Sri Lanka continues as a united country because of Rajiv Gandhi
The general's "foolishness" cost us most of the lives?
Did you write to the government about the lack of planning?
I don't know. I don't remember. I must have send telegrams and reports.
Did you feel bad about the initial casualty?
Naturally. If your soldiers are killed, you feel bad. But I didn't know the background, why they were killed. General Sunderji and Harkirat Singh did not consult me when to attack and how to attack. These are operational matters. I was not involved.
There were differences between the Indian diplomatic mission in Lanka and IPKF, is that it?
On political matters there were no differences. Except Harkirat Singh in one case, in the beginning. Regarding that 17 people.
Your foreign secretary Romesh Bhandari reportedly did not possess a deep knowledge of the Tamil problem. He asked you to hand over a letter to a dead Tamil leader. In Thimpu, his rhetoric apparently forced LTTE to walk out of negotiations.
He called the Tamils fools. Apparently he said, What is all these foolishness? Then he said, Are we bloody fools?
He was not aware of the problems?
No. A shallow human being (laughs).
Did all that contribute to the ultimate failure?
No. I think the situation was retrieved after he went away. [A P] Venkateswaran and K P S [Menon] were good.
After the failure of the two rounds of talks in Bhutan, did the Indian foreign office tighten its approach towards Tamil leaders?
I don't think we tightened our stand against Tamils, until 1986 end.
But you refused a visa to some leaders.
Naturally, we refused a visa for arms to come in. Because we had changed our policy, Rajiv Gandhi had changed the policy of supporting violent militants. That is what was the hardening of attitude towards Tamils. If you are mediating, then I don't want you go create violence. Mrs Gandhi was not mediating. Please remember, there is a difference between Mrs Gandhi's approach and Rajiv Gandhi's approach. Mrs Gandhi was not mediating; she was generating pressure and was siding with the Tamils. Up to a point where she thought Jayewardane would compromise.
Rajiv Gandhi changed it and said, I want to be a honest mediator. Therefore, to gain credibility in view, I will stop giving support to militant activities. So if planeloads of arms and other things land for distribution to Tamil militants, we did not allow it. These are the people who are doing militant activity. But we have always been in close or continuous touch with all militant groups since at the Bangalore summit in 1986 Prabhakaran said, No, I am not agreeing to anything. He was brought to Bangalore and talked to Rajiv Gandhi.
The replacement of G Parthasarathy as the key negotiator, his replacement by Bhandari and others. Did it have any impact?
Naturally. Bhandari did not have the knowledge or emotional understanding of the problem. He was in a hurry to prove that he was a great peacemaker. Parthasarathy was a very mature person, with deep knowledge. A great figure. Young people don't like old people. So Rajiv Gandhi said, Who is this 78-year-old man?
You met Prabhakaran four or five times. What was your personal impression? How did you converse with him? In Tamil?
Little bit of Tamil. But mostly in English. I understand Tamil, but I can barely carry on a conversation in Tamil. My late wife was a Tamil lady. The impression I got was of a very, very determined young man, with a lot of fire and emotional and other commitment to the cause. The man was very conscious of his personal security. In hindsight, I can say the man was a very good political tactician.
Was he courteous?
Was he always serious? Or had a sense of humour?
No. Very serious with me. He was very upset with me. He said he will only come for the Jaffna negotiations after the agreement was signed only if the foreign secretary came, or somebody from Delhi should come. Then only he could make it. When I was told I should talk with him, I told the Government of India, I don't want to go. Why should I go? If he wants to talk to somebody in Delhi, let him. Let somebody from Delhi come.
But then the government said I should go. Then when the message went that he has to talk to me, he said I should first arrive in Jaffna. Then he will come from wherever he was hiding. I sent a clear message to him, Unless I get confirmation that you are in the military camp sitting with Harkirat Singh I am not coming. Fellow came and sat.
Among the Tamil leaders, was there a second figure other than Prabhakaran who could have influenced the course of history?
Not in that generation. There were others. Vardaraja Perumal, Padmanabha, several young people. But this chap [Prabhakaran] was way ahead of them in terms of commitment and capacity. And after we stopped supporting him, he had money coming in from other sources. He had diversified his training facility with the PLO, and also with the Mossad. Very funny. Mossad was simultaneously training the Sinhalese and the LTTE.
And, he had a lot of money from Tamil expatriates. They have a vested interest, because as long as the conflict continues, they can have the refugee status abroad, get a lot of money.
Among Lankan politicians who was the most impressive? How do you rate Chandrika Kumaratunga?
She was perhaps the most thoughtful and practical leader. Jayewardane agreed under compulsion. Gamini Dissanayake [who drafted the agreement along with Dixit], who was killed, was also somewhat like Chandrika. Others were all trying to be clever.
How do you look at the present situation?
I don't see any breakthrough. They will go on suffering violence till they get exhausted or till they get destroyed. Norway or no Norway (laughs), I don't know.
Should India think of interfering again?
(Waves his hands in disapproval).
As far as I am concerned, first of all it was not interference. We were trying to help. Except in the beginning stages, when Mrs Gandhi did interfere.
So India should not think of again burning its fingers?
Each human being is subject to his own experiences, consciousness, inadequacies. Having gone through that, I would never again want to interfere in anybody's matters. Not because such interference become necessary, but I don't think as a State we have either the necessary political will or the inner grit. If you don't have it, why get into all that?
Any particular instance, during those years, that you think should have been differently handled?
It is an irrelevant question. I never discuss what might have been, because we did what we did subject to the pressures and circumstances of that time. And I think negotiating that agreement and the content of that agreement was the best deal that the Tamils could get under a united and unbroken Sri Lanka. The other solution is to break away Jaffna. They won't get Trincomalee and Baticaloa because Muslim-speaking Tamils were no more sympathetic to the LTTE. They never felt close to any Tamil Hindu group. So all that they will get is Jaffna. What will they do with Jaffna? It is a small part of what they call the Tamil homeland.
How was your overall tenure in Lanka?
It was very interesting, but very tense. I cannot recollect how many political murders I witnessed.
Were you satisfied with your performance as the ambassador there?
I did everything in the context of what I consider was my country's interests. The rest is for history and others to decide. Whatever the government decided that time, in my judgement, was in the interest of the country and the interest of Sri Lanka. If Sri Lanka continues today as a united country it is because of that accord and because of Rajiv Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi always listened to you?
Yes. Yes, he did.
People criticise him as an immature politician who mixed up things.
It was also said of Mrs Gandhi when she took over power. You see, all these judgements are judgments of hindsight. If he had succeeded nobody would have said he was immature and young (laughs).
Five or six years later, people are sitting around making value judgements. He did the best thing. He had charisma; he captured the imagination of the Indian people at least for 2, 3 years. In the past 50 years, he was the first prime minister who was young, who asked us to go forward instead of talking about the past. He took some wrong decisions, wrongly advised and he was assassinated.
His murder, how did it impact you?
I told you, in my professional life, I have no emotions. Of course, one felt sad that the prime minister whom one knew personally was murdered by the LTTE. His mother too had a violent death.
You expected such violent attacks from the LTTE?
From the beginning itself. The moment IPKF started cracking down on the LTTE, it was logical to assume that LTTE would target people.
Were you aware that intelligence agencies continued to train LTTE even after the IPKF landed in Lanka?
Yes. The IPKF fought LTTE cadres, who came to Madras and got treated at hospitals and went back to fight them. Also perhaps, the LTTE's base in Tamil Nadu continued to facilitate the flow of arms and money to them. They enjoyed financial and political patronage.
Of which parties?
All sorts of people. There was this Maran [not Murasoli Maran], V Gopalaswamy. Several of them including George Fernandes.
Isn't it then amazing that Fernandes is India's defence minister now?
That is the miracle of India (laughs).
You were aware that all these people were openly supporting LTTE even after the IPKF landed there?
So what did you feel about their involvement?
I can only say what I did. I do not know what the decision at the highest level of government was.
How active was Fernandes at that time?
He was not very active that time.
Did he visit Lanka during that period?
He was visiting LTTE leaders in Delhi?
I have no idea. He must have had contacts. Subramanian Swamy has contacts.
Are you planning to write anything more on your Sri Lankan experience?
No. Enough is enough.
ON TO PART 3
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