SPECIAL REPORT : Part 181August 29, 2017, 8:32 pm
March 15, 2015: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying homage to the Indian Army monument at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte. Modi is the first Indian leader to pay tribute at the memorial built during the previous Rajapaksa administration.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Lt. Gen. P.M. Hariz, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Southern Command, Indian Army, on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2017, paid homage at a memorial built for five fallen Indian military personnel, 30 years ago. They were were members of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The Tamils at that time called IPKF the Indian People Killing Force.
The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) hadn’t been even aware of the existence of the derelict memorial until India brought it to the notice of Sri Lanka, ahead of Lt. Gen. Hariz’s arrival in Jaffna. India wanted Sri Lanka to arrange for the Southern Command delegation to visit the memorial, located in a private land, off Kalviyankaadu, in Kopay.
The three-member Indian delegation, headed by Lt. Gen. Hariz, laid floral wreaths in memory of an officer and four men killed at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Lt. Gen. Hariz received the latest appointment on Sept. 1, 2016, and last week’s visit to Jaffna was his first. Hariz hadn’t been attached to the Indian Army that caused mayhem in Sri Lanka, though he was a serving junior officer at that time.
The delegation, led by Lt. Gen. Hariz, visited the tomb which the Indian Army put up during its deployment here, after having met Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Security Forces Commander, Jaffna.
The owner of the marshy land must have been surprised when the SLA informed him of the urgent requirement to clean his property ahead of the commemoration. The memorial, at Kopay, is the second in the Jaffna peninsula, where the Indian Army had suffered substantial losses, in late 1987, to bring Jaffna under its control.
India commenced deploying its Army, in the Jaffna peninsula, immediately after the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, on July 29, 1987. India brought its military misadventure to an end on March 24, 1990 after the then Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa asked them to withdraw.
In late 2012, India found a long-forgotten memorial put up for those who had been killed in a high profile heli-borne operation mounted in the second week of Oct, 1987, in the Jaffna University premises. The Indian memorial, situated within the Palaly high security zone, remembers 33 Indian soldiers, including Lieut. Col. Arun Kumar Chhabra, killed in action during that heli-borne operation. The ill-fated Indian assault, jointly mounted by Para Commandos and the Sikh Light Infantry, was meant to wipe out the top LTTE leadership believed to be at their tactical headquarters, at Kokuvil, in the Jaffna University.
The Palaly memorial was ceremonially opened in early 2013.
India has now conveniently forgotten that those who had taught Para Commandos and the Sikh Light infantry an unforgettable lesson, were the beneficiaries of Indian military training. Obviously, the Indian military leadership had underestimated the LTTE’s fighting capability. Those who had planned the heli-borne assault believed Para Commandos and the Sikh Light Infantry could comfortably secure the University and swiftly hunt LTTE leaders.
The then Indian High Commissioner, Ashok K. Kantha, requested Sri Lanka to spruce up the memorial soon after the then Indian Consul General in Jaffna, V. Mahalingam, and a team had verified the structure.
India established a Consulate in Jaffna, in Nov 2010. It would be pertinent to mention that India set up the diplomatic mission over a year after the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. However, the Jaffna peninsula was brought under government control, way back in early 1996.
The Hindu quoted Mahalingham as having said "Some people found it, and they informed us. Initially, we were not sure. But they took a few pictures and sent them to us."
The memorial comprises seven structures and has the names of 33 soldiers, killed in Jaffna battles.
However, it is not clear if all those buried, in Palaly, were from the first battle or from multiple battles.
The Indian Army put up another small memorial, within a Catholic institution called ‘Manresa,’ about two kms out of Batticaloa town. It was erected by retired Maj. Gen. Askok Mehta, who had once commanded the Indian Army, deployed in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts. The writer had contacted Maj. Gen. Mehta on several occasions over the phone during his deployment in Batticaloa. Interestingly, Maj. Gen. Mehta had used ‘Manresa’ in spite of it being a Catholic institution. No one found fault with the Indian Army for using ‘Manresa.’
The Indian Army put up three memorials, at Palaly, Kopay and Batticaloa, whereas the previous government built a monument for the Indian Army at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte, in 2008. The first official memorial service was held there (Kotte) on Aug. 15, 2010 with the participation of the then Indian HC Ashok Kantha.
Sri Lanka’s decision to put up a grand monument for the Indian Army, at Kotte, Sri Jayawardenepura, and also allow memorials in the Jaffna peninsula and the East, should be examined against the backdrop of India not having a monument, on its soil, for 1,200 officers and men killed in Sri Lanka.
In fact, the Indian Army refrained from at least putting up a memorial for the Indian Army officers and men killed in Sri Lanka at any of the bases coming under the purview of the Southern Command in India. Instead, Indian political and military leaders pay homage to memorials in Sri Lanka. Why not have a monument of its own for those families, who lost their loved ones in Sri Lankan battlefields, to pay their last respects?
The failure on the part of India to honour the Indian Army that fought in Sri Lanka had never been a political issue with the Indian media, turning a blind eye to the absence of an Indian monument.
Indira Gandhi’s India that started destabilising Sri Lanka in the early 1980s to such an extent that the smaller neighbour had no option but to invite New Delhi to intervene during her son’s rule, militarily. But, Sri Lanka, in spite early setbacks, by late 1986-early 1987, achieved the wherewithal to take on the LTTE in the Jaffna peninsula. India intervened as the SLA engaged in Operation Liberation and was making making progress in the Vadamaratchchy region.
Lt. Gen. P.M. Hariz, in his capacity as GoC, Southern Command, wouldn’t have had the necessity to visit Jaffna, or Trincomalee, if India didn’t intervene in Sri Lanka. For some strange reason, Sri Lankan leaders lacked the courage to state, at a proper forum, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have ended up in the agenda of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) if not for the Indian destabilization project.
India, didn’t want monuments for Indian Army, in Tamil Nadu, for obvious reasons. Such monuments would constantly remind India of its murderous project in Sri Lanka, leading to the assassination of Congress I leader Rajiv Gandhi under whose watch the Indian Army moved into the Northern and Eastern regions here. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi, in May 1991, over a year after India withdrew its Army in the wake of change of government in New Delhi.
Gandhi would have suffered grievous injuries, in Colombo, on the morning of July 30, 1987, had the naval rating, on a guard of honour, managed to land a blow with his rifle butt on the Indian leader’s head. The attack reflected the armed forces anger at the Indian intervention meant to save the LTTE.
No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary, the late J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’ launched in early 2004, faulted the late Indira Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. However, Dixit, who had been India’s HC, in Colombo, during the Indian Army deployment here, justified the Indian intervention on the basis of the then global geo-political situation. India had been in the Soviet camp at the time of its intervention here and was in line with its overall strategy to thwart possible US military presence here. Today, India and US are best of friends with Israel being a leading weapons supplier to New Delhi.
Indian media love to propagate the lie that the Indian Army moved into Sri Lanka to keep peace but had to fight a war. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Within hours after the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, Indian Air Force AN 12s and AN 32s began transferring troops from the Southern Command to Palaly air base. The writer, being a trainee reporter then (having joined The Island in June 1987) couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. Unfortunately, 30 years on, most of our politicians seemed to be blind to the crisis as they desperately fight for political power, even at the expense of national interest.
On the first day (July 29, 1987), the Indian Air Force brought in two infantry battalions. Within a week, India deployed a Brigade and by end of August, a Division was in place. Obviously, India believed it could manage with one infantry Division, initially, though by Oct. 1987 there were clear signs that the LTTE was about to renege the accord.
A few days before the signing of the accord, two Indian Air Force helicopters flew in to Jaffna peninsula. They were on a top secret mission to airlift five LTTE terrorists, including its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran for a clandestine meet with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Years later, retired Indian Air Marshal Denzil Keelor is on record as having said that they received instructions from Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to shift the LTTE delegation from Jaffna peninsula to India. Keelor discussed how Indian Air Force had sent in two choppers with specific instructions provided by the RAW to pick the LTTE delegation from the Suthumalai Amman kovil temple, Jaffna. Having flown the LTTE delegation across the Palk Strait to Trichy and then transferred to a special flight standing by, the group was flown to New Delhi via Madras to meet Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, on July 28, 1987.
By then, India had already violated Sri Lankan air space on June 4, 1987 to air drop food.
Prabhakaran was flown back to Jaffna on Aug. 2, 1987 amidst a round-the-clock troop airlift from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran hadn’t been in Sri Lanka at the time India forced JRJ to sign the Indo-Lanka accord.
Prabhakaran declared, on Aug 4, 1987, that India forced his organization to accept the Indo-Lanka accord.
India launched a raid on the Jaffna campus, on the night of Oct 11, 1987, in the wake of a group of senior LTTE cadres, including Pulendran and Kumarappa, committing suicide in the custody of the SLA. LTTEers took their lives as the SLA was making arrangements to airlift them from Palaly to Colombo in spite of strong Indian objections.
Let me reproduce verbatim what the Indian Southern Command briefly posted on Indian Army website about deployment of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka: "With the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, in 1987, the Command was tasked to ensure implementation of the Accord. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), under Lt Gen A.S. Kalkat, was raised and moved to Sri Lanka, to participate in Op PAWAN. Over the next two years, the IPKF gradually built up, and made tremendous sacrifices in their attempt to enforce the mandate. The IPKF was eventually de-inducted in early 1990, after the successful conduct of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka."
The Southern Command also referred to an operation India conducted in the Maldives.
"HQ Southern Command also controlled Op Cactus in the Maldives, in 1988, to restore President Gayoom after a coup bid in that country."
What the Indian Army had conveniently omitted was that the assassination attempt was made in early Nov. 1988 by Indian-trained Sri Lankan terrorists . Thanks to my senior colleague, Ivan Alvis, accidentally meeting Maldivian Abdulla Luthufee, at the Ramada Hotel, in Colombo (now Cinnamon Lakeside), responsible for that attempted take-over, the writer was able to interview Luthufee. It was the first interview given by the Maldivian, since his release following over two decades long detention in the Maldives. Luthufee hired an 80-man People’s Liberation Organization Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) group to seize the Maldives. The Sea borne PLOTE cadres’ bid was thwarted by the timely intervention of the Indian Army.
Subsequently, the Indian navy sank a merchant vessel commandeered by PLOTE cadres. On July 16 1989 unidentified gunman assassinated the then PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran (44) near the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo.
Was Maheswaran shot for planning the raid on the Maldives? Who ordered Maheswaran’s killing? Did he earn the wrath of RAW for the Maldivian adventure?
PLOTE member and Tamil National Alliance MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan (Vanni District) has accused RAW of assassinating his father, a Jaffna District MP representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Aug. 1985. Dharmalingham has explained to the writer how the TELO, another Indian trained terrorist group, at the behest of RAW, assassinated his father Dharmalingam and Alalasundaram. India never investigated allegations that its intelligence services ordered members of Sri Lanka parliament assassinated.
Perhaps, there should be a monument for those who had been killed and maimed due to Indian intervention.
Two of the worst Indian atrocities, occurred in Oct 21, 22, 1987, at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and Oct 21,22, 1989 at Valvettiturai where about 70 and 60 Tamils were massacred, respectively. India never owned up and those responsible for these executions were never punished. The Indian Army has refrained from commenting on wide spread allegations directed at those who had fought under the Southern Command.
Following the Indian Arny pullout, from Sri Lanka, in March 1990, it was re-designated as 21 Corps in April 1990. The Indian Army, in Sri Lanka, later became the offensive fighting formation of the Southern Command and was based at Bhopal in July 1990.
The claim that the Indians had been eventually de-inducted in March 1990, after the successful conclusion of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lankas should be examined. India, for some reason had refrained from making reference to the first North-East Provincial Council polls conducted under the superviison of the Indian Army.
Those who demand free and fair elections today never even bothered to issue a statement condemning India for rigging important NEPC election on Nov 19, 1988. The JRJ administration couldn’t interfere with the Indian strategy, meant to ensure an administration, in Sri Lanka’s North-East, loyal to New Delhi. Having installed the EPRLF-led administration, India later created a Tamil National Army (TNA) to protect the outfit. The TNA undermined the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government.
The Dec, 1988, the presidential and the Feb, 1989, parliamentary elections were also conducted in the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, under the supervision of the Indian Army. At the presidential election, the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa defeated SLFP’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike in a close race, marred by violence. Premadasa was sworn in as JRJ’s successor, on Jan 2, 1989. In February, Premadasa led the UNP to a comfortable victory in the parliamentary polling, capturing 125 of the 225 seats under a new proportional voting system. Both presidential and parliamentary polls took place before Premadasa reached an understanding, in May, 1989 to pave the way for talks with the LTTE. The Premadasa-LTTE talks collapsed in June, 1990.
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991, should be probed against the backdrop of the collapse of the Premadasa-LTTE talks, as well as the change of government in New Delhi that paved the way for the Indian Army pullout.