(This is an enhanced version of an article appearing in the “Daily Mirror” of May 22nd 2021)
Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated 30 years ago by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) at a place called Sriperumbhudur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on May 21st 1991. Rajiv Ratna Gandhi who was India’s Prime minister from 31st October 1984 to December 2nd 1989 was not serving as premier at the time of his demise.. An election campaign was underway then to elect a new Lok Sabha or Parliament. The Congress led by Rajiv was the front runner in that race at that time.
Rajiv as he was generally known was in Sriperumbudur to address a propaganda meeting in support of Congress party candidate Ms. Maragatham Chandrasekhar. The 46 year old Indian ex – premier was then immersed in a hectic political campaign to win the Indian Parliamentary elections.
It was then that a Sri lankan Tamil girl known by the name of “Dhanu” got close to Rajiv Gandhi and tried to give him a sandalwood garland. When a Policewoman tried to shoo her off, Rajic restrained her and told the cop to let the girl come near. The be – spectacled girl in an orange and green churidar then came near and bent down respectfully to touch Rajiv’s feet. She set off a concealed explosive device that was strapped to her body. Rajiv Gandhi, the assailant Dhanu and at least 18 others were killed in the blast instantly. 42 were seriously injured.
A few of the injured also succumbed to their wounds in hospital later on.The “human bomb” assassination that was soon to become a hallmark of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization rocked India and shocked the world.
In a singular decisive act the LTTE had murdered on Tamil Nadu soil a former Indian prime minister hailing from India’s most famous political first family. Rajiv’s mother Indira Gandhi had been Prime minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984. Rajiv’s maternal Grandfather Pandit Jawarhalal Nehru became Independent India’s first prime minister in 1947 and remained at the helm for 17 years until his death in 1964. Rajiv’s great grandfather Pandit Motilal Nehru was a leading lawyer who played a prominent role in the Indian freedom struggle against Britain. Rajiv’s father Feroze Gandhi (No relative of Mahatma Gandhi) was a “Lok Sabha” MP from 1952 till his demise in 1960.
Yet , the LTTE led by its ruthless supremo Thiruvengadam Veluppillai Prabhakaran had absolutely no qualms about daring to assassinate a person of Rajiv Gandhi’s political stature in India. As is typical of Prabhakaran and the LTTE, the assassination was perceived as a “militaristic” feat alone without much thought about its political fall-out or possible repercussions . The tigers were absolutely unconcerned about resultant effects affecting the Sri Lankan Tamil people.
In the immediate aftermath of the assassination , I wrote an article for the Indian newsmagazine “Frontline” , in which I observed that if the LTTE was indeed responsible for the assassination then the losers in the long run would be the Tamil people. Subsequently it was proved conclusively that the LTTE was indeed responsible. The consequences of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination continued to be felt by the Tamil people in general and the LTTE in particular right up to the shores of “Nandhikkadal” lagoon in May 2009.
The politico-military chutzpah of the LTTE in deploying an assassination squad across the seas to eliminate a former and potential future prime minister of the regional super power on his home turf, raised many an eyebrow after Rajiv Gandhi was murdered. The Rajiv Gandhi assassination committed on Indian soil was an act of international terrorism that placed the LTTE on the index of global terrorists.
Many security affairs analysts have in the past evinced great interest in how this assassination was executed and who was directly responsible. The decision and overall plan to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi was taken by LTTE leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran and tiger intelligence chief Shanmugalingam Sivashankar alias “Pottu Ammaan”.The actual assassin who blew up her explosive –laden body belt was the girl called Dhanu.
The key LTTE operative who devised the assassination plot and directly oversaw its execution at field level was an intelligence wing member of the LTTE who used two nom de guerres. One name was Raghuvaran.The other was Sivarasan. Since he had lost an eye, he was frequently called by his comrades at arms and colleagues as “Ottraikkannan” (One –eyed person). Sections of the Indian English media referred to him as “one –eyed Jack”, evoking memories of the classic western movie directed by Marlon Brando who also starred in the lead role. Sivarasan was specifically selected and assigned the task of killing Rajiv Gandhi by Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan.
After an intense 90 day manhunt , Indian law –enforcement officials surrounded the house in which Sivarasan along with some other LTTE cadres was staying in. It was a house in the Bangalore (now Bengaluru) suburb of Konanakunte in Karnataka state. Sivarasan and the others consumed cyanide and killed themselves before they could be captured alive. Ironically Sivarasan who masterminded Rajiv’s murder committed suicide on August 20th which was the date of Rajiv Gandhi’s birth.
In the aftermath of the assassination, there was much interest in India and elsewhere about Dhanu the human bomb and one –eyed Sivarasan the mastermind behind the killing. The questions echoing in the minds of many people were “Who was this Sivarasan? and “ What was his real name and background? I was then editing “Senthamarai” a Tamil weekly in Toronto. I was able to compile a brief life-sketch of the one-eyed mastermind through telephone interviews with close relatives, schoolmates, former residents of his hometown Uduppiddy and ex-comrades of Sivarasan from various militant groups . The article written in Tamil was first published in “Senthamarai”. Subsequently I wrote an article in English along the same lines for “Frontline”in English which caused a sensation in India.
This resulted in Indian security officials approaching me through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police(RCMP) for an interview on the subject. I respectfully declined saying that I had written all what I knew openly under my byline and that I did not want to go beyond my journalistic brief. The RCMP accepted my position and there was no interview with Indian officials. I shall now in this article focus on the mastermind behind the Rajiv Gandhi assassination relying to a great extent upon the piece I wrote almost 30 years ago on One –eyed Sivarasan
The one –eyed man known as Sivarasan who masterminded the Rajiv Gandhi assassination used many aliases such as Sivarajan, Rajan, Rajah, Arumai, Aravinth, Raghuvaran, Raghu and Raghu-appah. His real name however was Chandrasekharam pillai Packiachandran. He hailed from Udupiddy, a town about 32 km from Jaffna city and about 3 km inland from coastal Valvettithurai the hometown of Prabhakaran and cradle of Tamil armed militancy.
Packiachandran’s father was Chandrasekharam Pillai, a teacher of English at the Udupiddy American Mission School, a leading educational institution in the area. Chandrasekharam Pillai was a native of Udupiddy and lived in the northern part of the town near the Veerapathirar Temple. The family’s postal address was Verapathira Koyiladdy Vadakku or Veerapathiran Temple, North Area). Packiachandran’s mother Sivapackiyam was originally from Nunaavil in the Chavakachcheri area of Jaffna peninsula. Packiachandran was named after his parents, taking “Packia” from his mother’s name, Sivapakiam, and the “Chandran”from his father’s Chandrasekharam.
Packiyachandran was born in 1958, the year of the first major anti-Tamil pogrom in Sri Lanka. He was the eldest child and had three brothers and two sisters, all younger to him.
Young Packiachandran was inculcated with Tamil nationalist feelings at a very tender age by his father. Chandrasekharam Pillai, although an English scholar, was a staunch supporter of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK) known as the Federal Party in English. In later years when the ITAK atogether with the All Ceylon Tamil Congress(ACTC) formed the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF), Chandrasekharampillai began supporting the TULF.
Packiyachandran was a clever student while studying at the Uduppiddy American Mission College. He had an aptitude for languages and passed his General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) examination with flying colours. He was studying for the GCE Advanced Level which may have enabled him to enter the university, when suddenly his father died in late 1977.Being the eldest child, he had to bear the family burden and dropped out of school.
The family paid a large amount of money to an agent from Udupiddy who promised Packiachandran a lucrative job in west Asia. The agent defaulted and the young man became extremely frustrated. He then entered government service as a worker attached to the Electricity Board. He served as an Electricity Board employee in Trincomalee and Batticaloa in the Eastern Province for some time.
While working in the East, Packiachandran was once arrested for distributing leaflets containing pro-Tamil Eelam views. While in custody, he scribbled ‘Long Live Tamil Eelam’ slogans on the walls of his cell and his plate. He was severely assaulted for this and had to be hospitalized. Later, in Jaffna, he was arrested once again for posting Tamil Eelam posters and was detained at the Jaffna Fort Camp prison. When the large-scale anti-Tamil violence occurred in July 1983, Packiachandran was apparently locked up inside the Dutch Fort. He was released shortly afterwards and promptly joined the ranks of the newly emerging Tamil militant groups.
First Choice was TELO not LTTE
Strange as it may seem, Packichandran’s first choice among militant outfits was the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and not the LTTE. Packiyachandran joined TELO and left for India in October 1983. He is said to have received military training at a camp near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. He was then posted to the propaganda wing of TELO and interacted with a lot of students in Tamil Nadu as well as Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Fluent in English, Packiachandran also had a smattering of Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi and was able to speak Tamil with a “Tamil Nadu” accent if and when necessary.
While in the TELO, Packiachandran was closely associated with the group’s Valvettithurai component. Unlike most Udupiddy youth, Packiachandran had great rapport with the VVT group. His political mentor within the TELO was Mano Master who was also from Valvettithurai. Soon problems arose within the TELO and a large number of Valvettithurai youth led by Mano Master broke away, left South India and returned to Sri Lanka in late 1984. Packiyachandran or Sivarasan was one of them.
Back in Sri Lanka, Mano Master continued to function with the TELO label, claiming he was the rightful heir to the Thangathurai-Kuttimani tradition, Packiachandran, while still sympathetic, no longer functioned within the Mano Master –led faction of TELO. Subsequently Mano Master was killed by Ravindran alias Pandithar, the then LTTE leader. With Mano Master’s death, Valvettithurai became the sole monopoly of the LTTE. TELO militants from VVT either dropped out of militancy, or joined the LTTE.
Packiyachandran, along with other ex-TELO militants like Sathi, Ramesh, Rangan and Babu, joined the LTTE. His new LTTE nom-de guerre was Raghuvaran but he also used the name Raghu at times. He functioned for a long time within the political wing and was responsible for the collection of funds from Udupiddy and adjacent areas. Later Raghu was moved to the military wing.
Injured in May 1987
In May 1987, Raghuvaran was injured in a clash with the Sri Lankan armed forces near the Jaffna Fort. This was the time when the army launched “operation liberation” in which the Vadamaratchy region of Jaffna peninsula was re-captured by the armed forces. Among other injuries, Raghuvaran’s left eye was also affected.
The Indo – Lanka agreement was signed by Indian Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan president JR Jayawardene on July 29th 1987. This paved the way for Indian troops to be stationed in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka under the nomenclature of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). A very large number of injured tiger cadres were taken to India aboard Indian aircraft for medical treatment. Raghuvaran too was taken in an Indian helicopter to Tamil Nadu. He received treatment for his eye injury at the Aravind eye hospital in Madurai. Despite treatment he lost his left – eye permanenty. Thereafter he wore a plastic eye. In order to cover up his left eye Raghuvaran began to wear tinted glasses most of the time. Still this did not deter his comrades from referring to him in lighter vein as “Otraikkannan” or one –eyed person.
When the confrontation with the Indian army began in October 1987, Raghu is said to have shifted from the peninsula into the Eastern province. He came back to the North in early 1988 and functioned under the Vadamarachchi commander Ruthrapathy Sridhar alias Major James of Valvettithurai.On one occasion, Major James launched a successful attack on an IPKF sentry post. The first rocket-propelled grenade was fired by Packiyachandran alias Raghuvaran. Later, when Major James was summoned by LTTE supremo Prabhakaran to the jungles of the Wanni for consultations, Raghu functioned for about a month as acting Vadamarachchi commander.
Thereafter Raghuvaran was transferred from the military wing to to the LTTE intelligence wing that functioned under Pottu Ammaan. He was promoted as Captain and given a new nom de guerre “Sivarasan”. Capt . Sivarasan of the LTTE intelligence division was entrusted with specific assignments to be undertaken clandestinely in India. Among these were the expansion of the LTTE intelligence network in India and the setting up of safe houses in Tamil Nadu. More importantly he was tasked with an assassination assignment. The target was Kandasamy Pathmanabha alias Naabhaa a.k. a. Ranjan who was the Secretary – General of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).
A plot to assassinate Padmanabha on Indian soil was devised by Sivarasan in consultation with Pottu Amman. This entailed the deployment of a “spy “ in Chennai to monitor EPRLF movements. Sivarasan was entrusted with the selection and stationing of this spy in the Kodambakkam area of Chennai where the EPRLF had an office. The spy Suthenthirarajah alias “Sinna Santhan “ was handpicked by Sivarasan who also “handled” him. The spy did his work well and provided accurate info.
On June 19th 1990 an LTTE hit squad including Kiruban and One –eyed Sivarasan stormed into an apartment in Zacharaiyah colony, Choolaimedhu and killed Padmanabha and 12 others. These included former North – Eastern provincial council finance minister Kirubakaran and EPRLF Jaffna District MP Yogasangari. The hit squad members along with the spy Sinna Santhan were successful in making a getaway back to Sri Lanka after hi-jacking a vehicle to reach the coast.
The assassination of Padmanabha and 12 other EPRLF members was the first operation of this type to be undertaken by the LTTE outside Sri Lanka. It was a blatant act of terrorism committed on Indian soil by the tigers. The LTTE hierarchy however was elated by the successful assassination. Sivarasan was personally congratulated and praised by Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan. The LTTE leadership was confident that one –eyes Sivarasan was capable of planning and executing major operations in India.
The Padmanabha assassination also whetted the LTTE appetite for more assassinations on Indian soil. Without any thought about potential consequences, Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan decided to assign Sivarasan the task of masterminding the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. The groundwork required for the diabolical plot began to be laid by Sivarasan.
Unlike the Padmanabha assassination where firearms and grenades were used, another new method was to be used to kill Rajiv Gandhi. The idea was to make a mystery of the assailant so that blame would not be attached to the LTTE.For this the would be assassin had to be within close proximity to Rajiv Gandhi.Opportunities to gain easy access to Rajiv became available with the announcement of fresh elections to the Indian parliament.
Conspircy Hatched in Sri Lanka
A broad conspiracy to murder Rajiv Gandhi was hatched in Northern Sri Lanka by tiger supremo Prabhakaran , Intelligence chief Pottu Ammaan, LTTE woman’s intelligence unit head Akhila and Sivarasan who was also entrusted the responsibility of executing the assassination on Indian soil. He was given full authority by the LTTE hierarchy to devise the assassination scheme and deploy necessary personnel required.LTTE operatives and key supporters in India were instructed to obey all orders issued by Sivarasan. He was also given an ample amount of “gold biscuits” to be cashed in India to cover expenses incurred.Sivarasan n arrived in India with his team , planned out the details of the assassination and on that fateful May 21st , Rajiv Gandhi was killed.
The Rajiv assassination came at a time when influential journalists in Chennai were trying hard to bring about rapprochement between Rajiv and the LTTE. The well-known Tamil poet Kasi Anandan (Kathamuthu Sivanandan) had met Rajiv Gandhi in March that year. The London based financial consultant Arjuna Sittambalam had met Rajiv some days weeks . Both were regarded as pro-tiger emissaries.
It appeared that the stage was being set for some kind of political reconciliation. The Indian establishment at that time was more angry with Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa for booting out the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) than the LTTE which fought the Indian army. Earlier Rajiv had told DMK stalwart “Murasoli” Maran that he was prepared to discuss even a “de-facto” Eelam with the LTTE if necessary. Maran was the trusted confidante and nephew of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham(DMK)chief “Kalainjer” M. Karunanidhi. Kalainjer (artiste) was chief minister of Tamil Nadu when Rajiv conveyed this to Maran.
Against this backdrop I felt then that the LTTE would not have committed this murder. I wrote an article then for “Frontline” in which I argued the pros and cons of the assassination. It was overwhelmingly against the chances of the Tigers being responsible. Yet I ended the piece with the line that if the LTTE was indeed responsible the ultimate losers would be the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Krishnakumar alias “Col” Kittu
Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar alias “Col” Kittu was then living in London. The former Jaffna commander of the Tigers was then head of the LTTE international secretariat. Kittu argued passionately with me that the Tigers were not responsible for the killing. He seemed to sincerely believe then that his movement was not responsible. It was Kittu acting at the behest of his leader who was instrumental in sending emissaries to meet Rajiv Gandhi.
He was doing so because Velupillai Prabakharan had ordered him to do so. I was in close contact with Kittu those days and played a minor role in these efforts to reconcile with Rajiv Gandhi and by extension with India. Though I had been critical of Rajiv Gandhi and the IPKF earlier the wisdom of hindsight had made me realise that the Sri Lankan Tamils could not afford to be alienated from India in the long-term.
Alas! All those hopes and the efforts, of those Indian Journalists who in association with Kittu arranged the meetings with Rajiv, were dashed when it became clearly established that the Tigers were responsible for the killing. What happened thereafter was a progressive estrangement between “Mother” India and her “Eelam” Tamil children. The people of Tamil Nadu in particular were hurt and angry then at the LTTE.
Jayalalitha Jayaram swept the polls in Tamil Nadu in 1991. The DMK regarded as being partisan towards the LTTE was vanquished. Only its leader Karunanidhi managed to scrape through with an 800-vote lead in the Chennai harbour constituency. Jayalalitha followed a hard, strict policy towards Tamil refugees in the state. Even educational opportunities were restricted. Harassment became the order of the day. Thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils who preferred to live in Tamil Nadu because of the Tamil ethos reluctantly relocated to the West.It was ironic that the same Jayalalithaa who cracked the whip then was hailed by some clowns in the Tamil Diaspora as the “mother of Tamil Eelam”.
More importantly the Indian public mood changed. India had welcomed Tamil refugees in 1983 and looked after them. Now they were made to feel unwelcome. Sri Lankan Tamils were regarded as having abused Indian hospitality. The LTTE was officially banned. Whatever the protests and pressures by the pro-LTTE lobby in Tamil Nadu and whatever the extent of emotional sympathy for the Tamils of Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu there is always a “Lakshmana Rekha” that India would not cross in the case of Sri Lanka. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE plays a big part in demarcating this rekha or line.
The LTTE had a golden opportunity to salvage the situation a little in April 2002 when Prabakharan held his famous news conference in Kilinochchi. When Indian journalists raised the issue of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the LTTE leader could have been apologetic. Some remorse could have been displayed. This could have demonstrated that the killing was regretted and the Tigers were sorry. Instead Anton Balasingham called it a “thunbiyal sambhavam” (tragic incident) and asked journalists not to dig into it while Prabhakaran maintained silence. This perhaps made the situation worse.
The killing of Rajiv Gandhi was arguably the single most harmful act inflicted upon themselves by the Tigers until the Mullivaaikkal military debacle. Not only the Tigers but all Sri Lankan Tamils by extension were affected.
I was in Jaffna when the IPKF-LTTE fighting began on October 10, 1987. I saw the atrocities and civilian killings first hand. When I returned to Colombo and exposed these in “The Island” I was arrested and detained on the fourth floor. I was also charged in courts but ultimately cleared by courts of any alleged offence. It was this matter and consequent harassment that followed, which made me leave Sri Lanka at the time.
There was a time when my relationship with the Indian High Commission people in Colombo was excellent. I was the “Hindu” correspondent for Sri Lanka then. Other Indian journalists used to call me the blue-eyed boy” of the IHC. Yet my relationship soured because I criticised the IPKF, some aspects of the Indo-Lanka accord and Rajiv Gandhi. I was even fired by the “The Hindu” for trying to expose IPKF rapes.
I was for some time very bitter about Rajiv Gandhi and the Indian role in Sri Lanka. But time changes things. Rajiv’s assassination was a shock. However much one may be critical of a person no decent human being would want that person to die or worse still be killed in this gruesome fashion.
Rajiv was the great grandson of Mothilal Nehru, the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru and the son of Indira and Feroze Gandhi. He belonged to what was modern India’s greatest political dynasty. Yet he was reluctant to enter politics. It was the plane accident that killed his brother Sanjay, which made Rajiv enter politics. Otherwise he would have been quite content to be flying planes. His mother’s assassination catapulted him into the Prime Minister’s seat.it is a historic irony that the man interested in politics got killed when flying a plane thus compelling the brother who was a professional flyer to be reluctantly thrust into politics which ultimately killed him.
Rajiv was India’s Darling
I was in India covering the momentous election of Dec 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi won with a landslide. It was the biggest margin of victory enjoyed by the Congress till then. With his handsome features and attractive smile Rajiv was India’s darling. He brought modern methods into politics. Initially Rajiv with Arun Nehru and Arun Singh formed a trio at the helm. The three “P”s they were called (Pilotwalla, Polishwalla and Paintwalla).
After Rajiv Gandhi became premier he brought about two praiseworthy political settlements in the domestic sphere. One was the pact with Punjab Sikhs and the other the accord with Assamese student activists. It was in the wake of these agreements that he accelerated efforts to resolve the Sri Lankan crisis. He was a man in a hurry and people in a hurry often make mistakes.
He removed veteran Gopalswamy Parthasarathy and sent the high flying Romesh Bhandari as his special envoy to Colombo. Rajiv made a significant departure from his mother’s strategy when he brought in the militants for talks. Indira and GP had kept the militants out and relied on the TULF alone for negotiations. Five militant groups were kept on par with the TULF at the 1985 Thimphu talks. Being in a hurry, the originally envisaged extended time frame of the staggered ceasefire was telescoped into a short duration. The talks failed but not due to this reason alone.
Later Rajiv got into a “huff” with foreign secretary AP Venkateshwaran which led to the latter’s resignation. This was a great loss as APV was fully cognizant with the Lankan issues. Then came Natwar Singh, P. Chidamparam and even Dinesh Singh as emissaries. In Colombo it was High Commissioner Jyotindra Nath Dixit who did the spade work ably assisted by First Secretaries Hardeep and Lakshmi Puri.
The Indian air drop that prevented Jaffna peninsula being overrun by the Lankan Army in 1987 was a matter of touch and go. Had Sri Lanka resisted the air drop of supplies by India things may have been different. India was not taking any chances and had made preparations for such an eventuality.
De-facto Eelam Possible
Even if a de jure Eelam had not come into being a de facto Eelam like that of Turkish Cyprus may have been possible. But the crafty Junius Richard Jayawardene knew when to bow his head. Jayewardene did this and New Delhi was happy. Negotiations were on and soon came the Indo-Lanka accord. It had its short comings but could have been improved if allowed to work. This was not to be.
Rajiv won the world’s admiration and respect when he went to Colombo to sign the accord. The Tamils on the whole were happy then. I remember writing a piece “Why Tamil eyes are smiling” for the “Island” then. Rajiv had a nasty experience when a naval rating took a swipe at him with his rifle during the guard of honour. Rajiv saw it from the corner of his eye and deftly sidestepped taking the blow on his shoulder instead of head.
When Rajiv returned President Venkatraman defied convention and came to the airport to receive him. “The hazards of waging peace” said Venkatraman aptly describing the situation. If that blow was fatal Indo-Lanka history may have been different. Then came the war with the LTTE. A confident Rajiv said “It will be a short, swift strike. Our boys will be back home soon”.
How wrong he was! The IPKF-LTTE war dragged on. Tamil civilians suffered and many harboured deep antipathy towards India. Finally India was outsmarted when the LTTE aligned with President Premadasa to drive the third party out.
Soon after Rajiv himself lost elections. The Bofors scandal had raised its head. Had Rajiv lived longer this issue itself may have been detrimental to his image. But that was not to be. The explosion at Sriperumbhudoor changed all that and the course of history.
With the passage of time, my thoughts about the Indian role and Rajiv Gandhi too began to change. Looking at the predicament of the Tamils, I now feel that the Indo-Lanka accord with all its shortcomings would have been much better for the Tamils in particular and Sri Lanka in general if it had been allowed full implementation at the time it was signed.
The Indo-Lanka accord has provisions that changed Sri Lanka for the better. The accord recognized the reality of Sri Lanka being a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation and not a mono-ethnic, mono-religious entity as proclaimed by majoritarian hardliners .Likewise it negated the two nation theory of the Tamil ultra-nationalists. It also acknowledged the North-East to be the historic habitat of the Tamils and Muslims. The accord did not refer to the North and East being the homeland of the Tamils or being exclusively for Tamils and Muslims.
The accord also brought about the temporary North-East merger subject to a referendum in the East. It afforded Official language status to Tamil. More importantly it brought about a scheme of devolution. The Provincial Councils were introduced because of the Indo-Lanka pact. The provincial powers had to be reduced due to the tricky situation of getting it past the Supreme Court without a referendum being stipulated. The final SC decision was five to four with three of those Judges voting in favour coming from the minority communities.
The Indians had plans of enhancing devolution on a staggered basis. They had obtained an assurance in writing from JR Jayewardene to that effect. One of the changes envisaged was doing away with the concurrent list of powers or reducing it to a minimum.
The 13th Amendment and its creation, the Provincial council have many flaws but it is the only political arrangement that addresses Tamil concerns reasonably in 73 years of post-independence politics in Sri Lanka. Pragmatic politics decrees that the attainable in the hand is worth two desirables in the bush.
I remember the past vividly when former Indian High Commissioner JN Dixit, Political Secretary Hardeep Singh Puri and Information Secretary Lakshmi Puri were trying to convince me in discussions that the Indo-Lanka accord was the best possible deal that the Tamils could have obtained at that time. Historically it was the highest quantum of Tamil rights recognized by the Sinhala dominated state. “Lets work it out and improve it further” they would say. But I would have none of it then.
Appapillai Amirthalingam and I were engaged in a heated argument once about the Indo-Lanka accord. I remember him repeating again and again, “I am telling you from experience. The Sinhala state will never accept our rights without outside intervention. We need India to help us. If the Indian army goes off before our rights are ensured our people particularly those in the East and Wanni will be finished”.
Belatedly I realise the wisdom in those views. I too wanted the Indians out then. I was happy when the NE Provincial Council was dissolved. But what has happened now? After years of strife and sacrifice the Tamil people have not achieved anything tangible.
It is with this mindset therefore that I think of Rajiv Gandhi nowadays. Though critical of Rajiv then, I realise now that he was trying to do the right thing by the Tamils and Sri Lanka. N. Ram the former Editor-in-chief of “The Hindu” was to tell me once that Rajiv Gandhi despite his blunders was genuinely sincere in trying to resolve the ethnic problem in Lanka. Other Indian journalists have also told me that Rajiv really felt sorry for the Tamils and wanted to usher in a fair deal for them. I also subscribe to these sentiments now.
Sometimes we appreciate the value of things only after their loss or upon the verge of losing them. The 13th Constitutional Amendment is an example. Unless some urgent course correction is done by responsible sections the India-sponsored amendment and the political arrangements set in place face the danger of being irretrievably lost. Sri Lankan Tamil politicians who dream of a silk verti may lose even the cotton verti they are clad in now. It is in this bleak political environment that my thoughts dwell on Rajiv Gandhi and his vulnerable political legacy in Sri Lanka.
Sonia Gandhi’s Letter
Former Opposition Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam’s younger son Dr. Bhageerathan once told me of a letter written by Sonia Gandhi to his mother Mangaiyarkkarasi Amirthalingam. In that letter, Sonia had said her husband (Rajiv) and Mangaiyarkkarasi’s husband (Amirthalingam) had both lost their lives because they wanted the Tamils of Sri Lanka to live with equal rights and justice.
The date of Rajiv Gandhi’s death has poignant significance for me personally. May 21st is the date of my birth. My birth and his death, which happened thirty – seven years later, are inter-twined in my consciousness. Rajiv’s memory looms large on each birthday. Some people who wish me regularly on my birthday remind me of this. I think of him very often on my birthday. It is hard to believe that thirty years have passed since Rajiv’s death.
Rajiv’s Political Legacy
Let us remember Rajiv Gandhi on his 30th death anniversary as the man who wanted to usher in a fair deal for Sri Lankans in general and Tamils in particular. Let us commemorate him with the acknowledgement that the accord he signed on July 29, 1987 remains the best possible settlement to the Tamil national question ever made so far. Let us also hope and strive to ensure that Rajiv’s political legacy in Sri Lanka which is the 13th Amendment will endure the trials of time.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an enhanced version of an Article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj” Column in the “Daily Mirror” of May 22nd 2021. It can be accessed here: