|Rekindling bitter memories
Comments made by Indian National Security Advisor M.K.
Narayanan brought back memories of an incident that took place
exactly 20 years ago this week in 1987.
On June 3, 1987 five Antenov-32 air craft were loaded with
supplies at an air base in Agra, North India. That night the
planes flew to Bangalore to join newly acquired Mirage 2000
fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force. At 4 p.m. on June 4,
the cargo planes took off escorted by the Mirage fighter
aircraft on their way to Sri Lanka. At three that afternoon, one
hour before the planes began their journey, the Sri Lankan High
Commissioner in New Delhi was called to the Ministry of External
Affairs office to be informed of the “humanitarian mission”. It
was expressed to the High Commissioner that the Indian aircraft
were expected to complete their mission unhindered and any
opposition by the Sri Lankan Air Force ‘would be met by force’
by the escorting Mirage 2000s. The warning however was
unnecessary. The Sri Lankan Air Force only had a few
Siai-Marchetti which were hardly a match for the Mirages
involved in Operation Poomalai meaning ‘Garland.’ Sri Lanka
found herself without voice and completely helpless in their
humiliation, as her sovereignty was violated by a far superior
The “parippu drop” came in the wake of Sri Lankan security
forces making rapid advances against the LTTE in the
Vadamarachchi sector of Jaffna. Operation Liberation spearheaded
by veteran warriors Denzil Kobekaduwa and Wijaya Wimalaratne had
the Tigers on the run when India came to the LTTE’s rescue.
After bullying the Sri Lankan government to cease military
operations against the LTTE, India forced the Indo-Lanka Accord
down the Colombo government’s throat.
Though Sri Lankans are said to be a people with a very short
memory span, the events of that June afternoon 20 years ago have
refused to dissipate in the collective memory of the nation.
Narayanan’s comments this week only managed to rekindle the same
fears and suspicions felt a generation ago when India was
bullying her southern neighbour into submission. Narayanan who
was addressing the press in Tamil Nadu, is reported to have said
that Sri Lanka should not seek military assistance from China or
Pakistan while adding that India will not provide offensive
weapons to Sri Lanka.
Logic would only permit us to conclude that according to
Narayanan Sri Lanka is only entitled to obtain whatever weapons
her neighbour deems necessary – and that too, only from New
A case of history repeating itself, maybe? Like 20 years ago,
the LTTE is once again on the run. Having been expelled from the
east they are now fighting the mother of all battles to save
their jungle hideouts in the north. The aftermath of the
‘parippu drop’ was a bitter pill for all sides to swallow:
mighty India was made to eat humble pie and cart her IPKF back
home a bruised and battered force. The upside of it all being
that the Indian peace keepers were dealt the blows by none other
than the LTTE itself.
Today, Sri Lanka is still fighting the same organisation which
could have been defeated 20 years ago. India had to pay with the
lives of nearly 2000 soldiers and a Prime Minster for
disallowing Sri Lankans to handle their own affairs.
In near cowboy fashion, the Indian Defence Advisor is said to
have added “we are the big power in the region”. That of course
is a truism. India is no longer the Cold War pawn she once was
during the 1980s. She has evolved into a regional power and it
is due to this reality that every Sri Lankan leader is expected
to pay homage to the powers that be in New Delhi from time to
time. However it is worth realising that with great power comes
great responsibility. When that realisation is forgotten and
power makes room for arrogance, the consequences can be
disastrous both for the super power and the rest of the world.
At a time when India is seeking a permanent seat at the UN
Security Council, it is in her best interest that she
demonstrate her magnanimity, orchestrating to the world that she
is a responsible nation which can be trusted with the power that
she has gained in economic, political and military spheres.
Statements of the type made by the likes of M.K. Narayanan would
only hinder India’s ambitions to be part of the ‘big boys’ club
of the world.
Domestic considerations in India would lead her to believe that
a military victory over the LTTE would prevent Colombo from
seeking a political solution for the long raging fires of ethnic
strife in the island. In this scenario, it seems India would be
enticed to play with fire once again, preventing the total
destruction of the Tigers and micro-managing the conflict in Sri
Lanka for its own benefit. Having nurtured the Tiger in to the
killing machine it is today and then having faced the same
Tiger’s wrath, it is in India’s interest not to give the LTTE
another lifeline. For it is an organisation which has shown
scant respect for India or the greater international community.
May we never have to face another ‘parippu drop’ again for such
an event will surely spell doom for both the regional super
power and her smaller neighbour further south.
M.K. Narayan’s statement may have been directed at a mainly
domestic audience, especially to cater to the sentiments of
Tamilnadu. Maybe the Security Advisor did not realise the impact
his words would have in Sri Lanka where the memory of the Indian
intervention is still reminisced with apprehension. Having left
those dark and ugly days of mutual suspicion behind, India and
Sri Lanka have progressed many a mile in various spheres of
cooperation. Yet the acid test in this relationship would be to
see whether India will stand by her southern neighbour in Sri
Lanka’s battle to end terrorism. India has failed in this
respect several times. When the LTTE was at the doorstep of
Jaffna in 2000, she could only offer “humanitarian assistance”
in the form of ships to evacuate the besieged soldiers from the
Jaffna peninsula. Pakistan on the other hand came to the rescue
of Sri Lanka by providing the necessary equipment to fight the
Tigers. Once again India stands at a forked path, having to make
a decisive choice as to whether or not to fully support Sri
Lanka in its fight against the LTTE. India’s choice at this
juncture, will be judged by history and will change the destiny
of both India and her smaller neighbour further south.