Is there a "Dirty Secret" Behind India's Irrational Policy towards the Sri Lankan Crisis?
Appendix I: Did India Help Sri Lankan Tamils until 1987?
Yashoda Reddy (Andhra Pradesh)
Siva Reddy (Andhra Pradesh)
Thanjai Nalankilli (Tamil Nadu)
TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2001 (ID.2001-05-01)
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This article is part of a SPECIAL SERIES OF ARTICLES: Is there a "Dirty Secret" Behind India's Irrational Policy towards the Sri Lankan Crisis?
Is there a "Dirty Secret" Behind India's Irrational Policy towards the Sri Lankan Crisis? Part I: An Independent Tamil Eelam is in the National Interest of India (by Yashoda Reddy, Siva Reddy and Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2000 (33 KB) (te)
20000604 Is there a "Dirty Secret" Behind India's Irrational Policy towards the Sri Lankan Crisis? Part II: Debunking anti-Tamil-Eelam Propaganda in India (by Yashoda Reddy, Siva Reddy and Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2000 (21 KB)
EPRLF - Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front
EROS - Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students
LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
PLOTE - Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam
TELO - Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization
USA - United States of America
2. India's Cunning Strategy of Bleeding Sri Lanka
3. Air Drop over Jaffna
4. India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 and Tamil Grievances
5. What did India get from the India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987?
6. India did not help the Sri Lankan Tamils
7. India could Have Achieved Everything by Supporting Tamil Eelam
It is generally believed inside and outside of India, and indeed spread by the Indian Government, that India helped Sri Lankan Tamil freedom fighters until 1987, and that India turned against the LTTE only after it refused to disarm and accept the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord signed by the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jeyawardene in July 1987. We will show the falsity of this claim. India was not really helping the Sri Lankan Tamils but it was engaged in a very dubious, selfish, cunning and destructive strategy of bleeding Sri Lanka until the Sri Lankan Government acceded to certain demands India had to achieve its military and foreign policy objectives in South Asia.
2.India's Cunning Strategy of Bleeding Sri Lanka
The Indian Government and much of the Indian press repeatedly claim that India actively supported the Tamil struggle against Sinhala oppression until 1987. They point to the military training and weapons India gave to the various freedom fighters, such as the EPRLF, EROS, LTTE, PLOTE and TELO, between 1983 and 1987.
Yes, India did aid the Tamil freedom fighters. Yes, they did train them including training in bomb making. Yes, they did supply them with weapons. The question is, "How much of an aid and to what purpose?" India aided the Tamil freedom fighters, not to help the Tamil struggle against Sinhala oppression butto destabilize Sri Lanka enough to convince the Sri Lankan Government that unless it gives in to certain Indian demands with respect to India's military and foreign policy objectives, India could see to it that the Sinhala-Tamil war continues and possibly Sri Lanka breaks up into two countries--a Sinhala nation and a Tamil nation. We should look at this in view of Sri Lanka's anti-Indian activities in the foreign policy front in the preceding years.
During the cold war years (which were still cold in the 1980s), India leaned towards the then Soviet Union and Sri Lanka towards the United States of America (USA). India was irked by its tiny southern neighbor thumping its nose at the big brother India but could do very little to make Sri Lanka accept its dictate. During the India-Pakistan war in 1971, Pakistani Air Force planes have to fly around India to the south to move arms and supplies from West Pakistan to East Pakistan. Without Sri Lanka's permission for these planes to refuel in Sri Lanka, Pakistan's ability to wage war against India would have been severely hampered. Sri Lanka did allow Pakistan to refuel in Sri Lanka - a very hostile action against India during that war. Although Indian officials were fuming at Sri Lanka, India could do very little about it. Any direct military action against Sri Lanka would have brought world condemnation and possible American military intervention on the side of Sri Lanka. India has to find some other way, short of military intervention, to force Sri Lanka to accept its dictate in foreign policy and military matters.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, India was also upset over the close relationship developing between Sri Lanka and the USA. The possibility of Sri Lanka offering facilities for the American Navy at its Trincomalee port (the largest natural harbor in the world) and the expansion of the Voice of America Station in Sri Lanka (with the possibility of America setting up electronic listening posts at the Voice of America facility) was looked at with deep concern by India. Again, there was nothing India could do.
Like a ripe fruit falling on one's lap, opportunity knocked in the form of the rise of Tamil freedom fighters in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s and early 1980s. India decided to arm and train the Tamil freedom fighters just enough to seriously threaten the Sri Lankan Army in the north and east of the island (the traditional Tamil home land that Tamils call "Tamil Eelam"). India never aided the freedom fighters enough to defeat the Sri Lankan army but just enough to bleed the army. The level of support was carefully planned to meet this strategy. By Indian calculations, if the Sri Lankan Government agrees to accede to India's demands on the military and foreign policy fronts, India can stop the aid to freedom fighters. The freedom fighter, not strong enough to dislodge the Sri Lankan army from their homeland (northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka), will not be able to do much. (Things went wrong for India because LTTE did not depend solely on Indian arms and training. It had its own independent arms procurement operations and training without the knowledge of Indian intelligence agencies.)
3.Air Drop over Jaffna
At this point we would like to point out a sub-drama India staged in the mid- 1980s. At that time much of Jaffna peninsula was under Tamil control (LTTE control). Sri Lankan Government had cut off much of the food supply to Jaffna as it is doing today to LTTE-controlled Vanni region. Saying that it would feed the people of Jaffna, India sent a plane with some food packets and dropped them into Jaffna. The reason for this display of air might was not to feed the starving people of Jaffna (the food packets would not even feed a few dozen people for a day while the Jaffna population was in the hundreds of thousands) but to send a forceful message to Sri Lanka that India could violate Sri Lankan air space with impunity and send Air Force planes, and by implication, that India would not hesitate to violate Sri Lankan sovereignty and send Indian troops into Sri Lanka if Sri Lanka did not accede to its demands. Sri Lanka did get the message and soon signed the India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord in 1987.
India's intention was not the feeding of the Jaffna Tamils but sending a forceful message to the Sri Lankan Government is all too evident by the fact that a single plane dropped food just enough to feed a few dozen people for a day. If it really wanted to help the Tamil people it would have sent a ship loaded with food or a dozen large Air Force transport planes loaded with food (as America did when it sent food to West Berlin when it was blockaded by the Soviet Union back in the 1960s). There was no risk to Indian ships or planes; Sri Lanka had a tiny navy and air force back in 1987 that could not cause any damage to Indian ships and planes.
India does know how to send food to blockaded people. Remember April-May 2001. Sri Lankan troops were virtually encircled by the LTTE in Jaffna and the possibility of the troops starving arose. Sri Lanka did not have the navy or air force sufficient to supply them with food. What did India do? It kept a dozen or so large air force transport planes loaded with food and medicine on the ready at the Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) Airport, the closest airport to Jaffna, ready to take off if the Sri Lankan troops were fully encircled. These planes would be doing repeat trips, should the need arise. Compare it with a single pane loaded with a few packets of food sent to Jaffna in the 1980s (although the number of starving people were much more than the Sri Lankan troops cornered in Jaffna). India was not feeding the Jaffna Tamils; it was sending a message to the Sri Lankan Government!
So any talk that India helped the Tamil freedom fighters until 1987 and that India airdropped food to feed the starving Jaffna Tamils was nonsense. These were part of Indian attempt to force Sri Lanka to agree to meet its foreign policy and military demands. If any one has any doubt about it, all they have to do is see what India did when Sri Lanka finally said "yes" to India's selfish demands. The result was the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord. Read the accord and, especially, the accompanying letter from the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the Sri Lankan President Jeyawardene. You will see India had no interest in helping the Sri Lankan Tamil minority but only interested in having Sri Lanka accede to its selfish demands that have nothing to do with the Tamil minority. We will explain it in the next section.
4.India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 and Tamil Grievances
How does the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord address minority Tamil grievances of discrimination in jobs and education, police powers and government-sponsored Sinhalese colonization of the Tamil areas in the north and east? Nothing. All that the accord said was that there would be provincial council(s) for the north and east with unspecified powers? The powers to be devolved to the provincial council is to be negotiated between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil minority AFTER the Tamil freedom fighters lay down their arms. Considering the very basic fact that the only reason that the Sri Lankan Government was even considering provincial councils was because of the armed strength of the freedom fighters, once they lay down their arms what kind of powers will the Sri Lankan Government devolve to the provincial councils? Will the provincial council have power over the further Sinhalese colonization of the Tamil areas in the north and east? How much of law and order will be devolved to the provincial councils? What taxes will the provincial councils be allowed to collect to fund its projects? These critical points were left open in the accord.A devolution agreement without the specification of what powers will be devolved is not worth the paper it is written on. These critical points were not only left open in the accord but the accord specifically states that they will be decided only AFTER the Tamil freedom fighters lay down their arms. So, with the freedom fighters disarmed, what powers will be devolved to the provincial council would depend on the "goodwill" of the Sri Lankan Government. What kind of a "goodwill" can the Tamil minority expect from a government that unleashed police brutality on peaceful demonstrations against discrimination and allowed Sinhalese mob violence of murder, rape and arson against the Tamil minority to "teach" them a lesson?
While matters of critical importance to the Tamil minority were left to be resolved later, issues of importance to both Sri Lanka and India were clearly spelled out in the accord and were to take effect immediately (within weeks). What did the Sri Lankan Government want? It wanted the Tamil freedom fighters disarmed. What its military could not do in the battlefields, it got through the accord. The accord says that the freedom fighters should lay down their arms immediately and, if not, the Indian army (the fourth largest army in the world at that time) would forcibly disarm them.
What did India get? We discuss it in the next section.
5.What did India get from the India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987?
India and Sri Lanka tried to keep an exchange of letters annexed to the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord a secret but it was exposed by an Indian newspaper. Those letters spell out what India will get from Sri Lanka in exchange for stopping all aid to the freedom fighters and disarming them (either voluntarily by the fighters or forcibly by the Indian army).
Two signed secret letters were exchanged between the Prime Minister of India and the President of Sri Lanka on the same day they signed the India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord (July 29, 1987). These letters were kept secret not only from the world abut also from the Tamil leaders of Sri Lanka (that itself shows the under-handed nature of Indian Government dealings). Soon an Indian newspaper got hold of these letters and published them. These letters were then published in a number other papers also and are now common knowledge. Here is the relevant extract from one of the secret letters (from the Prime Minister of India to the President of Sri Lanka):
You had, during the course of our discussion, agreed to meet some of India's concerns as follows:
i) Your Excellency and myself will reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel with a view to ensuring that such presence will not prejudice Indo-Sri Lanka relations.
ii) Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India's interests.
iii) The work of restoring and operating the Trincomalee oil tank will be undertaken as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka.
iv) Sri Lanka's agreement with foreign broadcasting organizations will be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka are used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes.
India got everything it wanted from Sri Lanka in exchange for stopping the aid to the Tamil freedom fighters and disarming them (forcibly if necessary). Because of the then on-going cold war between the United States of America and Soviet Union, and India's close relationship with the latter, India looked at the United States with suspicion. India did not want American military or intelligence personnel stationed at its southern neighbor Sri Lanka (America had military and intelligence presence at its northern neighbor Pakistan); India got Sri Lanka not to station such personnel in its soil per item (i). What has it to do with Tamil grievances? Did the Tamil freedom fighter shed blood for this? India did not want American Navy at Trincomalee harbor so close to its southeastern coast. Item (ii) in the letter stipulates that Sri Lanka would not do that. What has it to do with Tamil grievances? Did the Tamil freedom fighter shed blood for this? India did not want America setting up electronic listening posts at its southern neighbor in the guise of expanding its Voice of America facilities in Sri Lanka. Item (iv) of the letter prevents Sri Lanka from allowing it. What has it to do with Tamil grievances? Did the Tamil freedom fighter shed blood for this? India also did not like the idea of American or European companies operating the Trincomalee oil tank, a potentially lucrative business. Item (iii) of the letter gives that concession to India. What has it to do with Tamil grievances? Did the Tamil freedom fighter shed blood for this?
6. India did not help the Sri Lankan Tamils
The above-discussed letter from the Prime Minister of India to the President of Sri Lanka signed on the same day (July 29, 1987) as the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord is proof and evidence that the reason India armed and trained the Sri Lankan Tamil freedom fighters was to force Sri Lanka to accede to its selfish military and foreign policy demands and not to help the Tamil minority of Sri Lanka achieve the legitimate rights denied to them. We hope that those who vocally repeat that India helped Sri Lankan Tamils until 1987 would keep quiet from now on.
7. India could have Achieved Everything by Supporting Tamil Eelam
In Part I of this series of articles we established through a careful and thorough analysis that an independent Tamil Eelam is in the national interest of India. We will add to it here in the background of the above-discussed letter from the Indian Prime Minister to the Sri Lankan President. As noted in Section 5, India wanted four concessions from Sri Lanka in exchange for stopping the aid to Tamil freedom fighters and disarming them. Could India have achieved the same by supporting an independent Tamil Eelam? Yes, let us elaborate.
(i) India did not want foreign military and intelligence personnel (though not named, India was referring to the United States of America) stationed in its southern neighbor Sri Lanka. An independent Tamil Eelam would be a buffer between India and Sri Lanka. Tamil Eelam, with its lengthy coastline, would have been an excellent buffer.
(ii) India did not want foreign naval presence at Trincomalee, the largest natural harbor in the world. It so happens that Trincomalee is in the Tamil region (Tamil Eelam). Had India been friendly to the Tamil people, instead of bleeding them and betraying them, the independent Tamil Eelam would have gladly accepted this proposition. In fact, in July 1987 in New Delhi, leader of the predominant freedom-fighting group (LTTE) Prabaharan told Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that India could have the exclusive use of Trincomalee harbor if it supported the creation of independent Tamil Eelam.
(iii) India wanted participation in the operation of the Trincomalee oil tank. India would have got this from Tamil Eelam. After all, LTTE leader Prabaharan had promised exclusive use of the Trincomalee port to Indian Navy.
(iv) India did not want electronic listening post at its southern neighbor Sri Lanka in the guise of Voice of America. An independent Tamil Eelam would have been a buffer between India and Sri Lanka.
In spite of the fact that India could have achieved everything it wanted in military and foreign policy matters more reliably by supporting an independent Tamil Eelam, India went through a circuitous and dubious strategy of forcing the Sri Lankan Government to accede to its military and foreign policy demands. (We have discussed in Part I of this article series that the agreement reached with Sri Lanka could not be relied upon and that Sri Lanka would never be a trust-worthy ally to India Once the Tamil freedom fighters are no longer a threat and the Tamil minority is subdued, Sri Lanka would renege on the agreement forced upon it and go back to its earlier hostile posture. We will not repeat it here. Readers are referred to Part I)
Since India's military and foreign policy interests are best served by an independent Tamil Eelam rather than a united Sri Lanka (as discussed in detail in Part I of this article series) why is the Indian Government pursuing an anti-Tamil Eelam policy? Is there a "dirty secret" behind Indian Government's irrational policy towards the Sri Lankan Crisis? We will explore it in a future article.
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