 members of other Tamil militant groups. They tried to inflame Tamil opinion in Jaffna by imposing an unnecessary and tragic fast unto death by one of their cadres to demand concessions that were already under discussion. At this stage, the unfortunate suicide of 12 LTTE cadres took place.
It was on Oct 3 that the Sri Lankan Navy intercepted a fully- laden Tamil Motorboat. On board were 17 Armed Tigers, including Kumarappa and Pulendran- two of LTTE’s Regional Commanders. They were arrested and taken to a hanger at the Palely Air Base under Sri Lankan Army Guard. They were kept there as no Airplane was available to take them to Colombo for questioning. Pulendran was wanted in connection with the Kittulutwe massacre of 120 bus passengers, outside the Northern and Eastern provinces. The LTTE said that the Sri Lankan Navy had violated the accord. Unsure of the position, IPKF consulted New Delhi, which supported Colombo’s stand, and hence the IPKF guards were withdrawn. On 5 Oct all the 17 LTTE captives swallowed cyanide capsules that hung around their necks and died immediately. India, which had sought peace by appeasing both the Sinhalas and the Tamils now Faced War. On Oct 8, the LTTE ambushed a Jonga carrying five Indian Paracommandos on their way to collect supplies. The men were hacked to death. Tyres were put around their necks and ignited. On the same day the Chief of Army Staff, General Sundarji, flew into Jaffna. He was received by a grim Lt Gen Depinder Singh. The ostensible purpose of the visit was to save the Peace Process, the real reason was to prepare for battle.
The next day the LTTE fired on CRPF patrols. Three were killed. Defence Minister KC Pant arrived in Colombo to make sure of the Political support for IPKF’s crackdown on the LTTE . The Sri Lankan Government was happy to oblige.The President of Sri Lanka , Jayawardene declared LTTE an illegal outfit and placed a bounty of one million rupees on Parbhakaran’s head.
The IPKF also flexed its muscles and ventured out of Jaffna Fort and blew up the Printing Press of two LTTE newspapers the Eelamurasu and Murasoli- and the TV centre at Nidharsanam.Senior Military officers publicly declared that the LTTE would be routed in three days. There were in for a surprise.
The Indian Piece Keeping Force formed under the mandate of the Indo –Sri Lankan Accord signed between India and Sri Lanka aimed to end the Civil War.
The main task of the IPKF was to disarm the different militant groups, not just the LTTE and was to be followed by the formation of an Interim Administrative Council. These were as per the terms of the Accord signed between India and Sri Lanka, at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India. Given the escalating level of conflict in Sri Lanka, and with the pouring in of refugees into India, Rajiv Gandhi took the decisive step to push this accord through.
The Force was initially not expected to be involved in any significant combat by the Indian High Command. However, within a few months, the IPKF became embroiled in battle with the LTTE to enforce peace. The differences started with LTTE trying to dominate the Interim Administrative Council, and also refusing to disarm, which was a pre-condition to enforce peace in the Island. Soon, these differences led to the LTTE attacking the IPKF, at which point the IPKF decided to disarm the LTTE militans, by force. IPKF launched a number of combat operations aimed at destroying the LTTE led insurgency. It soon escalated into repeated skirimishes between the IPKF and LTTE.
The IPKF began withdrawing from Sri Lanka in 1989, following the election of the Vishwanath Pratap Singh. Government of India acted on the request of the newly elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
The decision to send the IPKF in Sri Lanka was taken by then Prime-minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi who held office until 1989. The operation in Sri Lanka was one of the factors that led to the ouster of the Rajiv Gandhi- led Congress government in 1989.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at a rally at Sriperumbudur on 21 May 1991, while he was campaigning for reelection during the 1991 Indian General Election by a Suicide Bomber, who was a member of the LTTE, named Dhanu and due to change of his program as initially he was to spend the night of 21 May in Chennai and not at Sriperumbudur . It is learnt that this program was changed. Was he aware of it?