Rajiv Gandhi gave his bullet-proof vest to Prabakaran: Panruti (videos)

Chennai: The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi gave his bullet-proof jacket to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran in Delhi, besides Rs 50 lakh as first instalment of Rs 5 crore aid to LTTE, and wanted the LTTE to allow implementation of the Indo-Lanka accord, AIADMK leader Panruti S Ramachandran said in an exclusive interview to News Today  TV/ Maalaisudar.

The accord was signed in my presence as the then Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, MGR, had deputed me as his emissary to Colombo to be at hand for the agreement over the pact, Panruti said.

He is virtually the sole survivor of the accord as the other principal parties, including Rajiv Gandhi, Jayawardene, Premadasa, Prabakaran and MGR are no more.

The Sri Lanka Tamils issue continues to be a poll issue in Tamilnadu.  Therefore, we sought his views on the developments in Sri Lanka over the last three decades.

Recounting the parleys held by Rajiv Gandhi with MGR and himself, and also with Prabakaran and other leaders of Sri Lankan Tamils, Panruti said Rajiv had sent Indian ambassador Dixit to meet MGR and secure his approval for the Indo-Lankan accord. “I was also present at the meeting. The accord contained several features which included elections to a single provincial council of Sri Lanka’s north and east which for the first time indirectly conceded the Tamil homeland concept to the island’s Tamils. The accord provided for rule by the LTTE and others through a council in the Tamil areas. The Indian government was the guarantor of the accord which was unusual in the world where another country was asked to guarantee the pact.”

“MGR had a dilemma as though he was in favour of the accord and wanted its implementation as requested by Rajiv Gandhi, he held discussions with Prabakaran but could not convince him to accept it. MGR was upset that he tried and failed to convince Prabakaran who was adamant that he could not accept anything less than Tamil Eelam country,” recalled Panruti.

Later, the Union government invited MGR to Delhi for the final round of talks before Rajiv’s departure to Colombo. “MGR brought me along to Delhi. After discussions with Rajiv Gandhi when he urged us to secure Prabakaran’s approval, MGR and I again held talks with Prabakaran at Tamil Nadu House in Delhi. Prabakaran was assisted by Balasingham. Prabakaran expressed his inability to support the accord as the LTTE stood for Tamil Eelam,” said Ramachandran.

When Prabakaran met Rajiv Gandhi, the PM said India would not ask the LTTE to sign the accord. It merely wanted the LTTE to allow the peaceful implementation of the pact and not stand in its way. Rajiv also told Prabakaran that the LTTE need not lay down arms.

Prabakaran was told that the LTTE could bury their arms at a safe place in Tamilnadu from where it could retrieve them at a later date, if needed. India also offered LTTE the chief ministership of the Tamil province of north and east, and administration through a council which could also include other Tamil leaders.

Rajiv gave his bullet-proof jacket to Prabakaran and also Rs 50 lakh as first instalment of Rs 5 crore aid to the LTTE, Panruti said.

“MGR deputed me to attend the signing of the accord in Colombo on his behalf. I found that the entire capital was under curfew and there was scarcely any movement outside. The accord was signed by Rajiv Gandhi and Jayawardene in my presence. However, it was clear that the Buddhist clergy and the Sinhalese leaders were against the accord as they felt it gave too many rights to the island’s Tamils. Rajiv Gandhi was also attacked with a rifle by a Sri Lankan navy sailor but was saved in time,” said Panruti.

Subsequently, at a public function on the Marina in Chennai to celebrate the signing of the accord, Rajiv Gandhi publicly thanked MGR for his support to the accord, Panruti said.

MGR had great respect for Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and held Jawaharlal Nehru and his family in high esteem, Panruti added.  He was also in the Congress earlier, attracted by Nehru’s ideology and speeches.  He often would break into tears on seeing the photo of Indira Gandhi next to his bed in Chennai, as she had visited Apollo Hospital where he was hospitalised and she had made arrangements for his plane journey to the US for treatment but was later assassinated, Panruti recalled.

Asked whether he thought the LTTE should have accepted a political solution in the form of the accord and the post of chief ministership, as subsequently they got isolated and were defeated in the war with the Lankan defence forces, Panruti said the LTTE should have considered the fact that the global situation had changed and that world over  no country wanted to support terror or terrorist organisations.  The LTTE was labelled as a terrorist organisation in the world. There was no way countries would support or recognise Tamil Eelam.  The LTTE should have realised that Tamil Eelam was not feasible.”

Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in the early eighties, had ordered training for Sri Lankan Tamil militants in India in the use of fire arms which, in fact, was questioned by some countries, as it amounted to supporting militancy. Later, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian government under Rajiv Gandhi took the decision not to support terrorism, and consequently, the Sri Lankan groups were also told to accept a political solution granting powers to the Tamil area equivalent to a State in India, Panruti said.

Unfortunately, the LTTE could not change its stand in accordance with reality. Prabakaran himself said he did not need India’s support for the Tamil Eelam struggle and merely wanted it to recognise Eelam. When India itself said it would not support the cause of Eelam, LTTE should have realised that it was a futile exercise and not feasible. However, the LTTE stand led to ultimate defeat in the war with Lankan forces.

Not only Rajiv Gandhi, subsequent prime ministers V P Singh, Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee declared that they could not support a Tamil Eelam and that the  Lankan Tamil groups should accept a political solution in accordance with the accord, Panruti said.

Particularly after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, all governments in India including that of Narendra Modi said they would not support Tamil Eelam and wanted the island Tamils to accept a political solution, Panruti pointed out.

On the role of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, he said it was strange that the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government led by President Premadasa got together and asked the IPKF to leave Sri Lanka.

He said he was involved in an election campaign in May 1991 when he heard of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur and said he was shocked.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, all governments in the world, including India, and Indian PMs like Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, Gujral, Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Modi decided on a hands-off policy towards Sri  Lanka, Panruti said, adding that India, thereafter, refused to intervene in Sri Lankan affairs.

R Rangaraj