By Rajan Hoole –
The Indo-Lanka Accord and Sri Lanka’s Fault Lines: July 1987 – Part – 6
There is still a lack of clarity about the arrival of a large contingent of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka. Mrs. Bandaranaike, the SLFP, MEP and their extremist allies held that the arrival of the Indian troops was an attack on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and a manifestation of Indian expansionism. In theory, the implementation of the Accord only required a small contingent of Indian troops as observers to oversee the surrender of arms by Tamil groups and the setting up of the Interim Council. It then seemed inconceivable that the LTTE would cause serious problems that would plunge the Tamil people into a crisis after securing a political settlement that was unimaginable only a few months earlier. There was also no purpose in India forcing Sri Lanka to accept the stationing of a large number of Indian troops on a temporary basis for an unspecified goal and with no legal foundation.
Ronnie de Mel, who was then Finance Minister, said at a meeting in Eheliyagoda on 1st November 1988, supporting Mrs. Bandaranaike for president, that Jayewardene had asked the Indian Government for 3000 Indian troops after consulting his service chiefs. This he did because he was in a difficult position owing to anticipated violence in the South. This assessment on Jayewardene’s part is also implicit in the discussions recorded in former Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit’s Assignment Colombo.
The question about Indian troops was posed to Hector Abhayawardana, a leading member of the LSSP, which supported the Accord. He responded, “The Indian troops came here at Jayewardene’s request. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Jayewardene was unhappy about India pushing him to reach a political solution. But in July 1987 he recognised that he could not face problems on three fronts – the SLFP and allies, the JVP, and the LTTE. That is why he asked for Indian troops to look after the North-East.”
He described the SLFP’s position on the matter as sheer opportunism and acknowledged that during the 1971 JVP insurgency when his party and the Communist Party were in a coalition government with the SLFP, Indian troops had guarded key installations in Sri Lanka. He added, “India then offered to help us and we and the Communist Party urged Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike to get all the help she could. We had no problem about getting help from India. In allying with the JVP in July 1987, the SLFP was not looking any further than bringing down Jayewardene.”
The same Indian Air Force flights which brought Indian troops to Palaly, transported Sri Lankan troops from Palaly to Colombo before flying back to India.
The Left and Other Pro-Accord Sections
The main Left parties – the LSSP, CP, NSSP and SLMP – and several activist groups in Colombo such as the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality and individuals such as Godfrey Goonetilleke, to their credit, supported the Accord publicly for the political solution it offered the ethnic question. The price they paid for this principled position was to become isolated and be subject to death threats and the patriotic venom of the JVP. The CP, LSSP, NSSP and SLMP contested the first Provincial Council elections in the seven Southern provinces in April 1988 as the United Socialist Alliance.
Several of their members were killed by the JVP, notable among whom were Vijaya Kumaratunga, leader of the SLMP and George Rajapakse, a respected Communist from Galle. We shall examine later the murder of Kumaratunga on 16th February 1988. The courage shown by them in defying the JVP’s terror and standing up to their political principles has earned them an honoured place in the annals of a very dark period. It had its price too as in all such human situations.
In order to discuss arrangements for their security, these pro-Accord forces had to co- operate at some level with a State that they had been uncomfortable with throughout their political life. Several of them had links at varying levels with state-sponsored paramilitary groups that hunted the JVP. The result was a tragedy the Left never recovered from. There was a new cynicism in this country’s political life. The moral high-ground in politics ceased to exist. It was like the democracy in ancient Greece after the Peloponnesian War that drove the young idealist Plato to become disillusioned with democracy and lay the theoretical groundwork for totalitarianism. To recall Lionel Bopage’s words to the JVP leadership, “Such an ultra-left course of action will bring incalculable harm and destruction to the Sri Lankan socialist revolution.”