Why Indira Gandhi backed Tamil groups, and why she failed
VKS: How do you look back at the Indian involvement in all of this?
KP: In 1980, during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s period…that was the time when the Cold War was nearly at its end, even though it was still Cold War time. Sri Lanka was close to America, India and (former) USSR had a strong alliance. So there were differences. So when our issue burned Indira Gandhi, put the hand on that…
VKS: “Put the hand” means what?
KP: At that time I remember Narasimha Rao was the Foreign Minister. The Diaspora Tamils were invited and they met Narasimha Rao. They had talks with the Indian government. That was the first step. The talks were called Thimpu talks (held in Bhutan). The Indian government called the Sri Lankan side and all the Tamil groups. But the talks failed. Around that time the Indian government gave (military) training to Tamil youths. So we (LTTE) had a base in Tamil Nadu. We had a (military) base in India. All the four Tamil groups, very strong groups, were trained and armed by India. Like I told you, that was the Cold War period and the international environment was such. During that time it was Mrs Gandhi’s idea that she may be able to escalate LTTE’s armed struggle to a certain level and use that as negotiating leverage to settle the (Tamil) issue in a peaceful way. Unfortunately, she was gone (assassinated in 1984).
After that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came. He was a modern leader and he was very fast (with decisions). His approach was different. By then RAW (Indian spy agency Research & Analysis Wing) was heavily involved with all the Tamil groups. At that time (SC) Chandrahasan, SAV Selvanayagan’s son, had close links to the Telo (the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation). It was at that time that a misunderstanding between Prabhakaran and RAW started.
Then Sri Lankan President Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to sort it out. But again LTTE did not accept the proposals. But Rajiv Gandhi pushed (for it) and so LTTE reluctantly came to an agreement (referring to the India-Sri Lanka Accord). But actually LTTE rejected the agreement (internally).
1. The Thimpu Declaration was a set of four demands put forward by the Sri Lankan Tamil delegation at the first peace talks undertaken with respect to the Sri Lankan civil war. In July–August 1985 the Indian government organised peace talks in Thimpu, Bhutan, aimed at bringing an end to the Sri Lankan civil war between Tamil militant groups and the government of Sri Lanka.
The declaration stated:
1. It is our considered view that any meaningful solution to the Tamil national question must be based on the following four cardinal principles:
- recognition of the Tamils of Ceylon as a nation
- recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamils of Ceylon
- recognition of the right of self-determination of the Tamil nation
- recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights of all Tamils of Ceylon
The Tamil delegation consisted of representatives from the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and the mainstream Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).
The Sri Lankan government rejected all but the last principle as they violated Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
2. SC Chandrahasan is the son of SAV Selvnayagam, a Tamil leader who was known as the Mahatma Gandhi of Sri Lanka. After the island-nation’s ethnic conflict began in 1983, Chandrahasan founded the Organisation For Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation. He believes that Tamil militants, especially the LTTE, severely damaged the possibility of a federal solution which his father had enunciated.
3. SAV Selvanayagam was the leader of the Tamil people from 1948 to 1983. He founded the Federal Party of Ceylon. He believed that a federal solution was possible.
4. The Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) was a militant group campaigning for the cause of Tamil Eelam. By 1986, nearly 400 of its armed cadres were killed by the LTTE and the group was virtually wiped out. Its surviving members reorganised themselves as a political party. The TELO currently has two Members of Parliament. It is part of the Tamil National Alliance, a coalition of Tamil parties which won 2.9% of the popular vote and 14 out of 225 seats at the 2010 parliamentary election in Sri Lanka.
VKS: Then the IPKF (Indian Peace-Keeping Force) came?
KP: When the IPKF came here the LTTE were all right, but after some misunderstandings grew, they started the war against IPKF.
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