New Delhi, 1987: A date with Velupillai Prabhakaran
Syed Ali Mujtaba
The year was 1987; I was in JNU where early on the breakfast table there use to be quite heated discussion on the Sri Lankan issue. My friends from Tamil Nadu use to provide perspective to the Sri Lankan problem.
It was during one of those discussions on the breakfast table that some of my Tamil friends told that entire top brass of the LTTE including its leader Velupillai Prabhkaran was in New Delhi. They were planning to go to hotel Samarat where the LTTE leadership was put up and invited me to join them if I was interested to know more about the Sri Lankan affairs.
Frankly, at that time I had little knowledge about the Sri Lankan problem. The only thing I knew by then was there were communal riots in Colombo between Sinhalese and Tamils in 1983 and that had triggered the Tamil secessionist movement in Sri Lanka.
I asked my friend about Prabhakran, what does he stands for? Why he was called in New Delhi and who has called him? I was told how daringly Prabhakaran had led the secessionist movement and has emerged as the undisputed leader of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It’s because of his high profile the LTTE chief was flown to New Delhi for an important meeting with the Indian leadership and was the state guest of India..
My friends told me to join them in bus # 615 and would explain me on the way the other details about the LTTE. During that bus ride from the JNU to Chaknaykypuri and then a short walk to the hotel Samarat, I learnt quite a few lessons on Sri Lanka.
We entered the hotel premises with security forces watching us. I realize they had little knowledge about the Sri Lankan developments and were doing their duty. We showed our students ID card and were let into the main entrance hall of the newly built hotel.
We sat in the lobby, waiting for the LTTE leaders to descend from some where so that we can catch their glimpse and say hello to them. We had no other access to the visitors and did not know what to do next; we just talked about the LTTE and waited and waited. I asked my friends; besides Prabhakran who else are there and how could we recognize them. A few Tamil names were dropped to me and my friend said they can be recognized from a distance as all will be wearing cyanide capsule hanging on their neck.
This was turning out to be an encounter of a rare kind. I became curious to know more about all these LTTE characters and decided to stay on there for some time. I realized quite late that none of my friends knew any one among the LTTE and were just there to catch their glimpse.
As no one turned up there that looked liked the LTTE, the outing was turning out to be a bit boring and so I got myself excused, leaving some diehard LTTE fans still waiting there.
Later, I learnt that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran had one to one meeting. In that meeting the LTTE supermo had agreed to surrender arms in lieu of a greater share in administration in north and east provinces of Sri Lanka. New Delhi had agreed financially support the LTTE. Later the LTTE entourage was flown back to Jaffna after this agreement was reached.
It was only after the assurance from the LTTE India on 4 June 1987 conducted Eagle Mission 4 or Operation Poomalai and its Air Force airdropped supplies to the Tamils besieged in town of Jaffna besides deterring the Sri Lankan army not to advance any further.
The Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi then went ahead to sign the Indian- Sri Lankan peace accord with Sri Lakan President JR Jayawardene. Even as the ink on the accord had not dried and the Indian Prime Minister was receiving the guard of honor, a Sri Lankan guard menacingly pounced on him with his rifle butt. Rajiv Gandhi was lucky to escape that murderous assault but the incident reflected the Sinhalese resentment against Indian intervention in Sri Lanka.
As part of the India Sri Lanka peace accord, Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka to protect the Tamils and to help them create their homeland. The IPKF was baffled to find that those whom they had come to protect has turned out to become its adversaries and did not want them at all. With their hands tied, the IPKF had to perform the most difficult task of peace keeping in Sri Lanka.
It took a while for India to realize that the LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhkaran had backtracked from his promises made in New Delhi. He had preferred the friendship of Sinhalese leadership then to India. Indian involvement in Sri Lanka was nothing less than a nightmare.
The LTTE’s resentment against India did not stop with the withdrawal of the IPKF from Sri Lanka. They went ahead to assassinate the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They never came up with an explanation why they did so? Did Rajiv Gandhi not honor the commitment made to LTTE in New Delhi? So far no one has come up with any explanations on these lines and now when there is no one to do so this chapter looks to be closed once and for all.
The concluding days of Elam war IV, in mid May 2009, was one of the greatest dramas that unfolded on the South Asian scene in the recent times. One wonders, whether the LTTE leadership, when on its last leg, while holed up in the narrow coastal strip of Mullaithevu district, keeping lakhs of Tamil people hostage on the gun point and using them as cover, wanted Indian to intervene in Sri Lanka again?
Again there is none left among the LTTE to tell about the remains of other day. What a pathetic end to the Tigers that once commanded awe and admiration in the whole world for their brutal ways and means.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org