WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

A secret mission to Sri Lanka

Rajiv Gandhi minutes before he was killed by the human bomb Subha, seen with her back to the camera and flowers in her hair
Rajiv Gandhi minutes before he was killed by the human bomb Subha, seen with her back to the camera and flowers in her hair (also inset).

Now it can be told. Barely six months before the Congress lost the elections in 1989, and even after Sri Lanka had given marching orders to the IPKF, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a last-ditch attempt to retrieve the situation for implementing the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. The man chosen for the special mission was none other than D. R. Kaarthikeyan, Inspector-General, CRPF, Southern Sector, who later headed the CBI's Special Investigation Team that probed the assassination of Rajiv.

After making two sorties to Sri Lanka, despite the IPKF fiasco, the virtual collapse of the Accord and both Colombo and the Tamil Tigers turning against Indian forces, Kaarthikeyan suggested talks with the LTTE. And New Delhi appeared to favour this among other recommendations made by Kaarthikeyan, who was almost posted to the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Details of this little-known and aborted mission are revealed in the just-released book Triumph of Truth: The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination. The Investigation by Kaarthikeyan and Radhavinod Raju. Kaarthikeyan tells the story in his own words.

LTTE supremo Prabhakaran
LTTE supremo Prabhakaran

IN June 1989, I got a call from PG Halarnkar, Director General, CRPF, from New Delhi. He said that T N Seshan, Cabinet Secretary, wanted me to meet him immediately at New Delhi.

When I visited the Cabinet Secretary’s office, he said, "You have been chosen for a special mission. You are aware of the ongoing conflict between the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in the northern parts of Sri Lanka. We are losing a large number of army personnel and we are spending huge amounts as well. No end of the conflict is in sight. No one is grateful for what India is doing. We are getting conflicting and confusing reports from various agencies, including the IPKF, Ministry of Defence, our High Commission in Colombo, Ministry of External Affairs and intelligence agencies. We want to have an independent and objective assessment. In our judgement, you are the right person. I want you to immediately undertake this mission to Sri Lanka and give us your assessment."

I was totally surprised. I said, "I have never been to Sri Lanka. To be honest, I have not even read much about Sri Lanka. I have not even been following closely the happenings in Sri Lanka."

To that, Seshan replied, "That is good, as you do not have any preconceived notions, you will be totally objective in your assessment. It is after due deliberation, we have chosen you for this important assignment."

I said, "What will be my task; on what aspects am I supposed to make the assessment?"

Seshan said, "Everything, all that is considered relevant by you, to be reported."

I asked, "Please specify at least some of the tasks expected to be performed by me."

Seshan said, "We want to know what is the ground situation in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka where the conflict is going on. What is the morale of the Indian forces? Why is there no end in sight for the war? Why is no one grateful to India despite our large casualties and expenditure? What is the relative strength of various Tamil militant groups?

Training the Tigers
Training the Tigers. — Photo: tamilnet.com

"The Sri Lankan government told us that in pursuance of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, they effected the 13th Amendment to their Constitution, after which enormous powers have been delegated to the newly created North-Eastern Province with headquarters at Trincomalee. But the LTTE and other groups contend that no devolution has taken place to the Tamil Province, despite the assurance of Rajiv Gandhi to Prabhakaran that the newly-created North-Eastern Province for Tamils will enjoy as much powers as Tamil Nadu enjoys in India. Besides these, whatever else you may find relevant may also be reported."

The next day I reached Jaffna.

I visited Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Palali, Nilaveli and Vavunia. I had extensive discussions with Indian Army generals and other senior officers. I separately met the middle-level officers. I also met quite a few jawans (soldiers). I had meetings with Sri Lankan officers at various levels. I had discussions with Sri Lankan police officers. I met some of the senior judges, who preferred to come and meet me at my camp rather than my visiting their places. I met lawyers, doctors and Government servants. I visited various colleges and schools. I dropped in at various places, including shops, where I spoke to shopkeepers and to those people who came for shopping. I went for walks on the beach and met several fishermen and fisherwomen.

After visiting all the places and talking to hundreds of people from various walks of life, I went to Colombo, where I held long discussions with LL Mehrotra, High Commissioner of India and other senior diplomats.

On the 13th day after I left for Sri Lanka a message came from New Delhi that I was supposed to give my first report within 15 days. The very next evening I returned to Hyderabad.

Avoiding identification of any person, I had to prepare the report under the following heads:

1. Devolution of police powers to the North-Eastern Council — an on-the-spot assessment.

2. Steps to be taken for actual devolution of police powers.

3. Devolution package proposed for genuine autonomy.

4. Citizens Volunteer Force (CVF) — an evaluation.

5. Current situation in Sri Lanka — an assessment.

6. IPKF withdrawal — three options — advantages and disadvantages.

7. Current talks between Sri Lanka and the LTTE — stand of the SLG, the LTTE and the police.

8. Current activities — LTTE — EROS — AL-JIHAD — SLSF/ NIB — Foreigners and JVP.

9. Current conflict with the IPKF — reasons given by the LTTE.

10. Reasons for the IPKF’s delay in achieving total success.

11. Steps to enhance image and morale of the IPKF.

12. Steps for the EPRLF to become popular and effective.

The 45-page report was ready by on the 15th day.

Seshan went through the entire report in my presence. He said, "Your report is very disturbing." I told him that the report was prepared on my first-hand knowledge of the ground situation after talking to hundreds of people, and I could defend every point made therein before any gathering either at New Delhi or Colombo. Seshan added that while it was disturbing, it was quite convincing. He said, "I will send copies of the report to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of External Affairs. I will ask them to study the report and meet me for discussion at 4.30 pm. You may meet me at 4 pm."

At 4 pm, I went to the Cabinet Secretary’s office. By then, Seshan had read my report again and marked some portions. He asked for some more clarifications. At 4.30 p.m, Ronen Sen, Joint Secretary from the Prime Minister’s Office and Kuldeep Sahadev, Joint Secretary in charge of the Sri Lanka desk in the Ministry of External Affairs came. Seshan asked me to give a brief roundup of my visit and assessment. At the end of that, Seshan asked for the views of the other two officers on my assessment and the recommendations. While Ronen said, "I entirely agree with Kaarthikeyan’s assessment", Kuldeep Sahadev said, "While I agree with his assessement, I do not agree with his recommendation that we should talk to the LTTE. They are undependable and you cannot rely on them again."

I said, "I am talking about the ground reality. The fact is that they are popular with the people and they control the area. The EPRLF group of Chief Minister Varadaraja Perumal is loyal to India, but lacks both popularity and strength on the ground. The morale of the IPKF is low. Even some senior army officers told me that they are not able to boost the morale of the ranks, as they themselves do not know why the IPKF is there and why the Indian armed forces should fight a war against people of Indian origin and kill them and get killed by them. Many of the junior officers and other ranks were of the view that we should leave the issues to be sorted out between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese. So, my recommendation is we withdraw the IPKF forthwith, leaving the matter to be sorted out between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sri Lankan govenment. If for any other strategic reason India should continue to get involved in Sri Lankan affairs, then the only option available is to talk to the LTTE. If we do not want to talk to the LTTE, then we should withdraw the forces immediately."

I made another visit to Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Nilaveli and Colombo in November 1989 and meet several people, including the Indian High Commissioner, a Cabinet Minister, senior army and police officer, the GOC and other senior officers of the IPKF, the Chief Minister, ministers, secretaries, MPs of the North-Eastern Provincial Council and officials and non-officials from different walks of life. Excerpts from my letter dated 15 November to the Cabinet Secretary:

"As desired, I visited Sri Lanka for a quick on-the- spot assessment.

I have taken the liberty of being very frank in reporting the facts and my assessment. Officers at various levels of the Indian agencies in Sri Lanka, by and large, seem to agree with my assessment.

As desired by our High Commissioner in Colombo, some of the observations were brought to the notice of the Chief Minister, who has readily agreed to undertake necessary remedial measures.

I have refrained from naming the persons in the body of the report, as many preferred to speak off the record. However, if desired, I be willing to quote names in my personal discussions.

Hence, this report may kindly be treated as continuation of the two reports submitted earlier."

The report covered the following chapters:

1. Summary

2. Devolution of police powers — nil progress

3. Little change in function of NE Police.

4. CVF — an appraisal of latest position

5. Auxiliary CVF — an appraisal.

6. Unpopularity of EPRLF Combine — reasons & remedy

7. Samples of incidents which made EPRLF and NEP Government unpopular

8. IPKF de-induction — possible scenario

9. India’s options — Military — Political — Diplomatic.

I also sent a copy of the report to the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo.

In his communication dated 15 December 1989, LL Mehrotra was good enough to communicate the following.

"Many thanks indeed for your letter dated December 10, 1989, together with its enclosures.

Key to abbreviations

SLG: Sri Lankan Government

JVP: Janata Vimukti Peramuna

SLSF: Sri Lankan Security Forces

EROS: Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students

NEP: North-Eastern Province

EPRLF: Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front

As always, I find your analysis very perceptive and helpful.

As you would have known by now, some new initiatives are under way to resolve the impasse in the North-Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. At this critical juncture, I personally do not think we can dispense with the wisdom and experience of officers like you. I do trust that the Government would continue to associate you with our efforts for a resolution of the conflict there."

It was somewhere around that time, that I was told by a senior officer in the Cabinet Secretariat that I was being sent on a regular posting to the Indian High Commission at Colombo.

He showed me the handwritten note of the Cabinet Secretary. It read, "Mr D.R. Kaarthikeyan, IPS 1964 (Karnataka) posted to our High Commission in Colombo. This has been approved by the Prime Minister."

(As events turned out, Kaarthikeyan did not get posted to the Indian High Commission in Colombo.)

— Edited and excerpted from Triumph of Truth: The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination. The Investigation. By D.R. Kaarthikeyan and Radhavinod Raju. New Dawn Press, Inc. Rs 500.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka