SPECIAL REPORT : Part 106January 13, 2016, 9:50 am
Former Indian High Commissioner, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, is seated between President Maithripala Sirisena and twice President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Kamal Bogoda captured the scene at an event held at the BMICH on January 8 where Gandhi endorsed unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at the previous government, including the execution of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s second son, Balachandran.
by Shamindra Ferdinando
One-time Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, declared, in Colombo, on January 8, that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be remembered for eradicating the LTTE.
Former President Rajapaksa brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009.
Having commended the former President for giving resolute political leadership to the successful war effort, Gandhi delivered an unmistakable warning, pertaining to war crimes allegations.
But the crimes committed during eelam war IV would also not be forgotten, Gandhi warned the former President who skipped the event.
Gandhi was delivering the keynote address at a ceremony to mark the completion of President Maithripala Sirisena’s first year in office, at the BMICH.
War-winning Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was also in the audience, seated next to UN Resident Representative, Subanay Nandy. Among the Colombo-based diplomats, present on the occasion, was Indian High Commissioner, Y.K. Sinha.
Gandhi accused the previous government of having executed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son during the final phase of the Vanni offensive, in May, 2009.
Gandhi alleged that the Sri Lankan military had executed Balachandran because he was the younger son of the LTTE’ leader. The retired Indian career diplomat subscribed to the allegation of mass scale killings of civilians, during the final assault, though he refrained from mentioning an exact figure.
UNSG Ban Ki-moon Panel of Experts (PoE), in March, 2011, estimated the number of civilian deaths, due to military action, at over 40,000.
Many an eyebrow was raised at the timing of Gandhi’s statement meant to give credence to war crimes allegations. "The massacre of innocents at its denouement has compacted the gore of terror with the blood-thirst of revenge," Gandhi said.
"And the killing in cold blood, of a child, for the sole reason, that he was his father’s son, has left the world in cold horror."
Gandhi went to the extent of justifying the war waged by Prabhakaran for nearly 30 years. The retired diplomat refrained from bringing up the bloody Indian Army campaign against the LTTE, launched in Oct., 1987.
"If the Ponnambalams and Chelvanayakams had not been disappointed, spurned and marginalized, Velupillai Pirbakaran would not have been required. We may not have those great leaders today, but we have in the Tamil leaders of Sri Lanka today, let us not forget, persons who have survived terror. The Tamil nationalist who has striven to find political solutions within a united Sri Lanka is a terror survivor. The very presence of such a politician is a huge acknowledgement of the efficacy and strength of perseverance."
Gandhi conveniently failed to mention the massive excesses committed by the LTTE.
Gandhi basically asserted that Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the presidential polls, a year ago, ended a reign of terror. The former High Commissioner took the shine off Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism in May, 2009. Obviously, Gandhi had conveniently forgotten the situation, in Sri Lanka, during his short tenure as Indian High Commissioner, in Colombo (2000-2002). The country was in unprecedented turmoil due to a series of high profile battle-field defeats experienced by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA). Sri Lanka also experienced massive political crisis with a spate of defections from the then ruling SLFP-led People’s Alliance (PA), leading to parliamentary elections, in early December, 2001. The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) comfortably won the polls. Having formed the government, the UNP swiftly entered a ceasefire agreement (CFA) with the LTTE, under the auspices of Norway. India threw its weight behind the CFA, though New Delhi declined to publicly support the Norwegian initiative that received the backing for the US, EU and Japan. They functioned as Co-chairs to Sri Lanka’s Peace Process with Norway being the fourth in the grouping.
It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka suffered her worst battlefield defeat, in April, 2000. India declined to come to Sri Lanka’s rescue, even in the aftermath of the SLA’s humiliating defeat at strategic Elephant Pass area. The 54 Division, headquartered at Elephant Pass, suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the LTTE, by then developed into a conventional fighting force. India also spurned Sri Lanka’s call for urgent military assistance to save the SLA trapped in Jaffna. A disappointed President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga re-established diplomatic ties with Israel, in May, 2000, in accordance with her overall plan to meet the LTTE challenge.
Jolted by the shocking loss of Elephant Pass, Mrs Kumaratunga sent the then Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, along with Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera, to thwart the LTTE bid to overrun Jaffna. Although, the SLA managed to halt the advance, it couldn’t regain Elephant Pass, until early 2009.
Those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes inquiry, meant to examine accusations pertaining to eelam war IV, remain silent on the Indian terrorist project here. In act, the previous government pathetically failed at least to mention the Indian role at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), even after India voted against Sri Lanka, in 2013.
However, the former Indian High Commissioner obviously lacked courage to admit Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, in the early 80s, by providing weapons training to terrorists; how the LTTE brought terror back into Indian soil, and also Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists making an attempt on the life of the Maldivian President, in early Nov. 1988. Gandhi must also admit that the crimes committed by the then Government of India, too, would also not be forgotten. India also paid a heavy price for its foolish decision to destabilize a small neighbouring country. The former Indian High Commissioner couldn’t be unaware of the circumstances leading to the high profile assassination of one-time Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, on May 21, 1991.
The year before Gandhi succeeded Mennon, the LTTE made an abortive bid on the life of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The LTTE targeted her at her final Dec. 1999, president campaign rally, at the Town Hall. Mrs. Kumaratunga secured a second term. Had Prabhakaran succeeded, the war would have taken a different course. The presidential election took place against the backdrop of devastating battlefield losses in the Vanni. During the 1996-1999 period, the LTTE inflicted massive losses on the SLA, in the Vanni theater of operations, and, by Dec. 1999, was poised to take on the 54 Division, deployed in the Elephant Pass-Vettilaikerni sector.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi was in Colombo when the LTTE mounted its boldest attack in the South, during the entire war. The LTTE stormed the Bandaranaike International Airport, in the early hours of July, 24, 2001. The national economy was on the brink of collapse. The losses suffered by the national carrier, and the SLAF, caused a massive impact on the economy. India can never absolve itself of responsibility for causing terrorism in Sri Lanka.
One of Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s predecessors in Colombo, J.N. Dixit (1985-1989) in his memoirs titled Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha, launched in 2004, lucidly explained the circumstances under which the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1980-1984) intervened in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka should be grateful to Dixit for having the courage to publicly acknowledge the Indian role after having retired from the esteemed Indian Foreign Service. Dixit retired as the Foreign Secretary, in 1994, and received the post of National Security Advisor, in 2004. Dixit at the age of 68, suffered a massive heart attack in January, the following year.
The writer received a copy of Dixit’s memoirs, courtesy Ministry of External Affairs, during a visit to New Delhi, on the invitation of the government of India, in July-Aug 2006. Let me reproduce verbatim Dixit’s explanation on Mrs Gandhi’s action: "India’s involvement in Sri Lanka, in my assessment, was unavoidable not only due to the possible ramifications of the Sri Lankan government’s oppressive and discriminating policies against its Tamil citizens but also in terms of India’s national concerns due to the Sri Lankan government’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel."
Obviously, India was acting in accordance with its overall strategy as a cold war ally of the then Soviet Union. Dixit said: "It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment obtaining between 1980 and 1984."
Dixit alleged that the US and Pakistan had exploited the situation in Sri Lanka at the onset of hit-and-run attacks by Tamil youth in the Northern Province to create what he called a politico-strategic pressure point against India. Having discussed the Indian intervention, in Sri Lanka, as well as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Dixit faulted Premier Gandhi’s position on both. Dixit asserted: "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she couldn’t openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defense supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils."
Sri Lanka never made an effort to examine the origins of terrorism. Instead, successive governments accepted responsibility for their failure to address the grievances of the Tamil-speaking people. Tamils believed India backed their campaign of death and destruction to pressure the then Sri Lankan government, whereas New Delhi was seeking to thwart the growth of separatism in Tamil Nadu. In other words, India had averted a major threat to her security and stability at the expense of Sri Lanka. For want of comprehensive examination of events, leading to eelam war, I in the early 80s, and subsequent phases, Sri Lanka failed at least to verify and record facts. War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa never made a serious effort to examine the origins of the conflict even after the armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.
Seven years after the war, Gopalkrishna Gandhi was in Colombo to remind Sri Lanka of accountability issues. What would be Gandhi’s response to Dixit’s assertions? Would Tamil militancy developed to such an extent if India didn’t intervene here? Having sponsored over half a dozen terrorist groups, India thwarted Sri Lanka’s first determined effort to wipe out the LTTE, in May-June, 1987. Had Operation Liberation was allowed to proceed, as planned, India could have saved the lives of over 1,500 officers and men, Rajiv Gandhi wouldn’t have had to die in the hands of an LTTE suicide cadre and, most importantly, the war wouldn’t have lasted for nearly three decades. India intervened as troops of Operation liberation were in the process of gradually achieving their objectives.
Former President Rajapaksa squandered an opportunity to conduct a thorough examination of events. Had he provided the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) the required mandate, it could have examined the origins of terrorism here. Had that happened, his government could have successfully countered an expensive propaganda campaign directed at the country, since the end of war, seven years ago. The former President paid a very heavy price for his lapses.
The Indian Army, during its deployment here, was accused of numerous atrocities. Those accused of atrocities were never punished. The then Sri Lankan government had no authority, at least to inquire into violations, whereas the Indian Army simply ignored allegations. Perhaps Gopalkrishna Gandhi should be reminded of accusations made against India’s premier intelligence service, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in respect of the assassination of two Jaffna District TULF members, V. Dharmalingham and M. Alalasundaram, in early Sept. 1985. Dharmalingham’s son, Siddarthan, now a member of the TNA-run Northern Provincial Council, told the writer, way back in 1997, of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) abducting and killing the two politicians. Dharmalingham asserted that India carried out the killings to bring the LTTE under pressure. The decision was obviously prompted by the collapse of tripartite talks aimed at resolving Sri Lanka’s national problem, in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu, involving the governments of India and Sri Lanka, as well as representatives of Tamil speaking people of Sri Lankan origin, during the third week of August, 1985.
An irate Rajiv Gandhi ordered the immediate deportation of LTTE theoretician, Anton Balasingham, a former employee of the British High Commission in Colombo.
The TULF, and a grouping of Indian sponsored terrorist organization calling itself Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF), represented the Tamils at the Thimpu talks.
The abortive Thimpu deliberations comprised two rounds of talks; first in early July 1985 and the other in August. Bodies of TULF members were found on the morning of Sept. 3, 1985.
The killings should be examined against the backdrop of the Thimpu fiasco as well as the short-lived Delhi Accord of 1985. India should accept responsibility for plunging Sri Lanka into crisis. New Delhi pursued a deliberate policy meant to cause chaos in Sri Lanka to achieve its political and military objectives.
Those hell bent on destabilizing Sri Lanka ordered the killings, with a view to discrediting the LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The assassinations were meant to isolate the LTTE, thereby paving the way for rival groups to consolidate their power in the post-Thimpu environment. Another objective was to curb the TULF influence over the Jaffna populace. Whoever had the power to decide on the fate of two politicians, the TELO led by Sri Sabaratnam alias Tall Sri had been given the dastardly assignment. Obviously, the enmity between Prabhakaran and Sri Sabaratnam had been taken into consideration when the latter was ordered to carry out the killings.
The JRJ government wrongly blamed the LTTE for the killings. Sri Lankan authorities never made a genuine attempt to investigate the assassinations.
Interestingly, TULF heavyweights, M. Sivasithamparam and A. Amirthalingam, were in New Delhi to meet Premier Gandhi when TELO cadres carried out the killings. Having discussed the Delhi Accord of 1985 with Premier Gandhi, the TULF leaders returned to Chennai, where they rejected the latest initiative on the basis it didn’t address three vital issues, namely Tamil homeland in a merged North-East Province, the devolution of power in respect of land, as well as police powers.
Post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka is not possible unless India, too, admits its despicable role here. Perhaps, the proposed war crimes court can be utilized by those wanting to establish truth to give an opportunity to India.