Rajiv Gandhi sent troops to Sri Lanka without Cabinet nod, claims Natwar

Rajiv Gandhi sent troops to Sri Lanka without Cabinet nod, claims Natwar

Rajiv Gandhi sent Indian troops to Sri Lanka without consulting his Cabinet colleagues or top officials during his tenure as prime minister in 1987, former external affairs minister Natwar Singh said in a fresh claim on Thursday in an interview to promote his soon-to-be-out memoir, ‘One Life is Not Enough’.

Singh said Rajiv Gandhi took the decision while he was in Colombo attending a reception given by then President J R Jayawardene. According to Singh, Jayawardene asked for troops because he feared a coup against him. By the time he and P V Narasimha Rao, who was also in Colombo found out, the order to send troops to Sri Lanka had already been given.

Singh made the claim in the second part of his interview on Headlines Today. A day earlier, Singh had kicked off a political storm by claiming that Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not become prime minister in 2004 because of her son Rahul Gandhi, who was afraid that she would be killed like Rajiv Gandhi.

Singh said he was also taken aback by the “casual and cavalier” way the decision to forcibly air drop food parcels on Jaffna in Sri Lanka was taken by the Rajiv Gandhi government. The Indian Air Force was ordered to air drop supplies over the besieged town in June 1987 in support of Tamil Tigers during the island’s civil war. Jaffna was at the time under blockade by Sri Lankan troops as a part of Colombo's offensive against the Tamil separatist movement.

Singh said Rajiv Gandhi and his team had not realised that they needed to inform Jayawardene as well as India's representative at the United Nations. They only did so when he pointed out that forcible air drops amounted to an invasion of Sri Lanka’s sovereign air space and as a member of the Security Council, Sri Lanka could create a problem for India. He told them to inform Jayawardene in advance and alert India’s ambassador at the UN to be on his guard.

Singh also claimed that Rajiv Gandhi was naively trusting of LTTE chief V Prabhakaran. After Rajiv Gandhi met Prabhakaran, he (Natwar) asked the PM if he had got anything in writing from Prabhakaran. “Rajiv got irritated and said, ‘He has given me his word!’” Singh said.

Singh said the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) troops “went in without clear briefings or objectives”. He held that “neither were the troops told about the geography of the Jaffna peninsula nor about the LTTE hideouts. From the very beginning, the Sri Lankan ethnic issue was mishandled.”

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