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The Rediff Special/J N Dixit

'The LTTE's insistence on the creation of a separate Tamil state would have far-reaching negative implications for India's unity'

Jayewardane Rajiv Gandhi had come to the conclusion that neither the Sri Lankan government nor the Tamil groups, especially the LTTE, would reach any agreement and come to a durable compromise unless India took a direct hand in the matter. He had become sceptical about President J R Jayewardene's intentions and was clearly disappointed at the obdurate attitude of the LTTE and other Tamil groups.

My advice to him after the failure of our initiatives at the Bangalore SAARC summit was that India's purely mediatory efforts were not likely to succeed. I was of the view that India had to shift its role from that of a mediator to a peace-maker and the guarantor of such peace if the crisis in Sri Lanka was to be resolved.

It was also my considered opinion that the LTTE's insistence on the creation of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, based on ethnic, linguistic and religious considerations, would have far-reaching negative implications for India's unity and territorial integrity too. The LTTE's clandestinely publicised objective of a Greater Eelam would have its impact notably on India but the rest of South-East Asian countries with Tamil populations.

I was convinced that the LTTE's objective of creating a separate political entity, purely on the basis of language, ethnicity and religion, would be a challenge to the plural multi-dimensional democratic identity of India as well as other similarly placed countries in the region.

Having seen the LTTE in operations, both in the political and military fields, I also felt that, despite the legitimacy of the Tamil aspirations articulated by it, the LTTE was essentially an authoritarian organisation that relied on violence to settle all differences of opinion.

LTTE Militants An example of the mindset of LTTE leadership is provided by a report about a journalist asking Prabhakaran some time during 1986 as to who were his role models in politics and military operations. First came Subhas Chandra Bose in all the power and majesty of his position as the supreme commander of the Indian National Army.

The other ideal Prabhakaran mentioned was the American actor Clint Eastwood in his personification as the hero who avenged injustice with ruthless violence. I cannot vouch for the total authenticity of this story for the simple reason that this was not said to me. But I am inclined to believe in the veracity of such a response by Prabhakaran, given his intense commitment to the Tamil cause and his personality as a militant leader. My suggestions to Rajiv Gandhi were based on these assessments.

A series of meetings amongst Indian officials were held under the chairmanship of Minister of State Natwar Singh, Foreign Secretary K P S Menon, and the prime minister himself. There were in-depth discussions between July 19 and 21, about the possible ramifications of India and Sri Lanka signing a bilateral agreement (without Tamil participation) to resolve the ethnic crisis.

I distinctly remember Rajiv Gandhi raising the question as to whether the LTTE would really abide by the agreement, which India was bound to implement as a guarantor. Rajiv Gandhi raised this question in the context of the doubts and misgivings Prabhakaran had expressed when Hardeep Puri provided details of the agreement to him on July 19.

Rajiv's question was primarily addressed to the then secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing, S E Joshi, who was cautious in his response. He said the LTTE was not a very trustworthy organisation and the agreement in a manner went against their high-flown demand for Eelam. Joshi was about to retire. His successor Anand Verma's response was that the LTTE owed much to India's support, that it was the LTTE which conveyed the message to N Ram of The Hindu, which initiated the whole process of discussions on the proposed Agreement.

Verma expressed the view that if the LTTE was guaranteed an important role in the power structure in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, and if the merger of the northern and eastern provinces was somehow made permanent (whatever be the interim political arrangements proposed) and if the LTTE cadres were absorbed into the administrative set-up of the new province, the LTTE would endorse the agreement, especially as it was being guaranteed by India. The general tenor of his advice was that "these are boys whom we know and with whom we have been in touch and so they will listen to us."

My colleagues Gopi Arora, IB Director Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Menon and Joint Secretary Kuldip Sahdev had doubts about the LTTE falling in line. I shared their worry to some extent, which prompted me to raise two questions in one of these meetings.

First, whether MGR and the Tamil Nadu leadership would endorse the Agreement?

Secondly, if the LTTE created a situation, after the Agreement was signed, which might compel us to exert pressure on it to remain committed to the Agreement, would we be able to do it successfully?

Subhash Chandra Bose Rajiv Gandhi said he had been in touch with MGR and other Tamil leaders, and that they were supportive of the Agreement. On the second question, about the implications of India having to confront the LTTE, Rajiv Gandhi asked the then chief of the army staff General K Sundarji what his assessment was.

The general's reply was that once the LTTE endorsed the Agreement, they would not have the wherewithal to go back and confront India or the Sri Lankan government. He went on to say that if the LTTE decided to take on India and Sri Lanka militarily, Indian armed forces would be able to neutralise them militarily within two weeks. So, there need not be any serious worry on this score.

While the TULF and Tamil militant groups other than the LTTE endorsed the Agreement without any fundamental reservations, the LTTE clung to its misgivings till the end. Mainly because of three reasons.

  • A political compromise and the revival of the democratic process in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka would deprive the LTTE of its dominant political and military role.

  • Secondly, the Agreement did not ensure the total withdrawal of the armed forces from the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. Nor did it specifically provide for the return of large number of Tamils to areas around Vavunia in the northern and the upper reaches of the Mahaveli Ganga river basin from where they were evicted. Successive Sri Lankan governments had evicted Tamil residents from these areas and settled Sinhalese in these areas so that the Sinhalese could benefit from the development projects and the new agricultural lands being created as part of the Mahaveli River Basin Development plans. Tamil resentment at being deprived of this land was valid.

    The LTTE wanted these grievances to be redressed. Realistically speaking, there was no prospect of persuading any Sri Lankan government to vacate these lands, after having made them (the Sri Lankan government) concede the merger of the northern and eastern provinces and declaring merged provinces a Tamil homeland.

  • Thirdly, the LTTE wished to be recognised as the sole representative of all Sri Lankan Tamils. They were not happy about New Delhi and Colombo acknowledging other Sri Lankan Tamil groups as partners in implementing the compromises envisaged in the Agreement.

    These were the concerns and anxieties with which Prabhakaran arrived in Delhi on July 23. The discussions he had with Indian officials, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and Rajiv Gandhi have already been related. Two additional points of interest in terms of the assurances given to Prabhakaran deserve to be mentioned.

    First, both the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and Rajiv Gandhi assured Prabhakaran that LTTE would be a major constituent element in the interim government of the proposed merged North-Eastern Provinces. Second, that the Government of India would give the necessary financial assistance to maintain the LTTE cadres before they got absorbed into the administration of the new province.

    Clint Eastwood Prabhakaran had pointed out to Rajiv Gandhi that since 1983, he was sustaining his cadres by imposing taxes on the population of Jaffna and marginally in the Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts whenever possible. He said since he was going to surrender arms and as it would take time for his cadres to be absorbed into the administration and police forces, he would have to take care of his cadres. He demanded about three to five crores of rupees (Rs 30 million to Rs 50 million) for this purpose for a period of six to eight months.

    I was not present at these discussions, but I was informed about them by the concerned agencies. Prabhakaran wanted this money to be distributed through his local commanders on the basis of his estimates and suggestions. Rajiv Gandhi agreed and these resources were channelled to the LTTE as far as I know, through the concerned agencies of the Government of India.

    Excerpted from Assignment Colombo, by J N Dixit, Konarak Publishers, 1998, Rs 400, with the publisher's permission.
    Readers interested in obtaining a copy of the book may direct their enquiries to Mr K P R Nair, Konarak Publishers, A-149, Main Vikas Marg, New Delhi 110 001.

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    J N Dixit, continued

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