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 power.
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 Delhi.
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.