Mr. Venkateswaran was one of the rare, very few Indian Government officials who stood for justice and fairness and had the courage of conviction to express their honest opinion. Mr. Venkateswaran resigned his high position to protest against the unfair insult hurled at him publicly by the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
All the Tamil people all over the world are grateful to Mr. A. P. Venkateswaran for the forthright and correct position he took in his efforts to help the people in Tamil Eelam against the machinations and manipulations of the fascist, racist Sinhalese. He was annoyed by the support provided to the Sinhalese by the Government of India to suppress the aggrieved Tamils, instead of providing them support against the aggressors. The recent interview that Mr. Venkateswaran has given to Tehelka News has clearly revealed how New Delhi’s unfortunate position has resulted in huge damage to the cause of the Tamils in Eelam. WTO sincerely hopes that the Government of India will change its stand on Tamil issue and start working with the Tamil leaders and the diaspora to bring about a just and equitable political solution in the island of Lanka without further delay.
We express our deepest condolences and convey our sympathies to the family of Mr. Venkateswaran.
President, World Thamil Organization, Inc.
Rajiv Gandhi with Foreign Secretary A. P. Venkateswaran
A well-regarded diplomat who had risen to the peak of India’s foreign policy establishment, A P Venkateswaran famously resigned as foreign secretary on January 21, 1987, after then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi snubbed him publicly at a press conference.Venkateswaran’s story as the foreign secretary to then PM Rajiv Gandhi is one of those legendary tales of Indian politics which don’t get stale over time.
This is what happened 27 years ago:At a press conference in Islamabad in December 1986, Venkateswaran had said that Rajiv Gandhi would visit different SAARC capitals, including Pakistan’s. One month after this conference, Rajiv at another press conference in New Delhi, told a Pakistani journalist he would not visit Islamabad in the near future. When the scribe pointed out the inconsistency in his and his foreign secretary’s statement, Rajiv uttered the now-immortal sentence:”You will be talking to a new foreign secretary soon.”
Politicians, like actors, are considered temperamental and quite dramatic but history would record this as Rajiv’s most insensitive blunder. Even his supporters were left stunned and speechless after this public gaffe. When the comment was made, Venkateswaran was sitting in the audience taking notes. He immediately resigned from his post and took premature retirement from the Indian Foreign Service.
On Tuesday, the 85-year-old Venkateswaran a veteran of 36 years of distinguished diplomatic service died at a private hospital in Bangalore. He was cremated on Wednesday.
Venkateswaran’s statement on American mercenaries in Sri Lanka, which he had made in a private and prestigious forum in New York, didn’t go down well with the Prime Minister and the island nation. According to an article published on February 15, 1987 in India Today, the foreign secretary had said that American mercernaries were hired by Sri Lanka and the US state department should investigate the matter. But the statement was issued based on solid intelligence information available with the foreign ministry.”
What appears to have upset the apple-cart is the fact that Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene telephoned External Affairs Minister N D Tiwari to complain and stressed that the negotiations for a settlement were at a delicate stage. Tiwari, not fully familiar with the background, complained in turn to Rajiv,” says the author.
Venkateswaran had been touted as arguably the most efficient and dynamic foreign secretary the country had. But less than 10 months after he took charge of the foreign office, Venkateswaran faced an unceremonious exit and was given his marching orders in a public forum by the Prime Minister.
The manner of Venkateswaran’s appointment should perhaps have foretold his unceremonious exit. When his predecessor Romesh Bhandari’s tenure ended, despite being the best qualified, Venkateswaran was sidelined because of lobbying on behalf of lndia’s envoy in Islamabad, S K Singh. Venkateswaran was told he would be the Moscow ambassador. But the blunt IFS officer requested a meeting with Rajiv and flatly informed him that he had not come to beg or lobby for the post but simply to state the facts which had been distorted by his detractors. The India Today wrote:”According to those close to Venkateswaran, the prime minister summoned him two days later and rather gracelessly offered him the appointment with the words: “Let’s have a bash at it.”
What perhaps acted as Venkateswaran’s bane was his personality. He aroused negative sentiments in politicians because he wasn’t a pliant bureaucrat capable of bending to politicians’ whims and fancies. He did not suffer fools – or manipulative politics – gladly.
The power-brokers of Rajiv’s government took advantage of the fact that the foreign secretary would not sit back and tolerate sidelining of his department by “outsiders” like Bhandari and Natwar Singh (then in the Ministry of Fertilisers). Venkateswaran ended up being a tragic victim of these power-brokers who surrounded the Prime Minister.
After quitting, Venkateswaran settled in Bangalore and set up the Asia Centre, a think-tank on Asian affairs which comprised of former diplomats and academics.
Last year, Venkateswaran was again dragged into news after Rahul Gandhi repeated his father’s gaffe. At a press conference, the Congress vice-president undermined then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s stand on the criminal MPs’ ordinance. After the incident, Venkateswaran said, “history repeats itself – first as a tragedy and then as a farce.”
Venkateswaran also registered his strong objections to the manner in which India was bending over backwards to appease Sri Lanka on the ethnic issue of Tamils. He had also objected to the manner in which the foreign office had been left out of crucial negotiations with Pakistan on the Siachen issue. Speaking to the Indian Express last year, Venkateswaran had said:”My resignation was a spontaneous action since I have always believed that life without honour is no living at all. I felt that the statement (by Rajiv Gandhi) was an arrogant attempt to try and humiliate, when all the facts were on my side, like his impending visit to Pakistan for a SAARC summit.”