Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Botched JVP Hit on Rajiv Gandhi Revisited

by Sachi Sri Kantha

To recapitulate, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed on July 29, 1987, and the very next day the JVP targeted Rajiv Gandhi in public view. If the JVP had accepted that Agreement which was conceived in secrecy, why was Rajiv Gandhi targeted? Technically, one must note that the LTTE leadership accepted the pledge of Rajiv Gandhi and his handlers (even with reservations) and followed the terms of the Accord for two months.

It was a bizarre, one-of-a-kind demonstration (or, a botched mafia-grade hit – a more appropriate phrase, based on the botcher’s intention) which was executed on a visiting political leader to Sri Lanka. The prospective assassin was not a public Sri Lankan citizen, but a low-ranking member of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Of all the places in this globe, such an act could only have been enacted in Colombo. Before July 30, 1987, nothing of this sort had been recorded in 20th century history. Even during the 19 years which have lapsed since then, such a bizarre assassination attempt has not been repeated anywhere in this globe.

I refer to the botched JVP hit on the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Colombo. And the victim himself described his bizarre experience in Colombo with the categorical affirmative [“What is all this nonsensical speculation. Of course, I was hit.”] within an hour of the incident. This was in contrast to the statements made by the embarassed host, President Jayewardene [“Rajiv tripped a little and slightly lost his balance”].

For its degree of temerity and bizarre news value, this botched hit deserves a revisit, since at the moment two parties (namely the current JVP leadership, as well as the Indian gumshoes who came to promote the JVP’s rebirth in the post-Rohana Wijeweera phase) pretend with a straight face as if this 1987 attack never happened.

Initial Reports

Recently, I checked the LexisNexis database for the initial reports of this Rajiv Gandhi assault incident. Here are four which provided substantial details on the incident :

(1) Victoria Graham: ‘Honor Guardsman Strikes Indian Leader with Rifle’, Associated Press, New Delhi, July 30, 1987; (687 words).

(2) Dilip Ganguly: ‘Indian Prime Minister hit by Guard’, Associated Press, New Delhi, July 30, 1987; (583 words).

(3) Anonymous: ‘Rajiv Gandhi’s assailant to face court martial in Sri Lanka’, Xinhua News Service, Colombo, Aug.3, 1987; (127 words).

(4) Anonymous: ‘Mother calls son’s attack on Gandhi ‘regrettable act’, Associated Press, Colombo, Aug.5, 1987; (277 words).

The descriptions provided in these four initial reports are worth recapitulation for the details offered (and omitted), as well as for their coverage angles of the incident. Of special relevance were the impressions provided by the victim of the assault, Rajiv Gandhi. Hence, I provide these below.

Victoria Graham (July 30, 1987) for Associated Press:

“A Sri Lankan honor guardsman clubbed Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with an unloaded rifle Thursday during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Colombo. Gandhi, who ducked and fended off the blow, said he suffered only ‘a lump’ on one shoulder.

The attack occurred in the Sri Lankan capital as Gandhi reviewed 72 white-uniformed sailors before returning to New Delhi. The Sinhalese assailant apparently was incensed at the previous day’s signing of an Indian-brokered peace pact designed to end Sri Lanka’s four-year-old civil war between the island’s Sinhalese majority and Tamil guerrillas.

The United News of India news agency called it an ‘assassination attempt’, but Gandhi declined to endorse that interpretation, telling journalists they could decide for themselves what to call it. Gandhi, who ducked and held up his arms for protection, told reporters on the plane home: ‘It was something. I was clobbered on the left shoulder, a little below the ear’Many Sri Lankan Sinhalese have been enraged by India’s support for Tamil militants, who have offices in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state. Tamils, most of whom are Hindus like the vast majority of Indians, form 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 16 million. They say they are discriminated against by the Sinhalese Buddhists, who control the government and the armed forces.

A film clip shown on Indian television showed clearly that the sailor attacked Gandhi. Even so, Sri Lankan President Junius R.Jayewardene originally told reporters that the guard fainted and inadvertently dropped his gun on the visiting leader. But on Sri Lankan television Thursday night, Jayewardene appealed for the people to accept the peace accord and apologized to Gandhi ‘for the insult that was offered to him in the morning’. The state-run TV then showed the attack on Gandhi and repeated it in slow motion.

The sailor was overpowered by Gandhi’s security men and taken away. Police later identified him as 26-year old Wijayamunige Rohana. He was under arrest in Colombo, but there was no immediate word on what charges he might face. Witnesses, including Associated Press journalists and photographers, said Rohana struck out with the butt of his assault rifle, stepping toward Gandhi and swinging it at him. Many said it appeared to be a spontaneous expression of anger. A bayonet was affixed to the weapon. Sri Lankan military officials said all weapons of ceremonial honor guards are unloaded and do not have firing mechanisms.

Gandhi, returning from Colombo, gave reporters this account: ‘As I was inspecting the guard of honor and walked past one person at one point, I saw some movement…A man reversed his rifle at me and hit my shoulder and head… I sort of ducked in a reflex action. By my ducking down, he (the sailor) missed my head and the brunt of the blow came on my shoulder below the left ear’ [Note: dots, as in the original]

He pointed to his neck and said, ‘You can see a lump’. The blow appeared to stagger him, but immediately after the attack, Gandhi declared; ‘I am absolutely all right. Can’t you see I am not hurt?’ a smiling, joking Gandhi told about 600 people who had gathered to welcome him at New Delhi’s Palam airport. ‘Do you want me to take off my clothes and show you?’ he quipped.

The Sinhalese took to the streets Tuesday and Wednesday to violently protest the peace plan, which Gandhi and Jayewardene signed Wednesday. The Sinhalese contend the accord makes too many concessions to Tamils, the most militant of whom demand a separate nation. At least 40 people were killed in the two days of anti-India and anti-government rioting, the government announced.

One of the provisions of the accord that has angered many Sinhalese is the deployment of more than 3,000 Indian soldiers in Sri Lanka as a peace keeping force and to disarm Tamil militants, who were not formal partners in the peace accord.

Gandhi’s mother and predecessor, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by Sikh terrorists in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi escaped an assassination attempt on Oct.2, 1986, when a Sikh extremist shot at him with a homemade pistol.”

Dilip Ganguly (in July 30, 1987) for Associated Press:

Ganguly’s report included segments Rajiv Gandhi’s quips provided by Victoria Graham. The additions in Ganguly’s report were as follows:

“…Associated Press photographer Sondeep Shankar, who was at the scene, said the blow staggered Gandhi. The guard, who was not identified, was overpowered and dragged away struggling by Gandhi’s security guards.

Word of the assault spread quickly, and hundreds of supporters from Gandhi’s Congress Party turned up at the airport in New Delhi to greet him. ‘Long Live Rajiv Gandhi’, they shouted, and presented him with a scarf and sacred thread as a token of good luck. President Ramaswami Venkataraman of India said in a statement, ‘Thank God that you have not been injured. Such are the hazards of waging peace.’”

Xinhua News Service (in Aug.3, 1987) from Colombo:

“The Sri Lankan naval rating who hit Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi with the butt end of his rifle at Gandhi’s departure ceremony on July 30 will possibly be brought before a court martial. The incident occurred when Gandhi was leaving Sri Lanka after signing the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord to end the island nation’s ethnic conflict. The 22-year old assailant, identified as Vijayamuni Vijitha Rohana de Silva, joined the navy two years ago. He comes from a family where a brother is in the army and a sister in the airforce. Indian security authorities have questioned the suspect in the presence of the local authorities. The Sri Lankan Navy as well as the police criminal investigation department are conducting investigations into the matter.”

Associated Press (in Aug.5, 1987) from Colombo:

“The mother of the Sri Lankan sailor who attacked the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi last week apologized Wednesday and begged forgiveness for ‘the rash, hot-blooded act’. ‘This was most insulting and I am ashamed to address this to you’, Nandawathie Mendis, the mother of nine children, wrote in a letter to Gandhi. Her message was released by the Indian High Commission after her son, an honor guard sailor, struck Gandhi with his rifle butt as the Indian prime minister inspected the troops last Thursday.

‘I cannot conceive how my son behaved this way’, Mrs.Mendis wrote. ‘You were an honored guest of our country, helping us achieve peace and harmony and you were so shamefully treated by a son of mine.’

The guard, Wijemunige Rohana de Silva, smashed the butt of his unloaded rifle on Gandhi’s neck and shoulder at a farewell ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Gandhi was in Sri Lanka to sign a peace accord aimed at ending the four-year civil war between the government, composed primarily of members of the island’s Sinhalese majority, and the minority Tamil separatists. More than 6,000 people have been killed.

‘You are full of compassion, understanding and mercy and will forgive this rash hot-blooded act of a youth who was swayed by the ethnic situation of the past years,’ Mrs.Mendis wrote. A senior military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the sailor was likely to be court-martialed but there was no indication of the extent of punishment. ‘I fervently hope and pray that I could have my son back with me in the near future,’ Mrs.Mendis said, adding that her 26-year old son is the family’s only breadwinner.”

There seems to be some discrepancy in the family details and the age of the botcher, Rohana de Silva. While the Aug.3rd news report stated that two of his siblings were also in the Sri Lankan armed services, the Aug.5th news report mentioned that he was the ‘family’s only breadwinner.’

Time magazine, in its cover story (Aug.10, 1987), provided only a skimpy three sentence description of what happened to Rajiv Gandhi on July 30, 1987. To quote Time magazine’s reportage, “As the Prime Minister strode past the white-uniformed men of a Sri Lankan naval honor guard, one of the sailors suddenly broke ranks and swung at Gandhi with the butt of his rifle. The Prime Minister ducked and received only a glancing blow on the back of his neck and left shoulder. But if he escaped serious injury in the incident, for which the Sri Lankan government quickly apologized, the Prime Minister must have realized how much strife and distrust had been aroused by the pact he had just initialed – and how uncertain were its chances of success.” [p.7] This description was supplemented with the frontal view photo of Rajiv Gandhi leaning  forward and ducking to deflect the full force of the ‘about-to land’ rifle butt.

At the present moment, for understandable reasons of political prudence, neither the Indians nor the Sinhalese wish to be reminded of why Vijithamuni Rohana de Silva (a Sinhalese naval rating) attacked Rajiv Gandhi. Obviously, Indians were humiliated and that assassination attempt was a rude reality-check for the gung-ho spirit of the self-gloating India’s bureaucrats who were salivating to harvest much political mileage for their diplomatic triumph in Sri Lanka. Colombo’s political bigwigs of the day were embarassed beyond belief because they had been exposed by a slick operator as 'having no clothes' like the emperor in the Hans Christian Anderson story. Nevertheless, it is no secret that not an insignificant number of Sinhalese protesters (including some of the Cabinet ministers who publicly opposed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord) would have silently gloated over Rajiv Gandhi’s mishap.

J.R. Jayewardene’s Blatant Fibs

The Indian humiliation and the Colombo embarassment was instantly recorded on camera and transmitted via the newswire services. Despite such an evidence, that President Jayewardene (always blessed with the gift to lie with a straight face) delivered an instant fib about the sailor suffering a sunstroke was a good illustration of how deceitful Sinhalese politicians are.

Six years later, a more-senile Jayewardene had the nerve to gobble the facts and live in his delusions, as recorded in the Jain Commission Report subsequently.

“In a report published in the Times of India dated 27.11.1993, President Jayewardene expressed his mind defending the IPKF’s role. He expressed: ‘Rajiv had none of the inhibitions of his mother. He was public school educated and open about things – very much like me. He liked me because I spoke my mind. What I had to say, I said. So he got to like me very much. Mrs.Thatcher once told me that Rajiv had told her no leader had conceded as much to the Tamils as Jayawardene. That is why he signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement with me. How could anybody go any further? And all the terrorist groups accepted the Agreement. Only one man – Prabhakaran broke it.” [Jain Commission Report, vol.VIII, chapter II, paragraph 21.3]

Truly? Jayewardene was one major Sri Lankan politician who would never allow facts to disturb his deluded fantasies, for the benefit of bad-mouthing Pirabhakaran.

To recapitulate, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed on July 29, 1987, and the very next day the JVP targeted Rajiv Gandhi in public view. If the JVP had accepted that Agreement which was conceived in secrecy, why was Rajiv Gandhi targeted? Technically, one must note that the LTTE leadership accepted the pledge of Rajiv Gandhi and his handlers (even with reservations) and behaved well for two months.

But not the JVP. Not only the JVP, the leading Sinhalese opposition party, the SLFP, and even some prominent members of Jayewardene’s Cabinet (especially Prime Minister Premadasa and the Minister of National Security Lalith Athulathmudali) were opposed to this Accord, even before it was signed. To quote a Newsweek magazine report,

“Premadasa, an ultranationalistic Sinhalese, was so deeply opposed to the Sri Lankan-Indian accord that the final cabinet decision to sign the treaty was taken while he was on a trip to Japan. When he returned, he boycotted the signing ceremonies in Colombo. Premadasa’s chief opponent will almost certainly be Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the country’s prime minister from 1960 to 1965 and again from 1970 to 1977, who, if anything, is even more outspoken in her opposition to the treaty.” [‘A National Sigh of Relief’, Newsweek, Oct.3, 1988, p.11]

Four printed versions of that botched hit on Rajiv Gandhi

On the JVP’s botched hit on Rajiv Gandhi, I could gather four versions (as recorded by two Indians and two Sri Lankans) in published books. These have been presented by (1) Sonia Gandhi - an eye-witness, (2) J.N. Dixit - the chief Indian organizer of that embarassing visit by the Indian prime minister, (3) Kingsley Silva - a Sri Lankan historian/Jayewardene biographer, and (4) Rohan Gunaratna – a Sri Lankan intelligence analyst. The presented (as well as omitted) details in the re-telling of that botched JVP hit on Rajiv Gandhi in each of these four versions are mutually exclusive. As such, to comprehend a panoramic angle of what happened on July 30, 1987 in Colombo and its consequences, the descriptions of Sonia Gandhi, Dixit and Gunaratna are vital.

Chronologically, Sonia Gandhi’s reminiscence appeared first, in 1992. This was followed by Rohan Gunaratna’s analysis of the JVP connection, in 1993. In 1994, Silva made only a passing mention to this incident in his hagiography of J.R.Jayewardene, since Jayewardene’s immediate obfuscation of the details was embarassing to the Sinhalese. De Silva’s omissions vividly exposed his pro-Sinhalese bias. In 1997, J.N. Dixit was able to provide a fuller account, following the deaths of Sinhalese politicians Gamini Dissanayake (in 1994) and J.R.Jayewardene (in 1996), who had been chiefly instrumental in the signing of the doomed Indo-Sri Lankan Accord.

Sonia Gandhi in 1992

“The [Indo-Sri Lanka] Agreement aroused resentment among a section of the Sinhala community. On 30 July [1987] in Colombo, while Rajiv was inspecting a farewell Guard of Honour, a naval rating stepped out and struck him with his rifle butt. Rajiv sensed the blow and ducked. It barely missed his head but he took its full force on his left shoulder.

It all happened so suddenly that few people present were aware of what had occurred. Rajiv continued with the ceremonial function, and was attended to only when we were air-borne. For a very long time after he could not move the shoulder freely or sleep on his left side.”

[ Sonia Gandhi; Rajiv, Viking Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1992, p.125]

Rohan Gunaratna in 1993

“As Rajiv Gandhi was about to depart for India, he was invited by the Commander of the Navy, Ananda Silva, to inspect a guard of honour. Gandhi obliged. As he was moving past the men, something totally unexpected happened. Vijithamuni Rohana de Silva, a naval rating from the South, suddenly lifted his rifle and brought it onto the visiting Prime Minister of India. Neither Ananda Silva nor Gandhi’s security men responded fast enough either to push Gandhi away from the sailor, or to immobilize the attacker. [foot note 1: Film clip and photographs taken by the media covering the entire Gandhi visit clearly show no reaction to save Gandhi or to counter attack the sailor.] Fortunately, Rajiv Gandhi’s quick reflexes – something which he had probably sharpened in his days as a pilot – came to his rescue: he ducked almost instantaneously, averting head injury which, in worst case, could have killed him; he was instead hit and badly bruised around the neck and the shoulders.

The plan within a Navy cell was to kill Rajiv Gandhi. The nineteen year old naval rating was to hit Gandhi on the head and make him fall, and then the two men on either side of the first attacker were to strike him with their ceremonial bayonets. [foot note 2: Based on a confession the naval rating made at the CID headquarters to another detainee.] But for some unknown reason, the other two men refrained from going into action during the assault – if they did, Gandhi could have suffered serious injuries, and could have died. This sinister plan has hitherto been kept a secret. During the court martial that followed, Vijithamuni stated that he thought that the Accord would make Prabhakaran the leader of the northeast, and he would have to honour Prabhakaran in the same way he was ordered to honour Rajiv Gandhi. However, Vijithamuni did not serve his full sentence – he was released under a general amnesty after Premadasa became the President. [foot note 3: When Vijithamuni was released by Premadasa, the Indians were naturally unhappy. They concluded that this was another confirmation of their suspicion that Premadasa was anti-Indian by conviction.”

[Rohan Gunaratna; Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka – the Role of India’s Intelligence Agencies, South Asian Network on Conflict Research, Colombo, 1993, p.193].

Kingsley M. de Silva in 1994

“Rajiv Gandhi himself narrowly escaped serious injury, if not death itself, when an enraged sailor swung his rifle butt at him at the guard of honor ceremony prior to his departure from Colombo on 30 July. Pictures of the assault on the Indian Prime Minister were flashed around the world in newspapers and on television screens.”

[ Silva and Howard Wriggins; J.R.Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, vol.2 (1956-1989), Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books, London, 1994, p.645]

J.N. Dixit in 1997

“Rajiv Gandhi was to depart from Colombo around 10:30 am. We had received reports that resentment and disaffection against the accord had reached new heights. We felt that Rajiv Gandhi should avoid physical proximity with Sri Lankan armed forces personnel during the departure ceremonies.

When Rajiv Gandhi returned from his morning meeting with Jayewardene, some of us made the suggestion that he should just take the salute of the guard of honour from the dais and not inspect the troops lined up because of two reasons. First, we were not quite sure whether the guns being held by the soldiers in the combined guard of honour were really without ammunition.Secondly, the guard of honour was arranged in an area which had buildings from where the Prime Minister could be targeted. Rajiv Gandhi dismissed our suggestion saying that he would not be seen as being afraid.

We proceeded to the ceremony which evolved into a tense drama and barely escaped becoming a national tragedy for India. Rajiv mounted the saluting dais, the two national anthems were played, the combined guard presented arms and the Prime Minister proceeded to inspect the guard of honour accompanied by the Chief of Naval Staff of Sri Lanka. As Rajiv was going to get into his car immediately after inspecting the guard with a brief farewell to Jayewardene, members of the delegation and other officials were asked to proceed to their respective cars in advance and get into them so that the car-cade could proceed to the Galle Face beach helipads.

Hardeep Puri and I walked down the lane where the cars were parked, as Rajiv Gandhi commenced his walk down the red carpet adjacent to the front row of the guard. We had walked out about 30 yards down the lane when we heard a commotion behind us. A couple of Sinhalese with their lungis tied up above their knees were running away from the Square where the guard of honour was being held, with fear and panic writ large on their faces. One of them was shouting something in Tamil. I asked him what had happened. He said something had happened to the Prime Minister of India and there was going to be shooting. My private secretary T.D.Aggarwal came running down the street after the Sinhalese with equal panic to tell me: ‘The Prime Minister has been hit or he was shot at by one of the soldiers in the guard of honour’.

Hardeep and I rushed back to find Rajiv Gandhi calmly standing with Sonia Gandhi beside him, looking tense and not conversing with Jayewardene as his official limousine was being lined up for his departure. I found a very distraught Gamini Dissanayake standing near the VIP group. To my anxious query, he replied that he did not exactly know what happened, but some member of the guard of honour had apparently fallen out of line and disturbed the Prime Minister’s inspection. But this time Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi had got into their cars and the cars started moving down.

I approached Jayewardene and asked him what the commotion was about. He looked me coolly in the eye and said: ‘Nothing serious. Rajiv Gandhi tripped a little and slightly lost his balance as he was reaching the last group of soldiers in the guard of honour’. As we rushed back to our cars, an Indian TV journalist told me that one of the Sri Lankan soldiers had tried to hit Rajiv Gandhi with his rifle butt, as he was reaching the end of front rows of the guard. I was quite tense as the cavalcade had to pass through Sri Lankan military personnel for about two kilometres before reaching the helicopters.

None of us knew whether it was an isolated act of violence or whether it was a well organised conspiracy, whether Rajiv Gandhi would be attacked again by army personnel lining the route or in the helicopter. One thing I noticed was the palpable tension in Sonia Gandhi’s face before she got into the car, though her demeanour was one of total control. The convoy moved at its normal pace despite the tension. The only change in the programme was that the couple of helicopters carrying Rajiv Gandhi’s security personnel went ahead, taking Chidambaram and Seshan to the airport in advance. They had witnessed the incident and wanted to be absolutely sure that Rajiv Gandhi’s special air craft was totally sanitised before he arrived for the take-off.

By the time the helicopter carrying me landed at the airport, the entire Prime Ministerial party had already got into the plane. The plane was supposed to take off immediately but noticing that he had not said good-bye to me, Rajiv had ordered a delay in the take-off till I arrived, characteristic of his fine sense of courtesy even after having been subjected to a murderous attack.

I met Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel at the foot of the ramp of the aircraft. He was a little more forthcoming to my natural question. He said that some Sri Lankan soldier from the guard of honour had tried to ‘push’ Rajiv Gandhi.

On getting into the aircraft I found Sonia Gandhi seated in tense quietude. I walked up to Rajiv Gandhi and apologised for not reaching in time to bid him farewell. I put the burning question to the one person who could give the correct answer. Rajiv Gandhi had taken off his Bandgala and was in the act of removing his bullet proof vest when I brought up the incident. He smiled ruefully and said ‘What is all this nonsensical speculation. Of course, I was hit’. He pulled down his shirt and vest from his shoulder and said, ‘Mani, have a look’.

There were big blue welts a little away from the base of his neck and on the shoulder blade and on the flesh at the back of his shoulder. He put back his shirt, shook me by the hand and said: ‘Don’t worry. You and your colleagues have done a difficult job wonderfully. Such things keep happening.’

I came down the plane in a daze. On my return, I made detailed inquiries about the incident, and found out that a naval rating in the front row of the guard had reversed his rifle, held it by its barrel and swung it with full strength at the base of Rajiv Gandhi’s neck with the intention of breaking his neck and the spinal cord. It was Rajiv’s excellent side vision and agility which saved him. He apparently detected the unusual movement, saw the rifle being swung and moved away deflecting the blow to less vulnerable portions of his neck and shoulder. The Sri Lankan Chief of Naval Staff had dropped his sword and grappled with the assailant, pinning him down.

The news that Rajiv Gandhi had been attacked became public by mid day. President Venkararaman’s apt comment on ‘the dangers of waging peace’ put the official seal on the information about this attempted but failed murder. I found Jayewardene’s obfuscatory remark curious. He would have perhaps held onto his version of the incident but for the fact that the entire incident was captured, second by second, by the television cameras, particularly of Asia News International. I remained tense for days after the incident, ruminating on the danger to the Prime Minister that I had contributed to by endorsing his decision to come to Sri Lanka. The incident in many ways presaged the faulty progress of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, despite all the good intentions with which it was signed by Rajiv Gandhi.”

[J.N.Dixit; Assignment Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Bookshop, Colombo, 1998, pp.174-177]

To be fair by Dixit, in the last paragraph of his recollections of the 1987 hit on Rajiv Gandhi, he had aptly summarised the incident and its impact.

  1. It was an “attempted but failed murder.”
  2. President Jayewardene, as his wont, was a master of obfuscation in many serious issues. He demonstrated this to Dixit and his coterie in this particular incident as well.
  3. The hit on Rajiv Gandhi also proved clearly that it was the Sinhalese who first raised vehement opposition to the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, even before the signatures of the two leaders had dried on the Agreement paper.

The Punishment

A little less than four months after the incident, the purported assassin was sentenced by a Sri Lankan military court. To reproduce the news report which was filed by the Associated Press, from Colombo on November 20,1987:

“A military court Friday sentenced a Sri Lankan sailor to six years in prison for attacking Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with his rifle butt. The court acquitted Vijayamuni Vijitha Rohana, 22, on the original charge of attempted murder, and convicted him on a lesser charge of ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.

Rohana swung at Gandhi and hit him with his rifle butt while the Indian leader was inspecting an honor guard in Colombo on July 30. The attack came a day after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord aimed at ending the Tamil ethnic conflict. The court also ordered the sailor be ‘disgracefully dismissed’ from the Sri Lankan navy for violating good naval conduct.

Rohana has a right to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court, officials at the military court said. Rohana, dressed in a white and blue naval uniform, stood solemnly while the verdict was read out after the 12-day trial. His mother and other relatives were present at the court. The trial was conducted at a naval base in Welisara, on the northern outskirts of Colombo city.” [Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, Nov.22, 1987].

By the time of the verdict, the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was in tatters. The Indian army, which had landed in Eelam with good intentions as protectors of Tamils, was engaged in fighting with the LTTE.


Contrary to what has appeared in the works of Indian authors, it should be stressed that LTTE’s opposition to the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement came after two months [August and September 1987] of tolerance, which was insulted by (1) the bungling deeds and shenanigans of the Indian diplomats (including that of Dixit), Indian military personnel and gumshoes who had set foot in the Eelam locales, and (2) simultaneously orchestrated, wily manipulations of three UNP politicians [Prime Minister R.Premadasa, Minister of National Security Lalith Athlathmudali, and Minister of Lands and Irrigation Gamini Dissanayake] who had then become Presidential aspirants, to replace the senile Jayewardene.

Though to the inquisitive media on July 30, 1987, Rajiv Gandhi dismissed the physical infirmities caused by the attack [so as “not be seen as being afraid”, in Dixit’s description] as nothing more than a ‘lump’ in the neck, Sonia Gandhi divulged the damage caused to her husband in a terse sentence in 1992; “For a very long time after he could not move the shoulder freely or sleep on his left side.” And being the spouse, only she was entitled to know this bit of the secret.

Despite the fact that their then Prime Minister was criminally targeted by the JVP in Colombo, what did India’s gumshoes do? They soon developed cozy links with the JVP. I reproduce a paragraph from what Rohan Gunaratna described about this underground diplomacy, in his 1993 book;

“Even though the JVP of the 1980s and the early 1990s is perceived as an anti-India force, RAW kept in close touch with the JVP leadership after [Rohana] Wijeweera’s death. RAW sources assessing the framework of JVP’s anti-Indian bias in ‘Sri Lanka; A Lost Revolution? The Inside Story of the JVP’ by the author, stated that it was a tactical necessity. RAW acknowledged that they ‘had established significant links with the JVP’. An Indian diplomat Gurjit Singh who had established close connections with the JVP, told the author that the JVP slogan was ‘We are not against Indians but against India’. Subsequently over 400 JVP activists, who were being hunted down in Sri Lanka, were given accomodation in state run/assisted camps in South India. Subsequently Somawansa Amarasinghe, the new leader of the JVP received sanctuary in India. These developments also reflected RAW’s dual policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka.” [‘Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka: The Role of India’s Intelligence Agencies, Colombo, 1993, pp.339-340.]

Other sources also have validated these details as reliable. But, for tactical reasons, Dixit had been mum on the JVP thread of Indian involvement in Sri Lanka in his 1998 book. It is a case of either he knew about it and kept silent, or he was rather ignorant about the JVP thread handled by the RAW officials. If it is the former, then Dixit was peddling half-truths on the munificence of Indian diplomacy to Eelam Tamils. If it is the latter, Dixit was rather clueless about what was happening behind his back while he was India’s top dog in Colombo.