Rajiv sent Indian troops only at Jayewardene’s specific request
– Natwar Singh
September 15, 2018,
BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, September 15: It was at the Sri Lankan President Junius Richard Jayewardene’s specific and frantic request that Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had rushed Indian troops to the island’s troubled North East 31 years ago on the night of July 29, 1987.
This was disclosed here on Thursday to the Sunday Island by K Natwar Singh, who was Gandhi’s Minister of State for External Affairs at that point of time, at a dinner, hosted for former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa by Dr Subramanyam Swamy, a parliamentarian of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
This disclosure should put an end to the suspicion entertained by certain quarters in Sri Lanka till today that India had sent its troops to the island with evil intentions.
Singh was in Colombo along with Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao and a host of officials. This correspondent had accompanied Gandhi on his ill-fated trip to the island.
When Gandhi’s aircraft landed in Colombo, the situation was tense and Colombo was burning. The entire Gandhi entourage had to be helicoptered to Galle Face Green, and taken to the Taj Samudra hotel.
Half of the Sri Lankan Cabinet had boycotted the ceremony, where the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement (ISLA) was signed by Jayewardene and Gandhi. It was there that Singh heard first whisper that Indian troops were on their way to Jaffna. This took him by surprise. He then asked his senior colleague Narasimha Rao if Gandhi had consulted his Cabinet about sending troops to Sri Lanka.
When Rao said Gandhi did not, Singh went up to Gandhi to ask if India was sending troops to the island and if he had taken the Cabinet into confidence about it.
Singh recalled Gandhi telling him that Jayewardene had approached him immediately after the agreement was signed, and said to him in a voice full of fear and panic: “There will be a coup tonight! I need your help!! Unless help arrives immediately, the situation will go out of hand.”
Gandhi then told Singh that he called up the Defence Minister in Delhi and asked him to rush troops to Jaffna. There was no time to consult the Cabinet.
Jayewardene had apparently used a clause in ISLA to get Gandhi to rush Indian troops on a fire-fighting operation.
Article 2.16 (c) of ISLA says: “In the event that the Government of Sri Lanka requests the Government of India to afford military assistance to implement these proposals, the Government of India will cooperate by giving to the Government of Sri Lanka such military assistance as and when requested.”
The Indian troops—-which came to be known as the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF)—-landed in Jaffna in the early hours of July 30, primarily to disarm the Tamil militant groups waging an armed struggle to carve out Tamil Eelam. Most groups obliged, but Velupillai Prabhakaran and his much-dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) refused, and turned against the IPKF.
In the confrontation that raged between the LTTE and the IPKF, 1,138 Indian troops lost their lives while 2,762 soldiers were maimed for life. The IPKF operations had cost India INR 10.3 billion. After 32 months, the last of the IPKF personnel left the island on March 29, 1990.
In the end, Gandhi’s misadventure in Sri Lanka cost him his life. He was struck by a rifle butt by a sailor on a naval guard- of-honour in Colombo on the morning of July 30.
And on the night of May 21, 1991, Gandhi was assassinated at an election rally in Sriperumbudur near Chennai by Dhanu, alias Thenmozi Rajaratnam, an LTTE operative.
The LTTE’s war against the Sri Lankan state ended with Prabhakaran’s killing on May 18, 2009, at Mullivaikkal on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in Mullaitivu in the Northern Province.
Thus ended a murky chapter in Indo-Sri Lankan relations.