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Haksar on India's Sri Lanka Policy

The first section of the book deals with India extending support to Sri Lanka in 1971. India sent five frigates to seal off the approach to the Colombo harbour. Also military equipment was provided ---- 5000 troops, six helicopters and 250 India troops to guard the Katunayake airport.

Review of the Book of Prof. V. Suryanarayan and Dr. Ashik Bonofer By P.S. Ramachandran

The authors of the book under review are acknowledged authorities on Sri Lanka. Dr.V. Suryanarayan worked for over two decades with the Centre for South and South East Asian Studies—which he established. He was Visiting Professor in several Universities in USA, Sri Lanka and India. Winner of many international awards. He was part of an International Team that monitored the Presidential election in 1999.He is the author of seven scholarly books. On Sri Lanka Suryanarayan has few peers with his formidable knowledge and closeness with the main actors.


His co-author Dr.Ashik Bonofer is an authority and teaches International Relations in Madras Christian College. He has undertaken immense research on Sri Lanka.

Among the outstanding books of this year is Jairam Ramesh’s “Intertwined Lives—P.N.Haksar and Indira Gandhi”. Haksar was an eminent scholar, able diplomat and administrator par excellence .He was a leading strategic thinker of his age. The authors of the book under review have used Jairam Ramesh’s book as the peg to hang their thesis.

Haksar’s views on Sri Lanka were largely influenced by the thinking of a great diplomat Thomas Abraham who was our Ambassador to Sri Lanka.

This book is a clear and cogent delineation of India’s Sri Lanka policy and the evolution of polity and politics. Sri Lanka’s treatment of the Indian Tamil minority is accurately covered and the trauma and travails they have undergone captured effectively. The response and reaction of New Delhi to these developments are depicted clearly. Haksar’s responses are adequately highlighted.

Shri.M.Ganapathi.former Secretary,Ministry of External Affairs, in his brief Foreword has written,

“Haksar’s influence in the shaping of India’s policy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka was minimal.”Jairam Ramesh also confirmed this at the book launch.

There is a meaningful exchange of letters Haksar had with Thomas Abraham who was Indian Ambassador to Sri Lanka. Abraham, a great diplomat, had the interests of the safety, security and well being of the Tamils at heart and this rubbed on equally on Haksar. Haksar was largely influenced by Thomas Abraham .

Abraham put an end to two odious India-Sri Lanka Agreements of 1969 and 1974 as they were contrary to India’s policy towards Indian overseas. The Agreements were terminated on October 31,1981.

Prof.Suryanarayan’s contacts with the main dramatis personae helps in clearer understanding of how India’s Sri Lanka policy was shaped, resulting in the India-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987 and its consequences.

The first section of the book deals with India extending support to Sri Lanka in 1971. India sent five frigates to seal off the approach to the Colombo harbour. Also military equipment was provided ---- 5000 troops, six helicopters and 250 India troops to guard the Katunayake airport.

The next section deals with Haksar’s visit to Sri Lanka. Buddhist monks played a commanding and negative role in the country. One of the monks assassinated Prime Minister Bandaranaike. Sinhalese goons destroyed 200 temples. An important quote in the book is from Prof.Dharmadasa-- “If we talk about the culture of Sri Lanka in its entirety....it is rooted in the Indian tradition... the deep structure of Sri Lankan culture is Indian.”

One section is dedicated to the ethnic conflicts plaguing the island-state. Riots were engineered and encouraged by President Jayawardene deliberately attempting to destroy the economic foundations of the Tamils in the Capital city. Indira Gandhi appointed Shri.G.Parthasarathy as a Special Envoy to Sri Lanka. New Delhi decided to provide military training to Tamil militants and supply them with arms and ammunition enabling them to defend themselves. Contingency plans were drawn up to meet any emergency. However, a firm decision was taken that under no circumstances would India intervene in the internal conflict of Sri Lanka.

One section is devoted to the important role of RAW--(Research and Analysis Wing) in Sri Lankan affairs from 1983. RAW got in touch with TELO/EPRL and EROS.The LTTE is rightly described as a Frankenstein’s monster.

The assassination of Indira Gandhi was a major setback for the on-going Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka. With the arrival of Rajiv Gandhi the scene changed and G Parthasarathy was replaced by Romesh Bhandari. Government of India did not take part in the talks held in Thimpu but senior officials were present to provide clarification and other good offices. The Thimpu talks generated more heat than light.

One section discusses the role of Sri Lankan Tamils.On many issues,the Federal Party and the TULF had taken positions that harmed Indian interests. Influential Tamils supported the Government. They did not show an iota of sympathy to the suffering fishermen.

The authors analyse the India Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 which was diametrically opposed to what G.Parthasarathy stood for. It did not have a Sinhalese consensus. There were sharp differences within the Sri Lankan government.

The IPKF was a serious misadventure.The IPKF was fighting an unseen enemy amid an unsympathetic population. They returned from Sri Lanka without fulfilling the objective which the Rajiv Gandhi Government specified. When the soldiers returned Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi refused to receive them on the plea that IPKF had killed innocent Tamils.

India’s passive role in Sri Lanka after its bitter experience in “active” phase of the Accord and the LTTE’s assassination of Rajiv Gandhi resulted in making Tamil militants persona non grata in India. This led to India’s passive support to the elimination of LTTE in the Eelam war 2009.Sans doubt the Accord was conceived in haste, drafted badly and executed poorly.

An important point brought out by the writers is the need for the involvement of the Indian States in the formulation of foreign policy concerning relations with neighbouring countries.

Framers of the country’s neighbourhood policy will have to bear in mind the imperative need to bring about harmony and trust between the Centre and contiguous border States. India’s relations with several of its neighbours will have an immediate impact on these States.

Contending that “on several occasions, interests and sensibilities” of the States were not taken into consideration, the book gives two illustrations — bilateral treaties of 1964 and 1974 signed with Sri Lanka to settle the issue of 9.75 lakh stateless persons of Indian origin living in that country and an accord in 1974 on the ceding of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka.

India’s Sri Lanka policy was based on few assumptions, the prominent of which was that India was determined not to permit a military solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka.

Recalling how former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, as External Affairs Minister during the United Front government in 1996-97, got involved in West Bengal through Bangladesh in the successful finalisation of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996, the book contrasts this episode with Tamil Nadu where competitive politics, according to it, vitiated the political atmosphere surrounding India-Sri Lanka ties.

The book is compulsory reading for all students of South Asian politics and scholars dedicated to Indian Sri Lankan affairs.

The Author is a Retired Bank Official who reviews books on Politics and international Developments

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