Indian Government's injustice to IPKF in India's Vietnam
by Shenali Waduge on 16 Apr 2013 3 Comments

The arrival of over 70,000 Indian Peace Keeping Force troops to Sri Lanka followed the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord on 29 July 1987. Their task was significant for ironically the IPKF was to disarm the very militants to whom India had provided covert training and arms. In other words, Indian soldiers were being sent to a foreign land to disarm militants that India had created.

Was the IPKF operation guided politically? If so, what has the Indian Government done for the over 2000 IPKF soldiers who laid down their lives for a political exercise? Surely these soldiers deserve better compensation as they came from humble homes and were sent to a nation without proper guidance and asked to bring peace without being debriefed or even given a map of the area they were to cover.


There is a Right to Information Act in India; yet no one has yet demanded how much was spent by the Indian Government from Indira Gandhi onwards towards training and arming and financially supporting the LTTE and other militant groups in Sri Lanka.


The Indian Government spent crores on the IPKF operation that lasted little over two years. It is taxpayer money; therefore Indian taxpayers deserve to know exactly how much their contribution was used to create a monster that lived for over 30 years.


So what went wrong in Sri Lanka for the IPKF – their Maldives operation took less than two- and-half days? The problem faced in Sri Lanka is complicated by the presence of a powerful neighbour – one sensitive to its own ambitions to project itself as a global force and be recognized as a powerful nation, and one that survives on votes and alliances. It becomes further complicated by the fact that any aspiring Government cannot avoid the Tamil Nadu factor – a very large State that is traditionally the homeland of the Tamil people – though their Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka have very little in common apart from the fact that they are called “Tamil”.


So whether it is the Congress or the BJP, both sides will continue to court the Tamil Nadu politicians who are all too aware of this scenario. The issue of separatism is not confined to Sri Lanka alone, in fact in early 1950s Tamil Nadu flirted with this idea and in fact threatened to separate on the question of language. There was also the “We Tamil Movement” which India silently managed to quell before it gathered much momentum.


From Bouquets to Brickbats


It is well known that the IPKF were ill-prepared for their role in Sri Lanka… it is even claimed that they were provided with only a tourist map of the island and that makes us wonder exactly what the Indian Government hoped from the IPKF. The most suited to answer this question are the RAW and Intelligence officers who were the central force behind the decision making of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. To these officers, the LTTE were “their boys”. Initially, they were greeted with garlands and cheering crowds.


But soon reports of civilian deaths, destruction of property and other atrocities by IPKF troops began to come in. When the Sri Lankan army was in Jaffna peninsula they were labelled rapists and racists. The IPKF was seen as worse and the LTTE no better. The people had no choice but to accept and endure the LTTE for 30 years. It still makes us wonder why their relatives are now happily earning foreign incomes, residing in comfortable climes, but still wish us to suffer at the hands of these malicious tormentors.


To be fair to the IPKF, here was a group of men hailing from different states of India, clueless of what was happening in Sri Lanka, not briefed about anything and simply shipped off with loads of arms and asked to protect the people. But which people? Could they identify a Tiger from a citizen? They couldn’t even speak with the people let alone understand them.


They did what they could – mending roads, places of worship, schools etc, even building a highway along the coastal belt from Trincomalee to Jaffna – till the LTTE had had enough of them and started to attack them. From 10 October 1987, the IPKF launched a military offensive against the LTTE.


LTTE from ally to adversary – IPKF psychologically unprepared


The July 1983 riots in Sri Lanka made it call for help from India and Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao followed by envoy G Parthasarathy arrived in Colombo for discussions with President Jayawardene. This eventually led to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 29 July 1987, following a series of dialogues in Thimpu, Delhi, Bangalore and Colombo. The outcome of the Accord was the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, a devolution package and temporary merger of the North and East creating the North East Provincial Council and the elected provincial government to be set up in Trincomalee. Varadarajah Perumal became its first Chief Minister.


Was the IPKF aware of the type of training provided to the LTTE by India? The war pitted the India-trained IPKF versus the India-trained LTTE. It was easy for the LTTE to create the mayhem that eventually led to the Tamil people calling for withdrawal of the troops.


One obvious failure of the IPKF in Sri Lanka was that it lacked intelligence, had little freedom of action to plan and execute its operations, and very little logistics support with tanks and APCs not used, no air cover, even armed helicopters came much later, the soldiers even lacked proper cooking utensils! On top of all that they had no clue as to how to identify the militants as everyone looked alike. The RAW was expected to pass on the necessary information to the Indian army but apparently they were too scared for their safety (Colonel John Taylor, officer in the IPKF).


It was obvious that the IPKF and intelligence officers did not see eye to eye. Intelligence officers like Anand Verma were happy to claim “these are our boys, once they have agreed they will not betray” (LTTE had been trained by India since the beginning of the 1980s.)


The IPKF soldiers knew they were fighting Tamil insurgents, the same insurgents who were getting trained and supplied with large quantities of arms and equipment from Tamil Nadu. This had a deleterious effect on the troop morale.


What went wrong for the IPKF?


Before the signing of the Agreement and arrival of the IPKF, we must remember the major Sri Lankan military drive in May 1987. Pressure from India preceded the pressure the Sri Lankan military exerted upon the tigers (Operation Vadaramachchi) and as proof that India meant business, several planes dropped supplies of dal over Jaffna on 4 June 1987. If the international community preferred to silently acknowledge India’s interference they were in for a rude shock when IPKF troops proved worse than the allegations heaped upon Sri Lankan soldiers.


JN Dixit, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka from 1985 to 1989, a key person in Rajiv Gandhi’s set up, told journalist Josy Joseph when asked if India was right to train the LTTE, “See, you do not indulge in value judgment, in retrospect, in hindsight. It is unrealistic. When you take a decision, you are in the middle of a situation. Nobody sitting in a chair 10 years later, five years later, is competent to judge whether it was necessary or not. Whether it was necessary or not was decided upon by the then government, then prime minister, on the basis of information and analysis that were available”.


India feared Sri Lanka’s closeness to the West. Israeli agencies Mossad and Shin Bet specialized in under-cover operations, the British Keeny Meeny Services were providing offshore training to the Special Task Force, and even Pakistan gave some training. With a proxy war situation created, it was natural the US would also be involved. It was in this scenario that India got involved.


There are many reasons for the failure of India’s operation in Sri Lanka. The most important is that the divergence of opinion between Indian intelligence and the Indian military. RAW officers like Ananda Verma considered LTTE as “our boys” and Army Chief Gen. Sundarji was confident of disarming the LTTE within 3 weeks! Maj-Gen Harkirat Singh, the first senior commander to be sent to Sri Lanka, eventually criticized JN Dixit, RAW and Gen. Sundarji because his men were sent ill-prepared.


India sent ill-armed, ill-equipped and totally unaware men with no idea of what they really had to do; did not debrief them on their enemy, and even the commanders were denied a free rein and made to wait for “orders from Delhi”. It was clear that the Indian Government either underpinned the LTTE or did not want the IPKF to actually succeed in the clause signed under the Indo-Lanka Agreement - to disarm the LTTE.


The failure of the Accord was heightened by the successors of the two Governments in the form of Premadasa and VP Singh, who both opposed the Accord. Premadasa took credit for chasing away a foreign peace keeping force, but it was actually the decision of VP Singh and IK Gujral to take political mileage to prove that Rajiv Gandhi’s decision was wrong, that led to the IPKF withdrawal. Had they decided to play Bad Brother and refused, what a scenario that would have led to!




Sri Lanka had problem – a terrorist problem that initially covered itself under an “ethnic” label to gain legitimacy for its cause and acceptance worldwide. The “ethnicity” label shadows heavily on India when Tamil Nadu enters the equation. LTTE’s ethnic tag is to provide “liberation” to the Tamils, which has a secessionist history of wanting to create its own homeland. Thus, we should not be surprised over India’s concerns over troubles brewing in Sri Lanka especially ones that involve the Tamil community.


India fears what may happen to its own state of Tamil Nadu. So it is intriguing why India sponsored a Tamil militant group harbouring separatism in Sri Lanka if it did not want Tamil Nadu to separate?


India’s insincerity lay not so much in the initiation of an Accord that would provide substantial devolution to Tamils, but in simultaneously training Sri Lanka’s militants in the eventuality of the peace Accord failing.


Tamil Nadu politicos have also used the LTTE to their advantage. Senior members of the militant groups actually resided in Tamil Nadu, hosted by Tamil Nadu politicians; Uma Maheshwaran and Prabhakaran moved amongst the elite of south India. The then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran gave £3 million to the LTTE and £1 million to EROS for "refugee work" soon after the Sri Lankan Government's "Operation Liberation".


This was a crisis of strategic errors – of India in arming the LTTE and of LTTE in killing Rajiv Gandhi. Sri Lanka was asked to appease its mighty neighbour and told “there is no military solution” while in other parts of the world we saw US troops forcefully arrive in Iraq, Afghanistan, NATO troops take over Serbia and eventually create an independent Kosovo… but Colombo was told to go in for peace talks, ceasefires, peace facilitators and what not despite gruesome attacks by LTTE…


Still, it was Sri Lanka that built a memorial to the soldiers of the Indian Peace Keeping Force inside the Palaly high security zone. The memorial honours 33 men of the elite 10 Para Regiment (Commando), who were cremated there after they lost their lives in operations in the Northern Province between 1987 and 1989.


(Based on an article written in 20008, but still relevant in the present scenario)

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