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137 Shot Dead on July 29, ’87: India Arm-twisted JR to Sign the Indo-Lanka Accord


25 January 2021 03:07 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and President JR Jayawardene signing the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord 
in 1987


‘Though the Gandhi family and Congress leaders … have forgiven the convicts, [accused in Rajiv Assassination] the state and central Congress leadership has been in disagreement over convicts’ release.’ 
–DM: Friday 21

The report reminisces the unprecedented July 29, 1987 turmoil on the day Indo-Lanka Accord was signed under curfew in Colombo.  The purpose of the accord was described as, “to establish peace and normalcy in Sri Lanka, the President of Sri Lanka, attaching utmost importance to strengthening, nurturing, and intensifying the traditional friendship of the two nations, and acknowledging the crucial need of resolving the ethnic issue, and the resulting violence, and for the security, wellbeing and prosperity of people belonging to all communities in the Island.” The accord, however, failed to re-establish peace in the island when LTTE unexpectedly turned against the Indian forces in the North and East.  

"Peace accord failed to bring peace as LTTE turned guns against IPKF"

 On June 4, 1987, defying Sri Lanka, five Soviet-built cargo planes and Mirage 2000 fighter jets of Indian Air Force swiftly accomplished the dropping of over 22 tons of food and medical supplies into areas held by the LTTE with the stated objective of providing  ‘’humanitarian assistance’’ to the northerners  in the Peninsula, where, ‘Sri Lanka’s Tamils have close ethnic and cultural ties with the 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu and South India’; but, it was rather a warning against continued military offensives against LTTE, and was in retaliation of Sri Lanka Navy blocking a flotilla of 19 fishing boats carrying supplies after an anxious five-hour confrontation in mid-sea a day earlier.  President JR, angrily denounced the shocking airdrop as ‘’a naked violation of our sovereignty and vowed to raise the issue internationally. Unfortunately, no foreign nation took him seriously. This was India’s interference in a foreign land since they invaded East Pakistan in 1971 to create the nation of Bangladesh.

“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now…we can’t think of them. Not about their lives or their opinions of us... The more you put pressure on the North, the happier the Sinhalese people will be here…”—JR with Daily Telegraph -July 11, 1983: [on the eve of Black July]
When Vadamarachchi Operation was on in May with the objective of re-establishing control in areas taken over by Northern militants, High Commissioner, Dixit officially notified JR, “India will not allow you to takeover of Jaffna”. The Agreement represented a calculated move rather than a diplomatic initiative. JR, let down by his Western friends, especially the US, had little option, but to agree. There was no imminent external help, particularly after the Indian Air Force violated air space. 

What Caused the Violence?

Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa and Defence Minister Athulathmudali’s open declaration of their  strong opposition to secretly planned Rajiv-JR Accord incited their supporters [unlike Trump they did not instigate though], to join the JVP/DJV rioters who disregarded curfew by taking to streets in thousands on July 29 for the government’s security contingent to gun down 137 violent demonstrators. Mayhem reigned in Colombo with main roads blocked, electric and telephone wires all over, CTB buses burnt, state property attacked using stones, bottles and brickbats.  There was mounting tension from July 23 onwards in the city and suburbs.  SLFP and JVP supported the anti-accord campaign led by monks and nationalists. Security forces and police relatively small in strength were unable quell violence in many parts of the island. 

"The Agreement represented a calculated move rather than a diplomatic initiative"

It soon spread to other parts of the island especially the South Western regions as worst anti-government riots recorded  since August 12, ’53 Hartal. A request was made to Indian High Commissioner J N Dixit for deployment of Indian forces in Jaffna, so that our security men could be moved to South. India dispatched two frigates to remain outside Colombo port, in an easily accessible position from Galle face Green for the protection of those exposed, who favored the signing of accord.

  The historic Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, led to India’s direct participation in the counter-terrorist operations in Sri Lanka. After losing the lives of over 1,200 of its men, India felt offended when the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa who was fighting Southern terrorism initiated by JVP had a secret pact with the LTTE to supply them with a huge cache of Arms and ammunitions, “to fight the IPKF”. Described by analysts as an ‘invasion by invitation’.  However, they left the Island prematurely at the request of President Premadasa allowing the LTTE to turn those guns against Lanka’s security men.  

 “Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister who visited on July 27 to sign the Accord was inspecting the Navy Guard of honour on 30th when Vijitha Rohana Wijemuni, a naval rating swung his rifle butt at him for the PM to duck and  escape grave injury, though the rifle butt grazed his shoulder. Wijemuni was court marshaled and was sentenced to six years, but was given a pardon and was released after two and-a-half years to contest general election under Hela Urumaya in year 2000.

Sri Lankan Head of State, seated alongside Indian PM Confessed, at the media briefing that followed the signing ceremony. “It is a lack of courage on my part, a lack of intelligence on my part, a lack of foresight on my part” – His Excellency President JR Jayewardene—Sunday Observer - August 16, 1987.
Grenade attack in Parliament

An assailant hurled two grenades into the room where the first government parliamentary group meeting after the Accord was held on August 18. The grenades bounced off the table at which President JR and PM, Premadasa were sitting resulting in two deaths including an MP, and severely wounding  National Security Minister Athulathmudali. JVP claimed responsibility for the attack and called on men in the armed forces to resist “Indian agenda.” JVP/DJV activist working with Parliament’s catering contractor went underground for state to place a bounty of million LKR [in 1987] on his head. He was eventually arrested on April 8, 1988 and was ultimately released in August, 1993 for lack of evidence. Ajith Kumara Wijeyamuni entered “democratic politics” as an active JVPer, became a politbureau member, and contested PC leading Sabaragamuva JVP group in 1999.

"LTTE’s strategic mistake ultimately cost them the battle, the military crushed them in 2009"

An year later, Prabhakaran assassinated Rajiv Gandhi at a campaign rally in Tamil Nadu, creating the turning point in the fight against LTTE when it ended the popular support they had enjoyed in Chennai. The conflict ended— LTTE’s strategic mistake ultimately cost them the battle, forces crushed the LTTE in 2009.
The 13th Amendment paved the way for Provincial Councils. Being part of the Constitution, the question does not come up whether it is latent or not; it is a matter of implementation. Some leaders have pledged to implement a 13A Plus. We are still probing for answers to the issue having defeated the LTTE a decade ago; any attempt at avoiding sustainable solution would take the nation slide down the path of discord. 

India had helped train Lankan forces and offered valuable intelligence on the LTTE’s complex logistic and supply network, and always affirmed its support for a united Sri Lanka and disagreement to the conception of an Tamil Eelam resulting in relations achieving a unique status in South Asia. The conflict clearly shows that a 13A Plus devolution of power is more appropriate than the unitary nature assumed in Sri Lanka.
The author can be contacted on -  [email protected]

  Comments - 1

  • Leel Monday, 25 January 2021 01:43 PM

    Symmetrical devolution. 13 or any thing only for northern province. But not for other part of the country. If north try to misuse punish them some way.

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