Devolve or disintegrate
Lack of foresight and political will
of successive national leaders and the LTTE’s intransigence ensures no
end in sight
By Keith Noyahr
The Indo-Lanka Peace Accord between India and Sri Lanka was signed by
President J.R. Jayewardene (JRJ) and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi,
20-years to this date, on July 29, 1987.
In post independent Sri Lanka, it certainly was a red letter date in the
country’s calendar, coming as it did 15-years after the country became a
republic with its first autochthonous Constitution, which, ironically,
took away from the previous Constitution, an entrenched clause that
safeguarded minority rights.
The Accord was also exactly 10-years after economic liberalization
was begun by the new UNP government, to bring prosperity to the nation.
Terrorism was the only obstacle to economic progress, thought the new
dispensation that was raring to go.
Hence, two years later, in 1979, JRJ tried hard to suppress terrorism by
sending Brigadier “Bull” Weeratunga to Jaffna, with the explicit orders
to crush terrorism that was raising its ugly head. The exercise failed.
The leaders who propounded economic liberalism, it seemed, were not
ready to think in terms of political liberalism vis-à-vis, the demands
of the largest minority. This could have been because the governing
party had a steamroller majority and was set to govern sans obstacles.
As a matter of fact, it could have used this majority to introduce a new
liberal Constitution, with elements from the two separate abortive Pacts
between Tamil Leader S.J. Chelvanayagam and a UNP Leader Dudley
Senanayake and an SLFP Leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.
But that was not to be. JRJ thought that economic liberalism, with its
ensuing prosperity, would bury any demands on ethnic lines. His nephew,
current Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, is of the same
mindset that economic prosperity would be the real panacea to the ethnic
conflict. If that is the case, why would Tamils earning in liberalized
western capitals, continue to fill the coffers of the LTTE?
Wickremesinghe felt that if a climate of peace was ensured over a long
period of time, even war would not become a viable option for the
people, as well as even for the LTTE leaders.
A new Constitution was promulgated in 1978, the very next year after
coming to power. It made Fundamental Rights justiciable and introduced a
system of proportional representation, to ensure that no party in future
would be able to garner the two-thirds majority required to amend the
Constitution or, do away with it.
Tinkering with Devolution
Chandrika Kumaratunga lacked the two-thirds majority required to
devolve power. It could be said that of all the Sinhala leaders in post
independent Sri Lanka, only Kumaratunga was truly liberal in her
willingness to devolve power to the Tamils, as evident by her
far-reaching devolution proposals in the 2000 August Draft Constitution
scuppered in Parliament by Wickremesinghe’s UNP. The unit of devolution
was the region. It was a shame that the LTTE didn’t even send its
proposals, when invited to do so, after it pulled out of talks in 1995.
A bi-partisan approach with the Liam Fox Agreement also failed.
Kumaratunga had sweet revenge in November 2003, when she staged a
constitutional coup during Wickremesinghe’s peace process, by which time
the LTTE had already pulled out of the talks and had placed a huge
obstacle in the form of an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA)
proposal that were more far reaching than the contours of a permanent
solution agreed to in the November 2002 Oslo Declaration.
The second attempt at a bipartisan approach, given the historic MoU
between the SLFP and the UNP in 2006, was also aborted by the two
parties, mainly the ruling SLFP, which failed to put the agreement to
However, what beats all are Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 2007 SLFP proposals that
have the district as the unit of devolution. These proposals are so
regressive, that they put the clock back by over 25-years. It was in
1981, that the UNP agreed to the District Development proposals rejected
by all the Tamil parties.
With JRJ winning the 1982 presidential elections and with an extension
of his 5/6th majority in Parliament, by an undemocratic Referendum the
following year, the ruling party was very much set in authority for
another six years.
Indo-Lanka Peace Accord
The shameful 1983 ethnic riots that sent refugees pouring into India,
attracted increasing support for the Tamil militants, from India. That
the Government was pursuing a military solution with western support,
was evident, prompting an Indian intervention that was detested. As
analysts described it, the means India was using (arming and training
the militants) to get the Sri Lankan government to change course and
agree to a political solution, only compounded matters. The morale of
the militants rose, while the dollars from the diaspora continued to
fill the coffers of the LTTE, making it the powerful organization that
The 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, with the province as the unit of
devolution, was signed against a huge anti Indian sentiment that
followed the Indian air drop, seen as a violation of the country’s air
space and sovereignty. So much so, that there was a general boycott of
Indian goods and even film stars carried placards protesting India’s air
Today, we have a surge of Indian goods in the market, thanks to the Free
Trade Agreement between the two countries, while Hindi films are a great
hit here with Bollywood artistes having many local fans, even among
local film stars.
The chief opposition SLFP, JVP and prominent personalities such as Prime
Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa and National Security Minister Lalith
Athulathmudali of the then ruling UNP, strongly opposed the Accord.
President JRJ, himself forced to accept it, given the circumstances, had
Minister Gamini Dissanayake’s backing.
Majority of the people, including the Buddhist clergy, also prefer
Indian mediation, to resolve the ethnic conflict. Overtures were also
made by LTTE higher-ups to the Indian government, to mediate here, to no
That the LTTE is a banned organization in India and its leader
Velupillai Prabhakaran is a proclaimed offender, has blocked India from
playing any role.
Further, the bitter lessons learnt at the hands of both parties- the
LTTE and President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who unceremoniously ordered the
Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) out- are reasons for the “hands off”
The security dimension in the region vis-à-vis Sri Lanka’s growing
military relations with the US, Israel and Pakistan and western powers,
during the Cold War, was one reason India trained and armed the
militants, according to the late former Indian High Commissioner J.N.
Dixit, in a paper to mark the 10th anniversary of the Accord.
Such a policy by India, led to strained relations between the two
countries. However, subsequently, leaders from both sides, worked hard
to re-build good relations and as the late former Sri Lankan Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar noted, it could not have been better.
As India is currently involved in military cooperation with the US, with
which she has a strategic relationship, such fears become irrelevant. On
the diplomatic front too, New Delhi had opened up a mission in Israel.
The initiative taken by Sri Lanka to open up an Israeli Interests
Section here in the eighties was suspiciously looked at by New Delhi.
What is more relevant to India today is stability in the region, for the
sake of economic prosperity, as India forges ahead. This was evident
during a course for diplomatic journalists of SAARC countries, organized
by the Foreign Service Institute of the External Affairs Ministry last
Even on the terrorism front, India is no longer blaming Pakistan for
terrorism on its soil, as it is evident that Pakistan is helpless even
in defending its own targets. India prefers to have greater trade in the
region and engage Pakistan in talks and cultivate healthy relations with
The impending energy crisis, as India progresses economically, has also
spurred India to have greater relations with the Middle East region,
with which she has been having longstanding relations predating her
dependence for oil.
Indian policy towards the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has not changed.
India continues to insist that Sri Lanka finds a non military solution
to the issue, as there is a spillover effect in Tamil Nadu, both by way
of refugees as well as politically. The ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu is also
part of the UPA alliance at the centre, where it enjoys much clout.
However, India has changed its position, vis-à-vis its commitment to
ensure the unity and territorial integrity of the country. It would no
longer go out of her way to prevent such an occurrence, even though
earlier, in all joint statements, this aspect was upheld. This appears
to be a significant shift in policy, which, however, is not enunciated
in public forums.
The reason, possibly, is that Tamil Nadu would no longer want to secede
from India, given the immense economic benefits accruing from remaining
in the union. Back in 1965, Tamil Nadu was the first state in India that
threatened to secede.
Having lost former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and burnt its fingers
with the IPKF‘s humiliation, India would not commit troops in Sri Lanka,
to defend Sri Lanka’s integrity.
“And the winner is….”
In terms of the 1987 agreement, the Sri Lankan Government was
expected to facilitate devolution of power, after establishing a
North-East Provincial Council. In fairness to the government, the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution was passed and the Provincial Council Act
was also approved. But, the LTTE boycotted the council elections. It
handed over the weapons in a token surrender on August 5, 1987, only to
take them up again. On October 7, that year, it turned its guns on the
IPKF, turning it into a military force. The devolution of power was slow
to come, even though a provincial council was set up. In the end, the
Indian backed EPRLF staged a nominal unilateral declaration of
independence and fled the country. The Tamil National Army created by
the IPKF, was destroyed by the LTTE that has lived to fight another day.
However, the big question is when will the LTTE really settle for a
political solution, short of a separate State? Has the recent military
reversals taught it a lesson, that it cannot push its luck too far.
Successive governments too have been pushing their luck too much. So
have the chief opposition party of the day. Will events overtake the
country, as the international community is getting tired of the parties
dragging their feet?
Left to ourselves, as the 25th anniversary of the military conflict
dawns next year, can we resolve such a contentious issue, even after
trying for over five decades?
Accord a dead letter: Narayan Swamy
Senior Journalist and author M.R. Narayan Swamy was attached to AFP
in India, at the time the Accord was signed. MR, as he is popularly
known in the fraternity, has done in-depth research on the LTTE and the
outcome was two books: Tigers of Lanka and Inside an Elusive Mind, a
biography of Velupillai Prabhakaran.
MR maintains that the 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord is, for all practical
purposes, a dead letter consigned to history, as it had failed to
achieve its purpose. He said that the method adopted was a failure and
was very unlikely that the Indian Government would ever get involved to
the extent it did from 1987 to 1990.
Two principal reasons are the fact that the LTTE forced a peacekeeping
force into a combat force and the decision of the Sri Lankan Government
to arm the LTTE, to fight the Indian soldiers, he noted. (The IPKF
deployed four Divisions, including three infantry Divisions, special
forces, Gurkhas, paramilitary forces and naval commandos.
The IPKF lost nearly 1,200 men and thousands more were wounded in
two-and-a-half-years of hostilities.
The operations included, Pawan, Baaz, Viraat and Trisul. The Battle of
Nitikai Kulam was codenamed Operation Checkmate I while Operation
Checkmate II was to prevent the LTTE from interfering in the provincial
MR maintained that the Accord was certainly not an attempt by the Indian
Government to go out of its way to bail out Sri Lanka, but instead, an
initiative to redress Tamil grievances that led to Tamil militancy.
However, he said the signing of the Accord was a genuine attempt by the
two countries to come up with a solution, even though it failed.
In retrospect, he said that it wouldn’t suffice to blame the LTTE for
the failure. The Sri Lankan Government, the Indian Government and other
stakeholders, he felt, should share the blame.
July 29: Tiger bloodletting day
July 29 is not only the 20th anniversary of the Indo-Lanka Peace
Accord. It is also the eighth death anniversary of Dr. Neelan
Thiruchelvam, co-architect of the Chandrika Kumaratunga Peace Package in
the 2000 Draft Constitution.
The killing of Thiruchelvam by an LTTE suicide bomber on July 29, 1999,
had an unstated message. No Tamil should be involved in peace making on
the government side. But, Tamils failed to heed the message.
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was killed on August 12, 2005
within a fortnight of the anniversary of the Accord. Deputy Secretary
General of the Peace Secretariat Keethesh Loganathan was also killed on
the same day last year.
The architect of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, Rajiv Gandhi was
assassinated by the Tigers and so was Minister Gamini Dissanayake who
backed the Accord to the hilt.
Tony blares for ME peace
Thiruchelvam, an internationally acclaimed academic, had a close
rapport with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and even wrote to him.
Very recently Blair, after retirement, was toying with the idea of being
involved in the Sri Lanka peace process, to possibly play the role of a
However, in the end, he settled for a role in the Middle East peace
process. Given Blair’s role in the Iraq War, it would have been better,
if he stayed out of Middle East peace making.
Had Blair come onboard, the peace process here would have got added
fillip for two reasons. His standing in the international community is
remarkable. He does have more leverage over the parties than, say Erik
Solheim. It was only recently, during the tail end of his office, that
the UK began to crack down on LTTE funding and other terrorist activity.
For years, Anton Balasingham was allowed to be based in London, despite
the LTTE being banned there. Last year, against all odds, Blair granted
President Mahinda Rajapaksa an appointment.
The success of the Northern Ireland peace process, among other things,
was the presence of US Senator George Mitchell as mediator. Mitchell did
not allow the talks to be derailed by the parties. Solheim, the whipping
boy of Sinhala nationalists, was also not treated with due respect by
President Chandrika Kumaratunga and even the LTTE.
Business as usual on the warfront
Meanwhile, away and far above from the faltering peace process, the
Air Force again struck LTTE assets, when fighter jets, early this week,
pounded a Sea Tiger base in Allampil, close to Mulativu. On Thursday,
there were two air raids on the LTTE training base at Muttaliyarkulam,
northwest of Oddusudan and north of Mankulam. The jungles in
Muttaliyarkulam is one of three areas the security forces suspect that
LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has a base.
It will be recalled that, in 1999, the LTTE overran the Oddusudan camp
along the east-west line up to Mankulam. These bases are located by the
main highway leading to the strategic Elephant Pass complex, gateway to
the northern peninsula. (In 2000, the LTTE went for the big kill and
overran the Elephant Pass base). Smaller camps such as Nedunkerni,
Kanagarayanakulam, Ampagamam and so on, also fell in 1999.
While attacking Oddusudan and Mankulan, they took on Weli Oya and
overran Puliyankulam and Gajabapura, eight years ago.
According to intelligence reports reaching Colombo, the security forces
in an attack on Gajabapura last week, LTTE Lieutenant Eniyawan was
killed, while their Weli Oya military wing leader Kumaran was injured.
The duo was riding a motorcycle to inspect the Forward Defence Lines (FDL)
at Weli Oya, at the time of the attack. The LTTE replaced Kumaran with
Chintrangan, as the military wing leader of the area.
The Ethawetunuwewa village in Weli Oya area came under heavy Tiger
mortar fire, continually two months after the LTTE warned of a security
force buildup in the Weli Oya region. The warning may have been to
pre-empt a possible attack by troops.
Meanwhile, Eastern military wing leader Swarnam, who fled to the Wanni,
during the battle for Vakarai and Ecchalampattu, has also arrived in
Weli Oya. Two Brigades, according to intelligence reports, have been
placed on standby, to be dispatched in case of an emergency.
After losing the East, the LTTE is looking for a major military success
by overrunning existing army camps perhaps in Weli Oya or, possibly,
Vavuniya or Mannar, where the LTTE has already installed heavy weapons.
Last Friday, the Tigers staged a pre-dawn attack on an army detachment
at Neelachchenai in Mannar killing four soldiers.
LTTE military wing leaders Bhanu, Balraj, Gopal Master and Nishandan
Master were summoned to the Madhu area by the Wanni leadership.
Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera and Army
Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka too visited the Wanni and
conferred with senior military officials.
Blast and run
On Tuesday, the LTTE carried out a claymore blast at Cheddikulam on
the Mannar-Madawachchiya Road around noon, killing 10 unarmed soldiers,
while eight passersby suffered injuries. The injured civilians and
soldiers were rushed to the Anuradhapura General Hospital. To avoid
suspicion, the claymore was fixed to a bicycle. It was a month back that
a claymore fixed to a motorcycle, targeted a vehicle carrying army
personnel in Colombo. This week’s claymore blast only goes to show that
the target in Colombo was also army personnel, to send out a message
that the forces are not safe, to stall a recruitment drive by the army.
As July 29 has been a date when Tigers have deliberately struck before,
the forces have stepped up security in Colombo, the suburbs and in the
Tigers don’t change stripes
After the Indian soldiers left the island and after the bonhomie
with the Sri Lankan government, from which the LTTE obtained weapons,
the Tigers on July 29, 1992 used these same weapons to kill 31 soldiers
and policemen in Batticaloa and Trincomalee. On the same day, a pressure
bomb in Yeakachi, Elephant Pass, four soldiers were killed and four
injured. Three years later, again on July 29, the Tigers launched a
massive attack on Weli Oya and Mulativu, which was under government
control then. The security forces repulsed this attack, killing 182 LTTE
cadres. But, the Tigers’ relentless campaign to get Mulativu paid off.
Today, they are defending this base that is being targeted aerially and
also by deep penetration teams.
While the flashpoint will be in the Wanni, the Tigers haven’t given up
their key plan to oust the security forces from the Jaffna peninsula.
The attempts by the two sides last year to break the defences along the
Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil axis on August 11 and October 11, failed to
make a material change.
This week too, four Tigers were killed and two soldiers injured
Monday morning in clashes along the northern FDLs at Muhamalai, as the
LTTE cadres tried to infiltrate army FDLs.
With the East cleared and 95,000 displaced resettled, the government has
plans to go in for large-scale development in the area. But, the LTTE,
smarting under the defeat, is bent on disrupting these plans. Following
reports that small groups of terrorists were frequenting certain areas,
search operations were conducted in Peraru, Kumburuppidi, Manirasakulam,
Thiriyaya and in Kumbukkanoya this week.