The Indo-LTTE War

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The Indo-LTTE War
An Anthology, Part IV
MGR’s Death and the Aftermath

“[MGR] decided to join the army. To qualify for this he learnt horse-riding and the English language through a teacher. Soon he acquired a good knowledge of spoken English with sufficient grammar including active and passive voice. When the time came MGR gave up the idea of joining the army because his chest measurements did not quite come up to the required standard! …”
What was colonial Indian army’s loss in the mid 1930s turned out to be a fortune for Tamil moviedom, Tamil Nadu politics and also to the then budding LTTE.
Part 1 of Anthology
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
That the charismatic film star-turned politician M.G. Ramachandran was the only notable benefactor of the LTTE in its early stages of growth is now recognized as a historical fact. But the reasons for MGR’s patronage of Pirabhakaran and the LTTE in the aftermath of Black July 1983 have been not so crystal clear.
Many reasons, bordering on profound to political expediency, have been alluded to by journalists and analysts (including me) in the past. Here is one more psychological reason which I put forward, that has not been advanced until now. Could it be that MGR saw in Pirabhakaran’s then fledgling army a wish fulfillment which he couldn’t achieve in his illustrious life, when he was young? – that of a military adviser?

How many know the fact that before he made his name in the Tamil movie world, MGR aspired to be an army man, in the then colonial India? But, he gave up on that idea for a technical reason! In January 1981, when I was a delegate at the Fifth International Tamil Research Conference held in Madurai, sponsored by MGR’s then Tamil Nadu government, we received a souvenir entitled ‘Spotlight on Tamil Nadu: Special Publication released on the occasion of The 5th World Tamil Conference’. In this souvenir, there appeared an interview-profile about MGR (pp. 27-31), under the byline Copper Cochin, which I presume is a nom de plume of a foreign journalist. For this profile, MGR had provided some little known secrets of his life in the 1930s as a struggling, bit-part actor. To quote,
“MGR had a long period of being either out of work, or playing very small parts. When the chances of getting cinema roles were becoming bleak he learnt that young people who possess horse-riding training and who can converse in English were being recruited for the army. He decided to join the army. To qualify for this he learnt horse-riding and the English language through a teacher. Soon he acquired a good knowledge of spoken English with sufficient grammar including active and passive voice. When the time came MGR gave up the idea of joining the army because his chest measurements did not quite come up to the required standard! This proved to be his ‘lucky break’ for at this point Nandalal Jaswanthalal, the famous director and editor, offered him his first starring role at the salary of Rs. 350 per month! ‘Halfway through the shooting however, the film folded and I was out of work again,’ said MGR ruefully…”
What was colonial Indian army’s loss in the mid 1930s turned out to be a fortune for Tamil moviedom, Tamil Nadu politics and also to the then budding LTTE. MGR passed away on December 24, 1987, when the Indo-LTTE war had reached 76 days long and counting.
The 11 newsreports and commentaries that appear in this part (in chronological order) predominantly cover the multi-faceted life of MGR, the squabbling which followed his death in Tamil Nadu politics and the pontifications of analysts on how the LTTE would find it difficult to survive the post-MGR phase. That the LTTE has survived for twenty years is a tribute to the leadership of Pirabhakaran, the dedication of his followers as well as to MGR’s foresight.
As one would expect, the newsreports and commentaries that covered MGR’s legendary career were riddled with factual and interpretational errors. Indulgence on ignorance, bias and political spin are some factors which contributed to such errors. The Asiaweek (Hongkong) magazine came out with a cover story on MGR on Jan. 8, 1988. This feature also had its share of factual errors, which prompted me to submit a ‘letter to the editor’. My letter did appear in print, but in a truncated form (with truncations indicated with conventional dots). Now, I don’t have the original version that I sent to the Asiaweek magazine then; for the record, I provide the truncated version that appeared in print, following the Asiaweek’s cover story.
The 11 newsreports and commentaries that appear in this part (in chronological order) are as follows:
Anonymous: ‘Long Live MGR’. Asiaweek, Jan.8, 1988, pp.8-10, with a letter to the editor by Sachi Sri Kantha entitled ‘MGR’s movies’, Asiaweek, Jan.29, 1988.
Anonymous: More carnage. Asiaweek, Jan.8, 1988, p.15.
India correspondent: A Star is Dead. Economist, Jan.9, 1988.
Ron Moreau: Sri Lanka’s Widening War. Newsweek, Jan. 11, 1988, p. 13.
Edward Desmond: Family Affair. Time, Jan.18, 1988, p.11.
Salamat Ali: The Dravidian Factor – MGR’s death throws southern politics in a flux. Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb.4, 1988, pp. 20-21.
Salamat Ali: Across the Palk Strait. Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb.4, 1988, pp. 21-22.
Salamat Ali: Tiger-talk in Madras. Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb.4, 1988, p. 22.
Sam Rajappa: Celluloid hero who became a state’s leading man. Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb.4, 1988, pp. 70-71.
Anonymous: Carving up MGR’s Legacy. Asiaweek, Feb. 12, 1988, p.21.
William Burger: Who Will Succeed MGR? Newsweek, Feb.15, 1988, p.19.
Wherever they appear, dots and words within parenthesis or in italics are as in the originals.
‘Long Live MGR’
[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Jan.8, 1988, pp. 8-10.]
At times, the grief of the crowd seemed almost palpable. Hundreds of thousands of weeping mourners lined the 10 km route of the cortege, in some places standing 20 deep. Many had clambered onto billboards or lampposts to bid a final farewell to their dead anna (elder brother). As the funeral procession departed from the stately Rajaji Hall in Madras, a cry rang out: ‘MGR vazhga’ (‘Long live MGR’). Women beat their breasts and sobbed bitterly as their menfolk picked up the refrain: ‘MGR vazhga, MGR vazhga.’ The body of the man they worshipped as a near-god lay on a spotless white sheet, covered by the flag of India. Still attired in his customary white shirt and dhoti, dark glasses and custom-made fur cap, Maruthur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, chief minister of India’s Tamil Nadu State for more than a decade, was making his final journey.

On the pristine white sands of Marina Beach, the movie star-turned-politician who had captured the imagination of millions of Tamils was buried in a sandalwood casket with gold handles. The black marble slab that covered the grave was just a stone’s throw from the resting place of his political mentor, C.N. Annadurai. Although he had been a Hindu, MGR’s body was not cremated. Some say he was buried according to Christian custom because he died of a heart attack on Dec. 24, just a day before Christmas. Others believe it was because Annadurai, a co-religionist, had also been interred. ‘MGR didn’t leave any instructions,’ said M.P. Paramasivam, a long-time aide to the chief minister. ‘We thought it better to do it this way.’
As the smoke curled upward from a small fire of sandalwood and camphor, the crowd went out of control, pushing hard against a police cordon. Teargas canisters spewed fumes around the grave, but had little effect on the surging mob. Finally, worried about the security of assembled dignitaries, including Home Minister Buta Singh, the police levelled their rifles to restore order. At least twelve people died in rioting across the city; dozens more reportedly committed suicide in grief.
The scene had been equally violent the day before, outside the gates of Rajaji Hall, where MGR’s body had lain in state for a full day. At one point, more than 100,000 screaming, hysterical mourners tried to rush through the doors of the building, demanding to see their beloved leader. The numbers grew to an estimated 1.2 million as more wailing mourners joined the queues. Several women pulled at their hair in grief, others tore off stuck-on red dots on their foreheads in a gesture of mourning for a dead husband. ‘Why should I not weep?’ sobbed Mangayarkarasi, 45, ‘MGR was my brother. He was my father. He was my husband.’
There were few dry eyes among the members of MGR’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party who squatted on the steps at the foot of the bier. Jayalalitha Jayaram, an MP and propaganda secretary for the AIADMK, sat at his head, occasionally wiping his face gently with the pallav of her sari. The one-time actress, for whom MGR was rumoured to nurse a secret passion, had earlier been turned away from the Ramachandran residence at the insistence of his widow, V.N. Janaki. Inevitably, some humbug was mixed with the genuine grief. Several people seized the opportunity to be filmed next to the body or to issue statements of condolence.
Though MGR had been ailing ever since a massive stroke and a kidney transplant in 1984, the end was nonetheless sudden. On Dec. 23, he had retired to bed early. At about 11 pm, he woke up feeling nauseous but asked for soup. He had just sipped the last drop when he suffered a heart attack. His personal physician managed to revive him for a short while before he collapsed again. Three specialists then tried cardiac massage; one even ignored the sick man’s bad breath to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Finally in desperation they injected medication straight into the heart to kick it back to life. That, too, failed. Recalls one eyewitness: ‘Every time the doctors tried something, the monitor would start picking up signals [of MGR’s heart], but soon they would weaken. About 1:15 am [on Dec. 24] the signals stopped. It took some time for us to believe he was really dead.’
The news was promptly conveyed to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi. The ruling Congress (I) party is an ally of the AUADMK and is expected to play a pivotal role in deciding MGR’s successor. Besides acting chief minister V. Nedunchezhian, the top contenders are state food minister S. Ramachandran, Jayalalitha and R.M. Veerappan, whom MGR had rehabilitated from disgrace last month soon after the chief minister’s return from medical treatment in the US. Observers say Veerappan has already earned points by praising Gandhi for rushing down to share the Tamilians’ grief.
An AIADMK meeting scheduled for this week will discuss the issue, but highly placed sources told Asiaweek’s Ravi Velloor in Tamil Nadu that for the moment the party had decided to back the interim chief minister. The only problem is that Nedunchezhiyan does not have a mass base. Jayalalitha can pull the crowds, but her elevation would probably be resented by two other Tamil movie star-politicians: Congress (I) MPs Vyjayantimala and Sivaji Ganesan. New Delhi’s choice, however, would likely be S. Ramachandran, who negotiated on its behalf with Colombo for last July’s peace accord aimed at ending Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka.
Indeed, MGR’s death was a grievous blow to the island’s militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. MGR had been the Tiger’s godfather, supplying them with refuge and military training in Tamil Nadu. But the militants soon grew out of control in the state, acutely embarrassing their sponsor. Many place a great deal of the blame for Sri Lanka’s current troubles at the chief minister’s doorstep. Finally, Gandhi persuaded MGR to cage the Tigers. After the Indo-Sri Lankan accord was signed, MGR began distancing himself from the militants. Their top leaders were placed under house arrest in Madras. When state police turned down a Tiger leader’s request to lay a wreath at MGR’s funeral, it signalled the end of Tamil Nadu’s support for the Tigers.
Good or bad, the political impact of MGR’s decade was profound. That was something recognised even by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, a virulent critics of the man. In a message of condolence to Janaki, he said: ‘Mr Ramachandran contributed much to South India and its people. His contributions to the people of Sri Lanka, too, cannot be forgotten.’ MGR’s concern for the poor was genuine, perhaps because he keenly remembered his own deprived childhood. Each year, for instance, he would distribute free raincoats to rickshaw pullers in Madras; later he even acted in a sympathetic movie about them, titled Rickshawkaran. The state became the benefactor of the underprivileged. Electricity was subsidised for farmers and school education was made free. In a scheme that benefited some 8.8 million children, state-run schools offered students a free midday meal. The drop-out rate fell.
Even is highly unsuccessful prohibition policy had an altruistic motive: he believed a ban on the sale of liquor would ensure that working class pay packets reached home. Prohibition failed miserably because surrounding states weren’t ‘dry’, thus encouraging liquor smuggling into Tamil Nadu. But when MGR, himself a teetotaller, reluctantly lifted the ban, it was partly to use the revenue from liquor taxes to finance his welfare schemes.
In the eyes of the common people, the chief minister became indistinguishable from the generous-hearted, larger-tan-life heroes he portrayed on screen. Few understood that his welfare schemes, however well-intentioned, were at the expense of developing the state’s infrastructure. Under MGR, Tamil Nadu slipped from second to tenth place among India’s 25 states in industrialisation. By some accounts, MGR virtually ran a police state, aided by his one-time intelligence chief, P.K. Mohandas. Overly centralised administration encouraged inefficiency and corruption. No decision could be taken without the chief minister’s go-ahead.
MGR brooked no challenge to his authority or to his eminence as a Tamil leader – a fact which was brought home firmly to Malaysian Indian Congress President S. Samy Vellu. In early 1987, the MIC chief had travelled to Madras to invite MGR to a world Tamil conference in Malaysia. But he made the mistake of also inviting MGR’s arch-rival, Muthuvel Karunanidhi, leader of the oppositionist Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Peeved at being equated with any other Tamil leader, MGR refused to attend the conference.
To his adoring millions, however, the human foibles of Tamil Nadu’s ‘god’ were irrelevant. A combination of his superstar image, the opposition’s blunders and his own personal charisma catapulted MGR to the status of legend. As noted Tamil journalist and playwright Cho Ramaswamy put it: ‘These aren’t days when one expects political leaders to leave a philosophy or message behind them. In MGR’s case, the man was the message.’
Profile: Tamil Nadu’s ‘God’
His Tamil fans knew him by many names: Ponmana Chemmal or ‘Golden-Hearted One’, Makkal Thilakam or ‘Darling of the Masses’, and the one he encouraged in his later years, Puratchi Thailaivar or ‘Revolutionary Leader’. To the teeming millions in Tamil Nadu, Maruthur Gopalamenon Ramachandran was not merely chief minister of the south Indian state. He remained a larger-than-life celluloid hero who never lost a fight and always protected his woman. MGR, they called him fondly.
Interestingly, he was not a Tamil himself, although he tried to obscure the fact. MGR once wrote that his father was a magistrate, but biographers say he was the fifth child of a Sri Lankan tea plantation worker who hailed from Kerala State bordering Tamil Nadu. The actor-turned-politician was born in 1917 in a squalid tea estate ‘line room’ in Kandy. When he died Dec. 24, the people who still live in those dormitories stayed away from work for two days to mourn his passing.
When MGR was only 2, his father died and the family migrated to Tamil Nadu, then known as Madras State. His mother found work as a domestic helper but could not afford to educate her son. MGR was forced to quit school to earn money in a travelling drama troupe. It turned out to be his passport to super-stardom. In the late 1930s, he joined the glittering movie world and became an instant hit as a swashbuckling hero who could expertly fly a plane with his feet while slugging a villain perched on its wing. In a state where people put a high premium on light complexions, MGR’s fair skin helped make him a megastar – he featured in some 160 films.
The Indian National Congress, then fighting against British rule, gave MGR his first taste of politics. After independence in 1947, he was attracted to the secularistic ideals of E.V. Ramaswamy ‘Periyar’ Naicker, who had founded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam movement in Tamil Nadu. In 1967, DMK leader C.N. Annadurai recruited the film star to contest state assembly polls. When MGR asked how much he should contribute towards the campaign, Annadurai is said to have replied: ‘I don’t need money. Your face is worth millions.’
MGR won, but spent the campaign in a hospital bed after being shot by screen villain and bitter real-life rival, M.R. Radha. Though the bullet damaged his voice permanently, it also heightened his charisma. For a month, thousands kept vigil outside the Madras hospital where he was convalescing. Some 30 people, many of them women, took their own lives in grief.
Five years later, he left the DMK in a huff and formed his own party, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The famous face launched the AIADMK ship with a landslide win in 1977 state assembly polls. But when Indira Gandhi returned to power as prime minister three years later, she sacked the MGR government and helf fresh polls for the state. The one-time matinee idol again proved politically invincible. Yet the years were taking a toll on that million dollar face: his trademark fur cap and dark glasses, it was whispered, were to hide his balding pate and the tell-tale crow’s feet around his eyes. There were other intimations of physical mortality: a massive stroke combined with kidney failure in 1984 left him with seriously impaired speech and movement. Only his immense will power kept him going in the end.
Twice married, MGR had no children. His first wife, coincidentally named Satya like his mother, died of cancer. A few years later, in 1956, he elped with actress V.N. Janaki, who was then still married to film makeup man Ganapathy Bhat. The lovers subsequently wed. In his later years, MGR’s name was linked to one-time co-star Jayalalitha Jayaram, now 39, an MP and AIADMK propaganda secretary. It was well known in Madras, where the Ramachandrans lived, that Janaki deeply resented Jayalalitha. Perhaps not without reason – the buxom young actress is reportedly now threatening to reveal details of secret nuptials with MGR if her position in the party is challenged. Tamil Nadu’s ‘god’, it seems, was only human.


MGR’s movies
[Sachi Sri Kantha; Asiaweek, Jan.29, 1988]
Your profile of the late movie star turned politician M.G. Ramachandran (Jan. 8) is objective, but as a stickler for facts I doubt that he featured in ‘some 160 films’. If I remember correctly, one of the Gemini titles, ‘OLi Vilakku’ (The Light Lamp), billed as MGR’s 100th movie was released in 1968. To have reached 160 he would have acted in seven movies per year for the following eight years, before becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1977. Too much to expect…Political commitments from 1972 meant fewer movies…He made 120 at most.
You say MGR as ‘an instant hit as a swashbuckling hero’. On the contrary, for almost a decade after his debut in 1936 he played only subsidiary roles. In that period, actors who could sing (for instance, Tyagaraja Bhahavathar and P.U. Chinnappa) held center stage in Tamil movies.
I also question your statement that MGR ‘was not a Tamil himself’. Does identity come only with birth? If that’s so, MGR’s mentor E.V. Ramasamy Naicker wasn’t a Tamil either; he was of Kannada origin. How about Mother Teresa: can she not be identified as an Indian or a Bengali?


More Carnage
[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Jan.8, 1988, p.15.]
It was a bloody end to a bloody year in Sri Lanka. On Dec.27, in the Eastern Province town of Batticaloa, militant Tamil separatists opened fire on policemen in a crowded market, killing one and wounding two others. Coming to their rescue, a dozen officers returned fire. According to a report released by the Indian High Commission in Colombo, they then set alight shops in an angry rage. When the carnage was over, 22 civilians lay dead or dying, and several more wounded.
Four days earlier the country had been rocked by the assassination of Harsha Abeywardene, 37, chairman of the ruling United National Party. He was gunned down by a member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, an outlawed Sinhalese terrorist group. Abeywardene had been on a tour of the southern districts with President Junius Jayewardene. The area, a hot-bed of Sinhalese nationalism, has been in turmoil since last July, when Jayewardene signed a pact with India aimed at ending the country’s civil strife. The JVP, which opposes the agreement, has been whipping up anti-government sentiment.
During the tour, Abeywardene expressed concern about a police crackdown in the south. ‘He was unhappy that police were harassing youths in the area, driving them into the JVP fold,’ says a party insider. Ironically, after listening to Jayewardene threaten to wipe out the group ‘in two months time’, Abeywardene had told Asiaweek that the president may have been ‘too harsh’ and that an avenue should be kept open for dialogue. ‘Not all these guys are die-hards,’ he insisted.
On Dec.22, the rotund, fuzzy-haired politician returned to Colombo. The following day, as his car turned on to the main road just a few hundred metres from his home, a young man stepped out and emptied a full magazine from a Chinese-made T-56 machine gun into the auto. Abeywardene, his driver, a friend and a bodyguard died at the scene.
Police believe the assassin is a navy deserter who was a crack shot. They say the aim of the murder was to expose the vulnerability of party members. ‘They proved very convincingly that they can kill anyone they want anytime they want,’ says an investigator. ‘Abeywardene was only a symbol.’ To the JVP, perhaps, but to Jayewardene he was said to be like a son. ‘He was neither corrupt, nor ambitious,’ says MP Merryl Kariyawasam. ‘He could have easily been a cabinet minister, but he kept away from such posts for the party’s sake.’
The JVP has used assassinations to try to force party members to resign. Some, however, share Abeywardene’s belief that there should be dialogue with the group. Chief among them is Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. The president strongly disagrees. ‘It almost appears that Jayewardene is scared that Premadasa may build a power base of his own using the JVP,’ says Sarath Gunewardene, an analyst in Colombo. There are rumours of a widening rift between the two. Jayewardene is now believed to favour Land Minister Gamini Dissanayake as his successor.
In addition to the problems in the south, fighting continues in the north and east. The Indian peacekeeping force in Sri Lanka now comprises some 40,000 troops. Although Delhi claims that its forces rounded up 150 Tamil insurgents and confiscated a large haul of weapons in the northern Jaffna peninsula over the bloody Christmas weekend, peace still appears a long way off.


A Star is Dead
[India Correspondent; Economist, Jan.9, 1988]
The difficulties faced by India’s peace-keeping force in Sri Lanka have been increased by the death in Madras on December 24th of the popular chief minister of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in Sri Lanka was strongly backed by Mr Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran – MGR, to his political supporters, and to the millions of fans his previous career in films had brought him.
His stalwart support had greatly strengthened Mr Gandhi’s hand last October, when India decided that its troops in the island would have to disarm or neutralise the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Originally, the Indians hoped they could end the conflict between the Sri Lankan army and the Tigers without getting into a fight themselves. When that hope was frustrated, such was Mr Ramachandran’s personal hold on Tamil Nadu (where his death drove several mourners to suicide) that the sight of Indian soldiers killing Tamils in Sri Lanka aroused little indignation among his state’s vastly more numerous Tamils just across the strait.
With his death, however, India may well find his legacy of personalised rule an awkward one. He left his state’s ruling party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, completely leaderless. Within a few days this touched off a struggle that is threatening to tear the party apart. The moving spirits in its warring factions are two women: his widow, Mrs V.N. Janaki Ramachandran; and his party’s propaganda secretary, Miss Jayalalitha Jayaram (also once a popular film star), to whom MGR had been ‘her hero’ and evidently somewhat more.
Mrs Ramachandran is backed by 97 of the party’s 131 members in the state assembly, and has been asked by the state governor to show that she has a majority in the 223-seat assembly by January 24th. Her rival, has the support of some of the party’s most senior members, including the acting chief minister, Mr V.R. Nedunchezhian, and of its general council, 750 of whose 900 members attended a meeting Jayalalitha convened on January 2nd. Jayalalitha owes her strength to the fact that she was second only to Mr Ramachandran as a vote-getter for the party.
Since Mr Nedunchezhian has followed his late leader in declaring full support for India’s policy in Sri Lanka, Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s central government would undoubtedly have preferred to see the Jayalalitha faction win the contest in Tamil Nadu; but Mr Gandhi has wisely held aloof from the fray. Members of his own Congress party hold only 64 of the state assembly’s seats and if Mrs Ramachandran succeeds in establishing her leadership they will have to accept the result.
In the immediate future, there is little likelihood of any shift in the attitude of Mrs Ramachandran’s faction to the Sri Lanka question. If her faction, facing the opposition of the Jayalalitha group, also forfeited the Congress party’s support by turning against the central government’s policy, it would be unable to muster a majority in the assembly. Moreover, all the indications are that most people in Tamil Nadu’s rural areas are still indifferent to what is happening in northern Sri Lanka. In the more political cities opinion is divided, not solidly critical.
India’s problems will worsen, however, if it cannot find a way of subduing the Tigers quickly. If public opinion in Tamil Nadu begins to turn against the Indian military action in Sri Lanka, no new state government will be able to match the late chief minister’s ability to hold the line. This may embolden the Tamil Tigers to go on fighting, at least for a little longer.


Sri Lanka’s Widening War
[Ron Moreau; Newsweek, Jan. 11, 1988, p.13.]
For a while last month it seemed as though Christmas might at last bring a spell of peace to Batticaloa, a predominantly Tamil and Roman Catholic city in Sri Lanka’s strife-scarred Eastern Province. The Indian peacekeeping force, the Sri Lankan police and the Tamil guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were all holding to an informal 48-hour ceasefire. Townspeople packed the cathedral on Christmas Eve, carolers sang in the streets, Santa Clauses passed out presents in the local hospital and fireworks were allowed for the first time since the country’s civil war erupted in 1983.
But the festive spirit was short-lived. Two days after the holiday, gunmen thought to be from the LTTE ambushed three Sri Lankan Sinhalese policemen in the city’s main market, killing one of the officers. Terrified shoppers and merchants jumped for cover. But the dozen or more Sri Lankan police reinforcements who arrived at the scene minutes later were bent on revenge. According to eye witnesses, they indiscriminately grabbed and shot people they found hiding in shops and stalls. They then tossed grenades and firebombs into nearby shops, turning the bazaar into a smoking inferno. At least 25 civilians – many of them Tamils – died in the bloodletting, and some 35 shops were looted and destroyed.
Ethnic violence: Five months after Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene signed the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord, the ethnic violence continues to flare and India’s worst fear – that its peacekeeping troops would become locked in a quagmire – is being confirmed. If anything, the war is widening. Even as the fighting continues in the north and east, Sinhalese extremists opposed to the peace pact have opened an antigovernment front in the south, assassinating scores of officials and treaty supporters.
Despite India’s best efforts, the LTTE is keeping up its ruthless separatist campaign and still refuses to disarm. Moreover, the Tigers appear to be extending their campaign of intimidation to the country’s Muslim minority. Late last week LTTE rebels killed some 35 Muslim civilians in Kathankudi in the Eastern Province, holding the town virtually captive for 36 hours before Indian troops arrived.
The accord is faring no better in the Sinhalese-dominated southern heartland. There, nationalistic students, along with disaffected and unemployed youths, have joined an outlawed, ultranationalist and violence-prone Sinhalese group, the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), which bitterly opposes the Indian military presence. They oppose the treaty as well, saying that it compromises Sri Lanka’s national soverignty by giving away too much to the Tamils. To torpedo the accord, the student-JVP alliance has launched a brutally effective assassination campaign aimed at eliminating officials and supporters of the president’s ruling United National Party (UNP). Since the agreement was signed, at least 76 government officials and UNP cadres have been killed. In their boldest attack, just before Christmas, two gunmen murdered the UNP’s chairman and key Jayewardene aide, Harsha Abeywardene, in Colombo. And on New Year’s Eve, in what appeared to be another JVP attack, four people were killed and 50 wounded when a bomb exploded during a Buddhist religious procession in the town of Kandy.
Political vacuum: But the biggest battle to save and implement the shaky accord may not be fought in Sri Lanka at all, but in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, across the narrow Palk Strait. The peace prospects suffered yet another serious setback two weeks ago with the death – by natural causes – of M.G. Ramachandran, the powerful and popular chief minister of India’s Tamil Nadu state, who was a key architect of the accord and a vital Gandhi ally.
As chief minister, Ramachandran made the accord possible by using his political prestige and powers of persuasion to convince India’s 50 million Tamils that the accord would protect and promote the rights and interests of Sri Lankan Tamils – despite the hard reality that Indian soldiers were killing scores of Tamils in the Indian offensive against the LTTE. His death not only creates a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu, but may also threaten Gandhi’s ability to maintain support for the agreement at home. There is no guarantee that the state’s new boss will be able to keep his emotional people in line behind Gandhi and the accord. ‘MGR’s death creates a degree of political vacuum in Tamil Nadu,’ says a well-placed Indian official in New Delhi. ‘In such a situation, opponents of the accord might try to stir up trouble.’ There’s little doubt that some will indeed try, but at this point there’s reason to wonder how much more they or anyone could do to undermine the peace.


Family Affair: A widow wins in Tamil Nadu
[Edward W. Desmond; Time, Jan. 18, 1988, p.11.]
In South Asia, as everywhere, family ties can be a potent ingredient of political appeal. India’s Gandhi dynasty provides the most notable example, even as Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto and Bangladesh’s Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheik Hashina Wazed seek to regain the political heights once occupied by their families. Last week family ties came into play in a political battle in India’s Tamil Nadu state when the widow of M.G. Ramachandran, a former movie idol and for the past decade the state’s charismatic chief minister, was sworn in as his successor.
The choice of Janaki Ramachandran, 64, a onetime actress turned housewife who had previously eschewed politics, deepened a split in the state’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party. One faction lined up behind Janaki, the other behind Jayalalitha Jayaram, 39, another movie actress, who had moved into politics in 1982 and in recent years was a close associate of the late chief minister. The rift threatened to inflame divisive issues in the state and no doubt troubled Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who relied on the popular Ramachandran’s authority to cool hot heads among the state’s nearly 50 million ethnic Tamils. Some of the more militant Tamils favor all-out support for the Tamil guerrillas in Sri Lanka, who are fighting both President Junius R. Jayewardene’s troops and Indian peacekeeping forces.
For ten years Ramachandran, sporting his trademark sunglasses and white fur hat, dominated Tamil Nadu as the head of the AIADMK, but he failed to arrange for an orderly succession. After he died of a heart attack at age 70 three weeks ago, the ambitions of his lieutenants surfaced even as his body lay in state. Jayalalitha, who starred as Ramachandran’s love interest in more than 20 films before going into politics and eventually becoming his party’s propaganda secretary, staged a dramatic 21-hour vigil by the chief minister’s body while his widow was nowhere to be seen. Janaki’s family was enraged. When Jayalalitha tried to climb onto the gun carriage transporting the former chief minister’s body to the funeral, a nephew of Janaki’s actually knocked her off the bier. ‘A very small group of people,’ a bruised Jayalalitha said later, ‘was determined to see that I was nowhere near the body of my beloved leader.’
Nowhere near the seat of power either. An opposing party faction persuaded Janaki to stand for her husband’s post. Jayalalitha meantime decided to drop her own ambitions for the chief minister’s position and instead back V.R. Nedunchezhian, 67, the senior-most member of Ramachandran’s cabinet.
The key to victory would be majority backing of the 131 AIADMK state assemblymen. For several days both sides wooed, threatened and allegedly even bribed and forcibly detained legislators to secure their support. Early last week the Janaki group gained the upper hand. Three buses loaded with 97 AIADMK legislators who claimed to be supporting Janaki pulled up at the residence of S.l. Khurana, the governor of Tamil Nadu. After interviewing each one, the governor declared that he ‘was satisfied that the 97 [representatives] who had voted for Janaki did so on their own volition.’ Late last week he swore in Janaki and her cabinet.
Gandhi stayed out of the fray, although Janaki’s elevation was probably the best outcome he could hope for. In an attempt to reassure New Delhi, the new chief minister reiterated her late husband’s dedication to ‘national unity and integrity’ and ‘full implementation’ of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord to end the insurgency on the island.
Nedunchezhian’s bid for power is not dead. Within three weeks of Janaki’s swearing-in, all 223 members of the state assembly will vote on the new government; in the meantime both factions are continuing the struggle to win over their opponents. [reported by K.K. Sharma/ New Delhi]


The Dravidian Factor: MGR’s death throws southern politics in a flux
[Salamat Ali; Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb. 4, 1988, pp. 20-21]
The death of M.G. Ramachandran, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has unsettled the politics of this south Indian state. The film star-turned-politician who was popularly known as MGR rode to power on the back of the ethnic Dravidian movement, but became an ally of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and supported New Delhi’s policy on Sri Lanka. Thus the repercussions of his death will also be felt in India’s national and foreign policies.
Waiting in the wings to recapture power in the state is the opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led by M. Karunanidhi. MGR split with the DMK to form his All India Anna DMK or AIADMK in 1972 and became chief minister five years later. If the factional squabbling in the ruling party precipitates a snap election, the opposition DMK could well come back to power in the state. In that event, given the DMK’s deep antagonism towards New Delhi and the Congress Party, the latter’s political hopes in southern India could well be frustrated.
DMK is a cadre-based party and its tight-knit organisation is considered as good as that of the communists and the right wing Hindu fundamentalist groups. Although it lost the last state election in December 1984, its margin of defeat in almost all seats was less than 3% of the votes polled. This performance was all the more remarkable because it was scored against a wave of ‘double sympathy’ – MGR had been paralysed by a stroke and prime minister Indira Gandhi had been assassinated a couple of months earlier.
In a state where the electorate has traditionally responded more to charismatic personalities than to party platforms, Karunanidhi is now the only political leader of any stature. Also, he is the foremost opponent of India’s policy on the ethnic Tamil crisis in Sri Lanka, as well as the strongest exponent of the Dravidian political philosophy which has strong overtones of linguistic and racial chauvinism.
In practice, the DMK’s politics hinges on opposing the national language of Hindi and the dominance of upper castes among Hindus, especially in northern India. The anti-north sentiments are usually expressed as the domineering Aryan north’s insensitivity towards the Dravidian south.
However, most of the Congress leaders and some political analysts in the state maintain that the Dravidian movement is dead. The movement was born as a reaction against the supremacy of the Tamil Brahmin caste. The prolonged agitation against the upper castes and two decades of DMK and AIADMK rule have reduced the Brahmins to underdogs who no longer pose any social or political threat.
To Ramaswamy Naicker, the spiritual mentor of the Dravidian movement, the corollary to opposing the priestly Brahmin caste was atheism. But the hold of religion is such that today most of the movement’s leaders routinely go to temples. Moreover, they have come to terms with the importance of Hindi in national life and are sending their children to elite private schools which teach Hindi, while the state-run schools Tamil Nadu continue to ban Hindi. Analysts, including Congress leaders, also maintain that the decade of MGR’s rule has brought the Tamil masses into the national mainstream and the anti-north sentiments have lost their sting.
Such an appreciation of the political situation should propel the Congress to try to wrest control in Tamil Nadu. But the Congress has chosen to wait on the sidelines for the time being. For the past decade it relied on MGR to make electoral gains in the state, primarily by bargaining for a share of the state’s seats in parliament. MGR’s critics charge that initially he needed the Congress to defeat the DMK, and later became vulnerable enough to concede to most of the Congress’ demands.
MGR hated Karunanidhi with an intensity that would have forced him to align with anyone who was against his arch foe. The antipathy was as much personal as political, and dates back to the 1960s when the late C.N. Annadurai was the party leader. MGR was already a popular film star before joining the party and Annadurai, himself a popular writer and orator, carefully built up MGR’s movie image into a political asset.
Ironically, rural electrification, which got a boost in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Congress leader K. Kamaraj was the state’s chief minister, led to more movie houses in the rural areas and MGR’s films that brought DMK propaganda to the state’s countryside.
Annadurai built MGR into the mould of a Lone Ranger ready to rescue every underdog, showering bounties on the needy and putting down all tyrants and villains. His popularity on the screen became a political crowd-puller on the streets, and all over Tamil Nadu MGR fan clubs proliferated. After Annadurai’s death in 1969, Karunanidhi succeeded him as chief minister and correctly sensed the threat to his power from the MGR fan clubs and ordered the actor to wind them up. Seeing it as an attempt to clip his wings, MGR revolted and formed his own party.
After his success in the 1977 state elections, MGR emerged as a political leader in his own right and showed an uncanny appreciation of policies which could bring him maximum popular support. The AIADMK’s ideology was called ‘Annaism,’ after Annadurai, and described as a combination of capitalism, socialism and communism – a sort of populism also dubbed ‘the dole raj’. He built public lavatories; distributed clothes to widows and found jobs for them. He provided free meals to poor schoolchildren who otherwise would have gone hungry and provided raincoats to all pedicab drivers in Madras and elsewhere.
Basically, his style was to give the needy more than they expected – he often dug into his own pockets but always made sure that his philanthrophy became widely known. Therefore, no charge of corruption against himself or his regime could ever stick. His fans argued that he was taking from the rich to give to the poor – an action in line with the heroes he played in the films.
His political inheritance is contested between two factions both headed by women. One faction is led by 38 year-old Jayalalitha Jayaram, a movie heroine who became the party propaganda chief and was close to MGR both on screen and off. A second faction is headed by MGR’s widow, Janaki. Soon after MGR’s death, the senior most cabinet minister, V.R. Nedunchezhian, was sworn in as acting chief minister.
When Janaki’s followers paraded 97 of the 131 AIADMK legislators before the state’s governor, she was allowed to form the government and prove her majority in the legislature when it is convened. While the show of strength between the two rivals was looming, the Jayalalitha group herded its 47 legislators together and took them out of the state to prevent any defections to the opposite camp. On its part, the Janaki group, in order to encourage such defections, threatened the seven ministers in the rival camp with expulsion from the party and the legislature.
Janaki needs the support of 112 of the 223 state legislators to prove her majority. She needs the backing of defectors from the Jayalalitha faction or from the 64 members the Congress party commands. More worrisome for both Congress and the AIADMK, however, is the strategy of the DMK which has been patiently watching the political wrangle in the expectation that the two factions would destroy one another.
On 19 January, DMK chief Karunanidhi predicted that the Janaki government would collapse, leading to direct central rule over the state and followed by fresh elections by the end of the year.


Across the Palk Strait
[Salamat Ali; Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb. 4, 1988, pp. 21-22]
For the first time since India’s independence, the internal politics of one of its states – Tamil Nadu – has become inextricably entangled with the country’s foreign relations. One of the major concerns facing New Delhi is whether the tacit acceptance in Tamil Nadu of Indian military operations in Sri Lanka will continue amid the war of succession ranging in the state after the death of chief minister M.G. Ramachandran.
The ethnic Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka has been a matter of abiding concern in Tamil Nadu, where the people share linguistic and religious ties with their brethren on the island nation. In recent years, as the conflict escalated, a large number of refugees fled to Tamil Nadu, which had also given sanctuary to militant Sri Lankan groups. Under the July 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord, Indian troops were sent to Sri Lanka to enforce peace in the Tamil regions there and became involved in clashes with armed militants.
The charismatic Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, had managed to contain the disaffection in his state, in the wake of allegations of the army’s excesses against Sri Lankan Tamils. It is widely accepted that but for MGR’s efforts New Delhi would have gound it extremely difficult to sell its Sri Lanka policy to Tamil Nadu. However, while supporting New Delhi’s policies, MGR continued to back the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the largest Sri Lankan militant group, much to the dismay of the Indian Government. Understandably, New Delhi wants the next administration in Tamil Nadu to support its policy on Sri Lanka.
A significant section of opinion among intellectuals and Congress leaders in Tamil Nadu favours a more aggressive espousal of the Sri Lankan policy. Cho Ramaswamy, editor of the Tughlak weekly and a widely read commentator on the state’s politics, argues that opposition to the Sri Lanka policy is ‘a played-out card’ in the state’s electoral politics. K. Ramamurthy, a Congress MP from the state, also expressed similar views to the REVIEW.
However, there is continuing concern in India over Tamil Nadu’s feelings about Sri Lanka. In a message on the eve of Army Day in mid-January, Gen. K. Sundarji, India’s chief of the army staff, called for a national consensus on the Indian army’s operations in Sri Lanka. Regretting doubts and reservations in quarters he did not identify, the general pointed out that these could affect the morale of his men.
C. Aranganayagam, a leader of the Jayalalitha faction of the ruling AIADMK – MGR’s party – and Tamil Nadu education minister until MGR’s death concedes that feelings ran high in the state over the reports of the Indian army’s killings in Jaffna, but he adds that this was primarily because the army was assigned a law-and-order role which should have been played by the police. According to him, public opinion in Tamil Nadu strongly favours a fair deal for fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka but does not like a division of that country. He does not believe that the Tamils in India could be alienated from the national mainstream over this issue.
But the rival faction controlled by MGR’s widow, Janaki, and the opposition DMK dismiss the Jayalalitha group as a ‘pet poodle’ of New Delhi. Valampuri John, an MP from Tamil Nadu and an influential leader of the Janaki faction, told the REVIEW that the Indo-Sri Lankan accord was an ineffectual agreement for it lacked the participation of the two key elements to the ethnic conflict: the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils or their representatives. On the feelings in Tamil Nadu, John said that the psyche of the Dravidians – the people who ethnically dominate in the south – was deeply wounded by the Indian army’s actions, and the seeds of resentment could sprout at the next opportunity.
There was an upsurge of sympathy for the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils after the ethnic riots in Colombo in 1983, following which large numbers of refugees moved across the Palk Strait into Tamil Nadu, as did all the armed separatist groups of Sri Lankan Tamils. Among the several militant groups, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) headed by Sri Sabaratnam was the principal beneficiary of New Delhi’s patronage, including military training and supplies. However, the largest and the best organised of the groups was the LTTE, which was not actively backed by the Indian Government. In early 1986, the LTTE killed Sabaratnam and nearly decimated the TELO leadership. After that, New Delhi began supporting other smaller guerilla groups also.
Because the TELO was supported by Karunanidhi and was hostile to the LTTE, the latter was chosen by MGR for his patronage. As a result the LTTE acquired a special status in Tamil Nadu, freely importing arms and building up weapons’ stockpiles. The LTTE also threw in its lot fully with MGR and his party. When the DMK workers collected some money on Karunanidhi’s birthday for distribution among the militant groups, the LTTE refused to receive its share and instead bagged a gift from MGR which was five times as big. This was taken as an affront to Karunanidhi and more so to the entire DMK organisation.
MGR also persuaded New Delhi that because of its size the LTTE should not be totally ignored. In carrying out New Delhi’s instructions on the militant groups, MGR went far beyond his brief in the local handling of the LTTE. However, the central government did not consider it prudent to antagonise MGR over the issue of his special favours to the LTTE.
When Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene made Colombo’s participation in the 1986 Bangalore summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation conditional upon the disarming of Tamil militants sheltering in India, MGR helped New Delhi in seizing all the rebels’ weapons. But what has remained unpublicised is that he later returned all the seized arms, including those belonging to other groups, to the LTTE.
When MGR learned that the July 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord was nearing completion, he tipped off the LTTE which moved most of its arsenal to secret hideouts in northern Sri Lanka. MGR also told the LTTE that all militant groups would be disarmed by the Indian Peace-Keeping Force, so they too hid their arms, which later had to be searched out by the Indian troops after a prolonged campaign.
Although the LTTE has been engaged in combat with Indian troops since October, MGR kept his close links with it. His statements on India’s Sri Lanka policy were deliberately vague enough to yield differing interpretations by the LTTE and New Delhi. Until MGR’s death, the LTTE’s speedboats used to shuttle between Tamil Nadu and Jaffna’s northern coast with impunity almost every night.
New Delhi might now try to break the LTTE’s special links with the Tamil Nadu regime. But the LTTE has learned to play politics with the major parties in the state and is striving to retain the close ties with MGR’s successor and widow, Janaki, while opening up their channels with the opposition DMK as well.
Six months after Indian troops landed in Sri Lanka, the conflict has continued to fester with no sign of an early end to the military campaign. In addition, the insurgency in southern Sri Lanka by Sinhalese extremists has frustrated Colombo’s plan to restore normalcy to the country. If the LTTE and the southern subversives combine their efforts, Colombo would be under greater pressure and this would make a political solution almost impossible. The impact of these events will further unsettle Tamil Nadu’s politics.


Tiger-talk in Madras: The LTTE stick to its guns
[Salamat Ali; Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb. 4, 1988, p.22.]
For the past six months the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) has been trying hard to restore normalcy to the strife-torn northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka under an accord signed with Colombo in July last year. The Indian troops went in to protect the interests of the ethnic Tamil minority of Sri Lanka and have been locked in heavy clashes with the largest separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has not accepted the peace accord.
But the murky politics of the Subcontinent is such that despite the heavy Indian casualties at the hands of the LTTE, the latter continues to be politically active in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where it has sought shelter for the past several years. The LTTE headquarters in the Tamil Nadu capital of Madras, though surrounded by police and inaccessible to reporters, continues to function.
The LTTE, which had been heavily patronised by Tamil Nadu chief minister M.G. Ramachandran – popularly called MGR – adopted a low profile after his death on 24 December last year. But soon after MGR’s widow, Janaki, succeeded him in early January, the Madras headquarters of the LTTE issued a statement in the name of its political department denouncing Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene’s government as a racist regime and the Indian Government as its collaborator.
Further, it described India as ‘a colonial power out to suppress the aspirations of the Tamils.’ The statement also threatened the Sri Lankan civil servants, who reported for duty in the Tamil regions of the country to help restore normalcy under Indian aegis, with ‘dire consequences’ as they were deemed to be traitors to the Tamil cause.
Through some local intermediaries, this correspondent managed to get an interview with a spokesman of the LTTE in Madras. Identified only as Mr Rao, a common surname in Tamil Nadu, he explained his group’s views on the Sri Lankan situation:
There is ample popular support for the LTTE in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka – the majority Tamil areas – contrary to the assertions of the IPKF.
The Indian strategy of choking off guerilla supply lines will not succeed, because the LTTE has other sources of replenishment. The arms caches seized by the IPKF are treated by the LTTE as normal losses in a war and the group has provided for such contingencies.
The LTTE is not a party to the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord. The LTTE leaders were taken to New Delhi from Madras for consultations only after the accord was finalised. In their consultation with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, they were shown the accord, but not even a copy of it was given to them.
The Northern and Eastern provinces are the traditional homeland of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the LTTE will not surrender any part of this homeland.
The LTTE stands for Eelam – an independent Tamil homeland – as well as peace. For the sake of peace the LTTE can accept an interim settlement short of Eelam. But after such a settlement, it will continue to struggle for its own state, though peacefully.
 *
Celluloid Hero who Became a State’s Leading Man
[Sam Rajappa; Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb. 4, 1988, p. 70-71.]
Marudur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, a non-Tamil who ruled Tamil Nadu for 10 years like a medieval potentate until he died on 24 December at the age of 70, was one of the most extraordinary phenomena in modern Indian history. More than 2.5 million people from all over the state turned up in Madras to pay homage to a person whom they had come to regard as a Superman.
The people seemed pulled more by some gravitational force than by any compelling sense of grief. More than 50 people, including a 12 year-old school girl, committed suicide either by self-immolation, hanging or consuming poison. A few died of heart attacks as a pall of gloom enveloped the state on that Christmas Eve when news spread of the death of MGR.
For the 4 million-odd people of the metropolitan city of Madras, it was a terrifying experience. Law and order seemed to have died with MGR, at least until his body, encased in a sandalwood coffin, was lowered into his grave on the Marina Beach, next to that of his mentor, C.N. Annadurai, on Christmas Day. As mourners filed past his body, laid out at Rajaji Hall, which during the British Raj had served as a gubernatorial banquet hall, the situation in the city deteriorated with thugs and vandals ransacking shops, looting whatever they could lay their hands on, and breaking everything that was breakable.
A bronze statue of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader, M. Karunanidhi, on the busy Mount Road barely 200 m from Rajaji Hall, was smashed. There were more instances of drunkenness in Madras on that Christmas Eve than ever before in this 300 year-old city. Liquor shops became the prime target of vandals. Although the situation in New Delhi was much worse when Indira Gandhi was assassinated, at least her funeral was conducted with great dignity and decorum. MGR’s funeral turned into a festival.
MGR came from very humble origins. Born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, in 1917 (officially at least), he had to quit school after the third form in order to support his family – by taking bit parts in productions by a touring theatrical troupe. A sense of the dramatic was probably inculcated in him early on, as was shown in later years. His efforts brought him to the glamorous world of films where he worked hard to maintain the hero image he had created.
In 1967 MGR entered politics when he was recruited into the DMK by Annadurai. But while he was hailing the latter as his mentor, he was saying the late Kamaraj of the Congress Party was his ultimate leader. This duality found expression in all he had said and done. He proclaimed himself a staunch nationalist even while being the leading player in the Dravidian movement which set in a trend of separatism unmatched until the Sikhs raised their heads for Khalistan. His histrionics and antics on screen swayed an uncritical public.
Having tasted the heady sense of adulation, MGR slowly built up his personal stock while in the DMK. He created the image of an action hero who used his fists more than his tongue. He showed the masses through his films the importance of fighting to help themselves. When he became chief minister of Tamil Nadu, he asked his party men to carry knives for self-protection.
On screen MGR was the typical man of the Tamil Nadu lower classes. He took the parts of rickshaw-puller, taxi driver, fisherman, farmer and so on. And in all these films, the moral character of the hero remained unchanged. Always facing social opposition, he was honest and hardworking. Thus, he invited the masses to identify with him. And when people found the hero overcoming the same social problems they faced in real life, their attachment to MGR became very real and personal.
MGR never championed any cause in his films that could hurt the feelings of any social group or community. He did not, however, hesitate to use the medium to attack Karunanidhi, who became his political enemy after the DMK split in 1972. He devoted a whole film, Namnadu, to castigating Karunanidhi’s DMK government. But he never sought to mobilise public opinion against social injustices. Nevertheless, people began to think the person they wanted as their leader was not someone like MGR, but MGR himself.
Having endured hunger, poverty and squalor in his boyhood, MGR knew how to identify with the have-nots. When he parted company with the DMK and launched his All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1972, the established politicians failed to grasp the implications of the move. Within five years, the party was voted to power in the state, solely on the popularity and personal image of MGR.
He soon proved that he was as shrewd a politician as he was a successful film star by winning the subsequent state assembly elections in 1980 and 1984, the last one from his hospital bed in Brooklyn, New York, where he was undergoing a kidney transplant. As chief minister, he tried to bring his film image to life. Feeding poor school children and the aged, distributing clothes and caring for the destitute, he earned from the masses an affection bordering on worship. But in terms of economic development, Tamil Nadu slid down a slippery slope under his decade of stewardship.
As MGR became ever more popular, he began distancing himself from the public. He considered himself a repository of all that was good and consolidated his following by publicised philanthrophy. In the people’s eyes he was a god, and consequently he became more autocratic. Increasingly, he receded behind his dark glasses and makeup, hiding his age. He shunned the press and prevented his ministers and officials from meeting journalists.
Although his speech was seriously impaired following a stroke three years ago, and his health was deteriorating, MGR never thought of stepping down or nominating a successor. It had been his long-cherished wish to die in office. But his legacy could not endure. Cracks appeared in the structure of the AIADMK even as his body was being placed on a gun carriage for its final journey. Jayalalitha, who had co-starred with him in several films, and whom he had groomed as his political heir, was abused and kicked in full view of the public. The monolith the AIADMK had been during the past 15 years, crumbled with the death of MGR, its founder-leader, the likes of whom we may never see again.


Carving Up MGR’s Legacy
[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Feb. 12, 1988, p.21]
India’s Tamil Nadu State had never seen anything like it. A month after late chief minister and movie idol Maruthur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, was buried, politicians were literally at each other’s throats. Chairs, microphones, pedestal fans and paperweights were hurtled across the room during a state assembly session in Madras on Jan. 28, leaving about 30 legislators injured. Police were called in to break up the fight. ‘If the police had not come in,’ said Speaker Paul Hector Pandian, ‘even murder would have taken place.’ Two days later, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sacked the 24 day-old government and placed the state under president’s rule.
The fracas was the result of factionalism within MGR’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Competing for power are two women close to the late leader: his widow V.N. Janaki, 62, and party propaganda secretary Jayalalitha Jayaram, 39, for whom MGR was rumoured to have nursed a secret passion. Convinced that Janaki had majority backing, Governor S.L. Khurana appointed her chief minister on Jan. 3. When the house met for a vote of confidence on the new government, tensions were high. Speaker Pandian aggravated the situation by disqualifying six Jayalalitha supporters from voting. The free-for-all broke out when rebellious legislators tried to oust him. The 234-member house reconvened fifteen minutes later with substantially reduced numbers and passed the confidence motion 99-8. Then came New Delhi’s action.
Fresh polls to the state assembly are to be held as soon as possible. Although India’s ruling Congress (I) party, which supports AIADMK, sought to remain neutral in the dispute, observers reckon it is now likely to side with Jayalalitha’s faction. But by backing her, Congress (I) has lost a superstar within its own ranks: Sivaji Ganesan. The party stalwart, whose popularity is second only to MGR’s in Tamil Nadu, was clearly nettled by the prospect of Jayalalitha ascending to power. He may now support the Janaki faction, setting the stage for growing anti-Delhi sentiment.
There is already evidence of such a trend. Unlike other opposition groups, AIADMK’s chief opponent, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam led by former chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, did not boycott the legislative assembly session after the punch-up. Although its members voted against the Janaki government, their presence drew praise from Pandian, who said only those with a Dravidian, or southern ethnic, background could rule the state. His words could foreshadow an ironic future alignment between MGR’s bitter rival Karunanidhi and his widow Janaki.
Until polls are held in Tamil Nadu, the state will be administered by President Ramaswamy Venkataraman. A Tamil, Venkataraman has been accused of meddling in his home state’s politics. Critics claim he helped Janaki form her government even though her rival appeared to have a larger grassroots following. Analysts say he may be in danger of falling out of favour with the prime minister.


Who Will Succeed MGR?
[William Burger, Newsweek, Feb. 15, 1988, p.19.]
When M.G. Ramachandran died in his sleep last Christmas Eve, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu lost more than a chief minister – it lost all semblance of order. For 10 years the man Indians knew simply as MGR had run the volatile southern state of 50 million with an air of independence and a close political rapport with the Gandhis and their ruling Congress Party. What MGR didn’t do was provide for his succession, and his death at age 70 set off a bizarre power struggle that has already spread to New Delhi and that ultimately may threaten India’s efforts to bring peace to nearby Sri Lanka.
It is a battle more of personalities than of politics. MGR had been a film star in India before he turned politician, and his death set off a furious row between two women who were close to him: his widow, retired actress Janaki Ramachandran, 64, and Jayalalitha Jayaram, 38, another actress who starred opposite MGR in several hit films and whose name has been linked to his off-screen as well. The carping between them began even as MGR’s body was lying in state in Madras. Jayalalitha, whom MGR had appointed as his party’s propaganda secretary and who represented the party in India’s Parliament, insisted that she stand next to the body of her ‘beloved leader,’ after which Janaki’s supporters tried to eject her from the building.
Soon Janaki and a candidate backed by Jayalalitha began campaigning to succeed MGR as chief minister, and at first it appeared that Janaki might win handily. She had the endorsement of 97 of the 131 members of the assembly from MGR’s dominant All-India Elder Brother Dravidian Progressive Party, and Rajiv Gandhi sent out signals that he backed the widow’s bid for power. But late last month Gandhi suddenly switched sides, apparently believing that Jayalalitha’s camp would be more willing to include his Congress Party in a coalition government. When the leadership vote came, the rancorous mood on the floor of the state assembly spawned an all-out brawl. Legislators began fighting and throwing ashtrays at one another. Some wrenched microphones from their desks to use as clubs. In the end, helmeted police had to be called in to restore order. At least 30 assembly members were hurt in the embarrassing fracas. Somehow amid the confusion a vote was taken, and though Janaki captured only 99 votes – 13 short of the majority needed – one of her supporters, declared her the winner.
‘Great betrayal’: That was too much for Gandhi. Two days later the prime minister dissolved the state government and put New Delhi in charge of Tamil Nadu’s affairs – at least until a new election can be held within six months. Janaki’s camp called Gandhi’s takeover a ‘great betrayal’ that, according to one of her aides, ‘Tamils will never forgive.’
Gandhi’s handling of the affair may well backfire. Though he can now spend the next six months trying to team up with Janaki, Jayalalitha or another Tamil leader, his sacking of the state government is rekindling Tamil chauvinism, and it may give courage to opposition parties that have strongly opposed India’s Sri Lanka policy, which has pitted 40,000 Indian troops against ethnic Tamil rebels in that country. Now even Janaki, whose husband strongly supported the Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord, is asking Gandhi to ‘restrain’ the Indian troops from ‘attacking innocent Tamils’ in Sri Lanka. Gandhi runs the clear risk that his domestic political machinations will undercut his most admired diplomatic initiative.
Continued…Part V

The Indo-LTTE War
An Anthology, Part V
Brewing Discontent with Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi
January 8, 2008

The first item in this part 5 authored by Saeed Naqvi…provides a background-summary to the Rajiv – V.P. Singh split in 1987. The wheel of political fortune would turn towards Singh, who would eventually succeed Rajiv as the Indian prime minister in late 1989. As Naqvi concluded his commentary, by the end of 1987, “With the Left and the Right vying for [V.P.]Singh’s support and Gandhi’s grip on the middle ground rapidly weakening, India’s political future promises some interesting twists.” When 1988 dawned, what Rajiv and his Congress Party panderers yearned for was a quick victory for the Indian army against the LTTE in Eelam.

Part 1 of series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

The 9 news reports, commentaries and interviews that appear in this part (in chronological order) predominantly cover two themes; (1) brewing discontent on Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi in early 1988, and (2) the tug of war for Jayewardene succession among the four UNP contenders amidst the ascent of JVP terrorism in the southern Sri Lanka. These were the sub-plots which exerted influences on the progress of the Indo-LTTE war. In chronological order, these 9 news reports, commentaries and interviews are as follows:

Saeed Naqvi: The Many Faces of V P Singh. South (London), Nov.,1987.
Marguerite Johnson: Caught in the Bloody Middle. Time, Jan. 11, 1988, p. 25.
Manik de Silva: Militants and Ministers. Far Eastern Economic Review, Jan. 14, 1988, p. 34.
Anonymous: The Italian Connection. Asiaweek, Jan.15, 1988, pp. 12-18.
Anonymous: Now, Terror in the South. Asiaweek, Jan.22, 1988, pp. 12-14.
Mathews K. George and Valli Dharmarajah: The Bloody Trail to the South. South (London), Jan.1988, pp.66-67.
Pran Chopra: Colombos Policies Strike a Chord. South (London), Jan.1988, p. 74.
Sri Lanka correspondent: Bad day at Batticaloa. Economist, Jan.23, 1988, p.20 & 22.
Power-Sharing in Sri Lanka [Views of Gamini Dissanayake and Neelan Tiruchelvam]. Asiaweek, Jan. 29, 1988, p. 58.

That Rajiv Gandhi suffered from vanity, ignorance and pomposity (conveniently abbreviated as VIP) syndrome became exposed in how he handled the post-MGR political equations in the Tamil Nadu. And as a modus operandi to this politicking in the Tamil Nadu, he was promised a knock-out victory against the LTTE by the handlers of the Indian army. Rajiv’s then plight had been anticipated by the English poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771), in his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (1742). Here are those lines:

‘Yet ah! Why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
Tis folly to be wise.’

The first item in this part 5 authored by Saeed Naqvi (though Nov.1987 was its cover date) really appeared in December 1987 and provides a background-summary to the Rajiv – V.P. Singh split in 1987. The wheel of political fortune would turn towards Singh, who would eventually succeed Rajiv as the Indian prime minister in late 1989. As Naqvi concluded his commentary, by the end of 1987, “With the Left and the Right vying for [V.P.]Singh’s support and Gandhi’s grip on the middle ground rapidly weakening, India’s political future promises some interesting twists.” When 1988 dawned, what Rajiv and his Congress Party panderers yearned for was a quick victory for the Indian army against the LTTE in Eelam. But the Indian troops couldn’t grasp the battle plans of the LTTE.

Asiaweek Jan 15 1988 Sonia GandhiCompared to New Delhi-based Pran Chopra’s pom-pom swinging spin that “The Indian army is disarming Tamil militants faster than Sri Lankan troops could have managed…”, Colombo-based Mervyn de Silva (contributing under the by-line ‘Sri Lanka correspondent’) assessed the failure of the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord within six months perceptively; “If the Indians want the agreement to work, they will have to offer the Tamils something more positive than mere suppression of the guerrillas. That means the resettlement of refugees, and provincial elections. But elections are hardly possible so long as the guerrillas can stroll in and do what they did in Batticaloa. India’s credibility is at risk.”

For obvious reasons, I also reproduce a cover story on Sonia Gandhi, which appeared in the Asiaweek of Jan. 15, 1988. Since Sonia Gandhi currently represents the real power in the debased and decadent Congress Party, it is not irrelevant to learn the then status and the hidden power Sonia Gandhi wielded in New Delhi 20 years ago.

Wherever they appear, words within parenthesis, in italics and in bold fonts are as in the originals.

The Many Faces of V.P. Singh

[Saeed Naqvi; South (London), Nov. 1987.]

Vishwanath Pratap Singh is a political player cast in many conflicting roles. The former minister is known both as a crusader against corruption and as a shrewd strategist seeking to oust Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Some see him as a friend of the right-wing Hindu party, the Bharatiya Janata; others, including Singh himself, say he is an ally of the Left.

What is clear, however, is that Singh has raised the issues and unleashed the forces which may determine the outcome of the 1989 general election. Six months ago, when the government was buckling under the weight of allegations about illegal defence deals, it was even being suggested that the then President, Giani Zail Singh, was preparing to use his extraordinary powers to sack Gandhi and elevate V.P. Singh to the prime minstership. When Gandhi took over in December 1984, Singh was his favourite minister and confidante. Then a crackdown by Singh’s finance ministry on tax evasion, including foreign exchange fraud by leading industrialists, backfired on the special relationship between the two.

It was the start of a spectacular fall from power by Singh. He was shunted aside to the defence ministry in January, from where he resigned in April after launching an investigation into defence contracts. In July, Gandhi sacked him from the ruling Congress (I) party, though Singh had earlier offered to resign in anticipation of such a move.

The split between Singh and Gandhi can be traced to the era when the late Indira Gandhi was in power. Her most senior colleague, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, proved a strong patron of Dhirubhai Ambani, a textile merchant who turned his small company into the country’s third largest in the space of 10 years. In the process, he ended the 100-year domination of textiles by Bombay Dyeing, controlled by Nusli Wadia. Mukherjee was tipped to take over after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination. But when the ruling party opted for Rajiv Gandhi instead, Mukherjee was eased out, and Ambani lost a key political ally.

Wadia, a descendant of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, fitted in better with the educated elite surrounding India’s new Prime Minister. And when Singh took over the finance portfolio and began his campaign against tax evasion, Wadia called on the finance ministry to hire a US-based agency, Fairfax, to investigate Ambani. Having pulled strings with the Prime Minister, Singh and the finance ministry, all Wadia needed was a press campaign to bring Ambani to heel.

Ramnath Goenka, owner of the Indian Express chain, knew Wadia and Ambani equally well. Because of his own rags-to-riches career, Goenka had much more in common with Ambani, who suffered a massive stroke early in 1986. But Goenka’s political sympathies have always been with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Vije Raje Scindia, an influential BJP leader, and her son Madhorao Scindia, the minister of railways, held majority shares in Bombay Dyeing. They are said to have pressured Goenka into publishing a series of articles in March 1986 on Ambani’s allegedly irregular dealing abroad.

Asiaweek Jan 22 1988Then, in December 1986, a letter from the Fairfax agency, now generally believed to be a forgery, fell into government hands. It indicated that Fairfax was investigating the foreign exchange dealings of Ajitabh Bachchan, brother of India’s most popular film star, Amitabh Bachchan. Both were among Rajiv Gandhi’s closest friends. At about the same time, two unidentified sleuths turned up in Switzerland to question Ajitabh about his purchase of property in Geneva. A panic-stricken Ahitabh turned to Gandhi, who became alarmed at the way foreign agencies were investigating his friends on behalf of Singh’s finance ministry.

There was a raid on Goenka’s premises to search for more so-called Fairfax documents. In one stroke, the enemies of Ambani had also become the enemies of the Prime Minister. Ambani’s role in all this is unclear. But Singh was shifted to the defence ministry on the grounds that there was tension on the Pakistan border. Even at the defence ministry, though, Singh maintained his offensive against corruption. He continued to call Gandhi his leader, while winning more plaudits from the opposition.

Singh ordered an inquiry into alleged kickbacks in a submarine deal signed with West Germany when Indira Gandhi was in power – a move which brought him under heavy fire from ruling party members. He was accused of politicking, and in April he resigned both his portfolio and his seat in parliament. Within days India was shaken by a new story about a US$ 1.4 billion contract Rajiv Gandhi’s government had negotiated with Bofors of Sweden for 400 field guns. Swedish radio reported that millions of dollars had been paid to Indian middlemen in kickbacks.

Then Goenka and his young editor, Arun Shourie, another BJP sympathiser, turned the guns of the Indian Express on the Prime Minister. All the opposition backed Singh’s crusade against corruption, and for an entire session of parliament the government was under fire. The opposition and the Indian Express have been highly effective, with Gandhi’s leadership taking a battering. The irony is that nothing has been proved.

There is a parallel with 1974, when the Indian Express and the precursor of the BJP, the Jana Sangh, orchestrated a campaign for clean government against Indira Gandhi. At the fore was the Bihar movement, launched under the leadership of the late Jaya Prakash Narayan, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Pressure from this movement was largely responsible for the introduction of a state of emergency in 1975 – which prepared the ground for Mrs Gandhi’s defeat in 1977. On this occasion, the Indian Express, like-minded newspapers and the BJP are casting Singh in the role of Narayan, who also renounced power. However, important political changes have taken place in India since the 1970s. And these present obstacles to the creation of a united opposition front capable of taking on the ruling party. For example, the Left is more of a force than it was in the mid-1970s. The Communist Party Marxist and the Communist Party of India are not only united, but also effectively in power in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

In the 1970s, the Muslims were Indira Gandhi’s vote bank. But in the past year Hindu-Muslim differences have reached fever pitch, resulting in clashes in which hundreds of Muslims have been killed. In Punjab the Hindu-Sikh conflict continues; the minorities as a whole are disenchanted with Gandhi, and a Hindu group such as the BJP is hardly the haven they seek.

The Left is playing on this factor in its search for a broad democratic alternative to Gandhi which excludes the BJP. When Singh described the Left as his natural allies, he was applauded by the Communists. But this angered the BJP, which had helped to build him up with the help of the Indian Express. Meanwhile, Ambani has recovered from a near-fatal stroke. The government, stung by the Indian Express in recent months, has raided Goenka’s premises and officials of the revenue department’s intelligence unit claim to have evidence of ‘fraudulent machine purchases abroad.’

With the Left and the Right vying for Singh’s support and Gandhi’s grip on the middle ground rapidly weakening, India’s political future promises some interesting twists, not least of which will be the unravelling of the deepest mystery of all – the political identity of the real V.P. Singh.

Caught in the Bloody Middle

[Marguerite Johnson; Time, Jan. 11, 1988, p.25.]

Sri Lanka’s latest nightmare began innocently enough. Two days after Christmas, the market in the east coast town of Batticaloa was crowded with shoppers buying provisions for the festive week ahead. Among the throng were three plainclothes policemen. Suddenly a group of youths rushed up and opened fire on the constables. One of the trio fell dead; the two others, both wounded, scaled the wall of a nearby police compound and sounded the alarm. The assailants picked up the policemen’s guns, which had fallen to the ground during the assault, and fled.

Within minutes police reinforcements arrived, and an even greater slaughter began. Guns blazing, the police dragged terrified shopkeepers from their stores and shot them. Other merchants were shot inside their places of business, some of them dispatched by a single bullet to the head. Using grenades and gasoline, the police proceeded to burn down 25 to 30 shops. By the time soldiers of the Indian peacekeeping force arrived – and joined, some witncesses charged, in the shooting – 25 people were dead, most of them Tamils. None had been involved in the earlier attack on the police.

A leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the guerrilla organization that has been leading the battle for greater autonomy for the country’s Tamil minority, promptly claimed responsibility for the assault on the police. He ntoed that the attack had been planned so as not to ‘cause any harm to our people.’ But while Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene has said he is confident that the 35,000 Indian troops brought in under a joint accord with India will soon ‘finish’ the Tigers, the Batticaloa attack seemed to herald a new strategy. Unable to defeat the Indians militarily, the Tigers appear to be launching attacks in crowded areas in an effort to provoke a backlash that would lead to demands for the withdrawal of the peacekeeping forces.

But although the Tamil threat has been considerably diminished in the northern and eastern parts of the country, the south has become increasingly engulfed by terrorism from another sector. The challenge comes from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Sinhalese extremist group that Jayewardene banned in 1983, which has been leading the opposition against the Indian-Sri Lankan accord signed by Jayewardene last July. Three weeks after the signing, JVP terrorists nearly succeeded in assassinating the President. Since then, the group has struck repeatedly against Jayewardene’s United National Party, killing local leaders and workers. Two weeks ago, gunmen assassinated Party Chairman Harsha Abeywardene and three companions as they were driving through Colombo.

The JVP campaign has virtually paralyzed the ruling party, especially in the south, where the JVP is the strongest. To counter the threat, the UNP has formed its own militia. A number of prominent members of Jayewardene’s government, including Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa and Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel, have urged that the ban on the JVP be lifted. Said De Mel after Abeywardene’s assassination: ‘I don’t think a military step can put a stop to the violence.’ The Finance Minister also suggested that parliamentary elections, not due till September 1989, be held as soon as possible. Jayewardene, however, gave no indication that he was listening.


Militants and Ministers

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, Jan. 14, 1988, p. 34]

President Junius Jayewardene is facing the toughest period of his presidency. Divisions within his cabinet have resurfaced, compounding the problems of the minority Tamil insurgency in the north and east. Majority Sinhalese subversives in the south have continued to demonstrate their ability to strike at will, despite the president’s public pronouncements that he would finish them off in weeks.

An Indian peace-keeping force (IPKF), now more than 35,000 strong, has not yet been able to break the back of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the dominant Tamil separatist group. The IPKF took control of the northern Jaffna peninsula after a major offensive in October. But in recent weeks, the LTTE has shifted its base to the eastern Batticaloa district and shown that it has not been crushed, even in Jaffna. Recent LTTE bombings in Jaffna have delayed the return of normalcy in the north. There is little doubt that the IPKF has made progress in disarming the LTTE in Jaffna. The Indians have unearthed large caches of rebel arms in the peninsula. Since the beginning of the month, five rebel boats ferrying arms from the north to the east have been sunk by the Indian Navy.

Despite these reverses, the LTTE has been attempting to pressure Jaffna civilians not to allow Colombo to restart its civilian administration. Posters are prominently displayed and handbills have been distributed demanding that public servants stay away from their offices. Cooperation with the IPKF, the posters threaten, will mean death. In a counter-propaganda drive, the IPKF has been displaying its own posters promising the citizens of Jaffna that they will be protected. But to the people of Jaffna, the repetition of recent events in Batticaloa – where the LTTE clashed with both the Sri Lankan police and the IPKF in heavily populated areas, resulting in dozens of civilian deaths – is a dangerous possibility.

In the east, the rebels have been following a strategy of exposing Muslim civilians to crossfire in an effort to alienate Muslims from the IPKF. Problems in Battiacaloa, the eastern provincial capital, have been compounded by police reprisals in the local bazaar following the killing of an off-duty policeman and the wounding of two other constables soon after Christmas. A sniper fired at the policemen, provoking the reprisal in which at least 19 civilians were killed and dozens of shops gutted.

The IPKF too has been having its own problems with the Muslims of the east. IPKF activities triggered by the LTTE have cost several Muslim lives. Colombo, as well as the Indians, has played down these incidents which attracted international attention. The Muslims themselves decided to take on the LTTE at Kattankudy, a Muslim town of 50,000 people on the outskirts of Batticaloa, between 29 December and 1 January, resulting in the killings of some LTTE district leaders and 30 Muslims.

The IPKF is confident that if the public would cooperate in helping arrest LTTE followers, the problems in the east could be quickly eliminated. Maj.-Gen. Jameel Mahmood, the IPKF’s eastern commander, told Transport Minister M.H. Mohamed, whom Jayewardene sent to the East to sort out what appeared to be a deteriorating situation, that it was essential the public should keep the IPKF informed of LTTE activities. If the Indians had the necessary information, they could act against the LTTE, he said. Reports in the Indian press have expressed concern that the IPKF has been slow in dealing with the LTTE in the east. These criticisms have not taken into account India’s reluctance to expose the east to a Jaffna-style operation which caused a lot of civilian deaths.

In the south, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – People’s Liberation Front) and other subversive groups have continued to make sporadic strikes after the 23 December assassination of Harsha Abeywardene, chairman of the ruling United National Party (UNP). Abeywardene’s killing came three days after Jayewardene had toured the troubled southern districts and made several hardline speeches vowing to liquidate the subversives within two weeks. While some of Jayewardene’s opponents chose to regard the Abeywardene killing as a response to his speeches, investigations suggest that the assassination plan had been in place for some time. ‘The speeches may have influenced the timing, but the people who did it could not have mapped it out in three days,’ an investigator said.

An attack on a police station in the Ratnapura district, southeast of Colombo, a week after the UNP chairman was killed, seriously disturbed the authorities. An armed group raided the police station, locked up the policemen and escaped with arms and explosives. The inspector-general of police conceded that there had been security lapses at the police outpost.

The opposition has accused the UNP of organising its own ‘Green Tigers’ militia to counter the southern subversives who have made UNP supporters their special targets. Asked about this group recently, Jayewardene said that his party’s MPs were asking for protection. It was not possible for the government to cover the large number at risk, and some auxiliaries were being used to provide protection to MPs and some others. These people had to work with the police, Jayewardene said.

Local press reports said about 500 auxiliaries, including some former JVP members, have been given small-arms training and are available in areas where UNP members are under threat. The government has neither confirmed nor denied the reports. Adding to Jayewardene’s problems are speeches by some of his ministers demonstrating dissension within the ranks of government. Winding up the recent budget debate, Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel told parliament that a 1982 referendum, which extended the incumbent legislature’s term by six years, was the cause of many of the country’s problems. Shortly after de Mel’s controversial speech, Mohamed said there would be no general elections this year, despite demands for a poll by de Mel, among others.

Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa made a speech which analysts believe was loaded with innuendoes. It indicated clearly that Premadasa was pushing for a reappraisal of policies on Tamil separatists, as well as on the southern subversives.

The ‘Italian Connection’

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Jan. 15, 1988, pp. 12-18.]

Last month Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi arrived to a lavish welcome at Hyderabad’s Begumpet airport. Telugu Desam, the opposition party that governs southern Andhra Pradesh state, had pulled out all the stops to honour the prime minister and his elegant Italian-born wife.

Among the top Telugu Desam leaders on hand was MP Parvathaneni Upendra, who walked discreetly behind the pair. Spotting Upendra, Sonia suddenly strode over to him and reportedly said: ‘ I will see your end if I am alive, for what you spoke about me in Parliament.’ According to the outspoken Indian Express newspaper, the politician was ‘visibly shaken’ by the remark. And baffled. ‘Let her consult all the records of Parliament,’ he told the daily. ‘If there is any reference to the prime minister’s wife [by me], I am prepared to quit Parliament.’ The next day, Telugu Desam party workers staged demonstrations across Hyderabad to demand an apology from Sonia. Her husband’s response was terse: ‘My wife does not threaten anybody.’

Indeed, the encounter seemed totally out of character for Sonia Gandhi, who is known to shy away from both strangers and confrontations. For the press, however, the incident was a bonanza. Of late, Indian media have once again been speculating vigorously about just how powerful the prime minister’s wife is.

When Rajiv came to power in October 1984 after the assassination of his mother, premier Indira Gandhi, there was plenty of talk about the ‘Italian connection’ at No. 1, Safdarjang Road, then the prime ministerial residence. Although Sonia took Indian citizenship in 1982, a joke making the rounds in New Delhi at the time suggested the (I) in Gandhi’s ruling Congress (I) party stood for Italy, not founder Indira. The latest quip refers to the tight security surrounding the couple’s fortress-like residence: ‘andar (inside) Italian, bahar (outside) battalion.’

As Rajiv Gandhi’s political woes have grown, carping about his wife’s perceived influence has become nastier. Predictably, much of it springs from the opposition and is often little more than political rhetoric. For example, one opposition slogan derided Congress (I)’s closeness to ‘videshi paisa, videshi bank, videshi bibi’ (foreign funds, foreign bank [accounts], foreign wife). Gandhi’s critics also finger million-dollar contracts clinched by Italian multinational Snam Progetti in the past few years. Sonia is a close friend of Maria Quattrocchi, wife of a regional director for the firm. Quoted in the Bombay-based Onlooker magazine, a well-known journalist identified as Walter Vinci, the husband of Sonia’s elder sister, Anushka, as one of those involved in last year’s Bofors defence scandal. The same report said London-based industrialist Azad Shivadasani was also involved, adding: ‘His sister, Bina, is married to an Italian count who is rumoured to be a close friend of Sonia.’

Does the prime minister’s wife really involve herself in affairs of state? Ex-president Zail Singh, who feuded with Rajiv while in office, believes so. ‘She tries to give the impression that she does not interfere but my feeling is that she does,’ he told respected journalist Kuldip Nayar. Accusations by a former head of state lend some credibility to speculation that she was responsible for the political demise of several Congress (I) stalwarts, including Gandhi cousin Arun Nehru last year. Says a Gandhi confidant: ‘Nehru had this peremptory way of talking, even with Rajiv, that Sonia resented greatly. So she levelled her sights on the guy.’

Sonia’s critics also hold her responsible for the summary dismissal of A.P. Venkateswaran, also last year. Top Congress (I) officials say that the straight-talking foreign secretary was resisting a move to allow Indian diplomats to marry foreigners; Sonia reportedly took it as a personal affront. The startling resignation last July of Arun Singh, minister of state for defence and an old Cambridge buddy of Gandhi’s, was due to Sonia as well, party insiders claim. It is an open secret that there is an ongoing tiff between Sonia and Arun Singh’s wife Nina, a former friend.

Yet friends say Sonia has a keen sense of what is proper. During Indira Gandhi’s visit to Rome in 1981, the Indian leader was granted audience with the Pope. With typical consideration, Mrs. Gandhi asked Sonia’s family if they would like to accompany her. But Sonia cut in firmly: ‘Mummy, this is a state visit and the audience has been arranged for you. They can meet Pape some other time.’ Although she does not attend church regularly, Sonia is undeniably influenced by her religion. During the Pope’s 1986 visit to India, the Home Ministry was reluctant to permit a visit to the country’s turbulent northeast, home not only to thousands of Christian converts but a vigorous secessionist movement. It is believed the go-ahead was given only after the prime minister’s wife stepped in.

Dark-haired, brown-eyed Sonia Maino was born in December 1946, the second of three daughters of a middle class Italian businessman. She met Rajiv, scion of the powerful Gandhi family, in 1965 while she was studying English at a language school in Cambridge, Britain. They soon started dating and it wasn’t long before they decided to marry. Initially, Indira Gandhi had her doubts: a foreign daughter-in-law is a political liability in conservative India. But finally she gave her consent.

In Sonia’s only interview to date, she recalled to the Hindi weekly Dharmayug in June 1985 that at their first meeting, her famous mother-in-law told her in a kind voice: ‘You need not be afraid of me. I can understand your love.’ Later, when Sonia was preparing to leave, the late premier pulled out a needle and thread and mended a loose hem on her dress. ‘I was really touched,’ Sonia told the magazine. ‘This was the first gift I received from Mummy.’

After her marriage to Rajiv in 1968, the couple moved in at Safdarjang Road and Sonia tried her best to adapt to life as an Indian wife. She took to wearing Indian clothes, especially the sari which she now carries as well as any Indian woman. Son Rahul was born in 1970 and daughter Priyanka two years later. Sonia took over the housekeeping and oversaw the grocery shopping and cooking, even the selection of her mother-in-law’s wardrobe. Though poles apart in temperament, the two women formed a close bond. Indira Gandhi clearly favoured Sonia over her other daughter-in-law, Maneka, who was married to her younger son and political heir, Sanjay. After Sanjay’s death in a 1980 plane crash, his widow tried to build a political base of her own, forcing a bitter split with her in-laws. The tragedy set the stage for the reluctant entry into politics of Rajiv, until then an airline pilot.

Sonia came into her own during the dark days following Indira Gandhi’s 1977 ouster from power, becoming ‘a stable force amid the turmoil,’ according to a source close to the family. It was Sonia who heard the shots when Mrs. Gandhi was gunned down outside her home and ran towards the woman lying in a pool of blood, crying: ‘Mummy! Oh my God, Mummy!’ And it was she who summoned a car to take her mother-in-law to hospital while others around sobbed.

The same fierce loyalty is extended to close friends – even at high political cost to her husband. Last year, Rajiv’s childhood chum, movie star-politician Amitabh Bachchan, and his businessman brother, Ajitabh, embarrassed the PM when they were linked to various financial scandals. Yet Gandhi refused to dissociate himself from the Bachchans because his wife would not permit it, says a senior Congress (I) official. When she came to India for her wedding, Sonia had stayed with the Bachchan’s socialite mother, Teji, who introduced her to the intricacies of Indian culture. Over the years, Sonia’s relationship with the family has deepened, especially with Jaya and Ramola, the Bachchan brothers’ wives.

By necessity, the Gandhis have whittled down their circle of friends. Not surprisingly, Sonia is no longer as free to go on shopping sprees or meet chums over coffee as she used to. Some of her leisure time nowadays is spent at the National Museum in New Delhi, where she helps restore old oil paintings. Confides a well-placed source: ‘On her tours [across the country], Indira Gandhi noticed several oil paintings in the various Raj Bhavans [residences of state governors] which had fallen into disrepair. Sonia has worked on several of those paintings and many of them have been returned after repairs.’

Sonia is said to have good taste – and a penchant for extravagance. Stories are rife in the Indian capital about her furious spending on clothes, bric-a-brac and antiques. Many of the barbs are probably unfair: after all, the prime minister’s wife must purchase gifts for visiting dignitaries. But Onlooker reported last summer that she had made wildly expensive purchases of Mikimoto pearls during an official visit to Tokyo. Claims oppositionist Subramaniam Swamy: ‘When she returns from abroad she carries not less than sixteen bags and those sail through customs without being checked. India is not the Philippines but within the constraints of the situation, she is a blossoming Imelda to Rajiv’s Marcos.’

Spouses of prominent leaders are often subjected to such sniping, but observers say Sonia is somewhat a political liability for her husband. Her intense dislike for public life has often worked against her. On a visit to Tamil Nadu last month, shortly before the death of the state’s charismatic chief minister M.G. Ramachandran, Sonia returned to Madras airport from her engagements 40 minutes early. Rather than following the program by waiting in the VIP lounge for Rajiv, she boarded the plane and refused to disembark to accept farewell bouquets when the chief minister arrived with Gandhi. Asiaweek learned that Ramachandran, barely able to conceal his annoyance, later remarked to an aide: ‘It would be better for Rajiv if she does not do this too often.’

Sycophantic Congress (I) men, however, believe Sonia can do no wrong. For the past two years, the party’s Delhi unit has been proposing her entry into politics. Recently, there were calls for her to contest the Allahabad parliamentary seat vacated by the resignation last July of Amitabh Bachchan. The prime minister’s office has firmly quashed the demands. ‘Sonia has no plans for coming out into public life,’ says a senior official who works with Gandhi. ‘She is a very private person and wants to continue to be so.’ Indeed, the shy, introverted woman has replied to all the accusations with a deafening silence. Only once did she let the mask slip, remarking to a friend: ‘If I’d had my way, Rajiv would never have been in politics in the first place.’


Now, Terror in the South

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Jan. 22, 1988, pp.12-14.]

Gunasena Karunamunige lay moaning on a mat in the bedroom of his tiny home in Kolonne, a run-down hamlet 130 km southeast of Colombo. Hepatitis had ravaged his body, leaving him too weak to move. On that fateful night last October, his wife, Wimalawathie, was bringing him a glass of water when three masked men suddenly burst in through the back door. Ignoring Wimalawathie’s screams, they strode to the sick man. One intruder pulled out a pistol and stopped Gunasena’s feeble attempt to escape with a bullet through his left eye. Another pummelled his wife to the ground and dragged her, kicking and sobbing, into an adjoining room. “He closed the door and I heard him say, ‘Everrayak karala damu,’ (‘Let’s finish it’),” recalls a grief-stricken Wimalawathie. ‘A few seconds later I heard them running out. Gunasena was on the mat, dead, with a bullet in his brain and five stab wounds in his chest.’

The 26 year-old victim was secretary of the Kolonne branch of the ruling United National Party (UNP). His assailants were members of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), an outlawed Sinhalese chauvinist group based in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Sinhalese south. In a way, Gunasena’s execution stems from the July 29, 1987, accord Colombo signed with India. A major clause in the agreement called for a merger of the island’s Eastern and Northern provinces (the latter is dominated by the minority Tamils). The JVP rejected it as a ‘sell-out’ to the Tamils and vowed to exact retribution on UNP legislators. Now, in addition to the eight year-old threat from separatist Tamils in the north, the government must also cope with an extremist Sinhalese war of terror in the south.

Barely three weeks after the accord, the JVP struck. On Aug. 18, the terrorists tried to assassinate President Junius Jayewardene inside the high-security Parliament building in Kotte city on the outskirts of Colombo. While the Sri Lankan leader was spared, the grenade attack killed two people and shocked the ruling party. Riding on anti-government sentiments, the JVP spread further south, temporarily seizing control of several villages. Any resistance was brutally snuffed out: street vendors who defied their orders not to sell government newspapers were killed; UNP supporters were executed.

By the time a stunned Colombo set up a special military front in the south, the JVP was already well-entrenched. The arrival of government soldiers has merely slowed its sweep across Southern Province. Even as villages and towns teem with army and police patrols, the executions of JVP enemies continue – only now they are carried out after dark. In towns such as Kataragama, the army has been forced to take over the distribution of newspapers because the local people are too frightened to do it themselves.

A chilling response to the vicious anti-UNP backlash has been the emergence of armed pro-government goon squads. Dubbed the Green Tigers (the UNP’s colour is green), they have begun prowling the south, striking at those who oppose the accord. Most are small-time thugs affiliated with the ruling party. The government has allocated 600 of these ‘home guards’ to each electorate and 150 to each ruling party parliamentarian. The MPs are responsible for arming and training them as private armies.

The village militias have outraged many Sri Lankans. Thunders ex-MP Tennyson Edirisooriya: ‘Jayewardene is using fear of the JVP to set up a paramilitary state.’ Adds Mervyn de Silva, project director of a church-based action group: ‘Such methods can be counterproductive, particularly when the grievances of the insurgents and the people begin to converge.’

Analysts say the JVP has skilfully exploited the suffering of the common people to further its own cause. Professing Marxist beliefs, it has attracted many recruits among the poor and oppressed. Says Edirisooriya: ‘In supporting the JVP, the peasants feel they are making use of these violent elements for their own purposes. They have no other means of opposing the government, so they feel the JVP is the only answer.’

Dr. Henry Pathirane, a father of two, is one example. He grew up amid deprivation. By the time he left medical school, he was committed to Marxism. The malnourished villagers who flocked to his Kolonne clinic only strengthened his belief that revolution alone could rectify the imbalances in Sri Lankan society. Says Pathirane, who is now in army custody: ‘I saw that nothing had changed since the days when my family went hungry and I decided that the JVP was the only alternative.’

For his part, Jayewardene plainly feels he is justified in fighting fire with fire. The president has ordered security forces to ‘annihilate the JVP in two months’ time.’ He has also ignored repeated appeals by Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, a vocal critic of the July 29 accord, to lift an on-again, off-again ban on the leftist group. But Jayewardene’s determination to exterminate the JVP grows from a certain irony. After a bloody insurrection in 1971, the extremists were virtually wiped out by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party government. The group was banned and its fiery leader, Rohana Wijeweera, was sentenced to life imprisonment. During campaigning for the 1977 general elections, however, the UNP, then the opposition, made political capital of alleged government atrocities.

On coming to power, it set all JVP members free and even formed an alliance with the radical group. The UNP-JVP honeymoon ended in August 1983 when evidence surfaced that the Sinhalese extremists had fuelled bloody ethnic rioting a month earlier in the hope that the unrest would topple the government. The leaders of the JVP, which had earlier been outlawed again, went underground. Five years later, the JVP is still a force to reckon with. What is worrisome, however, is that in their bid to stamp out the extremists, frustrated government troops may ‘kill thousands of innocent civilians in a repetition of what happened in the north and east,’ says political analyst Sarath Gunawardene. Already, the army is making mass arrests in the south, identifying JVP members with the help of UNP informants.

Col. Lakshman Algama, military coordinating officer for the southwestern front, insists the counter-terrorist campaigns are not comparable. Says he: ‘In the north and east, we could not get any information [about the Tamil separatists] from the public because they did not trust us. In the case of the JVP, we will eventually get the information from the local people, because we can communicate with them. We will win.’

Many Sri Lankans believe, however, that the answer to the JVP problem is political, not military. There have been no parliamentary elections since the UNP came to power in 1977. Some observers reckon disgruntled Sri Lankans have turned to the rebels only because they have no other means of protest. As Edirisooriya puts it: ‘The government has to realise that this uprising can be put down only by the ballot, not the bullet.’

The Muslim Factor

‘Peace has almost been restored by the Indian peacekeeping force in Sri Lanka. Whatever problems reamin will be solved soon.’ So said Indian Defence Minister Krishna Chandra Pant last week when addressing troops in India’s eastern Bihar State. Military officials closer to the action do not share his optimism, however. ‘No matter what is being said, the picture in the field is very dismal,’ insists a Sri Lankan army intelligence source in Colombo. Indeed, while heavily-armed Indian soldiers have contained militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the island’s Tamil-dominated Jaffna Peninsula, the Tigers seem to be gaining ground in the east. In the first week of the new year, the Tigers went on a rampage in Kattankudi, a village south of Batticaloa in multi-ethnic Eastern Province. They torched homes, ransacked shops and battled gunmen claiming to belong to the fundamentalist Muslim Jihad, leaving at least 46 dead and scores injured.

The violence was sparked by the Muslim Jihad’s execution of a local Tiger leader accused of exhorting money from Muslim businessmen. The Tigers’ retaliation against the Muslims, a tiny community in predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist Sri Lanka, has broader political meaning. Tamil militants claim the Jihad is financed by the Sri Lankan government with Indian help – a charge Colombo strongly denies. ‘We believe they are receiving funds from Iran and Libya,’ a senior government official told Asiaweek.

Clashes between Muslims and Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, are not new. But the latest Tiger attack may have a deeper motive behind it. Muslim and Sinhalese communities in the east will have plenty to say in the forthcoming referendum to decide whether their province should merge with Northern Province, as proposed in the India-Sri Lanka peace accord. Analysts say their combined strength in Eastern Province has triggered the Tamil assaults. Asserts one military official: ‘The Tiger attacks are similar to earlier ones against Sinhalese in the east. They are meant to drive out the Muslims.’

Contenders: After Jayewardene, Who?

An old joke about President Junius Richard Jayewardene is circulating again in Colombo’s diplomatic circles. When the Sri Lankan leader visited the US in 1984, it goes, video-crazy Americans thought it might be a friendly gesture to name a screen personality after him. But a wily, ruthless ‘JR’ already existed in the popular TV serial Dallas. So the visitor’s admirers decided to name a movie studio after him instead. They called it ‘20th Century Fox’.

Jayewardene’s rivals might bitterly complain that the jest has the ring of truth. At 81, the ‘lokka’ or ‘old man,’ as he is fondly called by stalwarts of the ruling United National Party, can still execute a nimble political quickstep. The president has for a decade outwitted opponents coveting a shot at the island’s top office. For more than fourteen years, he has held just as firmly to the helm of the UNP. Opponents can only guess what his plans might be for the next presidential poll due by January 1989.

Insiders say Jayewardene may pull out of the race at wife Elina’s insistence. But contradictory comments by him have clouded the issue. Last October, he told The Times of London that he would still be president in 1990. Barely a week later, he retracted the statement, saying a ‘printing mistake’ in his copy of the Constitution had led him to believe he could stand for more than two consecutive terms. The Constitution clearly states that a president cannot be ‘elected’ for more than two consecutive terms.

But supporters of Jayewardene, who is in his second tenure as head of state, have used that phrasing to argue that he is eligible to run again. As far as they are concerned, he was ‘elected’ to office only once – for a second term in 1982. His first stint as president was gained through an appointment by Parliament in 1978, soon after a fresh charter introducing a presidential form of government was promulgated.

Who will succeed Jayewardene should he step down? At the moment, it looks like a straight fight between Lands Minister Gamini Dissanayake and National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. Dissanayake would hold an edge because of his backing by New Delhi, which since the July 29, 1987, signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka peace pact wields considerable influence in Sri Lankan politics. Dissanayake initiated the talks that led to the accord.

Supporters of the Lands Minister claim he can clinch at least 30% of the votes in the coming polls – 12% from the minority Tamil population, 3% from Muslims, and 15% from ‘intellectuals’ among the Sinhalese majority. ‘That’s a mistake,’ says political analyst Sarath Gunawardene. ‘The Tamils would never vote en bloc for any Sinhalese candidate. The Muslim vote may come, but that is negligible.’ Gunawardene thinks Sinhalese intellectuals would favour Athulathmudali or ex-PM Sirimavo Bandaranaike, boss of the anti-government Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Although fervently pro-Sinhalese, both are moderates and have proven administrative ability.

Curiously, the ambitious Athulathmudali, an early critic of the accord, has been reticent about his plans. Now fully recovered from severe injuries sustained in a grenade attack on Parliament last August, the security minister is ‘in a position to turn the situation in the north and east to his advantage,’ observes a cabinet member close to him. ‘But he appears to [prefer] to remain silent.’

Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel, once a frontrunner, has meanwhile knocked himself out of the presidential race. Earlier this month he incurred Jayewardene’s wrath for denouncing as ‘unconstitutional’ a 1982 referendum backed by the UNP which extended the life of parliament for six more years.

For his part, Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa appears to have been sidelined because he does not belong to the high govigama (farmer) caste from which the UNP has traditionally drawn its leaders. But a source close to the president says the PM should not be counted out so soon. Notes he: ‘If the selection is left to Jayewardene, he would not be looking at issues like caste so much. The fact that Premadasa could become the prime minister in spite of obstacles he had to face speaks volumes for his abilities as a political game player.’


The Bloody Trail to the South

[Mathews K George and Valli Dharmarajah; South (London), Jan. 1988,

pp. 66-67.]

More bloodshed threatens in 1988, especially in the Sinhala-dominated south. The race and class wars and the government’s militarisation have brutalised the society. Peace, unity and national stability are unlikely to emerge from October’s presidential election and the referendum due to be held in the north and east on the proposed merger of these two war-torn provinces.

President Junius Jayewardene’s decision not to stand for a second term has led to a scramble between prospective successors in his United National Party. They include Gamini Dissanayake, whose cricket diplomacy led to the 29 July peace accord with India; finance minister Ronnie de Mel, an enthusiastic supporter of the deal and believed to be backed by New Delhi; national security minister and Sinhala hawk Lalith Athulathmudali; and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, a critic of the accord whose stand has lost him ground with the Sinhala middle class.

The political infighting will be bitter. Premadasa is tipped to win because he is the only UNP candidate with sufficient grassroots support to take on opposition leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party candidate. But his challenge for Jayewardene’s mantle will not be easy – Gamini, De Mel and Athulathmudali are all dangerous opponents. Bandaranaike has mobilised Sinhala and Buddhist clergy’s opposition to the accord. But she would have to work with a legislature dominated by the UNP members; a victory by her would not gurantee her divided SLFP party victory in the 1989 elections to the legislature.

The referendum on the merger of the northern and eastern provinces is due to be held before the end of the year. It will again highlight racial divisions. The diehard proponents of a Tamil homeland – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – hope the merger proposal will succeed. To Colombo that result is unacceptable. The east is predominantly Muslim, and the Muslims are unlikely to vote for a merger with the 97 percent Tamil-populated north.

Last year, it was this recognition that provoked the Tigers’ onslaught on the Sinhalese, but their attempt to precipitate an exodus from the east brought them into conflict with the Indian peace-keeping force. After bloody fighting, the Indian forces took the key northern town of Jaffna, but the Tigers have retreated to jungle hideouts for more hit and run attacks. The heavy casualties inflicted on the Indian army will lead to increased Indian demands for a troop pull-out. But India is committed to guaranteeing peace.

With violence and instability continuing in the north and east, the implementation of the provincial councils bill will suffer a setback. The bill, which passed through parliament last November, grants the Tamils the autonomy they sought. But to reap the benefits of devolution, a new, moderate Tamil leadership has to emerge, able to buck the tactics of the Tigers and to negotiate land colonisation and other Tamil rights. If the Tamils do not grasp the political opportunity, their future will again be dictated by Sinhalese.

The Tigers’ demand for a separate homeland is rivalled by the chauvinist call for a Sinhala Buddhist nation; both reject a pluralist approach to the ethnic problem. The chauvinists in the south will increasingly be represented by the militant Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which has violently opposed the accord and has been blamed for the deaths of more than 40 UNP supporters, including MPs, in recent months. Support for the JVP will increase among the have-nots.

The universities are potential recruiting grounds for the JVP, already powerful in the rural south. Disgruntled student monks and poorly paid army privates have been recruited to the JVP – the latter providing access to weapons. It has potential to wage an all-out guerrilla war in the south, and possibly isolate Colombo.

The future is bleak. But thanks to western aid donors, the cash lines will remain open. The aid consortiums – under pressure to halt funds until peace with the Tamils is negotiated – will continue to provide political and economic support to ensure that external, anti-western forces do not move in. But the donors will stop at providing military aid.

India’s position is more explicit; Sri Lanka, especially its natural harbour at Trincomalee in the eastern province, is vital to its interests. But the human and financial cost of its presence in Sri Lanka will have a bearing. New Delhi is spending almost 3-million rupees (US$ 230,000) a day to maintain its forces there. About 250 troops have been killed and almost 1,000 wounded.

For Sri Lanka, the year ahead will be traumatic. The peace accord, however imperfect, may be the only prospect for building a lasting peace with the Tamils. Failure by both sides to accept this reality will lead only to the continuation and inevitable escalation of factional violence and further economic trouble.


Colombo’s Policies Strike a Chord

[Pran Chopra; South (London), Jan., 1988, p.74.]

India’s foreign policy hawks are crowing over what they see as their diplomatic coup in Sri Lanka. Sinhalese hawks call New Delhi’s intervention a sell-out by President Junius Jayewardene. Tamil hawks in both countries call it betrayal of Tamils by India. All three are misperceptions, but each will add friction to Indo-Sri Lankan relations.

Each group refers to compromises in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, which Jayewardene promised Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the end of July last year. If carried out, these revisions will reduce a slant towards the West which the President has given Sri Lankan foreign policy, eliminate the possibility of a foreign military base in the excellent harbour at Trincomalee, and disengage Sri Lanka from certain aspects of recent deals with the Voice of America, Pakistan’s army and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

But this is no coup. During the 20 years it was in power, Sirima Bandaranaike’s opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had followed a foreign policy similar to – and supportive of – India’s. Nor are the revisions a sell-out since all they would do is to revert foreign policy to that of the SLFP. But the Sinhalese hawks – including the SLFP – have denounced Jayewardene’s agreement because it has allowed the Indian army on to the island.

Tamils condemn the agreement as betrayal because India settled for much less than Tamil militants could have won through battle – if New Delhi had not intervened. The longer Indian troops stay, the more Sinhalese pride will be hurt. The Indian troops came at Jayewardene’s request, and because they are under his authority he can order them out at his discretion. He has already sent back two Indian warships which had been lurking on Colombo’s horizon.

The Indian army is disarming Tamil militants faster than Sri Lankan troops could have managed. Success in flushing out the Tamil Tigers will sufficiently strengthen Jayewardene to enable him to stand by his promises of regional autonomy for Tamils. It would be unwise for the SLFP to encourage the right-wing Sinhalese Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front – JVP) to embarrass Jayewardene or to scuttle the accord with India. The SLFP’s sympathies towards the Indian position may influence changes in the accord but not its annulment. The worst scenario for Indo-Sri Lankan relations in 1988 is friction. There is no likelihood of a major rupture or discord.


Bad Day at Batticaloa

[Sri Lanka Correspondent; Economist, Jan. 23, 1988, pp. 20 & 22]

With the resignation on January 18th of the flamboyant Mr Ronnie de Mel, the world’s longest-serving finance minister (he had held the post since 1977), Sri Lanka has lost the man who coaxed the world into providing the foreign aid that has kept it going through four years of civil war. More such skill may be demanded of Mr de Mel’s successor, his faithful deputy, Mr Naina Marikkar. Sri Lanka’s violent troubles are far from over.

For some time, Mr de Mel had been growing alarmed by the mood of his country’s impatient young people. He wanted a lifting of the ban on the group of Sinhalese chauvinists that calls itself the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or People’s Liberation Front, so that its leaders could be drawn into a debate about unemployment and other issues. A series of recent bombings and shootings in the south of the island has been attributed to the JVP, which in some places has defied the local police.

Just after the murder on December 23rd of the chairman of the ruling United National Party, Mr de Mel said that Sri Lanka had not been a democracy since a referendum in 1982 prolonged the existing parliament’s life (it is still there). He added that the government would have no moral claim on power if no election were held this year. Many of his colleagues protested that a senior minister was sounding like a member of the opposition. Me de Mel had to go.

President Junius Jayewardene did not seem unduly worried by the loss of one of the strongest supporters of last year’s agreement with India, which has helped the government get the rebellion of Sri Lanka’s Tamils under control. But the president cannot affor such insouciance on his visit to New Delhi for India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26th. He needs to have a serious talk with Mr Rajiv Gandhi about the agreement, which is having trouble.

The Indian troops in Sri Lanka have mastered the northern Tamil area around Jaffna, but are floundering in the Eastenr province, whose population is a mixture of Tamils, Sinhalese Buddhists and Muslims. The Indian army has only two companies in the east-coast town of Batticaloa. They have failed to cope with the Tamil guerrillas’ threat of ‘maximum punishment’ for anybody who cooperates with ‘the repressive apparatus of the racist Sri Lankan state’. The threat shut Batticaloa’s local government offices and courts, and on January 19th ten armed Tamils forced their way into the jail and compelled the 54 prisoners to leave – which they did rather reluctantly; some of them promptly gave themselves up at the police station. The Indian soldiers did nothing and looked silly.

The guerrillas never had as much support in Batticaloa as in Jaffna, and Batticaloa’s people were expecting the Indians to protect them. The Indians say they are sending in more soldiers, but the psychological damage has been done. If the Indians want the agreement to work, they will have to offer the Tamils something more positive than mere suppression of the guerrillas. That means the resettlement of refugees, and provincial elections. But elections are hardly possible so long as the guerrillas can stroll in and do what they did in Batticaloa. India’s credibility is at risk.

India’s credibility is at risk.


Power-Sharing in Sri Lanka: Two View Points

[Gamini Dissanayake and Neelan Tiruchelvam; Asiaweek, Jan. 29, 1988; p. 58]

In November, Sri Lankan President Junius Jaywardene pushed through a bill to devolve power from Colombo to the provinces. The peace accord he had signed with India in July contained a provision for the move, designed to satisfy the Tamil minority. The legislation gives each province a council with governor, chief minister and board of ministers. In line with another Tamil demand, it also proposes to merge predominantly Tamil Northern Province with neighbouring Eastern Province, which is equally Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim.

Viewpoint of Gamini Dissanayake [Minister of Lands and largely responsible for the negotiations that brought about the peace accord]

Q: Why is the Provincial Council Bill considered landmark legislation?

A: Just prior to Independence in 1948, there were signs of grave concern amongst certain minority groups as to how power was to be shared. Today, those concerns have become real, leading to a great degree of divisiveness. The provincial council concept itself has been seriously discussed at the highest levels for over 40 years. The bill is necessary and relevant law in a country which is very deeply rooted in democracy. It will throw up new leaders and will break the history of frustration that only those who are elected to the central legislature have a say in the affairs of the country.

Q: Does the bill meet the aspirations of the Tamil people?

A: In my view, the Tamil people of Sri Lanka both in their origin and in their broader perspectives were never separatists in spirit. They are practical enough to see the role they can play in a wider policy within the framework of a multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-religious society. The Indo-Lanka accord is the basis of an honourable settlement. It provides the provincial council system with firm agreements about the future structure of government.

Q: What shortcomings do you see in the bill’s format?

A: I cannot see any basic problems. I would personally like to see very wide powers being given to the councils. However, there are constraints such as the lack of resources and expertise, and shortcomings in the technology and planning processes. Much will depend on the interaction between the executive, the national Parliament and the new political realities.

Q: Do you think the bill provides a durable basis to resolve the ethnic conflict?

A: It has become abundantly clear that extremist groups on all sides are being marginalised. They cannot find popular support in the political context for their extremist views. They are therefore resolved to make a fight for it. It is only the emergence of political forces that can eliminate this process totally. That is what the provincial council system would do.

Q: How can opposition to the bill from the south be resolved?

A: The government is taking steps to ensure that law and order prevails there. Extremist groups will not be provided with opportunities to carry out political assassinations. Also, social and political steps are being taken to bring extreme radicals into the mainstream.

Viewpoint of Neelan Tiruchelvam [The official spokesman for the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front]

Q: Why is the Provincial Council Bill considered landmark legislation?

A: Since Independence, political leaders and academics have recognised the importance of devolution not only as a means of redressing grievances of ethnic minorities, but also in the democratisation of political authority. The bill can be viewed as a step in establishing political institutions in which legislative and executive power could be vested in the provincial level. The bill’s effectiveness will depend on the scope of the powers which will in fact be exercised by these institutions.

Q: Does the bill meet the aspirations of the Tamil people?

A: One of the important provisions in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution relates to the recognition of Tamil as an official language. If this provision is effectively implemented it will advance the Tamil concern for linguistic equality. The recognition of English as a link language would also help to build bridges between communities which have been alienated from each other for decades.

Q: What are its shortcomings?

A: They relate to the granting of state land, which is central to the socio-economic development of the provinces. There is also concern that the emergency and residual powers of the centre are excessive and provide for in-roads into provincial authority by an overbearing government.

Q: Does the bill provide a durable basis for resolving the ethnic conflict?

A: An important element of the accord is the power sharing arrangement in the provincial scheme. It was expected that it would be resolved in a manner which is satisfactory to the Tamils. This expectation proved to be false. However, if we reject the provincial council for this reason, the accord would be a dead letter. The overwhelming concern is for an immediate end to the hostilities and to the human suffering, and that must form the basis for any enduring solution.

Q: What about opposition to the bill from the south?

A: We remain dismayed that influential sections of Sinhala opinion within the clergy, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the [militant Sinhalese] Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna remain unreconciled to political accomodation with the Tamils. One must continue to persuade the rational forces in our society that the failure of the accord and the devolution scheme could only result in further chaos and anarchy.

Continued…Part VI

The Indo-LTTE War (1987-1990)
An Anthology, Part VI
Persisting Headaches for Rajiv and Jayawardene
February 27, 2008

Glaringly, the realistic views (that appeared in the Asiaweek of Mar. 4, 1988) of A.P. Venkateswaran, the sacked Foreign Secretary of India, have stood the test of time. He had stated, “The purpose of a peacekeeping force is not to take sides with one or other of the opposing groups but to separate them so as to avoid a conflict.” And this became the cardinal sin of RAW operatives, that led to the failure of Indian Army’s assigned mission in Eelam.

Part 1 of series

Even after the lapse of two decades, a minor segment of self-loathing Eelam Tamils naively believe that the LTTE’s decision to stand up to the Indian army was foolish. I wonder how they will reconcile with the recent admission of Anand Kumar Verma, the then Chief of RAW at the time of the IPKF Operations, that “The July 29, 1987 Indo Srilankan agreement…was another example of a flawed exercise…The agreement was doomed from the beginning. Indian Intelligence had misgivings about this agreement and had advised against the induction of Indian Military into Srilanka which followed the signing of the agreement.”

One can call this belated mea culpa his ‘cover one’s butt’ exercise, long after all the principal protagonists [Rajiv Gandhi, J.R. Jayewardene, J.N. Dixit and the then Indian Army Chief, General Krishnaswamy Sundarrajan (aka Sundarji)] except Pirabhakaran have departed from the scene. To quote, A.K. Verma, from his July 24, 2007 commentary entitled, ‘Srilankan Tamils: Anatomy of Indian Involvement’ [vide, Paper No. 2312 of South Asia Analysis Group]:

“The July 29, 1987 Indo Srilankan agreement…was another example of a flawed exercise…The agreement incorporated two major concessions to the Tamils, a single administrative unit with devolved powers in North and East with a single provincial council and elections to this council before December 1987. Prabhakaran’s heart was not in it as by that time he had already decided that Tamils deserved nothing short of Eelam. Indian assumptions that he would accept less were illusory. Similarly the dream expectation that a merger of North and East would be genuinely acceptable to the Srilankan Government was unreal. The agreement was doomed from the beginning. Indian Intelligence had misgivings about this agreement and had advised against the induction of Indian Military into Srilanka which followed the signing of the agreement.

The intransigent attitude of Prabhakaran’s LTTE came to surface soon enough. It refused to surrender all the arms which the agreement required. It refused to take part in the elections to the provincial council of the merged North East. The IPKF had in the meanwhile been inducted in Sri Lanka to organize de-militarization of the Tamil areas. In the absence of LTTE co-operation, the Indian authorities allowed IPKF to become coercive.

The Indian decision to opt for military operations against LTTE was based on the army assessment that IPKF would take no more than a week to drive LTTE to its knees. Indian Intelligence was not aware how this assessment had been arrived at. Unfortunately, this assessment was not subjected to any deeper scrutiny and became the basis for Indian army operations against the LTTE. Subsequent events proved that the so called assessment was just wishful thinking…”

Asiaweek Feb 19 1988 Indian troops in Jaffna Sri Lanka
Asiaweek, Feb 19, 1988
This evaluation by the RAW’s top dog of that period has to be tempered with a countering assertion. The RAW operatives who were present in Eelam and Colombo during 1987-90, didn’t fail to work overtime in their plumbing activities. Early in this decade, Bhashyam Kasturi and Pankaj Mehra contributing an analysis entitled, ‘Geo-politics of South Asian Covert Action: India’s Experience and Need for Action against Pakistan’ [Indian Defence Review, Apr-June 2001; vol.16 (2), pp.22-31], had the following observation:

“In politico-military terms, covert action eventually proved to be of little use when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) went into Sri Lanka in 1987. For the simple reason that intelligence on the insurgents trained by India was not forthcoming. Additionally, the intelligence agencies continued to covertly continue political dealings with the insurgents to suit their ends, even during the IPKF’s stay in Sri Lanka. This undermined the foreign policy goal of sending a peacekeeping force to restore peace in Sri Lanka. The problem was that too many prime ministers were involved in the Sri Lanka episode, resulting in several conflicting decisions. Also involvement of state leaders like M.G. Ramachandran created more complications for command and control.”

In this part, I have transcribed 9 newsreports, commentaries and interviews that first appeared in February-March 1988. As the descriptions provided in these 9 items reveal, when February 1988 rolled in, the trust and political marriage of convenience promoted by Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene in July 1987 appeared to be suffering from sustenance drought. For appearance sake, both indulged in propaganda releases. But, as Susan Tifft reported for Time magazine (Feb.8, 1988), Jayewardene had “pushed for a withdrawal of Indian troops” due to political pressure on the home front, while Rajiv Gandhi “gave Jayewardene no assurances that India would pull out its troops anytime soon.” As a face-saving formula, while Jayewardene and his coterie had proposed an ‘Indo-Sri Lankan friendship treaty’, the Indian mandarins who were advising Rajiv never took this bait seriously. William Smith, reporting for the Time magazine a week later (Feb.15, 1988), wrote that “Though [Rajiv] Gandhi was extremely popular when he took office [in late 1984], he is widely perceived today as indecisive, inconsistent in his economic policies and seemingly permissive toward corruption in high places.” The anonymous Asiaweek reporter noted a pipe dream of the Indian and Colombo policy makers and their journalist pantaloons of what they expected from the Indian army: “Both New Delhi and Colombo are keen that the Tigers are neutralised by April [1988] so that provincial council elections can be held peacefully.” [Feb.19, 1988]. But, to the disappointment of many, this never became a reality.

Glaringly, the realistic views (that appeared in the Asiaweek of Mar. 4, 1988) of A.P.Venkateswaran, the sacked Foreign Secretary of India, have stood the test of time. He had stated, “The purpose of a peacekeeping force is not to take sides with one or other of the opposing groups but to separate them so as to avoid a conflict.” And this became the cardinal sin of RAW operatives, that led to the failure of Indian Army’s assigned mission in Eelam.

In chronological order, the 9 newsreports, commentaries and interviews are as follows:

India Correspondent: One, two, many Indias?. Economist, Feb.6, 1988, pp. 21-22.

India Correspondent: All over bar the shooting. Economist, Feb.6, 1988, p. 22.

Susan Tifft: Hello, Goodbye – A brisk visit to New Delhi. Time, Feb.8, 1988, p. 13.

Manik de Silva: Treaty in the Making. Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb.11, 1988, p. 29.

William E. Smith: A Fractious Inheritance. Time, Feb.15, 1988, pp. 38-39.

Anonymous: Sri Lanka’s War Gets Bigger. Asiaweek, Feb.19,1988, pp.18-22.

William E. Smith: On the Move – More troops for Sri Lanka. Time, Feb. 29.1988, p. 16.

Anonymous: Assassinations – A Bloody Vendetta. Asiaweek, Mar. 4, 1988, p. 16.

Can India end Sri Lanka’s Conflict [Views of A.P.Venkateswaran and Jasjit Singh]. Asiaweek, Mar.4, 1988, p. 62.

Wherever they appear, either dots or words within parenthesis, in italics and in bold fonts are as in the originals.

One, two, many Indias?

[India Correspondent; Economist, Feb. 6, 1988, pp. 21-22.]

In the state of Tripura, in India’s far north-east, around 60 people were killed in the three days before a state election on February 2nd. The victims were immigrants from miserable Bangladesh, slain by tribal rebels who resent the newcomers. The heartland outscored the obscure fringes: in Punjab nearly 200 people died last month in attacks by Sikh terrorists on Sikhs who disagreed with them, and on the state’s Hindu minority. From time to time Indians worry that their country’s religious, racial and linguistic divisions are tearing it apart. Do they have more reason to worry now?

Perhaps not in comparison with 1947, when 500,000 – 1m people were massacred during the partition of India from Pakistan; or even 1967, when a countryside rebellion by communists called Naxalites spread across five eastern Indian states. But the violent disruption of the past three years is once again testing India’s ability to hold together as a single antion – a nation of 800m people with six main religions, 16 languages (comprising at least 1,400 dialects) and innumerable castes.

The tensions bound to arise in such a country occasionally burst into violence. The least worrying of these outbursts, except to the victims, are those that take place on India’s fringes and involve outsiders who have recently moved in; they are the kind of thing that often happens in poor countries when new people are being assimilated. That was the case last weekend in unfortunate Tripura. Something similar was behind the recent violence in West Bengal, where the dissatisfactions of the outsiders – Nepalese-speaking immigrants – have given rise to a movement that is demanding a separate state of Gurkhaland. Other separatist groups keep popping up in places like Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland, all of them in the sensitive north-east.

Next on the scale of worry comes the Muslim-Hindu divide. Hindus (of whom there are 640m) and Muslims (90m) have been at each other’s throats for centuries, but things got worse last year when more than 100 people, mainly Muslims, died in riots in Uttar Pradesh. Muslim groups began to flourish all over India; so did an outbreak of Hindu revivalism – one sign of which may be two recent cases of suttee (widow burning) in Rajasthan. Private armies on both sides are being formed in Delhi and elsewhere. Muslims are becoming more organised and rebellious in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim state. Young Kashmiri Muslims have been rioting against the Hindu-dominated central government in Delhi, which, they say, fixed their state’s election last March.

The most menacing cases of racial division threaten India with a real break-up. One of these is the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Ever since Sri Lanka’s civil war between its Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority began, policy-makers in Delhi have been nervous that a misstep could send Tamil Nadu (which is wholly Tamil) sprawling towards secession – especially if the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka went wrong. Last week’s near-riot in the state assembly, followed by the imposition of direct rule by the central government, showed how shaky things still are.

The worst fear of those who worry about the Indian union, however, is Punjab. It is India’s richest state, bordering on both the Hindu heartland and still-distrusted Pakistan, and large numbers of people are involved. Sikh terrorists killed more than 1,000 people last year (and have reached a fifth of that total in just one month this year). That made 1987 the worse year of violence since 1984, when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. For the first time in independent India there is a rift between Hindus and Sikhs, who had always before seen each other as brothers.

Two old answers, and two new ones: In the old days Indians could rely on two main firebreaks to stop sectarian violence from spreading far enough to threaten India’s unity. The first was a ruling party that worked. The country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, built India’s dominant Congress Party around secularism (which in India simply means religious tolerance) and the championship of the poor and downtrodden. These ideals united Indians and gave them an idea of what their country was all about. Nehru combined this idealism with the nuts-and-bolts construction of a strong Congress Party that incorporated minority groups along with local bosses.

This Congress of idealism plus local brokerage began to disapper under Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. Under her rule Congress became a tired monster of a party. It is now full of old codgers hanging on to power for power’s sake. Some internal party elections are a decade overdue. There were high hopes for reform when Indira’s son Rajiv took over in 1984. But Mr Gandhi, who is bad at handling people, has shown more of an aptitude for denouncing the party’s faults than for curing them. Congress is now even more firmly in the control of the corrupt, the self-seekers and the time-servers than it was when Mr Gandhi became prime minister.

The second curb on communal violence was strong leadership. Nehru held India together partly through his own popularity and sense of mission. Mrs Gandhi shifted away from her father’s policy of governing my accomodation and consensus. She tried to do it by force of personality alone. It worked for a while: in 1971 people voted for Indira rather than Congress. But after 1980 her rule deteriorated into a crude exchange by which she showered favours on interest groups in return for their support. At first that included Sikh extremists.

Even so, some Indians now grouse, at least Indira could browbeat India – unlike Rajiv. In recent months the Indian press has had fun portraying Mr Gandhi as a playboy in designer sunglasses and Italian shoes, enjoying caviar aboard Air India One or planning his next luxurious island holiday. The prime minister does not embody an idea of Indianness in the way his mother and grandfather did. He is ill at ease with plain Indians, and lacks the gravity they have come to expect from their leaders.

In the fight against separatism Mr Gandhi perhaps cannot call on the vision of Nehru or the guts of an Indira. But he has something else on his side: time. The 40 years since independence have knitted India together in two ways. The first is social and economic. The free movement of people (to distant universities or jobs, for instance), their intermarriage, the establishment of businesses that trade goods and services and draw on capital throughout the country; all these things have united India and anchored it at the grass roots more than anyone would have dreamed in 1947. The second largest group of industrial workers in Bombay, for example, consists of migrants from Uttar Pradesh, more than 700 miles away. They will have little patience for political extremists staging shoot-‘em-ups in favour of protectionist statelets.

The 40 years have also helped India’s democratic institutions to mature. Parliament is a brash, noisy affair in which a vociferous if chaotic opposition can criticise and challenge the government. The courts are independent, and still uphold the laws which are intended to protect the oppressed. India has a forthright and free press, perhaps the best in the third world. Most important, even humble Indians have come to recognise the power of their vote. Nobody forgets that Mrs Gandhi’s much-hated Emergency was ended at the ballot box.

This twin knitting-together process gives Mr Gandhi his chance. Most Sikhs, most Gurkhas, most Muslims, most Tamils do not want to lose all they have gained from it. Sikh extremists apart, most of India’s separatist groups could probably be calmed if they simply felt that they were getting their fair share of Indian democracy. Mr Gandhi need not be another Nehru or Indira. He can be himself and still parry the separatist threat by undertaking a few tasks: shaping up Congress with internal elections; stopping the fixing of local elections; resisting the temptation to silence an unfriendly newspaper; making it clear that no group which takes up arms can expect to be bought off by cash from Delhi. India is not falling apart. But it could do much better if Mr Gandhi just started showing some enthusiasm for these tasks.


All over bar the shooting

[India Correspondent; Economist, Feb. 6, 1988, p. 22.]

Sri Lanka’s most incorrigible optimist is still its president, Mr Junius Jayewardene. He returned home on January 30th from six days of talks in India determined to press ahead with early elections for local councils in his country’s Northern and Eastern provinces. He plans to persist even if the Tamil Tiger guerrillas remain unsubdued and Sinhalese gunmen continue to kill Sri Lankan politicians who support the peace moves. India and Sri Lanka hope the violence can be reduced to a level that will allow provincial voting to take place in accordance with last July’s agreement between the two countries.

Indian defence officials reckon that their soldiers should have the Northern province under some sort of control by the end of this month, and the Eastern province two months after that. Mr Jayewardene agreed in Delhi that India could beef up its peacekeeping force, which now numbers 42,000 men. He hopes to hold the elections by June.

Public opinion in both countries is getting increasingly fed up with how long it is taking to end the civil war. Sinhalese who oppose concessions to the Tamils claim that India is trying to partition the island. India is upset at the number of its soldiers killed, now nearly 700.

The Delhi talks cleared up the worst of Sri Lanka’s misgivings. Mr Lalith Athulathmudali, who as Sri Lanka’s minister for internal security has always worried about India’s troops on the island, told your correspondent that he no longer doubted India’s readiness to withdraw its troops once the agreement was working. The most serious difference between the two countries is over the plan for a referendum in the Eastern province to decide whether it wants to be linked with the solidly Tamil north.

The referendum is due to be held within a year after the provincial elections, though Mr Jayewardene can postpone it. The Indians would prefer no referendum at all. They know that, after Tiger attacks on Sinhalese and Muslims in the Eastern province, the east is unlikely to vote to join with the north. India fears that if the two provinces are not united the whole agreement may become unacceptable to most Tamils. At the Delhi talks both sides avoided any mention of the referendum. One problem at a time is more than enough.


Hello, Goodbye – A Brisk Visit to New Delhi

[Susan Tifft; Time, Feb. 8, 1988, p. 13]

By past standards, the official welcome was low key. As soon as his plane touched down last week at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene was driven to the pink-and-beige Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House), where Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and about 50 government and diplomatic officials awaited his arrival. A 21-gun salute was fired, but there were no formal speeches. Jayewardene shook hands with his hosts and walked briskly toward his private suite to begin a five-day stay.

Indian officials said the truncated reception reflected recent changes in protocol, but the business-like tone seemed fitting for Jayewardene’s arrival. The Sri Lankan leader had several potentially disagreeable issues to take up with Gandhi. Chief among them was the slow progress made by Indian troops against the island republic’s separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The continuing bloodshed and increasing military commitment have put pressure on Jayewardene to push for a withdrawal of Indian troops, some of which have been in Sri Lanka since the two countries signed an accord last July 29 aimed at ending the insurgency. Also high on the President’s list was a proposed Indian-Sri Lankan friendship treaty that would, in Colombo’s view, redress some of the inequities in the peace pact.

After two rounds of talks with Gandhi, Jayewardene flew home last weekend with mixed results. On one hand, the leaders agreed to work out ways that would allow some 800,000 refugees of the conflict to return home. On the other, Gandhi gave Jayewardene no assurances that India would pull out its troops anytime soon.

Far from planning to withdraw, the Indian military in recent weeks has moved an additional division into eastern Sri Lanka. That brings Indian strength on the island to over 40,000 combat troops – more than ten times the number initially dispatched last summer. The buildup bolsters New Delhi’s hopes that the Tigers, masters of disruptive hit-and-run tactics who are now concentrated in the Tamil-dominated east, can be subdued long enough to permit the provincial council elections that are mandated by the peace agreement. Last week Jayewardene announced that as a result of his talks with Gandhi, he would call for council elections beginning in March or April.

But that only fanned tensions on the island, where the Sinhalese majority opposes another feature of the accord, a provision that the country’s two Tamil-dominated provinces must be merged before elections can be held. On yet another sensitive voting issue – when general elections for Sri Lanka’s 196-seat parliament might occur – Jayewardene remained mute. The President has postponed national balloting since 1983 because of the Tamil insurgency. Now, despite mounting pressure from Colombo, he has refused to advance the prospective election date of September 1989.

Jayewardene also failed to make much progress in New Delhi on the proposed friendship treaty. Among other things, India wants assurances that Sri Lankan will not offer its ports to any third country for military use. That condition is aimed primarily at embargoing Pakistani, Israeli or US forces. Sri Lanka made such a promise in connection with the July 29 accord, but Jayewardene left the pledge out of the proposed friendship treaty. The omission led India to suspect that the President wanted to dilute other commitments made in the original pact. As a result, the treaty debate promises to be prolonged.

More trouble awaited Jayewardene upon his return. While he was meeting with Gandhi in New Delhi, the Tigers launched a surprise attack on an Indian patrol in the eastern city of Batticaloa, a raid that left eleven dead. The killings brought fatalities in the almost five year-old civil war to roughly 8,000, most of them civilians. [Reported by Qadri Ismail/Colombo, and K.K. Sharma/New Delhi]


Treaty in the Making

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb. 11, 1988, p. 29]

Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene ended a state visit to India on 30 January describing his tour as ‘very successful’. Largely due to the negotiations during the trip, New Delhi will further bolster the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. The aim is to break the back of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has regrouped in the Eastern Province since suffering heavily at the hands of the IPKF in the Northern Province.

Indian commanders expect to mop up the remaining LTTE resistance in the north within a month and bring the east under control by the end of April, which could pave the way for provincial council elections by June. Back in Colombo, Jayewardene faces formidable problems, including Sinhalese terrorism in the south and dissension within his United National Party (UNP).

Jayewardene, whose tenure as president ends early next year, took along to New Delhi two key ministers, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali who, with Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, are the front runners for the UNP ticket at next year’s presidential election. Dissanayake, who played a key role in negotiating the July Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord, is a particular favourite of the Indian Government.

Athulathmudali, on the other hand, has been lukewarm about the accord, cautiously treading a tightrope in seeking to retain his popularity among the Sri Lankan armed forces and majority Sinhalese, while at the same time not appearing to rebel against government policy. As deputy defence minister, he as well as Gen. Cyril Ranatunge – the joint operations commander who was also on the delegation – had an important role to play in discussions with the Indian defence establishment.

Analysts in Colombo have noted that while there appeared to be complete trust between Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Sri Lankan and Indian bureaucracies are suspicious of each other. One of the main objectives of the Jayewardene visit was to ensure that bureaucrats did not undermine the relationship between the two leaders. The Colombo delegation was keen on impressing on the Indian prime minister that Jayewardene had a greater stake than Gandhi in the success of the peace accord.

The accord itself has not been working as it should. The Indians underestimated the strength of the Tamil Tigers and the process of disarming them has been a costly exercise for the IPKF, resulting in more than 350 soldiers killed and more than 1,000 wounded. Civilian casualties in the Indian operations and the hostility of the Sri Lankan Tamils, who had once regarded Indian troops as protectors, have added to New Delhi’s problems.

Jayewardene has to contend with growing domestic fear that Indian troops intend to remain much longer than they should and that the peacekeeping force will eventually become an army of occupation. He knows very well that the Indian presence will be a key issue at the elections and would very much like the IPKF to complete its task and pull out before the parliamentary and presidential elections expected within the next 12 months. During his stay in New Delhi, Gandhi told Sri Lankan national TV that it was up to Jayewardene alone to decide when Indian troops should pull out. This, from the point of view of the Colombo government, was a most positive statement and has been widely publicised in Sri Lanka.

Colombo was anxious to sign with New Delhi a treaty of friendship and cooperation modelled on the Indo-Soviet treaty, which would include reciprocal obligations. The intention, from Jayewardene’s point of view, was to get rid of what many Sri Lankans perceive to be inequities in the July accord. Although the Indian External Affairs Ministry has been cool on the idea of a treaty, Gandhi himself has said that he had no reservations about signing such an agreement with Sri Lanka.

At the conclusion of the visit, Jayewardene told reporters that the draft submitted by Colombo will be discussed at length during the coming months and the next round of treaty talks would be held before the June elections for the Sri Lankan provincial councils. Having the treaty signed before parliamentary elections, which most observers believe would precede the presidential election, would be a useful campaign plank for Jayewardene.

At home the president has rapped Premadasa – whose recent public speeches have not been entirely to Jayewardene’s liking – by dropping two strong Premadasa supporters from the UNP working committee. He also obtained finance minister Ronnie de Mel’s resignation for what he regarded as a lack of ‘loyalty’ to a five year-old cabinet decision to hold a referendum in December 1982 to extend the term of the incumbent parliament. de Mel said in parliament in December that he had been opposed to the referendum to which he attributed many of the country’s present problems. Despite the fact that replacing de Mel, a gifted technocrat, was a major problem, Jayewardene clearly felt that cabinet and party discipline was more important.

Obviously, the president intends to show the country that he will be calling the shots in the remaining months of his tenure. He has reiterated that it is his constitutional prerogative to decide when to hold a parliamentary election and, despite pressure from the opposition as well as a public demand by de Mel, he has chosen not to reveal his hand on election timing.

Before leaving New Delhi he told the press that the presidential election will be held by the end of this year or early January 1989. When to hold a parliamentary election, he said, is ‘my decision’ and he had not made up his mind on whether to schedule it before or after the presidential election, he said. But most observers agree that Jayewardene will hold the parliamentary polls while he is still in office so that he can appoint the next cabinet. Jayewardene, who will turn 82 in September, has declared that he will not seek another term, but he has not indicated which of the UNP aspirants he will support as his successor.


A Fractious Inheritance: Gandhi strives to hold his country together

[William E. Smith; Time, Feb. 15, 1988, pp.38-39.]

‘The state is in tears and is bloodstained.’ – S.S. Ray, the governor of Punjab.

That cry, from a turbulent corner of his immense country, has painful resonance for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Though he is the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru and the son of Indira Gandhi, he never expected to succeed them as India’s leader; seeking his own career, he became a commercial-airline pilot. Only after his brother Sanjay was killed in an airplane crash in 1980 and his mother was assassinated by Sikh extremists in 1984 did Rajiv bow to the widespread feeling that a majority of his countrymen preferred to be ruled by a member of the House of Nehru. Suppressing his previous reluctance, he became India’s seventh prime minister within hours of his mother’s death.

He has since had ample opportunity to ponder that decision. During the past year, India’s problems, as vast and varied as its population of 800 million, have proliferated, raising questions about the country’s future course. One of the most pressing issues, in fact, is population growth; India is expected to have 1 billion people by the year 2000, and thereafter may challenge China as the most populous nation on earth. At the moment, India is laboring under a devastating drought, the worst in this century, a condition that is giving a more desperate edge to political passions.

Though Gandhi was extremely popular when he took office, he is widely perceived today as indecisive, inconsistent in his economic policies and seemingly permissive toward corruption in high places. On the international front, he took a strong stand last July in backing the Sri Lankan government against Tamil guerrillas, who want to establish an independent homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island nation. But by sending 40,000 troops to Sri Lanka to try to keep the peace, India has become embroiled in a savage dispute that has cost more than 360 Indian lives at the hands of Tamil insurgents. The conflict is not likely to be resolved soon.

Most of Gandhi’s problems, however, flow from long-standing separatist and regional disputes within India itself. He did not create them, but some are showing definite signs of growing worse. For the past several months, regional politics have been kept at a steady boil, impelling Gandhi to intervene in crisis after crisis and adding to concern about his ability to govern wisely.

Typical is the situation in the Darjeeling district of the state of West Bengal, where Gurkha militants of Nepalese descent are fighting a guerrilla crusade to create a separate state they would call Gurkhaland. So far, 123 people have been killed. In the northeastern state of Tripura, tribal people are conducting a fierce campaign against Bengali-speaking migrants from neighboring Bangladesh: 105 Bengalis were killed in raids in January alone.

In the fertile northwestern state of Punjab, a five-year insurgency by Sinkh militants, who are pressing for independence from New Delhi and the creation of a country to be called Khalistan, is showing renewed strength. And in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, home of 50 million ethnic Tamils, Gandhi has managed to resolve a vexing political battle, but only by dismissing the state government and placing Tamil Nadu under ‘President’s rule’ from New Delhi.

If there was any good news for the Prime Minister last week, it came from Tripura. In an unprecedented show of force, 25 battalions of national and local security forces kept the peace long enough for state legislative elections to be held. The result was a narrow victory for Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party, in league with its local ally, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti. The coalition narrowly ousted the Marxist-led Left Front, which had run Tripura for the past ten years. The final count: 31 seats for Congress (I) and the TUJS, 28 for the Marxist front. Despite a spate of scattered attacks by the terrorist Tribal National Volunteers, in which more than 100 people died, 80% of the eligible voters turned out at the polls.

In Punjab at least 200 people have been killed by terrorists in the past six weeks. Sikh militants are again in control of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhdom’s most sacred shrine, which Indian army troops stormed in June 1984, thereby inflaming Sikh passions even more – and setting the stage for Indira Gandhi’s assassination five months later.

When the Prime Minister signed a political accord with Sikh moderates in 1985, the agreement was hailed as one of the key achievements of his first year in office. But the terms of the document were never carried out because they were unacceptable to either Punjab or the neighboring state of Haryana. The most prominent item of contention concerns the control of the Le Corbusier-designed city of Chandigarh, which for 22 years has served as the state capital for both Punjab and Haryana. Under the 1985 accord the city was to be ceded to Punjab. But this arrangement was unacceptable to Haryana, and Gandhi has shown no inclination to impose his will.

After declaring President’s rule in Punjab, the government concentrated on defeating Sikh’s terrorists by police action. For a while, it appeared that the strategy was succeeding. Last month’s killings, however, demonstrated that Sikh terrorists could still strike at will. Gandhi hinted two weeks ago that he would consider holding all-party talks in Punjab in an attempt to resolve the crisis, but there has been no sign of action so far. The Sikh factions, in the meantime, are busy squabbling among themselves. President’s rule in Punjab is due to end in May. It has already been renewed for a second six-month term, and can be extended again only by amending the Indian constitution.

In Tamil Nadu, a political farce that led to fistfights on the floor of the state legislature was resolved last week, at least temporarily, by the same resort to direct rule. The rumpus followed the death in December of the state’s popular chief minister, M.G. Ramachandran, a former screen idol. ‘MGR’, as he was widely known, had strengthened Gandhi’s position in the state by backing New Delhi’s policy on Sri Lanka.

After MGR’s death, a power struggle broke out in his party. Rival groups were led by his widow Janaki, 64, and Jayalalitha Jayaram, 39, a close political associate of Ramachandran’s and a onetime actress who had played the leading lady in some 20 of his movies.

Janaki won the first round and was named chief minister, but her victory was short-lived. Challenged to prove her majority in the Tamil Nadu legislature, she discovered to her astonishment that Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party, her husband’s longtime ally, had deserted her. Gandhi accused her party of trying to buy the support of Congress (I) legislators, to which Janaki replied, ‘I was under the impression that Congress would support my government, so why should I try to lure Congress members by illegal methods?’

Two weeks ago, after Janaki had called for a vote of confidence, trouble erupted in the legislature, owing in part to strong-arm tactics employed by the pro-Janaki speaker of the assembly, Paul Hector Pandian. Members threw paperweights, slippers and microphones at one another; opposition groups eventually held a separate meeting and elected their own speaker. Later the same day, Pandian and his newly chosen rival, P. Sivaraman, literally wrestled for control of the speaker’s chair. Tables, chairs and lawbooks went flying. The fighting ended only when Pandian called in armed police to disperse opposition members. Once his adversaries had been banished from the chamber, Pandian declared that the 234-member house supported Janaki by a vote of 99 to 8.

The chicanery gave Gandhi an excuse to intervene in a state where the Congress (I) Party had lost control more than 20 years earlier. Last week he dismissed the Janaki government and dissolved the Tamil Nadu legislature, paving the way for new elections within the next few months. Nobody was happier than Jayalalitha Jayaram, who gloated, ‘A thoroughly rotten and totalitarian government has been thrown into the dustbin of history.’ Former Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who lost out to MGR in 1977, accused Congress (I) of stabbing its partners in the back. Quoting a Tamil proverb, he declared, ‘A frog that seeks shelter under the hood of a cobra has to suffer the consequences.’

Surveying India’s fractious political landscape last week, Rajiv Gandhi could take comfort from the fact that he has held the country together in difficult times. Yet there is a growing sense that the idea of Indian nationhood is under unremitting pressure from many quarters. Says Arif Mohammed Khan, a former member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet: ‘Communal forces are making all kinds of demands of him because they know he can be pressured. People have realized that the country is being run by a pilot, and he can be easily hijacked.’ Gandhi still draws strength, however, from the fact that he remains the leader of the House of Nehru – and no one can yet see an alternative to his continued rule.


Sri Lanka’s War Gets Bigger

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Feb. 19, 1988, pp. 18-22.]

Leaning on her brother’s arm, Vasanthi Sivapathan hobbled into Welikada police station near Colombo. The 38 year-old Tamil woman had come to file a complaint. Police officers listened sympathetically to the sobbing woman recount how her 76 year-old mother and three teenaged children were gunned down in cold blood last November by an Indian jawan (soldier) outside their home in Uduvil, a tiny village 10 km from Jaffna city in Sri Lanka’s north. Sivapathan said her family and a few neighbours were being led towards a group of Indian Army soldiers when one jawan suddenly opened fire. After the shooting the soldiers simply disappeared, leaving the dead and dying bleeding on the ground. Sivapathan alone among her family survived the murderous barrage, although she caught a bullet in the back. She was later flown south to Sri Jayawardanapura Hospital near Welikada after her brother, a former officer in the Sri Lankan Air Force, pulled some strings.

Shocking though it was, Sivapathan’s statement did not prompt a flurry of investigations when it reached the four-storeyed police headquarters in Colombo. The lawmen have apparently received similar complaints about other alleged atrocities perpetrated by Indian soldiers, who are keeping peace in Sri Lanka’s troubled north and east. ‘The stacks,’ says a police officer in Colombo, ‘are growing alarmingly.’ Indian Army officials in New Delhi, however, vigorously deny that assertion. Says one: ‘Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene has himself said there have been [only] a few instances where complaints have been received from the public and they have been investigated.’

Nevertheless, India’s peacekeepers are drawing heavy flak both in Sri Lanka and at home. Last July, New Delhi and Colombo signed a pact aimed at ending five years of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. The deployment of Indian troops in the island’s Northern Province in accord with that agreement has angered many Sri Lankans, who accuse New Delhi of harbouring territorial ambitions against its tiny neighbour. As Indian soldiers begin to die in growing numbers in skirmishes with Tamil separatists, moreover, cries of outrage are being heard across the Palk Strait as well. ‘We thought it would be a danda (stick) fight’, says a soldier convalescing in an Indian military hospital. ‘It was only when our men began to die that we realised this is a battle.’

Worrisome, too, for India is the cost of its military involvement in Sri Lanka, estimated at $1.8 million daily. The country’s defence outlay went up in a year of extreme shortages as New Delhi found itself raising prices for edible oil, coal, gasoline and steel to meet administrative expenditure. Analysts expect defence costs to increase further when India flies more troops into Sri Lanka this week, raising the total strength of its peacekeeping force to 72,000 soldiers.

Indian diplomats are gambling that a strong Indian presence in the north and east will give Sri Lankans enough confidence to vote in provincial council elections that Jayewardene insists will be held by April. Tamil sources in Colombo maintain, however, that the predominantly Tamil population in the north wants the jawans out first because they fear the Indians might help Colombo rig the polls. The elections are crucial to fulfilling a major clause in the peace accord which promised limited autonomy to the Tamil minority through a merger of the island’s Eastern and Northern provinces. The Sri Lankan Parliament last November passed a controversial bill creating provincial assemblies with wide local governing powers.

Decisions on the additional troops and the provincial council polls were reportedly taken during talks late last month in New Delhi between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene. Indian officials feared that, if polls were not held soon, the situation would worsen and abort any chance of an Indian pull-out by a ‘hoped-for’ July deadline. Despite opposition from Tamil and Sinhalese hardliners, there are positive signs. “Some Tamil groups have asked to be considered as political parties,’ a senior Indian government official told Asiaweek. Some diplomats maintain New Delhi is pressuring Jayewardene to hold polls first in Sinhalese areas, especially in Eastern Province. But under the Proportional Representation system of elections followed in Sri Lanka, both the Northern and Eastern provinces must go to the polls at the same time. Technically, therefore, separate balloting is not possible for select areas within a province.

The ‘foreign hand’ bogey, which the Indian government often trots out to explain many of its political problems, has apparently found an attentive ear in the Indian Army. As one senior officer sees it, Western intelligence agencies have ‘a major interest’ in keeping the situation in Sri Lanka as unstable as possible. Claims he: ‘We have noticed a clear distinction in the official line of the US State Department and its Central Intelligence Agency, which has tried to influence certain sections of the militants.’

While four smaller Tamil rebel groups accepted the peace pact, the powerful Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has continued to fight the Indians. Now virtually outflanked in Northern Province, the Tigers have shifted their struggle to multi-racial Eastern Province. For the past three weeks, the Tigers have intimidated the local population into participating in a civil disobedience movement. Any resistance has been brutally snuffed out: a senior civil servant in northwestern Mannar district, for example, was shot dead when he refused to close his office. On Feb. 4, Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, Tigers went from house to house in eastern Batticaloa district, warning people to boycott official celebrations.

Naturally, both New Delhi and Colombo are keen that the Tigers are neutralised by April so that provincial council elections can be held peacefully. Towards that end, the Indian Army is ‘saturating’ the east with additional troops, a strategy that paid off in northern Jaffna. ‘The fight will go on until [the Tigers] cooperate or are beaten,’ Jayewardene said on a BBC phone-in program last week. ‘I don’t think they can continue their opposition after April.’ For the first time since the signing of the pact last July, Sri Lankan soldiers will patrol certain sectors in the east. ‘Certain provisions in the accord that kept our forces in the barracks have been changed,’ says National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. ‘We are now taking over some sectors and helping to patrol others.’

This time, however, Asia’s best-equipped army is not making the mistake of underestimating the Tigers. The peacekeepers remember well the initial stages of ‘Operation Pawan’, launched Oct. 9 to wrest Jaffna peninsula from the rebels. In a hastily conceived plan, based on incorrect ground intelligence on enemy capabilities, five Indian brigades pressed towards Jaffna town, a Tiger stronghold. The outcome was disastrous for the Indians. Powerful Tiger landmines ripped through lumbering Soviet-made T-76 battle tanks; many Indian soldiers also died by sniper fire. In one telling incident, a platoon of elite Sikh commandos was virtually wiped out while attempting to storm a Tiger base.

Ordered to exercise maximum restraint, the army took heavy casualties. Lt.-Gen. Depinder Singh, outgoing commander of the Indian forces in Sri Lanka, called it ‘fighting with one-and-a-half hands tied behind our backs.’ The Tigers, moreover, often used civilians as human shields. According to an Indian major, R.C.S. Negi, the guerillas’ favourite tactic was to surround a group of soldiers with wailing men, women and children. At a given call, the civilians would drop flat on the ground and the militants would mow down the standing Indians. The army’s casualty rate was slashed when the Indian Foreign Ministry finally pulled out all the stops, tacitly acknowledging that civilian deaths would have to be tolerated.

Even so, the Indian Army has lost some 400 soldiers in four months, a figure that Sri Lankan Lands Minister Gamini Dissanayake says is ‘more than the number of Sri Lankan Army casualties in four years.’ The ongoing offensive is also the Indian Army’s longest one to date. Curiously, these precise factors seem to have changed hardline perceptions of India’s intentions in Sri Lanka. Notes Athulathmudali, a vocal critic of the peace accord in the past: ‘As far as Indian politicians are concerned, they want to get out [of Sri Lanka] as quickly as they can. I believe them because [the Indians] are losing so many people [here].’

The death last December of Maruthur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, the charismatic chief minister of India’s Tamil Nadu State, may also have convinced New Delhi about the wisdom of a speedy pull-out from Sri Lanka. MGR had been the Tigers’ godfather, supplying them with refuge and military training in Tamil Nadu. But the militants soon grew out of control, acutely embarrassing their sponsor. Gandhi finally persuaded MGR to cage the Tigers. After the signing of the India-Sri Lanka peace pact, the chief minister began distancing himself from the militants. As Dissanayake sees it, the Sri Lankan issue will take priority in the upcoming state hustings, particularly after the split in MGR’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party. He reckons that Gandhi’s Congress (I) grouping, which will also contest state polls, will now want to minimise its involvement in Sri Lanka’s Tamil problem to avoid confrontation with Tamils back home.

Why did New Delhi take on Colombo’s war against the Tamil militants in the first place? ‘To maintain law and order,’ asserts Indian defence analyst Sridhar Rao. He believes that intelligence reports of 150 Pakistani commandos landing in Sri Lanka last May helped make up New Delhi’s mind. Other defence strategists say events on the island forced such a decision. If a military coup against Jayewardene had materialised as rumoured, foreign powers would almost certainly have stepped in, they reckon. An Indian intervention at that point would have been internationally damaging. Therefore, New Delhi settled for the less controversial role of a peacekeeping force, at Jayewardene’s request.

Partly to beat off his own critics, the Sri Lankan president has firmly maintained that the presence of Indian troops in his country cannot be compared with those of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan and Cambodia. ‘I don’t think the Indians would have come on their own accord,’ he said on the BBC program. ‘But they could have helped the terrorists…which is worse. So I invited them.’

The gamble may yet pay off. The interests of India and Sri Lanka appear identical: both want a political solution in the troubled Northern and Eastern provinces, and an early withdrawal of Indian troops on the island. The stakes are high for Jayewardene. If the provincial council polls go smoothly, his government will have realised the political aspirations of the Tamil minority. Peaceful elections, moreover, will also pave the way for presidential polls due by year’s end, to be followed by general parliamentary elections by mid-1989. But should Indian troops fail to establish the peace necessary for the first bout of balloting, Jayewardene may not be able to withstand demands for the ouster of his decade-old United National Party government. And for the Indians, it will mean a long, unpleasant stay on foreign soil.


On the Move: More troops for Sri Lanka

[William E. Smith; Time, Feb.29, 1988, p.16.]

In the eastern Sri Lankan town of Batticaloa, the Indian army was on the move last week. After sealing off the area, troops of the Indian peacekeeping force rounded up 1,000 young Sri Lankan males who might – or might not – be guerrilla members of the Tamil Tigers, the island’s main separatist movement, and herded them into the town’s Weber Stadium. There the Indians relied on hooded informants from rival guerrilla groups to tell them which suspects might be Tigers. If one of the informants nodded as a detainee was led past, the suspect was placed in a special group. The three-day effort netted only about a dozen hard-core Tigers, but one of them was a prize catch for the Indians: he was the leader of the movement’s political wing in Batticaloa.

The operation was part of a stepped-up effort by Indian forces to bring the Tigers, who are relatively quiet at the moment, under control. When Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene, 81, visited New Delhi late last month, he agreed with his host, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, 43, that provincial elections should be held in Sri Lanka this spring. Gandhi regards the balloting as a necessary step toward restoring more normal conditions in Sri Lanka, thereby hastening the eventual withdrawal of Indian forces. In the meantime, to prevent the Tigers from disrupting the election process, Gandhi agreed to increase the Indian presence in Sri Lanka to around 60,000 troops.

On the domestic front, Gandhi was also on the offensive last week. For months he had delayed a Cabinet shuffle because of political troubles, including charges of corruption brought by the opposition against him and a number of his friends. His ruling Congress (I) Party has lost considerable support in the Hindi-speaking heartland of northern India and repairs must be made before the next parliamentary elections, which are due to be held by January 1990.

Last week Gandhi accepted the resignations of the chief ministers of two northern states, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, bringing to three the number of chief ministers who have stepped down in the past month. Then the Prime Minister reshuffled his government, firing two ministers and increasing the size of the council of ministers, a sort of extended Cabinet, from 49 members to 60. While some observers assumed that the changes might signal early elections, Gandhi denied that he had any such plans. Said he: ‘I don’t see elections on the horizon.’

Part of New Delhi’s strategy is to contain the military involvement in Sri Lanka, which some have called India’s Viet Nam. That would ease Gandhi’s problems but would not necessarily solve those of Jayewardene, who is finding his country increasingly ungovernable. Every step Jayewardene takes toward peace with Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority sharpens his conflict with radicals among his own Sinhala majority, particularly the extremist Sinhala Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna movement. TVP militants failed to assassinate Jayewardene last August during a daring grenade attack in Parliament, but have since killed more than 70 members of the President’s ruling United National Party.

Last week the JVP struck again. Vijaya Kumaranatunga, a leading advocate of the government’s peace plan – and a well-known movie actor – was shot to death as he left his home in Colombo on his way to lunch with a US diplomat. The assassins fled on a motorcycle. A few hours later, two grenades were hurled into a Hindu temple in Colombo, killing six worshipers. There too the attackers vanished.


Assassinations: A Bloody Vendetta

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar.4, 1988, p. 16]

As an estimated half-million mourners watched the cremation of the politician in Colombo’s Independence Square, a group of supporters saluted the widow, their new leader. It was reminiscent of a scene in 1959 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party from her assassinated husband, Solomon. Last week the widow was the Bandaranaike’s daughter, Chandrika. The victim: actor-turned-politician Vijaya Kumaratunga, 42, shot down Feb.16 outside his luxury house in a Colombo suburb by two young men on a motorcycle.

Suspicion immediately fell on the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Sinhalese chauvinist group that has vowed to kill all rivals who back last July’s accord with India to resolve the Tamil separatist war. The group claims the pact is a ‘sellout’ to India. Since its signing the JVP has assassinated a police superintendent and Harsha Abeywardene, chairman of the ruling United National Party.

Kumaratunga was leader of the opposition Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (People’s Party). He also headed the four-party United Socialist Alliance, which backs the accord and had been set to name him as its candidate in presidential elections due next January. It was the other coalition leaders who pledged their allegiance to Kumaratunga’s widow at his Feb. 21 funeral. He had been cultivating links with the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, a former Tamil militant group recently recognised as a political party. After his death the EPRLF joined the alliance, and plans to contest the forthcoming Provincial Council elections, a vital step in the accord’s implementation.

Tall, good-looking Kumaratunga broke into Sri Lankan films in 1970. Initially typecast as the clean-cut hero, he soon became a Sinhala screen haeartthrob, appeared in over 60 films and won the prestigious Sarasaviya Most Popular Actor award for the past six years. Hundreds of thousands of mourners formed a 5 km queue to pay their respects to the actor, whose mutilated face was covered. ‘We can’t see his face today but we have his films to remember him,’ wailed a young woman at his bier. ‘But without him, we have no future.’


Can India End Sri Lanka’s Conflict?

[A.P. Venkateswaran and Jasjit Singh; Asiaweek, Mar.4, 1988; p. 62]

When New Delhi and Colombo signed their accord on Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict last July, the emphasis was on a political solution. Colombo promised to devolve power to Northern and Eastern provinces, home of most of the country’s Tamils. The Indian peacekeeping force (IPKF) arrived to police the pact, but the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rejected most of it. The war continued. More Indian troops have gone in and casualties have escalated. Now many Indians are questioning their country’s role.

Views of A.P. Venkateswaran [a former Indian foreign secretary]

Q: Should India have gone into Sri Lanka?

A: I think it was a mistake in the manner we did it, without careful evaluation and working out the full package of devolution of powers for autonomy to the Tamil provinces. It is also important that the Tamil leadership be associated with the accord. In today’s context, individuals cannot decide for people without their consent. Now we have the sorry spectacle of both Sinhalese and Tamils fiercely opposed to the accord.

Q: Was India’s military action against Tamils warranted?

A: The purpose of a peacekeeping force is not to take sides with one or other of the opposing groups but to separate them so as to avoid a conflict. However, today we have the IPKF waging a full-scale offensive against the very group which it was ostensibly sent to protect. It’s ironic that the casualties among the civilian population in the Northern and Eastern provinces have been higher as a result of this offensive than the announced casualties of either the IPKF or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Q: How else can insurgency be curbed?

A: Historically speaking, there is no instance of an insurgency being quelled by armed action of security forces except in the case of the communist insurgency in Malaysia. But the situation as well as the circumstances there were very different from what prevails in the Tamil areas.

Q: Should India halt the operations?

A: We have blotted our copybook badly both politically and militarily. It will take decades to remove the bitterness which has been created by our military action in the Tamil provinces. Let us hope that this bitterness will not spill over to Tamils in our own country. It is high time that the effort at armed suppression of those opposed to the accord ceased and political process be restored. All along we have been pronouncing on the futility of attempting a military solution to the problem and have consistently advocated a political solution. It will behove us to follow the advice we have been offering.

Q: What are the long-term implications of the Indian action in Sri Lanka?

A: We have sown the seeds of bitterness for decades even among the people of Tamil ethnic stock in Sri Lanka. Sooner or later the Indian forces will have to withdraw whether peace is restored or not…One can say definitely that when this happens, we will have left Sri Lanka in a worse mess than when we went in.

Views of Jasjit Singh [the director of India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses]

Q: Should India have agreed to go into Sri Lanka after last year’s accord?

A: The question should be viewed in the context of the state of affairs that existed in Sri Lanka in the summer of 1987. The conflict had reached a very high level of militarisation and the possibility of reaching any mutually acceptable political solution appeared far removed. At the same time, it was also clear that a degree of stalemate in the military situation in the Jaffna peninsula had been reached. The leadership in Colombo decided to search for a political solution and to ask India to actively join in the process. In the circumstances, India had little option except to face up to the realities and provide assistance in an attempt to demilitarise the conflict while working towards a mutally acceptable political solution in Sri Lanka by Sri Lankans.

Q: Was India’s military action warranted?

A: It does appear paradoxical that while our objective was to demilitarise the conflict, we had to resort to military action. In retrospect, it is possible to say that the accord should have carried additional safeguards. But as long as the LTTE, which had agreed to the accord, does not implement its part of the commitments, it is difficult to see how military action to disarm them can be discontinued.

Q: Can the situation be controlled?

A: The IPKF certainly has the capability and the political direction to achieve its task at minimum cost. The key to resolving the problem therefore really lies in the political arena, where it should be possible for the leadership of the various groups and parties to come to mutually acceptable and workable relationships.

Q: What results have India’s operations had?

A: The IPKF operation has brought back normalcy and a sense of security to the Jaffna peninsula. I have no doubt that the IPKF will be able to restore peace and security in Northern and Eastern provinces to enable the civil administration to function effectively and for people to conduct their daily lives with a degree of safety. Isolated acts of violence, however, may continue.

Q: When should India pull out?

A: Both a premature withdrawal or overstay could be harmful to the Sri Lankan polity as well as Indian interests. It would be premature to leave the island now.

Continued…Part VII


The Indo-LTTE War (1987-1990)

An Anthology, Part VII

The Acrobatic Leap and Fall of Athulathmudali

With the Indian Peace-Keeping Force still unable to make a final breakthrough and defeat of the LTTE, now holed up in the north of the island, persons close to JR [Jayewardene] were, for the first time, ready to talk to the LTTE about a possible settlement. …Then a second attempt [to talk to the LTTE in 1988] was made, this time at the instance of National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali. It would seem that the Indians gave their blessings to this enterprise…These negotiations were designed to get the LTTE to agree to a political settlement whereby their own position in the Northern Province, as the main spokesman of the Tamils, would be recognized, while they would have to abandon a similar claim to the Eastern Province. There was a great deal of anti-Indian feeling among the Tamils, especially in the north of the island, and the idea behind these secret negotiations was to seek to exploit that feeling to the advantage of Sri Lanka. – de Silva and WrigginsThus, the ‘secret’ negotiations with the LTTE initiated by Dissanayake (pro-Indian platform) and Athulathmudali (anti-Indian platform) were merely political exercises of one-upmanship and nothing to do with solving the Tamil issue.

Part 1 of series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

As of now, at the end of six parts of this Indo-LTTE War anthology, I have transcribed a cumulative 53 newsreports, commentaries and interviews that appeared in five ranking weekly newsmagazines (TimeNewsweekEconomistAsiaweek and Far Eastern Economic Review) and a monthly newsmagazine, South, from London, founded in 1980. Now, Asiaweek and South magazines have become defunct.

Asiaweek Feb 8 1987 Athulathmudali & British mercenary in Jaffna : Direct talks with militants
Asiaweek February 8, 1987

To counter the spins and distortions relating to the Indian army’s success circulated by interested parties in the internet, I plan to continue transcribing the material which had appeared in these magazines until March 1990 (when the Indian army returned from Eelam territory after failing in its proclaimed objectives) in installments. Thus, it is not inappropriate here to let the readers know why I have adopted this angle in presenting the Indo-LTTE war. The reasons are as follows:

(1) By selecting only these six magazines (all published in cities not located in India and Sri Lanka) to re-tell the Indo-LTTE war, I thought of eliminating some of the pro-Indian, pro-Sri Lankan bias of scribes. In addition, none of these magazines can be tagged as having a pro-Tamil (LTTE) bias either. Between 1987 and 1990, I lived in Tokyo and Philadelphia, and I kept track of the unfolding events in Sri Lanka by regularly scanning these six magazines.

(2) In the 1990s, by and large, the biographer-historians (Prof. K.M. de Silva), memoirists (J.N. Dixit and the Indian army generals who had served in the Indo-LTTE war), journalists cum spin merchants (M.R. Narayan Swamy), quasi historians (Rajan Hoole, et. al.) and post-death apologists for Rajiv Gandhi (such as Subramanian Swamy), in their selective, distorted re-telling of the Indo-LTTE war, chose to omit/ignore the published records (probably by design or negligence or lack of access to these materials) available in these six newsmagazines.

(3) News coverage during the 1987-90 period was more lexical than visual. Contrastingly, in the post-internet phase the focus has shifted from lexical to visual. When I study the material which appeared during 1987-90, I can notice one transformation in the visual angle. Color photography was at its blooming stage, and photos which accompanied the lexical descriptions in news magazines were changing from monochrome to color. Though the much-touted ‘A picture is worth a 1,000 words’ has validity to a degree, it is not infallible. 500-1,000 words, if written with clarity, can present and preserve facts, thoughts and emotions of humans that cannot be captured by the camera.

Though the news reports that appeared in the selected six magazines had less of a pro-Indian, pro-Sri Lankan bias, a cryptic anti-Tamil (LTTE) bias in the coverage of the Indo-LTTE war is visible. This is because the journalists who fed the news reports from Colombo were non-Tamils (such as Mervyn de Silva for the Economist and Newsweek, Manik de Silva for Far Eastern Economic Review and ‘Anonymous’ for Asiaweek). Time and Newsweek had their stories written by journalists of Anglo-Saxon ethnicity, gathered from local contributors. This protocol had its merits, but the language deficiency (Sinhalese and Tamil) of these Christian Anglo-Saxon ethnic journalists also did contribute to some bias in their miscomprehension and mis-reading of the war’s progress.

In this part, I have transcribed 9 newsreports that first appeared in March-May 1988. In chronological order, these are as follows:

Edward Desmond: Beating the Bandh – Gandhi weathers a strike and a legal furor. Time, Mar.28, 1988, pp. 36-37.

Anonymous: A Matter of Morale. Asiaweek, Apr.8, 1988, p. 27.

Anonymous: War Without End. Asiaweek, Apr.15, 1988, pp. 23-24.

Anonymous: The Trials of Rajiv Gandhi. Asiaweek, Apr. 22, 1988, pp. 18-20.

Anonymous: [News snippets on] Ajith Kumara, Vijayamuni Vijitha Rohana and Arun Nehru. Asiaweek, Apr. 22, 1988, p. 67.

India Correspondent: Get a move on, soldier. Economist, Apr. 23, 1988, pp.35-36.

Susan Tifft: Clash at the Shrine [and] A Sri Lanka Hoax. Time, May 23, 1988, pp. 20-21.

Manik de Silva: Your slip is showing: The government makes the best of a hoax. Far Eastern Economic Review, May 26, 1988, pp. 41-43.

Anonymous: Red Faces in Colombo. Asiaweek, May 27,1988, p. 20

Among these 9 items, only three items directly relate to the Indo-LTTE war. Nevertheless, the other 6 items describe the two sub-plots (Rajiv Gandhi’s persisting headache in Punjab with Sikh separatists and the JVP hoax that punctured the image balloon of Sri Lanka’s then Minister of National Security, Lalith Athulathmudali) which had ties to the Indo-LTTE war. In many of the features (originating from Colombo) that promote Athulathmudali’s memory in the internet, I have noted selective evasion of this JVP hoax on the then arrogant and audacious Minister of National Security, that doomed his 1988 presidential bid.

Also of relevance at this juncture was the revelation provided by President Jayewardene’s biographer Kingsley M. de Silva in 1994 about the two ‘secret’ initiatives made by the UNP’s two Cabinet ministers to negotiate with the LTTE (without Indian help), around early 1988. Since these two initiatives, supported by President Jayewardene (for tactical reasons), have not received coverage in the newsmagazines of that period, for the historical record, I transcribe the two paragraphs from Prof. de Silva and H.Wriggins [J.R.Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, vol.II, Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books, London, 1994, pp.670-671.]

“With the Indian Peace-Keeping Force still unable to make a final breakthrough and defeat of the LTTE, now holed up in the north of the island, persons close to JR [Jayewardene] were, for the first time, ready to talk to the LTTE about a possible settlement. Two initiatives were attempted in February 1988. The opening move was by Gamini Dissanayake, and the intermediary was Kumar Ponnambalam, leader of the Tamil Congress. That approach failed because the Indians were opposed to it. Then a second attempt was made, this time at the instance of National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali. It would seem that the Indians gave their blessings to this enterprise. [Footnote: This is based on information obtained in discussion with Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali.] The intermediary, a US-based Tamil academic, was in Colombo during the last weekend of February, having spent some days in Madras. These negotiations were designed to get the LTTE to agree to a political settlement whereby their own position in the Northern Province, as the main spokesman of the Tamils, would be recognized, while they would have to abandon a similar claim to the Eastern Province. There was a great deal of anti-Indian feeling among the Tamils, especially in the north of the island, and the idea behind these secret negotiations was to seek to exploit that feeling to the advantage of Sri Lanka.

The Indian government was generally unhappy about the negotiations initiated by Athulathmudali but they themselves were unable to object openly because of their lack of success in capturing the LTTE leader and his associates and destroying the LTTE as a political organization. Under the pressure from Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian High Commission in Colombo and the IPKF were intent on eliminating the leadership of the LTTE. The IPKF was insistent that they had the LTTE on the run and that they would be able to break their resistance by the end of March 1988. JR himself remained steadfast to his demand, which the Indians supported, of an unconditional surrender of the LTTE. Nevertheless, he was willing to support these secret negotiations. The Indians for their part did not believe that the secret negotiations would yield any positive results.”

One should place in perspective what was the real motive of these two ‘secret’ negotiations with the LTTE, initiated by Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. Both were then leading contenders for the presidential nomination on UNP ticket, and were competing with each other as well as against Premadasa, the then prime minister, for the same nomination. While positioned as the prime minister, Premadasa held the nominal advantage. Thus, the ‘secret’ negotiations with the LTTE initiated by Dissanayake (pro-Indian platform) and Athulathmudali (anti-Indian platform) were merely political exercises of one-upmanship and nothing to do with solving the Tamil issue.

That Athulathmudali was working against the implementation of the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord and was focused on fomenting trouble since the since July 1987 has been recorded by J.N. Dixit, as follows:

“My anticipation that once Jayewardene signs the agreement he will be decisive in neutralising Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali and their policies against Tamils and the agreement, also proved to be wrong. Jayewardene either did not have the political will, or his approach was that of tactical intrigue because of which he refrained from reining in Lalith and Premadasa from their negative activities against the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement.” [Book: Assignment Colombo, 1998, pp. 344-345].

In the newsreports provided below, dots, words within parenthesis, words in italics and in bold fonts (wherever they appear) are as in the originals.

Beating The Bandh – Gandhi weathers a strike and a legal furor

[Edward Desmond; Time, Mar. 28, 1988, pp. 36-37.]

For more than a year, India’s squabbling opposition parties have tried – and failed – to form a common front strong enough to challenge Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Last week eight of the major parties in the opposition finally managed to join forces in a call for a Bharat bandh (Close India), a daylong nationwide strike to foce Gandhi to resign and call early national elections. The effects were unsettling but hardly decisive. In at least seven states, work came to a halt for a day, as opposition cadres in Calcutta, Bombay and other major cities enforced the stoppage with stones and fists. Police arrested some 50,000 activists in an effort to keep the strike in check. Sporadic violence reportedly claimed at least ten lives.

The stoppage left Gandhi’s grip on power undisturbed, even though the opposition claimed an ‘unprecedented success.’ At the same time, the Prime Minister’s authority was challenged in an unrelated showdown in the Rajya Sabha, Parliament’s upper house, where opposition legislators managed to force the government into a compromise on a bill to extend New Delhi’s direct rule in terrorism-plagued Punjab.

Among the most enthusiastic supporters of the strike were opposition members of Parliament, who did their best to disrupt proceedings in both houses. They boycotted the morning question hour, then at noon began thumping their desks and chanting, ‘Remove Rajiv and save the country!’ Even before the tumult rocked Parliament, stores closed, workers walked off their jobs, and streets grew silent as citizens observed the strike call in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – seven of India’s 24 states, containing 360 million people.

The strike’s success in those states probably owed more to fear of violence in the streets than to support for the opposition. In Calcutta the ruling Marxist-led Left Front dispatched cadres to roam the deserted streets – some had been turned into cricket pitches by children – and make certain the call for stoppage was heeded. When a gang of 300 Marxist supporters found shops open for business in Calcutta’s middle class Ritchie Road neighborhood, they ransacked 18 stores and injured 40 people.

Kerala’s Marxist government also lent its authority to strike enforcers, who broke into central government offices while police stood by. In Bombay a man was seriously injured when strike backers pelted a commuter train with stones. Said K. Ajay Kumar, owner of a Bombay tire shop: ‘ I don’t mind forgoing a day’s business. I don’t want to risk my life.’

In countering the strike, the government used force as well. As thousands were arrested around the country, paramilitary police turned out in Tripura and other states controlled by Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party to keep order. Wherever the walkout did not take hold, opposition spokesmen blamed failure on the ‘unashamedly biased propaganda conducted by central government and the unprecedented repressive measures.’ Buta Singh, Gandhi’s Home Minister, answered by congratulating the majority of Indians who rejected ‘this undemocratic call for a bandh.’ Whatever the opposition claimed, the bandh did not come close to obtaining its objective. The government made no move to advance the date of national elections, which must take place no later than December 1989.

Gandhi faced a more substantive challenge on his Punjab policy, which aims to isolated an armed Sikh separatist rebellion that has cost an estimated 5,000 lives in the past five years. After a promising accord with the Akali Dal, Punjab’s main Sikh party, fell apart last year, Gandhi reacted to a steady increase in terrorist violence by dismissing the state government and imposing President’s Rule, which leaves near total power in the hands of the police and a New Delhi-appointed governor. The hard line seemed to end political dialogue in Punjab, but two weeks ago Gandhi changed tactics when he ordered the release of five Sikh high priests and 40 militants from a Jodhpur jail. Said he: ‘We will negotiate with anyone if they give up violence and agree to talks within the framework of the constitution.’

But there was trouble in the Rajya Sabha as soon as Home Minister Singh tried to hurry past legislators a bill for a constitutional amendment extending President’s Rule in Punjab. The bill also aimed to widen the conditions under which New Delhi can impose emergency rule, which among other things empowers New Delhi to detain people without formal charge. Singh tried to slide the bill through a late Friday afternoon session, when unofficial business is transacted and few legislators are normally in attendance.

The tactics backfired. Alert opposition members protested, forcing Singh to delay the bill’s introduction. When he tried again at the next session, opposition members were out of their maroon leather chairs in the semicircular Rajya Sabha chamber and ready for a fight. ‘We seek emergency powers to strike at the very root of terrorism and to silence forever the call for Khalistan,’ said Singh. Some legislators shouted, ‘Shame! Shame!’ as others charged that the government was up to no good. Said L.K. Advani, president of Bharaitya Janata, a right-wing nationalist party: ‘This is a devious device with sinister intentions not mentioned in the objects and reasons of the bill.’

Advani and his confederates grudgingly accept the extension of President’s Rule in Punjab. But provisions concerning just when New Delhi could impose the harsher emergency rule stirred the legislators’ ire. The bill’s wording added the phrase ‘internal disturbance’ as grounds for declaring emergency rule, thus greatly expanding the conditions of ‘war or external aggression or armed rebellion’ already enshrined in the law. Moreover, opponents charged, the amendment seemed to suggest that the government could declare an emergency anywhere in the country, not just in Punjab. That possibility inspired immediate comparison with the 18-month period of emergency rule imposed by Rajiv’s mother, Indira Gandhi, from 1975 to 1977.

When the debate on Singh’s bill began, 20 Marxist members of the Rajya Sabha marched down the chamber’s aisles to intimidate Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, the house’s chairwoman. The protesters gestured angrily and shouted, ‘Down with Rajiv’s dictatorship!’ Amid the tumult, Minister Singh agreed to new wording that strictly limited the amendment’s application to Punjab. Still, the opposition did not yield and chose to storm out before the final vote approving the bill.

Like the bandh, the row in the Rajya Sabha posed no immediate threat to Gandhi. Still, the Prime Minister is said to be increasingly concerned about his slipping popularity. The economy is souring, with inflation at 10%, the highest annual rate in six years, and the budget deficit stands at an all-time high of $5.8 billion. In Sri Lanka, India’s efforts to suppress the separatist Tamil Tigers’ insurgency against the government of President Junius R. Jayewardene is turning into a seemingly bottomless mire. The 60,000-troop Indian forces on the island have lost nearly 400 men.

Corruption allegations involving kickbacks in the government’s 1986 Bofors arm deal still hound Gandhi, though the issue has receded. Perhaps most corrosive in the political environment is the widespread sense that Gandhi, who assumed power in 1984 with promises to revitalize the Congress (I) Party, streamline a swollen bureaucracy and liberalize the economy, has in fact accomplished very little. Says Pran Chopra, a visiting professor at New Delhi’s Center for Policy research: ‘By 1987 much of that hope had gone. It is now a case of only hanging on in a beleaguered mood. It is a constant holding action.’

What makes the holding action possible is the very fractiousness of the opposition, of parties too divided by ideology or personal rivalry to work together, even on an action as potentially promising as the bandh. Bharatiya Janata did not support the strike, for example, because of the involvement of Communists in organizing the stoppage. Some potent regional parties opted out for lack of interest, as was the case with the National Conference of Kashmir and the Mizo National Front of Mizoram. As long as such divisions persist, Gandhi’s grip on power looks secure, no matter how serious the general discontent. [reported by K.K. Sharma/New Delhi].

*****

A Matter of Morale

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Apr. 8, 1988, p. 27.]

 On either the 18th or 24th of every month, Sri Lanka’s Parliament convenes for a special session. At each meeting, a senior minister from the ruling United National Party briefs colleagues on the continuing ethnic violence in the country. Last week it was the turn of Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vincent Perera. Standing stiffly before a packed house, he announced that over the past month an average of five people had died daily in ethnic clashes in the troubled north and east. In eastern Trincomalee district alone, he said, Tamil separatists gunned down 64 civilians, most of them Sinhalese.

Such killings, some military observers believe, have led to souring relations between the mainly Sinhalese Sri Lankan Army and the Indian forces trying to keep peace on the island. The reason lies with the terms of the India-Sri Lanka accord signed last July. Under the agreement, Sri Lankan Army posts set up around civilian settlements were dismantled and soldiers in the main camps were confined to barracks. Local militias were also disbanded. ‘The villagers were left completely defenceless,’ says one senior Sri Lankan Army officer, ‘but we trusted the Indian peacekeeping force and didn’t object.’

That trust shattered last September, he says, when terrorists went on a rampage in the east and even managed to infiltrate a high-security naval dockyard guarded by the Indians. After the latest attacks on Sinhalese villages, some Sri Lankan soldiers apparently even threatened to mutiny. ‘We are finding it an extremely difficult tightrope to walk on,’ says another senior armyman. ‘On one hand, we have to ensure there will be no incidents between our troops and the Indians. On the other, we have to appease our soldiers who are growing increasingly restless over the situation.’ While conceding there was some friction between Indian and Sri Lankan soldiers in the field, an Indian Army source maintains the top brass of the two armies get along well. Moreover, in Tamil-dominated areas, adds an Indian Foreign Office official, ‘the Sri Lankan Army wreaked so much havoc in the days before the Indians took over that the civilians don’t really want us to leave.’

Aware of the need to boost military morale, Colombo wants Sri Lankan forces to patrol jointly with the Indians. During Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene’s visit to New Delhi in January, the Indians agreed that the security of Sinhalese villages be left to Sri Lankan troops, provided they first inform the regional Indian command before moving out of camp. But such clearance takes days to come, if at all. On March 15, Lands Minister Gamini Dissanayake, a close Jayewardene aide, rushed to New Delhi to discuss the matter further. But K. Natwar Singh, India’s minister of state for external affairs ruled out any chances of ‘joint operations.’

Many see Colombo’s request for joint patrols as merely a political stunt to counter opposition assertions that Sri Lanka’s sovereignty is being usurped. Yet some fear the Sri Lankan Army’s disgruntlement may take a more ominous turn. Of late, some junior officers have even begun talking about staging a coup.

*****

 War Without End

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Apr. 15, 1988, pp. 23-24.]

The voice on the other end of the phone was desperate. ‘Please do something if you love me and your children!’ it pleaded. ‘They are setting fire to a house down the road and it won’t be long before they come here.’ The police inspector was in a bind. It was his wife calling, his village that was being ravaged by a gang of gunmen. But he could not move from his police station in the eastern Sri Lankan town of Kalmunai because he first needed clearance from the Indian Army’s peacekeeping force and could not get it until word came from regional headquarters in Batticaloa, 40 km away.

The rule had been strictly observed since an outburst of arson, looting and killing in the Kalmunai area a few days earlier. This time, however, the Sri Lankan policemen could not wait any longer. Five minutes after the phone call, they armed themselves, jumped into their jeeps and sped out under the eyes of the Indian troopers, who neither stopped nor helped them. They were still too late. At least seventeen people died that day, March 31, in the villages of Maligaikadu and Santhamarudu, victims of marauders of an extreme faction of Tamil separatists.

The Indian peacekeepers arrived after New Delhi and Colombo signed a historic pact last July. Tamil extremists, funded unofficially by Indians, had spread their war from Jaffna in the north, where it broke out five years ago, to much of the rest of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province and Eastern Province, too. India promised to stop helping them and restore peace. But the conflict has not ended. The ineffectiveness of the peacekeeping force has soured relations with their local counterparts and called into question India’s role in Sri Lanka.

One reason for the continuing was is the Tamils’ disregard for the truce. India pressured the main group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, to agree to the July accord, but it has never been clear how far that commitment went. Now a new story of the LTTE’s involvement is emerging. J.N. Dixit, Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, has been reported as saying that, in a hush-hush deal, the Tigers were paid off to participate. Government sources in New Delhi confirm that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was indeed offered a monthly sum and it was, says one well-placed official, ‘slightly less than the $390,000 he was collecting as taxes every month at gunpoint.’

The Indians seem to have thought the Tigers would be more susceptible to money than persuasion. ‘The LTTE’s top leadership basically comprises the sons or relatives of known smugglers who thrived in the 1960s and 70s,’ says a source in New Delhi. Dixit is reported as saying that an initial payment was made. His reason for divulging the information, it is said, is to discredit the LTTE.

But the Indian soldiers themselves have been accused of atrocities. News leaks tell of a report by the medical superintendent of Jaffna’s main hospital which finds the Indians guilty of killing 50 civilians, including three doctors and two nurses, during an attack in October. The Tigers had been using the hospital grounds as a base and the Indian army went in as dusk fell. There was no electricity and they seem to have shot indiscriminately.

Moreover, the current troubles in the east apparently have little to do with the Tigers. Many of the victims have been Muslims, who form a quarter of Eastern Province’s population and have so far been neutral in the Tamil-Sinhalese strife. Muslim leaders and Sri Lankan intelligence sources claim that the culprits are members of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, another militant Tamil group. Some are saying that the Indians are encouraging EPRLF raids to frighten Muslims out of the province because they are becoming increasingly anti-Indian. New Delhi denies the reports.

A Sri Lankan army intelligence source says a Muslim militant group set up to oppose the Tigers has now approached the LTTE for help. Their common ground, it seems, is their aim to wipe out the EPRLF. In such circumstances, the fighting can only get worse.

*****

The Trials of Rajiv Gandhi

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, April 22, 1988, pp. 18-20.]

The tiny form in the cot lay unnaturally still. Gently, deputy inspector-general of police Sandeep Singh Virk lifted the thin veil covering five month-old Raj Kaur. His handsome face tightened at the sight: the baby lay in a pool of blood, her life snuffed out by a shot through the heart. The bullet-riddled bodies of seventeen other people, most of them family members, sprawled grotesquely on the cowdung-paved ground outside the house in Rajhra hamlet near the holy city of Amritsar. The killers had left behind a note claiming responsibility for the heinous deed. It was signed by ‘Lt.-Gen.’ Hari Singh of the Khalistan Commando Force, one of several extremist Sikh groups fighting for a separate Khalistan nation in India’s northern Punjab State. The Rajhra incident on March 31 pushed the number of Sikh terrorist killings in Punjab to more than 600 in the year’s first quarter, making it the bloodiest three months since the Sikh militant campaign erupted in 1984.

The rise in extremist violence came in the wake of new carrot-and-stick measures implemented by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to tackle Punjab’s separatist conflict. On March 4, New Delhi dangled the carrot before the militants by releasing four imprisoned Sikh high priests, including Jasbir Singh Rode, nephew of slain Sikh extremist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Also set free were 40 Sikhs who had been held on sedition charges since the Indian Army’s 1984 storming of the Golden Temple, Sikhdom’s holiest shrine. Bhindranwale died in that assault.

A few days later, Gandhi, 43, produced the stick: a constitutional amendment that would give New Delhi emergency powers in Punjab, to impose if it so wished. The bill had a stormy passage through Parliament and was reluctantly ratified by President Ramaswamy Venkataraman on March 30. Despite Gandhi’s assurances that the emergency powers would not be misused, the 77 year-old president expressed deep misgivings about the controversial clause. In an unprecedented action, he issued a press statement that he had given his assent to the bill because the Indian Constitution ‘does not give any discretion to the president in a matter relating to the amendment of the Constitution.’

The next day, as if on cue, the terrorists struck in Rajhra and other parts of Punjab. On April 2, Gandhi called an emergency meeting with Home Minister Buta Singh, a Sikh, and other top aides to discuss the fresh wave of extremist violence. Then New Delhi announced a new counter-terrorist strategy: the erection of a barbed wire fence along Punjab’s 553-km border with neighbouring Pakistan, a security move that would be complemented by stepped-up patrolling of the area. To bolster Punjab’s 80,000-strong security forces, another 10,000-paramilitary troops were to be deployed in the state, mainly to guard banks and vital installations. By the government’s reckoning, increased border surveillance would help curb smuggling of arms into Punjab from Pakistan, whom India accuses of aiding the militants. Islamabad vigorously denies the charge.

Gandhi’s critics put the blame for Punjab’s deteriorating situation squarely on his shoulders. They question the wisdom of releasing the militant high priests from prison while dozens of innocent Sikhs still languish in jail. The move, they say, gave legitimacy to extremist elements and demoralised the state police and administration. Punjab watchers say many moderate Sikhs are also wondering why the government opted to deal with Rode at the expense of Sikh political parties such as the Akali Dal (Longowal) led by Surjit Singh Barnala. The party was in power in Punjab until last May when New Delhi dismissed the Barnala government and brought the state under direct President’s rule on the grounds, ironically, that it had failed to curb terrorism. The state government was formally dissolved five weeks ago.

That move has cleared the path for fresh state elections. Although no date has yet been announced, many believe Gandhi’s latest measures in Punjab, particularly the constitutional amendment, are aimed at enhancing the electoral chances of the ruling Congress (I) party. As oppositionist L.K. Advani, president of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party puts it: ‘I don’t believe the government has a policy on Punjab. If an emergency is imposed it would be a pre-election gambit.’ Marxist leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet concurs. ‘The government has messed up the situation [in Punjab] totally by its suicidal line of surrender to extremists,’ he says. ‘What we see now is a vicarious attempt to impose emergency on the country. Then, law & order will be handed to the military. The [general] elections may follow after that.’

Indeed, some fear that the government may use emergency rule to postpone elections not only in Punjab but in the rest of the country as well. Although national parliamentary elections are not due until 1990, emergency regulations can be extended for a period of up to two years. After that, some observers reckon, the Congress (I) government can re-introduce a bill in Parliament to renew the special powers for another two years. Only a simple majority is required to pass the necessary legislation in Parliament and Congress (I) holds two-thirds of the seats in the Lower House.

Those who subscribe to this theory say Gandhi may be reluctant to face the electorate at the moment because his personal image has been badly battered. At present, there are fifteen parliamentary by-elections due across the country, either because of resignations or deaths of members. Among them: a key constituency in the historic city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh State, a traditional Congress (I) stronghold.

The battle for Allahabad is set to be a tense showdown between Gandhi’s government and opposition, which is hoping to field former cabinet minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh, the PM’s archrival. A win for Singh might spark a chorus of demands for Gandhi’s resignation. ‘Singh has touched chords in the public mind at the grass roots level,’ says political commentator Rajni Kothari. ‘This is why Rajiv is panicking. He knows his own popularity is on the wane.’ But former foreign secretary Romesh Bhandari, who is now convenor of the Congress (I)’s foreign affairs cell, told Asiaweek’s Ravi Velloor that ‘there is no erosion of [Gandhi’s] image as far as the people are concerned…The current political situation is being dealt with as best can be done. Anybody else would have been totally at sea.’

A defeat in Allahabad would only add to the pressures mounting on Gandhi. Besides the chaos in Punjab, he faces separatist campaigns in the country’s northeast as well. Negotiations with Gurkha militants demanding an independent Gurkhaland state have faltered. Recently there has also been a spurt in killings in Tripura State by the Tribal National Volunteers, an outlawed separatist group.

Closer to the capital, the premier was confronted by a prolonged anti-government agitation launched in January by poor and middle-income kisans (farmers), the Congress (I)’s traditional vote bank. Banding together under the year-old Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) led by Mahendra Singh Tikait, a charismatic farmer from Sisauli village in Uttar Pradesh, several thousand kisans converged on bustling Meerut, 64 km from New Delhi. For four long weeks, they laid siege to the city, living in makeshift camps, their numbers swelling each day. Their demand was simple: a better deal for the Indian farmer. Although the Meerut siege ended without any major concessions for the BKU, the disciplined but spontaneous unity of the kisans forced New Delhi to sit up and take notice.

Around the same time as the farmers’ agitation, local lawyers launched a nationwide wildcat strike, forcing the Supreme Court to shut its gates for two days. The trouble stemmed from a month-old incident near Tis Hazari, the capital’s lower courts, when local police lathi-charged a small group of slogan-shouting lawyers. The angry lawyers demanded the authorities take action against the police officer responsible. The situation finally blew up after pro-government goons clashed with the agitating lawyers outside Tis Hazari on Feb.17. In the ensuing melee, the stone-throwing mob manhandled lawyers and shattered the windscreens of several cars parked nearby. In an unprecedented protest a few days later, lawyers at the Supreme Court stayed away from work.

Luckily for Gandhi, the opposition has not been able to capitalise fully on his troubles. Response to a Bharat bandh (nationwide strike) called March 15 by leftist and centrist political parties was lukewarm, although the initiators claimed otherwise. There have been efforts, spearheaded by the anti-government Janata Party, to unite various opposition groupings such as the Congress (S), Lok Dal (B) and V.P. Singh’s Jan Morcha. The Janata Party, which rode to power in 1977 on an anti-Congress (I) wave, has already absorbed the rural-based Lok Dal (A). By and large, however, the unity moves have been unproductive and do not seem to be worrying the PM. Said Gandhi recently of his political rivals: ‘The same warriors have reappeared, some new faces have been recruited. But their ideology, motivation and commitment to reactionary ends have not changed.’

Even some senior oppositionists doubt whether their diverse groupings will be able to meld effectively. Janata Party leader George Fernandes, for instance, thinks workable unity is not immediately possible because the opposition parties still differ on two many key issues. Because of that, he says they have been unable to successfully challenge Gandhi and the Congress (I). ‘The opposition today,’ declares the fiery oppositionist, ‘are like animals who are stunned in the slaughterhouse moments before being killed.’

*****

News Snippets

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Apr. 22, 1988, p. 67]

ARRESTED: Ajith Kumara, 25, Sri Lankan wanted in connection with a grenade attack on government MPs in Parliament last August; during a routine police check in Naula village, 140 km northeast of Colombo, April 8. Kumara, a sweeper employed in the parliamentary complex, carried a $33,000 bounty for his capture. He disappeared from Colombo with his family after the blast, which killed a district minister and a parliamentary staffer and seriously injured six senior ministers. Picked up in a raid against illegal liquor, he finally revealed his identity and admitted to having thrown grenades, police said. However, he did not disclose who his individual backers were or how the weapons were smuggled in. Police said the outlawed Sinhalese-extremist group Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which has claimed responsibility for the attack, arranged the hideout in the central Matale hill district, and gave Kumara land and money.

APPEALING: Vijayamuni Vijitha Rohana, 24, Sri Lankan naval rating who attacked Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi from a guard of honour last July; against his six-year term of rigorous imprisonment; in a writ filed in a Colombo court April 6. The sailor was acquitted of attempted murder but found guilty of culpable homicide by a military tribunal last November. However, he claims he hit Gandhi with his rifle butt only to disgrace him, and says a civilian court should have tried him. He also insists the prosecution erred in relying on the evidence of others to prove the charges, instead of having Gandhi appear.

UNDER INVESTGATION: Arun Nehru, 43, former Indian minister of state for internal security and once a confidante of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi; for alleged corruption in a government arms deal; by the Central Bureau of Investigation, which filed a report with a special judge on March 10. The CBI hopes to find out whether Nehru misused his office in 1986 when he ordered 55,000 pistols from Czechoslovakia for police and paramilitary forces. Many of the weapons in the $15 million consignment later turned out to be defective. Nehru, who has made similar charges against Gandhi’s administration, claims the inquiry is politically motivated. A cousin of the PM, he was expelled from the ruling Congress (I) party last year after he clashed with Gandhi on political issues. He is now a leading member of the opposition Jan Morcha (People’s Front) headed by former defence minister V.P. Singh, who resigned after starting an investigation into another arms deal involving people close to the PM.

*****

Get a Move On, Soldier

[India Correspondent; Economist, Apr. 23, 1988, pp.35-36.]

 Time is not on the side of India’s soldiers in Sri Lanka. As they hunt the island’s Tamil rebels, discontent is growing among the 55m Tamils who live in the southernmost state of India itself, Tamil Nadu. This is not just another of India’s frequent little local difficulties. The Indian government would not happily have gone ahead with its Sri Lankan intervention last year without the strong backing it then got from Tamil Nadu. That support is weakening.

The reaction in the state has taken the form of a campaign to ‘save Velupillai Prabhakaran’, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, whom India’s soldiers in Sri Lanka are trying to kill or capture. Its real cause, however, is the power struggle that has been going on in Tamil Nadu since the death in January of the state’s chief minister, M.G. Ramachandran, who first made his name as a film star. [Note by Sachi: A factual slip in this sentence to be noted is that MGR died not in January 1988, but in December 1987.]

MGR, as everyone knew him, had backed Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s policy on Sri Lanka to the hilt. He urged Sri Lanka’s militant Tamil groups to accept the peace agreement  signed on July 29th last year, under which the island’s Tamils were supposed to drop their demand for independence in return for regional autonomy under a federal constitution. When Ramachandran died, his party split. While 97 of its 131 members in the state legislature rallied behind his widow, Mrs Janaki Ramachandran, the other 34 supported his mistress, another film star called Jayalalitha, who had been the party’s chief crowd-puller.

The Janaki Ramachandran faction could not muster a majority in the legislature. The Congress Party, which, although dominant in India’s central parliament, has long been in opposition in Tamil Nadu, began to press the Janaki faction to give it a share in the state government as the price for its support. When this was rejected, Mr Gandhi dissolved the Tamil Nadu legislature as a prelude to a state election.

The prime minister’s advisers had hoped that the quarrel within the state’s ruling party would make voters swing to Congress. The opposite seems to be happening. The central government’s high-handed action in dissolving the legislature has inflamed Tamil sentiment. This is mainly helping another Tamil-based party, whose leader opposed the Sri Lanka accord.

The fuse of Tamil feeling has been reignited. The most disturbing development is the emergence of the Tamil Arasam, a violent movement demanding independence for Tamils – not in Sri Lanka, but in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Arasam has links with the Tamil Tigers. It has blown up television towers and tried to blow up a statue in Madras of Jawaharlal Nehru, which Rajiv, his grandson, had unveiled in January. It is a tiny group, but it is disturbing at a time when the central government already has its hands full trying to bring Sikh terrorism in Punjab under control.

For Mr Prabhakaran’s guerrillas in Sri Lanka, these developments hold out the possibility of a reprieve. The Indians are stepping up the pressure on the Tigers. Between April 7th and 15th they killed 55 guerrillas. In a single action on April 10th they captured 377 suspected militants, of whom 25 turned out to be Tigers. The Tigers’ arm supplies are running low. Around April 10th three of their leaders contacted the Indian command to seek surrender terms. The Indian government’s aim is to complete its task in Sri Lanka quickly, and withdraw. The troubles in Tamil Nadu must have raised Mr Prabhakaran’s hopes of holding on.

*****

Your Slip is Showing

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, May 26, 1988, pp. 41-43.]

In a dramatic move that caught even many of his cabinet colleagues by surprise, National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali announced on 10 May that the Sri Lankan Government had struck a deal with the outlawed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front – JVP) to end its subversive violence. The activities of the JVP, which is comprised of pro-Sinhalese Marxists, have cost hundreds of lives in southern Sri Lanka since the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord in July 1987.

The government’s ban on the JVP – in force since Sinhalese-Tamil communal rioting in July 1983 – had been lifted, Athulathmudali told a crowded Colombo news conference where copies of President Junius Jayewardene’s gazetted order lifting the ban were distributed. The minister said that in return, the JVP had agreed to surrender its arms by 29 May and return to the democratic mainstream.

Athulathmudali seemed to have pulled off a coup which would considerabl strengthen his hand in obtaining the ruling United National Party’s (UNP) presidential ticket should Jayewardene not seek a third term – a possibility the president is considering.

The articulate, high-profile minister gave details of how the secret agreement had been reached after a month of intensive negotiation involving himself, a mystery man calling himself Krishna Chandrasiri Senanayake, who claimed authority to negotiate for the JVP, and Fr Tissa Balasuriya, a Roman Catholic priest and human rights activist. Balasuriya had long been advocating a negotiated peace between the government and the Tamil separatists of the north and the JVP.

Senanayake, whose real name is Sugathadasa Chandrasiri, is a Colombo University dropout who did not claim any place in the JVP hierarchy. But he was clearly familiar with the style and substance of the outlawed group, as well as with its inner workings. He made contact with Balasuriya and was persuaded by the priest that the government and the JVP should negotiate. The priest told Athulathmudali that the JVP was prepared to talk and put the minister in touch with Senanayake. Athulathmudali, with Jayewardene’s approval, first met Senanayake on 18 April at the Centre for Society and Religion, an organisation Balasuriya runs from the Fatima Church in Colombo.

There Athulathmudali told Senanayake that he wanted a letter from the JVP leadership authorising Senanayake to negotiate. Senanayake agreed and later produced a document apparently signed by JVP general secretary Upatissa Gamanayake. The National Intelligence Bureau found the signature to be similar to those in their files, though a government examiner was wary.

Athulathmudali, who announced over national radio that he had held 21 meetings with Senanayake before the purported agreement was reached, said that on 9 May Senanayake tuned up with an agreement bearing the signature of JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera and Gamanayake. Athulathmudali insists that Senanayake said he was physically present when the document was signed by the JVP leaders, but Senanayake said later that all his dealings with the JVP were through an intermediary named ‘Rohan’ and that he had not witnessed the signing.

The country was buzzing with news of the agreement when the first doubts about its authenticity began to surface. Senanayake’s background was questionable to say the least. He had been susended from university for alleged cheating and had once appeared before a Colombo magistrate on charges of forgery. It was also learned that Senanayake had previously sought contact with the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its leader in parliament, Anura Bandaranaike, by falsely claiming a relationship to Maitripala Senanayake, a senior SLFP member who was often acting head of the Sri Lankan Government during the prime ministership of Anura’s mother, Sirima Bandaranaike.

Word of Senanayake’s questionable character got to Jayewardene, and the president was told that the government may have been taken for a ride. Jayewardene was said to have replied cryptically that it would be ‘a very short ride,’ indicating his willingness to reimpose the JVP ban if the whole business turned out to be a hoax. But in the event, Jayewardene saw advantage in allowing his earlier, ill-founded decision to stand, putting the ball in the JVP’s court.

A senior ministerial source told the REVIEW: “The JVP, the opposition and even an influential section of the government has long been demanding that the proscription be lifted and the JVP allowed back into the democratic mainstrean. We said ‘yes, but first the violence must stop.’ They said the proscription must be lifted first. For whatever reason, the proscription has been lifted and now the JVP must demonstrate its own bona fides.”

Meanwhile, Wijeweera denied in a letter to the media that anyone had been authorised to negotiate on behalf of the JVP, and Gamanayake, in a six-page statement, insisted that the JVP would not have bartered its principles away in return for a lifting of the ban. Sri Lankan authorities arrested Senanayake, but intensive grilling failed to shake his story that he had acted in good faith, though through an intermediary, who has not been found. The government believes the hoax could not have been Senanayake’s individual effort. One minister has suggested that the whole schme was designed by the JVP to get the ban lifted without the group having to give up its arms.

While the government’s decision to lift the ban stands, it continues its cordon and search operations against the JVP. The JVP’s campaign of violence continues unabated – at present against the UNP and United Socialist Alliance candidates, who are running for seats in the southern provincial council. Elections are scheduled in June.

*****

Clash At the Shrine [and] A Sri Lanka Hoax

[Susan Tifft; Time, May 23, 1988, pp.20-21]

It has been almost four years since the Indian army drove Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple of Amritsar in Punjab. More than 600 people died in the bitter confrontation, and five months later the assault led to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of vengeful Sikh security men. Last week gunfire crackled around Sikhdom’s holiest shrine as paramilitary forces besieged scores of defiant rebels who had spent many weeks transforming the Golden Temple into a fortress once again. By week’s end the intermittent exchanges of gunfire had killed more than 30 and injured many more. The situation teetered on the edge of another bloody upheaval.

Even without further carnage, the standoff revived pessimism about the future of the troubled northwestern state of Punjab, where Sikh extremists have been demanding the creation of an independent homeland called Khalistan since the early 1980s. The Amritsar clashes also signaled the failure of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s carrot-and-stick policies aimed at curtailing the seemingly unstoppable terrorism in Punjab. An estimated 4,500 people have been killed since the separatists’ struggle began. So far this year more than 900 have perished as a result of the violence, almost as many as during all of 1987.

Gandhi embarked upon his zigzag course a year ago, when, after fruitless efforts at negotiation, he decided on a get-tough approach in Punjab. He dismissed the moderate but weak state government and imposed President’s Rule, which left near total power in the hands of security forces and a New Delhi-appointed governor. When the bloodshed increased, the Prime Minister swerved again. Last March, in a conciliatory move that Home Minister Buta Singh characterized as a ‘calculated risk’, Gandhi released five Sikh high priests and 40 other militants from a Jodhpur jail. His hope was that one of the priests, Jasbir Singh Rode, a nephew of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the rebel leader who died in the 1984 Golden Temple assault, would use his radical credentials to help rein in the extremists and eventually open negotiations with New Delhi.

So far, that has proved a vain hope. In the past two months the death toll has mounted even as New Delhi directed its security forces in Punjab to refrain from drastic countermeasures. On April 29, Sikh extremists killed 32 people, 17 in Amritsar district alone; four days later, 18 more perished in separatist violence. The terrorists not only continued their hit-and-run attacks but consolidated their control of the Golden Temple, a twleve-acre complex where some of the extremists live. Increasingly, Sinkh youths were seen walking the temple grounds with Chinese-made AK-47 rifles. Other rebels were busy on rooftops and in towers, piling up sandbags or laying bricks to provide cover. Policemen complained bitterly about the government’s soft stance.

Whatever it was – an exercise in appeasement or an effort at conciliation – New Delhi’s policy was forced to an abrupt end early last week. The breaking point arrived when police approached separatists building fortifications near the shrine’s outer rim and asked them to stop. The Sikhs withdrew inside the temple and then fired on the police. A deputy inspector general was wounded. In the ensuing seven-hour gun battle, five Sikhs were killed and five injured. Some 800 worshippers and half a dozen journalists and photographers were trapped inside the temple during the clash but were eventually evacuated. That left the temple occupied by an estimated 70 hard-core militants.

By midweek hundreds of troops, including members of India’s elite national security guard, the Black Cats, had been dispatched to Amritsar, where a heavy paramilitary force was already in place. The men took up positions behind rooftop sandbags and inside nearby buildings, shooting whenever they spotted anyone inside the shrine complex. So fearful were the militants of drawing fire that they left the bodies of eight worshipers and fellow rebels where they had fallen early in the fray. Some of the corpses lying on the marble parikrama, or walkway, of the shrine’s courtyard began to decay in the pre-monsoon heat.

On Thursday evening the Black Cats seized a water tank located atop a hostel in the temple complex. The position offered a clear field of fire into the heart of the shrine, which suggested that security forces were positioning themselves for an all-out assault. But although Gandhi was under increasing pressure to order troops to storm the temple, authorities in Punjab and New Delhi were clearly skittish about initiating a repeat performance of the politically costly 1984 siege. ‘We want to avoid bloodshed,’ said J.F. Ribeiro, the senior security adviser to Punjab Governor S.S. Ray. As important, officials feared that any attack on the 400 year-old shrine would boost the separatists’ cause, which still does not enjoy widespread support in Punjab.

New Delhi’s strategy appeared to be one of firm but measured control. With each move, government troops sought to tighten the noose around the militants while refraining so far from a more provocative all-out assault on the Golden Temple. Using a loudspeaker, authorities late in the week implored the embattled separatists to send out some 20 women and children still inside the complex. The pleas were answered with a shower of bullets, another indication that the Sikhs had no intention of giving up. Soon afterward, paramilitary forces tightened their siege by taking two key buildings in the shrine itself – a community kitchen and a conference hall. They later succeeded in seizing other buildings in the temple complex. The move put troops within a few hundred feet of where many of the extremists were based.

Starving the militants out was not considered a viable option because the temple has extensive food supplies. In any case, the longer the siege, the greater the likelihood that the temple would become a magnet for even moderate Sikh leaders, who would feel compelled to prove their political allegiance by marching to Amritsar and courting arrest.

Rode did precisely that. After hurrying back to Amritsar from Patiala following the initial temple clash, Rode, 33, closeted himself with senior police and civilian officials but refused to agree to persuade the rebels to lay down their arms. Instead, accompanied by three other priests and 26 followers, he set out for the shrine and was arrested less than a mile from the Golden Temple.

Regardless of the outcome at the Golden Temple, the long-term prospects for a settlement in Punjab have rarely looked more grim. Only a day before the initial incident in Amritsar, militant Sikhs fired on a Hindu wedding reception in the neighboring state of Haryana, killing 14 and injuring more than a score of others. The specter of terrorist violence spilling over Punjab’s borders and infecting other areas of the country brought calls for Gandhi’s resignation from some opposition Members of Parliament.

Government officials are worried that the Sikh had-liners, using terrorism as a tool, might eventually succeed in transforming their minority movement into a full-blown separatist uprising in Punjab. In some border areas of the state, which has a 60% Sikh majority, the terrorists have already forced Hindus to flee towns and villages. More troubling is the fact that in many pockets of Punjab, extremists, not the local authorities, effectively control the courts and police stations.

At Amritsar, the separatists, in their view, have constructed a seemingly unbreachable strategy. If the government backs down, they win. If they die in a fight for the Golden Temple, their cause will be strengthened. The militants may be surrounded, but they have the government where they want it. [reported by Ross H.Munro/ New Delhi]

A Sri Lanka Hoax [box-story]

For a country badly in need of some good news, National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali had an astonishing announcement last week. An agreement had been signed that very morning, he told a press conference in Colombo, under which the leaders of the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna, an outlawed Sinhalese political organization, had promised to end their terrorist campaign against the government. In return, said the minister, orders had been issued to rescind the government’s five year-old ban against the JVP.

The group is enraged that President Junius Jayewardene, 81, signed an agreement with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi last year in an effort to reach an accomodation with Sri Lanka’s Tamil insurgents and thereby end a vicious civil war. The JVP maintains that Sri Lanka’s 12 million Sinhalese should not have to bend to the wishes of their 2 million Tamil countrymen. Accordingly, the JVP has been waging a murderous crusade against Sinhalese officials who support the accord with New Delhi. In the past ten months, the JVP has killed at least 90 people, including the chairman of the ruling United National Party, and last August came close to assassinating Jayewardene during a daring attack inside Parliament.

Now, declared Athulathmudali at the press conference, the worst was over, thanks to the accord signed by the JVP’s leader Rohana Wijeweera, and his deputy, Upathissa Gamanayake. The minister introduced two men who were sitting beside him: Krishna Senanayake, 24, whom he described as a JVP member who took part in the negotiations, and a Roman Catholic priest who witnessed the signing.

It sounded too good to be true, and sure enough, it was. Next day police announced that Senanayake was wanted on three counts of forgery and other offenses. Associates at the University of Colombo, where he had been suspended for cheating on exams, described him as a ‘psychological case.’ Hours later a letter arrived at Colombo newspaper offices from JVP leader Wijeweera denying that there had been negotiations, let alone an agreement. Both Senanayake and the priest protested that they must have been victims of a hoax.

The disclosures were a political setback for Athulathmudali, who hopes to run for President later this year if Jayewardene does not attempt to amend the constitution to make himself eligible to seek a third six-year term. On the morning after the press conference, in fact, posters praising Athulathmudali as the ‘nation’s savior’ appeared on walls and billboards throughout Colombo.

The government did not immediately reimpose its ban on the JVP hoping that some kind of negotiation might still be possible. Judging by the tone of Wijeweera’s letter, however, that seemed unlikely. Calling the Jayewardene government ‘illegal,’ a ‘gang of ‘rogues’ and a ‘treacherous den of thieves’, the JVP leader insisted that his group had never negotiated with the authorities and never would.

*****

Red Faces in Colombo

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, May 27, 1988, p.20.]

On May 10, local and foreign journalists crowded into the briefing room at the Ministry of Defence in Colombo. Most had an inkling why an emergency press conference had been called by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. For several days, the city had been abuzz with talk that the government had worked out a deal with the outlawed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), an extremist Sinhalese group bitterly opposed to the India-Sri Lanka peace accord signed last July. After the reporters had settled down, Athulathmudali walked into the room accompanied by an emaciated youth, a Roman Catholic priest and Defence Secretary Sepala Atiygalle. The young man was introduced as Chandrasiri Senanayake, an attorney and JVP member, and the priest as Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, a well-known human rights activist. The Security Minister soon got to the point. The ban on the JVP was to be lifted without any preconditions that very day, he announced, in return for the group surrendering its arms on May 30.

Athulathmudali said the agreement had been negotiated over a period of three weeks with Fr. Balasuriya acting as mediator and Senanayake representing Upatissa Gamanayake, head of the JVP’s military arm, the Deshapriya Janatha Viyaparaya. ‘Mr. Senanayake got the final approval of Mr. Gamanayake and [JVP leader] Mr. Rohana Wijeweera this morning,’ said the minister. ‘At 6.15am we set out signatures to the final draft. Mr. Wijeweera and Mr. Gamanayake had signed earlier in the presence of Mr. Senanayake.’

The government had reason to be ebullient. In recent months, the JVP has been waging a terrorist war in Sri Lanka’s south and west to protest the peace accord, which it sees as a sellout to the Tamil minority. But the euphoria was shortlived. Even before the reporters had sat down to write their stories, denials began pouring in from their JVP contacts. The next day, copies of a typewritten letter signed by JVP chief Wijeweera, were delivered by hand to leading politicians and newspaper & magazine correspondents. The letter, which carried the JVP seal, claimed that the party had not entered into any pact with Colombo and had nobody by the name of Chandrasiri Senanayake in its ranks. Wijeweera’s denial was quickly followed by one from Gamanayake.

Senanayake, meanwhile, did a complete about-face. At a press conference held in an empty Colombo house, he claimed that he had not dealt directly with either Wijeweera or Gamanayake. He said his contact had been a man named Rohan, who mediated between him and the two JVP leaders. Security Minister Athulathmudali had prevented him from disclosing that fact at the May 10 briefing, he added. By this time, government investigators and reporters were digging into Senanayake’s background. What surfaced was unsavoury: in the past he had been charged with cheating in law examinations, forging documents and keeping stolen goods. He was, moreover, not an attorney.

How did the government get duped into believing the JVP signatures were authentic? A government examiner was to have verified them before the document was made public, but the official had wanted more time. Instead of waiting, Athulathmudali decided to do a little investigating on his own. He showed the letter to Wijeweera’s brother-in-law, Dr. Chandra Fernando, who was then in police custody. Fernando is reported to have said that the signature on the paper ‘looks like Rohana’s’. The minister was not fully satisfied, however, and asked President Junius Jayewardene whether it would not be prudent to wait for the official verdict. According to sources close to the presidential secretariat, Jayewardene had insisted the announcement be made immediately as he was lifting the ban on the JVP on May 10.

While it is unclear who perpetuated the scam, Athulathmudali is convinced he has been tricked by the JVP. But he maintains the government will abide by the agreement and not reimpose a ban on the party. With that move, he has put the ball squarely in the JVP court, say political commentators, and has given it a chance to respond ‘dramatically’. Nonetheless, some Sri Lankans plainly blame Athulathmudali for the hoax. Last week, posters carrying his photograph was plastered on Colombo walls. ‘King Liar’, they read. The minister remains unflappable, however. ‘Some have suggested this is a conspiracy to discredit me,’ he said. ‘For me it is a chance for peace. The only political question is whether it will bring peace and democracy. If it does not, there will be no winners or losers.’

Continued…Part VIII


The Indo-LTTE War (1987-1990)
An Anthology, Part VIII
Taking Stock One Year After the 1987 Accord
“It was interesting to read your exchanges with Robert Pape! Could I ask you a question? My father wrote an article where he quoted passages from Pape’s book to the effect that some of the actions of the Indian army in Sri Lanka such as rape of women was partly responsible for the blowback that resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. In particular, that the suicide bomber Dhanu was herself a victim of such an attack. This version was aggressively challenged by a brigadier who happened to be part of the Indian force there. Were there atrocities including rape on a substantial scale by the IPKF forces in Sri Lanka, and if so, where could one find accurate documentation on this? Thanks.”

Part 1 of series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

When July 1988 ended, one year had lapsed after the signing of the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayewardene Accord. How the Sri Lankans and Indians took stock of the first anniversary of this ill-fated Accord can be assessed from the two newsreports of that period; one from Colombo and the other from New Delhi. I reproduce these two unsigned items.

Sri Lankans Tense on Pact Anniversary [Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo, July 28, 1988]

Colombo, July 26 (AP): An island-wide security alert was ordered Tuesday to counter possible violence on the first anniversary this week of the Indian-brokered peace accord. The accord, signed last July 29, was aimed at ending the

Asiaweek November 6 1987 mother & child
Asiaweek, November 6, 1987
Tamil ethnic war that has taken 8,000 lives in the past five years. The security alert was ordered after the government learned that the People’s Liberation Front was urging Sri Lankans to protest the pact starting Friday, said Ernest Perera, a senior police official.

The Front, made up of nationalist Sinhalese, has vowed to kill anyone who supports the Accord and has been blamed for more than 400 killings in the past year. The Front contends the peace pact makes too many concessions to the minority Tamils. Front members began distributing handbills and hanging posters in Colombo on Tuesday to urge Sri Lankans to join two days of ‘national resistance’ Friday and Saturday. The handbills said people should not go to work and should stay off the streets on both days. State-run radio announced that school examinations scheduled for Friday and Saturday were being postponed because of security threats. Earlier, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam called for a strike on Friday to protest the pact.

In a speech on Tuesday, President Junius R. Jayewardene rejected calls from the People’s Liberation Front and Opposition parties to abrogate the Accord. In Madras in southern India, an Indian military official said Tuesday that 39 Tamil militants were killed and 29 apprehended in a 10-day sweep in northeastern Sri Lanka.

India Takes Stock of Sri Lankan Casualties [Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, July 30, 1988]

New Delhi (AFP-Jiji): Parliament on Thursday took stock of India’s military losses in Sri Lanka one year after the signing of a peace accord designed to end the island’s ethnic crisis. Defense Minister Krishna Chandra Pant told Parliament’s Lower House that 511 Indian soldiers had died since Oct. 10 in battles with Sri Lanka’s dominant Tamil guerrilla group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Another 1,526 had been wounded in operations as of July 17 in Sri Lanka’s north and east, Pant said, adding that 49,000 Indian soldiers were now deployed in the island under the July 29, 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord. The defense minister said 107 soldiers and officers had been killed since May of this year when the peacekeeping force intensified military operations to flush out remaining LTTE rebels. India had spent 970 million rupees since Oct.10 upto May 31 on the Sri Lankan operation, Pant said in the first official statement of India’s military spending in Sri Lanka.

Sexual Abuse of the Indian Army on Eelam Tamils

One sensitive issue which has failed to receive due recognition in the report to the Indian Lok Sabha by Defense Minister K.C. Pant was the sexual abuses committed by the members of the Indian Army on the unarmed Eelam Tamil civilians, especially in late 1987. The newsreports, commentaries, editorials and interviews in the newsmagazines also didn’t focus appropriately on this delicate theme. As such, I have to provide some documentation, so as not to ignore this human rights violation issue. Another valid reason for me to touch on this theme was a query I received early this year from one Indian academic (currently working in a European Country). His query was as follows:

“Dear Sri Kantha,

It was interesting to read your exchanges with Robert Pape! Could I ask you a question? My father wrote an article where he quoted passages from Pape’s book to the effect that some of the actions of the Indian army in Sri Lanka such as rape of women was partly responsible for the blowback that resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. In particular, that the suicide bomber Dhanu was herself a victim of such an attack. This version was aggressively challenged by a brigadier who happened to be part of the Indian force there. Were there atrocities including rape on a substantial scale by the IPKF forces in Sri Lanka, and if so, where could one find accurate documentation on this? Thanks.”

The reference to Robert Pape in this correspondence relates to my interaction with Prof. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and his quality-challenged inferences on the LTTE suicide bombers, which received highlight a few years ago. To this query of the Indian academic, I sent the following response, after satisfying myself on the bona fides of my correspondent. To quote the relevant component of my response,

“Assertions and denials by accusers and perpetrators fly in the air in any war. Since I was not physically present in the theater of war during 1987-90, I cannot vouch for the veracity of assertions and denials. But, I have heard of killings and rapes from my kith and kin (who were living in the North and East of Sri Lanka) who had been at the receiving end of the atrocities of Indian army soldiers. The number of Tamil commoners killed during the IPKF operations alone had been counted and validated in the range of ~7,000. For obvious reasons, the news of killings and rapes committed by the Indian soldiers went unpublished in the servile Indian media (the worst offender being the House of Hindu publishers).

If a person is missing suddenly and if anyone have identified the missing person’s dead body and found life-threatening injuries, then the killing can be nominally inferred. But how can one verify rape? especially in a conservative culture, where women and families don’t want to make a formal complaint and fuss about their plight. Even if the victim has the courage to make a complaint, in the chaotic war environment, to whom one can make a complaint? – the Indian army officers? to the Indian high commission in Colombo? to the Sinhalese officials? And how to account for the women who have been raped and subsequently killed? Only a few daring folks who had survived the tragedy in the North-East Sri Lanka and who escaped to Colombo, and who were in the proper mental frame had openly complained to the international media folks, and it is safe to assume that those who have talked about their travails could be less than 5% of the total number of victims. So, searching for recorded evidence for those years is akin to searching the proverbial needle in the haystack.”

Then, I did search for recorded evidence on the sexual abuses of Indian soldiers and located two reliable books from opposite poles. One (Adele Balasingham, the wife of LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham) has to be considered as a pro-LTTE source. But the second source (Rajan Hoole and his colleagues) is definitely not a pro-LTTE source. Both sources satisfy the criterion of having lived in Eelam during the period of IPKF operations. For record, I provide the relevant citations below.

Source 1: Adele Balasingham, The Will to Freedom – An Inside View of Tamil Resistance, 2001.

“In their advance towards the Jaffna town [during the ‘Operation Pawan’] the jawans left a trail of grisly deaths and random killings of Tamil civilians by trigger-happy troops. Behaving like a foreign army of occupation the Indian troops exacted their booty. Countless number of Tamil women screamed in terror and disgust as the gangs of jawans from the invading Indian columns subjected them to brutal sexual violence; their cries of anguish echoed repeatedly in the air when the ‘peace keepers’ violated what Tamil women consider most sacred – their modesty, dignity and pride.” [p.145]

“Once inside the households the Indian jawans transformed into merciless brutes violating the basic norms of human decency. Rape, theft, thuggery, assault of innocent people became a regular procedure of the so-called Operations. To identify one suspect, entire villages were uprooted and thousands of people were marched off to public grounds on massive identification parades. Several elderly persons have told me that the Indian jawans marched them out of their houses and forced them to kneel along the roads for hours in the hot sun. Irrespective of age, all civilians underwent experiences of utter humiliation. Those who were arrested on suspicion were held incommunicado in various detention centres. Torture under interrogation was a routine practice. Women were vulnerable and defenceless when confronted by armed jawans, and despite their please for mercy, many were molested and violently gang raped. Indeed a sixty-year old lady friend of ours secretly confided to me her humiliation when three young, armed jawans barged into her house, forcefully separated her from her sick and disabled elderly husband, dragged her into a room and gang raped her. This reserved and dignified elderly lady choked back tears as she unburdened herself of her painful experience to me.” [pp. 168-169]

Source 2: Rajan Hoole et al., The Broken Palmyra, 1990 Revised version.

Hoole et al. have inserted the following details under subsection “4.9. Rape”, in the events in Jaffna by the “End of 1987”. The dots and details within the parenthesis in the quoted passage are as in the original.

“The screams and pleading of a young, attractive girl, whom three soldiers were trying to rape at gun point, still echoes in my ears. She fell at their feet and begged: ‘Please brother, shoot me, but don’t do this…’ Fortunately for her, her pleading got through to an officer who took pity and let her go, after slapping her. A young rape victim in Thirunelvely attempted to commit suicide by jumping into a well.” [pp.298-299].

After a few sentences of general nature, the following description appears in the text.

“In one case a girl had been taken in on suspicion because she had been in a school group photograph with a known militant and been threatened by the Captain with rape, assault, etc. (Perhaps the Captain probably meant it only as a threat). Later, when she was released, a couple of Jawans had followed the family to their home, separated the parents and raped the girl. As she had started bleeding after the first had deflowered her, they had left saying they would come back the next day at the same time and that she should be in. It is worthy of note that in two cases where the victims braved both social ostracism and army intimidation to complain, the Indian investigating the case made out that the victims had to have some militant connection to be so bold as to complain. Although there was lack of action initially by the commanders, probably because they had to maintain troop morale in a difficult situation during the first two months, in later incidents disciplinary action was taken with identification parades and punishment, usually in the form of public thrashing and transfer to another unit. After December the Jawans were more discrete and circumspect. By 1988, the higher authorities showed much sensitivity on the issue of rape, probably due to the wide publicity outside Jaffna.” [p.299]

In this part of the anthology, I have transcribed 8 newsreports, commentaries and interviews that first appeared during June-July 1988. Among the 8 items, only two describe the war scenario, as it appeared during this period. Three items report on the chaos induced by the JVP in the southern Sri Lanka, linked to the presence of Indian army in the island. In chronological order, the 8 newsreports, commentaries and interviews are as follows:

Anonymous: Hitting the Tigers Again. Asiaweek, June 10, 1988, p. 18.

William E.Smith: Ballots Against Bullets – Sinhalese extremists try to disrupt the latest round of voting. Time, June 20, 1988, p. 8.

Anonymous: A Clean Sweep. Asiaweek, June 24, 1988, p. 21.

Rajendra Sareen: The Moral Majority – Naïve Congress loses election to a rebel crusader. Far Eastern Economic Review, June 30, 1988, p. 15.

Manik de Silva: Unruly schoolboys. Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-33.

Rajendra Sareen: The Whodunit Continues. Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-34.

Anonymous: What We Learned in School Today. Asiaweek, July 22, 1988, p. 25.

India Correspondent: The Tigers dig their claws in. Economist, July 30, 1988, pp.33-34.

Wherever they appear, either dots or words within parenthesis/in italics and in bold fonts are as in the originals.

Hitting the Tigers Again

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, June 10, 1988, p. 18]

Sri Lanka’s Tamil guerillas took to the bush after Indian peacekeeping troops

flushed them out of their strongholds in the northern Jaffna peninsula last October. The Indians, 72,000 of whom are in Sri Lanka to enforce the Indo-Lankan accord aimed at ending the fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north, hit the Tigers again last week. They launched a massive attack on May 23 against their bases in the jungles of Alampil in the northeast. The first week of fighting left 35 rebels and eleven Indian soldiers dead. The offensive was seen as an attempt to make a clean sweep of Tamil strongholds before a partial Indian troop withdrawal later this year.

LTTE fighter Asiaweek November 6 1987
LTTE fighter, Asiaweek, November 6, 1987
The Indians claimed that the attack had broken the Tigers – who had at first appeared to agree to the terms of the July accord, including a ceasefire and provincial elections, but then went back on the warpath. ‘We are now holding low-level talks with the Tigers in Madras, attempting to persuade them to surrender their arms and return to the political mainstream,’ an Indian officer in Colombo told Asiaweek. ‘They believed that they were in a position to dictate terms to India. After this I don’t think they can make that boast.’

On another front, the trouble-plagued Sri Lankan government is faced with an escalating terrorist campaign in the south by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a militant Sinhalese leftist group that opposes the Indo-Lankan accord. The JVP has stepped up its assassinations of politicians who support the treaty. Those killed in recent weeks include the general secretary of the ruling United National Party, Nandalal Fernando. In frustration, President Junius Jayewardene even challenged JVP assassins to a duel. The JVP was undeterred. Posters put up in towns in Southern Province warn that the first five persons at each polling station to vote in the upcoming provincial election would be earmarked for death.


Ballots Against Bullets

[William E. Smith; Time, June 20, 1988; p. 8]

WARNING: The provincial councils are part of a plot by India to divide the country. Those who participate in them in any way are traitors. The first five who vote in these elections will be killed.

Signs bearing that chilling threat from the extremist Sinhalese People’s Liberation Front, or JVP, were posted on walls, culverts and trees throughout much of Sri Lanka’s Southern province last week. They were quickly removed by security forces, but not before people got the message. Thanks to the front’s intimidation, the turnout in the current series of provincial elections, which began in April, has been far below normal. In last week’s balloting, voter participation was no higher than 25%.

The provincial councils were established under last year’s agreement between Sri Lanka and India as part of a strategy for reducing the country’s three-way, four year-old civil warfare. President Junius Jayewardene, 81, knew that the accord with India would not be acceptable to the JVP, though he hoped the Tamil minority, which seeks greater autonomy, would be satisfied with a limited measure of local rule within the Sinhalese-dominated state. But the main Tamil guerrilla group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, turned down the proposals and renewed its struggle, directing much of its fury against the 70,000-strong Indian peacekeeping force.

Because of the unrest, Jayewardene has been unable to hold provincial-council elections in predominantly Tamil constituencies in the north and east. Elsewhere, the main opposition group, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, boycotted the balloting. Nonetheless, Jayewardene went ahead with the elections in Sinhalese-dominated areas, achieving generally unimpressive majorities for his dispirited United National Party. In the Western province, which includes the capital city of Colombo, the party gained only 52 seats, compared with the combined opposition’s 50.

When the balloting was held in the Southern province last week, JVP supporters tried to disrupt the proceedings by blocking roads with fallen trees and setting fire to buses and government offices. Complained one voter: ‘The security forces will tell us to open the polling places and will leave in their jeeps – and then the JVP will arrive on motorcycles and shoot us.’ Over the past year, JVP operatives have killed more than 100 political opponents, and in August they nearly assassinated Jayewardene. As it turned out, the UNP won 37 of 53 seats in the Southern province, but many of the votes appeared to have been cast by gangs of men who were transported from one polling place to another.

Hoping for an improvement in the political climate, the President tentatively lifted the ban on the JVP last month. Eleven days later, the organization gave him its answer. Two of its gunmen murdered the UNP’s general secretary, Nandalal Fernando, as he was leaving his Colombo home to go to work. In desperation, Jayewardene told a public rally that he and JVP Leader Rohana Wijeweera, 45, should settle the dispute in a fight between themselves. In that way, said the aging President, no more innocents would lost their lives. [Reported by Qadri Ismail/Colombo].


A Clean Sweep

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, June 24, 1988, p. 21]

Weeks before provincial polls were to be held in Sri Lanka’s deep south, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, an extremist Sinhalese group, began a campaign of sabotage. Posters were put up in towns in Southern Province, a JVP stronghold, warning citizens that the first five people at each polling booth would be slain. JVP activists also set fire to high tension power transformers, thus cutting off electricity to towns and villages. They blocked roads with massive trees and blasted culverts with dynamite. Despite the violence, the government went ahead with the elections on June 9. Fear of JVP retaliation kept most voters away, but those who did turn up cast their ballots largely in favour of the ruling United National Party. With the major opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) boycotting the polls, the UNP easily won control of the province, clinching 69% of the seats.

The ruling party’s convincing victory in Southern Province followed similar triumphs in local elections held over the past two months in six other provinces. The leftist United Socialist Alliance, which came second, made a commendable showing. Groupings such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Liberal Party, however, failed to make much impact. But the UNP’s victory was marred by allegations of poll-rigging.

The setting up of provincial councils fulfils part of last year’s India-Sri Lanka peace accord aimed at awarding autonomy to regions torn by ethnic clashes between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. Ironically, however, elections in Tamil-dominated Northern Province and multi-ethnic Eastern Province have been postponed indefinitely. The opposition SLFP, led by former prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her son, Anura, has rejected the elections on the grounds that creating provincial councils in the north and east would mean a de facto partitioning of the country.

Aware that JVP intimidation would affect voter turnout in Southern Province, the government permitted candidates to employ goon squads to escort supporters to polling stations. People were transported in buses, each with an armed escort of shotgun-wielding thugs. ‘With guns sticking out of the windows, [the buses looked] like centipedes scurrying somewhere to sting some one,’ recalls lawyer Tennyson Edirisooriya, who stood as an independent candidate.

In what seemed another attempt to appease voters, Colombo persuaded Indian armed forces trying to keep peace in the island’s troubled north and east to stage a partial pullout. Although the Indian authorities refused to disclose how many troops departed on June 7, observers counted only 320 soldiers and 8- paramilitary personnel boarding the naval ship bound for India. That figure hardly dents the pre-withdrawal total of 72,000 Indian soldiers stationed on Sri Lankan soil. ‘Not many vehicles were taken out either,’ notes a Sri Lankan military official. ‘In all they took three armoured personnel carriers and an assortment of other vehicles in a state of disrepair.’

Not long after balloting ended in the south, the corridors of power in Colombo were abuzz with talk about an upcoming general election in September. State-run media, including the television and radio corporations, were apparently ordered to get ready for the polls. Certain journalists were also told in confidence by UNP stalwarts that the lokka or ‘old man’ – as colleagues fondly call President Junius Jayewardene – was determined to call a snap election before his term expired next January.

Observers say one decisive factor in parliamentary hustings could be the once-outlawed JVP, which has vehemently denounced the India-Sri Lanka agreement and, consequently, the provincial council polls. In the past year, the Sinhalese extremist group has assassinated more than 200 UNP and USA supporters. Among those killed in well-planned JVP operations were charismatic USA leader Vijaya Kumaratunga and UNP chairman Harsha Abeywardene.

For the SLFP, boycotting the provincial polls might prove to be a major disadvantage in the long run. By gaining control of local councils, the UNP has a firm grip on development, education, law enforcement, taxes and a host of other politically important departments in the provinces. A provincial council thus wields immense power, which it can use to batter a weak Parliament, if it so wishes. ‘Under the proportional representative system of election, the SLFP may win a general eletion with a very narrow margin,’ notes Colombo-based political analyst Sarath Gunawardene. ‘But unless the SLFP forms a parliamentary alliance with the USA, one can imagine the political chaos that would result when UNP-dominated provincial councils and a weak Parliament clash.’


The Moral Majority – Naïve Congress Loses Election to a Rebel Crusader

[Rajendra Sareen; Far Eastern Economic Review, June 30, 1988, p. 15]

The massive win by former Cabinet minister turned moral crusader V.P. Singh in a 16 June by-election has robbed the ruling Congress Party of a seat in the Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament – and damaged the credibility of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Although Gandhi had declared that the seat in Allahabad had to be won ‘at all costs,’ The Congress’ strategy was poorly conceived and some hold him responsible for its campaign transgressions.

Congress won two of five Lok Sabha and five of 10 state assembly by-elections held simultaneously. It trails in counting for another seat and a re-poll has been ordered for one other seat in the Lok Sabha. The results of one state assembly seat have been held up. Gandhi has said his party is satisfied with the results, but Singh has described the Allahabad poll as a ‘referendum’ on Gandhi’s performance, and the Janata Party leader Ramakrishna Hegde has said it is a vindication of Singh’s ‘emphasis on principled politics and clean public life.’

Singh, a former finance and defence minister in Gandhi’s cabinet, was forced to resign last year after attempting to investigate allegations of corruption involving the purchase of weapons from foreign countries. Another reason for Singh’s resignation was his relentless pursuit of rich Indians who have acquired undeclared wealth. He created a Jan Morcha, or People’s Movement, which he said was more a social reform movement than a political party.

There had been some doubt that he was going to stand for election in Allahabad. He had said he would only if the Congress put up film actor Amitabh Bachchan, a personal friend of Gandhi’s, who had resigned the seat in the wake of allegations that he had illegally amassed wealth abroad. The Congress tried to out-maoeuvre him by refusing to pick its candidate until Singh had committed himself to stand. Then, it named Sunil Shastri, the son of a respected former prime minister. Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad claimed that Singh had been trapped and that he would be humiliated and destroyed. The opposite happened. Singh went on to poll 203,167 votes to Shastri’s 92,221 and 68,836 by the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party which champions the poor.

Singh’s campaign focused on Gandhi, though in keeping with tradition the prime minister did not campaign and kept aloof from the by-election. Singh’s supporters made much of the Bofors gun scandal – in which an arms deal negotiated by the Indian and the Swedish governments had resulted in a US$ 16 million commission being paid into the Swiss bank account of an Indian middleman, though the two sides had agreed that there would be no middlemen in the deal. Singh’s followers erected a ‘Bofors gate’ in Allahabad, harking back to the 1970s Watergate scandal in the US. They also trooped around the streets in a ‘Bofors van’ with a wooden replica of the Bofors gun mounted on it. Another telling opposition ploy was a campaign float depicting a wooden submarine to remind the voters of yet another scandal involving the purchase of West German submarines by the Defence Ministry.

The Congress suffered primarily because of its strategy of attempting to mobilise support on a caste and communal basis – a strategy it used in the Haryana state assembly polls last year when its cobbling together of caste leaders ended with its being routed. This time it went further, trying to play on the emotions of devout Hindus by getting Arun Govil, who plays Lord Rama, the god of virtue, in a popular TV serial on the Ramayana, to campaign for them. He depicted the election as a religious war with the Congress on the side of right and justice, and promised his ‘blessing’ to those who voted for the party. The tactic turned out to be totally naïve.

The Congress fared badly as a whole in the Lok Sabha polls where, apart from the Allahabad seat, it was also ousted in the Sirsa seat in Haryana by the Lok Dal and trailed behind another opposition candidate in the Udhampur seat in Jammu and Kashmir. It only retained the Pali seat in Rajasthan and the Tura seat in Meghalaya.

The opposition’s jubilation at the perceived humbling of the Congress should be tempered by the fact that in the by-elections for state assemblies, spread over Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir, the ruling party retained two seats, snatched one each from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajasthan, the Communist Party of India-Marxist in West Bengal and the Janata in Gujarat. It was ousted from two other seats by the BJP and the Lok Dal. This was a reversal of previous polls when the Congress swept Lok Sabha elections in December 1984 but did not fare as well in the state assembly polls three months later.

Singh himself has some hard decisions to make. It is unlikely that the many opposition parties will be able to form an alliance against the Congress that will last until next year when the general election is due, and to get some measure of unity he will have to abandon his stance of skirting round hard political choices by adopting a loose platform of undefined moral issues. During the Allahabad campaign he found that getting the support of some well known people in a bid to woo Muslim voters resulted in estrangement with a founder member of Jan Morcha, Arif Mohammed Khan, a former minister who resigned in 1986 on the issue of the government surrender on Muslim women’s rights. Unless Singh can put together a workable policy acceptable across the board, it is highly doubtful that the opposition will be able to confront the Congress as united as it did in Allahabad.

The results of the by-elections have shocked the ruling party and the party leadership in several states is expected to come under severe scrutiny. Gandhi will have to act quickly to reorganise his party if he is to stave off restive veteran political leaders whom he has sidelined so far. How he plays his cards at this juncture could be critical to his political future.


Unruly Schoolboys

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-33]

The indiscipline and unrest in Sri Lanka’s campuses for the past several months has now spread to secondary schools with student demonstrations and class boycotts reported almost every day. The government accuses the militant Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the organisation responsible for much of the instability in the majority Sinhalese south of the country, of using school children to achieve political objectives.

The problem came to a head on 20 June when a solider opened fire at a group of student demonstrators the government alleged was throwing stones at passing vehicles. A 15 year-old schoolboy was killed and four others injured. Among the vehicles was a bus used to withdraw a group of state auxiliary police after they had been deployed for security duties at provincial council elections in the south earlier in the month. A small escort detail of airmen and soldiers were returning to their base in the same bus after dropping the auxiliary police when the vehicle was attacked.

According to the servicemen, the bus driver had been hit on the head by a stone and he and the conductor had ducked for cover. One of the troops had been hit also and the soldier had opened fire. President Junius Jayewardene ordered an immediate inquiry and statements of several witnesses have been recorded. No official finding has yet been published and it is not clear whether the soldier had over-reacted. But what is clear is that the implications of the incident and its possible fallout have not been lost on Colombo, and police and troops have been ordered to be most circumspect in future dealings with student demonstrators.

Recent travellers on the southern highway have seen student groups armed with catapults, clubs and wooden poles, stopping mostly state-owned buses and what they believe are government vehicles and pasting crudely scrawled posters on them. A Colombo journalist and a photographer who were stopped on 23 June at Hungama, 48km south of Hambantota, an area where the JVP commands considerable support, offered Sunday newspaper readers a graphic account of their experience at the hands of what they called a ‘kiddie mob’.

They reported that despite a police station being just a few metres across the road, nothing was done to bring the students under control. It was clear that the police were under strict orders not to interfere with schoolchildren as any more shooting would aggravate an already tense situation.

Government MPs have been pressing Jayewardene to do whatever possible to reopen the universities quickly. Jayewardene, who holds the higher education portfolio, is on record as saying that the question of whether the universities should be opened or stay closed was a matter for the vice chancellors. Due to the situation on the campuses, most vice chancellors had recommended closure, he told a meeting of government MPs. The president is convinced that the vast majority of university students are keen on getting back to their books but are being held to ransom by a small group of activists. The government’s dilemma is whether or not to step in and get rid of the trouble makers, which would mean a direct conflict.

Most United National Party (UNP) MPs believe that if the universities can be reopened, much of the sting in the current secondary-school agitation could be removed. Some of them feel that university students are responsible for sparking the demonstrations in the schools, while others have complained at a government group meeting that secondary-school teachers sympathetic to the JVP have been responsible for the agitation in many areas. Some MPs have even charged that the appointment of teachers by open competitive examination, without consulting the MPs on the political allegiance of the appointees, had created this problem. There is little doubt that the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its supporters find the anti-government agitation useful in an election year and has been lending at least tacit support to the JVP.

‘For every one JVP [supporter], there are at least 10 SLFP sympathisers. Those against the UNP, most likely the armed youth, will be encouraged by the political elements against the UNP,’ Health Minister Ranjith Atapattu said at a recent meeting of UNP branches in his constituency in the deep south. Exhorting his supporters to come forward and work for the reelection of the government, he predicted that a poor showing by the UNP at the next elections would result in a bloodbath.

In what appeared to be a reference to the dismal voter turnout in the provincial council elections, Atapattu said: ‘If we go on being frightened and do not come forward and vote, if by some chance the UNP performs poorly at the next election, the whole of the UNP cadre will be eliminated and a government hostile to us will take no notice.’

Among the measures the government is contemplating to get the universities reopened is increasing scholarship and bursary payments made to students. Between 75% and 80% of the country’s 20,000 undergraduates are either on scholarships or bursaries ranging from Rs 250-400 (US$ 9-14) a month. A parliamentary select committee which recently reported on the ‘grave and unsettled conditions’ prevailing in all the country’s universities, said it was difficult to imagine the economic hardships the students would endure but for these scholarships and bursaries. It urged the government to give whatever aid possible.

The main demand of the university student activists, who in May were able to disrupt efforts to hold final examinations under unprecedentedly tight armed security, is that students in custody for suspected subversive activity be freed. Originally as many as 77 undergraduates were in custody. Pressure mounted that they be either indicted or released and the government deputed Foreign Minister Shahul Hameed to look into the matter. Eventually 24 of those held were released. But the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) recommended their rearrest saying that they were again back in the centre of the agitation.

The NIB also warned against freeing nine others whose release the students are trying to secure. The vice-chancellors have now agreed to stand surety for students offered bail and a committee of government MPs, chaired by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, is going into this among other matters relevant to reopening the universities. The police are not at all happy about releasing student activists they are convinced will begin stirring fresh agitation.

Jayewardene told a recent meeting of editors and publishers he summoned to discuss the reporting of subversive activity, that the back of the JVP would have been broken by now but for the small number of automatic weapons they hold. Jayewardene also revealed that many of the firearms issued to candidates at the recent provincial council elections and others considered at risk, have been reported missing. According to figures tabled in parliament recently there were as many as 43 ‘political murders’ countrywide during the month ending 14 June. The month also saw the killing of four policemen by subversives.

The security authorities have noted that the JVP, which attacked a large number of police stations nationally during its abortive 1971 insurgency has, during its current agitation, avoided as far as possible direct confrontation with the police. But late in June they attacked the homes of two police guards who had shot and killed two men who attempted to torch the provincial courthouse at Bandarawela, in Uva Province. The revenge killings cost the lives of five people in the policemen’s homs, including the fathers of the constables, both of whom were over 80 years old.


The Whodunit Continues – Bofors may have lied after all on arms scandal payment

[Rajendra Sareen; Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-34]

The Bofors arms scandal has erupted afresh with the publication of documents which appear to indicate that Bofors, the Swedish arms manufacturer, lied to the Indian Government and a parliamentary committee in saying no commission was paid for winning a US$ 1.1 billion contract in 1986. The contract was to supply India with 400 FH77B 155mm towed howitzers, ammunition and production technology.

The documents, published by The Hindu newspaper, contradict the 26 April report of a joint parliamentary committee, which was boycotted by opposition parties. The report concluded that there was no evidence a middleman was involved in the sale, backing Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s earlier assertion that he and the then Swedish Prime Minister, the late Olof Palme, had come to an understanding that no agents would be used.

The procedure for selecting the guns had been objective and the technical evaluation of the weapons systems ‘fair, thorough and flawless,’ the report said. There was no evidence that commissions or bribes had passed hands. It did go on to say: ‘Bofors paid 319.4 million krona (US$ 51.5million) to three companies not domiciled in India as winding-up charges for terminating agreements but [Bofors] refused to give details of these payments and their beneficiaries [to the committee] on grounds of commercial confidentiality.’

But, according to The Hindu, Bofors did pay a commission for winning the contract, and the beneficiaries were Indians. The payments were made through elaborate channels designed to conceal their true nature and ‘constituted a massive fraud on the Indian people and the decision-making process.’ In other words, the newspaper said, Bofors had lied to both the Indian Government and the parliamentary committee. The ‘winding-up charges’ was a cover-up phrase for the commission, said the newspaper. A former local agent of Bofors, Win Chadha, was linked to the payments ranging from less than 1% to 6% on items delivered to India.

Although there is still no evidence as to who the ultimate beneficiary was, the fact that payments were made does not seem to be in dispute anymore. The payments were made to three companies which obviously served as conduits for slush money and investigations should now focus on who the final recipients were. At present there is no evidence that Gandhi is linked with any of the three companies which received money, and the newspaper’s documents do not indicate any irregularities in the decision to award the arms contract to Bofors.

The Bofors scandal has dogged Gandhi’s footsteps since Radio Sweden first reported in April 1987 that bribes had been paid to senior Indian politicians and key defence figures in landing the contract. Opposition parties in India picked it up as a case of corruption in high places. New Delhi immediately denied the report and Defence Minister K.C. Pant told parliament that ‘if any evidence is produced involving violations of the law, the matter will be thoroughly investigated and the guilty, whoever they may be, punished.’ Gandhi then said he and Palme had agreed no agents would be used and he assured parliament ‘that we will see that nobody however high up is allowed to go free.’

But as more information on the affair came out of Sweden, allegations of corruption at the top level of government and suspicions of a cover-up swelled in India. This coincided with a worsening of relations between then president Zail Singh and Gandhi, with Zail Singh telling some political leaders last year that documents existed to prove corruption. If they did exist they never came to light, and an application to prosecute Gandhi for corruption similarly came to nothing for lack of prima facie evidence. Then the joint parliamentary committee of inquiry was set up and was boycotted by opposition parties.

Why did Bofors lie? Part of the answer lies in Sweden’s domestic politics where the scandal is just as big as in India. The opposition conservatives are using it as a handy stick with which to beat the ruling Socialist Democratic Party. Bofors has been exporting arms through third countries to various parts of the world. Swedish law prohibits arms sales to areas of conflict and as many of these sales would have been illegal, commissions would have had to be camouflaged.

New Delhi has said its agencies will resume its investigations in the light of the new information and it seems almost certain that the inconsistency between the published documents and the Bofors’ statements will be examined. Over and above that is the public and opposition demand for the identity of the beneficiaries of the commission. It looks as if the Bofors whodunit will continue to dominate the Indian political scene over the next few months.


What We Learned in School Today

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, July 22, 1988, p. 25]

‘We are on strike,’ grins Ranjith Sumanasekara, his white shirt and trousers blotched with red mud. ‘That,’ he explains gleefully, ‘means we don’t go to school. Very good.’ Ranjith is 10. He is supposed to be a primary grade four student in Walasmulla, a town in the centre of Sri Lanka’s strife-ridden Southern Province. But as the violent battle there between the Colombo government and the outlawed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has escalated, teachers and pupils have been drawn into the fray.

‘There is absolute indiscipline in school,’ confesses H.A. Rupasingha, director of education for Southern Province. ‘Principals can’t enforce order because teachers with political connections are more powerful than they are.’ Student agitation across the province has caused principals to close up to 70% of schools in recent weeks. The unrest is said to have been largely organised by teachers allied with the Marxist-cum-Sinhalese terrorist JVP. Politics is not their only motive, however. ‘Teachers who run private tutorials would like to see schools closed so that they can get more students,’ says Rupasingha.

Caught in the middle, school authorities are bullied by JVP militants and rogue teachers, who send them death threats. ‘Recently, a principal received a letter, purportedly from the JVP, asking him to close advanced-level classes,’ says Rupasingha. When he complied, he got another letter saying he shouldn’t. When he reopened classes, he received a third letter asking him to close. The correspondence went on in this fashion until the unhappy administrator realised some of the letters were coming from a tutoring outfit nearby.

‘The teachers are unruly, so what can you expect from students?’ asks Don Charles Kiriella, a former principal who now runs a village store near Wiraketiya, 130 km southeast of Colombo. Armed with catapults, teenage truants spend their time stoning vehicles on country roads or putting up anti-government posters. ‘Young people are angry,’ observes Kiriella. ‘They’re taught about democracy in schools. Then they see how it works. Now they have no trust in anything.’

Polls were held in Southern Province last month, part of a plan to reduce ethnic strife by providing greater autonomy through nationwide provincial councils. Determined to sabotage the scheme, the JVP threatened to kill voters. More than 75 people died, mainly supporters of the ruling United National Party. The UNP won, but there were widespread allegations of poll rigging. Journalists reported seeing UNP supporters, guarded by heavily armed local militia, being taken in state-owned buses from one voting booth to another. ‘Students accuse us of creating this mess, and think we can’t be trusted to clear it up,’ says Kiriella. ‘So they want to do it their way.’

Not all truants are politically motivated angry young men. ‘Most of these boys are simply enjoying themselves,’ says Kiriella. ‘It’s a game for them. Little do they realise the implications.’ Last month, the fun stopped for schoolmates of 16 year-old Nishantha Jayawardana in the coastal hamlet of Dickwella, 190 km south of Colombo. According to official accounts, students had set up roadblocks in front of their school and were stoning passing vehicles. A bus carrying air force personnel and home guards came under a volley of stones. An air force member opened fire, killing Nishantha and injuring six people, one of them a 14 year-old girl inside a classroom well away from the stone-throwers. The unrest quickly worsened.

President Junius Jayewardene’s security council is studying confidential reports outlining how the militants extend their influence into the classroom. Young teachers, members of the JVP’s military wing, form a core group and work through the country’s ‘cluster’ school network to dominate institutions in an area. In Matara region alone, there is a base of 176,000 students, 7,160 of them between the ages of 18 and 20. One submission suggests that senior students, including trusted prefects, could be members of the movement and recommends disbanding the prefect system in the province.

Other politicians are also said to be abettng the agitation. Dayananda Wickramasingha, UNP district minister for Matara, claims the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, led by former premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike, is using students as ‘cannon fodder’. Charges he: ‘They shed crocodile tears about school children being killed, while their people incite innocent children to go into the streets.’

Education director Rupasingha believes the problem is more complex than merely the infiltration of classrooms by political groups. ‘All of us have played a role in letting the situation deteriorate,’ he says. In an attempt to bring back order, he recently told principals to close schools at the first sign of trouble and suspend any student whose parents refused to guarantee the child’s non-involvement. Results were disappointing, however. One administrator scheduled a meeting with 120 parents; only two turned up. They claimed that without police protection against the JVP for parents and students, they could not stop their children from cooperating with classroom agitators.

Meanwhile, Jayewardene has ordered an inquiry into the incident at Dickwella. Police and security forces have been told to stay away from schools, says Matarage Sirisena Amarasiri, the province’s new chief minister. ‘I want the principals to handle the situation,’ he declares. ‘They are responsible for discipline.’ However, the principals remain uneasy. Says one: ‘We can’t control outsiders who come in and organise demonstrations. We need police guards.’


The Tigers dig their claws in

[India Correspondent; Economist, July 30, 1988, pp. 33-34.]

A year after India sent its soldiers into Sri Lanka, that unfortunate country is still in the grip of civil war. For India’s prime minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, this is a disheartening comment on his long and patient pursuit of a peacemaking plan based on a mixture of force and negotiation. For three months, while the Indian troops have kept the Tamil guerrillas under pressure, Indian intelligence officials have held talks with Mr Sadasivan Krishnakumar, the Tigers’ representative in Madras, the capital of India’s Tamil Nadu state. The aim of the Madras talks has been to find a formula that will induce the guerrillas to surrender their arms and allow elections to be held in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

In early July it looked as if Mr Gandhi’s strategy was going to succeed. Many of the Tigers’ arm caches had been seized, the main channels through which they used to obtain weapons had been blocked, at least 200 of their best fighters had been killed or captured, and intercepted messages revealed low morale in their ranks. Meanwhile, the negotiators in Madras were already discussing the duration of a ceasefire, the number of weapons and guerrillas would hand over, and the deadline by which they would be handed over. And on June 30th Sri Lanka’s President Junius Jayewardene had renewed his offer of an amnesty for Tigers who laid down their arms.

On July 10th, however, the Sri Lankan government issued a statement repeating that the proposed merger of the island’s Northern and Eastern provinces would become permanent only if the people of Eastern province (where Tamils are a minority) approved it in a referendum to be held not more than a year after the election of a joint council for the merged provinces. This statement touched on the most sensitive element in the India-Sri Lanka agreement of July 29th last year.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil had long demanded the creation of a single ‘Tamil homeland’ comprising both provinces. Until last year the government in Colombo had refused to consider the merger, fearing that it would be a stepping-stone to secession. When Mr Jayewardene accepted its inclusion in the July agreement, he insisted on making the permanence of the merger conditional on ratification by a referendum in Eastern province. The Indian government was not happy about this, but it hoped Mr Jayewardene would postpone the referendum and let the issue fade away.

However, the Sri Lankan president was left with little room for manoeuvre when the Tamil guerrillas proved intransigent and the island’s Sinhalese majority began to react angrily to the presence of the Indian troops. The statement issued on July 10th was evidently meant to reassure the Sinhalese, on the eve of four by-elections in which the ruling United National Party was to face a challenge from Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Freedom Party. On July 13th the Tigers said they did not accept this condition for the merger of the two provinces. At the same time their London office accused India of betraying the Tamils’ interests.

Officials in Delhi say the Madras talks have merely ‘hit a snag’. However, in talks with The Economist in Madras, the Tigers’ spokesmen have made it clear that the merger issue is not the only one on which they want changes. They are unhappy about an amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution that was adopted in April.

This 13th amendment empowers the president to declare an emergency, in any part of the country, for a wide range of reasons. In the past, Mr Jayewardene has made much use of emergency powers. The Tamils fear that the 13th amendment will make Tamil autonomy permanently subject to a Sinhalese veto. They have made it clear that, unless India puts pressure on Sri Lanka to revise the 13th amendment, it would be suicidal for the Tigers to surrender their arms to the Indian army.

Hitherto, the Indian government has been inclined to see the Tigers as gunmen who was afraid to lay down their arms because they do not know how to face the uncertainties of peace. Guerrillas often prefer to bite into cyanide pills rather than be captured, and remain unswervingly loyal to their leader, Mr Velupillai Prabhakaran. So Indian spokesmen tend to treat the political issues raised by the Tigers as attempts to rationalise what is primarily an attitude of mind. This may have been true a year ago, but is less clearly true now: the guerrillas may have some rational cause for fear.

So the most that the Jayewardene government will concede still falls short of the minimum the Tigers will accept. Mr Gandhi faces a difficult choice. He can order an all-out assault on the Tigers; or he can concede the validity of their objections to the present scheme of devolution, and put pressure on Mr Jayewardene to introduce safeguards. He seems to have chosen the first course. Operation ‘Checkmate’, the latest of the assaults on guerrilla bases in the north, has been intensified and several Tiger commanders have been killed.

In the long run, however, a policy of bashing the guerrillas has its limitations. The fears the Tigers voice are shared by many non-combatant Tamils in Sri Lanka. The more the Indian troops succeed in weakening the guerrillas, the more India will make itself morally responsible for the future welfare of Sri Lanka’s Tamils. That could mean a long involvement in the island’s affairs. The Indian government may find satisfaction in a great-power role; but not all Indians find the prospect attractive.

Continued…


The Indo-LTTE War, 1987-1990

An Anthology, Part IX

Rajiv losing a battle against the defiant press and JR opting to ‘Retire Hurt’

The four mea culpa revelations of Dixit as to the failure of the Rajiv-Jayewardene agreement that he brokered in 1987 deserve highlighting. These are,(1) The agreement failed because Rajiv Gandhi took the decision to sign the agreement on the basis of predications and advice conveyed to him by his advisers, which in retrospect were inaccurate and overoptimistic. He can be blamed for the decision to sign the agreement but not for the collective judgement of the Indian establishment. (pp. 338-339)(2) I overestimated the sincerity and the political will of Jayewardene to come to a genuine compromise with the Tamils with the help of the Government of India. (p. 344)(3) My expectation that the LTTE could be successfully isolated from Sri Lankan Tamils also proved to be wrong. (p. 344)(4) My anticipation that once Jayewardene signed the agreement he would be decisive in neutralising Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali and their policies against the Tamils and the agreement, also proved to be wrong. (pp. 344-345)

Part I of the series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

In its June 25, 1988 issue, The Nation, a respected Left-leaning weekly from New York, published a well-balanced summary-review covering the period July 1987 to June 1988 of Rajiv Gandhi’s arm-twisting diplomacy in Sri Lanka and the Indian army’s performance against the LTTE in Eelam. William McGowan, the author of this review, subsequently expanded his observations and published a book, entitled ‘Only Man is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka’ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1992).

As this review deserves incorporation in this anthology, first I reproduce McGowan’s review in this part 9. Then, I have added 7 items that appeared between August and September of 1988. By the end of September 1988, the duration of the Indo-LTTE war had reached the one year mark, with the LTTE still holding strong against the Indian army, to the dismay of Sinhalese and Indians who anticipated a quick defeat for the LTTE. Apart from the increasing tally of casualties among the Indian army and the Tamil civilians then living in Eelam, casualties also included (1) the professional reputations of India’s political pundits who had predicted LTTE’s quick demise; and (2) the non-playing ‘captain’ of LTTE’s rival team – President Jayewardene – who opted to ‘retire hurt’ from the political arena.

The flag wavers for Indian diplomacy among the Tamils (the likes of D.B.S.Jeyaraj) naively continue to propagate an illusory view that, if not for LTTE’s opposition to the deal that Rajiv Gandhi had arranged with President Jayewardene in 1987, Eelam Tamils would have gained politically what they never had previously.

What spoils this up-beat note was the reality, even after a passage of one whole year, neither Rajiv Gandhi nor the then President Jayewardene could convince the Sinhalese camps that opposed the 1987 Accord; (1) the opposition SLFP, (2) the JVP, (3) the anti-Accord factions of Prime Minister Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali, and (4) the yellow-robed Buddhist clergy. During this period, sympathy to Rajiv Gandhi’s plight was non-existing among the Sinhalese. On the contrary, the Sinhalese mass-media delighted themselves in highlighting the misfortunes of the Rajiv-led Congress Party in Indian electoral politics.

I have no hesitation in asserting that Sinhalese media commentators (including ranking cartoonists like Wijesoma) were adept in displaying their skills, not excluding hypocrisy. Rajiv Gandhi became a paragon of virtue for these Sinhalese opinion makers only from May 22, 1991, after he became an assassination victim. To be fair, Rajiv Gandhi’s political broker, J.N. Dixit – in his book Assignment Colombo (1998) – was forthright in his assessment of the pusillanimous politics played to the gallery by the leading Sinhalese politicians of that period. But his wisdom was ten years late in arriving.

The four mea culpa revelations of Dixit as to the failure of the Rajiv-Jayewardene agreement that he brokered in 1987 deserve highlighting. These are,

(1) The agreement failed because Rajiv Gandhi took the decision to sign the agreement on the basis of predications and advice conveyed to him by his advisers, which in retrospect were inaccurate and overoptimistic. He can be blamed for the decision to sign the agreement but not for the collective judgement of the Indian establishment. (pp. 338-339)

(2) I overestimated the sincerity and the political will of Jayewardene to come to a genuine compromise with the Tamils with the help of a Government of India. (p. 344)

(3) My expectation that the LTTE could be successfully isolated from Sri Lankan Tamils also proved to be wrong. (p. 344)

(4) My anticipation that once Jayewardene signed the agreement he would be decisive in neutralising Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali and their policies against the Tamils and the agreement, also proved to be wrong. Jayewardene either did not have the political will, or his approach was that of political intrigue, because of which he refrained from reining in Lalith and Premadasa from their negative activities against the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. (pp. 344-345)

During August and September 1988, both Rajiv Gandhi and J.R. Jayewardene lost considerable clout in the political arena of India and Sri Lanka respectively. Rajiv Gandhi had his nose thumped in a demanding battle against the defiant Indian press. Stung by the press criticism about his inept handling of so many issues, Rajiv Gandhi’s team attempted to pass a Defamation Bill in India’s parliament. This Defamation Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Aug. 29, 1988 and was adopted by the Lok Sabha on the following day. After that, Rajiv’s handlers found the opposition to this Defamation Bill too hot to handle. On Sept. 22, 1988, Rajiv Gandhi announced his government’s decision to drop the controversial bill. According to a summary of this confrontation that appeared in the Asiaweek of Sept.23, 1988, those journalists who stood up valiantly against Rajiv’s incursions to curb press freedom in India were Ramnath Goenka (owner of the Indian Express group), Khushwant Singh, Nikhil Chakravartty, B.G. Verghese, Aroun Shourie and M.J. Akbar. Not noted in this list were any of the grandstanders who represented the House of Hindu publishers!

Press protest in India, Asiaweek Sept 23 1988While Rajiv Gandhi was able to save his nose and neck by executing his option to withdraw the Defamation Bill, President Jayewardene’s plight turned out to be more precarious. The Sri Lanka correspondent for the Economist magazine wrote for the August 20, 1988 issue, that “The constitution limits him [i.e., Jayewardene] to two terms, but it would take only some minor tinkering to let him run for a third. The smart money of business backers says he will. The old man – he is 81 – prefers to keep everyone guessing. He would be hard to beat.”

But President Jayewardene’s designs of running again for re-election in late 1988 withered within a couple of weeks, and he opted to retire ‘hurt’ and pass the baton to his nominal lieutenant, Premadasa, who pinned his hopes for the presidential crown on his open opposition to the unpopular Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord.

Listed below are 8 items (a review, news reports and commentaries), which are presented in this part 9 of the anthology.

(1) William McGowan: India’s Quagmire in Sri Lanka. The Nation (New York), June 25, 1988, pp. 896-899.

(2) Editorial: What India’s Emperor Needs. Economist, Aug. 6, 1988, p.9.

(3) India Correspondent: Can Singh persuade India that its emperor has no clothes? Economist, Aug. 6, 1988, pp. 17-18.

(4) Sri Lanka Correspondent: It Still Looks Like No Change. Economist, Aug. 20, 1988, pp.23-24.  

(5) Anonymous: The Press Takes a Strong Stand. Asiaweek, Sept. 23, 1988, p. 31.

(6) Detained: Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kiddu. Asiaweek, Sept. 23, 1988, p. 50.

(7) William E. Smith: Mixed Signals – Jayewardene decides to retire. Time, Sept. 26, 1988, p. 8.

(8) Anonymous: Battling on Many Fronts. Asiaweek, Sept. 30, 1988, p. 33.

India’s Quagmire in Sri Lanka

[William McGowan; The Nation (New York), June 25, 1988, pp. 896-899.]

Jaffna, Sri Lanka: From the rubble of the nearly 75,000 houses destroyed or damaged during its drive last October against Tamil Tiger militants, the Indian Peacekeeping Force has built a city of pillboxes and fortified bunkers inside this former rebel stronghold. Normalcy now prevails past the ends of machine guns bristling from sentry posts on every street corner. Yet the Indian troops deployed throughout northern and eastern Sri Lanka still find their quarry elusive. Given the opportunity, the Tigers can still paralyze civil administration and commercial life, kill political foes and collaborators and attack unprotected Sinhalese villages as well as Indian Army patrols before melting away uncaught.

Having given arms, training and sanctuary to Tamil separatists fighting the Sri Lankan military, India originally thought it could quickly tame them under the terms of last summer’s Indo-Lankan Peace Accord. The accord was an attempt to resolve the longstanding conflict between the minority Tamils (18 percent of the population) and the majority Sinhalese Buddhists (74 percent of the country). The feud is rooted in the institutional discrimination Tamils say they have suffered since independence, in 1948, in education, employment, land settlement and language. But it dates further back, into colonial times and ancient antagonisms. Since 1983, when more than 1,000 Tamils were killed in Sinhalese pogroms, the nation had been in a state of civil war and de facto partition. Upwards of 7,000 civilians have perished.

India had supported the separatists because their cause was strong among 55 million ethnic brethren in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and because the Western leanings of the Colombo government of President J.R. Jayewardene made it anxious. But when the trouble it was encouraging in Sri Lanka began to threaten India’s own equilibrium, and Sri Lankan armed forces broke the struggle’s long stalemate in a successful lunge against the militants in May 1987, India stepped in – at first with only a small force to back up what was intended to be primarily a diplomatic initiative. There was nominal peace for six weeks, but now, nearly a year after the signing of the accord in July 1987, the fighting contiues; more civilians have been killed in the past year than in any previous year, most of them, ironically, by the Indian peacekeepers.

Any intervention into the miasma of Sri Lanka’s ethnic troubles ran the risk of frustration. But India’s presumptuous diplomacy military miscalculations have turned its involvement into a daily $3 million quagmire for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, with dark implications for his political future as well as for the domestic stability and international prestige of his country. Also on the line is the government of Jayewardene, co-signer of the accord, which has for months been under violent pressure from rabid Buddhist nationalists in the southern part of the island.

Delhi’s first mistake was to overestimate its leverage on the two warring sides. The Indo-Lankan Peace Accord called for the rebels to lay down their arms in return for substantial political autonomy in their traditional areas and a guarantee that Sri Lankan armed forces – 99 percent Sinhalese – would be confined to their barracks. Although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, the dominant Tamil militant group, had gotten more than its fair share in the bargain, suspicions of the Colombo government built up over several decades were not easily dissipated. The language of the hastily prepared document left several substantive issues, like land colonization of Tamil areas, vague or unaddressed, and after provocation by Buddhist hard-liners within Jayewardene’s own Cabinet, the Tigers resumed armed hostilities. At first the Indians did little to hold the Tigers back; in some cases, in fact, Indian soldiers from Tamil Nadu turned a blind eye while brethren Tamils burned Sinhalese out of their homes and shops. Before long, however, the Indians came down hard on their former charges, although for years they had warned Sri Lanka of the futility of a military solution.

The drive on the rebel capital of Jaffna was a military and intelligence debacle. The Indians basically dismissed the Tigers as low-caste youths who would never dare stand against the world’s fourth-largest army – which after all had entered the conflict on their side. Having scoffed at Sri Lankan warnings, the Indians had little idea of Tiger manpower, firepower, intelligence and communications capabilities. Nor did they sense the fanatic motivation of the Tigers, symbolized by the cyanide capsule each cadre wears around his or her neck to swallow if captured. Most important, the Indians did not understand the lethal force of the Tigers’ form of land-mine warfare – an innovation in guerrilla strategy. Losing face politically as casualties mounted daily, Delhi poured more troops into battle, often without proper rest, briefings, maps or equipment.

What should have taken the Indians three days took nearly three weeks, and during that time brutality against civilians – which India had originally intervened to stop – was ghastly. Here in Jaffna during the October drive, I saw random shelling of civilian areas and evidence that Indians had strafed civilians from helicopters and also shot them point-blank as they hid in their own homes for safety. In direct violation of the Geneva Accords, top Indian officers ordered the storming of the Jaffna Hospital, killing scores of doctors, nurses and patients. The Indians banned foreign journalists and the International Red Cross, making it difficult to verify or dismiss consistent reports of rape and other atrocities committed by Indian troops. Likewise, reports that the Tigers had used civilians as human shields.

Utter bedlam reigned during the battle as a half-million panic-stricken refugees sought safety and the Tigers continued to fight – killing many more Indians than military authorities admitted – before pulling out of Jaffna still largely intact as a fighting force. When it was over, with the peacekeepers claiming victory, there was ‘a city of corpses and rotting flesh,’ as one Indian brigadier general put it, with some estimates of civilian casualties running as high as 3,000. There was also a deep bitterness among the Tamil populace toward what had effectively become an army of occupation. Conservative estimates say India has 50,000 troops in Sri Lanka, but if higher figures given by Indian analysts and journalists are accurate, it may have up to 100,000 there – almost as many as the Russians had in Afghanistan.

Whenever they are asked about the current situation, Indian troops in the field, cued by public relation officers, no doubt, broadly and answer ‘picnic’ – often the only English word they know. But a picnic it decidedly is not. Despite their overwhelming numbers, Indian forces are muscle bound, their bureaucratically minded officers vulnerable to the Tigers’ hit-and-run tactics; convoys still leave the main roads with trepidation. The Tigers continue to train new, ever younger cadres and say that even with weapons deliveries interdicted, they can hold out for five years more with the material that they currently have hidden. The Indians have been unable to protect informers or stop the Tigers from mounting boycotts, general strikes and shut-downs of important administrative services.

Most important, the same pattern of terror from previous years continues under the Indians’ very noses. Armed bands of Tamils, Sinhalese and Moslems still massacre civilians of other groups. Sri Lankan police have broken out of their barracks to retaliate against Tamil civilians. In other cases, the Tigers have rampaged through Sinhalese settlements with impunity, intimidating government-funded colonizers. The Indian presence has made it worse for the Moslems, an important community in the Eastern Province’s war of demographics. The rise of Islamic militias has been the result, with indications of Iranian and Libyan financial support, poisoning the ethnic brew even further.

Support for the Tigers among the Tamils had been waning until the harshness of the Indian occupation. Indian commanders talk of winning hearts and minds, but detentions of suspected militants and sympathizers are arbitrary, beatings are standard and the ethnic and caste complexion of the soldiers clashes with that of the population, leading to tension. The officer corps may be Sandhurst material, but the largely illiterate rank and file have treated civilians badly and are undisciplined. The simple presence of so many gun bearers who can’t speak their language has the population on the edge of nervous breakdown and wishing, ironically, for the return of Sri Lankan troops, who had a harrowing record of human rights offenses.

The upshot is that despite their war-weariness and the hardship brought about by the Tigers’ rejection of the peace accord, a majority of the Tamil population supports the guerrillas. And without the backing of the civilians, the Indians can do very little. The chemistry is by no means unalloyed. Tamils may fear the Tigers’ authoritarianism and question their lower-caste background and their political inexperience, yet they are recognized as a historically necessary force asserting long-denied rights for national identity and liberation. Besides, there is simply no alternative moderate group.

In fact, the Indians may also feel that the Tigers are the only legitimate force; there are many indications that the military drive against them is more of a bid to discipline than to liquidate. The Indians have seemed reluctant to go for the Tigers’ jugular: For example, reporters seeking interviews have sometimes had to wait for the militants to finish cricket games within half a mile of major Indian Army encampments, the Tigers keeping their AK-47s at the ready in bat bags. Such apparent laxity signals a fundamental contradiction in Indian policy, for as much as the Indians need to neutralize the Tigers militarily, they also need to preserve them politically, a balancing act requiring great delicacy and organization, which often elude them. For the accord to work, the Indians need some kind of gurantee of compliance from the increasingly disgruntled Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists in the south, which will be hard to secure without the prospect of a reactivated Tiger threat as leverage.

Gandhi’s underestimation of resentment in the south and the effect that has on Jayewardene’s ability to hold up his end of the bargain may prove the real undoing of the peace accord. The southern heartland, which prides itself as the land Buddha chose to preserve his doctrine of nonviolence and compassion, has become almost ungovernable under the emotional strains of the Indian intervention. Instead of seeing the accord as an opportunity to build bridges of trust between two warring communities, Sinhalese generally see the Indian presence on their soil as a violation of national sovereignty as well as threat to the existence of Buddhism, which they claim to practice in its most pristine form and to protect as part of their mythic charter. The Indian presence has been popularly depicted as a reincarnation of invasions from southern India that wiped out Sinhalese kingdoms centuries ago. Most of the Buddhist majority saw President Jayewardene’s acceptance of India’s ‘help’ – Gandhi would have invaded otherwise – not as a shrewd calculation of geopolitical realities but as a selling out of national interests.

Broad popular resentment of the accord sparked other latent sources of disaffection against the ruling United National Party (UNP) of J.R. (as the President is popularly known). Its Western-style economic policies, which have greatly widened the gap between rich and poor and led to official corruption on a vast scale, were attacked by the Sinhalese populace as inimical to Buddhist values. Also attacked were the regime’s increasingly antidemocratic tendencies: the denial of elections for the past ten years, manipulation of parliamentary procedure and the official sanction given to political thuggery. The signing of the peace accord without popular ratification was taken as the final step in J.R.’s subversion of the democratic traditions that have been cherished since independence, even if observed more in form than in substance. The widespread feeling was that the old fox J.R. had tricked the young Mr. Gandhi into bailing him out in the north so he could better defend himself in the south, where his base of support had crumbled and a rebellion was only a matter of time.

A banned ultra-nationalistic political party called the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) has capitalized on the wave of discontent, focusing anger against the Indo-Lankan Peace Accord. Since September it has conducted a campaign of political killings and subversion that has taken the lives of almost 300 ruling party officials, nearly brought the simple exercise of civil administration to a collapse and fed worry that the Sinhalese will repudiate their obligations toward India and the Tamils. In areas where the JVP is strongest, police are reluctant to leave their stations after dark, and the public cowers behind shuttered doors. Where Buddha supposedly saw a flourishing dharma, the people see assassinations and assault. Most members of Parliament belonging to the UNP are under threat of death and shun their home districts for the security of the capital. Provincial Council elections, which are crucial to the momentum of the peace process, were called off in over half the country due to the threat of violence. Politically moderate intellectuals who have backed the peace accord have been branded traitors to the motherland by the JVP. It is also likely that the JVP has infiltrated cadres into the armed forces, raising the specter of unreliability and coup.

The JVP taps into latent Sinhalese feelings of their special destiny, advancing a program that blends masochistic nationalism, apocalyptic rhetoric and the same chauvinistic cultural revivalism that also polarized Sinhalese-Tamil relations in the 1950s. Highly xenophobic, racist and romantic, the JVP calls for a return to ‘indigenous’ thought, values and economic development that predate European colonialism and contemporary Western influence.

The JVP thrives in the economically depressed far south of the island. Most of its members – their numbers still unknown – are lower-caste youths in the universities or jobless graduates with few prospects in an economy still skewed to favor high-caste English-speakers, despite decades of lip service by successive governments to the ‘son of the soil’. There are also widening ranks of militant Buddhist monks in the party, who see their clerical role in political rather than spiritual terms and have defied superiors by calling for armed resistance in a Buddhist holy war. ‘We must weaponize,’ ranted one of them, clad in a brilliant saffron cloth, as a full moon bathed the sentinel face of a nearby stone Buddha. ‘We must weaponize to kill the traitor J.R. Jayewardene.’

The armed subversion of the JVP has justified the government’s drift to authoritarianism in the name of preserving the only ‘five-star democracy’ in Asia. The ruling party has armed a private militia, at least 20,000 strong, many of them recently paroled criminals. Fifty thousand troops hitherto fighting Tamil guerrillas have been redeployed in the south to quell the insurgents and their sympathizers. And the government is operating death squads, which are targeting JVP suspects as well as legal political activists, opposition parties claim. Many innocents have been falsely accused and summarily punished in the bid to crush the JVP – the very pattern that has fed militancy in the north among Tamils over the past five years. Police have been personally indemnified against civil actions, extending a carte blanche for abuse, and international human rights groups have been blocked from investigating.

The recent announcement of an agreement between the government and the JVP to end the insurrection in return for the lifting of proscription was a promising sign – until it was discovered that the Minister of National Defense had been negotiating with hoaxers. But bringing the JVP into the mainstream means little when the mainstream itself – including many of JR’s inner circle – mistrusts the accord. Parliamentary ratification of the peace agreements, despite a UNP majority, could only be secured by strong-arm methods. Having whipped up his hardliners for years, even as he tried to negotiate a peace, JR found it very hard to contain them. Many right wingers preferred an outright Indian invasion so they could reap windfalls of international sympathy for once.

Sinhalese government bureaucrats have shown their true colors by dragging their feet on the provisions of the accord that require them to grant equal rights to the Tamils. For example, very few of the relief supplies and funds that Western donors rushed to the country have made their way from government ministries in Colombo to war-ravaged Jaffna as was intended. Priority has been given to the plight of Sinhalese refugees instead, even though Tamils in need outnumber them tenfold. The government also refuses to discontinue its West Bank-style settlement program in the crucial Eastern Province, and has erected bureaucratic barriers to the repatriation of Tamil refugees who fled to India – 100,000 of them. On a grimmer note, virtually none of the police or soldiers involved in any of the atrocities since India stepped in have been disciplined, sending ominous signals that the security of Tamils is still not a state concern.

In essence, the Indian presence has not, as intended, provided an umbrella under which Tamils and Sinhalese can seek reconciliation. Instead it has made the scheming more byzantine and covert, with both sides jockeying around India for position. Sinhalese bloody-mindedness has made matters worse. As a recently returned Sri Lankan expatriate scholar said, ‘There is simply no sense of repentance on the part of the Sinhalese, no sense that they were in the wrong for many years and are now suffering for it, no sense that they brought the very intervention they feared on themselves. The reaction is just the opposite. They say they weren’t tough enough. It’s a very spooky psychology.’ Only now coming to recognize the extent of the alienation that persists between the two communities, all that Indian diplomats can say is, ‘Nation-building takes time.’

The Indians are in a double bind. Even if they tame the Tigers, there is very little chance for lasting peace unless the Sinhalese south gives up deep-seated anxieties and accepts the legitimacy of Tamil autonomy without backsliding. Given the current mood in the south, that is unlikely to happen. Should anti-government pressure build to a more dangerous level, or should the 82 year-old President die, the situation may become uncontrollable for the peacekeepers. The very point of India’s involvement in Sri Lanka was to stabilize its own southern flank, but any direct movement of troops into the Sinhalese south could prompt a nationalistic backlash, uniting factions that are now hostile to each other. The ensuing bloodbath could further destabilize the situation and prompt a greater Indian intervention, which would be politically dangerous for Rajiv Gandhi, who already faces widespread public opposition over what many consider India’s Vietnam.

Gandhi’s Sri Lanka misadventure has emboldened his opponents. The unpopularity of the initiative among the 55 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu could hand his Congress Party an ill-affordable defeat in critical upcoming state elections. Bogged down by a few thousand guerrillas, the reputation of the Indian Army has been sullied under the watchful eyes of regional rivals Pakistan and China, as well as of armed separatists inside India. And its clumsy handling of ethnic factionalism bodes ill for India’s role in refereeing power sharing in post-Soviet Afghanistan.

The situation in Sri Lanka may in fact have grown so poisonous that a cathartic bloodletting is inevitable. Militants on both sides – backed up by significant bodies of popular opinion – embrace the idea of a nationalistic Gotterdammerung much more readily than that of compromise. The psychological breach between the two communities may be much too profound for ready reconciliation, no matter what agreements are signed and what platitudes mouthed. Even if the flames are banked for a while, the fuel will ignite again. As the Indians navigating them know only too well, the currents on both sides of Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide are vicious. Far from being the light at the end of the tunnel, India’s involvement in Sri Lanka may well prove to be just a sidestep in a steady descent into darkness.

*****

What India’s Emperor Needs

[Editorial; Economist, Aug. 6, 1988, p. 9.]

The voters of the world’s biggest and most improbable democracy have chosen to be ruled for almost all of the past 40 years by three members of a single family. On August 15th, the 41st anniversary of India’s independence, a group of Indian opposition parties is to set the formal seal on an alliance whose main aim is to turn Mr Rajiv Gandhi and his Congress Party out of office in the general election due by the end of next year. Its more important by-product may be to turn India into the sort of place where power alternates smoothly from party to party – and from person to person, not all of them Jawaharlal Nehru or his direct descendants.

Does Emperor Rajiv need a plausible democratic opposition? Some say the country has bigger things to worry about. India’s 800m people have a GNP per person of only $290, slightly lower than that of the 1.1 billion people living next door in still-totalitarian China. India’s middle class is nearly as big as the entire populations of Britain and France put together: but the number of its dirt-poor people exceeds the whole population of black Africa excluding Nigeria. By third world standards India has done well to grow its economy by 5% a year in real terms during the 1980s; but that was less than half China’s alleged rate (with almost twice its population growth) over the same years. Never since independence has India got through to the growth per head that creates great Asian successes like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Rajiv Gandhi – Nehru’s grandson, Indira’s son – shares the family weakness for certain imperial vices: in particular high-handedness, opportunism and arbitrariness. To these Mr Gandhi has added some unhappy embellishments of his own: a bored inattention to the execution of policy; a style of life, at public expense, fit for a maharajah. Yet Mr Gandhi has done some impressive things since he took over in late 1984. An early dash for economic liberalisation was stopped short, but its benefits still make themselves felt. Mr Gandhi has improved India’s dismal relations with America. His policy of helping Sri Lanka defeat its Tamil guerrillas has been courageous. At home the horrifying and dangerous carnage in Punjab seems, for now, under better control. A mixed record. Is it really so worrying?

Yes. Mr Gandhi has failed in his early promises to cleanse Indian politics of the corruption that is eating ever more deeply into public life, and to reform the ever more unrepresentative Congress Party. The prime minister remains personally untainted by corruption charges. But the sale of any and all public favours has reached a level that discredits everything the government does – crucially its on-and-off efforts to unstrap the economy. Congress itself has become a nest of vipers which is not only self-seeking but demoralised. The worst result of the political decay is that it is stopping India from taking the decisions that would let its economy make its breakthrough.

Troubling obstacles to future growth are beginning to build up. The exceptions to past liberalisation swallow the rule: India cannot scrap licenses because somebody makes a fortune selling them. Foreign debt is up (the debt-service ratio has risen sharply over the past five years, from 17% to 27%); domestic debt has grown even faster, as the budget deficit expands to above 4% of GNP. Alarmingly, much of this has been due to a huge rise in the number of government employees – from 7m in 1961 to 17.3m last year.

Prodding another miracle

There were hopes that Mr Gandhi would tackle these obstacles at his own behest. He did not, or not head on; but nothing concentrates politicians’ minds like the thought of losing office. Is the opposition alliance that has crystalised around Mr Vishwanath Pratap Singh capable of forcing Mr Gandhi and his party from office? India had one disastrous experience with opposition rule, in 1977-79. This challenge may be different, and more permanent. The opposition has learned a bit about cooperation from last time. Mr Singh – a former member of the Congress Party who served Mr Gandhi as finance then defence minister – has built his campaign on an assault on corruption. His main allies have built their state organisations on decentralisation of local political power. Mr Singh is keeping quiet about economic liberalisation – though it is encouraging that he was finance minister when Mr Gandhi’s reformist tide was running strongest.

The main point, however, is not the planks in Mr Singh’s platform: it is that India should have a believable alternative government. India has the human wherewithal – an astonishingly well-educated population with a high propensity to save and a lot of entrepreneurial verve – to ignite the greatest Asian miracle so far. For that it needs the prod of a complete democracy. Russian and Chinese communists now happily observe that everybody, socialist and capitalist, obeys the same rules of economics. What too few people are willing to admit is that everybody is also driven in the end to obey the same rules of freedom and self-expression. Since becoming independent, India has looked a democratic prodigy. Forty one years on, it is ready to be a democracy grown up.

*****

Can Singh persuade India that its emperor has no clothes?

[India Correspondent; Economist, Aug. 6, 1988, pp. 17-18.]

The unimaginable now seems possible: an India without Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister. For the first time, Mr Gandhi’s leadership is being openly questioned by members of parliament belonging to his ruling Congress Party. More ominously for him, the opposition parties are at last putting aside their differences and uniting behind a man who has the look of a potential prime minister. He is Mr Vishwanath Pratap Singh, whose fight against corruption is being propelled beyond a crusade and into a serious campaign for power. India might not be the same again.

Perhaps Mr Gandhi’s colleagues know it. Their grumbles, taken separately, should be copeable with. Some, such as his ‘inaccessibility’ and his taste for foreign trips, seem petty. Others, including his failure to hold internal party elections and to attack corruption, are deeply serious – though they are problems that Mr Gandhi inherited and which he has said, sincerely, must be dealt with. But all the criticisms, the petty and the serious, were put down in a letter of complaint signed by some 30 Congress members of parliament and sent to the prime minister last week.

The spark that set off this revolt was provided by the party’s poor showing in June’s by-elections for seven parliamentary and 11 state-assembly seats. The Congress Party won only three of the parliamentary seats and five of the others. It lost the all-important parliamentary by-election in Allahabad to Mr Singh, Mr Gandhi’s former defence minister and finance minister.

The prime minister does not obviously court popularity. No doubt this shows merit in a politician. But his lack of rapport with ordinary people is a disadvantage for a leader. In December he took a ten-day holiday in the Laccadive islands with his family and some friends. Not only were the islands, in the Indian Ocean, declared off limits to ordinary visitors, but an aircraft carrier of the Indian navy was used to ferry guests; it stood by for the entire period. The party ate European delicacies like caviare and pate de foie gras, washed down with French wines. In a country as poor as India, this sort of behaviour does not go down well.

Mr Gandhi is not accused of being corrupt. But he leads a party in which corruption is rife. The corruption story of the year has been about the purchase by India of howitzers from the Swedish firm of Bofors. The sheer size of the Bofors kickbacks – 16% of the purchase price of $1.4 billion, some of which is assumed to have found its way into Congress Party coffers – has caused disgust throughout India.

That would not unduly disturb the ruling party if the opposition were in its usual shambles. But on July 25th the two most important opposition groups, the Janata (People’s) Party and the Jana Morcha (People’s Movement), a not-quite-party begun last year by Mr V.P. Singh, decided to merge into a single Socialist Janata Party (SJP). The merger is to be announced formally on August 15th, the day on which, 41 years ago, Britain’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, handed over power to Congress government in India.

The SJP is to become the centrepiece of a ‘national front’ that will include several powerful regional parties. Among them are the Telugu Desam, led by the filmstar-turned-politician, Mr N.T. Rama Rao, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh; the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by another former filmstar, Mr M. Karunanidhi; and the Assam Peoples’ Party, which threw Congress out of power in that state in 1985. The front also hopes to have electoral arrangements with the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and with the Communist Party (Marxist), which governs West Bengal.

Will this patchwork hold together? Skeptics in Delhi recall that a cobbled-together government formed in 1977 by the original Janata Party broke up in 28 months. The comparison may be misleading. The four national opposition parties which merged in 1977 had to do so in a matter of days because Mrs Gandhi had given them just six weeks to face the people after she lifted her state of emergency. The shotgun marriage was followed by a quick divorce.

This time the opposition leaders have been sorting out their differences for more than six months. Every likely contentious issue has been discussed, and the leaders have had time to get used to the idea that they cannot all be number one. Even if Mr Gandhi calls an early election, instead of waiting until the last legal moment (at the end of next year), the opposition will not again be caught on the hop.

The passage of time has removed another hurdle to unity, the allocation of parliamentary seats to each of the constituents of the opposition alliance. In the past ten years the battle lines have become much more sharply drawn. In all but one or two states, only one big opposition party now faces the Congress Party. The SJP’s organisers say that in more than 400 of the 546 parliamentary constituencies there is only one obvious opposition candidate.

The opposition also has a genuine political programme. One promise is to get rid of corruption, Mr. V.P. Singh’s big theme. Another is to take real democracy to the villages. Village democracy was an important part of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology. In the first decade of independence the Congress Party established a system under which directly elected village councils in turn elected two higher bodies. At the top was the direct council – which, in theory at least, oversaw all local development programmes. Under successive Congress state governments these local bodies have withered. In sharp contrast, opposition-ruled states have regularly held elections for them.

So far so good, but there are plenty of perils. One is that under India’s anti-defection law any legislator who changes his party loses his seat. Thus when the Jana Morcha, which is not yet a political party, merges formally into the SJP, those of its members who are still nominally members of the Congress Party will have to give up their seats. Mr V.P. Singh is going to have a hard time persuading some of them to stick with him through a hungry period out of office. But he had better learn: being a good persuader is part of being a successful leader, especially if you are trying to move the world’s biggest electorate.

*****

It Still Looks like No Change

[Sri Lanka Correspondent; Economist, Aug. 20, 1988, pp. 23-24.]

Whatever chances Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike has of becoming Sri Lanka’s next president have been somewhat improved by the defection to her party of Mr Ronnie de Mel. For ten years Mr de Mel was finance minister in the government of President Junius Jayewardene. He was a national asset, persuading aid donors and foreign investors to keep the cash flowing to his hard-up country. In January he fell out with Mr Jayewardene, calling his ruling United National Party undemocratic. Through a series of constitutional wriggles, the government has managed to avoid calling a parliamentary election for 11 years.

Mr de Mel announced last week that he was rejoining Mrs Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which he had deserted in the mid-1970s. He will lose his parliamentary seat under the rules brought in by the Jayewardene government, but should regain it at the general election due next August. He may not have to wait even that long. A presidential election will probably be held in December, and the parliamentary election may be brought forward to coincide with it.

Mrs Bandaranaike and Mr de Mel believe that Sri Lanka is itching for a change of government. This, though, is far from sure, particularly if Mr Jayewardene stands again as president. The constitution limits him to two terms, but it would take only some minor tinkering to let him run for a third. The smart money of business backers says he will. The old man – he is 81 – prefers to keep everyone guessing.

He would be hard to beat. The island’s whole political structure has been built around the man who helped to found the United National Party in 1946, before independence from Britain. He led it to its biggest election victory in 1977, and took on the new executive presidency with its sweeping powers a few months later.

Admittedly, Mrs Bandaranaike is no lightweight. She was the world’s first woman prime minister, leading two administrations in 1960-65 and 1970-77. A commission set up by Mr Jayewardene to inquire into alleged misdeeds of her previous administration banned her from standing in the presidential election of 1982. Though in her seventies, she remains hungry for power. How she would use the power is unclear.

In a way now grown familiar around the world, the socialist policies of her governments led to economic constriction and to shortages which swept her out of office. Her Freedom Party had another setback in July when the government held on to three out of four seats in by-elections. She had hoped for a large protest vote by Sinhalese who dislike the 50,000-strong Indian peacekeeping force brought into Sri Lanka last year to help subdue the Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the north and east of the island. The Tigers are at bay but not yet tamed. Even so, the India-Sri Lanka agreement no longer seems a handicap for the government. The parlous state of the economy, caused by five years of civil war and the consequent loss of tourist revenue and increase in defence spending, might have given the opposition an opening, but apparently did not.

This disappointment seems to have forced a rethink in the Freedom Party. It had previously been offering portfolios in a future government to the anti-agreement-with-India Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), if the Front stopped killing pro-agreement politicians. Mrs Bandaranaike may now try to make a deal with Sri Lanka’s third political force, the pro-agreement United Socialist Alliance, whose presidential nominee is Mrs Bandaranaike’s daughter, Chandrika. Daughter is unlikely to challenge mother.

At a conference of Asian historians in Colombo President confessed: ‘No one knows how the people think. I have been in politics for the past 50 years and I am no better in this respect than when I started.’ The opposition’s best hope is that the voters will suddenly turn fickle.

*****

The Press Takes a Strong Stand

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, September 23, 1988]

‘Rajiv Gandhi, come to your senses!’ chanted the crowd of some 600 angry newspaper employees who gathered in New Delhi last week. ‘Dictatorship will not work!’ The Sept. 5 protest against the prime minister and his government was a matter all sections of Indian press, for once, agreed on. Among the rank-and-file reporters and editors who marched down the city’s royal carriageway, Rajpath, were some of the biggest names in Indian journalism: octogenarian Ramnath Goenka, owner of the Indian Express chain of newspapers, respected elder editors Khushwant Singh and Nikhil Chakravartty, Magsaysay Award laureates B.G. Varghese and Arun Shourie, even M.J. Akbar, youthful pro-Gandhi editor of the Telegraph of Calcutta. They walked in 37oC heat to the lawns of the Boat Club, the capital’s traditional venue for rallies, and joined a solemn pledge: ‘Freedom of expression is an inalienable right the founders of the republic have guaranteed to us. We will protect it to the last drop of our blood.’ The next morning, newspapers and wire services went on strike and India had to do without its favourite dailies the following day.

The target of the press’s wrath was the 1988 Defamation Bill, a law proposed by PM Gandhi’s Congress (I) party as an adjunct to the country’s libel laws. The crux of the legislation is a new offence called ‘criminal imputation’ covering any suggestion made in the press falsely alleging that a person has committed a crime or anything that might amount to one. In itself, that is little more than a clarification of existing law, but what has upset all those connected with newspapers and periodicals is that anyone charged with the offence will have to produce evidence to prove that the imputations are true and that they were made for the public good. ‘While murderers, rapists and kidnappers are presumed innocent until found guilty, the press will be henceforth presumed guilty until found innocent,’ complains H.K. Dua, editor of The Hindustan Times and general secretary of the Editors’ Guild of India.

Although the bill concerns a non-partisan issue, it caused a storm when it was introduced into the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, on Aug. 29. Minister of State for Home Affairs Palaniappan Chidambaram and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Shiela Dixit refused to agree to an opposition request for a day’s postponement to allow time to study it. After two opposition walkouts and nine hours of debate, the controversial measure went through. The haste of that first step towards making the bill law only added to the ire of the newspaper people.

According to Asiaweek’s sources, the matter has its origins in a crisis control meeting between Gandhi and some of his ministers at mid-year. The PM’s administration had been rocked by press allegations of corruption, most notably in the awarding of big contracts to Bofors, the Swedish arms company, and HDW, a West German concern that sold India submarines. Gandhi asked his cabinet colleagues to look into legislation that could curb aggressive journalism and the task was assigned to the Law Ministry, which was to report to Chidambaram. The junior minister, a Harvard law graduate, himself helped draft the bill and has been its main proponent. ‘Published matters which are per se defamatory are one thing but defaming a person by charging him with a crime is quite another and there must be a law in this country to deal with such offences,’ he told the Lok Sabha.

Many agree with him that the law should ensure that the right to free expression does not degenerate into character assassination, but there is discontent with the way Chidambaram has handled it. ‘He came on too strongly,’ a senior cabinet source who has turned against the legislation told Asiaweek. ‘It would not have blown up in this nasty manner but for his reckless flamboyance. Now he has a lot of explaining to do to the prime minister.’ Sources close to Chidambaram was unprepared for the vehemence of the reaction from the press.

The bill was due to go to the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, on Sept. 5. The day before, however, PM Gandhi told a party seminar that it would not be debated at all during the current session, which has just ended. The decision was considered so momentous that state-run television interrupted its Sunday afternoon movie to announce it. Even so, the postponement did not deter the Rajpath march, and protests have continued, joined now by lawyers and some Gandhi allies who want the bill scrapped altogether.

India’s libel laws do not have much bite and their enforcement is lamentably slow. A ten year-old case involving a Times of India editor and an art critic was only recently decided, for example, with the two journalists sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment and a fine of $12.80. There is also wide agreement, even among the press, that some publications deliberately aim to destroy reputations. But, argues the conservative Times of India in an editorial, ‘Publications known for their strident and baseless allegations have tended to lose their readership.’ What is needed, concludes the Times, is to amend present laws to ensure that cases are given a speedy trial.

*****

Detained: Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kiddu

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, September 23, 1988, p.50.]

Detained: Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kiddu, 28, a senior leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka, and fourteen fellow members; by Indian police in Madras, Tamil Nadu state, Sept. 12. Kiddu had been holding talks with the Indian government to end the fighting between the Indian peace-keeping force in Sri Lanka and Tiger guerillas. His arrest follows India’s declaration last month that it was tired of negotiating with the guerillas. Since then, Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene has signed an order merging the mainly Tamil northern and eastern provinces into one political unit, in keeping with last year’s Indo-Lanka peace accord. However, observers say the Tigers’ cooperation is essential for maintaining peace.

*****

Mixed Signals – Jayewardene decides to retire

[William E. Smith; Time, September 26, 1988, p. 8.]

Once again the politics of Sri Lanka seemed as tortuously complex as a grand master’s chess game, with the conclusion of the contest still many moves away. Last week President Junius Jayewardene, 82, astounded his countrymen by disclosing that he would retire in January, after ten years in office. With the nation torn by extremist groups purporting to represent both the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, Jayewardene also declared that elections to choose a new President would be held in December.

While many thought the aging President was getting out just in time, it was difficult to assesss the impact of his decision. On Friday the ruling United National Party (UNP) selected Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa as its candidate to succeed Jayewardene. Premadasa’s principal opponent will be former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Significantly, neither supported the peace agreement Jayewardene signed in July 1987 with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which brought an Indian peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka.

A week before, the President issued an executive order merging Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern provinces, home to most of the country’s 3 million Tamils (out of a national population of 16 million). Jayewardene then scheduled November elections for the newly merged provinces. Both steps, aimed at giving Sri Lanka’s Tamils a measure of autonomy, had been guaranteed by last year’s agreement with India. Following Jayewardene’s announcements, India declared a five-day unilateral ceasefire by its 70,000 troops in Sri Lanka. The purpose: to give militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been fighting a guerrilla war against the central government for the past five years, a chance to surrender their weapons and take part in the elections.

That seemed unlikely. But if Jayewardene’s concessions were not sweeping enough for the Tigers, they were far too generous for extremists of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP). The JVP feels that the government is caving in to Tamil demands and in effect giving them a separate state. Last August, scarcely a month after the accord with India was announced, Sinhalese terrorists nearly succeeded in killing Jayewardene in a daring grenade attack inside the parliament building. Since then, they have killed more than 300 members and supporters of the ruling party, including 23 last week, and have paralyzed the party’s activities.

The JVP is also angry about the death of Wijedasa Liyanaarachchi, an attorney who frequently defended its members. An autopsy showed that the lawyer, who died in police custody earlier this month after his arrest on unspecified charges, had sustained more than 100 internal injuries caused by a blunt weapon. The legal community, as well as the JVP, was outraged. Declared Desmond Fernando, vice president of the Sri Lankan Bar Association: ‘The government is so desperate that it will take anyone into custody and subject him to torture and possible death.’

Jayewardene’s retirement and Premadasa’s emergence as the new UNP leader will alter Sri Lanka’s political equation. Premadasa is known to have links with the Sinhalese extremists and to favor a policy of leniency toward them. Observers in Colombo interpreted Jayewardene’s decision last week to release a prominent JVP member from prison as a move to promote Premadasa’s candidacy. Inevitably, these developments will send a signal of reconciliation to the Sinhalese majority. What they will say to the Tamil minority, as well as to watchful India, is an entirely different matter. [reported by Qadri Ismail/Colombo].

*****

Battling on Many Fronts

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, September 30, 1988, p.33.]

Most people knew Wijedasa Liyanarachchi as a brilliant activist lawyer. He often took legal action against pro-government goon squads harassing villagers suspected of sympathizing with the outlawed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), a militant Marxist-cum-Sinhalese chauvinist organization. ‘Few could match Liyanarachchi’s oratory in Sinhala,’ a colleague once observed. Few also knew of his secret life as a high-ranking JVP leader who penned many of the terrorist group’s chilling pamphlets in classical Sinhala. In August, Liyanarachchi was arrested on charges of having ordered the assassination of an opposition presidential candidate. Nine days later he died in police custody, with more than 100 internal and external injuries caused by a blunt instrument.

To the JVP, Liyanarachchi is a martyr. His death has intensified the group’s grim struggle to unseat the government. In recent months the insurgents have gunned down hundreds of members of the ruling United National Party (UNP), mostly in the island nation’s southern and western sectors, and have now become a much bigger security problem for the government than the Tamil separatists in the northern and eastern areas. For one thing, the JVP opposes the 1987 Indo-Lanka peace accord, under which an Indian peacekeeping force (IPKF) has been stationed on the island in order to control the Tamils. The group is also against political reforms proposed to give the Tamils greater autonomy.

‘Liyanarachchi’s death was the spark needed to light an already volatile situation,’ says political analyst Sarath Gunawardene. ‘Dissent has spread rapidly, even to professionals like doctors and lawyers, who have always been a bulwark for the UNP.’ Among the more than 20,000 mourners at Liyanarachchi’s funeral were JVP second-in-command Upatissa Gamanayake and opposition leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). ‘The funeral was an SLFP rally,’ reckons Gunawardene. ‘It established the close connection the government claims the party has with the JVP.’

That same day, the JVP assassinated several UNP supporters and derailed the Colombo-Matara night train with a mine. But the most successful action by the JVP was a Sept. 12 general strike. Shops, businesses, public and private transport and even government departments nationwide closed down. ‘It seemed to indicate the majority want a change of government,’ observed a Western diplomat. To prevent strikes from paralyzing the country, the government imposed emergency regulations classifying transport, electricity and water as essential services, and empowering security forces to force open shops closed by the JVP and distribute their goods free to the public.

The turmoil overshadowed developments in the mainly Tamil northern and eastern provinces. Although the IPKF, which arrived in July 1987, was originally to have been withdrawn within two weeks, the disarming of separatists has turned into a prolonged battle. While many have surrendered, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the largest group, continues to wage war. As a highly placed government source tells it, IPKF commander Lt.-Gen. Amarajeet Singh Kalkat pressured President Junius Jayewardene to move quickly on political reforms to give the Indian peacekeepers leverage on the Tigers. Accordingly, Northern and Eastern Provinces were merged on Sept. 9, paving the way for council elections in the new political unit. Kalkat then announced a five-day ceasefire on Sept. 15, which he later extended by another five days, and called on the rebels to ‘return to the path of peace and normalization.’ But the Tigers first want their leaders released, including deputy chief Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias ‘Kiddu’, who is imprisoned in southern India.

The authorities seem to be compromising on another point to win public support. With a presidential election due by December, the UNP has nominated Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa to succeed Jayewardene, who will not run again. Premadasa is known for his anti-India and anti-accord stand. Popular among the rural poor and the urban working class, he seems the party’s best bet against Bandaranaike, who is plainly seeking JVP support in her campaign. National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, who has been ambivalent about the peace accord, is tipped to become PM if Premadasa wins. The JVP has countered by calling for a common opposition candidate dedicated to ridding Sri Lanka of ‘foreign interference.’ The JVP’s platform: scrap the peace accord, abolish the provincial councils set up under the agreement and send the IPKF home.

Continued…Part 10

The Indo-LTTE War (1987-1990)

An Anthology, Part X

Jayawardene’e Exit and Premadasa’s Entry

“Tigers are not alone in believing that one day they will get their Tamil Eelam. Some of the Indian officers fighting them believe so too. They have experienced the Tigers’ tenacity in battle and have interrogated Tiger prisoners. They reckon the guerrillas could go on figting indefinitely.” — Economist, Oct. 22, 1988

Part I of series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

When the Munich Olympics was in progress in 1972, Anantha Vikatan magazine’s cartoonist Mathan allowed his mind to romp on why members of the Indian contingent never showed up at the Gold Medal podium and came to a humorous inference. Mathan’s finding was that the sports in which Indians (as well as neighboring Sri Lankans) excel were not included in the roster of summer Olympic competitions. As, Mathan’s sarcasm-dripping cartoon is worth preservation, I reproduce it here. The three sports in which Indians are unbeatable are, (1) speech-making (top panel), (2) speedy poster-pasting (middle panel), and (3) road pit-digging (bottom panel).

Mathan cartoon 1972 on Indian Olympic sports in Anantha Vikatan

The metaphoric relevance of cartoonist Mathan’s three ‘top sports’ of Indians was distinctly visible during the Indo-LTTE war. Though the Indian Army was hardly winning its war against the LTTE [check the pragmatic caption of The Economist report of Oct.22, 1988; ‘Rajiv Gets Lost on a Tiger Hunt’], the splashy speech-making and speedy poster-pasting games of the Indian politicians, bureaucrats and flag-wavers provided an illusion that the Indian victory was around the corner. The road pit-digging game was very much in display in the turf battles among the contingents of India’s Intelligence circuit, namely RAW, the CBI, Indian military intelligence and PMO (i.e., prime minister’s office). While mentioning the PMO, another funny cartoon of India’s ace cartoonist R.K. Laxman on Rajiv Gandhi’s limping performance (his right leg bandaged with the ‘Punjab’ tag, his left arm in a neck holster tagged ‘Assam’ and sunglasses covering his blackened eye) of that period cannot be ignored in this context. Laxman had only scribbled the punch line on wily Jayewardene’s tongue: “It’s bound to work, Rajiv, when an expert like you okays it.”

R. K Laxman cartoon on 1987 Indo Lanka Accord

When October 1988 rolled in, President Jayewardene opted to ‘retire hurt’. William Burger and Ron Moreau (for the Newsweek magazine) aptly summed up Jayewardene’s political epitaph: “[I]t’s unlikely that history will be so kind to Junius R. Jayewardene. …Over the last year Jayewardene has been the focus of criticism from all quarters, and most Sri Lankans clearly believed that it was time for him to step aside.” [Oct.3, 1988]. That was the pathetic end of a Sinhalese patrician politician who preached ‘peace and justice’ but patronized deceit, thuggery and intimidation of all kinds. The Sinhalese in Southern Sri Lanka were mulling over who would win the second executive presidential election scheduled for December 19th 1988. Would it be the then UNP prime minister Premadasa (the ‘common man’s representative’ belonging to a non-Govigama caste, handpicked by President Jayewardene as his successor) or would it be the turn of SLFP’s prima donna Sirimavo Bandaranaike (the Govigama caste feudalist breed) who had suffered politically under President Jayewardene’s repressive regime? Both Premadasa and Mrs Bandaranaike actively courted the anti-Indian JVP vote on the common ground that both had opposed the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord of July 1987.

As to the Indo-LTTE war’s progress, after one year, the anonymous Economist commentator opined, “Tigers are not alone in believing that one day they will get their Tamil Eelam. Some of the Indian officers fighting them believe so too. They have experienced the Tigers’ tenacity in battle and have interrogated Tiger prisoners. They reckon the guerrillas could go on figting indefinitely.” [Oct. 22, 1988].

Listed below, for Part 10 of this anthology, are 10 items (news reports, commentaries and an editorial) that appeared in October 1988.

(1) William Burger and Ron Moreau: A National Sigh of Relief. Newsweek, Oct. 3, 1988, p. 11.

(2) Anonymous: Spiking a Bill. Asiaweek, Oct. 7, 1988, p.39.

(3) Marching Orders. Economist, Oct. 8, 1988, p. 32.

(4) Transferred: Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kiddu. Asiaweek, Oct. 21, 1988, p. 54.   

(5) Rajiv Gets Lost on a Tiger Hunt. Economist, Oct. 22, 1988, pp. 25-26.

(6) Ron Moreau: Saying ‘No’ to Peace. Newsweek, Oct. 24, 1988, pp. 17-18.

(7) Michael Serrill: Ballot Box War: Ethnic rivalries heat up. Time, Oct. 24, 1988, p. 14.

(8) Manik de Silva: The Militant Factor. Far Eastern Economic Review, Oct. 27, 1988,

p. 30.

(9) Rule of the Jungle (Editorial). Asiaweek, Oct. 28, 1988, pp. 18-19.

(10) Anonymous: Gearing for a Showdown. Asiaweek, Oct. 28, 1988, pp. 31-34.

A National Sigh of Relief

[William Burger and Ron Moreau; Newsweek, Oct. 3, 1988, p. 11]

To some of his countrymen he remains ‘The Colossus of Sri Lanka,’ but it’s unlikely that history will be so kind to Junius R. Jayewardene. When the Sri Lankan president announced this month on the eve of his 82nd birthday that he would not stand for a third term, the tide of public opinion was already turning against him. Over the last year Jayewardene has been the focus of criticism from all quarters, and most Sri Lankans clearly believed that it was time for him to step aside. ‘You could almost feel the country give a collective sigh of relief,’ a Western diplomat in Colombo noted afterward. ‘It’s certain to relieve tensions.’

It’s not difficult to see why. Under Jayewardene’s rule Sri Lanka collapsed into ethnic warfare between the dominant Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities. Since 1983, when the Tamils began their push for a separate state, more than 8,000 Sri Lankans have been killed. Jayewardene not only refused to negotiate seriously with Tamil extremists, but he seemed unwilling to accept the reality of their revolution. ‘He should have moved quicker, further and more forcefully to address Tamil concerns before it was too late,’ says a Western diplomat in Colombo.

In the end, Jayewardene was undone by the very act he had hoped would be his greatest achievement: the 1987 accord with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that was supposed to bring peace to Sri Lanka. To the president’s dismay, most Sinhalese viewed the treaty as a sellout of Sri Lankan sovereignty to two enemies: the Indians, who dispatched a large peace-keeping force to the island, and the Tamils, who were scheduled to be given limited self-rule over the merged Northern and Eastern provinces. India’s 60,000-man peacekeeping force was unable to neutralize the fanatic Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has pressed on with its campaign of terror. Meanwhile, in the south, the militant Sinhalese People’s Liberation Front, which bitterly opposes the pact, has assassinated nearly 500 government officials, policemen and members of the president’s United National Party (UNP) since the agreement was signed.

No elections: In retrospect, the accord’s failure seems very much in keeping with Jayewardene’s political record. He is a man whose good intentions have all too often fallen prey to his own political shortsightedness. It was he who unwittingly touched off bloody anti-Tamil riots in July 1983 by staging a state funeral for 13 Sri Lankan soldiers who had been slain by the LTTE. In the aftermath more than 1,000 Tamils were slain by Sinhalese mobs. Jayewardene, who professed a strong belief in democracy, was at the same time prone to fits of authoritarianism. In 1978, less than one year after being elected prime minister, he pushed through a constitutional change making him president with increased powers. In 1982, after his re-election as president for another six years, he engineered a referendum that extended the life of Parliament, with the result that Sri Lanka had no parliamentary elections for a decade.

In spite of his growing unpopularity, however, Jayewardene has thoroughly dominated the political scene, and his departure is sure to transform it. On the day of Jayewardene’s announcement, the UNP chose Ranasinghe Premadasa as its presidential candidate for the elections now set for December. Though he was Jayewardene’s choice, Premadasa, an ultranationalistic Sinhalese, was so deeply opposed to the Sri Lankan-Indian accord that the final cabinet decision to sign the treaty was taken while he was on a trip to Japan. When he returned, he boycotted the signing ceremonies in Colombo. Premadasa’s chief opponent will almost certainly be Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the country’s prime minister from 1960 to 1965 and again from 1970 to 1977, who, if anything, is even more outspoken in her opposition to the treaty. At best, Premadasa will give the treaty only lukewarm support. At worst, Bandaranaike will campaign against it.

Still, given the geopolitical realities – India’s military strength, its 60,000 troops in Sri Lanka – it is doubtful that a new Sri Lankan president can totally repudiate the accord. Having allowed the Indians to occupy one quarter of the country, Colombo cannot simply evict them. ‘It’s unlikely the new president would take a confrontational attitude toward India,’ says Neelan Tiruchelvam, a moderate Tamil attorney in Colombo. ‘The new president will probably view the accord as an unhappy legacy.’ And the blame will be placed, fairly or not, on Junius Jayewardene.

*****

Spiking a Bill

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, October 7, 1988, p. 39]

In late August India’s Lower House of Parliament passed the 1988 Defamation Bill, a law proposed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress (I) party as an adjunct to the country’s libel laws. The crux of the legislation was a new offence called ‘criminal imputation’, which covered any suggestion made in the press falsely alleging that a person had committed a crime or anything that might amount to one. Although the bill was little more than a clarification of existing law, it ran into a storm of protests nationwide from journalists, lawyers and opposition politicians. Reason: anyone charged with the offence had to produce evidence to prove the imputations were true and for the public good. Many Indians also reckoned the legislation was an attempt to make the media think twice before making allegations of corruption in the administration, reports of which have been widespread in recent months. At any rate, surprised at the sharp reaction, the government called for public opinion on the issue. ‘The press must come and convince me,’ insisted Gandhi.

The press did just that. After three weeks of strikes and rallies, the government withdrew the bill from Parliament’s Upper House, where it was next to be debated. Many saw the move as a political setback for Gandhi. Said Harkishan Singh Surjeet of the Communist Party of India (Marxist): ‘This is a great victory for the people.’ Still, the administration scored some points as well. The withdrawal of the bill, said Congress (I) general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad, ‘is the most democratic act of the present government.’ Added Calcutta’s Telegraph newspaper in an editorial: ‘Rajiv Gandhi has shown real courage by accepting a mistake.’

The topic is far from dead, however. ‘While the bill stands withdrawn, the issue of defamation remains,’ noted Gandhi. The embattled PM called for a national debate on the subject. Said he: ‘The freedom and rights of the individual are equally sacred. It is for this reason that the issue of defamation is a serious issue.’ The Hindustan Times agreed. Said the independent newspaper in a front-page editorial: ‘The withdrawal of the bill has placed on the press an enormous responsibility for self-examination and finding ways how it should examine the conduct of public men without offending their rights as citizens.’

*****

Marching Orders

[Anonymous; Economist, October 8, 1988, p. 32]

If Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike is elected president of Sri Lanka on December 19th, the Indian soldiers brought in to bring peace to the island are likely to be asked to leave. Her son, Mr Anura Bandaranaike, leader of the opposition in parliament, said during a private visit to London this week that most Sri Lankans are fed up with the Indians. In his view the Sri Lankan army is fully capable of dealing with the Tamil Tiger guerrillas who continue to fight for a separate Tamil state in the north-east of the island.

The Indians arrived in Sri Lanka after the two countries has signed an agreement in July 1987 designed to end Sri Lanka’s civil war. Sri Lanka agreed to give limited autonomy to the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the Tamils predominate. The Indian troops, said to number around 50,000, were to be a peacekeeping force that would disarm the guerrillas and generally see that the Tamils and the majority Sinhalese stopped killing each other in the north-east. None of this has fully happened. When the Tigers refused to surrender, or to abandon their campaign for a separate state, the Indians took them on, killing or capturing at least 200 of their best fighters. Despite this, the Tigers battle on.

Worse, violence has spread to the south of the country, where a Sinhalese guerrilla group, the People’s Liberation Front, has been killing government officials. It claims that last year’s agreement was a sell-out to India, which, it says, wants to run Sri Lanka. During the past year Front gunmen have killed more than 450 people, ten of them this week.

Mr Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party opposes the agreement. It proposes a tougher line with the Tamil separatists than has been taken by the government of President Junius Jayewardene. Mr Bandaranaike claims that Sri Lanka’s own soldiers were doing all right before the Indians came in last year. He condemns the Front’s violence but believes it may end once the Indians go. He is convinced that ‘Indians Out’ is a vote-winner that will sweep his mother into the presidency, ending 11 years of rule by Mr Jayewardene’s United Naitonal Party.

Mrs Bandaranaike, who is 72, was prime minister of Sri Lanka for two terms in the 1960s and 1970s, when her socialist-minded government ran a closed economy. According to her son, she plans to retain the present market economy (which, because of defence costs and lost tourist money, is in poor shape), although economics is not likely to be the main election issue.

One complication for the Sri Lankan voter is that the United National Party candidate for the presidency, Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, is also opposed to the agreement with India, even though he is prime minister in President Jayewardene’s government. Puzzling. Unless, as some people believe, the astute Mr Jayewardene intends to go on controlling party policy during his retirement, which was unexpected. It is a cynical view, on a par with the widely held belief that the Indians will find reasons to stay permanently on the island. There is a lot of cynicism in Sri Lanka at the moment.

*****

Transferred

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, October 21, 1988, p. 54]

TRANSFERRED: Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kiddu, 28, a senior leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka; to the custody of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka; from detention in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu Oct.9. The Indian government declared it was tired of negotiating with the Tigers and arrested Kiddu and several Madras-based militants on Sept. 12. Kiddu threatened to begin a hunger strike if the prisoners were not freed or tried in court. He was supported by Indian oppositionists, who threatened to launch state-wide demonstrations. Kiddu and 156 fellow detainees were taken by military plane to an airbase under Indian control in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka.

*****

Rajiv Gets Lost on a Tiger Hunt

[Anonymous; Economist, October 22, 1988, pp. 25-26]

Trying to be the kindly friend who would help to end Sri Lanka’s civil war has brought India little but pain. More than 500 of its 50,000 soldiers who came in to keep the peace have been killed, almost all of them by the Tamil Tiger guerrillas, who want a separate state in Sri Lanka. Three times that number have been wounded. The operation has cost a lot of rupees. The International Institute of Strategic Studies said in London this week that India will have to cut some of its planned defence programmes because of the cost of the Sri Lanka adventure. And there is the incalculable damage to the army’s pride from its failure, despite more than a year of effort and a vast superiority of arms, to subdue the Tigers.

Still, India seems determined to press on with the principal undertaking promised in the accord it signed with Sri Lanka in July last year. This is the merger of Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern provinces, where most of the Tamils live, and the setting up of an elected council to run the merged province. On the face of it, this seems benign enough. The council will be able to levy local taxes, administer the police and run the services expected of any local authority.

The new, merged province is designed to make the Tamils, a minority in Sri Lanka, feel that they have some control over their affairs. But the north-east is where the Tigers want to establish an independent state called Tamil Eelam; they will settle for nothing less. They have said that anyone standing for the council will be killed as a traitor.

The Indians were not having this. On October 10th, the last day for handing in nominations, they gave lifts by helicopter to candidates brave enough to go to the registration offices. In the Northern Province there was one candidate for each constituency – all of them Tamils of apparently reasonable views. On November 19th they will be declared elected. In the Eastern Province, where the Tamils do not have a majority, several Sinhalese and Muslims are running, some in contested races. Courtesy of Indian guns, the north-east will get its council.

Will the council last, even for a week or two, let alone until next year when a referendum is supposed to be held to let the Easterners say whether they want to stay merged with the North? The Indian government of Mr Rajiv Gandhi will at least be able to say that it has done what it can. Not that this will win India much sympathy from the Sri Lankans, who seem increasingly hostile to the Indian force. On October 19th around 5,000 people took to the streets of Colombo and other towns calling for the end to the Indian ‘invasion’.

The two candidates in the presidential election on December 19th think these are not just malcontent views. Both Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, who is standing for the ruling United National Party, and Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the opposition candidate, say they want the Indians to go home. Mrs Bandaranaike, who is saying it louder, is sure she is on to a vote-winner; she is believed already to have had informal talks with India about when its soldiers will leave. Political analysts and astrologers, who have about equal status in Sri Lanka, predict that the contest will be close, but they marginally favour Mrs Bandaranaike.

The best vote-winner would be a promise of peace, but no politician has the gall to offer that without a lot of maybes. Mrs Bandaranaike thinks she can end the violence at least in the south, where a group of Sinhalese guerrillas, the People’s Liberation Front, has been killing government officials and supporters of the accord. If the Indians go, the Front may holster its guns.

In the face of all this ingratitude, the Indians may wonder whether they were wise to go into Sri Lanka at all. They had, naively it seems, not expected that they would have to fight the Tigers. India’s soldiers were told they were there to accept the arms which the Tigers were willing to lay down – but were unwilling to hand over to the Sri Lankan army, whose soldiers are mainly Sinhalese. Instead, since last October, the Tigers and the Indians have been killing each other.

One theory about what went wrong is that the Tigers never agreed to abandon their demand for a separate state, as other Tamil groups did. In the rushed negotiations that preceded the accord, their agreement was assumed rather than specifically obtained. An alternative theory is that the Tigers’ leader, Mr Vellupillai Prabhakaran, at first thought the accord was worth going along with, but later changed his mind.

Some people close to Mr Prabhakaran say he has lived in the jungle, and been a killer, for so long that he would be unable to adjust to normal society. In any event, he has been responsible for the deaths of so many rivals that, sooner or later, he would himself be murdered in revenge. This being so, he may as well stick with the only calling he is fitted for, that of guerrilla.

The Tigers have lost some 350 men since fighting resumed in earnest last October, and now have around 2,000 in the field. Their strength as a terrorist force is their total heartlessness. On October 10th, as candidates in the council election nervously deposited their nominations, Tigers massacred 45 villagers for no other reason than that they were Sinhalese. This week they killed six more civilians for being ‘informers’. Three of them were young children.

These sound like acts of desperation. Yet the Tigers are not alone in believing that one day they will get their Tamil Eelam. Some of the Indian officers fighting them believe so too. They have experienced the Tigers’ tenacity in battle and have interrogated Tiger prisoners. They reckon the guerrillas could go on figting indefinitely.

Even those who do not accept that bleak view now suspect that the Tigers cannot simply be wiped out, as it was once thought they could be. If the Indians cannot do it, the Sri Lankan army, which is half the size of the Indian force in Sri Lanka, seems unlikely to. The one piece of hopeful news to come from the north-east recently is that the Tigers are trying to conscript Tamil youths because volunteers are no longer coming forward. The loss of popular support for the Tigers among the Tamils may prove, in the end, to have been the real accomplishment of the Indian occupation.

*****

Saying ‘No’ to Peace

[Ron Moreau; Newsweek, October 24, 1988, pp. 17-18.]

Darkness had set in on the Sinhalese village of Poonewea when the Tamil guerrillas arrived. There were about 80 of them, and with brutal precision they roused the sleeping villagers, dragged them from their huts and systematically stabbed and hacked to death 45 of them, including 11 women and 18 children. The massacre at Poonewea, 150 miles northeast of Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo, was the worst in 12 months of continued ethnic strife across the island. It was surely carried out by ‘Tiger’ gunmen belonging to the Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The message they were delivering to Colombo, to New Delhi and to the 60,000 Indian Army peacekeepers in Sri Lanka was unmistakable: the LTTE will go to any means to derail the 14 month-old Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord.

To that end, the Tigers are setting out to disrupt the provincial elections scheduled for late next month. The Poonewea slaughter came on the eve of the final day that candidates could register to run for the provincial council that is to preside over Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces, which are to be merged under the terms of the accord into a semiautonomous Tamil enclave. The LTTE opposes the merger because it falls short of its goal of a totally independent Tamil homeland. So far the Tigers’ campaign of terror has worked: with most moderate Tamil politicians refusing to run for office, more than half of the council’s seats, mostly in the north, are uncontested and will be filled with candidates chosen by Tamil groups armed and sponsored by the Indians.

Ethnic Warfare: As if the Tigers aren’t enough of a threat to the pact signed last year by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene, electoral politics in both countries are also jeopardizing the agreement. In the face of continued ethnic warfare at home and charges that he has ‘ceded’ the northern and eastern provinces to the Indian Army, the 82 year-old Jayewardene decided only last month not to run for a third term this December. His party, the United National Party (UNP), has nominated Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa as its candidate. Premadasa, a Sinhalese nationalist, has already hinted that his first act as president would be to ‘renegotiate’ the accord. His certain opponent, former Prime Minister Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, has gone even further. She flatly threatens to abrogate the pact if elected and has said that she will call for the immediate withdrawal of Indian troops, which would leave the door open for the Tigers to re-establish their political and military dominance on the predominantly Tamil Jaffna Peninsula. In either case, the treaty seems certain to be weakened.

The accord is increasingly unpopular in India as well. New Delhi had hoped that it could quickly tame the Tigers, hold the provincial-council elections to satisfy moderate Tamil demands for autonomy and then graciously withdraw its forces. It has not gone according to plan. Since last October more than 1,000 Tamil guerrillas and nearly 600 Indian soldiers have been killed in the fighting. Last week New Delhi was forced to release a senior LTTE leader, who goes by the name Kittu, when he threatened to stage a hunger strike until death unless freed from a Madras jail. The Indians had hoped to convince the former LTTE commander, to help win Tiger support for the accord. But Kittu refused to deal, and when he began fasting New Delhi released him before he could achieve any sort of martyrdom. Though India tried to portray the release as a ‘goodwill gesture’, in truth there was nothing to be gained – and much to be lost – by keeping him.

‘Unwelcome guest’: New Delhi’s biggest worry is that the peace accord may become a huge political liability for Rajiv Gandhi. In Tamil Nadu, home to 60 million ethnic Tamils generally sympathetic to the Tamil movement in Sri Lanka, the DMK opposition party, which opposes India’s involvement across the Palk Strait, is favored to win state elections in Tamil Nadu scheduled for early next year. Some Indians have even begun referring to the military operation as ‘India’s Afghanistan’. As a result, there seems to be growing support for a pullout. Last week, the Statesman, one of India’s most prominent dailies, wrote, ‘The time may not be inopportune for Rajiv Gandhi to admit that the accord has outlived its utility and that by persisting as an unwelcome guest in a sovereign country he is merely sacrificing lives of Indian soldiers for no apparent advantage.’

Bombs and assassinations: Nowhere is the treaty and the Indian military presence more unwelcome than in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese south. Ever since the accord was signed, a radical Sinhalese chauvinist group, the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), has gone on an antigovernment rampage. It has assassinated more than 500 government officials, UNP workers and other treaty supporters. JVP zealots, who accuse the government of having sold Sri Lanka’s sovereignty to the Tamils and the Indians, have recently organized paralyzing strikes in Colombo and in other southern towns and set off bombs outside shops which had refused to heed the protest. Last week the Sri Lankan Army marched onto seven university campuses to quiet JVP-led student unrest, and a strict curfew has been imposed on five southern districts after the government used helicopter gunships to breakup antigovernment mobs that were attempting to overrun several police stations. At least 13 civilians were killed in the Army’s sweep. ‘The deep south bears a sinister resemblance to Jaffna of the early ‘80s,’ warns a Sri Lankan professor who has taught in both regions of Tamil and Sinhalese militancy. If that is indeed true, Sri Lankans may find that not even a change of presidents will be able to break the cycle of ethnic strife. [reported by Mervyn de Silva/Colombo, and Sudip Mazumdar/ New Delhi]

*****

Ballot Box War: Ethnic Rivalries Heat Up

[Michael Serrill; Time, October 24, 1988, p. 14.]

Ominous sounds woke Chandralatha, a 28 year-old Sri Lankan woman, one night last week in the remote jungle hamlet of Mahakongaskanda. Sensing danger, she told her husband to hide under the bed. Instead, as she later recounted from a hospital where she was recovering from bullet wounds, ‘He kept his body against the door and tried to hold it closed. They shot through the door, killing him.’ Chandralatha’s one year-old baby was also killed, and two of her other children were wounded. Altogether, 44 residents of Mahakongaskanda, including 18 children, were shot or hacked to death with machetes in the bloody attack on the Sinhalese village.

The massacre bore all the hallmarks of the guerrilla group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and came almost exactly one year after Indian troops launched their offensive to disarm the Tigers. In July 1987, 70,000 Indian soldiers arrived in Sri Lanka to help implement an Indo-Sri Lankan agreement that gives the minority Tamils a greater measure of autonomy. But militants on opposite sides of the bloody Sri Lankan conflict united in rejecting the agreement.

Although the pact would grant the Tamils some self-rule by combining Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces, where they are in the majority, the Tigers insist it does not go far enough. Meanwhile, Sinhalese extremists led by the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) object that the accord gives away too much. The two chief candidates campaigning to replace retiring President Junius Jayewardene, 82, in a December vote are opponents of the agreement and have avowed to send the troops home.

The violence came the day before nominations closed for Nov. 19 elections to form a provincial council in the new northeastern Tamil province. The Tigers say the council will have too little power, and have labeled those who support the election traitors ‘who will not be forgiven.’ The point was ruthlessly driven home last week, when three members of Tamil organizations taking part in the voting were shot dead, bringing the number killed this month to five.

But the Tigers reserve most of their wrath for the Indian soldiers sent to enforce the agreement. Once considered protectors of Tamil autonomy, they are now the chief target of the insurgency. Just hourse after the massacre at Mahakongaskanda, Indian soldiers ambushed a band of 40 Tigers and killed twelve. But in the past year, more than 600 Indian military men have been killed by the guerrillas. ‘People here don’t want elections,’ said a lecturer at Jaffna University. ‘Unless the Tigers are brought in [to the process] and peace restored, the poll would be meaningless. The Indians must do a deal with the Tigers, at any price.’

Meanwhile, President Jayewardene has his hands full in the south, as radicals among the Sinhalese majority continued their own agitation against the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement. Six people were killed late last week, including a policeman whose severed head was displayed in public. Antigovernment demonstrations have flared and spread as weven schoolchildren took to the streets in protest. Anti-riot police killed three students before the government closed down all schools indefinitely. On Monday, the JVP called for a ‘day of resistance’ against the provincial election they claim would elad to the partition of Sri Lanka. More in fear than in sympathy – the JVP has in the past year murdered some 450 supporters of the accord – most of the Sinhalese population cooperated, virtually shutting down their part of the country. The strike marked the second time in a month that Sinhalese rebels paralyzed Sri Lanka, reinforcing the impression that Jayewardene is losing control of a nation many fear is on the brink of anarchy. [ Reported by Qadri Ismail/Colombo and Anita Pratap/New Delhi]

*****

The Militant Factor

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, October 27, 1988, p. 30.]

Presidential hopeful Sirima Bandaranaike, whose party is often accused of consorting with Sinhalese subversives believed to be behind the current wave of violence in the south, fears the government may use the political killings as an excuse to postpone December’s presidential election. She has warned that if it does so, the opposition will take to the streets in a massive show of protest.

Apart from the strikes and murders in the south, generally ascribed to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), nearly 10,000 schools gripped by student agitation have been closed and most of the universities, which were opened for classes for a short while, have closed again. The Inter-University Students’ Federation supports Bandaranaike, a former prime minister who heads the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), for the presidency.

Violence is also still widespread in the Tamil-dominated north where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the dominant Tamil separatist group, is determined to wreck the 19 November provincial council election for the newly merged North-East Province. The LTTE and the best established of the Tamil political parties, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), will not contest the elections, the TULF saying the LTTE has made it impossible for a non-violent group like itself to contest. The LTTE has threatened reprisals against government officials who help run the elections and there is little doubt that voters will be scared off from going to the polls.

In the campaign for the presidential election, both Bandaranaike and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, the ruling United National Party’s (UNP) candidate, have found common ground on the presence of the 50,000 – strong Indian Peace Keeping Force which was called into the north and east in July 1987 to quell the Tamil guerrillas. Both are committed to the withdrawal of the Indians. Bandaranaike wants the controversial accord that brought them in to be scrapped while Premadasa wants it replaced with a treaty of friendship and cooperation.

Premadasa believes that one of his best assets in the current campaign is that he has the common touch: he does not come from the landowning or professional elites from which Sri Lanka has traditionally chosen its leaders. In his 10 years as prime minister he has cultivated various interest groups among the clergy, artists and sportsmen, and through a massive public housing programme has kept a high public profile.

But the UNP’s decade in power has also provided the opposition with handy election ammunition. The cost of living and inflation is up, and law and order has deteriorated sharply. Bandaranaike is also fond of saying that when she handed over the government to the UNP after her 1977 election defeat, Colombo ruled all the island, yet now India was running the north and east and lawlessness in the south was rife.

The government has often accused the SLFP of consorting with the JVP to topple the government – the SLFP has offered the JVP three ministries in the government it hope to form. But though the SLFP claims that the JVP is among eight opposition parties backing Bandaranaike, the JVP itself, which has been underground since 1983, has not publicly said where it stands.

Both candidates realize that JVP support can be helpful. Premadasa and Bandaranaike have said there is no proof that the JVP is behind the current violence and indeed an organization calling itself the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (DJV, or Patriotic People’s Organisation) has generally been shown to be responsible. But the DJV is generally believed to be the JVP acting under another name. Premadasa, who released a number of JVP detainees in a conciliatory gesture several weeks ago, appears to now believe that he made a tactical mistake. The current thinking in the UNP is that many voters distrust the SLFP’s links with the JVP and this could work to the UNP’s advantage.

Premadasa is also pushing ahead with a poverty-alleviation programme under which he is pledged to give Rs. 2,500 (US$ 76) a month over two years to 1.4 million families now on food stamps. About half this sum is expected to be set aside as savings to amass Rs 25,000 per family at the end of that period. Premadasa believes families will be able to use this as capital to help themselves.

When former finance minister Ronnie de Mel, who quit the UNP to join the SLFP earlier this year after 10 years with the government, wondered where the money would come from, Premadasa said: ‘ I would like to ask our former finance minister how he got Rs. 50 billion which was spent on defence since 1983. If that money had been made available to tackle poverty, we could have given Rs 25,000 not only to the food stamp families but [to] a greater number.’

There is still no indication whether the United Socialist Alliance (USA), a grouping of the old Left parties, and the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP), which broke away from the SLFP, will field a candidate for the presidential election. Bandaranaike’s younger daughter, Chandrika, who heads the SLMP, will not contest and is unlikely to figure in the campaign as she has lived in England since February when her politician-filmstar husband Vijaya Kumaranatunge of the USA was assassinated.

The UNP is ensuring the support of the ‘Indian Tamils’, who are stateless people of recent Indian decent. It plans legislation which will confer citizenship on several thousand of them. How the indigenous ‘Jaffna’ Tamils, who have lived in the north and east for hundreds of years, will vote is an open question. While neither candidate can expect their support en bloc, the minorities may well tilt the scales in a situation where the majority Sinhalese vote is more or less divided.

*****

Rule of the Jungle

[Anonymous Editorial; Asiaweek, October 28, 1988, pp. 18-19.]

It’s election time in Sri Lanka. Break out the bunting and balloons. Come fill the cups and raise a toast to freedom, the exercise of the people’s voice and choice. On second thought, leave the cups and balloons where they are, for whatever the island chooses in weeks ahead seems bound to leave them and much else in Sri Lanka’s fragile civilization irreparably smashed. In the first presidential contest since ethnic strife erupted into a raging blood-feud five years ago, Sri Lanka’s two major candidates are both pandering to the logic of the mob and the constituency of the gun. Both oppose the fifteen month-old pact with New Delhi under which Indian peacekeeping troops have trespassed on the sanctity of their blessed isle. Each seems to be in thrall to a chauvinist underground ‘student’ gang that proposes to create a desert and call it peace. Meanwhile, the Indian Army is stumbling around the combat zone of the Tamil northeast like Keystone Kops, shooting the purpose of their mission in the foot and alienating the very people who could preserve the nation. This is democracy-plus: ballots and bullets.

In the grand tradition of Sri Lankan politics, of course, the two presidential candidates are only doing what comes naturally: beating the drum for Sinhalese supremacy, and damn the consequences. So why should there be an election at all? President Jayewardene, who has prolonged his parliament under special authority, has ample grounds to consider the circumstances surrounding his own office an even greater emergency. But Mr. Jayewardene, just turned 82, has had to face the harder truth. He was able to negotiate his deal last year with the Indian prime minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, on the strength of his remaining above politics. If it seemed that he was citing this accord now as an excuse for staying in power, all support for it is likely to vanish. So he is retiring and hoping that his peace plan will survive the crucible of a vote to replace him.

On its face, the wisdom is unassailable. No peace, even such as it is, can endure if public opinion isn’t behind it. The trouble, however, is that ‘public opinion’ is hardly a philosopher’s touchstone in Sri Lanka. It has been shaped and crippled by a climate of fear-mongering that has never given the merits of tolerance and power-sharing a chance. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the rabble-rousing former prime minister, refused all attempts to form an all-party consensus on answering Tamil grievances right up to the point of Mr. Jayewardene’s desperate remedy, which she promptly labeled a ‘sell-out’. Though she is a bit less militant towards India’s middleman role now, Mrs. Bandaranaike still sounds as though Tamils would get a meaningful form of provincial autonomy only over her dead body. At least everyone knew what to expect from her, however. More astonishing has been the campaign of erosion within Mr. Jayewardene’s party by his own long-serving prime minister, Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, now the party’s presidential nominee. Opposed to the deal from its outset, Mr Premadasa is campaigning on behalf of a complete withdrawal of the Indian troops – which, given their record, they may be only too happy to do.

When the Indian forces swarmed ashore in Jaffna last year, their brief was to disarm the Tamil Tigers and other separatist guerillas in preparation for a devolution of power to the Tamil-heavy Northern and Eastern provinces. Mr Gandhi apparently thought that all he needed to do was collect a few guns, watch over a couple of polls, and then the jawans could come marching home. He didn’t reckon on one thing: the Tigers never had any intention of surrendering their weapons or goals. Though India had long championed the guerillas, the IOUs Mr Gandhi undertook to call in were simply torn up. Even though the Indians mounted an all-out siege of Jaffna, the Tigers only melted into the countryside, regrouped and carried on their arms smuggling and terrorism with impunity.

The ‘peacekeepers’ then turned pragmatic. Rather than ship home their own boys in body bags, they began to use rival Tamil guerillas as proxies, arming them and licensing their habit of ‘taxing’ travelers and raiding homesteaders. Ordinary Tamils now feel abused and betrayed by the saviours from across the water. And with machine-gunning badmashes still running wild, hurry-up provincial council elections are doomed to failure. No moderate wants to contest a poll whose likely outcome is death.

Such has been what Mr. Gandhi has wrought in struggling to avoid ‘India’s Vietnam’ – a spectacle in which New Delhi has serially played the roles of Hanoi and Washington. India wanted to get involved, of course, to advertise South Asia as its sphere of influence. It may think again in future. Now that the troops are there, though, it would be fatal to withdraw them precipitately. Colombo’s forces have their hands full in the south trying to fend off Sinhalese terrorists who oppose giving the island’s most decent Tamils anything suggestive of a fair shake. The Sri Lankan armed forces were never any model outfit in the first place, and they can scarcely fight two wars at once – especially since the Tigers are not going to be declawed until their own people, average Tamils, get the sympathy and support needed to stand up to them.

What a thing it would be if Sinhalese politicians gave such people that. Instead, the mutiny within Mr Jayewardene’s own party, Colombo’s winking at the Indian Army’s proxy game, the presidential candidates’ vying to be endorsed by jingoistic Sinhalese bomb-throwers – all these high-minded tactics condemn them to further bloodshed and unconscionable waste. India hasn’t won any stars in its bid to become the subcontinent’s exclusive policeman. But democracy as usual in Sri Lanka isn’t much to celebrate, either. Mr Premadasa and Mrs Bandaranaike could help save this tragedy overnight by showing people that heroism does not come out of the barrel of a gun.

*****

Gearing for a Showdown

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, October 28, 1988, pp. 31-34.]

Early on Saturday, Oct. 1, soldiers patrolling in Central Colombo spotted a group of youngsters putting up a poster on a wall. Handwritten in bold letters across the bright red bill were the questions: ‘Who is He? What is He Doing?’ The cryptic message seemed inoffensive enough but the troops nonetheless swooped on the bunch. Reason: the scarlet sheets looked like the handiwork of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a militant Sinhalese group which in recent months has wreaked terror among supporters of the ruling United National Party (UNP). The arrested youths, however, insisted they were not JVP men but had been recruited by Sirisena Cooray, the mayor of Colombo. The posters, they added, were meant to kick off the election campaign of a star presidential candidate – Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. A telephone call to the mayoral offices confirmed the story.

But why had the premier permitted Cooray to design an election poster similar to the JVP’s? ‘Is he trying to get mass support through a campaign that’s tailored to look like a JVP one, with JVP approval?’ wondered Sarath Gunawardene, a Colombo political analyst. Indeed, the incident of the posters highlighted an unusual twist in Sri Lankan politics in the run-up to the presidential polls scheduled for mid-December. Until June 15, when the UNP government lifted a five-year ban on the party, the JVP was the target of a massive security sweep. The crackdown was ordered by President Junius Jayewardene not long after Colombo signed a July 29, 1987 accord with New Delhi granting greater autonomy to the island’s Tamil minority. The agreement also called for Indian troops to keep peace in Sri Lanka’s troubled north and east. The JVP rejected the accord as a ‘sellout’ to the Tamils and began terrorist attacks on UNP legislators. But despite violent methods, the JVP’s message soon gained wide acceptance among Sinhalese critics of the India-Sri Lanka pact. Among them: PM Premadasa.

Political parties were quick to capitalize on the JVP’s surging popularity. On Sept. 29, the pro-Sinhalese opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party announced it had joined hands with the JVP and six other groupings in the presidential battle. The front’s common candidate: SLFP chief Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, an ex-premier and opponent of the peace pact. Included among other alliance members are the Muslim Congress, the Eksath Lanka Janatha Party and, surprisingly, the Tamil Congress, which has close links with Tamil separatist guerillas and is ideologically opposed to the JVP on the ethnic issue. ‘What we have is a potentially explosive situation,’ noted a senior SLFP member. ‘Groupings such as Eksath Lanka Janatha Party and the JVP are not prepared to budge an inch from their positions vis-à-vis granting rights to Tamils.’

The coalition solemnised other marriages of convenience as well. After a bloody insurrection in 1971, the JVP was virtually wiped out by the United Front coalition government, then headed by Bandaranaike’s SLFP. The group was banned and its fiery leader, Rohana Wijeweera, sentenced to life imprisonment. Bandaranaike’s son and lieutenant, Anura, recently declared that the greatest achievement of the eight-party front was in bringing the JVP back into the political mainstream. ‘There will be no need for the JVP to continue its armed struggle if Mrs. Bandaranaike is elected president, as it would automatically become part of the government,’ he said. ‘The JVP is fully agreed with us on the two basic issues of preserving the island’s territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty while at the same time endeavouring to restore democracy in the country.’

The formation of the SLFP-led alliance stunned the Premadasa camp. ‘For some time now, the prime minister had been building up his image as a UNP cabinet minister who was soft on the JVP,’ said analyst Gunawardene. ‘It was evident he recognized how important a part the JVP could play in the presidential elections and wanted its endorsement.’ Towards that end, Premadasa maintained a conciliatory attitude to the JVP in his maiden campaign speech delivered, curiously, during a stopover last month in Hongkong en route to London. In a prepared statement, which was telexed verbatim back to Sri Lanka, the premier refused to accuse the JVP of inspiring violence in certain parts of the country. ‘I can do so only after charges, if any, have been framed against the JVP and it has been convicted by a proper court of law,’ he said. ‘Up till now, neither the JVP nor its leaders have accepted responsibility for any violence or crimes.’

Premadasa also hit out at the accord and the continuing presence of Indian troops on Sri Lankan soil – two pet JVP gripes. The Indo-Lanka agreement had neither been reciprocal, he said, nor had its timing been ‘opportune’. He accused Indian soldiers of committing ‘certain excesses’ while fulfilling their obligations in Sri Lanka. New Delhi, which denies the charge, maintains it will pull out troops from Sri Lanka as soon as scheduled elections are held next month to create an autonomous council for a joint Northeastern Province. The merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces was a key clause in the peace pact.

The SLFP got maximum mileage out of Premadasa’s statement. ‘The UNP cannot claim we are committing murder in collusion with the JVP,’ declared Anura Bandaranaike at a Colombo election rally. ‘The prime minister has himself cleared the JVP.’ As some observers saw it, the JVP took Premadasa for a ride. ‘It was quite obvious the prime minister wanted the JVP to come to his fold. And it was also obvious that the JVP was playing along with the prime minister,’ noted a senior SLFP leader.

An alliance with the Sinhalese extremists holds potential danger for the SLFP, however. ‘One can never be sure when and where their guns will be turned against us,’ warned a partyman. In fact, just five days after the coalition was formed, copies of a JVP letter criticizing Bandaranaike were hand-delivered to newspaper offices in Colombo. The missive accused her of entering into a secret understanding with New Delhi over the 1987 accord, despite her public rejection of it. Although JVP officials later claimed that the letter pre-dated the coalition talks, they could not explain why it had been delivered at all. Sources said, however, that the letter was intended to be a slap in SLFP’s face for resisting some radical proposals made by the JVP at the alliance negotiations.

How will the formation of the SLFP-led alliance affect Premadasa’s chances? Sirimavo Bandaranaike considers the PM a weaker opponent than the incumbent, Jayewardene. ‘The UNP bloc vote, which is estimated to be around 30-35% would have voted for Mr. Jayewardene,’ she told Asiaweek. ‘But professionals such as engineers, doctors and even [members of] the top business community who constitute a majority of the UNP vote do not consider Mr Premadasa to be the ideal UNP candidate. His track record of leadership is sketchy and does not inspire the professionals.’ For New Delhi, it’s a toss-up as to which of the two candidates will be less hostile to the peace accord, although Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said recently that the agreement should not be threatened by a new leader moving into the presidential house in Colombo. Remarked he: ‘Realities come home quickly when one comes into the government.’

The Indians had earlier backed the candidacy of Sri Lankan Lands Minister Gamini Dissanayake, who had initiated the talks that led to the accord. But when the nominations came, Dissanayake and National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, another contender, were sidelined in favour of Premadasa. ‘No doubt it was Jayewardene who persuaded the two young Turks to toe the line and support Premadasa for their own survival,’ a senior cabinet minister told Asiaweek. ‘But it was Premadasa who convinced Jayewardene that he should be nominated over and above the two others.’ In making his choice, Jayewardene showed he gave little weigtage to such matters as caste. Premadasa does not belong to the high govigama (farmer) caste from which the UNP has traditionally drawn its leaders.

The government’s more immediate concern, however, is upcoming provincial polls in the north and east. Both Colombo and New Delhi are playing for high stakes there: the success of the 1987 peace pact. So far the odds are not in their favour. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the most powerful Tamil separatist group, has rejected the elections and warned candidates and voters to stay away. Like the JVP, the Tigers have denounced the accord and the Indian presence in Sri Lanka. Registration centres opened on Oct. 3 in the newly created Northeastern Province, which is Tamil-dominated, but few nominations were received.

Sri Lanka’s two Tamil political groups, the Tamil United Liberation Front and the Tamil Congress, declared they would not participate because a safe environment for staging elections had not yet been created. Interestingly, the Tigers’ bitter rival, the People’s Liberation of Tamil Eelam, joined the boycott. Tamil parties that did file nominations were viewed with suspicion by nay-saying brethren. Carped Tamil Congress boss Kumar Ponnambalam: ‘Several groups, who are in the pay of the Indian Government, have consented to contest the elections. Little do they realize they are helping in the creation of a puppet regime subservient to the Indians in the Tamil homeland.’

Although he did not name them, Ponnambalam was referring to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front. An electoral alliance of the trio last week bagged without contest 36 seats in the 71-member Northeastern provincial council. That meant they had clinched five of the eight districts up for grabs. Balloting in the remaining three – Batticaloa, Amparai and Trincomalee – was expected on Nov. 19.

It has become increasingly likely, however, that the polls will be held against a backdrop of violence. Anti-government demonstrations, most of them ignited by JVP extremists, erupted last week in the predominantly Sinhalese south. The authorities closed 115 schools nationwide as students, some only in their early teens, rampaged through the streets. The unrest followed a successful nationwide strike called by the JVP on Oct.10, the last date for filing nominations.

The boycott coincided with the massacre of 45 Sinhalese civilians in north-central Ullukulama village, allegedly by the Tigers. The charge was hotly denied by the militants, who blamed the killings on rival guerilla groups. ‘The aim of this malicious report is to discredit [us],’ read a Tiger statement. ‘We suspect it could be the dirty work of Tamil terrorist groups operating with the help of the Indian peacekeeping forces.’ Many Sri Lankans believe the Indians have been arming other Tamil militants to fight the Tigers.

But the raging ethnic passions in Sri Lanka have not dented Jayewardene’s determination to see the provincial polls through. At a recent by-election meeting in north-central Anuradhapura district, the 82 year-old warhorse exhorted people not to be intimidated in the struggle to bring peace to the troubled north and east. ‘The security forces have learned to fight, wage war, kill and get killed,’ he declared. ‘The ordinary people too should learn to die and not fear death.’

*****

Ranasinghe Premadasa: Rural Champion

Not long after President Junius Jayewardene and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa visited London in 1981 for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, an unkind joke about the premier and his wife, Hema, began circulating in Colombo. It went like this: at the wedding dinner, Hema was taken by the gold cutlery and made her husband pocket a spoon. The move was noticed by Jayewardene’s wife, Elina, who urged the president to save the situation and prevent a possible diplomatic incident. Jayewardene rose and offered to do some magic tricks. Picking up a spoon, he placed it in his pocket, then reached over and pulled out the one from Premadasa’s pocket, to the applause of all present. The point of the joke: that Jayewardene was capable of out-manoeuvring Premadasa at every turn.

In recent years, however, Premadasa’s image among his countrymen has improved considerably: he is recognized now as a politician who has come into his own. Since Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka’s politics have been dominated by a few elite families: three former prime ministers and current president Jayewardene are all related through Don Attygalle, who founded the country’s first graphite mines in 1837. Unlike his predecessors, Premadasa, 64, has had to fight his way up. ‘Despite his lack of connections to the ruling families, he has made it to the top,’ observes a political analyst in Colombo. ‘That speaks volumes for his organizing abilities.’

A devout Buddhist, Colombo-born Premadasa studied at the capital’s St. Joseph’s College, a leading Catholic boys’ school. He dabbled in journalism and as a short story writer before joining the now defunct Ceylon Labour Party. Meanwhile, he had launched a community development movement and at 26 became one of Colombo’s youngest municipal councilors. His association with Dudley Senanayake, who later became the country’s second PM, led him to the United National Party (UNP) in 1956. After serving as a backbencher in parliament for three years, he was appointed to the cabinet as minister of local government in 1968.

When the UNP was ousted by Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s United Front in 1970, Premadasa was among the few partymen who retained their seats. As Senanayake began losing grip on the UNP, Premadasa distanced himself from the PM. He competed with Jayewardene for the party’s leadership, but later joined him. When Jayewardene became Sri Lanka’s first executive president in 1978, Premadasa took over as PM. He also holds the local government & housing portfolio and is deputy leader of the UNP.

Premadasa built up his image as a man of the people through his prolific writings in Sinhala and his socioeconomic reform programs. He is said to rise early and sleep late, and has worked hard at a massive gam udawa (village reawakening) effort directed at the rural poor. His housing scheme, which has provided shelter for more than 150,000 families, recently won him an international award. What is Premadasa’s formula for success? ‘There are no short cuts,’ he told his alma mater in a speech shortly after he became PM. ‘There is no substitute for hard work.’

Sirimavo Bandaranaike: A Will to Run

The matronly woman sat at the head of the table, sipping a cup of black coffee while her hosts finished lunch. A moment later, their eighteen month-old son crawled into the room, crying fitfully. Cradling the baby in her arms, the concerned mother explained that the child was suffering from a stomach disorder and the drugs prescribed by the doctor were having no effect. ‘Why are you giving antibiotics to this little child?’ exclaimed her guest. ‘Don’t you have some aralu (an indigenous medicinal root) in the house? Grind some and give it to him with honey. He should be all right by tomorrow.’

It has been decades since she helped her mother, a well known traditional medicine practitioner, treat the villagers who used to stream into their house in Balangoda, a town some 160 km southeast of Colombo. But Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike still retains the healing skills she acquired during those years. Born into an aristocratic Sinhalese family, Bandaranaike is Sri Lanka’s most powerful opposition figure and has the added distinction of having been the world’s first woman prime minister.

To senior politicians who work closely with her, the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is a forceful, no-nonsense personality. ‘At first sight she appears disorganized and weak-willed,’ notes close confidant Dr. Neville Fernando, ‘but when it comes to the crux, when you are playing the game with your back to the wall, then you know what she really is.’ To party workers, she is something of a mother figure. SLFP aide Lasantha Wickramatunga says that when she’s on the campaign trail ‘she won’t sleep until she makes sure that each of us are comfortably bedded.’

Millions of Sri Lankans, though, know Bandaranaike best as the tough-willed woman who brought them untold economic hardship during her 1970-77 premiership. They remember her for the mile-long queues for bread, the controls on free enterprise and the locally-produced textiles that smelt of paraffin. Yet many Sri Lankans now want her to return to power. At the ripe age of 72, Bandaranaike remains the enigma she was in July 1960, when she first took over the reins of government after the assassination of her husband, prime minister Solomon Bandaranaike. Although not a member of the Lower House at the time, the young woman functioned as premier from the Senate, the Upper House. ‘Many people the world over wondered how this charming yet uneducated, pretty yet unsophisticated, widow would survive in the political jungle,’ recalls political analyst Sarath Gunawardene. ‘She proved that education is a relative merit and that sophistication is within oneself. She made an indelible mark on world politics.’

Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s first term as PM ended in December 1964. The following year, she won her first seat in Parliament by a convincing majority of 16,500 votes. But despite a strong showing at the polls, she had to be content with leading the opposition in Parliament. The new prime minister: Dudley Senanayake of the United National Party. But in May 1970 Bandaranaike was back at the nation’s helm, heading a United Front government comprising the SLFP and two powerful communist allies.

Eight months later, the country was clamped under emergency regulations following an insurrection by a Sinhalese extremist group, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. Bandaranaike crushed the insurgency and jailed the rebel leaders. In November that year, she unveiled a five-year development plan based on her party’s socialist ideology. The new measures proved disastrous for the economy and the government fell in May 1977. For years after that, Bandaranaike was in the political wilderness. But she has now bounced back, becoming for many a symbol of Sinhalese unity in the country’s ongoing ethnic imbroglio. What motivates her? Will power, she says, ‘and the determination to go on.’

Continued…Part 11

The Indo-LTTE War

An Anthology, Part X1

The Maldives Plot by PLOTE Mercenaries

November 17, 2008

That the jaundice-eyed journalism of The Hindu condemned by S. Sivanayagam in 1988 has been critiqued by none other than Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1930s as the “paper of the bourgeois, comfortably settled in life” is a matter of pertinence even now.Listed below, for Part 11 of this anthology, are 11 news reports and commentaries that appeared in November 1988. Quite of a few items focus on a side-show of a Maldives coup attempt staged by PLOTE mercenaries to topple the then government of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom

Part 1 of the series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Jawarharlal Nehru (1889-1964), India’s first prime minister, was a keen historian whose down-to-earth observations have been rather underrated by the academics who are India specialists. One possible reason has been that Nehru’s books were mostly written while he was serving a sentence in jail, and were devoid of the usual bells and whistles that decorate academic tomes. Here is one paragraph of Nehru’s incisive thoughts on the quality of journalism practised by The Hindu newspaper in the 1930s.

“Among the Indian-owned English newspapers, The Hindu of Madras is probably the best, so far as get-up and news service are concerned. It always reminds me of an old maiden lady, very prim and proper, who is shocked if a naughty word is used in her presence. It is eminently the paper of the bourgeois, comfortably settled in life. Not for it is the shady side of existence, the rough and tumble and conflict of life. Several other newspapers of moderate views have also this ‘old maiden lady’ standard. They achieve it, but without the distinction of The Hindu and, as a result, they become astonishingly dull in every respect.” [An Autobiography, 1988, sixth impression (original, 1936), Oxford University Press, New Delhi, p. 327]

There you have it from the mind of freedom fighter Nehru, characterizing The Hindu as a “paper of the bourgeois, comfortably settled in life.” That was during the British colonial days in 1936. Five decades later, how the same Madras Hindu newspaper covered the Indo-LTTE war, initiated by Nehru’s grandson Rajiv, is of some interest. For the record, I reproduce a letter that appeared 20 years ago in the Tamil Times monthly (London) of October 1988. This letter incorporated a letter of mine (that had appeared in the Hindu newspaper of August 19, 1988). I had sent my letter to the Hindu newspaper office from Tokyo, but until the appearance of this Tamil Times letter by “S. Kurushetran” from Madras, I was unaware of its publication in the Hindu newspaper. I could infer that “S. Kurushetran” was a pseudonym used by S. Sivanayagam, the ranking Eelam journalist who was then living in Madras and who was also a regular contributor to the Tamil Times monthly at that time. Here is the complete reproduction of this epistle from “S. Kurushetran”. The dots appearing in the text are as in the original.

The Hindu’ and Editorial Decorum

[by S.Kurushetran; Tamil Times, Oct. 1988, p. 12]

Someone had to say it, and Tamil Times contributor Mr Sachi Sri Kantha of Tokyo has said it. In a letter to the Editor in the Hindu (Aug.19), which the paper was gracious enough to publish, Mr Sachi Sri Kantha wrote:

“Sir – Your editorial ‘Peace in Sri Lanka: What needs to be done’ (The Hindu international edition, Aug.6) needs some comments. Having been a reader of The Hindu for the past 15 years, I could sense a change of direction in your reporting on the Sri Lankan scene since the 1987 Rajiv-Jayewardene peace agreement. Until mid-May 1987, you had correctly portrayed the dictatorial whims of President Jayewardene in the editorials, articles and cartoons. Somehow, he had become your trusted Sri Lanka politician, from August 1, 1987.

While commenting on the disbursing and monitoring of Rs. 50 crores for the rehabilitation of LTTE cadres, your editorial implied that the present rule of Jayewardene is a ‘legitimate sovereign government’. Nothing is further from the truth. Early this year, one of the chief negotiators of the Rajiv-Jayewardene Agreement (former Finance Minister of Sri Lanka, Ronnie de Mel) had questioned the moral authority of the present Sri Lanka government which had extended its stay in power by undemocratic means since 1983.

The Sri Lanka citizens were never given the opportunity to elect their parliamentary representatives in a general election for the past seven years. And you call it ‘legitimate’. Sri Lankan Tamils in particular (especially those in the Northern and Eastern provinces) never gave a mandate to the UNP to rule them in the last held 1977 general election. Only one Tamil MP was elected on the UNP ticket (in the Eastern Province) by a slender majority of nearly 550 plurality votes. I do not question your right to support President Jayewardene. But please do not insult the intelligence of Sri Lankan readers by making wild statements which lack common sense.”

As Mr Sachi Sri Kantha has said, The Hindu has changed direction after July 29, 1987. Among the depressing fall outs of the accord, this has been one. While Mr Sachi Sri Kantha has in this instance confined himself to the aberrations in The Hindu’s comments, there is another aspect which calls for greater concern, and that is the paper’s growing lack of decorum in the reporting of the news itself; a tendency that cannot do any good to a paper that had acquired an international reputation over the years. Comment is free, but facts are sacred in responsible journalism.

As an example of motivated reporting on the part of The Hindu, we present here the reports of the same incident carried in the Indian Express of Aug. 14, and in The Hindu of the same day. The Indian Express reported thus:

‘Colombo, Aug. 13 (AFP): Tamil rebels killed seven Indian soldiers and injured four in the first of two attacks on the Colombo-Jaffna rail link in north-eastern Vavuniya district on Saturday, a military spokesman here said. The Indian soldiers were clearing the rail track in Kanakarayankulam village for the north-bound train when the rebels exploded a land mine, the spokesman said. The Jaffna train, which left Colombo on Friday night, reached Vavuniya town on Saturday morning and was waiting the all-clear signal to proceed when the incident occurred, the official added. In the second incident, guerrillas blasted the rail track in Mankulam town farther north, preventing the train from proceeding…’

In contrast, The Hindu version reads thus:

‘Madras, Aug. 13: An attempt by the LTTE to blow up a fully loaded passenger train in Vavuniya sector was today foiled by the timely action of the IPKF. However, the IPKF lost six of its personnel when the LTTE blew up a culvert. An IPKF press release issued here said the LTTE had planned to blow up a passenger train in Vavuniya sector and had placed four explosive devices on a culvert on the rail track, six km. south of Mankulam. IPKF troops searching the track detected the explosive devices in time. The LTTE in panic blew up the culvert prematurely resulting in six casualties to IPKF personnel but the train was safely stopped at Puliyankulam and the passengers and the train were saved…’

The report was headlined – LTTE BID FOILED. According to the Express report, and in the minds of all intelligent and objective readers, the sequence of events was very clear. The LTTE blew up the track, preventing the train from proceeding. The IPKF went to the spot to restore the track and in the process became victims of a LTTE-triggered landmine. It would be straining the credulity of Sri Lankan readers (both Tamils and Sinhalese) that the LTTE could be so foolish as to blow up a train carrying hundreds of Tamil passengers; to ask readers to believe that they are politically ‘intransigent’ is one thing; but to tell them that the LTTE is capable of crass stupidity is something which should be told to the Marines. But the sad truth is, The Hindu would have succeeded in misleading lakhs of Indian readers who depend upon the paper alone for their information. The tragedy of The Hindu is the tragedy of newspaper editors who allow themselves to be sucked into the decision-making processes of their governments!

*****

That the jaundice-eyed journalism of The Hindu condemned by S. Sivanayagam in 1988 has been critiqued by none other than Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1930s as the “paper of the bourgeois, comfortably settled in life” is a matter of pertinence even now.

Listed below, for Part 11 of this anthology, are 11 news reports and commentaries that appeared in November 1988. Quite of a few items focus on a side-show of a Maldives coup attempt staged by PLOTE mercenaries to topple the then government of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who lost to Mohamed Nasheed, in a run-off of the presidential election held on Oct.28..

(1) Anonymous: Killed – Tudor Keerthinanda and N.Sivanandasundaram. Asiaweek, Nov.4, 1988, p. 55.

(2) Edward W. Desmond: Jayewardene Under the Gun. Time, Nov.7, 1988, p. 11.

(3) Anonymous: A Bloody Prelude to the Polls. Asiaweek, Nov.11, 1988, p. 33.

(4) India Correspondent: The Meaning of the word Raj. Economist, Nov.12, 1988, pp.22-23.

(5) Sri Lanka Corrospondent: No Place for Sunbathing. Economist, Nov.12, 1988, p. 23.

(6) William R. Doerner: Maldive Islands – Heading Them Off at the Atoll. Time, Nov.14, 1988, p. 27.

(7) Anonymous: Maldives – The Coup That Failed. Asiaweek, Nov.18, 1988, pp. 37-38.   

(8) Manik de Silva: Terror Stalks the Lanka. Far Eastern Economic Review, Nov.24, 1988, pp. 38-39.

(9) Anonymous: A Nation on the Brink. Asiaweek, Nov.25, 1988, pp. 22 & 27-28.

(10) Sri Lanka Correspondent: The Tamils Defy the Tigers. Economist, Nov.26, 1988, pp. 26 and 29.

(11) Marguerite Johnson: Assassination and Intimidation. Time, Nov.28, 1988, p.13.

Maldives Coup Asiaweek November 18 1988

Killed

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, November 4, 1988, p. 55]

Killed: Tudor Keerthinanda, prominent Sri Lankan lawyer and senior leader of the ruling United National Party; by unidentified assailants who threw a bomb and shot at his car; in Colombo Oct. 21. Keerthinanda, a UNP policy-making committee member, was killed instantly. Police suspect the attack was organised by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), a Sinhalese militant group believed involved in earlier killings of UNP leaders. The ambush came a day after the government declared a one-week halt to its operations against the group, a conciliatory gesture intended to make peace with the JVP before the presidential election in mid-December.

Killed: N. Sivanandasundaram, a representative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a militant Tamil separatist group in Sri Lanka; by unidentified gunmen; at Vallai Veli village in the northern Jaffna peninsula Oct. 21. Sivanandasundaram was a Tiger nominee to an interim council proposed by the government for the new Northeastern Province, part of a peace plan the militants have now rejected.

*****

Time Nov 7 1988 JR Jayawardene under the gun

Jayewardene Under the Gun

[Edward W. Desmond; Time, November 7, 1988, p. 11]

Dissolve Parliament immediately. Name an interim government. Call elections as soon as possible. The demands that four prominent Buddhist monks listed in a letter to President Junius R. Jayewardene last week seemed outlandish, considering that his United National Party (UNP) controls 85% of the 158 seats in Parliament. Increasingly, though, it is not Jayewardene, 82, or Parliament that is setting policy in Sri Lanka but gunmen from the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), who have taken more than 500 lives over the past 15 months and all but paralyzed the south of the island. Their goal: to push Jayewardene and his party from power.

The monks’ petition sought to persuade Jayewardene to agree to at least some of the JVP’s terms in the hope of stopping the cycle of violence. Five days later, in a meeting with seven opposition party leaders, Jayewardene yielded, but on one condition: the JVP must halt its violent activity immediately. Toward that end the President declared that for a week police and the army would cease operations against the militants. If they responded in kind, said Jayewardene, he would dissolve Parliament, appoint an interim government and order national elections. ‘We are not backing down,’ said Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister of Education. ‘We are throwing the onus on them.’

However generous the gesture, Sri Lanka’s problems are much too complex to be settled by a quick fix. The conflict pressing on Jayewardene last week involves the island’s Sinhalese majority. That confrontation was triggered, in part, by Jayewardene’s decision in 1987 to solicit Indian military assistance in the northern and eastern reaches of the island to put down a rebellion by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; they have been fighting for five years to win an independent homeland for the Tamils, who make up 12.5% of Sri Lanka’s population. Sinhalese complained bitterly that Jayewardene had sold out to India, Sri Lanka’s ancient foe, and the JVP, until then a relatively quiescent group, suddenly emerged as the violent champion of Sinhalese extremism. Through a combination of shrewd political tactics and terror, the JVP almost overnight became a decisive player in Sri Lanka’s politics, even though its members are underground and its leader, Rohana Wijeweera, 45, a medical-school dropout, has not been seen in public for more than five years.

Shortly after Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene signed the 1987 accord, JVP hit men came close to killing Jayewardene in a grenade attack in the Parliament building. Since then, more than 350 UNP officials and workers have been assassinated, including the party’s chairman, Harsha Abeywardene.

The heart of JVP support lies in southern areas, where poverty has worsened during Jayewardene’s eleven years in power, even as the rest of the country enjoyed unprecedented economic growth. In Hambantota district, more than 70% of the 477,000 inhabitants receive food stamps. Yet in recent years the government has cut back spending there and has launched heavy-handed retaliatory crackdowns, some of them against demonstrators, that have claimed as many as 100 lives – a surefire recipe for creating recruits for the militants. Like most of the south, Hambantota is a stronghold of Sinhalese nationalism, a tradition with such vibrancy that Dutugemunu, a Sinhalese king who drove a Tamil rival off the island 2,000 years ago, is discussed as if he lived yesterday. Says Colonel Vipul Boteju, an army officer in the area: ‘About 60% of the youths here are either JVPers or sympathizers.’

That is not the case elsewhere, especially in more prosperous districts, but the JVP’s calls for strikes have brought many towns, including even the capital of Colombo, to a standstill. Ensuring that there is cooperation is the job of 2,000 JVP cadres, who are ready to kill anyone who fails to heed menacing posters and pamphlets calling for work stoppages.

Jayewardene’s promise more than a year ago to ‘eliminate’ the JVP has metamorphosed into repeated attempts to placate them. He lifted a ban on the organization in May, released a few detained JVP leaders, and two weeks ago announced presidential elections for next month. He also picked Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa as his successor, believing him to be acceptable to the JVP. Premadasa opposed the Indo-Sri Lanka accord and has made it clear that he would send the 70,000 Indian troops home. But that line has apparently not impressed the JVP. When Jayewardene offered his enemies a week-long ceasefire, JVP cadres responded with another round of killing.

The UNP’s elected opposition, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, led by former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, has also been trying to woo the JVP and has succeeded in bringing it into a loose alliance with six political opposition groups. But the JVP has proved an uncompromising partner. On five occasions its threats have disrupted rallies for Bandaranaike’s party and some opposition leaders are reportedly seeking police protection.

Frustration and anger over the JVP’s bloody tactics have reached such a pitch that government and opposition leaders are even thinking of working together to rein in the gunmen. That possibility looked a little more likely at week’s end after the JVP declared it would accept Jayewardene’s ceasefire offer – but only after he has acted on its demands. That response left Sri Lankans wondering whether the JVP is willing to play by democratic rules at all, or if in the end it is committed to pursuing power from the barrel of a gun. [Reported by Qadri Ismail and Anita Pratap/ Colombo]

*****

A Bloody Prelude to the Polls

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, November 11, 1988, p. 33.]

Early on Oct.22 farmer Henchilage Jinadasa stepped into the jungle in Wellawaya, 140 km southeast of Colombo. Moments later he emerged screaming. He had stumbled on the partially burnt corpses of three students from Ratnapura, 75 km away. A post-mortem showed that the young men were brutally tortured before they were killed. They had been campaign workers for the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in a Ratnapura by-election a few weeks earlier. Their candidate had won the bitterly fought contest against Susantha Punchinilame of the ruling United National Party (UNP), who was arrested after the bodies were found.

Their murders are part of a rising tide of violence that threatens to derail Sri Lanka’s Dec.19 presidential election. Although several of the victims appeared to have been involved in local vendettas with ruling party politicians, the more serious threat to the polls is the militant Sinhalese group Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which is accused of killing more than 500 ruling party leaders and supporters. Despite the JVP’s reputation, it was included in an eight-party opposition alliance that named SLFP chief and ex-prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike as its presidential candidate. The UNP countered by nominating Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, whose conciliatory line towards the extremist group has not stopped attacks against his fellow legislators.

But just three weeks after forging the alliance, the JVP turned against its partners and instructed them to boycott the presidential poll. In southern Sri Lanka, posters went up threatening SLFP organizers with harsh punishment if they engaged in political activity. An SLFP rally in the Southeastern Province was disrupted Oct. 23 by an alleged JVP bomb blast as Bandaranaike address the crowd. The JVP wants President Junius Jayewardene to dissolve Parliament and hand power to a caretaker government.

Jayewardene, 82, who is retiring after eleven years as president, met opposition leaders in an attempt to defuse the crisis. Last week he agreed to step down, to dissolve Parliament Nov.6 and to set a date for general elections. Jayewardene proposed a multi-party cabinet to oversee elections, and said he would lift the state of emergency, release all political prisoners and cease military operations. That would include activities of the Indian peacekeeping force policing a July 1987 accord with New Delhi – branded a ‘sellout’ by the JVP – that gives Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils greater autonomy. Jayewardene’s condition: ‘a permanent ceasefire and abandoning of violence’ by the JVP.

The JVP rejected the offer, insisting that its demands be met first. But the SLFP was said to be seriously considering Jayewardene’s proposal, which could lead to a split in the opposition alliance. Observes a political analyst: ‘The JVP wants power for the sake of power, and they aren’t interested in sharing it. The only option available for a government and a democratic opposition would be to join hands and fight terrorism together.’

*****

The Meaning of the word Raj

[India Correspondent; Economist, November 12, 1988, pp. 22-23.]

The snap decision India made to stop the attempted coup in the Maldives, on the heels of its Sri Lankan intervention last year, shows the scale of its ambitions in South Asia. India says it wants to preserve ‘regional stability’. This is the sort of phrase that is used on such occasions. Trouble in Maldives poses no threat to Indian security, of course; but Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s government does not like the idea of coups. The week’s events showed, impressively, that India has the means to impose its will.

The prime minister came to know of the coup attempt at 8.30 on the morning of November 3rd, when he received a telephone call from an aide of the Maldivian president, Mr Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The first transport aircraft, carrying 150 paratroops, landed in the Maldives less than 14 hours later, having flown, 1,700 miles from a base south of Delhi.

The United States, which had been in touch with Mr Gandhi, was happy for India to fix things in the Maldives. A similar view was taken by Russia and by Britain, the former colonial power, which used to have an air base on Gan, the southernmost island of the Maldives. Having Mr Reagan, Mr Gorbachev and Mrs Thatcher cheering him on must have bemused Mr Gandhi. It is a lot better than the accusations he hears from Sri Lanka.

The trouble in Sri Lanka, unlike that in the Maldives, does threaten Indian security. Ever since 1983, when the Tamil campaign for a separate state on the island began in earnest, India has wanted the Sri Lankan government to give the Tamils a generous measure of autonomy. It does not want to risk upsetting the 55 m Tamils who live in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which in the 1950s had a strong separatist movement, called the Dravida Kazhagam. Although this movement failed, one or other of its more legitimate offshoots, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All-India Anna DMK, has been ruling Tamil Nadu continuously since 1967.

The Sri Lankan government did offer its Tamils a good whack of autonomy, and the Indians sent a military force to the island last year to back up the offer. When the Tamil Tiger guerrillas refused to accept the deal, Mr Gandhi did not hesitate to send Indian troops into battle against them. They are still there, killing Tigers and getting killed. They must feel envious of their comrades’ short, sharp campaign against the Maldivian would-be coup-makers.

Back in 1971 Indian intervened in the affairs of another of its neighbours, East Pakistan. That country, which is now Bangladesh, was then in a state of civil war with the western portion of Pakistan. Some 9m East Pakistanis, mostly Hindus who feared persecution from the Muslims of their homeland, had fled into the adjoining Indian state of West Bengal. West Bengal was desperately poor and could hardly feed itself, let alone the refugees. It had a communist government that thrived on Bengali nationalism. As India saw it, something had to be done to restore stability – that word again – to East Pakistan. It sent its army in, ending the civil war and guaranteeing independence for Bangladesh.

Pakistan, ever suspicious of and hostile to India, has never forgiven it for that. The Maldives may accept India as a protective uncle. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have no option but to acknowledge its strength. The real test of India’s aim to be the regional superpower will be how it handles Pakistan.

*****

No Place for Sunbathing

[Sri Lanka Correspondent; Economist, November 12, 1988, p. 23.]

Foreign tourists were advised by the Sri Lankan government this week to go home. The place is unsafe. This will be no surprise to people who wonder why anyone should choose a country at civil war for a holiday. But until now the palm-edged beaches of the island’s south-west coast have been untouched by the troubles of the north and east, where Tamil guerrillas are fighting for a separate state. Now the holiday coast is endangered, not by the Tamils, but by the anti-Tamil reaction: a group of extremists drawn from the country’s majority, the Sinhalese.

The group, which is known by its initials JVP, for Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), preaches revolutionary Marxism. It tried an insurrection in 1971, which was put down by the government of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, helped by India. It has revived, and has confusingly mixed its Trotskyism with bloody nationalism, since last year’s signing of the Indian-Sri Lankan accord on the Tamil question.

The Indian soldiers who came to the island to enforce the peace between Tamils and Sinhalese are servants of imperialism, according to the Front. President Junius Jayewardene and his ministers are ‘traitors’ for allowing the Indians in. Since the Indian intervention the JVP’s military wing has killed more than 500 government supporters, officials and members of the security forces.

The government lifted the ban on the JVP as a political party, hoping it would emerge from the underground and join the democratic process. The move failed, as have a series of other concessions aimed at blunting the extremists’ appeal to Sinhalese: special aid for the south, the release of detainees, the announcement of a date for a new presidential election, the selection of an anti-accord presidential candidate, finally the offer of a parliamentary election too.

The Front’s aim is to create such unrest that the government will be unable to bring peace to the island, and the government’s candidate will be defeated in the presidential poll on December 19th. It is working. The government is getting the blame for the chaos caused by the Front: the food and fuel shortages, power cuts and paralysed transport. Now 8,000 foreign holiday makers, one of the country’s few remaining sources of foreign exchange, are going home, most of them. Even the stalwart ones who stay may find their holidays ruined. Most members of the hotels’ staff have been frightened away.

Maldive Islands – Heading Them Off at the Atoll

[William R. Doerner; Time, November 14, 1988, p. 27.]

The prospect of a military invasion of the Republic of Maldives would seem to be almost as remote as the Indian Ocean archipelago itself. Some 1,200 coral islands that together make up only 115 sq.mi.of land, the country lies several hundred miles southwest of India and Sri Lanka. Its 195,000 citizens, most of them Sunni Muslims, earn their living largely from fishing and tourism. Possession of guns is outlawed, except for the fewer than 2,000 lightly armed members of the National Security Service, and violence is virtually unknown. Yet last week Maldives’ capital island of Male was invaded, briefly but brutally, in an unsuccessful coup attempt carried out by foreign mercenaries.

The raiders, who numbered only about 60, struck before dawn on Thursday, landing aboard speedboats from a small freighter moored offshore. Armed with rocket launchers, mortars and automatic rifles, they quickly seized almost total control of the 370-acre coral atoll, firing at civilians who came out of their homes to investigate. Among the first killed were early-morning joggers who stumbled onto the intruders. Many of the island’s most prominent buildings, including its gold-domed mosque, were severely scarred by hours of gunfire. The only major government building that remained secure during the assault was the headquarters of the security service, and it came under heavy fire.

The apparent target was President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 50, member of a well known Maldivian family who was re-elected in September to a third five-year term. The rebels literally had the government on the run: Gayoom and several members of his Cabinet fled from house to house to avoid capture during the 18-hour invasion.

Nearly all the invaders were believed to be former Tamil separatist guerrillas from Sri Lanka, apparently in the pay of Maldivian elements hostile to Gayoom. The President issued pleas for military intervention from India and the US as well as Britain, which held Maldives as a protectorate from 1887 until 1965. Washington and London took the request under consideration.

But before they could make a decision, New Delhi moved fast. Following an emergency Cabinet meeting, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dispatched some 1,600 troops to restore order on Male and commanded navy warships to head toward Maldivian waters. Para-troopers arrived less than twelve hours later, landing aboard two Soviet-built IL-76 transport aircraft at the national airport on Hulule, a few hundred yards off Male. Within minutes the mercenaries began fleeing the capital in their small boats, racing back to their mother ship. On Sunday the mercenaries surrendered after an Indian frigate fired on the freighter.

The invaders left at least 30 dead, most of them civilians, and nearly 100 injured. According to Foreign Minister Fathulla Jameel, several eyewitnesses identified as the leader of the band a once prominent Maldivian businessman named Abdulla Lutefi, who currently operates a farm near the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. Several years ago, Lutefi was arrested for entering Maldives with a firearm, apparently in an attempt to overthrow Ibrahim Nasir, Gayoom’s predecessor as Presiddent. Sri Lankan and Maldividian authorities suspect that Lutefi may have hired the Tamil mercenaries, many of whom have become increasingly inactive since India sent army troops to Sri Lanka to quell the separatist movement in 1987.

Gandhi clearly intended India’s quick response to underscore New Delhi’s growing military role in southern Asia. He may have the chance to make the point again. Domestic dissatisfaction with the Gayoom regime, which does not allow opposition, is substantial, and the Maldives may attract other visitors with more on their minds than scuba diving.

*****

PLOTE mercenary Asiaweek November 18 1988

Maldives – The Coup That Failed

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, November 18, 1988, pp.37-38.]

Abdullah Raffi wondered sleepily who was lighting firecrackers so early in the morning. He did not know of any celebration planned for that Thursday in Male, the capital of the Maldives. The trader grumpily got out of bed and went downstairs to his waterfront shop. ‘Only when I opened the door did I realise I was hearing the sound of gunfire,’ he later told a newspaper in neighbouring Sri Lanka. Heavily armed soldiers in camouflage were running towards the headquarters of the National Security Service, the Maldivian paramilitary police force, just 400 metres away. Raffi was one of the lucky few to witness the landing and stay alive. Thirteen civilians, some of them youngsters out jogging, were shot dead by the invaders.

Thus did death and violence come to the tiny group of Indian Ocean atolls (pop. 207,000, mostly Muslim) whose sun-drenched beaches and clear waters have helped make the archipelago a tourist paradise. The objective of the raiders: to topple the government of President Maumoon Gayoom, 51, who was recently elected to a third term. The ring leader was identified as Abdullah Luthfi, a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman. Luthfi reportedly hired some 150 militants of a separatist group in Sri Lanka, the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). ‘They are doing nothing; they have no jobs,’ said D. Siddharthan, himself a PLOTE member, but a moderate. ‘Anyone can recruit 100 to 200 any day.’

But the Nov.3 coup attempt failed. Gayoom and most of his cabinet stayed safe inside the well-fortified Security Service building. When crack commandos from India arrived that night, Luthfi and most of his mercenaries had already fled in a freighter, taking with them Maldivian Transport Minister Ahmed Mujuthaba, his wife and 30 other hostages. Indian warships chased the boat but it could not be immediately boarded – the plotters threatened to kill their prisoners. The stalemate was broken Nov.6, when the Indians opened fire and crippled the ship. Some 46 men, including Luthfi, finally surrendered. Four of the hostages were believed killed, while the Maldivian minister was injured.

According to Sri Lankan intelligence sources, Luthfi promised the Tamil fighters $2.5 million and a permanent base in the Maldives. The deal struck, he arranged for most of the men to take up employment in the capital several weeks before the attack. The rest boarded boats bound for Male on the day of the invasion. Reaching the island in the early dawn, they quickly joined up with their comrades and stormed the Security building, the presidential palace and other government installations.

However, the gunning of early risers alerted Maldivian officers, who had Gayoom and his ministers swiftly brought to Security headquarters. The bunker-type building had recently been equipped with its own power generators and communication equipment. Luthfi’s forces swiftly overran their targets, including the palace. But the Security headquarters was valiantly defended; several Maldivian soldiers died in the exchange of fire. Diplomats in Colombo say Luthfi himself led the palace assault. He began issuing proclamations, ordering the surrender of Gayoom and the Maldivian forces. At one point, Luthfi declared that more than 2,000 hostages would be killed if Gayoom did not give up.

Inside his refuge, the beleaguered president was in contact with the outside world. His first call at around ten o’clock Thursday morning was to James Spain, the US ambassador to Sri Lanka and non-resident consul to the Maldives. Gayoom wanted to know whether the Americans could send a rapid deployment force from their base in the island of Diego Garcia, just 804 km from Male. The ambassador said he had to first consult the US State Department in Washington. Gayoom then got in touch with his envoy to the UN, Hussein Manikfu, instructing him to ask for military help from the US, Britain, Sri Lanka, India and several other Asian countries.

The Americans ruled out direct intervention, but State Department spokesman Charles Redman said Washington was closely watching events ‘with an eye to what assistance we might be able to provide.’ Both the US and Britain reportedly worked quietly to coordinate with India when it decided to send its forces. Malaysia, a staunch friend of the Maldives, was also asked for help. Its navy was immediately alerted, but as the Malaysian Foreign Ministry later explained, it would have taken three or four days for Malaysian warships to reach the Maldives.

At about the same time, in the country’s only other mission abroad, Maldivian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ahmed Abdullah lodged an urgent appeal with Foreign Minister Shaul Hameed, who rushed to see President Junius Jayewardene. The Sri Lankan military, anticipating the request, had already drawn up a plan. About 85 commandos were ordered taken to Ratmalana Air Field for airlifting to Male. But later that day, after three hours of waiting, the operation was called off. New Delhi sent Colombo a message saying 1,600 of its crack troops were already flying to Male from various bases in India.

The Indian commandos landed at the international airport on Hulule Island, 3 km from Male, at around 10 pm. They immediately took off for the capital in assault craft, but the mercenaries were already retreating. By the early hours of the following day, the rescuers had regained Male. Four mercenaries were captured, one of whom has been positively identified in Colombo as a PLOTE guerilla. Luthfi and many of his raiders, however, managed to board the freighter Progress Light with their hostages. When it was spotted heading for southern Sri Lanka, the Indian warship INS Betwa gave chase while another more sophisticated vessel, the helicopter-equipped INS Godavari, moved to cut it off. The fleeing freighter was soon captured. A four-man team of Maldivian negotiators flew to the Godavari, but Luthfi and the Tamils refused to parley. They insisted that talks should be held in Colombo in the presence of international observers. The stand-off continued until President Jayewardene declared that under no circumstances would the freighter be allowed into his country.

A little before midnight on Saturday, the mood of the mercenaries turned ugly. Two of the hostages had been killed, they announced, and more would die if they were not allowed to land in Colombo. The Indians stood firm. The Progress Light could go to India, but not to Sri Lanka. The freighter began heading for Sri Lanka anyway. At 1 am Sunday, the Godavari fired warning shots. The freighter was about 85 km from Colombo when the warship opened fire, hitting it below the water line. Helicopters buzzed the boat and fired rockets. At 9:25 in the morning, the mercenaries finally gave up. Forty six mercenaries, including Luthfi and his Maldivian deputy known as Nasir, were arrested. The freed Maldivian transport minister and some fourteen others were taken to hospital in the southern Indian city of Trivandrum. Mujuthaba was reported in good condition.

In retrospect, the attempted takeover was not all that unpredictable. Like many island states, the Maldives has little military muscle. ‘A standing army?’ UN Ambassador Manikfu responded quizzically when queried about the strength of his country’s defence forces. ‘We don’t even have a sitting army.’ The National Security Service is estimated to be only 4,000 strong, armed mostly with old British-made rifles and submachine guns. The Maldives was a protectorate of Britain until granted independence in 1965. It was almost miraculous, marveled some observers, for a handful of Maldivian soldiers to have held off for so long a group of experienced fighters armed with sophisticated weapons.

The country has, in fact, seen several other unsuccessful coup attempts. The most serious coup was in 1980, two years after Gayoom took over from first president Amir Ibrahim Nasir. Nine former British Special Air Services commandos were stopped at Colombo’s airport after authorities were tipped off that they were on their way to topple Gayoom. Nasir’s brother, Ahmed Naseem, allegedly recruited the mercenaries. Luthfi himself was accused of planning to assassinate then-president Nasir in 1976. Gayoom freed him in 1979. Nasir was mentioned in connection with the latest plot, but the former president vehemently denied the charges from Singapore, his home since he left office. Maldivian officials said they had no evidence he was involved.

In the Maldives itself, everything was fast returning to normal. While Indian troops were conducting a house-to-house search and scouring the outlying islands to flush out the plotters left behind, President Gayoom said his inauguration would go on as scheduled on Nov.11. The president, in power since 1978, is popular. Annual growth has been sustained at around 9%. Tourism is a major factor in that surge, but Gayoom has made sure the industry does not alter the country’s Islamic heritage. Tourists are limited to a number of island resorts where no Maldivians are allowed to be permanent residents. Some things may change, though. ‘After our nightmarish experience last week,’ said Manikfu, ‘my government is likely to reassess its future national strategy for our own self-preservation.’ In other words, more soldiers and modern weapons might well become a part of paradise.

*****

Terror Stalks the Land

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, November 24, 1988, pp. 38-39.]

As Sri Lanka writhed in the grip of mounting political violence just weeks before the 19 December presidential election, a series of crippling strikes in the public utilities was launched to back a demand that outgoing President Junius Jayewardene also dissolve parliament, whose term only ends next August. The demand was backed by the main opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which says it will boycott parliament until dissolution is announced.

The demand has divided the government, with Jayewardene apparently in favour of dissolution and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, the ruling United National Party’s (UNP) presidential candidate, against. The indications are that Premadasa’s view will prevail. But both have indicated that they will dissolve parliament if the underground Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will participate in a national caretaker government which will run the presidential and parliamentary elections. The JVP has refused.

The opposition argues that the UNP-dominated parliament, and the resulting authority the sitting MPs enjoy, gives an unfair advantage to the ruling party at next month’s presidential race. More important, they claim parliament lacks popular support and legitimacy – a view shared by the Buddhist and Roman Catholic hierarchy. The present parliament was elected in 1977 but when its term was due to expire in 1983, the government successfully called a national referendum to extend its life for another six years. Thus, by the expedient of a simple majority in the referendum, the UNP managed to maintain its overwhelming majority in parliament.

The government argues that it should not budge because of the violence in the Sinhalese-majority areas where the JVP is active. The killings and terror campaigns have been aimed at the UNP and the United Socialist Alliance (USA), a grouping of old Left parties and a breakaway section of former prime minister Sirima Bandaranaike’s SLFP.

The UNP and USA have been left shaken and terrified. More than 500 UNP members have been killed in the past few months, including the party’s chairman, its general secretary, a cabinet minister, MPs and provincial councilors. The USA lost its leader, popular filmstar Vijaya Kumaranatunge, who was married to Bandaranaike’s younger daughter, and many ranking members and supporters.

The JVP has denied responsibility for the violence but the killings are generally attributed to the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (Patriotic People’s Front or DJV), which is widely considered to be the JVP’s military wing. JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera, who is underground, is unambiguous in his admiration for the DJV. He denied to a newspaper that the DJV was instrument of his party but admitted that some of his members belonged to the DJV. He described DJV members as ‘patriots’ and said: ‘We will help them and support them. We respect them.’

Whoever is behind the violence has demonstrated a frightening capacity to disrupt public life. Anonymous demands that shops and businesses close and services be halted were backed by selective killings and attacks. Buses, trains and works at the port, in banking and the fuel-distribution service were effectively halted. Work on many state and privately owned plantations stopped and the government’s post and telecommunications services were disrupted.

Hotel employees were told to stop work, forcing the government to send thousands of foreign tourists home. Emergency laws that named essential services had little effect at first though some people have since been persuaded to return to work. The government moved swiftly to deal with the strikes. An emergency regulation permitting the police and security forces to dispose of dead bodies without inquests has been invoked and curfew breakers and illegal demonstrators can be shot on sight. At least 80 demonstrators were shot dead in the first few days.

The government has said it would apply the death sentence to anyone threatening any  citizen with death or bodily harm or printing, duplicating or distributing threatening letters or leaflets. The same goes for anyone ‘organising or joining illegal processions or holding illegal meetings, illegally keeping away from work, or forcing others to keep away from work may be similarly punished,’ it said in a statement. It was reported that senior army officers would be appointed as High Court judges to quickly dispose of trials under these emergency laws.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Premadasa has studiously avoided taking a tough line against the JVP. He has said before that there is no proof that the JVP is behind the violence and is carrying on campaigning amid the continued killings and disruptions. ‘Shops being closed give their employees a chance to concentrate on what I am saying,’ he said.

Shortly after he handed in his nomination, Premadasa issued a statement saying that the ‘fires of the mind’ and the ‘fires of hunger’ must be doused not with ‘firewater but with cold water’. Analysts in Colombo have interpreted this to mean that he does not favour a harsh response to what is widely perceived as JVP-inspired violence. He has subsequently said at election meetings that though the policies of the JVP and UNP may differ, they both want to alleviate poverty and hunger.

Premadasa’s efforts to try to bring the JVP into the political mainstream gathered added significance by a short reply by Wijeweera when a newspaper asked him what he thought of Premadasa’s refusal to speak out against the JVP. ‘Whoever they be, we judge people by what they do and not by what they say,’ was Wijeweera’s terse reply. The presidential race is essentially between Premadasa and Bandaranaike, though a third candidate is Ossie Abeygoonesekera of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya, a constituent of the USA. Abeygoonesekera claims the voter is disillusioned with both the UNP and SLFP and must have a third choice.

The eight-party alliance which the SLFP said backed Bandaranaike’s candidature appears to be falling apart. The JVP has distanced itself – Wijeweera said Bandaranaike was in a weak position and the JVP did not need to cling to her to come into power. The Eksath Lanka Jathika Peramuna, formed by former members of the UNP, has also dropped out. The SLFP is, however, also steering clear of antagonizing the JVP. It has claimed the UNP used the JVP name and disrupted SLFP meetings but it has become clear that the UNP had no hand in these incidents. Some SLFP organizers who have been threatened have left their constituencies and Bandaranaike has requested and been granted police and military security. Jayewardene has ordered that it should be as tight as his own security.

Bandaranaike has said that in the conspiracy to disrupt her campaign, the plan is to first display anti-SLFP posters using the JVP name and follow-up by assassinating SLFP members and attacking businesses owned by SLFP supporters. According to the Island, a newspaper published by a group of which her brother is chairman, a ‘powerful politician’ she has named is involved in the alleged conspiracy.

Increasingly large numbers of moderates, professionals, businessmen and others of the middle class are deeply distressed by the anarchy and believe that the SLFP and the UNP, the country’s two established democratic parties, must come together to form a national government. Their thinking was reflected in a recent editorial in the Island which said: ‘A national government alone can obtain for the people a temporary respite. Everything else, including the presidential election, will come to look increasingly irrelevant in the face of the urgency for restoring normal conditions…’

*****

A Nation on the Brink

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, November 25, 1988, pp.22, 27-28.]

It was a sad irony. The violent strikes that paralysed Sri Lanka last week originated in moves intended to bring peace to the troubled island nation. When opposition leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike met President Junius Jayewardene on Nov.6 to set the stage for next month’s presidential elections, she spoke for seven parties as well as her own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Bandaranaike, herself a presidential hopeful, set ten ‘preconditions for peace’. Among them: the release of political prisoners, the repeal of Emergency Regulations and an end to all military operations, including those of the Indian peacekeeping force. However, the cardinal prerequisite, insisted Bandaranaike, was the immediate dissolution of Parliament.

That, above all else, was the cause that had rallied the uneasy bedfellows of the opposition behind the SLFP. Since the drafting of the demands, two of the eight groups had pulled out of the alliance: the Eksath Lanka Janatha Pakshaya (United Lanka People’s Party), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), or JVP, the militant Sinhalese nationalist organization that has turned unremitting violence into a principal factor in Sri Lankan politics. Although out of the alliance, the JVP continued to support the opposition’s proposals. To the surprise of many, not least Prime Minister and presidential candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa, Jayewardene agreed to dissolve Parliament and to appoint an interim cabinet and an independent election committee.

Bandaranaike, anticipating a return to power eleven years after being swept aside by Jayewardene’s United National Party (UNP), went home reassured. Back in the president’s residence, however, Premadasa protested, reminding Jayewardene that when he had been nominated as the UNP’s presidential candidate a month before, he had been assured that Parliament would not be dissolved. National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali sided with Premadasa but suggested that Jayewardene’s promise to Bandaranaike could still be honoured if the JVP would join the interim cabinet. Without such participation, he reasoned, peace was a forlorn hope.

Scant minutes later, Bandaranaike received a telephone call from the president’s staff. Dissolution could only be considered, she was told, if JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera would accept membership in the interim cabinet. This Bandaranaike was no longer in any position to promise. That Sunday night, the capital brooded beneath a palpable apprehension. The next morning, the JVP called a general strike to protest the government’s ‘backtracking’ on the opposition proposals. First to respond was the 20,000-strong workforce of Colombo port, quickly followed by workers in the postal service, the Ceylon Electricity Board and the Petroleum Corp.

By early afternoon, the port was closed and lines were forming outside the city’s few fuel stations that remained open. The government deployed troops to man essential services, but public anxiety had veered towards outright panic. With exhortations and death threats, the JVP and its ‘military wing’, the Deshapriya Janatha Viyaparaya, fanned the flames. Frightened crowds rushed to stock up food supplies, and scuffles broke out in markets. By Tuesday morning, kilometer-long queues at fuel stations were  a common sight. The JVP began spreading its campaign of intimidation to its heartland in the island’s poverty-ridden south. Said of an official of the Ceylon Tourist Board: ‘[They] asked all hotel employees down south to participate in a placard campaign…there was no one to serve the tourists.’ Later that same day, the government officially advised tourists to revise their travel plans. The following morning, packed flights began ferrying holidaymakers out of Katunayake Airport.

The disturbances sent tremors through both the government and the opposition. The SLFP was split into two, with one half urging Bandaranaike to re-open negotiations with Wijeweera and the other insisting that she join the government in recognizing the JVP as a common threat. Those who advocated negotiations with the JVP were party organizers from the south, who had good reason to fear for their lives. Ultimately, they prevailed.

Jayewardene’s UNP, in turn, was divided on whether to accede to the opposition’s demands and dissolve Parliament. Acting Justice Minister Shelton Ranaraja argued for dissolution, saying that although ministers and MPs were protected by armed guards, their supporters were in dire jeopardy. But Premadasa’s camp held sway: there would be no dissolution until polling day itself, scheduled for Dec. 19.

The following day, Thursday Nov.10, was nomination day. Amid escalating tension, candidates Premadasa, Bandaranaike and Oswin Abeygunasekara of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (People’s Party) submitted their papers to the commissioner-general of elections. Trouble was expected, and the government had a day earlier clamped a 48-hour curfew in southern districts, declaring that demonstrators would be shot on sight. Undeterred, marchers gathered in the southern towns of Tissamaharama and Tangalla. Despite their orders, the army at first stayed its weapons. ‘We knew that if we opened fire,’ said a senior army officer, ‘we would give the JVP enough ammunition to last another couple of weeks.’ The deadly impasse was shattered when JVP cadres from within the crowd fired on the assembled military. Soldiers shot back. In all, fifteen demonstrators were killed.

The government struck back with new emergency regulations, prescribing the death penalty for anyone issuing death threats, joining illegal processions, illegally staying away from work or forcing others to do so. The police were granted the right to dispose of dead bodies without postmortems, and military judges were empowered to hear cases involving subversion. ‘I believe the regulations are effective,’ Athulathmudali told Asiaweek at mid-week. ‘The JVP campaign seems to have lost some of its steam.’ But violence continued in outlying areas, where clashes between troops and JVP marchers claimed more lives.

The anarchy in the south eclipsed continuing troubles in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north and east, but not for long. Even as Athulathmudali was voicing his cautious optimism on limiting the JVP’s disruptions, Tamil terrorists opened fire on a busload of people near eastern port Trincomalee, killing at least 24. The massacre was aimed at disrupting this week’s provincial elections. But in the south, the Jayewardene government seemed determined to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with the JVP and – at least until Dec.19 – not blink.

*****

‘A Fascist Force’

What is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front)? President Junius Jayewardene says it is ‘a fascist force,’ and even the country’s ultra-left opposition agrees. ‘They are absolute neo-fascists,’ storms Dayan Jayatilleke, head of the Marxist organization Vikalpa Kandayama (Alternative Group), ‘bent on destroying the traditional Left just as Hitler and Mussolini did.’ But the JVP sees itself as purely Leninist, espousing a simplistic communist doctrine. ‘All enterprises will be nationalized without compensation,’ declares one cadre. ‘Econology will be given a prominent place and all land will be state land.’

The group is best known not for its ideology, however, but for its acts of violence. In recent months, the deaths of more than 500 leaders and supporters of the ruling United National Party have been attributed to the militant Sinhalese organization, as well as numerous incidents of arson and sabotage.

Formed in 1965, the JVP found support among rural youths disenchanted by the inadequate economic policies of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration. Their strategy: attack police stations and other government installations. The government responded with a purge of JVP cadres in which, it’s now estimated, 20,000 people died. It jailed the group’s leaders. Sixteen years later, when Sri Lanka signed the peace accord with India in July 1987, the JVP reappeared and registered its disapproval by initiating the current campaign of intimidation and terror.

Police intelligence officers believe its leadership is arranged around a core of eight. Reporting to this ‘politburo’ is a committee of 48 district leaders and representatives of student bodies. Despite this apparently well-ordered structure, JVP remains a shadowy organization. Its two known leaders – Rohana Wijeweera, 45, who was released in 1977, and Upatissa Gamanayake, 47 – are rarely seen or heard in public.

The JVP’s enormous influence, say observers, is due to the other organizations – as many as 30 – that have gathered beneath its mantle. Most prominent among them is the Deshapriya Janatha Viyaparaya (Patriotic People’s Movement), said to be behind the killings attributed to the JVP. The DJV garners recruits through student bodies and militant Buddhist groups.

In recent years the JVP’s appeal has broadened to include many members of the intelligentsia. The group’s ranks have swelled, reckons human rights lawyer Mahinda Rajapakse, because of outrage over the deaths and disappearances of civilians caught in the crossfire between the military and the JVP.

Although openly condoning its actions, the JVP denies any connection with the DJV. This is reckoned to be simple political expedience. ‘By claiming to be non-violent,’ says an intelligence operative, ‘Wijeweera is trying to make sure he can come out into the open whenever he chooses without fear of prosecution. At that time, the DJV will simply disappear.’

*****

The Tamils Defy the Tigers

[Sri Lanka Correspondent; Economist, November 26, 1988, pp.26 & 29.]

The island is turning inside out. Just when Sri Lanka’s Tamil north-east may be reaching for peace, the Sinhalese south is hurrying towards martial law. The Tamils amazed most other Sri Lankans by turning out in force on November 19th to vote for a new provincial council for the north and east of the country. They rejected the boycott calls of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas, who during the five year civil war have been thought to be the most powerful Tamil group. Ordinary Tamils have now elected councilors who renounce separatism. They have, it seems, had enough of war.

The election was the main plank of last year’s agreement between India’s prime minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, and Sri Lanka’s President Junius Jayewardene. Some powers, including control of the police and the collection of local taxes, are to be granted to the joint council. This is a fair dose of autonomy, but not independence.

The Tigers kept forcing postponements, but the election had to be held before Sri Lanka’s presidential election, due on December 19th, The two main presidential candidates, Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the prime minister Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, both dislike the deal with India. But Mr Jayewardene is determined to get a settlement in place and Mr Gandhi wants something to show for his efforts, in order to impress the Tamil electorate of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is due to go to the polls in January.

A cunning (if undemocratic) deal sewed up the Tiger heartland in the north. Advised by the Indians, the Tigers’ two main rivals, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF), agreed to contest the election. They then agreed to share the 36 seats, and thus do without a vote.

In the east, the Tigers called a general strike. Locals were so frightened that 400 election officers had to be flown in from Colombo to man the polls. Still, the EPRLF, the ruling United National Party and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress put up candidates, giving the Tamils, the Sinhalese and the Muslims – who each make up around a third of the population – their own people to vote for.

In the main Tamil district of Batticaloa, 79% of the voters, risking reprisals, braved the Tigers and went to the polls. It was the biggest turnout ever in the district. Thousands were still queueing when the polls closed. Many said they were voting not for any particular party but for the chance of peace. They had already been given a taste of security by Indian troops, who have pushed back the Tigers in the east. The Indians had threatened to leave if there was a low turnout.

The Muslims make up 8% of the country’s population, have similar grievances to the Tamils, but previously lacked political organization. This time they voted energetically: they have been galvanized by the leadership of 40 year-old Mr Mohammed Ashraff. His Sri Lanka Muslim Congress urged participation in the provincial council. The Sinhalese hardly bothered to vote. In the Sinhalese-dominated town of Amparai the turnout was only 5%. They probably felt abandoned by the government in Colombo, and are understandably bitter. The government has been urging Sinhalese to move into the area to balance the Tamil population.

The EPRLF and the Muslims got 17 seats each in the east; the United National Party got only one. Altogether, the EPRLF-ENDLF alliance got three-quarters of the seats in the joint council. The Tigers’ refusal to take part looks like a mistake: for the first time, everybody is questioning their claim to be the Tamils’ only true representatives.

While the north and east are demanding an end to violence, the rest of the country is fast getting bloodier. In contrast to the Tamils’ brave demonstration against Tiger threats, the country’s Sinhalese majority looks cowed in the face of the group of Sinhalese extremists known by its initials JVP, for Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front). The JVP called strikes and demonstrations which brought the country to a halt two weeks ago. Many Sinhalese workers are still striking. They are probably staying away less out of support for than out of fear of the JVP: it has a habit of killing opponents.

Some people fear that martial law will be declared. Others argue that a military government already exists. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. A state of emergency has been in force since the last presidential election in 1982. Since November 2nd there has been curfew every night, all over the island. Troops may shoot curfew violators or demonstrators. Anybody staying away from work illegally can be sentenced to death.

Soldiers are being called in to drive buses and petrol tankers and to man the power and pumping stations. They may even in judgment on cases concerning breaches of the new emergency regulations. Now that newsreaders on radio and television are being threatened, soldiers are being trained to take over from them. The sight of a uniformed presenter on the nightly news may bring home to Sri Lankans how close the civil war has brought them to army rule.

*****

Assassination and Intimidation: JVP death squads lash out with wanton vengeance

[Marguerite Johnson; Time, November 28, 1988, p. 13.]

Death never seems to take a holiday in Sri Lanka. At one home in the town of Beliatta, where mourners met recently to pay respects to a victim of extremists, another gang of killers burst in. The terrorists killed eight of the mourners and beheaded the corpse. In the southern settlement of Hambantota, explosives were detonated at a grave site, blowing up a newly interred body. Presumably as a warning, the decapitated body of a reserve-police constable was placed on the front step of his house in Kamburupitiya.

Violence seemed to be everywhere, with much of Sri Lanka paralyzed and many of its people caught in the middle. The latest terror campaign was launched by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or People’s Liberation Front, an extremist Sinhalese group that seeks to overthrow the government of President Junius R. Jayewardene. Early this week, JVP terrorists killed at least 45 people, most of them government employees who had defied a JVP order to stay away from work.

As intended, the bloodshed by the JVP all but overshadowed the election for a provincial council in the predominantly Tamil eastern districts. That vote, the first in seven years, was a major step in efforts to gain a measure of local autonomy for the country’s Tamil minority. As soldiers and police conducted heavy patrols, a surprising number of Sri Lankans braved the intimidation to cast their votes – and for the moment at least, the violence appeared to recede.

The Jayewardene government has responded to the JVP onslaught with draconian measures. Earlier this month security forces were given unprecedented powers, including the right to shoot anyone attending an illegal demonstration. The government also decreed the death penalty for people instigating protests or printing, writing and distributing threatening posters. Special military courts were set up to dispense speedy justice. In an interview with TIME, National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali admitted that the measures could lead to military repression, but explained, ‘We had to act. If we don’t do anything, the JVP will capture power.’

A shadowy group with Marxist origins, the JVP went underground after it was charged with having instigated the anti-Tamil riots of 1983, in which as many as 2,000 people were killed. In the 16 months since India and Sri Lanka signed a peace pact to end the bloody conflict between separatist Tamil guerrillas and the Sinhalese-dominated government, the JVP has resurfaced with a vengeance: JVP gunmen have assassinated more than 500 supporters of the accord, mainly members of Jayewardene’s ruling United National Party.

Two weeks ago, in its most daring effort at destabilization yet, the JVP told government and other employees to stay away from work or be killed. Shops, banks, ports and post offices shut down. In some parts of the country, there were no buses, trains, electricity, water or telephone service. The JVP ruthlessly demonstrated its intent to make examples of those who defied its orders: five bus drivers who failed to heed JVP posters threatening death to those who reported for work were gunned down.

Due to what it called ‘unsettled conditions,’ the government asked tourists to leave the island and canceled all package tours – a loss of revenue the country can ill afford. To counter the JVP’s threats to workers, authorities declared that employees in all essential services who did not report for work would be dismissed. To give the decree muscle, the government issued detention orders to hundreds of employees, which permitted them to claim that they were being forced to work. The ‘counter-fear campaign’ was necessary, said Athulathmudali, because many workers felt it was safer to disobey the government than the JVP.

By that time almost 9,000 troops normally stationed in the predominantly Tamil Northeastern  Province had been redeployed to the south, where the JVP is strongest. At least 250 JVP suspects were rounded up; in Colombo, police arrested an unknown number of so-called inside inciters in different sectors of the government, who were said to have coerced colleagues into staying out. Political opponents of Jayewardene expressed concern that tactics such as shooting at demonstrators might backfire, thereby garnering sympathy for the JVP.

In recent months the JVP has sought to exploit disaffection with the 70,000 Indian peacekeeping forces stationed in the North and East, not to mention a desire for political change. Jayewardene has held power for eleven years. But since he will step down after Sri Lankans choose a new President in national elections Dec.19, former political allies of the JVP suspect that the group’s real goal is to create so violent a climate that the elections will have to be postponed.

While most Sri Lankans think the JVP is the only force that could break Jayewardene’s iron hold on power, they do not view it as an alternative. Privately, some politicians compare the JVP’s elusive leader, Rohana Wijeweera, to Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge head widely held responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. Even in its stronghold in the south, the savagery of the JVP has generated more fear than support.

Opposition leaders, the Buddhist clergy, the press, the Indian government and even voices within the security forces are suggesting that the only way to stop the JVP and save the country from anarchy lies in the formation of a national coalition government. With a powerful segment inside his party opposed to such a move, Jayewardene, for the time being at least, seems to prefer a military solution. [Reported by Anita Pratap/Colombo]

Series continued…Part XII

———————————————————————————————————————–

The Indo-LTTE War (1987-90)
An Anthology, Part 12
The Curtain Falls on Despot Jayewardene’s 12 Year Rule
What will become of the accord with India? Mr Jayewardene says it is a fixture. The limited self-rule it promised to Tamils in the form of a provincial council for the north and east is now functioning. Only the Tigers, of all the separatist fighters, remain on the loose, but they now seem weak as kittens because of the presence of the Indians. Those close to Mr Premadasa say he may replace the accord with a ‘friendship treaty’, whatever that means. He may then ask the Indians to start pulling out. This, he hopes, will keep the JVP quiet. Perhaps. But the real aim of its Marxist leaders may be to force a revolution in which it can come to power.

Mr Premadasa’s promises of peace, an end to poverty, and the removal of the Indian forces without resurrecting the Tigers, will be hard to keep. Mr Jayewardene, still the ‘old fox’ at 82, will be watching attentively as he shuffles slyly to the sidelines.

Part 1 of the series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
The second executive Presidential election was held on December 18, 1988. The main contenders in this election were Ranasinghe Premadasa (UNP) and Sirimavo Bandaranaike (SLFP). Notably, both pledged to the voters that if elected they would send off the Indian army from the island. The prevailing atmosphere in the island during December 1988 was distinctly different from that of October 1982, when the first executive Presidential election was held. Apart from the presence of the Indian army, other leading indicators were as follows: (1) Emergence of the LTTE in the North-East regions of the island and the JVP in the Southern regions. (2) Simultaneous eclipse of the TULF in the North-East. (3) Temporary ascent of EPRLF, the puppet regime of Indian mandarins and intelligence peddlers.

TIME graphic Dec 19 1988 Sri Lanka

From Part 1 to Part 11 of this anthology, I have assembled cumulatively 99 newsreports and commentaries. I would assert that more than 98 percent of these publicly available materials have been either selectively or inadvertently ignored by Sri Lankan president J.R. Jayewardene’s biographers Professors K.M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins [vide, J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, vol. II, Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books, London, 1994], to present their protagonist in a good light, and to project the LTTE as the ‘bad guys.’ Nevertheless, the documented record speaks otherwise. Presented below, for Part 12 of this anthology, are 10 news reports and commentaries that appeared in December 1988.

In variance to the previous 11 parts where I have selected materials from either weeklies (Time, Newsweek, Economist, Asiaweek, and Far Eastern Economic Review) or monthlies (South), I have included a commentary by Barbara Crossette that appeared in the New York Times of Dec.18, 1988. Note that the Time magazine issue of the same date reported that by then, “681 Indian soldiers, 900 Tamil Tigers and nearly 1,000 civilians” had died in the Indo-LTTE war. The same issue also featured short ‘box profiles’ on the thoughts/predicaments of seven Sinhala and Tamil individuals. Among these seven, two (B.Y.Tudawe and Theepan) were well recognized in the island. Tudawe was a Communist Party MP for Matara and the Deputy Minister of Education, from 1970-77. Theepan is “a Tamil Tiger field commander.”

Manik de Silva: Merged – for now. Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec.1, 1988, pp. 36-37.

Anonymous: Enter Hydra. Economist, Dec. 3, 1988, p. 28.

Anonymous: Slide Into Anarchy. Asiaweek, Dec. 16, 1988, p. 29.

Barbara Crossette: Blood, alienation and chauvinism accompany Sri Lankans to polls. New York Times, Dec. 18, 1988.

Ron Moreau: Sri Lanka’s Killing Spree – Can anyone govern? Newsweek, Dec. 19, 1988, pp. 37-38.

Lisa Beyer: Edge of the Abyss – A surge of savagery that chokes off all reason. Time, Dec. 19, 1988, pp. 28-33.

Manik de Silva: The killing Campaign. Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec. 22, 1988, p. 23.

Sri Lanka Correspondent: Democracy’s Day of Courage. Economist, Dec. 24, 1988, p. 33.

Michael S. Serrill: Patching an Old Feud. Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p. 23.

Anonymous: Breakout – An explosive prison escape. Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p. 24.

Merged – For Now

[Manik de Silva, Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec.1, 1988, pp. 36-37.]

Sri Lanka’s major obligation under its 1987 accord with India was completed on 19 November with a council election for the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces where Tamil separatists have been fighting a five-year long war. Yet, despite a surprisingly high 63% voter turnout, the credibility of the new council remains in question because the dominant guerilla group refused to contest the election.

Also in question is the permanence of the merger. The Eastern Province is populated in almost equal proportion by Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and a referendum must be held there within a year to determine whether the people wish to remain linked – and therefore dominated – by the predominantly Tamil north.

Whether the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) refusing to contest because they opposed the accord itself, the 36 northern seats went uncontested to an alliance of the relatively less influential Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRLF) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front. The EPRLF also contested seats in the east against the two year-old Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, and the ruling United National Party (UNP).

Predictably, the EPRLF, which was backed by India, and the Muslim Congress carried the province, with 17 seats each, with the UNP winning a solitary seat. It was clear that Muslims had voted for the congress and the Tamils for the EPRLF. The Sinhalese, resentful of the merger and unhappy about the lack of protection from attacks by the Tamil separatists, appeared to have largely ignored the election.

As both the LTTE and the militant Sinhalese Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the east had tried to frighten voters away from the polls, the 50,000-strong Indian Peace Keeping Force, in Sri Lanka for 15 months now to help implement the 1987 accord, worked hard to ensure minimum disruption. The Indians stressed that the election was conducted entirely by the Colombo government with their troops only providing security and, where requested, some logistical assistance.

With the presidential election due on 10 December and the majority of the non-Tamils in the Eastern Province perceived to be opposed to a continuing north-east link, many observers in Colombo expect President Junius Jayewardene, who is not seeking re-election, to quickly announce a date for the referendum in the east. The Indians who perceive Tamil aspirations as strongly pro-merger would not favor any delinking. Questions are already being asked about whether the Indians would cooperate in holding a referendum in which their interests might lose out.

The Muslim Congress, with its strong showing in the east and its less spectacular successes in winning Muslim votes in earlier provincial council elections elsewhere, is preparing to use its leverage with both the UNP and the main opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to carve out a Muslim majority provincial council in the east, for it does not favour a merger either. The congress has thus far backed the SLFP’s presidential candidate, Sirima Bandaranaike, but may now offer its support to whoever it can wrest concessions from in the parliamentary election that mus follow the presidential poll.

While Bandaranaike is already committed to doing away with the provincial councils, which were only set up this year, should she win the election, it is clear that the SLFP is willing to concede considerable provincial autonomy to Tamil- and Muslim- majority areas to resolve the ethnic strife that has torn Sri Lanka society and its economy apart. Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, the UNP presidential candidate, has slowly distanced himself from Jayewardene’s arrangements with India – under which the provincial councils were to be formed – and both he and Bandaranaike tell election rallies that if elected they will secure an Indian pull-out. But with the Indians having failed so far to disarm the LTTE, and Sinhalese militants creating havoc in the south, an immediate Indian withdrawal would hardly be practicable.

Any Colombo government has to also be conscious of the fact that the Tamil separatist war was able to assume the proportions it did because of the Indian factor in the equation. The Tamil separatists enjoyed extensive support from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and both trained and staged raids from there until the 1987 accord, when New Delhi deprive them of logistical and other support. A future Sri Lankan Government proposing to tinker with the accord cannot be unconscious of the inherent dangers of such an action.

While the northeast election was being concluded, the southern militants continued their rampage in the majority Sinhalese areas. A spate of selective killings disrupted public transport in many areas with bus and train operators refusing to work for fear of attack. Electrical sub-stations and power lines were sabotaged causing extensive blackouts in some parts of the country and troops had to be deployed to ensure essential services continued and to bring frightened employees to work.


Enter Hydra

[Anonymous, Economist, Dec.3, 1988, p. 28.]

Surely there must be something to report about Sri Lanka that is not wholly gloomy? Well, there’s the tea crop. It is unusually good this year. Unfortunately, much of it is likely to stay on the plantations. The roads from the tea-growing areas to the capital, Colombo, where the tea would be auctioned, packed and exported, are unsafe. Some gets through, escorted by soldiers, but a lot of it will never reach the teapot.

The tea is a metaphor for all of Sri Lanka, a country with an abundance of good things to offer the world, cash crops, precious stones, textiles, free-trade zones and tourism, but all of them stymied by a civil war that is getting more terrible each day. It is now taking on the character of Hydra, the monster of Greek mythology that grew two heads when one was cut off.

Sri Lanka’s only monster used to be the Tamil Tigers, who have been fighting tooth and claw for a separate state for the minority Tamils in the north-east of the country. Sri Lanka has not quite cut off the Tigers’ head, but it has shooed them into the jungle with the aid of soldiers from India. But by bringing in the Indians, and be offering political concessions to the Tamils, it has created a second monster.

The People’s Liberation Front, generally known by the initials JVP (for its Sinhalese name, Janata Vimukthi Peramuna), claims to speak for the island’s Sinhalese majority. It is bitterly opposed to the provincial autonomy offered to the Tamils of the north-east, and to the presence of 50,000 Indian soldiers in Sri Lanka, who came in as part of a deal designed to bring peace to the Tamil areas. The Front has declared war on the government of President Junius Jayewardene for doing this deal, which, it says, has put Sri Lanka under India’s thumb.

Like the Tigers, the Front has a philosophy which is unlovely and implausible mixture of Marxism and racism. Its aim is to disrupt the country so much that the government will collapse. It has frightened the drivers of the tea lorries and destroyed the tourist trade. The Front is as brutal as the Tigers. Since the government signed the pact with India in July 1987 it is believed to have killed more than 600 people, mostly government supporters. In a 24-hour period this week it shot dead 15 people. In the rural areas of southern Sri Lanka, where most Sinhalese live, its word has become law. It forbids people to go to work; so there is no public transport, shops run out of supplies, hospitals have no medicine and there is a shortage of cash because banks do not open.

The JVP’s target now is Colombo. Its posters went up in the capital this week decreeing that all activity should stop on December 5th. From that day even private cares will not be tolerated on the streets. The order will remain in force until December 19th, when a presidential election is due to be held. It seems the Front plans to make that election impossible.

It looks fairly impossible anyway. Were the country not near anarchy it would be a straightforward choice between Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, the candidate of the ruling United National Party, and Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the candidate of the main opposition group. After 11 years of United National Party government under Mr Jayewardene (who is retiring), Mrs Bandaranaike would probably win. She is a former prime minister and has the right background; all but one of Sri Lanka’s governments during the 40 years since independence have been headed by someone from one of the great political families, the Senanayakes and the Bandaranaikes. She is of high caste (as important to Buddhist Sinhalese as it is to Hindu Tamils), while Mr Premadasa is of low caste.

Such rationalities no longer seems to matter as much as they did even a couple of months ago. Mrs Bandaranaike has hinted that she might pull out. She suspects that the government may be fixing the election. In Colombo suspicious opposition people mutter that 1.2m illegal voting slips have been prepared to stuff the ballot boxes. The story is a symptom of the malaise in Sri Lanka, a once rather decent country where previous elections have been mostly fair. Mr Jayewardene sought to counter the rumour this week by agreeing that foreign observers could monitor the election.

Or Mr Jayewardene may call off the election, believing that it will end in chaos (even though the soothsayers claim it will be auspicious for Mr Premadasa). He would then continue as executive president, perhaps calling a parliamentary election, a popular move as there has not been one since 1977.

Assuming the presidential election goes ahead, the winner, whether Mr Premadasa or Mrs Bandaranaike, will come to office on a promise to scrap the deal with India. Not only would the Indian soldiers be asked to go home, removing from Sri Lanka its most disciplined group on the side of law and order, but one of Mr Jayewardene’s greatest achievements would be endangered. This was the highly successful election in November of a Tamil-run provincial council for the island’s northern and eastern districts. Voters turned out in great numbers, despite a demand from the Tigers for a boycott. The council, which once seemed a hopeless dream, has now appointed a terrorist-turned-democrat as provincial minister. If the council collapsed, any hope of peace for the north-east would be over.

These are agonizing times for the 82 year-old Mr Jayewardene. He acted courageously in bringing in the Indians and pressing ahead with some kind of Tamil self-government. The army is stretched to run even essential services, but Mr Jayewardene has declined to impose martial law. He may not despair, but he finds it difficult to know what else he can do to hold his little country together. Getting rid of Hydra took all the strength and guile of Hercules.


Slide Into Anarchy

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Dec. 16, 1988, p. 29]

Once a familiar figure, the postman in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province has been replaced by a stranger with a mail-bag in one hand and an automatic rifle in the other. The postal service is one of the many institutions taken over by the army as the country continues its slide into anarchy. According to the latest official figures, 439 people were killed in a 30-day period recently, most of them by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front). The JVP has vowed to bring the government to its knees.

Civil administration in 20 of the island’s 26 districts has been crippled as thousands of frightened administrators and clerks obeyed the terrorists’ call for a nationwide boycott. More than 200 senior government officials in the Southern Province were taken into ‘protective custody’ by the army. ‘They are essential to keep the services running,’ explains Col. Vipul Boteju, coordinating officer in the Hambantota district. ‘We had no alternative but to force them to work.’ Ex-soldiers and officers are being recruited to meet mounting manpower needs. Army technicians are being trained to take over computer systems in major banks and the international airport. Others are being taught to run the petroleum refinery, overseas telecommunications, power stations and the television and radio networks.

Troops battling the insurgents have been given wide emergency powers. ‘If we didn’t strengthen units in the south, the country would be in chaos,’ National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali told Asiaweek. President Junius Jayewardene has appointed Maj.-Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne as head of the First Division in charge of the all-out offensive. The division includes officers who planned the May 1987 invasion of the northern Jaffna peninsula held by Tamil separatists. Officers say troops have overcome qualms about fighting fellow Sinhalese. But according to another army source, overzealous soldiers are repeating mistakes made in fighting the Tamils. He says recruits from the south, sickened by what they see as indiscriminate slaughter, are in a mutinous mood.

The opposition has urged Jayewardene to hand over power to a caretaker government before the Dec.19 presidential elections to defuse the crisis. Instead, he has promised to dissolve Parliament on Dec.20 and bring forward the general elections by six months to Feb.15. ‘An opportunity should be given to the people to elect a new parliament so that the new president will have the benefit of the views of the electorate,’ Jayewardene explained.

The move is unlikely to assuage the JVP, which is disrupting presidential campaigns with bomb attacks. Among the latest victims were Devabandara Senaratne, vice-president of the opposition Sri Lanka People’s Party, and two supporters. Tourists and expatriates are fleeing the country in the countdown to the polls. The government has vowed not to let up on its military campaign. Declares a senior cabinet minister: ‘Even if [the media]stand on their heads and shout about human rights, we’ll go ahead. If not, there will never be peace in this country.’


Blood, Alienation and Chauvinism Accompany Sri Lankans to Polls

[Barbara Crossette; New York Times, Dec.18, 1988.]

Dharshanie is only 22. Her brother is a soldier. But that does not dampen the fire in her that turned her against one of Asia’s oldest and most resilient democracies. ”At the moment, I don’t think that democracy exists in this country,” she said as she settled down with two fellow Sri Lankan students to explain what has brought them to the brink of violence, even revolution. ”Look at the adult generation we have,” she says. ”They are calling it a democracy and shooting schoolchildren. This is the kind of government our parents have put in power to protect us.” Opposition Grows Rapidly

Darshanie, a Colombo University student, and her colleagues, Kumar and Gamini, are part of a rapidly growing phenomenon deeply troubling to Sri Lankans of almost every political persuasion: the drift of the country’s ethnic Sinhalese youth, children of the majority, into a violent opposition coalescing around a shadowy group called the People’s Liberation Front and the more ruthless, armed Patriotic People’s Movement.

With a presidential election scheduled Monday, the movement this weekend has threatened to shut down Sri Lankan cities and towns with a campaign of terror and to cut off the hand of anyone who votes. A bus was set on fire in the center of Colombo today and a gasoline bomb was thrown at a shop. No one asserted responsibility for the incidents, but it was widely assumed here to be the work of Sinhalese extremists. To counter this threat, the Government of President J. R. Jayewardene, which held its last Cabinet meeting today, is planning to impose a nationwide, round-the-clock curfew after the voting Monday, a senior official said tonight.

The curfew is expected to be in effect for at least 36 hours while the votes are counted and the next President is sworn in. Posters went up in some Colombo neighborhoods today ordering citizens to stay home from midnight tonight until Monday night. Voters run the risk of being shot, as they were in provincial elections earlier this year. Troops and militias equivalent to a national guard have been sent to populated places all over Sri Lanka to try to provide security for voters.

Three candidates are running for president: Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa of the ruling United National Party; Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, a former prime minister, and Ossie Abeygoonasekera of the United Socialist Alliance, a group of left-wing parties. The leading contenders are Mrs. Bandaranaike and Mr. Premadasa.

The People’s Liberation Front contends that the Government in Colombo gave too many concessions to the Tamil minority in a July 1987 peace agreement aimed at ending the five-year insurrection by Tamil guerrillas in the north and east. Tamils make up about 18 percent of the population. In 1983, Tamil rebels launched their violent campaign for greater autonomy from the Sinhalese-dominated Government. Sri Lanka’s radical students call themselves Marxists. But this is a new Marxism, said Kumar, who belongs to the student wing of the People’s Liberation Front. Their movement, whose hero is Lenin, is nevertheless anti-Soviet and anti-Chinese, the students said, adding that of the Communist countries, only Cuba and Vietnam help them. Maoist and Perhaps Fascist

Many Sri Lankans describe the People’s Liberation Front, led by a former Maoist, Rohana Wijeweera, as neo-fascist. For many, the militant chauvinism enshrined in the mottos of the front – ”First Motherland, Then Education” and ”First Motherland, Then Work” – poses a far greater danger to Sri Lankan unity and development than the Tamil rebellions.

Many Sri Lankans believe that the Sinhalese-first movements formed by some Buddhist monks and Roman Catholic priests as well as those of the university students have been coopted by the more dangerous and ruthless political tacticians of the People’s Liberation Front. The students reject this. Their politicization began, they say, on education issues, like opposition to private higher education and a change in examination procedures, and mushroomed after Indian troops arrived in Sri Lanka last year under an agreement between the two countries aimed at ending the Tamil insurretion. When Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came to Colombo to sign the accord, Darshanie said, ”I wondered why the honor guards didn’t spit in his face.” A young sailor did hit the Indian Prime Minister with his rifle.

Loss of Nationhood Alleged : To many Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhist while most Tamils are Hindu, the country has lost its sovereignty to Hindu New Delhi. Paradoxically, many Tamils now battling Indian forces share this view. ”We are anti-Government,” Dharshanie said. ”We are anti-accord. We are anti-Indian. If the J.V.P. has the same attitude, we can’t help that,” she said, referring to the People’s Liberation Front by its initials in Sinhalese. Older Marxists are among those most disturbed by the emergence of this new left. The students accuse traditional Communists of reporting regularly and falsely to Moscow about their activities. ”There is a phenomenon here that we have not fully studied: the phenomenon of Pol Potism,” Pieter Keuneman, leader of the Sri Lankan Communist Party, said in an interview Friday. Pol Pot was the Communist leader of Cambodia from 1975-79. He is blamed for the deaths of more than a million Cambodians. ”This Pol Potism came out of Maoism, the Red Guard movement and so on,” Mr. Keuneman said, adding that what is happening in Sri Lanka ”is not on a massive scale like in Cambodia.” ”But,” he said, ”it’s the same thing: young people who don’t know very much, who enjoy power, who enjoy dressing up and playing soldiers.”

Escaped Death Himself: Mr. Keuneman said that assassins of the new left killed 185 Sri Lankan Communists in the last year. Two days before the interview in his small office here, Mr. Keuneman escaped an attack by gunmen. In some cases, the assaults by the Patriotic People’s Movement have been carried out with extreme brutality. ”If there’s a chap you don’t like,” he said, ”you go around and kill him. You kill his children. You chop their heads off. I would call it savage, but the savages are much more civilized.”

Mr. Abeygoonasekera, a presidential candidate being fielded by a coaltion of leftist parties including the Communists, has survived three grenade attacks in the last few weeks. By the end of the campign on Friday night, he was more or less in hiding. To combat rising Sinhalese terrorism, which includes the intimidation of shopkeepers and public service employees, the Sri Lankan Army and its paramilitary support groups last month were given wide powers that critics label ”state terrorism.” These powers include the right of police officers above a certain rank to dispose of bodies without post-mortem examinations.

Students have compiled files on murders they say have been committed over the last month by security forces or vigilantes. They bring the case studies, illustrated by photographs of mutliated bodies, to foreign reporters, asking for help in publicizing their cause abroad. Asked about the reported atrocities of the Patriotic People’s Movement, the students say that someone had to take up arms ”to protect the people” from the Government and from the Indian troops.


Sri Lanka’s Killing Spree – Can Anyone Govern?

[Ron Moreau, Newsweek, Dec.19, 1988, pp. 37-38.]

On a grassy hill overlooking a stream where white egrets wade, a pile of human bones lies smoldering in a heap of ashes. Villagers say that Sri Lankan soldiers dumped four bodies one night and set them ablaze in this spot near the town of Kaduwela, just east of Colombo. They say the victims were probably suspected members of the Sinhalese revolutionary group, the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), who were picked up by the military in one of its nightly house-to-house searches – and then executed. ‘Why did the Army kill rather than jail them?’ asked one young man. ‘I think it’s a warning not to cooperate with the JVP’, a friend answered.

Terror is nothing new to the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka, where the struggle between ethnic Sinhalese and Tamils has claimed thousands of lives since battles erupted in 1983. But with each passing month the nation’s mightmare deepens as the once sporadic violence becomes common place and any semblance of law and order evaporates. The JVP, which bitterly opposes the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord intended to grant limited self-rule to the Tamil minority, has killed more than 600 government and treaty supporters since the pact was signed in July 1987. Recently it has turned its guns on opposition politicians in a savage attempt to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.

Outgoing President Junius R. Jayewardene has counterattacked with a vengeance, imposing draconian emergency regulations and unleashing his 40,000 – man security force – bolstered by shadowy paramilitary groups known as ‘Green Tigers’, who terrorize government opponents. In the northern provinces where the Tamils are in the majority, uncompromising Tamil guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist organization continue to battle 60,000 Indian peacekeeping troops sent in under the terms of last year’s treaty. The resulting islandwide slaughter is claiming more than 20 victims every day. ‘People are scared to death,’ says one Western diplomat in Colombo, ‘and the government is fighting for its life.’

Early last month the JVP dramatically escalated its war against Jayewardene. Through death threats spread by letters, posters, word of mouth – and by selective political murders – JVP rebels have cast a pall over life in southern Sri Lanka. JVP-ordered hartals (strikes) closed schools, government offices, private shops, markets, banks and gas stations and brought bus, train and truck service to a halt. Plantations that supply export-earning tea, rubber and coconut have ceased production, and food shortages have become commonplace. Many civil servants, bus drivers, truckers, dock workers and plantation owners who didn’t comply with the warnings to stop work were killed. The extremists beheaded student leaders and policemen who refused to cooperate and even exhumed and beheaded the corpses of victims if families didn’t follow humiliating funeral rites prescribed by the JVP.

The strikes and mindless violence have disrupted the lives of more than half of Sri Lanka’s 16 million people. Hardest hit is the island’s Sinhalese deep south. There, hundreds of disaffected, unemployed youngsters who have migrated from the countryside to dead-end urban lives have drifted to the JVP. The hartals destroyed the southern coast’s lucrative tourist industry, forcing the government to evacuate some 5,000 European tourists and to cancel at least 18 charter flights due in over the winter tourist season. But the rebels seem unmoved and refuse to end their reign of terror unless the peace accord is scrapped; Indian troops are sent home; Sri Lanka’s Parliament, provincial and local assemblies are dissolved, and the presidential election is postponed until the JVP is ready to participate.

24-hour curfews: Clearly unwilling to meet any of those demands, Jayewardene sent in the Army last month with orders to shoot any demonstrators or curfew violators. While the security forces quickly restored the capital of Colombo to a rough equivalent of normality, bringing law and order to southern towns and villages where the JVP is entrenched was more difficult. But the government’s forces did have some success. The Army and police killed dozens of pro-JVP demonstrators and perhaps hundreds of suspected JVP guerrillas. House-to-house sweeps during 24-hour curfews have resulted in the arrest of more than 1,000 JVP suspects.

The Army and its loyal paramilitary groups are indulging in their own brand of terror. In the tiny southern village of Ampitiya, journalists last week ran across the bodies of three teenage boys who had been taken from their homes. Each had been shot in the head. Sri Lankan human-rights activists also report an alarming number of missing persons among JVP suspects who are believed to have been detained in the security forces’ sweeps. Some, like those found near Kaduwela, are thought to have been executed and their bodies quickly burned or buried to prevent identification.

Unfortunately, neither of the two main presidential candidates – Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasaof the ruling United National Party (UNP) or former socialist prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) – is publicly addressing the country’s deep-rooted problems. Premadasa, who has taken over Jayewardene’s UNP’s powerful urban political machine, has tried without success to blame Bandaranaike for the violence and is promising Sri Lanka’s legions of poor the equivalent of $83 a month in welfare payments – something the nearly bankrupt government can ill afford. And while saying that he opposes the Indo-Sri Lankan peace treaty, he has spoken only vaguely of a ‘phased and orderly’ Indian troop withdrawal. Bandaranaike, 72, is slowing down but still manages to draw large, enthusiastic crowds. She blames the government for the breakdown in law and order, vows to cut food prices and to write off the debt owed by poor farmers. She also promises to scrap the Indo-Sri Lankan accord and send Indian forces home.

‘Fascist beasts’: Neither candidate dares mention what should be the campaign’s major issue: how to deal with the JVP. ‘Both major candidates are trying to appease the JVP,’ says a Western diplomat. ‘They wrongly think they can co-opt it.’ Only the third presidential candidate leftist Ossie Abeygunasekera, has shown the courage to publicly denounce the JVP extremists, whom he has called ‘fascist beasts’. For his candor, JVP gunmen attacked one of his election rallies two weeks ago with machine guns and grenades, killing his deputy and several supporters.

In the end, the JVP’s terror tactics probably won’t stop the election – but they may help to decide the winner. While most Sri Lankan political analysts predict that public sentiment favors Bandaranaike – if only out of frustration with the UNP – her traditional strongholds are those very areas of the south now dominated by the JVP. If the JVP succeeds in forcing large numbers of voters to stay home there, Premadasa could win since his UNP machine is likely to get out the vote in the cities.

But no matter who wins, the next president must somehow face up to the JVP challenge. And with neither candidate voicing a coherent political and economic program to combat the causes of JVP extremism, there’s little room for optimism. ‘No one is proposing solutions,’ says one pessimistic Western diplomat in Colombo. ‘I’m afraid that no matter who wins, the prospects are not bright for Sri Lanka.’


Edge of the Abyss: A surge of savagery that chokes off all reason

[Lisa Beyer, Time, Dec.19, 1988, pp. 28-33.]

[Note by Sachi: This feature contained short ‘box profiles’ on the thoughts/predicaments of seven Sinhala and Tamil individuals. Among these seven, two (B.Y.Tudawe and Theepan) are well recognized in the island. Tudawe was a Communist Party MP for Matara and the Deputy Minister of Education, from 1970-77. Theepan is “a Tamil Tiger field commander.” These ‘box profiles’ are provided at the end of the main text.]

TIME cover Dec, 19 1988

In most of the country, one would hardly have known that Sri Lanka was nearing the end of its first presidential election campaign in six years. One morning in Ambalangoda, a coastal town south of the capital of Colombo, the presidential candidate of the ruling United National Party (UNP), Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, was just about to arrive, yet there were no crowds to greet him, no supporters waving party banners. The streets were practically deserted, and all the stores closed.

The reason was plain, unadulterated fear. The militant People’s Liberation Front (JVP), which opposes the government of President J.R. Jayewardene, had ordered a ‘curfew’, an edict Sri Lankans have learned to take seriously ever since the JVP launched a terror campaign against the regime, killing anyone who defied their writ. Security forces in Ambalangoda, however, had their orders: open up the town. Soldiers and policemen moved up and down the streets, using the butts of their rifles to smash locks off shuttered storefronts and arguing with residents to persuade them to come out of hiding. Cowering in his shop on a side street, one storekeeper was close to hysteria. ‘The army says open, the other side says close. I am in the middle. I can’t think, I can’t even speak I am so afraid,’ he whispered. ‘Please don’t mention my name or this shop,’ he added. ‘I’ll be a dead man if you do.’

There are plenty of dead men – as well as women – in Sri Lanka to prove the point. The island country, once South Asia’s success story, has been carried on a bloody tide to the edge of disintegration. More than 10,000 have perished since the first violent confrontations five years ago between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils, who demand greater autonomy in the north and east, areas where they predominate. Since then, the conflict has spread, pitting not only Tamils against Sinhalese but rivals in each group against one another. The Sinhalese-chauvinist JVP, which describes itself as Marxist-Leninist, opposes recent concessions to the Tamils and bitterly resents the presence of Indiean peacekeeping troops, who since last year have been helping to suppress antigovernment Tamil guerrillas. JVP gunmen have wantonly contributed to the bloodletting by killing at elast 600 UNP supporters plus uncounted others, and are gaining momentum. In the south, where the JVP is strongest, more than a dozen people are killed every day in the deadly give-and-take. Having spurned invitations by the government and the parliamentary opposition to join the democratic process, the JVP poses a serious threat to the success of the presidential election on Dec. 19, as well as of parliamentary balloting promised for mid-February.

The savagery, on all sides, has reached the point where it chokes off all reason. ‘The JVP, who say they want to save us, are killing us,’ says a Sinhalese tea-plantation owner in Galle. Indian troops release a young Tamil so badly beaten and tortured that he remains hospitalized a week later; he has been forced to sign a statement saying, ‘I was not ill-treated during my stay.’ Families of JVP victims are forbidden by the killers to acknowledge the deaths with any of the traditional signs of mourning, not even a funeral procession. In Colombo the JVP orders public-sector workers to stay home from their jobs, with the result, perhaps symbolic, that 500 inmates escape from the Angoda Mental Hospital.

Still another chapter in the slaughter has opened up in recent weeks: counterguerrilla vigilantism. In the Sinhalese-dominated south, the JVP itself has become the target not only of the security forces but also of death squads that operate with the government’s unacknowledged support. In Tamil territory, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), invigorated by its victory in provincial elections, has linked up with Indian troops to murder and terrorize Tamil rivals. Violence has become so endemic through much of the country that when passersby see a corpse along the roadside – no uncommon sight these days – they merely stop to check whether it is someone they know, then move on. ‘We are becoming another Lebanon or another Cyprus,’ says Ronnie de Mel, who resigned as Finance Minister earlier this year to join the opposition. ‘We are in a state of anarchy.’

The economy lies devastated. From 1977 to 1983, Sri Lanka’s growth rate averaged 6%: by last year it had slid to 1.5%. Inflation is estimated at 15%, unemployment at 20%. Foreign investors, once drawn to the country’s prospering free-trade zones, are having second thoughts. Electricity is out in much of the south, and train service was cut off throughout the country last week. Most universities have been all but shut for two years. In the north, Tamil newspapers report that more than two-thirds of their advertising revenue comes from death notices or from travel agencies offering to arrange emigration.

In such a climate, an election campaign seems out of place, perhaps even irrelevant. In Colombo campaigning is fairly calm by normal standards, but in the south, UNP officials are transported to rallies by helicopter and are constantly surrounded by guards. Few Sri Lankans risk being seen at political rallies, which have been declared off-limits by the JVP. In the town of Akuressa, a JVP stronghold, barely two dozen people showed up for an appearance by Premadasa.

Since September, an opposition coalition led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has not campaigned in the south at all because, unlike the incumbent party, it does not have the military’s full protection. The SLFP’s presidential candidate, former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, is further frustrated because all her organizers in the south fled after talks with the JVP broke down last month and the JVP declared the party ‘banned’. The Sri Lanka People’s Party, a weak third contender, has been hit even harder: early this year its leader, Vijaya Kumaranatunge, was murdered by the JVP. Two weeks ago, at a rally in Colombo, automatic-weapons fire and hand grenades downed three more SLMP supporters but missed the party’s new leader, Ossie Abeygoonasekera.

Such is the tumult surrounding the campaign that in the run-up to polling day, politicians are wondering aloud whether the turnout will be large enough to give the election legitimacy. Having declared the balloting unacceptable, the JVP is expected to order a boycott. When the organization did that in local elections in the Southern Province last spring, only 27% of those eligible turned out to vote. Many analysts suspect that Jayewardene or his successor may use the security system as a pretext for scrubbing the February parliamentary elections.

The contrast with the last presidential election, when the country was still at peace and something of a model for developing democracies, could not be sharper. ‘I remember in the 1982 presidential campaign driving myself and never thinking about security,’ says Education Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. ‘Today I can’t move without a car in front, loaded with security men, and a car behind.’ Five years ago, discontent among the predominantly Hindu Tamils, who make up 12% of Sri Lanka’s population of 16 million, over discrimination by the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese erupted into violence when Tamil guerrillas attacked an army patrol and killed 13 soldiers. Nationwide riots resulted, and enraged Sinhalese massacred as many as 2,000 Tamils.

India, home to 55 million Tamils who support their cousins in Sri Lanka, was outraged. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, ordered her intelligence organization, the Research and Analysis Wing, to intensify the training and arming of Sri Lankan Tamils in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. Ever greater violence soon became the order of the day.

A peace accord signed last year by Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi offered hope of a solution, but only briefly. Under the agreement, Jayewardene promised Tamils a measure of local rule for the Northern and Eastern provinces while Gandhi dispatched troops to keep peace and disarm the Tamil guerrillas. New Delhi miscalculated: Velupillai Prabakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the most powerful and dangerous of five Tamil guerrilla groups, refused to go along, insisting that only an independent Tamil state – or Eelam – was acceptable. Within months, the Indian peacekeeping force, which had initially planned only a short stay, had grown to 70,000 men and found itself involved in a hit-and-run war that has claimed the lives of 681 Indian soldiers, 900 Tamil Tigers and nearly 1,000 civilians.

Last year the violence spread to the south, carried by the JVP, whose leader, Rohana Wijeweera, a medical-school dropout, has not been seen in public in five years. The party had faded away after leading a failed insurrection in 1971, but, with the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord, re-emerged to champion the cause of Sinhalese hegemony and to denounce Jayewardene as a traitor for ‘selling out’ to Tamil separatists as well as India, an ancient foe. The message hit home particularly in the south, where Sinhalese chauvinism and distrust of New Delhi run deep and where thousands of educated but unemployed young people are receptive to the party’s Marxist appeal. In some southern areas, 6 out of 10 young men are thought to be JVP supporters.

The JVP has grown so quickly that in recent months practically the entire 33,000-man Sri Lankan army, including 9,000 of the 12,000 men normally stationed in the north, has been deployed to the central west and south to help contain the virulent guerrillas. The effort has not gone well. Sympathy or fear makes much of the rural south JVP country. The price of disloyalty is still high: in the small village of Thihagoda, the bodies of a woman and her adult son – deemed government sympathizers by the JVP – were found in their homes, their heads smashed by hammer blows.

The JVP makes life miserable in other ways as well. Last month it tried to put pressure on the Jayewardene government by calling a general strike. In most Sinhalese areas, the stoppage lasted only a few days, but in the south it continued to sputter along as late as last week, trapping workers in a dangerous dilemma. The JVP has warned bus drivers, for example, not to do their job, and killed several of them to underline the point. Government orders, on the other hand, require the drivers to work, and soldiers have forcibly escorted many behind the wheel. Still, few buses, the main means of transportation, are on the roads.

Strikes in ports and a shortage of fuel have led to transportation problems that in the past month have nearly doubled the price of a pound of rice, to about 30 cents. In the south most government offices, including the courts, either are shut down or have ceased to operate effectively. Says a community leader in Matara, a major town in the south: ‘The ordinary man is pushed by terrorists one way, the government the other. We are fed up with both sides but also at their mercy.’

Some southerners are striking back. One morning in Matara, the bodies of two men apparently linked to the JVP were discovered on the streets with signs reading THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO SO-CALLED REVOLUTIONARIES. Local citizens say that only a group working with the government’s connivance could have broken the nighttime curfew to dump the bodies. Corpses marked with similar signs have begun to show up daily throughout the south.

Local strongmen aligned with the UNP are behind some of the killings. ‘The JVP was about to take over this area; there were attacks every night, and the police were helpless,’ a plantation owner in the south told TIME last week. To protect himself, he ‘worked out an understanding’ with security forces and took matters into his own hands. In little more than a week, men employed by him killed 25 suspected JVP members. ‘We eliminated the worst of the buggers and sent a shock wave through the JVP,’ he said. ‘They know that we are on the hunt.’ Ironically, some wealthy Sinhalese have hired former Tamil guerrillas to lead their private death squads. ‘They know what they are doing,’ says a satisfied customer.

The government denies any connection with vigilantism, but does admit to using other methods of intimidation, such as rounding up hundreds of young men for interrogation, then holding htem in indefinite detention: according to official figures, 4,000 are currently in custody. Colombo has granted police and soldiers emergency powers, allowing them to shoot demonstrators and burn bodies without an inquest, and is pushing a controversial bill that would protect security-force members against prosecution stemming from ‘antiterrorist’ acts. JVP activists say the killings and security sweeps have impaired their operations but have not stopped them.

In the north and east, Indian and Sri Lankan forces have had greater success against another foe, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Since the Indian army went into action, the number of LTTE fighters has declined from an estimated 3,000 to about 1,000. With their former training and logistics bases in southern India closed by New Delhi, the Tigers are finding it much more difficult to move arms into Sri Lanka. How much they have been weakened was demonstrated by their failure to disrupt elections in November for the new Northeastern province council, an institution created under the Indo-Sri Lankan accord to give Tamils more autonomy. Although the Tigers threatened to kill anyone who dared to vote, some 60% of those eligible cast ballots.

Both Colombo and New Delhi are well aware that they must eventually deal with the Tigers on a political level. A lawyer whose father-in-law was killed by the Tigers acknowledges that ‘any settlement that excludes the LTTE will not bring peace.’ But no political steps have been taken. In their attempt to erase the Tigers as a military threat, Indian troops are being assisted by a Tamil group, the EPRLF which was shattered two years ago when the Tigers killed some 400 of its cadres. Now the EPRLF, which unlike the Tigers accepts the peace accord and the Indian presence, is getting its revenge. Initially, its alliance with the Indian army was covert, with hooded EPRLF men identifying Tiger suspects rounded up in security sweeps. The hoods came off after the EPRLF won a majority in the November council vote, having been the only significant Tamil party to defy Tiger orders and contest the election. Now Indian troops are openly arming, deploying and sheltering members of the front.

The rebirth of the EPRLF has given the Tamil conflict a new, viciously internecine aspect, resulting in a daily toll of people killed by ‘unidentified gunmen’. The EPRLF, indiscriminately targeting not only Tiger fighters but also civilians thought to be sympathetic to them, has killed some 200 over the past three months. Says Vallipuram Pararajasingham, a doctor in the northern town of Vavuniya: ‘Today I am afraid to smile at anyone on the street. If I smile at a man who happens to be an EPRLF member or supporter, I am marked by the LTTE. If I smile at a man who has LTTE connections, I am marked by the Indian army and the EPRLF.’

Some civilians say they have been brutalized by Indian forces. Each time there is an attack on an Indian base or outpost, surrounding areas are cordoned off and large numbers of civilians are arrested and, by some accounts, beaten. Indian military officials deny the allegations of mistreatment.

The public’s anxiety over the abuses committed by Indian soldiers and EPRLF hitmen is compounded by the fact that neither force is accountable to anyone. ‘Whom do we turn to for justice when the killers are the rulers?’ asks a Tamil notary public in the Jaffna peninsula. The police force in the Northeastern province has disintegrated, and courts have not functioned for more than two years. Even if Tamils had someone to complain to, most would be too frightened to do so. ‘We don’t dare to open our mouths except to eat,’ says the uncle of an EPRLF victim.

To many Sri Lankans, the presidential election offers the only hope, if a slight one, of a diminution of the terror. Both the UNP and Bandaranaike’s SLFP sought to stop violence in the south by talking the JVP into participating in the balloting. Last May the government lifted a 1983 ban on the JVP and Prime Minister Premadasa went so far as to make the disingenuous claim that no one knew for sure that the party was responsible for the killings attributed to it. The JVP responded with more assassinations. During the fall, it linked up briefly with the SLFP-led opposition alliance – a bizarre marriage considering that a Bandaranaike government, in putting down the JVP’s 1971 revolt, killed as many as 16,000 of its people. The relationship ruptured last month when the JVP insisted on the election boycott.

On one issue, the UNP, SLFP and JVP share the same position, at least publicly: the Indians must go. The ruling party plans to maintain the Indo-Sri Lankan accord – notwithstanding the fact that presidential candidate Premadasa has opposed it from the start – but would like to send home the Indian forces as soon as possible. The SLFP originally maintained it would abrogate the pact and eject the Indians, but is now ruling out any unilateral changes. Both parties know that the Sri Lankan army is not equipped to fight both the Tamils in the north and the JVP elsewhere. Premadasa and Bandaranaike, a senior government official told TIME last week, ‘privately assure us that what they are saying is election rhetoric, but we have to wait and see what they will actually do.’

Bandaranaike’s party argues that its prescription for peace lies in a political compromise – more local authority for the Tamils – that should end the security problem in the north, thus the need for the Indian presence. Clearly, a solution will not be nearly so simple, although some observers believe that the departure of Jayewardene and a change of government would improve chances for peace. Argues the opposition’s De Mel: ‘Mrs Bandaranaike hasn’t lost her credibility the way this government has. She can deal with these equations de novo.’

The election is difficult to call. But if JVP intimidation leads to a low turnout, the ruling party should benefit, since the voters most likely to stay away are those in JVP-controlled areas, where SLFP support is strongest. But if the turnout is low and the margin of victory is narrow, the winner, whoever it is, will not be able to claim a clear mandate.

Another uncertainty is whether the mercurial Jayewardene will deliver on his promise to dissolve Parliament the day after the presidential vote in preparation for the February balloting. Postponement of those elections – the last parliamentary vote was in 1977 – would create tremendous discontent, which the JVP would surely exploit. ‘If we miss this chance for democracy, it will result in anarchy and probably a military government,’ says Anura Bandaranaike, Sirimavo’s son and the SLFP’s leader in Parliament.

Even if the elections are a success, the worst of the violence may be still to come. Says a Western diplomat in Colombo: ‘Whoever wins, somebody is going to take off the gloves and start bashing a lot harder.’ Given the seeming intractability of the several conflicts in their country, Sri Lanka is left to wonder whether it will ever regain its tranquility. Says Education Minister Wickremesinghe: ‘The media, the legal sector, the top players in government, all the institutions have been affected by the psychosis of fear. Even if all the guns are put away, this country will never be the same again.’ [Reported by Edward W.Desmond/Matara, and Anita Pratap/Jaffna]

[Note appended: “Names in quotation marks have been changed.”]

Box Profile 1: ‘Sarath’ a Sinhalese army sergeant

He is only 27, but he has the expressionless look of a man inured to death. Having fought the Tamil Tigers for five years in Jaffna, he lost ‘at least 30 friends,’ was wounded twice in mine blasts and killed ‘a lot of Tigers’. When will it end? ‘I really don’t know,’ he replies. ‘Maybe when we have a military government.’ Three months ago, his infantry unit was transferred south to take on the JVP. Looking across the empty streets of a town under a JVP curfew order, he says, ‘These people observe the curfews because they are afraid. We can’t protect every person in every house.’ He dislikes running buses, delivering food and filling the gap in basic services. Most of all, he hates fighting a shadowy enemy, going on ambushes that yield nothing, only to have morning reveal that the JVP has killed nearby during the night.

Box Profile 2: ‘Mallika’, a Sinhalese schoolteacher

The pain in the frail young woman’s face is as startling as a gunshot. Clutching her arms and pressing her lips together in an effort to hold back the tears, she tells her story, desperately, to a lawyer. Two days earlier, her husband, a merchant in a southern town, disappeared on a trip to a neighboring village. A witness saw him being stopped by what appeared to be an army patrol, though it may have been local vigilantes wearing army uniforms. After a brief discussion, the armed men got in a jeep and told her husband and his companion, another man from the village, to follow them. They drove off, and have not been heard from since. ‘I have no idea why they took him,’ she says in a strained, soft voice. ‘We don’t have anything to do with politics.’ The lawyer has checked with police and the military but has found no record of her husband’s being arrested.

Box Profile 3: B.Y.Tudawe, a Sinhalese Communist Party official

He leans forward and pulls back his shirt collar to reveal nine bumps at the base of his neck. ‘Shotgun pellets,’ he says, ‘from the first time the JVP tried to kill me.’ His forearm carries a piece of shrapnel from the second time. Despite the two near escapes, he is one of the few politicians to remain in Matara, a southern town where the JVP seems to strike almost at will. Because Tudawe is a member of the provincial council, the police provide him with four armed guards. ‘This is my place of birth, but I cannot even go out of the house without these gunmen.’ Sitting under portraits of Lenin and Buddha, Tudawe says he will stay in Matara to look after party members. He is determined to resist the JVP effort ‘to kill off all the leftists so that they can say they are the real leftists.’ This makes him a top target.

Box Profile 4: Theepan, a Tamil Tiger field commander

When he first saw Sri Lankan troops rounding up young Tamil men five years ago, he made up his mind: the only future was Eelam, an independent Tamil state. Theepan – his nom de guerre – joined the Tigers. ‘We are elated to fight the Indians,’ he says proudly. ‘The whole world admires us for the fight we have given the world’s fourth largest armed forces.’ The killing is difficult to accept, he admits, but he cites Hindu texts that justify taking life in a ‘sacred cause’. His family has suffered because of his commitment. Indian soldiers beat his father when they came looking for the guerrilla leader, but Theepan, 25, shrugs it off. ‘I don’t let my personal feelings get in the way.’ On a string around his neck he carries two vials of cyanide, which, like many Tigers before him, he has vowed to swallow rather than be captured alive.

Box Profile 5: ‘Gunarathinam’, a retired Tamil teacher

When his son, a top student, did not pass his grade-ten exams, Gunarathinam became suspicious. Then he found two grenades in the 14 year-old’s room and knew that the boy had joined the Tigers. ‘I had always dreamed about sending him to the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras,’ he says, adding sadly, ‘but we all have to contribute to the salvation of our community.’ When his son was captured by Indian troops a year ago, the youngster immediately took the cyanide escape route. Indian soldiers threw his body on the family’s front porch. Recalling that moment, Gunarathinam, 61, breaks down. The mother, still crazed by grief, hears dogs barking: perhaps an Indian patrol is prowling nearby. ‘Please go,’ she sobs to her visitors. ‘If they see you in our house, they will shoot us.’ But part of Gunarathinam is already dead.

Box Profile 6: ‘Nimal’ a Sinhalese JVP organizer

In 1983, when he decided that the established political parties ‘were saying one thing and doing another’, Nimal joined the JVP though not as a fighter. He took a one-week course in socialism taught by a JVP activist in his southern village, the only formal education he has had beyond secondary school. Today he is responsible for indoctrinating JVP recruits. Talking in urgent, impatient tones, Nimal, 33, insists that Sri Lanka’s problems began with the intervention of India, acting as an ‘agent for American imperialism.’ To him, the future is clear: ‘There are only two solutions to Sri Lanka’s current troubles – independence [from Indian intervention] or death.’ He admits that the JVP has done a lot of killing, but ‘never of innocent people.’ Three of his friends have been killed by the security forces, but he is not afraid.

Box Profile 7: Jayamani Marianayagam, a Tamil mother

Her 17 year-old son was practicing You Are My Rock, O Jesus on the organ in Jaffna’s St.Mary’s Church when a gun battle between the Tigers and the rival EPRLF erupted outside. A wounded Tiger stumbled into the church, his enemies in pursuit. They grabbed young Jayamani. The boy’s body was found that night near the church, his legs broken, his finger nails missing, his head half blown away. Jayamani, 41, cried the night away, holding the remains of her son. ‘No mother should ever have to face the tragedy of seeing her son like that.’ She is terrified that her two younger boys, 15 and 13, will also become victims or join the Tigers to seek revenge. Her husband works as a waiter in a West German hotel. She wants to take the children and join him, but last year a travel agency cheated her out of the family savings.


The Killing Campaign; Violence dominates Countdown to Presidential Poll

[Manik de Silva, Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec.22, 1988, p. 23.]

Even as the countdown began for the 19 December presidential election, regarded as the most crucial in recent Sri Lankan history, the killing continued. Both in the troubled north and east, where Tamil separatist guerillas have taken on the Indian army, and in the southern Sinhalese districts where subversive and counter-subversive activity is rife, there is a frightening daily toll of lives. According to the latest official tally, the 30 days ending 15 November had seen a total of 112 political killings in the Sinhalese south. In the north and the east, 32 people were killed during the same period.

Since then, there has been an average of about six political killings every day in the southern districts, with fewer deaths in the north and east. The presidential campaigns of the two principal contenders – Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, 64, and former prime minister Sirima Bandaranaike, 72 – are taking place in an environment of unprecedented disruption.

Meanwhile, the third candidate, Ossie Abeygoonasekera of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP, or People’s Party), barely escaped two attempts on his life at election rallies. He is the only candidate to publicly accuse the Sinhalese Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, People’s Liberation Front) of responsibility for the violence that is widely attributed to it.

Premadasa says that there is no proof that the JVP is responsible for the killings and the disruption, while Bandaranaike, whose Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) once announced JVP-backing for her candidature, alleges the violence is caused by retaliatory hit squads set up by the ruling United National Party. The issues are clear for voters. Both Premadasa and Bandaranaike have pledged to send the Indian Peace-Keeping Force of 50,000 troops back home. Bandaranaike is committed to scrap the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord while Premadasa says he will replace it with a friendship treaty. Premadasa, who distanced himself from the accord at the time it was signed by retiring President Junius Jayewardene, has subsequently visited India to mend fences. Bandaranaike also is all too conscious of the geopolitical realities. Only Abeygoonasekara backs the accord.

Premadasa, who does not hail from the well-educated land-owning or professional elites from which post-independence Sri Lanka has traditionally drawn its leaders, has made a strong pitch as the ‘common man’, aware of the problems and aspirations of ordinary people. Bandaranaike says that he can hardly be a common man after 10 years as prime minister.

Both have pledged to restore law and order, the issue that can swing the election to see an end to the killing and the economy-sapping disruption. Bandaranaike has refrained from saying that she smashed the JVP in 1971 when it rose against her government, Premadasa discounts the government’s failure on the law-and-order issue by saying that no powers are vested in him.

All three candidates were stumping in the predominantly Tamil Northern Province during the last week of the campaign. On 9 December, National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali told parliament that Bandaranaike’s son, Anura, and Kumar Ponnambalam of the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress, an SLFP ally in the Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA) which has been forged to back Bandaranaike, had secret talks with leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the dominant Tamil separatist group, on 6 December. Bandaranaike and Ponnambalam confirmed the meeting, but said many of the details in Athulathmudali’s statement were incorrect.

While saying that Athulathmudali, too, had once attempted to meet the LTTE through Ponnambalam’s intercession, they were silent on the substance of the talks and whether any deal had been swung. But within 48 hours of the SLFP-LTTE meeting being publicized, the government claimed that communication intercepts of contacts between the LTTE leadership and its ranks revealed that the LTTE had told its cadres to back Bandaranaike on 19 December.

Many observers in Colombo believe that despite the best efforts of the two major contenders, Abeygoonasekera may get more Tamil votes in the north and east than either Premadasa or Bandaranaike. There are links between the SLMP and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) which won last month’s election to run the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces. The EPRLF is trying to reach an accommodation with the LTTE, which boycotted and tried to prevent voters from participating in the provincial council elections.

Premadasa’s supporters hope that a poverty-alleviation programme, a major plank of his platform, offering food stamp families – there are 7 million food stamp recipients in the country – a monthly dole of Rs 2,500 (about US$ 75) per family for two years could win him many votes. Premadasa said that the payment would enable each family to build up a nest egg of Rs 25,000 in two years and launch small income-generating enterprises with it. The SLFP has denounced the scheme as a promise that cannot be kept as the country would never be able to afford it.

Many observers believe that a low voter turnout would be advantageous to Premadasa while a high turnout could carry Bandaranaike to victory. The SLFP leader agrees with this assessment and in recent speeches has been exhorting her supporters to vote early and without fear. At the last three national elections, the voter turnout was 80%, but the recent provincial council elections, boycotted by the SLFP and disrupted by the JVP without any SLFP protest, saw many people who might otherwise have voted, stay home.

Government intelligence expected subversive action – which has crippled much of the country outside Colombo and placed as much strain on the electoral system as the economy – to peak in the final week’s run-up to the poll.


Democracy’s Day of Courage

[Sri Lanka Correspondent, Economist, Dec.24, 1988, p. 33.]

There cannot have been an election like it, certainly never in Sri Lanka. People risked their lives to vote, and 18 were shot dead, either queueing at the polls or returning from them. Gunmen attacked 20 polling stations. Fifty stayed closed because the staff were afraid to turn up. Yet there was a turnout of 55%, well down from the 80% or so of previous elections, but a brave effort by a democratic-minded people determined not to surrender to gun law.

Economist Dec 24 1988 Sri Lanka presidential election

Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, the successful candidate, and thus Sri Lanka’s next president, said as he cast his own vote on December 19th that this was a contest between the ballot and the bullet. ‘I am sure that the ballot will win.’ He was right. Mr Premadasa won a more personal battle. Although most commentators had predicted a close contest, the best guess was that 72 year-old Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, of the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party, had the edge. The argument was that Sri Lankans wanted a change, if only to see whether an entirely new administration could end the country’s communal troubles.

For ten years Mr Premadasa has been prime minister, under the outgoing president, Mr Junius Jayewardene. If that was a liability, a worse one appeared to be that he belonged to a low caste, that of the laundrymen. He grew up in a rundown area of Colombo, without the benefit of an expensive education provided by wealthy parents. Sri Lanka’s previous leaders, including Mrs Bandaranaike, a former prime minister, have been of high caste. Nevertheless, the 66 year-old Mr Premadasa tipped the balance, winning 50.4% of the votes. Mrs Bandaranaike got 44.9%. The candidate of the left-wing People’s party, Mr Ossie Abeygoonasekera, who survived two assassination attempts during the campaign, picked up the rest.

Mr Premadasa’s intense campaigning and the United National Party’s superior organization won him support across the country. He even did well in the southern rural districts where the gunmen of the People’s Liberation Front, or JVP (for Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), are most active and did their deadly best to stop the voting.

All that was left for Mrs Bandaranaike was the anti-government vote that had built up over five years of unparalleled unrest in Sri Lanka, plus the support of white-collar suburbanites prepared to forgive her for the shortages that marred her government of 1970-77. It did not do. Mrs Bandaranaike suffered the ignominy of losing her hometown of Balangoda. She did not turn up for the formal results and left for the country in a sulk, saying the election was unfair.

One of the new president’s first problems, when he takes over on January 2nd, will be to decide what to do about the JVP, the anti-government Sinhalese terror group which is believed to have killed more than 600 people over the past year. In his victory speech, Mr Premadasa appealed to it to talk to him in a friendly fashion. He is perhaps the only major politician to have escaped criticism from the JVP. The Front appears to have made a distinction between the executive president, Mr Jayewardene, whom it has tried to kill, and Mr Premadasa, whom it has praised as a ‘patriotic leader’.

The Front and the president-elect have a common cause in their anti-Indianism. Mr Premadasa was against last year’s India-Sri Lanka agreement which brought 50,000 Indian troops to the north and east to disarm Tamil guerrillas seeking a separate state. The JVP calls them the invading forces of the Indian imperialists. Mr Premadasa promised to make the Indians go. This should please the Front, as should the dissolution of parliament announced on December 20th. The country’s first parliamentary election in 12 years will be held on February 15th.

What will become of the accord with India? Mr Jayewardene says it is a fixture. The limited self-rule it promised to Tamils in the form of a provincial council for the north and east is now functioning. Only the Tigers, of all the separatist fighters, remain on the loose, but they now seem weak as kittens because of the presence of the Indians. Those close to Mr Premadasa say he may replace the accord with a ‘friendship treaty’, whatever that means. He may then ask the Indians to start pulling out. This, he hopes, will keep the JVP quiet. Perhaps. But the real aim of its Marxist leaders may be to force a revolution in which it can come to power.

Mr Premadasa’s promises of peace, an end to poverty, and the removal of the Indian forces without resurrecting the Tigers, will be hard to keep. Mr Jayewardene, still the ‘old fox’ at 82, will be watching attentively as he shuffles slyly to the sidelines.


Patching an Old Feud: Gandhi’s Beijing visit aims to end decades of mutual mistrust

[ Michael S. Serrill; Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p. 23]

Excerpts:

Only 18 months ago, Indian and Chinese troops were massing along their disputed Himalayan frontier in what threatened to become another military face-off between the world’s two most populous nations. Last week the two powers were preparing for a new and, it was hoped, more pleasant era of bilateral relations: New Delhi and Beijing were laying the groundwork for a five-day visit to China this week by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the first such call by an Indian leader in 34 years….

A cynical view holds that Gandhi would welcome an opportunity to offset his unsuccessful effort to gurantee a settlement in the Tamil-Sinhalese confrontation in neighboring Sri Lanka. His July 1987 attempt to resolve the conflict through an agreement with President Junius Jayewardene helped spark a bloody reaction by Sinhalese militants, who resent what they consider India’s infringement on Sri Lankan sovereignty. India’s 70,000 – member peacekeeping force on the island now finds itself embroiled in a guerrilla war that has left nearly 700 Indian soldiers dead, along with 4,300 Sri Lankans….[reported by Sandra Burton/ Beijing and Anita Pratap/ New Delhi].


Breakout; An explosive prison escape

[ Anonymous; Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p. 24]

The break should not have been that easy. Air force guards, armed with automatic rifles, were on alert in the watchtowers of Colombo’s high security New Magazine Prison. The inmates, members of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), the violent Sinhalese group that seeks to overthrow the government of President Junius Jayewardene, were locked up in two cellblocks inside. Suddenly two flares arced over the compound, and prison security unraveled, permitting the second biggest jailbreak in Sri Lankan history last week.

As about 20 gunmen opened fire on the New Magazine guards from a lane outside the walls, the doors to the blocks housing JVP detainees opened. Several prisoners charged out to place an explosive device near the prison wall and detonated it electronically, blasting open a 5-ft. hole. Within minutes, 221 prisoners ducked through and ran 80 yds. Across a stretch of cleared land. They scaled a second 6 ft.-high brick wall, then scattered in all directions, leaving behind six men who were shot dead by soldiers. By midweek the government claimed that 15 more escapees had been killed and 35 recaptured by security forces, who imposed a curfew on parts of the capital as they searched for escapees.

The mass break was the fourth by JVP militants in just two months; in earlier escapes, 162 members of the extremist group had gained freedom. Last week’s carefully planned effort had all the markings of an inside job, and authorities quickly launched an investigation into the affair. While the possibility of JVP infiltration of the police and the armed forces has worried the government for sometime, the jailbreaks heighten the threat to the Jayewardene regime: the JVP now has more muscle behind its vow to use terror to disrupt presidential elections scheduled for this week to determine a successor for Jayewardene.

To underscore their determination, JVP terrorists killed at least 85 people last week, mostly in the south of the island, and warned newspapers to avoid publishing articles on the impending vote. Security forces and anti-JVP vigilantes continued their own counterterror action, which claimed about 40 lives last week. Saying that elections could not take place in the midst of the killing, opposition leaders met with the President and urged him to cancel the balloting. Jayewardene was determined that the voting would go on as scheduled, but the sudden restoration of 165 cadres to the JVP’s ranks was a painful setback. ‘The situation was bad before,’ said a senior government official. ‘Now it is much worse.’

Continued…Part XIII

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The Indo-LTTE War (1987-90)

An Anthology, Part 14
President Premadasa’s double-crossing maneuvers

by Sachi Sri Kantha, April 22, 2009

Another ploy of Premadasa, that soured his relationship with LTTE (later in 1989) was to treat LTTE as his sole negotiation partner initially, and later send feelers to EPRLF – India’s puppet regime that was installed in Trincomalee.

Part 1 of the series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
That President Premadasa was street-savvy and was a specialist in the political game of double cross became evident during the first three month’s of his tenure. A few examples that have been recorded in the published literature presented in this part indicate: (1) To gain the presidency Premadasa first made peace with his intra-party rivals Lalith Athlathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake by feeding false hopes to them as ‘prospective’ prime ministers in his Cabinet. Then, he dashed their hopes by anointing a lackluster guy D.B. Wijetunga as the prime minister, and announced that his prime ministers will have an annual short tenure. (2) To gain votes over his SLFP rival Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Premadasa promised a dole of $80 a month to 1.4 million ‘poorest families’ from the government coffer. After becoming President, he scaled down his pre-election promise to only 300,000 families ‘at present’. (3) Before election, Premadasa waved a friendly flag to JVP by focusing on their common enemy (the Indian Peacekeeping Force in the island) and overlooking their atrocities. Then in the post-election year of 1989, he used the armed forces and vigilantes of various tribes to break the spine of JVP and decapitated its leadership. Another ploy of Premadasa, that soured his relationship with LTTE (later in 1989) was to treat LTTE as his sole negotiation partner initially, and later send feelers to EPRLF – India’s puppet regime that was installed in Trincomalee.

R K Dhawan with Indira Gandhi  Pic: Sharad Saxena
Indira Gandhi and R.K. Dhawan

Presented below, for the part 14 of this anthology, are 13 news reports and commentaries that had appeared between February and April 1989. These cover the (1) Tamil Nadu state elections held on January 21, 1989 (two items that have been missed inadvertently in the previous part 13, (2) Sri Lankan parliamentary election held on Feb. 15, 1989, (3) Justice M.P. Thakkar commission report on the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the role of her aide R.K. Dhawan in the conspiracy, and (4) President Premadasa’s games of ‘double cross’. Also to note were the appearance of, Ranjan Wijeratne (as the high profile Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs) and Varatharaja Perumal (as the puppet stooge of India-installed EPRLF) in the Colombo stage and would remain in the public eye for the next two years.

One of India’s cottage industries from ancient times, it should be noted here, has been the production of political stooges. Even the current Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh qualifies as a perfect stooge. V.Perumal’s career ran in parallel to that of Afghanistan’s Soviet-India stooge Mohammad Najibulla (1947-1996), who was killed by the Taliban. Najibulla, while he ruled the roost for little more than five years from Nov. 1986 to April 1992 was supported by the India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) operatives. Similarly, Perumal was also a stooge installed by the RAW and RAW operatives helped him to flee the island shoreson March 10, 1990 with his wife and three children. Najibulla’s wife and his three daughters also lived in exile in New Delhi, after Najibulla was ousted by Taliban in 1992.

Even though one full year remained before the departure of Indian army from the island, the Time magazine [April 3, 1989] in a cover-story entitled ‘Super India: The Next Military Power’ carried a box feature that described Rajiv Gandhi’s military adventure in Sri Lanka as ‘a Case Study of a Disaster’. In this feature, reporter Ross H. Munro had partially profiled the peccadilloes of India’s intelligence agency RAW. Here are the 13 newsreports, in chronological order.

Edward Desmond: A Stinging Setback. Time, Feb. 6, 1989, pp. 30-31.

Bill Hewitt: Gandhi’s Last Stand? Newsweek, Feb.6, 1989, p. 13.

Anonymous: ‘A Decisive Mandate’. Asiaweek, Mar.3, 1989, pp. 20-26.

Anonymous: The Wages of War. Asiaweek, Mar.10, 1989, p. 55.

Anonymous: Second String. Asiaweek, Mar.17, 1989, p. 27.

Delhi Correspondent: A Confidential Agent. Economist, Mar. 25, 1989, pp. 38 & 40.

Sanjoy Hazarika; India released stinging report on Gandhi’s Death. New York Times, Mar.28, 1989.

Ross H. Munro: [box-story] Sri Lanka – Case Study of a Disaster. Time, Apr. 3, 1989, pp. 12-13.

Special correspondent in Male: All for the sake of a dance. Economist, Apr. 8, 1989, p. 40.

Bill Hewitt: A Swirl of Suspicion – A secret report on the Gandhi murder is released. Newsweek, Apr.10, 1989, p. 17.

Anonymous: Dashed Hopes for a Peace Plan. Asiaweek, Apr. 14, 1989, p. 31.

Barbara Crossette; Gandhi, His Luster Dimmed after 4 years, Faces Uncertain Political Future. New York Times, Apr. 22, 1989.

Edward Desmond; A Bleak Holiday Message: Playground of Black Cats and Yellow Leopards. Time, Apr. 24, 1989, p. 12.

A Stinging Setback: Gandhi and his Congress Party are dealt a blow in state elections

[Edward W. Desmond, Time, Feb. 6, 1989, pp. 30-31.]

The Prime Minister needed a victory. In the past three years, his ruling Congress (I) Party had lost six of ten state elections, to the point where it controlled fewer state governments than at any time since 1977. So the balloting last week in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which with a population of 55 million is India’s seventh largest, looked like a perfect opportunity for Rajiv Gandhi to turn the tide. The All-India Anna Dravide Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party, which had run the state for the past decade, was split following the death of Chief Minister and former film idol M.G. Ramachandran 14 months ago. Smelling victory, Gandhi made four trips to Tamil Nadu in three weeks, putting his reputation as a vote getter on the line.

When the results flowed into Madras last week, Gandhi was stunned: Congress had won only 26 of the 232 state assembly seats. Worse for the prime minister, the victorious Muthuvel Karunanidhi, 64, leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, is aligned with the National Front, a coalition of opposition parties formed last fall to stand against Gandhi in national elections later this year. Many viewed the Tamil Nadu election as a rehearsal for the national balloting. Said Karunanidhi: ‘Our victory will herald the victory of the National Front in the Lok Sabha election.’ Warned New Delhi’s daily Statesman: ‘Things are falling apart for Mr. Gandhi.’

There was open grumbling among the Congress rank and file. Said Chimanbhai Mehta, a member of the upper house of parliament: ‘The majority of Congress members is displeased with the leadership.’ Gandhi loyalists countered by pointing out that on the same day, the party won elections in two small northeastern states, Mizoram and Nagaland. They also argued that Congress’s fortunes in state contests usually have little to do with the outcome of national elections, in which the party and the Gandhi name are all but synonymous with governance.

Clearly, Gandhi’s advisers had misread the situation in Tamil Nadu’s complex political arena. The AIADMK had ruled the state for ten years under Ramachandran, but broke into two factions after he died. One group followed Jayalalitha, 40, Ramachandran’s lover on and off the screen, while a smaller segment lined up behind Janaki, 64, his wife. In November, however, party officials decided to pour their resources into the campaign after a privately commissioned poll showed that both factions had lost support and that Congress was running neck and neck with the DMK.

Congress strategists had also failed to take into account Karunanidhi’s excellent local organization as well as his resonant promises that he would look after the interests of his fellow Tamils, the ethnic group that dominates the state and has frequently been at odds with the central government in New Delhi over issues of language and state autonomy. The DMK won 146 of the 232 seats, while Jayalalitha’s faction wound up with 27 and Janaki’s group with only one.

The Tamil Nadu ballot kept a major state in the hands of opposition parties that are working together – though not always smoothly – under the aegis of the National Front. In addition to Tamil Nadu, the opposition now controls the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and the eastern state of Assam. The Janata Dal of National Front leader V.P. Singh, Gandhi’s most formidable rival for the prime ministership, holds sway in Karnataka in the south and Haryana in the Hindu heartland. Recent state elections show that Congress cannot match the strength of local parties, but it remains unclear whether these groups can coordinate their forces at the national level. Their views of India’s future often conflict – and personal animosities divide their leaders.

Throughout the campaign, Gandhi predicted that the ‘Front will pull in different directions’ – and he may be proved right. Singh’s favorite theme on the stump had been corruption in Congress’s ranks. Yet an opposition member of parliament, Subramanian Swamy, charged that Singh was turning a blind eye to misdeeds among his associates. Said he: ‘V.P. Singh accuses Gandhi of corruption, but he is silent about the corrupt elements in his own party.’

Congress has problems of its own, including the continued fallout from the 1986 Bofors scandal, in which Gandhi associates are widely believed to have taken millions of kickbacks from a $1.3 billion purchase of artillery for the army. Last week another scandal surfaced: a state high court found evidence to warrant the indictment of Arjun Singh, the Congress chief minister of Madya Pradesh, on charges that he received funds misappropriated from a lottery held to benefit child-welfare programs. The party’s leadership forced him to resign.

Questions about Gandhi’s popularity are prompting some Congress leaders to talk about a possible change at the top before parliamentary elections, which must be held by December. The Prime Minister has faced similar discontent before – and come out unscathed. Ultimately, the question remains: If not Gandhi, who? Despite the sting of last week’s defeat, few Congress politicians believe they can lose the next elections, though they admit the party may not be able to maintain its huge 397-seat majority in the Lok Sabha. They still doubt that the National Front will start cooperating effectively. [reporting by Subir Bhaumik/Aizawi and Anita Pratap/Madras]

*****

Gandhi’s Last Stand?

[Bill Hewitt, Newsweek, Feb. 6, 1989, p.13.]

The day was bright and crisp as Rajiv Gandhi mounted a reviewing stand in New Delhi. Surrounded by dignitaries and diplomats, the smiling prime minister watched soldiers, tanks, tribal dancers and singing children stream by in a parade marking the country’s 40th Republic Day. In truth, however, Gandhi has little cause for celebration these days. And unless his political fortunes suddenly and unexpectedly turn around, his job is in danger.

After taking power amid much praise four years ago, Gandhi has lately staggered from one crisis to another. Sectarian strife, allegations of impropriety and a host of political miscues have taken their toll. But now he seems to have touched a new low. Not only does he face rising regional discontent, but he must also contend with a virtual revolt within his own Congress Party. Last week, in what has become a familiar scenario, the party suffered a humiliating defeat in local elections in the province of Tamil Nadu. Given the fact that national elections must be held before the end of this year, there is growing realization that Gandhi faces a hard re-election campaign. In a recent editorial, the progovernment Times of India lambasted the prime minister for his lackluster performance. ‘It is not just that Mr Gandhi must share the blame for his party’s present predicament,’ the paper said. ‘He must, in fact, accept the lion’s share.’

The debacle in Tamil Nadu highlighted many of the problems that plague Gandhi and Congress. The election for the 234-seat provincial assembly boiled down to a battle between Congress and a regional party called the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Led by the charismatic Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who had been dismissed as chief minister by Indira Gandhi during her emergency rule in 1976, the DMK argued that Congress leaders are out of touch with the needs of the local inhabitants, most of whom are politically volatile Tamils.

Realizing that his forces were in trouble in the province, Gandhi launched an all-out campaign. He visited Tamil Nadu more than 12 times, addressing scores of rallies and often appearing in traditional Tamil dress. Several pro-Congress film stars were brought into woo voters, and Congress officials indulged in some blatant pandering: promises to provide cheap rice for the poor, as well as jobs for all who wanted them. In the end, none of it worked. Congress finished a distant third in the balloting, winning only 26 seats, while the DMK piled up 151 seats.

The defeat was only the latest in a series of similar setbacks for Gandhi. Over the past few years parties promoting regional interests have taken control of more than a half dozen provinces, a trend that poses a particular threat for Congress, which has always considered national unity the cornerstone of its political program. The trouble is that, in practice, national unity has generally meant domination by the mostly Hindi-speaking northern states, an arrangement that has bred deep resentment in the rest of the country. Now, to the alarm of Congress officials, it appears that the goal of establishing a strong central authority to govern India’s diverse ethnic mix may actually be unattainable. ‘The growth of regional parties measures the failure of the process of nation building, the failure to integrate regional aspirations with larger national goals,’ says Mohan Ram, a respected political columnist. ‘India lives at many levels politically and no single party can claim to speak for the whole country any more.’ Indeed, several of the regional parties have banded together to form a ‘National Front’ to challenge Gandhi in this year’s election.

Public Rejection: That prospect has stirred concern within Congress. Last week a senior official named Chimanbhai Mehta denounced what he called the party’s ‘feudal culture of loyalty’ and called for the creation of ‘an alternative’ to the current leadership. Gandhi promptly fired him. In several provinces where Congress retains control, local party bosses have caused considerable embarrassment by defying Gandhi’s authority. In one noteworthy case last month, dissidents in Bihar province publicly rejected Gandhi’s nominee for chief minister, and some local members threatened to beat up a team of emissaries dispatched by the prime minister to smooth things over. Gandhi would seem to be trapped in a classic Catch-22: to regain the confidence of his party, he must prove that he can appeal to the voters at large, but winning any kind of widespread popular support will be next to impossible without the strong backing of Congress powerbrokers. And although Gandhi’s opponents remain divided, as usual, even that may not be enough to save him this time. [Sudip Mazumdar/ New Delhi]

*****

Asiaweek March 13 1989

Sri Lanka: ‘A Decisive Mandate’

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar. 3, 1989, pp. 20-22.]

All over Sri Lanka campaign posters are being torn down – while funeral notices are going up. The country’s Feb.15 parliamentary elections, the bloodiest in its history, saw nearly a thousand candidates, party workers and ordinary citizens lose their lives. Yet more than 60% of the 9.4 million eligible voters braved the violence, bettering the 55% turnout in the almost-as-deadly presidential race two months ago. In polls that a ten-national monitoring group judged ‘free and fair in most areas,’ the people once again demonstrated their commitment to the electoral process – and apparent faith in their newly elected president, Ranasinghe Premadasa.

‘The voters have given [us] a decisive mandate,’ exulted the president. His ruling United National Party (UNP) won 125 of the 225 seats contested, a comfortable majority but well short of the two-thirds mandate he campaigned hard for. The party had an impressive 83% hold on the previous assembly elected in 1977. Former prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) lagged far behind with only 67 seats. Still, that was a dramatic increase from its mere eight in the old Parliament. The main opposition party then, the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), saw its seventeen seats whittled down to just ten, less than the former Tamil separatist guerillas from the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS). The ex-militants, calling themselves the Independent Group, snared thirteen places. The rest of the seats were divided among the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the United Socialist Alliance and a little-known leftist party called the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna.

With a new legislature dominated by the UNP, Premadasa must now turn to the daunting task of bringing back peace and prosperity to a country agonizingly riven by political and communal violence. After his Dec. 19 election he had promised to restore order and rebuild the shattered economy, but was hamstrung by the absence of a legislature. Former president Junius Jayewardene had dissolved Parliament in response to demands of the political opposition. Premadasa formed an interim cabinet and himself held ten portfolios. But three days after the parliamentary polls, he named a 22-member cabinet, retaining himself only the posts of defence, policy planning and Buddhist affairs. He has still to appoint a prime minister.

The frightening escalation of killings is unlikely to be stopped, however, just because a functioning democracy is in place. Indeed, the election itself spawned brutality of an unprecedented scale, blamed largely on the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Movement), a chauvinist group drawing support from the majority Sinhalese, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. The JVP is bitterly opposed to the presence of an Indian peacekeeping force in the country, which they charge is an affront to Sri Lankan sovereignty. Sent in after Jayewardene signed a peace pact with India in 1987, the troops have been kept an uneasy peace in Northeastern Province, where most Tamils live.

The violence aside, Sri Lanka’s latest election seems to confirm public support for Premadasa’s government. His narrow victory in the December polls – just 50.4% of the total votes cast to Bandaranaike’s 44.9% – had opponents questioning his mandate. While the loser went to the Supreme Court to protest the results, Premadasa busily built up credibility. He lifted in mid-January the state of emergency in force since 1983 and clipped the military’s draconian powers.

The government also claims the polls showed up public distaste for the JVP and the Tigers. Declared the president: ‘Those outside the democratic mainstream should now fully realize that the people have totally rejected the path of violence.’ With 100 oppositionists in Parliament – 23 of them Tamil representatives – the government hopes the agitation may now find a less violent channel. ‘The time has come for consensus and not confrontation,’ says Lalith Athulathmudali, national security minister in the last government and a hot favourite for the prime ministership in the present one.

But many Sri Lankans doubt if the call for national reconciliation will be heeded. It is not clear, for example, if the EROS winners will sit in Parliament. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, pushed through by the ruling party in 1983, requires all MPs to take an oath upholding the unitary state of Sri Lanka. And the SLFP itself may not provide a credible opposition. ‘The leadership of the party has not changed in the last 30 years,’ complains newly elected SLFP assemblyman Tilak Karunaratne. Bandaranaike’s husband Solomon founded the party in 1951 and her son, Anura, is reportedly in the running for the parliamentary title of ‘leader of the opposition’. During the campaign, the UNP had attacked the SLFP for being what it called ‘a Bandaranaike family heirloom.’

Yet the UNP and the SLFP had run on almost identical platforms. Both had promised the withdrawal of the Indian troops and abrogation of the 1987 Indo-Lankan pact, programs to ease poverty and a clean government. Premadasa pledged to grant the poor about $76 per family in monthly allowances. He also said he would invite the Tamil and Sinhalese extremists to peace talks, though there are indications he might be considering tougher measures. With a UNP-dominated Parliament, he is in a position to impose a state of emergency, which the Constitution says can only be done by the legislature on a month-to-month basis.

Analysts say the Tamils must first be won over before India’s peacekeeping force can be withdrawn. But the JVP, already resentful of what it perceives as the government’s caving into Tamil demands, can hardly be expected to be placated by such moves. Premadasa has also not specified where he will get the money to pay for his promised largesse. The problems ahead ‘may be too difficult,’ says an observer somberly, pointing to the ruined economy, ethnic conflicts and youth militancy. Other analysts are more optimistic. One takes hope in the fact that the new Parliament ‘has a better representation of the various groups – social and ethnic – than the previous one.’

At mid-week the government faced its first post-election challenge when the JVP called a one-day strike on Feb.21. Many markets and shops in Colombo and several provinces did not open, though the majority of government offices and banks functioned normally. Bombs were exploded in and around the capital and at least twelve people died. Diplomatic sources reckoned the latest outrage might force the government to finally use the iron fist to end what has for so long seemed an endless agony.

Abuses: Who’s to Blame?

Sirisena Guruge was getting ready to retire for the night when he heard an urgent knock on his front door. The young man standing outside begged to be let in. Guruge allowed him to stay and went to bed. He was soon awakened by the sound of gunfire. For the second time that night, there was loud rapping at his door. As he stepped out to see who it was, he was shot dead by a Sri Lankan soldier. The trooper had mistaken Guruge for his guest, a suspected member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), an extremist Sinhalese group. The youth, meanwhile, had escaped. Some 320 km away from the southern Sri Lankan village of Angunakolapelessa where the incident had taken place, a 76 year-old man was mowed down by an unknown gunman. The elderly villager had been loudly condemning the JVP’s bloodthirsty ways.

The killings point to a tragic aspect of Sri Lanka’s political turmoil: the real victims of the ongoing clashes between government forces and militant ethnic groups are innocent people, caught in the middle between the two. According to the Organisation for Peace and Democracy (OPD), a Colombo-based human rights and pro-democracy grouping, more than 700 people have disappeared in the past two months alone.

Activists accuse both sides of abusing human rights. Members and supporters of the ruling United National Party have been frequent targets of JVP hit-squads. Corpses of victims have been identified and put on display. But in recent months, guns have also been trained on the militants themselves. JVP members and suspected sympathizers have been shot dead, their bodies set alight with blowtorches or flaming rubber tyres. One social worker who visited southern Matara district last December counted seventeen corpses by the roadside. ‘Each had its face badly mutilated and many were completely charred,’ she recalled. The JVP blames the gruesome deaths on the paramilitary forces and on the People’s Revolutionary Red Army, a shadowy new outfit reportedly made up of Marxist elements. The government, however, has denied involvement in the killings.

As OPD officials see it, the situation has been made doubly dangerous by what one says is the ‘proliferation of weapons of all kinds’ in the country. For the recent presidential and general elections, candidates, MPs and certain government officials were issued guns for their protection. The JVP, for its part, has increased its armed muscle with weapons stolen from military and police depots. ‘This has led to thousands of people roaming the country dispensing their own justice,’ warns an OPD spokesman. In January, a controversial emergency law that gave security forces blanket powers to kill subversives was suspended. But such murders apparently continue. Two mutilated bodies found outside Colombo last week were later identified as those of student activists who had earlier protested against state terrorism.

*****

The Wages of War

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar. 10, 1989, p. 55.]

It is the classic contradiction of a developing country torn by war. While Sri Lanka pleads for development aid, a third of its budget is spent on fighting separatists of the Tamil minority and extremists among the dominant Sinhalese. At his inauguration in January, President Ranasinghe Premadasa pledged to turn swords into ploughshares. But after scores of people were killed in February’s nationwide polls, Colombo will probably be sharpening rather than scrapping its swords for some time.

The country has been hobbled by the five year-old civil war. Despire a $300-million World Bank loan, the economy grew a mere 1.5% last year – just keeping up with population – against a 5.5% annual average in the previous ten. Unrest in the run-up to December’s presidential election stalled shipments of tea, the principal crop (1987 exports: $360 million). A record harvest of well over 225 million kg was expected. But wildcat strikes in plantations, transport disruption and curfews imposed by Sinhalese radicals prevented produce from reaching factories and ports. Local tea brokers Forbes & Walker put the losses at more than $10 million in just three weeks. ‘Trade will take many months to recover,’ reckons Maxwell Perera, a Colombo broker. Meanwhile, drought cut overall agricultural production 6% last year, especially in rice and coconut areas.

The garment industry, the largest foreign-exchange earner ($430 million in 1987), is worried about missing shipments to the US and Europe due to unrest. It has expanded more than 13-fold since 1978. But in the last months of 1988 many plants suspended operations. Various industries have resumed work after violence diminished in the weeks after December’s polls. Agriculture Minister Lalith Athulathmudali told Asiaweek that recent problems were ‘only temporary – even tea will recover in April.’ But broker Perera maintains that normalcy will come only ‘if the situation really comes very quiet.’ So far that seems far from the case.

Certainly an irredeemable loser as long as there is civil unrest is tourism, once a $120-million-a-year industry. Extensive development of local facilities saw arrivals rise to more than 300,000 by 1983. The inflow has dwindled to a trickle of about 100,000, and spending is down to $50 million. The capital’s loss-making hotels are usually two-thirds empty. They have been forced to postpone payments on loans for the sixth year. In April 1988 Colombo began extending loans to establishments with less than 50% occupancy.

Last year Sri Lanka received $625 million from an aid consortium that included Japan, the US and European countries. This year the group and India pledged $500 million for reconstruction in the war-ravaged north and east. But they have been stalling, waiting for the Tamil-dominated provinces to settle down. Sociologist Edward Perera believes the cycle of violence has roots in economic hardship and could intensify as the economy deteriorates. President Premadasa wants to put the poorest Sri Lankans on the dole for two years and give each a lump sum to invest. But analysts in Colombo question whether the plan can get funding. Meanwhile, the violence continues.

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Second String

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar. 17, 1989, p.17.]

After the United National Party won a 25-seat majority in Sri Lanka’s Feb.15 elections, speculation turned to whom President Ranasinghe Premadasa would select as his prime minister. Powerful contenders, including high profile Food & Agriculture Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and Plantations Minister Gamini Dissanayake, had lobbied hard for the job. On March 3 Premadasa announced that Finance Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunge, 67, would get the prize. But there was a catch: the appointment is for only one year. By limiting the tenure, observers said, Premadasa has effectively devalued the post and blocked the emergence of a strong No. 2 in the ruling party.

Having six different PMs during the government’s six-year term, Premadasa explained, means ‘divisions on personal grounds will disappear and true leadership on merit will appear.’ The post is familiar to the new president, who served in it under his predecessor Junius Jayewardene from 1978 to 1988. Ironically, Premadasa had complained then that he lacked power. Now he has further weakened the premiership by hiving off the traditional role of House leader to another cabinet minister.

The new PM, a parliamentarian since the 1960s, resigned as a cabinet minister last year to become governor of the North-western Province. He was tipped as Premadasa’s man for PM when he stepped down in December to run in the parliamentary polls. Analysts said Wijetunge, who retains the finance portfolio, is not ambitious and should keep Premadasa safe from what one called an ‘internal party coup.’

The president had more pressing problems last week. Abandoning his conciliatory approach, he ordered the army to find and arrest Sinhalese extremists in the south, while Indian peacekeeping troops mounted an offensive against Tamil separatists in the north, killing 40 to 50 rebels.

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A Confidential Agent

[Delhi Correspondent; Economist, Mar. 25, 1989, pp. 38 & 40]

One of India’s charms is its habit of seeming, from time to time, to be the England of the 1930s. It has just produced an excellent specimen of the political thriller, a sort of early Graham Greene entertainment. A reader of the Indian press this month might conclude that the man behind the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi in October 1984 was her special assistant for more than a decade, Mr R.K. Dhawan – who, for added melodrama, was a few weeks ago brought back into Delhi’s circle of power by the murdered woman’s son and successor, Mr Rajiv Gandhi.

A commission of inquiry into the murder, set up on the instructions of Rajiv Gandhi, was entrusted to a Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Thakkar. Within weeks of starting his inquiries the judge wrote to the new prime minister voicing a suspicion that Mr Dhawan had been involved in the murder conspiracy. In his final report, a summary of which was published this month by two newspapers, Mr Justice Thakkar provided his reasons.

His suspicions, said the judge, had been aroused by a change in Mrs Gandhi’s appointments for the morning of the murder. This change gave one of the two Sikh assassins, Beant Singh, time to get to the wicket gate in her garden where the other assassin, Satwant Singh, was posted, before she passed through it on her way to the appointment. The judge concluded that only Mr Dhawan could have made the change. He also found that an order issued on June 19 1984 (two weeks after the Indian army had stormed the Sikh’s Golden Temple) to remove Sikh members of her bodyguard from duty at vulnerable places had been cancelled, probably by Mr Dhawan.

The suspected man made things look worse by first telling the police that Mrs Gandhi had told him to change the time of the interview, but later claiming that he knew of no change. He also insisted that he had asked the police officials entrusted with her security not to post Sikhs at sensitive points, when they insist that he had told them the opposite.

It keeps the reader gripped, but does it stand up to the inspection of common sense? Mr Dhawan owed his career to Mrs Gandhi. Since 1984 he shows no signs of having benefited from her death, for instance by a sudden access of wealth. Realising that the assassination would be the subject of a vigorous examination, why did he not leave India as soon as possible after the funeral? Because, say the plot-chasers, he was sure he would be protected by the next prime minister. But how could he have known who the next prime minister would be? The only person who had the power to make that appointment was the president of India, who happened to be a Sikh. Thus Rajiv Gandhi becomes part of a Sikh plot to murder his own mother. Such is the election-year atmosphere in Delhi that some people are prepared to believe even this.

Mr Gandhi is partly to blame for his misfortune. He received the Thakkar report in 1986, but, instead of placing it before parliament, hurriedly amended the constitution to give the government the right to withhold reports of commissions of inquiry ‘in the public interest’. When things came out in the press, the government defended that decision by claiming that Mr Justice Thakkar himself had suggested that the report be suppressed. Its spokesman, however, added that another reason for not publishing the report was that it would have prejudiced the outcome of the investigation.

The opposition has accused the government of using its parliamentary majority to curtail the people’s right to know, and has offered to ‘fill the jails’ in a nationwide protest. On March 18th Mr Gandhi capitulated and promised to table the report when parliament reassembles after Easter. This has not produced the calm he presumably hoped for. Now people are saying he wants time to doctor the report.

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India released stinging report on Gandhi’s Death

[Sanjoy Hazarika; New York Times, Mar.28, 1989]

An official report on the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi says that a powerful aide overruled intelligence and security officials who had ordered the removal of Sikh policemen, including her eventual assassins, as a security threat. The disclosure came today when the Indian Government, after weeks of resistance, made public a report that attacked ‘lack of commitment, lack of supervision and lack of follow-up action’ among security officials who were supposed to protect the Prime Minister before her assassination in October 1984.

The report was completed in 1986, but kept secret to allow investigations to be completed. The report denounced the security officials for failing to discuss the reinstatement of the Sikh policemen with Mrs. Gandhi, saying such a move could have saved her life. But a key adviser to Mrs. Gandhi, Rajendra Kumar Dhawan, told the commission that Mrs. Gandhi herself had ordered the reinstatement of the Sikhs. Mrs. Gandhi apparently felt that such a move would strengthen her image after an army raid to oust Sikh extremists from a shrine in Punjab State in June 1984. Mr. Dhawan was ousted from his post by Mrs. Gandhi’s son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, but was reinstated last month.

Cleared of All Charges: The Government says the police have investigated the commission’s suspicion that Mr. Dhawan played a vital role in the conspiracy against Mrs. Gandhi but have cleared him of all charges. Home Affairs Minister Buta Singh added to the mystery of the situation by telling Parliament that the police had uncovered a larger conspiracy in the assassination. Mr. Singh said legal action would be taken soon in the case but did not elaborate.

The head of the investigating commission, Justice M. P. Thakkar, described Mr. Dhawan’s responses to questioning on the assassination as unreliable and said that the ‘needle of suspicion significantly points to his complicity or involvement.’ The judge cited the manner in which Mr. Dhawan purportedly delayed a television interview by half an hour on the day of the assassination, a delay that enabled the Sikh guards to swap duties with other personnel and be in striking range of Mrs. Gandhi.

The judge said that Mr. Dhawan knew one of the assassins, Beant Singh, who was killed by loyal troops soon after the assassination. Mr. Dhawan has denied this. The other assassin, Satwant Singh, and a third Sikh, a former government clerk named Kehar Singh, were executed last January after a four-year trial. A fourth Sikh, who was a policeman at Mrs. Gandhi’s residence, was acquitted of conspiracy charges.

Justice Thakkar said Mr. Dhawan had ordered officials not to make any major changes in Mrs. Gandhi’s security without ‘his prior approval.’ Officials ‘Shirked Responsibility’ In a long and stinging catalogue of official failure, the report described the assassins as men with poor career records who turned up late for work and were defiant of authority. ‘Top officials took things for granted and allowed the matters to drift,’ Justice Thakkar said. ‘Officials were apathetic, shirked responsibility and indulged in red-tapism,’ he said, adding that there was little coordination between the intelligence agencies and police.

The judge said that senior security officials repeatedly ignored intelligence warnings about the threat to Mrs. Gandhi from Sikh policemen, especially after a Sikh guard for a Cabinet Minister was involved in the July 1984 hijacking of a domestic airliner to protest the action against the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The report said there was no definite evidence to prove the involvement of a foreign agency in the conspiracy against Mrs. Gandhi. But it added that police investigators had turned up material that showed that an unnamed foreign agency had inspired and trained Sikh terrorists in an effort to destablilize the country. This is widely viewed as a reference to Pakistan.

 *****

Sri Lanka: Case Study of a Disaster

[Ross H. Munro, Time, Apr. 3, 1989, pp.12-13.]

‘Sri Lanka was the watershed,’ says Ashley Tellis, a US expert on South Asian security issues. ‘India showed it was willing to use force even when there was no clear-cut security threat.’ Agrees a US State Department official: ‘Although India in the past has had strained relations with nearly all its neighbors, it had not taken advantage of its preponderant power to make them toe the line until the India-Sri Lanka accord of July 1987.’

The story of how and why India recruited, trained and armed thousands of minority Tamils from Sri Lanka and then sent them back to the island to wage a guerrilla war against the government of then President J.R. Jayewardene has never been fully told. To this day New Delhi denies its former sponsorship of several Tamil separatist factions, but interviews with former Tamul guerrilla leaders, Sri Lankan intelligence operatives and Indian diplomats reveal that from the early 1980s onward, Indian officials viewed support for the Tamil cause as first and foremost a means of asserting Indian influence in Sri Lanka. The same sources describe how Indian intelligence agents were so deeply involved in orchestrating the insurgency that at times they provided the guerrillas with detailed operational plans.

New Delhi’s sponsorship of the separatists had its origins in Jayewardene’s 1977 election victory, which drove Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, a friend and ally of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by adopting pro-Western foreign and economic policies that New Delhi interpreted as a rejection of its leadership in South Asia. Jayewardene applied for membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; Indian officials suspected that he might even be on the verge of offering military bases and listening posts to the US.

In domestic politics, Jayewardene made a fateful error: he spurned every opportunity to reach an accommodation with Sri Lanka’s Tamils – 2 million among 12 million Sinhalese – who rightly felt they were being cut off from higher education and government jobs. A few dozen alienated Tamil youths formed underground groups that advocated the creation of Eelam, an independent Tamil nation in the northern and eastern parts of the island. In 1982 agents of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s foreign intelligence agency, recruited one of those groups, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, and brought them to India for training in espionage and sabotage. An Indian diplomat who was deeply involved in policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka during that period says it was no accident that RAW chose TELO, which had a large criminal element and was politically unsophisticated. ‘TELO, which had no goals and no ideology,’ he says, ‘was the perfect private army for RAW.’

In July 1983, triggered by the ambush and slaughter of 13 soldiers by Tamil terrorists, Sinhalese mobs in Colombo attacked Tamils in their homes and shops, killing hundreds. The communal rioting shocked India’s own Tamil population of 50 million. Soon thereafter, RAW began to recruit hundreds of members of at least five Tamil separatist groups. Much of the training took place at the Indian army’s Dehra Dun complex in the Himalayan foothills, where the recruits were taught how to handle small arms and how to make land mines using gelignite, which was to become the explosive of choice for one of the groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

By late 1984, hundreds of trained fighters were back in Sri Lanka, where they mounted acts of sabotage against government facilities. When attacks on military targets failed to make Jayewardene budge, RAW encouraged killings of Sinhalese civilians to put more pressure on Colombo. Says Uma Maheswaran, leader of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam: ‘A RAW officer asked us to throw a grenade into a Sinhalese cinema or put a bomb in a bus or market in a Sinhalese town. Only we and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front refused.’ Agrees an Eelam People’s leader: ‘The RAW agents offered us money to massacre  Sinhalese. But we refused.’ The Tigers, by contrast, were cooperative. In May 1985 two busloads of Tigers drove into the ancient Sinhalese capital of Anuradhapura and, in the town’s main bus station, opened fire with automatic weapons, slaughtering 143 civilians there and elsewhere. According to one of the participants in the killing spree, Tiger leader Vilupillai Prabhakaran was in radio contact with RAW agents during and after the massacre.

The killings prompted the Colombo government to agree for the first time to negotiate with the guerrillas. The talks collapsed but the new Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, seemed reluctant to allow RAW to escalate the level of fighting. Later, when India stepped up its support of TELO, the Tigers showed their displeasure at New Delhi’s favoritism by attacking TELO camps and murdering some 150 of its members, thereby neutralizing RAW’s favorite Tamil clients. RAW agents were apoplectic, but realized that they would have to work with the Tigers as the dominant Tamil force. In May 1987, when the Sri Lankan army launched an offensive against Tiger strongholds in the Jaffna peninsula, New Delhi obliquely warned Jayewardene not to push too hard, lest India be obliged to intervene. The Sri Lankan President appealed to Pakistan, China and the US for help, but got little encouragement.

The last straw for Jayewardene came in June 1987, when India began training the Tigers in the use of surface-to-air missiles and then proposed an accord between New Delhi and Colombo. Under its terms Indian peacekeeping troops would disarm the guerrillas and Sri Lanka’s Tamils would be granted a measure of regional autonomy. The annex to the accord (an exchange of letters between Gandhi and Jayewardene) amounted to Sri Lanka’s granting India a voice in its foreign and military policy. Jayewardene felt he had a little choice but to accede. Once the pact was signed, on July 29, 1987, India no longer had need for the guerrillas. A few weeks later it blocked the Tigers’ attempt to take control of a new provincial council in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. At the same time, New Delhi ordered its force of 15,000 soldiers, which by then had been deployed on the island, to disarm the Tigers.

It was only then that what had looked like an Indian success story showed its disastrous downside. Law-and-order collapsed in large parts of southern Sri Lanka as Sinhalese extremists denounced the accord as a treasonous sellout and rallied Sinhalese support with appeals to anti-Indian patriotism. Furious, the Tigers struck at Indian army posts in northern Sri Lanka in the first phase of anew insurgency that persists to this day. Some 800 Indian soldiers have died at the hands of the Tigers. India still has 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces committed to the Sri Lankan operation, yet it has failed to put down the guerrillas. The simmering conflict may not be India’s Vietnam, but it provides the lesson for New Delhi that even an emerging superpower must recognize its limits.

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Maldives: All for the sake of a dance

[Special Correspondent in Male: Economist, Apr. 8, 1989, p. 40.]

Until last November, the Maldives had not suffered a foreign invasion since the Portuguese landed in the sixteenth century. Little wonder that the trial of the invaders (the more recent ones, that is) is fascinating the people of the tiny Indian Ocean republic. Each day hundreds of Maldivians line the streets of the capital, Male, to watch and jeer at the accused as they are marched to court in handcuffs.

Mr Abdullah Luthufi, a Maldivian businessman and the alleged ring leader of the plot to overthrow the government, has told the court that the invasion fleet of two trawlers sailed from Sri Lanka. On board were mercenaries recruited from the ranks of former fighters for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. They landed at Male on November 3rd and quickly seized the president’s house and the radio and television stations. But they failed to capture President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Telephones and the international airport were never disabled. This allowed President Gayoom to call for help, and India to land 1,600 troops in military aircraft later in the day. The bungled takeover left 19 people dead on the streets of Male. At least eight others were killed when the Indian navy moved in and captured the invaders as they fled in hijacked ship.

The 68 Sri Lankans on trial have admitted to being members of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, a former separatist group which, despite its pretensions to being a legitimate political party, has become a guns-for-hire organization. In exchange for staging a coup, the organization was to be given a tourist resort in the Maldives to make money from, and the use of Male’s port for gun-running.

Mr Luthufi’s alleged motive for trying to take over the country is rare in the history of coup attempts. He is said to have wanted to relax Islamic laws which prevent Maldivians from drinking alcohol and going dancing. The 200,000 islanders have been protected from such temptations until now by confining tourist resorts to otherwise uninhabited parts of the thousand-island chain.

The country has no army. Male has no prison. But innocence may be a thing of the past. The national security service, which has performed little more than guard duties and minor police work, may now be turned into a fighting force. There are still more than 250 Indian paratroops on the islands. Radar equipment may be installed to guard the coastline. Like a household which has been burgled for the first time, the Maldivians may never feel safe again.

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A Swirl of Suspicion: A secret report on the Gandhi murder is released

[Bill Hewitt; Newsweek, Apr. 10, 1989, p. 17.]

The 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi had seemed to be an open-and-shut case. As the Indian prime minister walked to a television interview near her house, she was gunned down by two Sikh bodyguards. One of the assailants was shot dead on the spot; the other, along with a government clerk who helped plan the crime, was tried and hanged in January. But last week, in response to a cascade of leaks, the New Delhi government released a long-suppressed report arguing that the assassination may have been part of a larger conspiracy. The evidence specifically suggested the involvement of a Sikh official named Rajinder Kumar Dhawan, now a key adviser to Gandhi’s son, the present prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

The government itself quickly declared that it had since cleared Dhawan of the allegations. Still, the report, which was the work of an official commission formed just after the assassination, detailed some damaging clues. Investigators discovered that Dhawan, who served for 20 years as one of Indira Gandhi’s closest aides, shifted the time of the fateful TV interview without telling anyone; that change meant that the assassins were both on duty. The commission heard evidence that Dhawan had moved away from Indira just before the shooting and was known to associate with one of the killers. In addition, the investigators turned up several note books owned by Dhawan which contained cryptic references to the other assassin, to foreign money and to the CIA. The head of the commission, Supreme Court Justice M.P. Thakkar, concluded that ‘there are strong indicators and numerous factors which warrant grave suspicion’ about Dhawan’s role.

Initially the speculation was kept secret on the ground of national security. After the assassination, Dhawan resigned and faded from public view. But in February, amid growing political turmoil, Rajiv Gandhi called on Dhawan to rejoin his administration. Details from the report quickly began to appear in the Indian Express newspaper, and opposition politicians accused the government of engineering a cover-up.

Last week’s release of the report was designed to take the steam out of the attacks. Instead it only seemed to intensify the pressure on Rajiv. Government officials insisted that a special investigation team had recently examined all the allegations against Dhawan and had dismissed them. When asked to produce that report, however, authorities again said it was too sensitive to be made public. In Rajiv’s defense, some government officials argued that he had never taken the results of the original inquiry seriously, perhaps because he could not conceive of Dhawan being involved in such a plot. He may be right. But with his country transfixed by this latest chapter in the Gandhi family saga, Rajiv can no longer afford to take conspiracy theories lightly. [with Sudip Mazumdar/ New Delhi].

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Dashed Hopes for a Peace Plan

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Apr. 14, 1989, p. 31.]

On March 21, Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese celebrated the Buddhist holiday of the Medin Full Moon. Some of their number belonging to the anti-government Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front) marked the occasion in particularly grisly fashion: they massacred 60 civilians – most of them affiliated to the country’s ruling United National Party. The killings were the culmination of a three-day frenzy that took the death toll to at least 139. Lamented Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne: ‘The moon must be affecting these fellows. Only mad people do this type of thing.’

This time, however, the government had its own methods for the madness. The Sri Lankan army in the south staged one of its biggest-ever assaults on the Marxist-nationalist JVP. Targeting the educated but unemployed youth the JVP draws on for its cadres, the army sweep netted more than 400 young guerillas. Many others wanted to surrender, claimed Wijeratne. ‘The pressure is on the JVP and we are closing on them,’ he declared. ‘They are desperate. We have to get rid of them one day or another. The sooner the better.’

Concurrently, in the Tamil-dominated north, India’s peacekeeping force mounted a massive offensive against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Some 30,000 Indian troops began the anti-Tigers offensive – code named ‘Operation Bazz’ – in the third week of March. Although authorities enforced a news blackout, sources said the operation scored a ‘limited success’. A Tigers statement spoke of ‘fierce battles’ and charged that ‘thousands of panic-stricken villagers have fled the area and hundreds of houses and huts have been destroyed by bombs and shells’. Visiting Indian parliamentarian V. Gopalaswamy confirmed that his countrymen were ‘shelling the place with 250 kg shells and using the latest MI-24 helicopter gunships to track down and liquidate the Tigers. They are also killing innocent Tamils in the process.’

The moves against the Tigers and the JVP seemed timed to soften up both groups for a major peace initiative announced last week by Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Addressing a local festival on April 1, he vowed to ‘forget the past and start a new era.’ The president offered an amnesty to all anti-government forces who agreed to a ceasefire. He promised to suspend ‘all offensive operations by the armed forces and police’ and said about 100 to 200 ‘reception centres’ would be set up where rebels could ‘come with arms or without and we will accept all unconditionally.’ If they agreed, they would be assigned parliamentary seats so they ‘could air their grievances there’. Premadasa also promised to scrap anti-terrorist laws, outlaw vigilante groups, and replace the Indo-Lankan peace accord with a reciprocal peace treaty between the two nations. The accord, repudiated by the Tigers, brought Indian troops to the Tamil-dominated north in 1987.

Unusually, politicians set aside party differences and supported Premadasa’s peace package. During the parliamentary election campaign in February, most parties had been reluctant to oppose the influential JVP. But the watershed consensus soon became academic. Both rebel groups rejected the ceasefire plan out of hand. The JVP said it wanted Parliament dissolved first and fresh elections held. The Tigers, too, said they were not interested in going to Parliament. They felt Premadasa’s vow to send the Indians home was worthless ‘because India decides otherwise.’

The brush-off dashed the high hopes of Premadasa’s team, but it was consistent with the steadfast rejection of previous amnesty offers by the two groups. In both their regions, the horizon looked, if anything, gloomier. The army cancelled all leave in the south amid fears that the JVP would go all out to oppose the Indo-Lankan accord. As the April 5 anniversary of its bloody 1971 insurrection approached, the group’s violent tactics were not expected to abate. Meanwhile, Varatharaja Perumal, recently elected chief minister of Tamil-dominated Northeastern Province, threatened that ‘a river of blood would flow’ if his demands for provincial autonomy under the accord were not met.

Perumal, who heads the leftist Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, supports  the peacekeeping force and refers to the Indian troops as the Tamils’ ‘brothers’. The Tigers disagree. From their jungle hideouts they stage hit-and-run attacks on both the Indians – and on Perumal’s partymen. Visiting New Delhi, Perumal complained that the ‘process of devolution in Sri Lanka is too slow.’ The 36 year-old provincial chief minister warned that ‘if the provincial system fails, the whole thing will return to square one and there shall be no solution except a bloodbath.’

Even so, there was talk of more of the estimated 50.000 Indian troops being withdrawn; some 3,000 left earlier this year. On March 31, Wijeratne said another group would depart July 30 and ‘hopefully the rest would be sent back by December 31, 1989.’ In New Delhi the visiting Perumal was told by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that he wants Indian troops pulled out as soon as possible. That prospect increasingly is the one goal that militant Sinhalese, militant Tamils and the moderate Premadasa seem to share. At least it is something held in common. Said Plantations Minister Gamini Dissanayake of the spurned peace plan: ‘The Sinhalese and Tamils must find a rationale for survival. Unless we have a consensus, our five-star democracy will sink in blood.’

*****

Gandhi, His Luster Dimmed after 4 years, Faces Uncertain Political Future

[Barbara Crossette; New York Times, Apr. 22, 1989]

When Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984, the young Prime Minister was hailed as a leader who could bring this huge, diverse democracy into a new era. He promised clean politics, good government and a leap into high technology and modern management.

India welcomed him. He was not only the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, and the dutiful son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in October 1984. He was also a refreshingly practical, approachable man who vowed to shake up the bureaucrats and the bosses in his Congress Party. Mr. Gandhi, who won a record-breaking majority in the Indian Parliament in December 1984, was an ‘in-house opposition,’ said Ashis Nandy, a political scientist at New Delhi’s Center for the Study of Developing Societies. The press, Mr. Nandy added, made him a mythical hero.

Popularity Plummets: But now, four years and four months later, Mr. Gandhi’s popularity and the public’s confidence in his ability to govern this country of 800 million people seem to be on a precipitous downward slide, and many politicians, columnists and voters – especially in cities and towns far from the capital – say he may lose the next national election.

Mr. Gandhi must call for a vote before the end of the year, when his five-year term expires. In the volatile world of Indian politics, alliances can shift overnight. But if the present trend continues, both the family dynasty and its party could suffer blows. An opinion poll commissioned in February by India’s leading news magazine, India Today, showed that Mr. Gandhi could hope for no more than 50.6 percent of the 542 seats in the lower house of Parliament. He won 76.6 percent in 1984.

A Minority Position? The magazine concluded in February, before more recent problems erupted for Mr. Gandhi, that a strong opposition might be able to push the Congress Party into the minority. Vitthal N. Gadgil, a general secretary of the Congress Party, acknowledges that this year’s election will be closer than the last, when there was much sympathy for Mr. Gandhi, who sought a mandate less than two months after his mother’s assassination. ‘In this election there will be no wave either for Congress or against Congress,’ Mr. Gadgil, a barrister, said in an interview. He said he thought his party and Mr. Gandhi could win by focusing on economic issues and reverting to the image of Congress as a party of the poor, who are being assisted by generous budget allocations.

‘My own view is that historically the best position that Congress has always taken is of a left-of-center party,’ he said. ‘The image of the party must be the party of the poor, the party of the neglected, the party of the ignored, and of the minorities.’

Divided Opposition Reinforces Leader: Mr. Gandhi’s greatest asset at this point is probably the inability of his foes to unite behind a credible candidate or alternative party platform. ‘The image that the opposition has is the image of a party full of persons who are full of ego, where everybody wants to be prime minister,’ Mr. Gadgil said, ‘There is no unanimity about the leadership. There is no agreement about policy and program.’ And although Delhi insiders sometimes portray the Prime Minister as worried and embattled, H. K. Dua, the editor of The Hindustan Times, a paper generally supportive of the Government, said there was no indication that Mr. Gandhi’s political problems influenced the majority of mostly illiterate voters in the countryside. ‘Basically, the electorate will not be worried so much about corruption,’ he said. ‘The electorate will decide on two issues: inflation and unemployment. The misery index will determine our fate.’ He said the Government’s budget this year had gone a long way to helping the poorest workers.

Buffeted From All Sides: The problems facing Mr. Gandhi, 44 years old, arise from a variety of sources, some of them beyond his control. He is buffeted by revolts in his party in states where powerful and jealous political bosses thrive. His administration is shadowed by reports of bribery, corruption and the misuse of privilege by officials or close friends. No evidence has been offered to link the Prime Minister directly with these charges, but opposition parties are making this an issue nonetheless. On a personal level, Mr. Gandhi’s competence and commitment to democratic institutions are being questioned by political enemies increasingly willing to make attacks on his character part of their strategy.

Even His Successes Can Work Against Him: In some ways, Mr. Gandhi is the victim of his own successes. In opening India, a resolutely protectionist country with inefficient industries, to competition at home and to investment and joint management from abroad, he has piqued the guardians of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s homespun legacy and the believers in socialist theories rooted in the 1920’s or 30’s.

M. J. Akbar, an Indian newspaper editor and the author of a new biography of Prime Minister Nehru, said in a recent interview that one of Mr. Gandhi’s great strengths was his determination to lure ‘the best and the brightest’ into politics and government in India. Mr. Gandhi has governed at a time of rapid change in Indian society, some of that change fostered by him and by the image he has created for the nation.

For some Indians, most of them middle class and urban, life has become glossier than almost anyone could have hoped or feared a decade ago. Fashionable villas and farmhouses decorated in a style called ‘ethnic chic’ are rising in the dusty plains around New Delhi, easily picked out from the air by the unmistakable blue shapes of their private swimming pools.

Sometimes Modern Can Be Too Modern: Rapid modernization could produce voters for parties that offer an escape into the past, according to Mr. Kakar, who said many Indians seemed to feel shipwrecked. ‘Perhaps a sense of anti-modernism, anti-individualism, anti-individuality is getting stronger,’ he said. ‘There is a need to seek shelter in communities of any kind. It doesn’t matter what their ideologies.’

Where such voters will go in 1989 is a concern not only to Mr. Gandhi but also to the fragmented center-left opposition. Both feel threatened by resurgent parties based on religious fundamentalism among Hindus, Sikhs and, to a lesser extent, Muslims. Regionally and ethnically based parties and movements are also gaining ground almost everywhere in India. Opposition to the Congress Party, which has ruled India for all but two years since independence in 1947, stretches from the fundamentalist right, symbolized by the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, to the Communists.

At the center is a seven-month-old, loosely organized coalition of national and regional parties known as the National Front. The leader of the front -and of its most important component, the Janata Dal – is Vishwanath Pratap Singh, a former minister in Mr. Gandhi’s Cabinet who resigned after being blocked in investigating alleged corruption in military contracts and other infringements of the law. But Mr. Singh, still an unofficial opposition leader, spends much of his time patching up quarrels and fending off challenges to his authority. ‘Bane of the Opposition’

Jyoti Basu, a prominent longtime Communist who is Chief Minister of West Bengal, says this jockeying for place ‘has always been the bane of the Indian opposition.’ Mr. Basu and Mr. Singh have been working toward broadening the National Front’s ideological base by bringing in one or both of India’s Communist parties. Communists, in coalitions, head the governments of two Indian states, West Bengal and Kerala. Regional or ethnic parties govern other states, among them Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where Mr. Gandhi suffered a personal defeat in January after campaigning vigorously for a Congress Party slate that was overwhelmed at the polls. Mr. Basu said Mr. Gandhi’s relations with the states had deteriorated badly, as power became centralized in New Delhi and within the Prime Minister’s entourage, at the expense of Government offices and the Congress Party organization. Revolts in the governing Congress parties in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were evidence of this, Mr. Basu said.

Assassination Report Becomes an Issue: Personal attacks on Mr. Gandhi have increased over the last few weeks, after an Indian newspaper published part of a suppressed report on the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi. The report, prepared by a commission under a Supreme Court Judge, M. P. Thakkar, was completed in late 1985 and turned over to the Government the next year, but it was never made public.

The newspaper, The Indian Express, printed part of the report after Mr. Gandhi brought back to the Prime Minister’s office an aide who had been named by Justice Thakkar as a possible suspect for investigation. The aide, Rajendra Kumar Dhawan, had served Mrs. Gandhi for more than 20 years and was with her when she was shot. Mr. Dhawan appears to have assigned Sikh bodyguards to Mrs. Gandhi although Sikhs had threatened her after the Indian Army invaded their holiest shrine in search of militants.

After publication of the synopsis of suspicions about Mr. Dhawan, Mr. Gandhi’s Government disclosed that the aide had been the subject of a special investigation and that he had been cleared. But the report remained secret for several more days, despite rowdy scenes in Parliament. Then suddenly, and apparently without informing at least some high officials, Mr. Gandhi went to the lower house and announced that he would turn over the report to Parliament, which he did, omitting several volumes of related matter.

Now, almost every aspect of the Thakkar report is mired in controversy. Questions are asked about the quality of the report – since many accusations against Mr. Dhawan are based on circumstantial evidence – as well the Government’s reasons for suppressing the report and the decision by Mr. Gandhi to bring back to his inner circle a man he dismissed in 1984.

The Nehru Legacy Riven by a Feud: The matter has brought into the open a bitter feud between two scions of the Nehru legacy. Some of the harshest criticism of the Prime Minister is coming from his cousin and former minister, Arun Nehru, whom Congress Party leaders accuse of leaking the report to the press. Mr. Nehru denies this. He charges that as problems mount for the Prime Minister, Mr. Gandhi is growing intolerant of dissent and unpredictable in his political behavior. ‘A big country like India cannot be run on reflex or impulse,’ Mr. Nehru, a former Home Affairs Minister, said the day after Mr. Gandhi said he would release the Thakkar report.

Old Reliable: The Family Name: ‘When you are not in control of the situation, it is not a happy thing for a country,’ said Mr. Nehru, who is also 44. He and Mr. Gandhi have known each other since childhood. Their great-grandfathers were brothers. Supporters of Mr. Gandhi often argue that whatever his problems in the coming election, he can still rely heavily on the family name and the strength of the Congress Party. Both assumptions are challenged by Mr. Nehru, among others. The Congress Party, he said has been badly weakened by the centralization of power among nonpolitical advisers of Mr. Gandhi, one of them a former airline pilot like the Prime Minister and another a film star.

Still Needs Seasoning: Politicians say the Prime Minister’s decision to bring back Mr. Dhawan, an experienced man whom Mr. Nehru said his cousin had been ‘out to fix’ a few years ago, is an indication that Mr. Gandhi is aware he needs a seasoned politician to help him. As for the family name, Mr. Nehru said a new generation of Indian voters – 50 million become eligible this year with the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 – cannot be expected to act out of traditional loyalties. ‘The issues are totally different for them,’ he said. ‘If you think you can spark off everyone by mentioning Jawharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, I think you are mistaken.’

 *****

A Bleak Holiday Message: Playground of Black Cats and Yellow Leopards

[Edward Desmond; Time, Apr. 24, 1989, p. 12.]

Even in the worst of times, New Year’s in Sri Lanka is a carnival of fireworks, parties and family reunions. Not last week, however, as the holiday rolled around. There were no flares bursting in air; there was no bicycle racing, no feasting. Most Sri Lankans held quiet family get-togethers behind closed doors, all too aware that Sinhalese extremists of the antigovernment JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or the People’s Liberation Front) had decreed a ban on festivities. Even without that threat, most people were intimidated enough by political violence that has claimed more than 3,200 lives in little more than three months. Last week 45 civilians died in a car-bomb blast in Trincomalee, on the island’s east coast. The action was suspected to be the work of the Tamil Tigers, the other major insurgent group at war in the country.

Ranasinghe Premadasa became President in January after promising to send Indian troops home from the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka, where 65,000 are deployed, and to make peace with the JVP and the Tigers. But for the most part, his effort appeared to be faltering. When the President announced a one-week ceasefire and offered amnesty to any JVP and Tiger militants who were willing to turn themselves in at 242 centers around the country, there were few takers. Said Dinesh Gunawardena, leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (People(s United Front), a small party that is aligned with the JVP: ‘The credibility of the government’s peace offers is very low. There is so much mistrust that no JVP member will risk surrender.’

The killers – on all sides – seem to be getting more proficient by the day, especially in savage encounters between Sri Lankan security forces and the underground JVP, which opposes former President Junius Jayewardene’s 1987 decision to permit Indian peacekeeping troops in Sri Lanka. When it first resurfaced two years ago, the JVP limited its activities to assassinations in remote areas. Today its armed cadres, an estimated 5,000, are terrorizing government employees and supporters wherever they live.

The JVP has also begun to use land mines to bloody effect: such weaponry had claimed the lives of 17 government security officials. Last month the group started broadcasting its propaganda messages over an underground radio station called Ranhanda, or Golden Voice.

Premadasa has been trying to pressure the JVP into taking part in peace talks. New vigilante groups linked to the police and army spring up regularly to claim responsibility for the killings of JVP suspects whose bodies turn up everywhere across the country – hands tied behind their backs, heads blown off, and displaying placards claiming responsibility from such hitherto unknown groups as the Black Cats, Southern Black Shadows, Black Butterflies and Yellow Leopards. Concludes a Western diplomat in Colombo: ‘The country’s hopes that Premadasa could solve the JVP problem have died with the wave of killings.’

In his campaign to win popular support, Premadasa promised in December to give each of Sri Lanka’s 1.4 million poorest families an allowance of $80 a month. The funds required were far too large for his cash-strapped government, however, and the plan had to be scaled back to include only 300,000 families at present. The government is already laboring under a $1.3 billion budget deficit, a key factor in the International Monetary Fund’s decision to withhold a $45 million loan that the Colombo government needs.

Premadasa seemed to face another no-win situation in the predominantly Tamil northeast. He has always said he opposes the Indo-Sri Lankan accord that brought Indian troops into the country, and a move to keep his promise to send them home as quickly as possible would be an important element in his fight to defeat the JVP. The Indians have helped his cause by making some token withdrawals, but in recent months the Tamil Tigers have reared up again, making it plain that the peacekeeping force has not yet finished its job. But among the Tamils, anyway, Premadasa may have won a breathing space. In a surprise move late last week, the Tigers agreed to hold talks with the Colombo government, citing their common interest in removing Indian troops from Sri Lankan soil. Since Sri Lankan officials have admitted that the army cannot fight the JVP and the Tigers simultaneously, the Indian force had earlier seemed likely to remain for some time. That reality may have prompted the Tigers to accept Premadasa’s offer to talks, though the nature of the proffered negotiations remained unclear.

The government seems to be gearing up for an all-out assault on the JVP, possibly along the lines of the scorched-earth campaign it waged in 1971 against the group, then in its first incarnation, that claimed 10,000 lives within three months. Says Ranjan Wijeratne, the Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs: ‘What [the press] has been describing as a crackdown is nothing; it was only a holding operation. If the JVP refuses our repeated offers of political olive branches, then we will apply military pressure.’ The New Year’s message could not have been bleaker. [reported by Anita Pratap/Colombo].

https://sangam.org/2009/04/Indo_LTTE_War_14.php

About editor 2942 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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