Full of holes

Print edition : November 29, 1997

A new booklet documents how the Interim Report of the Jain Commission failed to highlight the role played by the Congress(I) and the AIADMK in supporting the activities of Sri Lankan Tamil militants.

THE Interim Report of the Jain Commission has single-mindedly worked on the premise that the survival and growth of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Tamil Nadu was a plan nurtured by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government of 1989-1991 led by M. Karunanidhi. In doing so, the report has discounted the part played by the Congress(I) Governments of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi at the Centre, and the AIADMK Government of M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu in encouraging Tamil militancy as an element of India's schizoid policy on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue.

Congress(I) Governments at the Centre and the AIADMK Government have played important roles in the arming, financing and military training of the LTTE and other Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups, which include the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOT), the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation (EROS) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF).

When Congress(I) vice-president Jitendra Prasada described the DMK as "anti-national", Karunanidhi retorted that "those who love the country will understand who is anti-national." He further recalled that the LTTE was not declared an anti-national organisation when it fought the IPKF in Sri Lanka, a conflict that caused heavy casualties on both sides. Karunanidhi said, "If Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi support the LTTE, they become desh bhakts (patriots). If Karunanidhi supports it, the LTTE becomes anti-national. This is the argument put forth by the Jain Commission's report."

Frontline presents a gist of the Central Government policy on this issue derived from its in-depth coverage of Sri Lankan affairs and recent secondary sources, in particular Jain Report - Buried Facts (Volume 1), a 36-page booklet published by the Thinkers' Forum in Chennai. The booklet has documented the generous help given to the LTTE and other groups by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and M.G. Ramachandran. Between 1983 and 1992, the Indian Government's policy on the Sri Lankan Tamil miltants swung from one exteme to the other.

To start with, India gave the Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups red carpet treatment. They were trained in guerrilla warfare and provided with arms, ammunition and financial support. They were permitted to organise training camps in Tamil Nadu. Then, to stem the tide of inter-group rivalry sparked off by the struggle for supremacy among the militant groups, they were disarmed and their communication sets confiscated. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination on May 21, 1991 and the consequent ban on the LTTE changed the situation irrevocably for the Sri Lankan Tamils, militant or refugee. Tamil refugees were prevented from reaching the shores of Tamil Nadu.

In 1983, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi acted on the belief that an armed struggle by Sri Lankan Tamils - perceptibly backed by India - would bring the Sri Lankan Government to the negotiating table. By late 1983, the training of TELO, EPRLF, PLOT and EROS cadres had begun at Chakrata (near Dehra Dun) in Uttar Pradesh. LTTE cadres were trained later in Karnataka (Bangalore cantonment) and Uttar Pradesh (Frontline, January 17, 1992).

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran with LTTE leader V. Prabakaran in February 1985.-S. KOTHANDARAMAN

The trained cadres of all the groups, including the LTTE, set up 30 camps in Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran of the AIADMK never raised objections as camps came up at Koli Hills, Magaral, Kulathur, Sirumalai, Orathanad, Theni, Pattukottai, Kumbakonam, Uchipuli, Vikravandi, Aranthangi and so on. Trained cadre were housed in safe locations at Uchipuli, Mantapam, Thangachimadam (all around Rameswaram) and Arcotthurai, Vizhunthamavadi, Vedaranyam and Point Calimere (around Nagapattinam) and were later ferried to the Jaffna peninsula to fight the Sri Lankan Army. Injured cadres were similarly brought back to Tamil Nadu for treatment.

As quoted in Jain Report - Buried Facts, K. Mohandas, the former Director-General of Police (Intelligence), Tamil Nadu, says in his book, MGR: The Man and the Myth (p.77): "...each training camp was a mini-Union Territory completely controlled by Central agencies, into which the State intelligence or the State police had no entry. It was almost a take-over of chunks of Tamil Nadu territory by the Centre, but MGR was unmoved."

M.G. Ramachandran was known particularly to patronise the LTTE over the other groups. LTTE leader V. Prabakaran had easy access to M.G. Ramachandran, who often donated large amounts of money to the LTTE. The Indian Government had arranged the supply of arms - rifles, pistols, rocket propelled grenades, rocket launchers and rockets - to the militant groups.

Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh, the Overall Force Commander of the IPKF, corroboates these facts. Depinder Singh writes in his book, The IPKF in Sri Lanka: "In one of his many informal chats with me later on, Prabakaran was to confide that they received massive doses of financial and military assistance from India and were provided training facilities in Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, during 1983 and 1984, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing (the two Indian intelligence agencies) got directly involved in training the militant Tamil groups and providing assistance to them."(pp.17-18 quoted in Jain Report - Buried Facts)

After Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in October 1984, he put an end to the training of Tamil militants on Indian soil. The supply of arms was also stopped. The practices were revived after the Sri Lankan Army launched "Operation Liberation" in the Vadamarachchi region of the Jaffa peninsula in May 1987. By then, the LTTE was alone in the battlefield. It had been systematically demolishing TELO, PLOT and the EPRLF in fratricidal clashes. Operation Liberation saw the LTTE suffer reverses and run out of ammunition.

The Indian Government with Rajiv Gandhi at the helm arranged to renew the supply of arms and ammunition to the LTTE and its ally, EROS. They were also supplied anti-aircraft guns. Their cadres were brought to India for military training. In the camp near Dehra Dun, they were also taught to fire surface-to-air missiles. Some EROS cadres were taught how to lay sea mines. They, in turn, taught these skills to the LTTE cadres.

Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Rameswaram in March 1985. Between February and mid-March 1985, more than 17,000 refugees, principally from Jaffna, poured into India.-S. KOTHANDARAMAN

On July 29, 1987, Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement; the IPKF was sent to the North-Eastern province of Sri Lanka to secure peace. An intransigent LTTE forced the IPKF into a military conflict from October 1987.

Jain Report - Buried Facts also quotes former Foreign Secretary and Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka J.N. Dixit. In his book Assignment Colombo, he writes: "It is a fact that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran provided sufficient finances to the LTTE to purchase arms and supplies even after the IPKF was launched against this militant group." (p.232)

While the LTTE was still at war with the IPKF, Jayalalitha called a press conference in Chennai on March 21, 1988 to demand that "India should immediately halt its military operations against the LTTE." She had also warned that there would be an adverse reaction in Tamil Nadu if the IPKF harmed Prabakaran deliberately or accidentally. She changed tack three years later. In an interview published in The Hindu on April 21, 1991, she said: "I think that there will be nothing wrong if India thought of a military option (in Sri Lanka) as Indira Gandhi did in the case of Bangladesh."

Led by Karunanidhi, the DMK came to power in Tamil Nadu in January 1989. In February 1990, the LTTE killed a police constable at Pattinamkathan in Ramanathapuram district. On June 19, 1990, the LTTE massacred 13 EPRLF leaders, including EPRLF secretary-general K. Padmanabha and two local people, at Kodambakkam in Chennai. Jain Report - Buried Facts documents the letters exchanged in May 1989 between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and DMK Member of Parliament 'Murasoli' Maran (now Union Industries Minister) on a proposed mediation bid with the LTTE. The IPKF and the LTTE were still locked in combat. The IPKF was withdrawn from Sri Lanka in March 1990. The Chandra Shekhar Government at the Centre dismissed the DMK Government in January 1991 based on allegations that the DMK passed secrets to the LTTE headquarters at Jaffna. In May, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

EVEN as allies, the AIADMK and the Congress(I) had not been averse to political one-upmanship vis-a-vis the LTTE. After their alliance broke up, they were at each other's throats. After a series of escapes by LTTE militants from special camps in Tamil Nadu, Union Home Minister S.B. Chavan accused Chief Minister Jayalalitha - coincidentally on Rajiv Gandhi's second death anniversary - of "vacillating" with regard to the LTTE. The next day she revealed "a most sensitive piece of information" that she had "chosen not to divulge" until then, that Chavan had met her in Chennai on November 9, 1992 to explore "the possibility of conducting negotiations with the LTTE."

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