This is an IDF posting to emphasise the need to make the Government release the papers on, the ‘Higher Decision Making’ in the conduct of Op Pawan as 1200 Army lost their souls, most on foreign soil. They never knew or do we know today what it was for !

Such an eventuality for help cannot be ruled out in the future as India rises, and rightly a bright columnist/author Ved calls it India’s ‘Misadventure’ in Sri Lanka’(main excerpts linked below). More the reason the Services should demand a look at the official papers even if they are few, as IDF suspects. Ambassador Ronen Sen who was Joint secretary in PMO handling Sri Lanka then, in a public lecture said time is not ripe to release details. If so it can be done in camera by the Army, a duty to those brave and loyal Indians who gave their all, ‘Khali Pilli’ for Sri Lanka ? (Chapter preamble)


“Most Battles are won – or lost before they are engaged by men who take no part in them by their Strategist.” Carl Von Clausewitz-1832

The Indian Army Div went in hurriedly on orders by flamboyant and brilliant Gen K Sundarji (those boys will be sorted out in days) by IN ships, Indian Airlines and IAF planes. No one asked for the aim. Adm RH Tahiliani Chairman COSC was in Moscow. Yet the fine Indian soldier did his duty without demur. The Navy and the Air Force supported to the best of their ability. They attempted Coordinated Command and Control, which was absent. Navy was controlled from Eastern Command in Vizag (Vadm SC Chopra), Army by Southern Command Lt Gen Dipender Singh (OFC), and IAF flew tons of supplies, food, chickens an personnel. IPKF HQ Madras (Lt Gen Kalkat Brigs Ravi Ipe and Nikki Kapur) did its own thing.

Actual control was by Gen K Sundarji personally assisted by then DGMOs and MA Col S Mehta. IDF slept four nights a week in Army Ops Room to see the drama unfold thanks to DDGMO Brig YP Malik! Did India have a strategy? This was and is a moot question.

For India’s military foray into Sri Lanka in 1987, the strategy was left to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was also the Defence Minister, and military commander was Gen. K Sundarji ( Unlike 1971 for the foray into East Pakistan Gen Sam Maneskshaw as Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee guided joint strategy, Admiral R.H.Tahiliani in 1987 was made to watch (Sunder’s war his words), by PM from the side lines. The advisers were MEA with Sahadev ((JS), Messrs Natwar Singh, Romesh Bhandari, A P Venletaswaran, K P S Menon, and India’s high flying High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Mr.JN Dixit, assisted by Mr G Parthasarthy of the Planning division in New Delhi and PMO’s JS Ronen Sen. The Intelligence agencies, the RAW was headed by Mr Joshi and later Anand Verma and IB was under M K Narayanan and their many operatives. All had field days with their machinations, as villains of the piece having trained LTTE also. An IB operative fell to the charms of a PANAM hostess and was caught !

An analysis of the events leading to India’s actions in Sri Lanka is attempted in this chapter, to inquire if the aim of India was to obtain greater autonomy for Tamils, relieve the pressure on the Tamils, take on the LTTE or some other diffused aim, like maintaining the integrity of Sri LANKA, or prevent foreign interference, a bogey highlighted by Ambassador Mani. Mrs Gandhi in her time looked at the Sri Lankan Tamil problem quite differently from Rajiv Gandhi, not to get involved but planned.

India’s ‘misadventure’ in Sri Lanka

The Week caricatured the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Agreement in mythological terms: “Ravana need not kidnap Seeta to get Rama to invade Lanka — a mere pact is enough!”

For almost three decades, India has been accused of conducting a “misadventure” in Sri Lanka, sending thousands of soldiers for peace-keeping, where it got thrashed diplomatically, and at home, politically.

Worse — it had to leave the island nation with 1,138 soldiers killed and 2,762 wounded without getting close to resolving the ethnic strife between the majority Sinhalas and minority Tamils.

Worst — Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had signed the July 1987 peace deal with Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene (JRJ), was assassinated by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres in May 1991.
RAJIV’S killing, masterminded by LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabakaran, himself killed in a Sri Lankan military operation in 2009, had more than a symbolic impact. It ended the popular support Tamil militants had enjoyed in Tamil Nadu and remains confined to fringe groups.

The Gandhi-Jayawardane Agreement carried JRJ’s promise of the devolution of powers to the Tamil minority and recognition of Tamil as an official language. It envisaged military assistance that took the shape of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) for operations against LTTE in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

JRJ had got the better end of the bargain that he breached under pressure.

India felt cheated when his successor, Ranasinghe Premadasa, joined hands with LTTE to send IPKF out before they could complete their job.

The accord got sidelined. Political leaders opposing it assumed power in both countries around the same time. The Lankan Tamils, who had put their faith in it, were in limbo. LTTE strengthened to fight on till it was crushed in 2009. Reconciliation remains a mirage.

Documents declassified CIA confirm what is agreed. JRJ had told US president Ronald Reagan’s envoy Peter Galbraith that he was “forced” to sign the pact because his armed forces twice refused to “take Jaffna”.

“…IPKF and the Sri Lankan forces are getting on well together, and… the situation in Jaffna, while still far from normal, is gradually improving,” Galbraith said in his assessment sent to Reagan. Things changed later.

The documents indicate Americans promoted rapprochement between Rajiv and JRJ, persuading the latter who had been unhappy about Indians training LTTE cadres.

Did they help wily JRJ use a politically inexperienced Rajiv to pull his chestnuts out of fire?

In the evening of the cold war, many viewed India with suspicion after its role in the 1971 birth of Bangladesh. A brief intervention in the Maldives in 1988 strengthened these perceptions. Its navy was seen as nursing “blue water ambitions”.

Hardeep Singh Puri, who served in Colombo between 1984 and 1988, during the run-up to the accord and its implementation, blames both the international community and the United Nations for “looking the other way” at crucial moments during the crisis.

Taking an objective, Puri, however, stresses: “In retrospect, the mistreatment of the Tamils was, in the first instance, responsible for the outside intervention. A problem with linguistic rights transformed into one of minority rights and developed into militancy, inviting intervention from across the Palk Strait.”

Commodore (Rtd.) Ranjit Rai, Naval Intelligence director at the relevant time, says the botched operations would require in-depth study of the objectives and whether they were achieved, if it aimed to obtain greater autonomy for Lankan Tamils, to relieve pressure on them, or fight LTTE to maintain Sri Lanka’s integrity and to prevent foreign interference in India’s neighbourhood.

Like most analysts, Rai thinks Indira Gandhi, in her time, viewed the Tamils’ issue quite differently from Rajiv, and had avoided getting involved directly.

But, it is also true, as Puri points out; Rajiv inherited his mother’s legacy of Indians training LTTE. The difficult course correction Rajiv attempted went haywire.

Former foreign secretary and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, in his book Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, terms that “choice” between “bad and less bad”.

As Stephen P. Cohen writes in his blurb to Menon’s book, critics may feel “anyone can do it, and can do it better than the government — but the reality is that India was never spoilt for choices”.

Puri stresses that, “Colombo itself ensures that the rights of the Tamil citizens are constitutionally guaranteed, and they are shown the respect and dignity all Sri Lankans get”.

For any Indian role in future, he warns: “Working at cross-purposes, as would appear to have been the case for several decades, will create problems for Sri Lanka and India.”


“Bad administration can destroy good policy, and good administration, in turn, can never save bad policy.”

Adlai Stevenson

“Rajiv had neither a vision of policy nor experience in administration . He was a very good person with handsome looks. He hailed from the Nehru Dynasty.”

To Rajiv Gandhi Ted Koppel of ABC Nightline on 13 Jun. 1985: “Forgive me, because this sounds like a rather indelicate question. But how does someone from five years ago having no role in politics [go on ] to suddenly become Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy ? A huge Jump ?

Rajiv Gandhi’s Reply : “Well, we have a fantastic thing called the democratic process”.

Bulshit, emotional Indians saw Rajiv on TV, fell for him. They voted in his favour and the Congress party grasped the advantage with both hands. Squabbling Congressmen found in him a perfect scapegoat for leadership. Zail Singh the President of India in his memoir confirms that he aided and abetted the quick anointing of Rajiv in preference to the other two aspirants, Pranab Mukherjee and Narasimha Rao, as a gesture of loyalty to the Nehru family.

Nations have suffered and will continue to suffer failure in progress through poor leadership at the helm of national affairs. In India’s case a sad event; Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination on 31 October 1984 by her own body guards, in her own home (accidentally witnessed by Peter Usinov), led to the sudden ascendancy of her son Rajiv Gandhi to India’s top two political slots – the Prime Minister of India and the President of the powerful Congress Party. It is questionable in hindsight to judge if he was qualified for the task. His death anniversary on 21 May, celebrated as Quami Ekta Day since 1992 is always an occasion when the media reflects with honest analysis on his contribution, whilst leading the world’s largest democracy between 1984-89. It was the BOFORS scandal that turned out to be his Waterloo.

Rajiv Gandhi, a reluctant political starter was catapulted to Prime Ministership in one day from being a mere three- -year-old back-bencher in India’s Parliament. In groping for help in his new-found environment Rajiv took on Mani Shankar Aiyar, his classmate of early years, as a mentor in his office. Aiyar also subscribes to this view. And what were Rajiv’s qualifications? — He was India’s beloved first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s grandson, his mother Indira Gandhi had been India’s Prime Minister for almost two decades. In developed countries this may not have been enough, but in India, Rajiv’s lineage and associated credentials carried a seal of acceptance. Rajiv became a glorified choice to all sections of politicians scrambling for power. Therein lay a big trap for young and inexperienced Rajiv. He fell for it.

Rajiv was only 40 when his mother died. He had never run an organisation, an office or a home. He had resided in the comforts of his mother’s home whilst working as an Airline pilot. His reputation for adherence to rules, friendliness, correct etiquette and good demeanour was well vouched for by co-pilots, air hostesses and Indian Airlines staff but his abilities in 1984 as an administrator of 800 million people was questionable. He was totally devoid of any political or administrative education or experience, a compelling prerequisite for holding the reins of power. Yet he had a tremendous impact on the emotional Indians, by his stoic behaviour, during the rites of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s cremation ceremony. Some 400 million Indians witnessed the exemplary behaviour of this young son of India, on television, thanks to extensive media coverage that the tragic event garnered, and fell for him head over heels. The Congress immediately called for polls under the new young leader, Rajiv.

Under Rajiv’s nominal leadership as new head of the Congress party of India, the Congress in December 1984 went on to win the greatest mandate ever won in an Indian election. Rajiv surpassed his grandfather and mother in this achievement with ease. Credit for this victory was unwittingly given to Rajiv – India expected much from this young, handsome and charismatic leader. He was called India’s Kennedy. It is true he did achieve much in the first two years at the helm of this vast country, but lacking depth and experience, he failed to realise it was euphoria, circumstances and his bright and erudite advisers that helped him. Unknowing, he shed his close and able advisers one by one. He became embroiled in the BOFORS scandal and began taking decisions beyond his abilities. Those around him manipulated him for personal gains. He, as Prime Minister and Defence Minister with no knowledge of military matters or history, neglected Defence for over two years. He pushed the Indian Armed Forces into Sri Lanka without much preparation or thought in the summer of 1987. No wonder the remaining three years of his term, 1987-89, were full of intrigue, poor fiscal control, and haphazard policies in national and external relations. His misrule of those years followed by almost eighteen months under VP Singh and then Chandrasekhar led India to disaster. It was a time when five years went down the drain for India while the world economy was doing well and revolutionary events were shaking the world: The Berlin Wall came down and Soviet Union broke up.

In my research on Rajiv, I have relied on the many books, articles and speeches of his times. In particular I have relied much on “Rajiv Gandhi – The Years of Power” by Dr Kathleen Healy a Fullbright professor and researcher who spent nine years researching India and Rajiv. She published a book full of praise for him in 1989, when in fact India had steadily been going economically downhill under his stewardship since 1987. Internally, Punjab, Sri Lanka, Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, the North Eastern States and Tamil Nadu were descending into civil strife while the Congress Party was mired in internal intrigues. Foreign Policy lay rudderless. The bureaucracy was entrenching itself deeper than ever. As India’s Defence Minister Rajiv allowed a fine Defence establishment to become a bureaucratic jungle through lack of direction and leadership. He had permitted General K Sundarji, to plan military exercises such as ‘Brasstacks’ and ‘Checkerboard’ on the borders of Pakistan and China with much aplomb – something that almost brought India and Pakistan to a real war! Squabbles in the Navy in 1990 for leadership to the top post and in the Services for many senior posts can be traced back to the deeds done during Rajiv’s era. The Indian ethos does not permit one to speak against Nehru or his kin, but that is the truth and Indians need not be ashamed of it, as we look ahead with some honesty. No wonder the biography of Nehru by Wolpert and his alluding to that great man’s personal sexual affiliations has angered Indians. As Khushwant Singh has put it, Indians can and love to criticise others but cannot tolerate those who criticise India or Indians.

Rajiv was born on 20 August 1944. He did not excel at school, The Doon School, India’s equivalent of Eton and Harrow. He was unable to complete his pursuit of a degree at either Trinity College, Cambridge or Imperial College, London, dropping out of both. He trained to fly aeroplanes at Delhi’s Flying Club and became an average pilot in Indian Airlines flying the Indian built Hawker Siddley 748 and later for a while, the Boeing 737 as a co-pilot. He left the airline on gaining command. His ambition was to live a healthy, disciplined life and one day he hoped to own a string of pubs. His wife Sonia nee Maino was not Indian, but an Italian from Turin – however, she quickly adapted to wear sarees and salwars and speak common Hindustani. Rajiv had met her at Cambridge. In time she became close to her mother-in-law and rumours abound about her family’s improved fortunes after her marriage through friendship with Italian named Ottavio Quattrachi, a Snamprogetti employee stationed in Delhi from 1979 to 1993. He now lives in Malaysia, evading Indian law as he is named in scandals including Bofors.

Rajiv did not have an entirely normal or happy childhood. He was born into the Nehru brahminic household. His firebrand father Feroze Gandhi was a Parsee who died in 1960 when Rajiv was only sixteen. Relations between Indira, who was busy acting as the social hostess to her Prime Minister father Jawahar Lal Nehru, and Feroze her husband were not good at the best of times as per Pupul Jayakar, a close confidant of Mrs Gandhi. Rajiv and his brother Sanjay spent time with their father swimming and building mechanical things, but separations between parents were long. It told on Mrs Indira Gandhi who was known to have become a cold and calculating woman. Sanjay and Rajiv were only half Parsees, not accepted into the Sun Temple. They were also only half Kashmiri Brahmins in an anglicised family – with tenuous roots to traditional Hindu ethos. Sanjay’s wife Maneka, the daughter of a Sikh Army officer, is also a non-Brahmin. Thus, the Nehru-Gandhi family were in a kind of cultural no-man’s land, grappling with the dilemma to be Indians.

It is well known that Indira doted on her second son Sanjay and was grooming him for political office. Sanjay was a power hungry impatient young man. Unfortunately he was killed in an air crash close to Delhi’s diplomatic enclave whilst piloting a Pitts aeroplane in June of 1980, just five months after Mrs. Gandhi was returned as Prime Minister. Maneka tried to assert her right to political heirship after her husband’s death but blood proved thicker than water. Mrs. Gandhi chose Rajiv. A major responsibility thus came to be thrust on Rajiv to help his mother, then aged 64, in politics. As Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s close friend and biographer Pupul Jayakar has related in her biography of Mrs. Gandhi, she was ruthless and she pushed Rajiv into politics after the death of her younger son Sanjay. Menaka had to leave the Gandhi household due to differences with her mother in law, and by 1981 Rajiv was cajoled into resigning from his job as a pilot in the Indian Airlines. He stood for elections to the Parliament from Amethi, his late brother’s constituency and won. He opened a small political office aided by friends, especially Arun Singh a semi-royalty and a Rhodes Scholar who resigned from Recitt and Coleman of India (makers of Dettol and Cherry Blossom Shoe polish) and joined politics to assist Rajiv. He remained loyal to Rajiv for six years and diligently steered all issues in the PM’s office till 1987, along with a few other colleagues, with exceptional skill. By then personal disagreements surfaced between their two families and also between the two of them on the BOFORS issue. It made these two good friends part company. One can even confirm that Arun Singh had helped select Rajiv’s first cabinet in December 1984 and he had a big say in policy formulation. Arun Singh’s cousin, Vishwajit Prithvijit Singh, speech-wrote for Rajiv, and won him applauds during a state visit to USA in 1985. Rajiv and Arun lived in adjacent houses with just a wicket gate separating them, and conferred regularly. In 1985 when the now infamous Bofors deal was coming to fruition, Rajiv took over the Defence portfolio from Narasimha Rao and assigned Arun Singh, then a young dapper 43, to be his Minister of State for Defence and de-facto Defence Minister of India. This bright young man did a fine job in the Defence Ministry but fell prey to the machinations of the three Chiefs of India’s Defence Forces, on many issues. He seemed unaware of the intricacies of the Bofors deal. Arun now lives as a recluse in the hills of Kumaun. His personal life is his own business, but I think that he owes future generations of Indians the duty to unravel the intrigues of the times when he was in the corridors of influence and power.


The world was rapidly changing during Rajiv’s period. Change, and how to cope with it, a subject now being taught even at Harvard, was the flavour of the times. The cold war was giving way to the gold war. The balance of power was giving way to balance of wealth. Eastern Europe was crumbling and the Berlin wall was coming down. Nehru a great philosopher and freedom fighter had a vision for India. Mrs Gandhi had cold blooded ideas that kept India afloat. Rajiv proclaimed he had a dream to usher India into the twenty first century. It turned out to be rhetoric, and all one saw was a heap of computers in his office while fixers like Quattrochi were busy executing deals in the fertiliser, oil and defence sectors. The backyard and economics of India were neglected. Rajiv was a fine human being as Mani Shankar Aiyar, the Foreign Service Officer has portrayed in his book ‘Remembering Rajiv’ – though his writings are also full of pyscophancy. Sychopancy psychopancy The acerbic Harvard Professor and politician from the South, Mr Subramaniam Swamy MP, has been unkind and dubbed Aiyar, Rajiv’s stenographer. Rajiv was an excellent speaker. He came off well on TV and in social repartee. Yet his lack of depth in matters of real politic and experience in politics and affairs of state merely made him deliver excellent speeches beautifully scripted by others. Indians called him Mr. Clean. This impressed many, and it went to his head.

Another pitfall during Rajiv’s time was India’s continued vehement pro USSR, Vietnam and Afghanistan policy, at a time when much economic prudence and support from the West was called for. This also soured India’s relations with neighbouring ASEAN. Rajiv did not have the depth to discern that the bureaucrats made him proclaim that India desired a non-aligned government, wanted no interference in Afghanistan and Kampuchea (standing by the Soviets) and yet India’s actions were all pro USSR in UN forums and international discussions. Diplomats burned midnight oil writing speeches on non-alignment, but were actually acting pro Soviet. Shortly after Rajiv’s election Russia offered 1.2 billion Roubles in Soviet aid. Trade with USSR which soured and dropped after 1992 had actually increased substantially in 1985 to some 6 billion dollars. Many unscrupulous businessmen and those close to Rajiv gained through the counter-trade route to the Soviet bloc, the cost of which caused large losses to the government via subsidies. Rajiv went globe-trotting to USA and USSR proclaiming a disarmament policy for the world, drafted by Mr. Natwar Singh, his Foreign Minister. In his own backyard an Indo-Pak arms race was let loose. On economic policy he supported liberalisation for a bit but his efforts to change the licence-raj controlled by the administration was superficial. His understanding of economics was shallow. He prevented his economic adviser Dr. Manmohan Singh, from delivering the Adam Smith lecture. Actually he scarcely listened to his advice at all. No wonder many in power and scions in business praised him outwardly, but doled out favours from positions of power or eked favours when in business. Levels of mismanagement in the public sector, especially in the aviation sector, including Air India, Vayudoot, Pawan Hans and Indian Airlines, the very corporations and subject he had some knowledge of, reached alarming levels. His own young upstart nominees were promoted to head aviation corporations, aided and abetted by his former colleague and pilot, Satish Sharma who also turned to politics and become a close confidant of Rajiv. Rajiv’s and Satish Sharma’s wives were both foreigners and good friends. Cronies became advisers. It was a period of promise but turned out to become one of parody.

It would be appropriate to quote from an article ‘Return of the Faithful’ referring to people like R K Dhawan, in India Today dated 15 March 1989 to sum up the times “Following his (Dhawan) dismissal by Rajiv Gandhi a few hours after he was sworn in as PM, Dhawan became a political leper. Dhawan’s comeback signals Rajiv Gandhi’s return to his mother’s style of functioning. Dhawan’s return is a last ditch effort by Rajiv to try and pull his image out of a slump”. It continues “The initial buffers, or shock absorbers as they were called who replaced Dhawan were Arun Singh and Arun Nehru. In the short term in concert with VP Singh, Arjun Singh and parliamentary Secretaries like Ahmed Patel they were able to give the party and bureaucracy collective guidance and shield Rajiv from the direct heat of controversies”. Unquote.

Rajiv’s untimely death under tragic circumstances on 21st May 1991 that haunts his sycophant friend Mani Shankar Aiyar, quite by accident, ushered a new leader in India, Narasimha Rao. Even with a minority in the Parliament he offered hope to the country through the support he gave Dr Manmohan Singh’s economic policies. He pulled India out of bankruptcy through enlightened economic leadership. He wished to realign non-alignment. He wished to put India on a path to development, and offered leadership, If his other ministers especially in Defence, Foreign Affairs and Human Resource Development had been as bold, with the ability to roll back India’s antiquated policies, India would have blossomed, but Narasimha Rao permitted unbridled corruption. This was his nemesis.

In economic terms the years from 1984 to 1989, when Rajiv was the Prime Minister, were disastrous. The Controller and Auditor General of India has in his report indicated that financial prudence was given a go-by after 1985 when foreign debt of India totalled Rs. 45,961 crores (15.50 Billion dollars). The debit shot up to Rs. 1,21,179 cores (40 billion dollars) in 90-91, an increase of 150%. Foreign debt increased from 19.8% to 25% of GNP. What is alarming is that the cost of servicing the massive debt in terms of foreign exchange reserves which was 40.8% at the end of 1985-86 increased to 99.5 % in 1989-90 and 135.4% in 1990-91. Any leader worth his weight would have rung alarm bells, but it would appear that the leadership was following haphazard policies unaware of its economically disastrous consequences, which eventually came to roost in 1991. India was left with only one billion dollars in reserves, and a massive debt.

In conclusion it is proved that a good man does not a good leader make. Only educated, experienced, knowledgeable and capable people can lead. If they are good men too, it is better. But in this chapter, the historian must ask of Rajiv Gandhi; was he Enfant Terrible or the Statesman of Stature as we are led to believe, because that is the way of India, never speak ill of the Nehru family. Historians will have to answer this question, not me.

“Indira Gandhi’s successor was completely bereft of a conceptual understanding of complex emerging realities, left the Congress shorn of all ideological awareness.”

Chandan Mitra 1997– on Rajiv as Congress President.


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