Indian Peacekeeping Mission in Sri Lanka: Accord

This is the second post of a five-part series telling the story of India’s Sri Lankan adventure. You can read other parts of the series here: Part 1, Part 2.5, Part 3

Feared LTTE leader Prabhakaran, flanked by Indian guards

Feared LTTE leader Prabhakaran, flanked by Indian guards

The crisis was not long in coming. In January 1987, Sri Lankan military started a new offensive, putting the Tamil city Jaffna under martial law. The entire Tamil north was put under embargo, stopping supplies of even essential like food and medicine and creating famine-like conditions. The government also started using its newly-acquired air power for air strikes. Undoubtedly, these were highly brutal tactics, causing incalculable harm to the innocent Tamil civilians.

While Indian government sought to defuse the situation, both LTTE and Colombo kept escalating it by attack and counter-attack. By May, the situation had become intolerable. Faced with growing pro-Tamil sympathy at home, Gandhi decided to issue an ultimatum. Jayewardene was demanded by India to end the military offensive. But the Sri Lankan president was ready to call Gandhi’s bluff. “India can go to hell,” he told his advisers. When Indian diplomats stressed on their demands, he told his advisers, “what is the worse [sic] that India can do? It will invade Sri Lanka. I will cross that bridge when it comes.”

Given Jayewardene’s stubbornness, Gandhi was forced to take more drastic measures. On 2 June, the Sri Lankans were informed that in a few hours India will be unarmed ships carrying food and medicine for the embargoed Jaffna city. The Indian ships will be sailing through the Sri Lankan naval blockade and delivering the relief supplies to the distraught Tamils. However, by this point, Jayewardene was too committed to turn back. The nationalist Sinhalese population (including the Buddhist monasteries) were goading him on to take on the big Indian bully.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Indian Peacekeeping Mission in Sri Lanka: Origins

What remained of Tamil areas in Colombo after Black July

What remained of Tamil areas in Colombo after Black July

This is the first post of a five-part series telling the story of India’s Sri Lankan adventure. You can also read other parts of the series here: Part 2, Part 2.5, Part 3. This is for Shivangi Singh who asked me to explain the whole IPKF story. 

The plane was late. The Sri Lankan president JR Jayewardene had been anxiously awaiting its arrival for hours, but to no avail. It was a delay that the president couldn’t afford, for the plane carried the dead bodies of thirteen soldiers who had been ambushed and killed by the Tamil insurgent group LTTE the day before. Earlier in the day, the president had overruled his advisers and decided to have their funeral in Colombo. Now it was proving to be a fatal mistake. Every minute that the plane was late, the crowd outside the cemetery swelled even further, demanding retribution against the Tamils. By the time the plane arrived, the restive mob had grown to 10,000. The police, concerned about law and order situation, decided to use its riot squad to break up the crowd. Instead it brought the situation to a boiling point, and almost instantly ethnic riots engulfed Colombo. Within a day, the riots spread across the country. For the next seven days, Tamils were targeted, looted, killed by hordes of angry Sinhalese. By the end of what became known as Black July, more than 100,000 Tamils had been made homeless, most of them fleeing to refugee camps in India. Within days of Black July, ranks of Tamil separatist groups like LTTE began to grow. What were until now basically just terrorist groups, started to build armies of their own. In the following months and years, these groups unleashed the level of violence unprecedented in the entire South Asia.

The Sri Lankan Civil War had begun.

Continue reading

How Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister: Prelude to the Congress Split

Shastri's body brought home

Shastri’s body brought home

On the grey winter afternoon of 11 January 1966, a huge crowd of Indian Government officials, politicians, military officers, heads of states of other nations and common public thronged the Palam Airport in New Delhi. They were awaiting a small Soviet aircraft bringing in the dead body of India’s second Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. India had woken up to Shastri’s sudden death in Tashkent, Uzbekistan only hours ago. A sense of uncertainty over India’s political future surrounded the airport thicker than the Delhi fog. Many had come to the airport to mourn Shastri’s death, many for appearance sake. But at least one person was there for a clearer purpose. Clad in white khadi, was an astrologer, much consulted by top-level Congress politicians. He was there to predict who will be the next Prime Minister.

Unlike with Nehru, no one had anticipated Shastri’s death and there had been no discussion over the issue of his succession. Only two hours after his death, the President had sworn in the home minister, Gulzari Lal Nanda as the acting Prime Minister in the middle of night. But Nanda was considered a light-weight, unlikely to be able to turn his job permanent. Nevertheless, within twenty-four hours he threw his hat in the ring to be considered as the next Prime Minister. So did many others. Within two days of Shastri’s death, the list of politicians circling around the throne had grown considerably, including the defence minister YB Chavan, Mahashtrian politician SK Patil and the future President of India Sanjiva Reddy. But the strongest candidate was Morarji Desai.

Desai had already had already had bitter experience in his ambition to be India’s Prime Minister. In early 1960s, Desai was a centre of power within the Congress Party. A right-leaning, pro-business conservative leader, he had emerged as the opposing pole within the party to left-leaning, liberal Nehru. As the finance minister in Nehru’s Government, he had become so influential as to be considered by many as his natural successor, to the extent that in some of his foreign visits he got the treatment reserved for visiting heads of state. Had Nehru not eased him out of the Cabinet in 1963, he would have most likely become the next Prime Minister automatically. Instead, in 1964, when Nehru passed away, it was the unimpressive Shastri who got the chair, a shy, placating man who was so unimposing that his greatest achievement at the time seemed to be that he had “hardly ever made an enemy during his entire career”.

Continue reading

Indira Gandhi and the Pakistani Bomb

AQ Khan with design of neutron initiator, which serves as the kick-start mechanism for a nuclear chain reaction

AQ Khan with design of neutron initiator, which serves as the kick-start mechanism for a nuclear chain reaction

In December 1975, a thin man with a light moustache landed at the Karachi Airport, where he was awaited by a top Pakistani Military general. He had three large suitcases with him, all stuffed with photographed and hand-written documents that he had stolen from a Dutch lab where he worked as a translator. These documents were technical designs of a revolutionary new technology to make a nuclear bomb. His name was Abdul Qadeer Khan. He was here to make, as the world would come to know of it, the first Islamic Bomb.

In July 1974, AQ Khan had written to the Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, offering to build a nuclear bomb for Pakistan. The timing of the letter had been perfect, for only two months ago India had exploded a nuclear bomb of its own, which had thrown Islamabad into a tizzy. Pakistan had been trying to develop its own nuclear bomb since 1958, but had consistently failed because of the lack of money and the technical know-how. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was still many years away from developing a bomb. So the letter from this unknown mining engineer had come as a god-sent for Bhutto.

Pakistan had been trying to develop a nuclear bomb through Plutonium, which is a very expensive and difficult exercise. What AQ Khan offered, instead, was building the bomb with Uranium-239, enriched through centrifuges, which was a cheaper and quicker process. This enrichment technology was just being developed by a European Consortium called UNRECO, where AQ Khan worked as a translator. His job offered him unlimited access to the technical information, which he was willing to steal and bring to Pakistan.

Continue reading