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Indian involvement of Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by LTTE on May 21 of 1991
 
 
India became involved in Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in the 1980's. The involvement was been motivated by a mix of issues. At the beginning India supported both sides in different ways.

The unfortunate experience of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in the North and the East of the island between 1987 and 1990 has been analysed in several accounts. During the three-year involvement, some 1,500 Indian troops were killed and more than 4,500 were wounded during this operation.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide squad of the LTTE in May 1991 swung the pendulum to the other extreme. There is a sense of revulsion against Velupillai Prabakaran and the ideology of the LTTE throughout the country, but much more so in Tamil Nadu.

In retrospect both the Indian and Sri Lankan Governments, through unwise policies designed for short-term gain, contributed to the strengthening of the Tigers.

 
 
Copyright 2005
 

Indian involvement

India became involved in Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in the 1980's. The involvement was been motivated by a mix of issues - its leaders' desire to project India as the regional power in the area, worries about India's own Tamils seeking independence, and a genuine concern for the Sri Lankan Tamils' plight. Uncoordinated, the central and state governments (and even different agencies within them!) supported both sides in different ways.

In the late 1980s the Indian government negotiated an agreement with the government of Sri Lanka on the Tamils' behalf (without consulting the armed resistance). India promised military support if needed, and Sri Lanka agreed to concessions, including Constitutional changes to grant more local power (this was eventually enacted as the 13th Amendment). India got agreement from all of the Tamil resistance groups including, grudgingly, the all-important LTTE.

The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, signed on July 29, 1987, committed New Delhi to deploying a peacekeeping force on the island, making the Indian government the principal guarantor of a solution to the ethnic violence that had heightened dramatically since 1983. The Sri Lankan government was facing a mostly unrelated uprising by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the south, and called in the Indian military immediately after the agreement was signed. Nearly 60,000 Indian troops drawn from two divisions (one from the Central Command and the other from the Southern Command) were in Sri Lanka as the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) between 1987 and 1990.

The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was formed, and initially oversaw a cease-fire and modest disarmament of the militant groups. Originally sent to Sri Lanka as a neutral body with a mission to ensure compliance with the accord, the IPKF increasingly became a partisan force fighting against Tamils.

The Sri Lankan government pulled its troops south and put down the JVP rebellion, but dragged its feet on reforms. The LTTE's trust in both governments dissolved and the IPKF ended up fighting the LTTE.

The unfortunate experience of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in the North and the East of the island between 1987 and 1990 has been analysed in several accounts. During the three-year involvement, some 1,500 Indian troops were killed and more than 4,500 were wounded during this operation.

Nationalist sentiment among the Sinhalese led to the government's call for India to quit the island, and eventually even supply the LTTE with weapons and ammunitions.

Rajiv Gandhi, India's Prime Minister during their involvement, was assassinated on May 21 of 1991, by an LTTE suicide bomber. The assassination of Rajiv swung the pendulum to the other extreme. Indian support for the LTTE dropped to near zero. There is a sense of revulsion against Velupillai Prabakaran and the ideology of the LTTE throughout the country, but much more so in Tamil Nadu (home to 60 million Tamils).  As a consequence, New Delhi adopted a `hands off' policy towards the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

President Ranasinghe Premadasa's policy towards the LTTE was far worse than anything that came before. At a time when, owing to the sustained military pressure of the IPKF, the Tigers were bottled up in the jungles of Vavuniya, Premadasa provided considerable money and arms to Prabakaran. When the IPKF left the shores of Sri Lanka, the Tigers moved in without a fight to take more-or-less full control of the North and the East. But the honeymoon could not last long. The negotiations were a non-starter and the President himself became a victim of the cult of violence perfected by the LTTE.

In retrospect both the Indian and Sri Lankan Governments, through unwise policies designed for short-term gain, contributed to the strengthening of the Tigers.

In the 1980s and 1990s, successive Sri Lankan governments officially revoked some of the discriminatory policies, recognizing Tamil as an official language and introducing a district based quota system for university admissions with Tamil majority districts having the lowest cut-off points. Sinhalese and Muslims today claim they are reverse discriminated. Tamils deny the latter claim, and see the changes that have been made as too little too late.

 
 

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