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The Indo-LTTE War (1987-90)

An Anthology, Part 14
President Premadasa’s double-crossing maneuvers

by Sachi Sri Kantha, April 22, 2009

Another ploy of Premadasa, that soured his relationship with LTTE (later in 1989) was to treat LTTE as his sole negotiation partner initially, and later send feelers to EPRLF – India’s puppet regime that was installed in Trincomalee.

Part 1 of the series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
That President Premadasa was street-savvy and was a specialist in the political game of double cross became evident during the first three month’s of his tenure. A few examples that have been recorded in the published literature presented in this part indicate: (1) To gain the presidency Premadasa first made peace with his intra-party rivals Lalith Athlathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake by feeding false hopes to them as ‘prospective’ prime ministers in his Cabinet. Then, he dashed their hopes by anointing a lackluster guy D.B. Wijetunga as the prime minister, and announced that his prime ministers will have an annual short tenure. (2) To gain votes over his SLFP rival Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Premadasa promised a dole of $80 a month to 1.4 million ‘poorest families’ from the government coffer. After becoming President, he scaled down his pre-election promise to only 300,000 families ‘at present’. (3) Before election, Premadasa waved a friendly flag to JVP by focusing on their common enemy (the Indian Peacekeeping Force in the island) and overlooking their atrocities. Then in the post-election year of 1989, he used the armed forces and vigilantes of various tribes to break the spine of JVP and decapitated its leadership. Another ploy of Premadasa, that soured his relationship with LTTE (later in 1989) was to treat LTTE as his sole negotiation partner initially, and later send feelers to EPRLF – India’s puppet regime that was installed in Trincomalee.

R K Dhawan with Indira Gandhi  Pic: Sharad Saxena

Indira Gandhi and R.K. Dhawan

Presented below, for the part 14 of this anthology, are 13 news reports and commentaries that had appeared between February and April 1989. These cover the (1) Tamil Nadu state elections held on January 21, 1989 (two items that have been missed inadvertently in the previous part 13, (2) Sri Lankan parliamentary election held on Feb. 15, 1989, (3) Justice M.P. Thakkar commission report on the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the role of her aide R.K. Dhawan in the conspiracy, and (4) President Premadasa’s games of ‘double cross’. Also to note were the appearance of, Ranjan Wijeratne (as the high profile Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs) and Varatharaja Perumal (as the puppet stooge of India-installed EPRLF) in the Colombo stage and would remain in the public eye for the next two years.

One of India’s cottage industries from ancient times, it should be noted here, has been the production of political stooges. Even the current Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh qualifies as a perfect stooge. V.Perumal’s career ran in parallel to that of Afghanistan’s Soviet-India stooge Mohammad Najibulla (1947-1996), who was killed by the Taliban. Najibulla, while he ruled the roost for little more than five years from Nov. 1986 to April 1992 was supported by the India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) operatives. Similarly, Perumal was also a stooge installed by the RAW and RAW operatives helped him to flee the island shoreson March 10, 1990 with his wife and three children. Najibulla’s wife and his three daughters also lived in exile in New Delhi, after Najibulla was ousted by Taliban in 1992.

Even though one full year remained before the departure of Indian army from the island, the Time magazine [April 3, 1989] in a cover-story entitled ‘Super India: The Next Military Power’ carried a box feature that described Rajiv Gandhi’s military adventure in Sri Lanka as ‘a Case Study of a Disaster’. In this feature, reporter Ross H. Munro had partially profiled the peccadilloes of India’s intelligence agency RAW. Here are the 13 newsreports, in chronological order.

Edward Desmond: A Stinging Setback. Time, Feb. 6, 1989, pp. 30-31.

Bill Hewitt: Gandhi’s Last Stand? Newsweek, Feb.6, 1989, p. 13.

Anonymous: ‘A Decisive Mandate’. Asiaweek, Mar.3, 1989, pp. 20-26.

Anonymous: The Wages of War. Asiaweek, Mar.10, 1989, p. 55.

Anonymous: Second String. Asiaweek, Mar.17, 1989, p. 27.

Delhi Correspondent: A Confidential Agent. Economist, Mar. 25, 1989, pp. 38 & 40.

Sanjoy Hazarika; India released stinging report on Gandhi’s Death. New York Times, Mar.28, 1989.

Ross H. Munro: [box-story] Sri Lanka – Case Study of a Disaster. Time, Apr. 3, 1989, pp. 12-13.

Special correspondent in Male: All for the sake of a dance. Economist, Apr. 8, 1989, p. 40.

Bill Hewitt: A Swirl of Suspicion – A secret report on the Gandhi murder is released. Newsweek, Apr.10, 1989, p. 17.

Anonymous: Dashed Hopes for a Peace Plan. Asiaweek, Apr. 14, 1989, p. 31.

Barbara Crossette; Gandhi, His Luster Dimmed after 4 years, Faces Uncertain Political Future. New York Times, Apr. 22, 1989.

Edward Desmond; A Bleak Holiday Message: Playground of Black Cats and Yellow Leopards. Time, Apr. 24, 1989, p. 12.

A Stinging Setback: Gandhi and his Congress Party are dealt a blow in state elections

[Edward W. Desmond, Time, Feb. 6, 1989, pp. 30-31.]

The Prime Minister needed a victory. In the past three years, his ruling Congress (I) Party had lost six of ten state elections, to the point where it controlled fewer state governments than at any time since 1977. So the balloting last week in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which with a population of 55 million is India’s seventh largest, looked like a perfect opportunity for Rajiv Gandhi to turn the tide. The All-India Anna Dravide Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party, which had run the state for the past decade, was split following the death of Chief Minister and former film idol M.G. Ramachandran 14 months ago. Smelling victory, Gandhi made four trips to Tamil Nadu in three weeks, putting his reputation as a vote getter on the line.

When the results flowed into Madras last week, Gandhi was stunned: Congress had won only 26 of the 232 state assembly seats. Worse for the prime minister, the victorious Muthuvel Karunanidhi, 64, leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, is aligned with the National Front, a coalition of opposition parties formed last fall to stand against Gandhi in national elections later this year. Many viewed the Tamil Nadu election as a rehearsal for the national balloting. Said Karunanidhi: ‘Our victory will herald the victory of the National Front in the Lok Sabha election.’ Warned New Delhi’s daily Statesman: ‘Things are falling apart for Mr. Gandhi.’

There was open grumbling among the Congress rank and file. Said Chimanbhai Mehta, a member of the upper house of parliament: ‘The majority of Congress members is displeased with the leadership.’ Gandhi loyalists countered by pointing out that on the same day, the party won elections in two small northeastern states, Mizoram and Nagaland. They also argued that Congress’s fortunes in state contests usually have little to do with the outcome of national elections, in which the party and the Gandhi name are all but synonymous with governance.

Clearly, Gandhi’s advisers had misread the situation in Tamil Nadu’s complex political arena. The AIADMK had ruled the state for ten years under Ramachandran, but broke into two factions after he died. One group followed Jayalalitha, 40, Ramachandran’s lover on and off the screen, while a smaller segment lined up behind Janaki, 64, his wife. In November, however, party officials decided to pour their resources into the campaign after a privately commissioned poll showed that both factions had lost support and that Congress was running neck and neck with the DMK.

Congress strategists had also failed to take into account Karunanidhi’s excellent local organization as well as his resonant promises that he would look after the interests of his fellow Tamils, the ethnic group that dominates the state and has frequently been at odds with the central government in New Delhi over issues of language and state autonomy. The DMK won 146 of the 232 seats, while Jayalalitha’s faction wound up with 27 and Janaki’s group with only one.

The Tamil Nadu ballot kept a major state in the hands of opposition parties that are working together – though not always smoothly – under the aegis of the National Front. In addition to Tamil Nadu, the opposition now controls the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and the eastern state of Assam. The Janata Dal of National Front leader V.P. Singh, Gandhi’s most formidable rival for the prime ministership, holds sway in Karnataka in the south and Haryana in the Hindu heartland. Recent state elections show that Congress cannot match the strength of local parties, but it remains unclear whether these groups can coordinate their forces at the national level. Their views of India’s future often conflict – and personal animosities divide their leaders.

Throughout the campaign, Gandhi predicted that the ‘Front will pull in different directions’ - and he may be proved right. Singh’s favorite theme on the stump had been corruption in Congress’s ranks. Yet an opposition member of parliament, Subramanian Swamy, charged that Singh was turning a blind eye to misdeeds among his associates. Said he: ‘V.P. Singh accuses Gandhi of corruption, but he is silent about the corrupt elements in his own party.’

Congress has problems of its own, including the continued fallout from the 1986 Bofors scandal, in which Gandhi associates are widely believed to have taken millions of kickbacks from a $1.3 billion purchase of artillery for the army. Last week another scandal surfaced: a state high court found evidence to warrant the indictment of Arjun Singh, the Congress chief minister of Madya Pradesh, on charges that he received funds misappropriated from a lottery held to benefit child-welfare programs. The party’s leadership forced him to resign.

Questions about Gandhi’s popularity are prompting some Congress leaders to talk about a possible change at the top before parliamentary elections, which must be held by December. The Prime Minister has faced similar discontent before – and come out unscathed. Ultimately, the question remains: If not Gandhi, who? Despite the sting of last week’s defeat, few Congress politicians believe they can lose the next elections, though they admit the party may not be able to maintain its huge 397-seat majority in the Lok Sabha. They still doubt that the National Front will start cooperating effectively. [reporting by Subir Bhaumik/Aizawi and Anita Pratap/Madras]

*****

Gandhi’s Last Stand?

[Bill Hewitt, Newsweek, Feb. 6, 1989, p.13.]

The day was bright and crisp as Rajiv Gandhi mounted a reviewing stand in New Delhi. Surrounded by dignitaries and diplomats, the smiling prime minister watched soldiers, tanks, tribal dancers and singing children stream by in a parade marking the country’s 40th Republic Day. In truth, however, Gandhi has little cause for celebration these days. And unless his political fortunes suddenly and unexpectedly turn around, his job is in danger.

After taking power amid much praise four years ago, Gandhi has lately staggered from one crisis to another. Sectarian strife, allegations of impropriety and a host of political miscues have taken their toll. But now he seems to have touched a new low. Not only does he face rising regional discontent, but he must also contend with a virtual revolt within his own Congress Party. Last week, in what has become a familiar scenario, the party suffered a humiliating defeat in local elections in the province of Tamil Nadu. Given the fact that national elections must be held before the end of this year, there is growing realization that Gandhi faces a hard re-election campaign. In a recent editorial, the progovernment Times of India lambasted the prime minister for his lackluster performance. ‘It is not just that Mr Gandhi must share the blame for his party’s present predicament,’ the paper said. ‘He must, in fact, accept the lion’s share.’

The debacle in Tamil Nadu highlighted many of the problems that plague Gandhi and Congress. The election for the 234-seat provincial assembly boiled down to a battle between Congress and a regional party called the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Led by the charismatic Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who had been dismissed as chief minister by Indira Gandhi during her emergency rule in 1976, the DMK argued that Congress leaders are out of touch with the needs of the local inhabitants, most of whom are politically volatile Tamils.

Realizing that his forces were in trouble in the province, Gandhi launched an all-out campaign. He visited Tamil Nadu more than 12 times, addressing scores of rallies and often appearing in traditional Tamil dress. Several pro-Congress film stars were brought into woo voters, and Congress officials indulged in some blatant pandering: promises to provide cheap rice for the poor, as well as jobs for all who wanted them. In the end, none of it worked. Congress finished a distant third in the balloting, winning only 26 seats, while the DMK piled up 151 seats.

The defeat was only the latest in a series of similar setbacks for Gandhi. Over the past few years parties promoting regional interests have taken control of more than a half dozen provinces, a trend that poses a particular threat for Congress, which has always considered national unity the cornerstone of its political program. The trouble is that, in practice, national unity has generally meant domination by the mostly Hindi-speaking northern states, an arrangement that has bred deep resentment in the rest of the country. Now, to the alarm of Congress officials, it appears that the goal of establishing a strong central authority to govern India’s diverse ethnic mix may actually be unattainable. ‘The growth of regional parties measures the failure of the process of nation building, the failure to integrate regional aspirations with larger national goals,’ says Mohan Ram, a respected political columnist. ‘India lives at many levels politically and no single party can claim to speak for the whole country any more.’ Indeed, several of the regional parties have banded together to form a ‘National Front’ to challenge Gandhi in this year’s election.

Public Rejection: That prospect has stirred concern within Congress. Last week a senior official named Chimanbhai Mehta denounced what he called the party’s ‘feudal culture of loyalty’ and called for the creation of ‘an alternative’ to the current leadership. Gandhi promptly fired him. In several provinces where Congress retains control, local party bosses have caused considerable embarrassment by defying Gandhi’s authority. In one noteworthy case last month, dissidents in Bihar province publicly rejected Gandhi’s nominee for chief minister, and some local members threatened to beat up a team of emissaries dispatched by the prime minister to smooth things over. Gandhi would seem to be trapped in a classic Catch-22: to regain the confidence of his party, he must prove that he can appeal to the voters at large, but winning any kind of widespread popular support will be next to impossible without the strong backing of Congress powerbrokers. And although Gandhi’s opponents remain divided, as usual, even that may not be enough to save him this time. [Sudip Mazumdar/ New Delhi]

*****

Asiaweek March 13 1989

Sri Lanka: ‘A Decisive Mandate’

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar. 3, 1989, pp. 20-22.]

All over Sri Lanka campaign posters are being torn down – while funeral notices are going up. The country’s Feb.15 parliamentary elections, the bloodiest in its history, saw nearly a thousand candidates, party workers and ordinary citizens lose their lives. Yet more than 60% of the 9.4 million eligible voters braved the violence, bettering the 55% turnout in the almost-as-deadly presidential race two months ago. In polls that a ten-national monitoring group judged ‘free and fair in most areas,’ the people once again demonstrated their commitment to the electoral process – and apparent faith in their newly elected president, Ranasinghe Premadasa.

‘The voters have given [us] a decisive mandate,’ exulted the president. His ruling United National Party (UNP) won 125 of the 225 seats contested, a comfortable majority but well short of the two-thirds mandate he campaigned hard for. The party had an impressive 83% hold on the previous assembly elected in 1977. Former prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) lagged far behind with only 67 seats. Still, that was a dramatic increase from its mere eight in the old Parliament. The main opposition party then, the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), saw its seventeen seats whittled down to just ten, less than the former Tamil separatist guerillas from the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS). The ex-militants, calling themselves the Independent Group, snared thirteen places. The rest of the seats were divided among the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the United Socialist Alliance and a little-known leftist party called the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna.

With a new legislature dominated by the UNP, Premadasa must now turn to the daunting task of bringing back peace and prosperity to a country agonizingly riven by political and communal violence. After his Dec. 19 election he had promised to restore order and rebuild the shattered economy, but was hamstrung by the absence of a legislature. Former president Junius Jayewardene had dissolved Parliament in response to demands of the political opposition. Premadasa formed an interim cabinet and himself held ten portfolios. But three days after the parliamentary polls, he named a 22-member cabinet, retaining himself only the posts of defence, policy planning and Buddhist affairs. He has still to appoint a prime minister.

The frightening escalation of killings is unlikely to be stopped, however, just because a functioning democracy is in place. Indeed, the election itself spawned brutality of an unprecedented scale, blamed largely on the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Movement), a chauvinist group drawing support from the majority Sinhalese, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. The JVP is bitterly opposed to the presence of an Indian peacekeeping force in the country, which they charge is an affront to Sri Lankan sovereignty. Sent in after Jayewardene signed a peace pact with India in 1987, the troops have been kept an uneasy peace in Northeastern Province, where most Tamils live.

The violence aside, Sri Lanka’s latest election seems to confirm public support for Premadasa’s government. His narrow victory in the December polls – just 50.4% of the total votes cast to Bandaranaike’s 44.9% - had opponents questioning his mandate. While the loser went to the Supreme Court to protest the results, Premadasa busily built up credibility. He lifted in mid-January the state of emergency in force since 1983 and clipped the military’s draconian powers.

The government also claims the polls showed up public distaste for the JVP and the Tigers. Declared the president: ‘Those outside the democratic mainstream should now fully realize that the people have totally rejected the path of violence.’ With 100 oppositionists in Parliament – 23 of them Tamil representatives – the government hopes the agitation may now find a less violent channel. ‘The time has come for consensus and not confrontation,’ says Lalith Athulathmudali, national security minister in the last government and a hot favourite for the prime ministership in the present one.

But many Sri Lankans doubt if the call for national reconciliation will be heeded. It is not clear, for example, if the EROS winners will sit in Parliament. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, pushed through by the ruling party in 1983, requires all MPs to take an oath upholding the unitary state of Sri Lanka. And the SLFP itself may not provide a credible opposition. ‘The leadership of the party has not changed in the last 30 years,’ complains newly elected SLFP assemblyman Tilak Karunaratne. Bandaranaike’s husband Solomon founded the party in 1951 and her son, Anura, is reportedly in the running for the parliamentary title of ‘leader of the opposition’. During the campaign, the UNP had attacked the SLFP for being what it called ‘a Bandaranaike family heirloom.’

Yet the UNP and the SLFP had run on almost identical platforms. Both had promised the withdrawal of the Indian troops and abrogation of the 1987 Indo-Lankan pact, programs to ease poverty and a clean government. Premadasa pledged to grant the poor about $76 per family in monthly allowances. He also said he would invite the Tamil and Sinhalese extremists to peace talks, though there are indications he might be considering tougher measures. With a UNP-dominated Parliament, he is in a position to impose a state of emergency, which the Constitution says can only be done by the legislature on a month-to-month basis.

Analysts say the Tamils must first be won over before India’s peacekeeping force can be withdrawn. But the JVP, already resentful of what it perceives as the government’s caving into Tamil demands, can hardly be expected to be placated by such moves. Premadasa has also not specified where he will get the money to pay for his promised largesse. The problems ahead ‘may be too difficult,’ says an observer somberly, pointing to the ruined economy, ethnic conflicts and youth militancy. Other analysts are more optimistic. One takes hope in the fact that the new Parliament ‘has a better representation of the various groups – social and ethnic – than the previous one.’

At mid-week the government faced its first post-election challenge when the JVP called a one-day strike on Feb.21. Many markets and shops in Colombo and several provinces did not open, though the majority of government offices and banks functioned normally. Bombs were exploded in and around the capital and at least twelve people died. Diplomatic sources reckoned the latest outrage might force the government to finally use the iron fist to end what has for so long seemed an endless agony.

Abuses: Who’s to Blame?

Sirisena Guruge was getting ready to retire for the night when he heard an urgent knock on his front door. The young man standing outside begged to be let in. Guruge allowed him to stay and went to bed. He was soon awakened by the sound of gunfire. For the second time that night, there was loud rapping at his door. As he stepped out to see who it was, he was shot dead by a Sri Lankan soldier. The trooper had mistaken Guruge for his guest, a suspected member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), an extremist Sinhalese group. The youth, meanwhile, had escaped. Some 320 km away from the southern Sri Lankan village of Angunakolapelessa where the incident had taken place, a 76 year-old man was mowed down by an unknown gunman. The elderly villager had been loudly condemning the JVP’s bloodthirsty ways.

The killings point to a tragic aspect of Sri Lanka’s political turmoil: the real victims of the ongoing clashes between government forces and militant ethnic groups are innocent people, caught in the middle between the two. According to the Organisation for Peace and Democracy (OPD), a Colombo-based human rights and pro-democracy grouping, more than 700 people have disappeared in the past two months alone.

Activists accuse both sides of abusing human rights. Members and supporters of the ruling United National Party have been frequent targets of JVP hit-squads. Corpses of victims have been identified and put on display. But in recent months, guns have also been trained on the militants themselves. JVP members and suspected sympathizers have been shot dead, their bodies set alight with blowtorches or flaming rubber tyres. One social worker who visited southern Matara district last December counted seventeen corpses by the roadside. ‘Each had its face badly mutilated and many were completely charred,’ she recalled. The JVP blames the gruesome deaths on the paramilitary forces and on the People’s Revolutionary Red Army, a shadowy new outfit reportedly made up of Marxist elements. The government, however, has denied involvement in the killings.

As OPD officials see it, the situation has been made doubly dangerous by what one says is the ‘proliferation of weapons of all kinds’ in the country. For the recent presidential and general elections, candidates, MPs and certain government officials were issued guns for their protection. The JVP, for its part, has increased its armed muscle with weapons stolen from military and police depots. ‘This has led to thousands of people roaming the country dispensing their own justice,’ warns an OPD spokesman. In January, a controversial emergency law that gave security forces blanket powers to kill subversives was suspended. But such murders apparently continue. Two mutilated bodies found outside Colombo last week were later identified as those of student activists who had earlier protested against state terrorism.

*****

The Wages of War

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar. 10, 1989, p. 55.]

It is the classic contradiction of a developing country torn by war. While Sri Lanka pleads for development aid, a third of its budget is spent on fighting separatists of the Tamil minority and extremists among the dominant Sinhalese. At his inauguration in January, President Ranasinghe Premadasa pledged to turn swords into ploughshares. But after scores of people were killed in February’s nationwide polls, Colombo will probably be sharpening rather than scrapping its swords for some time.

The country has been hobbled by the five year-old civil war. Despire a $300-million World Bank loan, the economy grew a mere 1.5% last year – just keeping up with population – against a 5.5% annual average in the previous ten. Unrest in the run-up to December’s presidential election stalled shipments of tea, the principal crop (1987 exports: $360 million). A record harvest of well over 225 million kg was expected. But wildcat strikes in plantations, transport disruption and curfews imposed by Sinhalese radicals prevented produce from reaching factories and ports. Local tea brokers Forbes & Walker put the losses at more than $10 million in just three weeks. ‘Trade will take many months to recover,’ reckons Maxwell Perera, a Colombo broker. Meanwhile, drought cut overall agricultural production 6% last year, especially in rice and coconut areas.

The garment industry, the largest foreign-exchange earner ($430 million in 1987), is worried about missing shipments to the US and Europe due to unrest. It has expanded more than 13-fold since 1978. But in the last months of 1988 many plants suspended operations. Various industries have resumed work after violence diminished in the weeks after December’s polls. Agriculture Minister Lalith Athulathmudali told Asiaweek that recent problems were ‘only temporary – even tea will recover in April.’ But broker Perera maintains that normalcy will come only ‘if the situation really comes very quiet.’ So far that seems far from the case.

Certainly an irredeemable loser as long as there is civil unrest is tourism, once a $120-million-a-year industry. Extensive development of local facilities saw arrivals rise to more than 300,000 by 1983. The inflow has dwindled to a trickle of about 100,000, and spending is down to $50 million. The capital’s loss-making hotels are usually two-thirds empty. They have been forced to postpone payments on loans for the sixth year. In April 1988 Colombo began extending loans to establishments with less than 50% occupancy.

Last year Sri Lanka received $625 million from an aid consortium that included Japan, the US and European countries. This year the group and India pledged $500 million for reconstruction in the war-ravaged north and east. But they have been stalling, waiting for the Tamil-dominated provinces to settle down. Sociologist Edward Perera believes the cycle of violence has roots in economic hardship and could intensify as the economy deteriorates. President Premadasa wants to put the poorest Sri Lankans on the dole for two years and give each a lump sum to invest. But analysts in Colombo question whether the plan can get funding. Meanwhile, the violence continues.

*****

Second String

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Mar. 17, 1989, p.17.]

After the United National Party won a 25-seat majority in Sri Lanka’s Feb.15 elections, speculation turned to whom President Ranasinghe Premadasa would select as his prime minister. Powerful contenders, including high profile Food & Agriculture Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and Plantations Minister Gamini Dissanayake, had lobbied hard for the job. On March 3 Premadasa announced that Finance Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunge, 67, would get the prize. But there was a catch: the appointment is for only one year. By limiting the tenure, observers said, Premadasa has effectively devalued the post and blocked the emergence of a strong No. 2 in the ruling party.

Having six different PMs during the government’s six-year term, Premadasa explained, means ‘divisions on personal grounds will disappear and true leadership on merit will appear.’ The post is familiar to the new president, who served in it under his predecessor Junius Jayewardene from 1978 to 1988. Ironically, Premadasa had complained then that he lacked power. Now he has further weakened the premiership by hiving off the traditional role of House leader to another cabinet minister.

The new PM, a parliamentarian since the 1960s, resigned as a cabinet minister last year to become governor of the North-western Province. He was tipped as Premadasa’s man for PM when he stepped down in December to run in the parliamentary polls. Analysts said Wijetunge, who retains the finance portfolio, is not ambitious and should keep Premadasa safe from what one called an ‘internal party coup.’

The president had more pressing problems last week. Abandoning his conciliatory approach, he ordered the army to find and arrest Sinhalese extremists in the south, while Indian peacekeeping troops mounted an offensive against Tamil separatists in the north, killing 40 to 50 rebels.

*****

A Confidential Agent

[Delhi Correspondent; Economist, Mar. 25, 1989, pp. 38 & 40]

One of India’s charms is its habit of seeming, from time to time, to be the England of the 1930s. It has just produced an excellent specimen of the political thriller, a sort of early Graham Greene entertainment. A reader of the Indian press this month might conclude that the man behind the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi in October 1984 was her special assistant for more than a decade, Mr R.K. Dhawan – who, for added melodrama, was a few weeks ago brought back into Delhi’s circle of power by the murdered woman’s son and successor, Mr Rajiv Gandhi.

A commission of inquiry into the murder, set up on the instructions of Rajiv Gandhi, was entrusted to a Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Thakkar. Within weeks of starting his inquiries the judge wrote to the new prime minister voicing a suspicion that Mr Dhawan had been involved in the murder conspiracy. In his final report, a summary of which was published this month by two newspapers, Mr Justice Thakkar provided his reasons.

His suspicions, said the judge, had been aroused by a change in Mrs Gandhi’s appointments for the morning of the murder. This change gave one of the two Sikh assassins, Beant Singh, time to get to the wicket gate in her garden where the other assassin, Satwant Singh, was posted, before she passed through it on her way to the appointment. The judge concluded that only Mr Dhawan could have made the change. He also found that an order issued on June 19 1984 (two weeks after the Indian army had stormed the Sikh’s Golden Temple) to remove Sikh members of her bodyguard from duty at vulnerable places had been cancelled, probably by Mr Dhawan.

The suspected man made things look worse by first telling the police that Mrs Gandhi had told him to change the time of the interview, but later claiming that he knew of no change. He also insisted that he had asked the police officials entrusted with her security not to post Sikhs at sensitive points, when they insist that he had told them the opposite.

It keeps the reader gripped, but does it stand up to the inspection of common sense? Mr Dhawan owed his career to Mrs Gandhi. Since 1984 he shows no signs of having benefited from her death, for instance by a sudden access of wealth. Realising that the assassination would be the subject of a vigorous examination, why did he not leave India as soon as possible after the funeral? Because, say the plot-chasers, he was sure he would be protected by the next prime minister. But how could he have known who the next prime minister would be? The only person who had the power to make that appointment was the president of India, who happened to be a Sikh. Thus Rajiv Gandhi becomes part of a Sikh plot to murder his own mother. Such is the election-year atmosphere in Delhi that some people are prepared to believe even this.

Mr Gandhi is partly to blame for his misfortune. He received the Thakkar report in 1986, but, instead of placing it before parliament, hurriedly amended the constitution to give the government the right to withhold reports of commissions of inquiry ‘in the public interest’. When things came out in the press, the government defended that decision by claiming that Mr Justice Thakkar himself had suggested that the report be suppressed. Its spokesman, however, added that another reason for not publishing the report was that it would have prejudiced the outcome of the investigation.

The opposition has accused the government of using its parliamentary majority to curtail the people’s right to know, and has offered to ‘fill the jails’ in a nationwide protest. On March 18th Mr Gandhi capitulated and promised to table the report when parliament reassembles after Easter. This has not produced the calm he presumably hoped for. Now people are saying he wants time to doctor the report.

*****

India released stinging report on Gandhi’s Death

[Sanjoy Hazarika; New York Times, Mar.28, 1989]

An official report on the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi says that a powerful aide overruled intelligence and security officials who had ordered the removal of Sikh policemen, including her eventual assassins, as a security threat. The disclosure came today when the Indian Government, after weeks of resistance, made public a report that attacked 'lack of commitment, lack of supervision and lack of follow-up action' among security officials who were supposed to protect the Prime Minister before her assassination in October 1984.

The report was completed in 1986, but kept secret to allow investigations to be completed. The report denounced the security officials for failing to discuss the reinstatement of the Sikh policemen with Mrs. Gandhi, saying such a move could have saved her life. But a key adviser to Mrs. Gandhi, Rajendra Kumar Dhawan, told the commission that Mrs. Gandhi herself had ordered the reinstatement of the Sikhs. Mrs. Gandhi apparently felt that such a move would strengthen her image after an army raid to oust Sikh extremists from a shrine in Punjab State in June 1984. Mr. Dhawan was ousted from his post by Mrs. Gandhi's son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, but was reinstated last month.

Cleared of All Charges: The Government says the police have investigated the commission's suspicion that Mr. Dhawan played a vital role in the conspiracy against Mrs. Gandhi but have cleared him of all charges. Home Affairs Minister Buta Singh added to the mystery of the situation by telling Parliament that the police had uncovered a larger conspiracy in the assassination. Mr. Singh said legal action would be taken soon in the case but did not elaborate.

The head of the investigating commission, Justice M. P. Thakkar, described Mr. Dhawan's responses to questioning on the assassination as unreliable and said that the 'needle of suspicion significantly points to his complicity or involvement.' The judge cited the manner in which Mr. Dhawan purportedly delayed a television interview by half an hour on the day of the assassination, a delay that enabled the Sikh guards to swap duties with other personnel and be in striking range of Mrs. Gandhi.

The judge said that Mr. Dhawan knew one of the assassins, Beant Singh, who was killed by loyal troops soon after the assassination. Mr. Dhawan has denied this. The other assassin, Satwant Singh, and a third Sikh, a former government clerk named Kehar Singh, were executed last January after a four-year trial. A fourth Sikh, who was a policeman at Mrs. Gandhi's residence, was acquitted of conspiracy charges.

Justice Thakkar said Mr. Dhawan had ordered officials not to make any major changes in Mrs. Gandhi's security without 'his prior approval.' Officials 'Shirked Responsibility' In a long and stinging catalogue of official failure, the report described the assassins as men with poor career records who turned up late for work and were defiant of authority. 'Top officials took things for granted and allowed the matters to drift,' Justice Thakkar said. 'Officials were apathetic, shirked responsibility and indulged in red-tapism,' he said, adding that there was little coordination between the intelligence agencies and police.

The judge said that senior security officials repeatedly ignored intelligence warnings about the threat to Mrs. Gandhi from Sikh policemen, especially after a Sikh guard for a Cabinet Minister was involved in the July 1984 hijacking of a domestic airliner to protest the action against the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The report said there was no definite evidence to prove the involvement of a foreign agency in the conspiracy against Mrs. Gandhi. But it added that police investigators had turned up material that showed that an unnamed foreign agency had inspired and trained Sikh terrorists in an effort to destablilize the country. This is widely viewed as a reference to Pakistan.

 *****

Sri Lanka: Case Study of a Disaster

[Ross H. Munro, Time, Apr. 3, 1989, pp.12-13.]

‘Sri Lanka was the watershed,’ says Ashley Tellis, a US expert on South Asian security issues. ‘India showed it was willing to use force even when there was no clear-cut security threat.’ Agrees a US State Department official: ‘Although India in the past has had strained relations with nearly all its neighbors, it had not taken advantage of its preponderant power to make them toe the line until the India-Sri Lanka accord of July 1987.’

The story of how and why India recruited, trained and armed thousands of minority Tamils from Sri Lanka and then sent them back to the island to wage a guerrilla war against the government of then President J.R. Jayewardene has never been fully told. To this day New Delhi denies its former sponsorship of several Tamil separatist factions, but interviews with former Tamul guerrilla leaders, Sri Lankan intelligence operatives and Indian diplomats reveal that from the early 1980s onward, Indian officials viewed support for the Tamil cause as first and foremost a means of asserting Indian influence in Sri Lanka. The same sources describe how Indian intelligence agents were so deeply involved in orchestrating the insurgency that at times they provided the guerrillas with detailed operational plans.

New Delhi’s sponsorship of the separatists had its origins in Jayewardene’s 1977 election victory, which drove Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, a friend and ally of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by adopting pro-Western foreign and economic policies that New Delhi interpreted as a rejection of its leadership in South Asia. Jayewardene applied for membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; Indian officials suspected that he might even be on the verge of offering military bases and listening posts to the US.

In domestic politics, Jayewardene made a fateful error: he spurned every opportunity to reach an accommodation with Sri Lanka’s Tamils – 2 million among 12 million Sinhalese – who rightly felt they were being cut off from higher education and government jobs. A few dozen alienated Tamil youths formed underground groups that advocated the creation of Eelam, an independent Tamil nation in the northern and eastern parts of the island. In 1982 agents of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s foreign intelligence agency, recruited one of those groups, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, and brought them to India for training in espionage and sabotage. An Indian diplomat who was deeply involved in policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka during that period says it was no accident that RAW chose TELO, which had a large criminal element and was politically unsophisticated. ‘TELO, which had no goals and no ideology,’ he says, ‘was the perfect private army for RAW.’

In July 1983, triggered by the ambush and slaughter of 13 soldiers by Tamil terrorists, Sinhalese mobs in Colombo attacked Tamils in their homes and shops, killing hundreds. The communal rioting shocked India’s own Tamil population of 50 million. Soon thereafter, RAW began to recruit hundreds of members of at least five Tamil separatist groups. Much of the training took place at the Indian army’s Dehra Dun complex in the Himalayan foothills, where the recruits were taught how to handle small arms and how to make land mines using gelignite, which was to become the explosive of choice for one of the groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

By late 1984, hundreds of trained fighters were back in Sri Lanka, where they mounted acts of sabotage against government facilities. When attacks on military targets failed to make Jayewardene budge, RAW encouraged killings of Sinhalese civilians to put more pressure on Colombo. Says Uma Maheswaran, leader of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam: ‘A RAW officer asked us to throw a grenade into a Sinhalese cinema or put a bomb in a bus or market in a Sinhalese town. Only we and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front refused.’ Agrees an Eelam People’s leader: ‘The RAW agents offered us money to massacre  Sinhalese. But we refused.’ The Tigers, by contrast, were cooperative. In May 1985 two busloads of Tigers drove into the ancient Sinhalese capital of Anuradhapura and, in the town’s main bus station, opened fire with automatic weapons, slaughtering 143 civilians there and elsewhere. According to one of the participants in the killing spree, Tiger leader Vilupillai Prabhakaran was in radio contact with RAW agents during and after the massacre.

The killings prompted the Colombo government to agree for the first time to negotiate with the guerrillas. The talks collapsed but the new Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, seemed reluctant to allow RAW to escalate the level of fighting. Later, when India stepped up its support of TELO, the Tigers showed their displeasure at New Delhi’s favoritism by attacking TELO camps and murdering some 150 of its members, thereby neutralizing RAW’s favorite Tamil clients. RAW agents were apoplectic, but realized that they would have to work with the Tigers as the dominant Tamil force. In May 1987, when the Sri Lankan army launched an offensive against Tiger strongholds in the Jaffna peninsula, New Delhi obliquely warned Jayewardene not to push too hard, lest India be obliged to intervene. The Sri Lankan President appealed to Pakistan, China and the US for help, but got little encouragement.

The last straw for Jayewardene came in June 1987, when India began training the Tigers in the use of surface-to-air missiles and then proposed an accord between New Delhi and Colombo. Under its terms Indian peacekeeping troops would disarm the guerrillas and Sri Lanka’s Tamils would be granted a measure of regional autonomy. The annex to the accord (an exchange of letters between Gandhi and Jayewardene) amounted to Sri Lanka’s granting India a voice in its foreign and military policy. Jayewardene felt he had a little choice but to accede. Once the pact was signed, on July 29, 1987, India no longer had need for the guerrillas. A few weeks later it blocked the Tigers’ attempt to take control of a new provincial council in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. At the same time, New Delhi ordered its force of 15,000 soldiers, which by then had been deployed on the island, to disarm the Tigers.

It was only then that what had looked like an Indian success story showed its disastrous downside. Law-and-order collapsed in large parts of southern Sri Lanka as Sinhalese extremists denounced the accord as a treasonous sellout and rallied Sinhalese support with appeals to anti-Indian patriotism. Furious, the Tigers struck at Indian army posts in northern Sri Lanka in the first phase of anew insurgency that persists to this day. Some 800 Indian soldiers have died at the hands of the Tigers. India still has 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces committed to the Sri Lankan operation, yet it has failed to put down the guerrillas. The simmering conflict may not be India’s Vietnam, but it provides the lesson for New Delhi that even an emerging superpower must recognize its limits.

*****

Maldives: All for the sake of a dance

[Special Correspondent in Male: Economist, Apr. 8, 1989, p. 40.]

Until last November, the Maldives had not suffered a foreign invasion since the Portuguese landed in the sixteenth century. Little wonder that the trial of the invaders (the more recent ones, that is) is fascinating the people of the tiny Indian Ocean republic. Each day hundreds of Maldivians line the streets of the capital, Male, to watch and jeer at the accused as they are marched to court in handcuffs.

Mr Abdullah Luthufi, a Maldivian businessman and the alleged ring leader of the plot to overthrow the government, has told the court that the invasion fleet of two trawlers sailed from Sri Lanka. On board were mercenaries recruited from the ranks of former fighters for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. They landed at Male on November 3rd and quickly seized the president’s house and the radio and television stations. But they failed to capture President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Telephones and the international airport were never disabled. This allowed President Gayoom to call for help, and India to land 1,600 troops in military aircraft later in the day. The bungled takeover left 19 people dead on the streets of Male. At least eight others were killed when the Indian navy moved in and captured the invaders as they fled in hijacked ship.

The 68 Sri Lankans on trial have admitted to being members of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, a former separatist group which, despite its pretensions to being a legitimate political party, has become a guns-for-hire organization. In exchange for staging a coup, the organization was to be given a tourist resort in the Maldives to make money from, and the use of Male’s port for gun-running.

Mr Luthufi’s alleged motive for trying to take over the country is rare in the history of coup attempts. He is said to have wanted to relax Islamic laws which prevent Maldivians from drinking alcohol and going dancing. The 200,000 islanders have been protected from such temptations until now by confining tourist resorts to otherwise uninhabited parts of the thousand-island chain.

The country has no army. Male has no prison. But innocence may be a thing of the past. The national security service, which has performed little more than guard duties and minor police work, may now be turned into a fighting force. There are still more than 250 Indian paratroops on the islands. Radar equipment may be installed to guard the coastline. Like a household which has been burgled for the first time, the Maldivians may never feel safe again.

*****

A Swirl of Suspicion: A secret report on the Gandhi murder is released

[Bill Hewitt; Newsweek, Apr. 10, 1989, p. 17.]

The 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi had seemed to be an open-and-shut case. As the Indian prime minister walked to a television interview near her house, she was gunned down by two Sikh bodyguards. One of the assailants was shot dead on the spot; the other, along with a government clerk who helped plan the crime, was tried and hanged in January. But last week, in response to a cascade of leaks, the New Delhi government released a long-suppressed report arguing that the assassination may have been part of a larger conspiracy. The evidence specifically suggested the involvement of a Sikh official named Rajinder Kumar Dhawan, now a key adviser to Gandhi’s son, the present prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

The government itself quickly declared that it had since cleared Dhawan of the allegations. Still, the report, which was the work of an official commission formed just after the assassination, detailed some damaging clues. Investigators discovered that Dhawan, who served for 20 years as one of Indira Gandhi’s closest aides, shifted the time of the fateful TV interview without telling anyone; that change meant that the assassins were both on duty. The commission heard evidence that Dhawan had moved away from Indira just before the shooting and was known to associate with one of the killers. In addition, the investigators turned up several note books owned by Dhawan which contained cryptic references to the other assassin, to foreign money and to the CIA. The head of the commission, Supreme Court Justice M.P. Thakkar, concluded that ‘there are strong indicators and numerous factors which warrant grave suspicion’ about Dhawan’s role.

Initially the speculation was kept secret on the ground of national security. After the assassination, Dhawan resigned and faded from public view. But in February, amid growing political turmoil, Rajiv Gandhi called on Dhawan to rejoin his administration. Details from the report quickly began to appear in the Indian Express newspaper, and opposition politicians accused the government of engineering a cover-up.

Last week’s release of the report was designed to take the steam out of the attacks. Instead it only seemed to intensify the pressure on Rajiv. Government officials insisted that a special investigation team had recently examined all the allegations against Dhawan and had dismissed them. When asked to produce that report, however, authorities again said it was too sensitive to be made public. In Rajiv’s defense, some government officials argued that he had never taken the results of the original inquiry seriously, perhaps because he could not conceive of Dhawan being involved in such a plot. He may be right. But with his country transfixed by this latest chapter in the Gandhi family saga, Rajiv can no longer afford to take conspiracy theories lightly. [with Sudip Mazumdar/ New Delhi].

*****

Dashed Hopes for a Peace Plan

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, Apr. 14, 1989, p. 31.]

On March 21, Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese celebrated the Buddhist holiday of the Medin Full Moon. Some of their number belonging to the anti-government Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front) marked the occasion in particularly grisly fashion: they massacred 60 civilians – most of them affiliated to the country’s ruling United National Party. The killings were the culmination of a three-day frenzy that took the death toll to at least 139. Lamented Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne: ‘The moon must be affecting these fellows. Only mad people do this type of thing.’

This time, however, the government had its own methods for the madness. The Sri Lankan army in the south staged one of its biggest-ever assaults on the Marxist-nationalist JVP. Targeting the educated but unemployed youth the JVP draws on for its cadres, the army sweep netted more than 400 young guerillas. Many others wanted to surrender, claimed Wijeratne. ‘The pressure is on the JVP and we are closing on them,’ he declared. ‘They are desperate. We have to get rid of them one day or another. The sooner the better.’

Concurrently, in the Tamil-dominated north, India’s peacekeeping force mounted a massive offensive against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Some 30,000 Indian troops began the anti-Tigers offensive – code named ‘Operation Bazz’ – in the third week of March. Although authorities enforced a news blackout, sources said the operation scored a ‘limited success’. A Tigers statement spoke of ‘fierce battles’ and charged that ‘thousands of panic-stricken villagers have fled the area and hundreds of houses and huts have been destroyed by bombs and shells’. Visiting Indian parliamentarian V. Gopalaswamy confirmed that his countrymen were ‘shelling the place with 250 kg shells and using the latest MI-24 helicopter gunships to track down and liquidate the Tigers. They are also killing innocent Tamils in the process.’

The moves against the Tigers and the JVP seemed timed to soften up both groups for a major peace initiative announced last week by Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Addressing a local festival on April 1, he vowed to ‘forget the past and start a new era.’ The president offered an amnesty to all anti-government forces who agreed to a ceasefire. He promised to suspend ‘all offensive operations by the armed forces and police’ and said about 100 to 200 ‘reception centres’ would be set up where rebels could ‘come with arms or without and we will accept all unconditionally.’ If they agreed, they would be assigned parliamentary seats so they ‘could air their grievances there’. Premadasa also promised to scrap anti-terrorist laws, outlaw vigilante groups, and replace the Indo-Lankan peace accord with a reciprocal peace treaty between the two nations. The accord, repudiated by the Tigers, brought Indian troops to the Tamil-dominated north in 1987.

Unusually, politicians set aside party differences and supported Premadasa’s peace package. During the parliamentary election campaign in February, most parties had been reluctant to oppose the influential JVP. But the watershed consensus soon became academic. Both rebel groups rejected the ceasefire plan out of hand. The JVP said it wanted Parliament dissolved first and fresh elections held. The Tigers, too, said they were not interested in going to Parliament. They felt Premadasa’s vow to send the Indians home was worthless ‘because India decides otherwise.’

The brush-off dashed the high hopes of Premadasa’s team, but it was consistent with the steadfast rejection of previous amnesty offers by the two groups. In both their regions, the horizon looked, if anything, gloomier. The army cancelled all leave in the south amid fears that the JVP would go all out to oppose the Indo-Lankan accord. As the April 5 anniversary of its bloody 1971 insurrection approached, the group’s violent tactics were not expected to abate. Meanwhile, Varatharaja Perumal, recently elected chief minister of Tamil-dominated Northeastern Province, threatened that ‘a river of blood would flow’ if his demands for provincial autonomy under the accord were not met.

Perumal, who heads the leftist Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, supports  the peacekeeping force and refers to the Indian troops as the Tamils’ ‘brothers’. The Tigers disagree. From their jungle hideouts they stage hit-and-run attacks on both the Indians – and on Perumal’s partymen. Visiting New Delhi, Perumal complained that the ‘process of devolution in Sri Lanka is too slow.’ The 36 year-old provincial chief minister warned that ‘if the provincial system fails, the whole thing will return to square one and there shall be no solution except a bloodbath.’

Even so, there was talk of more of the estimated 50.000 Indian troops being withdrawn; some 3,000 left earlier this year. On March 31, Wijeratne said another group would depart July 30 and ‘hopefully the rest would be sent back by December 31, 1989.’ In New Delhi the visiting Perumal was told by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that he wants Indian troops pulled out as soon as possible. That prospect increasingly is the one goal that militant Sinhalese, militant Tamils and the moderate Premadasa seem to share. At least it is something held in common. Said Plantations Minister Gamini Dissanayake of the spurned peace plan: ‘The Sinhalese and Tamils must find a rationale for survival. Unless we have a consensus, our five-star democracy will sink in blood.’

*****

Gandhi, His Luster Dimmed after 4 years, Faces Uncertain Political Future

[Barbara Crossette; New York Times, Apr. 22, 1989]

When Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984, the young Prime Minister was hailed as a leader who could bring this huge, diverse democracy into a new era. He promised clean politics, good government and a leap into high technology and modern management.

India welcomed him. He was not only the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first Prime Minister, and the dutiful son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in October 1984. He was also a refreshingly practical, approachable man who vowed to shake up the bureaucrats and the bosses in his Congress Party. Mr. Gandhi, who won a record-breaking majority in the Indian Parliament in December 1984, was an 'in-house opposition,' said Ashis Nandy, a political scientist at New Delhi's Center for the Study of Developing Societies. The press, Mr. Nandy added, made him a mythical hero.

Popularity Plummets: But now, four years and four months later, Mr. Gandhi's popularity and the public's confidence in his ability to govern this country of 800 million people seem to be on a precipitous downward slide, and many politicians, columnists and voters - especially in cities and towns far from the capital - say he may lose the next national election.

Mr. Gandhi must call for a vote before the end of the year, when his five-year term expires. In the volatile world of Indian politics, alliances can shift overnight. But if the present trend continues, both the family dynasty and its party could suffer blows. An opinion poll commissioned in February by India's leading news magazine, India Today, showed that Mr. Gandhi could hope for no more than 50.6 percent of the 542 seats in the lower house of Parliament. He won 76.6 percent in 1984.

A Minority Position? The magazine concluded in February, before more recent problems erupted for Mr. Gandhi, that a strong opposition might be able to push the Congress Party into the minority. Vitthal N. Gadgil, a general secretary of the Congress Party, acknowledges that this year's election will be closer than the last, when there was much sympathy for Mr. Gandhi, who sought a mandate less than two months after his mother's assassination. 'In this election there will be no wave either for Congress or against Congress,' Mr. Gadgil, a barrister, said in an interview. He said he thought his party and Mr. Gandhi could win by focusing on economic issues and reverting to the image of Congress as a party of the poor, who are being assisted by generous budget allocations.

'My own view is that historically the best position that Congress has always taken is of a left-of-center party,' he said. 'The image of the party must be the party of the poor, the party of the neglected, the party of the ignored, and of the minorities.'

Divided Opposition Reinforces Leader: Mr. Gandhi's greatest asset at this point is probably the inability of his foes to unite behind a credible candidate or alternative party platform. 'The image that the opposition has is the image of a party full of persons who are full of ego, where everybody wants to be prime minister,' Mr. Gadgil said, 'There is no unanimity about the leadership. There is no agreement about policy and program.' And although Delhi insiders sometimes portray the Prime Minister as worried and embattled, H. K. Dua, the editor of The Hindustan Times, a paper generally supportive of the Government, said there was no indication that Mr. Gandhi's political problems influenced the majority of mostly illiterate voters in the countryside. 'Basically, the electorate will not be worried so much about corruption,' he said. 'The electorate will decide on two issues: inflation and unemployment. The misery index will determine our fate.' He said the Government's budget this year had gone a long way to helping the poorest workers.

Buffeted From All Sides: The problems facing Mr. Gandhi, 44 years old, arise from a variety of sources, some of them beyond his control. He is buffeted by revolts in his party in states where powerful and jealous political bosses thrive. His administration is shadowed by reports of bribery, corruption and the misuse of privilege by officials or close friends. No evidence has been offered to link the Prime Minister directly with these charges, but opposition parties are making this an issue nonetheless. On a personal level, Mr. Gandhi's competence and commitment to democratic institutions are being questioned by political enemies increasingly willing to make attacks on his character part of their strategy.

Even His Successes Can Work Against Him: In some ways, Mr. Gandhi is the victim of his own successes. In opening India, a resolutely protectionist country with inefficient industries, to competition at home and to investment and joint management from abroad, he has piqued the guardians of Mohandas K. Gandhi's homespun legacy and the believers in socialist theories rooted in the 1920's or 30's.

M. J. Akbar, an Indian newspaper editor and the author of a new biography of Prime Minister Nehru, said in a recent interview that one of Mr. Gandhi's great strengths was his determination to lure 'the best and the brightest' into politics and government in India. Mr. Gandhi has governed at a time of rapid change in Indian society, some of that change fostered by him and by the image he has created for the nation.

For some Indians, most of them middle class and urban, life has become glossier than almost anyone could have hoped or feared a decade ago. Fashionable villas and farmhouses decorated in a style called 'ethnic chic' are rising in the dusty plains around New Delhi, easily picked out from the air by the unmistakable blue shapes of their private swimming pools.

Sometimes Modern Can Be Too Modern: Rapid modernization could produce voters for parties that offer an escape into the past, according to Mr. Kakar, who said many Indians seemed to feel shipwrecked. 'Perhaps a sense of anti-modernism, anti-individualism, anti-individuality is getting stronger,' he said. 'There is a need to seek shelter in communities of any kind. It doesn't matter what their ideologies.'

Where such voters will go in 1989 is a concern not only to Mr. Gandhi but also to the fragmented center-left opposition. Both feel threatened by resurgent parties based on religious fundamentalism among Hindus, Sikhs and, to a lesser extent, Muslims. Regionally and ethnically based parties and movements are also gaining ground almost everywhere in India. Opposition to the Congress Party, which has ruled India for all but two years since independence in 1947, stretches from the fundamentalist right, symbolized by the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, to the Communists.

At the center is a seven-month-old, loosely organized coalition of national and regional parties known as the National Front. The leader of the front -and of its most important component, the Janata Dal - is Vishwanath Pratap Singh, a former minister in Mr. Gandhi's Cabinet who resigned after being blocked in investigating alleged corruption in military contracts and other infringements of the law. But Mr. Singh, still an unofficial opposition leader, spends much of his time patching up quarrels and fending off challenges to his authority. 'Bane of the Opposition'

Jyoti Basu, a prominent longtime Communist who is Chief Minister of West Bengal, says this jockeying for place 'has always been the bane of the Indian opposition.' Mr. Basu and Mr. Singh have been working toward broadening the National Front's ideological base by bringing in one or both of India's Communist parties. Communists, in coalitions, head the governments of two Indian states, West Bengal and Kerala. Regional or ethnic parties govern other states, among them Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where Mr. Gandhi suffered a personal defeat in January after campaigning vigorously for a Congress Party slate that was overwhelmed at the polls. Mr. Basu said Mr. Gandhi's relations with the states had deteriorated badly, as power became centralized in New Delhi and within the Prime Minister's entourage, at the expense of Government offices and the Congress Party organization. Revolts in the governing Congress parties in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were evidence of this, Mr. Basu said.

Assassination Report Becomes an Issue: Personal attacks on Mr. Gandhi have increased over the last few weeks, after an Indian newspaper published part of a suppressed report on the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi. The report, prepared by a commission under a Supreme Court Judge, M. P. Thakkar, was completed in late 1985 and turned over to the Government the next year, but it was never made public.

The newspaper, The Indian Express, printed part of the report after Mr. Gandhi brought back to the Prime Minister's office an aide who had been named by Justice Thakkar as a possible suspect for investigation. The aide, Rajendra Kumar Dhawan, had served Mrs. Gandhi for more than 20 years and was with her when she was shot. Mr. Dhawan appears to have assigned Sikh bodyguards to Mrs. Gandhi although Sikhs had threatened her after the Indian Army invaded their holiest shrine in search of militants.

After publication of the synopsis of suspicions about Mr. Dhawan, Mr. Gandhi's Government disclosed that the aide had been the subject of a special investigation and that he had been cleared. But the report remained secret for several more days, despite rowdy scenes in Parliament. Then suddenly, and apparently without informing at least some high officials, Mr. Gandhi went to the lower house and announced that he would turn over the report to Parliament, which he did, omitting several volumes of related matter.

Now, almost every aspect of the Thakkar report is mired in controversy. Questions are asked about the quality of the report - since many accusations against Mr. Dhawan are based on circumstantial evidence - as well the Government's reasons for suppressing the report and the decision by Mr. Gandhi to bring back to his inner circle a man he dismissed in 1984.

The Nehru Legacy Riven by a Feud: The matter has brought into the open a bitter feud between two scions of the Nehru legacy. Some of the harshest criticism of the Prime Minister is coming from his cousin and former minister, Arun Nehru, whom Congress Party leaders accuse of leaking the report to the press. Mr. Nehru denies this. He charges that as problems mount for the Prime Minister, Mr. Gandhi is growing intolerant of dissent and unpredictable in his political behavior. 'A big country like India cannot be run on reflex or impulse,' Mr. Nehru, a former Home Affairs Minister, said the day after Mr. Gandhi said he would release the Thakkar report.

Old Reliable: The Family Name: 'When you are not in control of the situation, it is not a happy thing for a country,' said Mr. Nehru, who is also 44. He and Mr. Gandhi have known each other since childhood. Their great-grandfathers were brothers. Supporters of Mr. Gandhi often argue that whatever his problems in the coming election, he can still rely heavily on the family name and the strength of the Congress Party. Both assumptions are challenged by Mr. Nehru, among others. The Congress Party, he said has been badly weakened by the centralization of power among nonpolitical advisers of Mr. Gandhi, one of them a former airline pilot like the Prime Minister and another a film star.

Still Needs Seasoning: Politicians say the Prime Minister's decision to bring back Mr. Dhawan, an experienced man whom Mr. Nehru said his cousin had been 'out to fix' a few years ago, is an indication that Mr. Gandhi is aware he needs a seasoned politician to help him. As for the family name, Mr. Nehru said a new generation of Indian voters - 50 million become eligible this year with the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 - cannot be expected to act out of traditional loyalties. 'The issues are totally different for them,' he said. 'If you think you can spark off everyone by mentioning Jawharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, I think you are mistaken.'

 *****

A Bleak Holiday Message: Playground of Black Cats and Yellow Leopards

[Edward Desmond; Time, Apr. 24, 1989, p. 12.]

Even in the worst of times, New Year’s in Sri Lanka is a carnival of fireworks, parties and family reunions. Not last week, however, as the holiday rolled around. There were no flares bursting in air; there was no bicycle racing, no feasting. Most Sri Lankans held quiet family get-togethers behind closed doors, all too aware that Sinhalese extremists of the antigovernment JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or the People’s Liberation Front) had decreed a ban on festivities. Even without that threat, most people were intimidated enough by political violence that has claimed more than 3,200 lives in little more than three months. Last week 45 civilians died in a car-bomb blast in Trincomalee, on the island’s east coast. The action was suspected to be the work of the Tamil Tigers, the other major insurgent group at war in the country.

Ranasinghe Premadasa became President in January after promising to send Indian troops home from the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka, where 65,000 are deployed, and to make peace with the JVP and the Tigers. But for the most part, his effort appeared to be faltering. When the President announced a one-week ceasefire and offered amnesty to any JVP and Tiger militants who were willing to turn themselves in at 242 centers around the country, there were few takers. Said Dinesh Gunawardena, leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (People(s United Front), a small party that is aligned with the JVP: ‘The credibility of the government’s peace offers is very low. There is so much mistrust that no JVP member will risk surrender.’

The killers – on all sides – seem to be getting more proficient by the day, especially in savage encounters between Sri Lankan security forces and the underground JVP, which opposes former President Junius Jayewardene’s 1987 decision to permit Indian peacekeeping troops in Sri Lanka. When it first resurfaced two years ago, the JVP limited its activities to assassinations in remote areas. Today its armed cadres, an estimated 5,000, are terrorizing government employees and supporters wherever they live.

The JVP has also begun to use land mines to bloody effect: such weaponry had claimed the lives of 17 government security officials. Last month the group started broadcasting its propaganda messages over an underground radio station called Ranhanda, or Golden Voice.

Premadasa has been trying to pressure the JVP into taking part in peace talks. New vigilante groups linked to the police and army spring up regularly to claim responsibility for the killings of JVP suspects whose bodies turn up everywhere across the country – hands tied behind their backs, heads blown off, and displaying placards claiming responsibility from such hitherto unknown groups as the Black Cats, Southern Black Shadows, Black Butterflies and Yellow Leopards. Concludes a Western diplomat in Colombo: ‘The country’s hopes that Premadasa could solve the JVP problem have died with the wave of killings.’

In his campaign to win popular support, Premadasa promised in December to give each of Sri Lanka’s 1.4 million poorest families an allowance of $80 a month. The funds required were far too large for his cash-strapped government, however, and the plan had to be scaled back to include only 300,000 families at present. The government is already laboring under a $1.3 billion budget deficit, a key factor in the International Monetary Fund’s decision to withhold a $45 million loan that the Colombo government needs.

Premadasa seemed to face another no-win situation in the predominantly Tamil northeast. He has always said he opposes the Indo-Sri Lankan accord that brought Indian troops into the country, and a move to keep his promise to send them home as quickly as possible would be an important element in his fight to defeat the JVP. The Indians have helped his cause by making some token withdrawals, but in recent months the Tamil Tigers have reared up again, making it plain that the peacekeeping force has not yet finished its job. But among the Tamils, anyway, Premadasa may have won a breathing space. In a surprise move late last week, the Tigers agreed to hold talks with the Colombo government, citing their common interest in removing Indian troops from Sri Lankan soil. Since Sri Lankan officials have admitted that the army cannot fight the JVP and the Tigers simultaneously, the Indian force had earlier seemed likely to remain for some time. That reality may have prompted the Tigers to accept Premadasa’s offer to talks, though the nature of the proffered negotiations remained unclear.

The government seems to be gearing up for an all-out assault on the JVP, possibly along the lines of the scorched-earth campaign it waged in 1971 against the group, then in its first incarnation, that claimed 10,000 lives within three months. Says Ranjan Wijeratne, the Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs: ‘What [the press] has been describing as a crackdown is nothing; it was only a holding operation. If the JVP refuses our repeated offers of political olive branches, then we will apply military pressure.’ The New Year’s message could not have been bleaker. [reported by Anita Pratap/Colombo].

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