| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( June 19, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Well-known columnist, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, had stated that India may send a special envoy to discuss matters connected with the 13th Amendment, which has now become a contentious issue, in light of the fact that the government is considering bringing in amendments to it. The special envoy, as has been revealed, is Indian Diplomat, Hardeep Puri, who, at the time of signing the Indo-Lanka Agreement in 1987, was the Political Secretary at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. He was also the former Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.

His wife too served in the High Commission as the Secretary of Information. Puri's name has been popping up in recent times, in respect of some controversial statements he had made in an article published in the 'Hindu.' His accusations were vehemently rejected by Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. An extract of Puri's article in the 'Hindu' titled, 'Why India is right on Sri Lanka' is reproduced below:

13A – only safeguard

"India can be against the LTTE but cannot afford to be against the Tamils. The problem, both amongst the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka and large sections of the Tamil population in India, is that the LTTE successfully manipulated Tamil opinion by projecting itself as the only physical shield against Sinhala repression. We cannot wish away this sentiment. The only safeguard for the Tamils in Sri Lanka is delivery of the promised devolution based on the 13th Amendment.

Puri's commitment in the discharge of his duties at the time of the signing of peace agreement has come for high praise from Dixit. Puri's name makes reappearance in the news headlines as India's Permanent Representative to the UN during the days when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's panel was deliberating alleged war crimes and human rights violations against Sri Lanka at last stages of the war with LTTE. It was no secret that Puri maintained close connections with the panel members.

"Both the AIADMK and the DMK, along with the smaller parties in Tamil Nadu are on the same page on the Sri Lanka issue. The problem will continue to fester till Colombo has a genuine change of heart. Recent signals are anything but encouraging. Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said on 27 March 2013: "Could we afford to have a provincial administration here, which pointed a gun at the national leadership at the drop of a hat? We don't want to be at the mercy of scheming provincial administrations." Let alone the 13 Amendment, the Defence Secretary seems to be suggesting the winding up of provincial councils' altogether!

"Notwithstanding assurances to India, the 'Brothers' running Sri Lanka appear to have no intention to move on political reconciliation and devolution. This 'majoritarianism' in total disregard of respecting and protecting the rights of minorities, is a narrow and calibrated political strategy designed to safeguard Sinhalese parliamentary strength. The recent attacks on the Muslim trading community in the heart of Colombo by fanatic Sinhalese, allegedly led by Buddhist monks, are manifestations of similar callous and cynical disregard for the rights of linguistic, religious and cultural minorities. India did the right thing by supporting the resolution on war crimes.

"Exaggerated projections of Chinese inroads and influence are a bogey which many of our smaller neighbours periodically try on us. Apart from being practical, the Chinese are also hard- headed. They will pursue economic and commercial opportunity irrespective of the way India votes. Support for Sri Lanka up to 2012 did not prevent them from looking for commercial projects there. Many Chinese successes have something to do with our own inability to deliver commercial projects on time.

"Sri Lanka is not only India's closest neighbour but in many respects, culturally and emotionally, closest to us as well. We need to reach out to Colombo and drive home the point that it takes two to tango. Relations between countries are assiduously built, step by step. Unless Colombo treats its Tamil citizens with dignity and respect, New Delhi will continue to have limited options. If New Delhi continues to base its choices on misplaced 'perceptions' and does not effectively articulate the reasons for the choices so made; only brickbats will be in the offing."

'India could never absolve itself'

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's rebuttal to Puri's controversial statement is also reproduced below:

"Had India acted responsibly, Sri Lanka would not have experienced a 30-year-war," Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, had said.

According to the local publication, 'Daily News,' Rajapaksa, who is a brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had said India could never absolve itself of the responsibility for creating terrorism here, though some of those directly involved in subverting Sri Lanka were blaming the Rajapaksa administration for the plight of the Tamil-speaking people here.

The news report quotes him as having said, "people of all communities would have been still suffering the horrors of war, if not for the eradication of terrorism in May 2009, following a three-year combined security forces campaign."

The Defence Secretary said, Puri was involved in the Indian operation against the Jayewardene Government, ahead of the India-Sri Lanka Accord in July 1987.

"He was one of those aware of the Indian operations here," he said, adding that both Puri and his wife, Lakshmi, were attached to the Indian mission here during the tenure of J.N. Dixit as High Commissioner.

Responding to Puri's call for investigation into "specific allegations of war crimes during the last 100 days of military operations," Rajapaksa said: "Those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka's part for alleged atrocities committed during the last 100 days of the conflict were silent on the origin of terrorism here." Indian intervention had resulted in a major regional crisis, when Sri Lankan terrorists, trained by Indians, raided the Maldives in early November 1988. "The international community should consider a comprehensive investigation into the issue beginning with the Indian intervention," he said.

Puri could aid an investigation by revealing what had been going on at that time. Dixit, in his memoirs, had said that arming Sri Lankan Tamil youths was one of the two major policy blunders of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Rajapaksa said.

Puri is the only surviving diplomat today, who had met Prabhakaran, one to one. J.N. Dixit makes reference to their meeting in his book as follows.

"I rang up the First Secretary (Political) at our mission in Colombo, Hardeep Puri, to tell him to proceed to Jaffna immediately and to inform Prabhakaran about the details of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, and to get his response as well as on his willingness to come to Delhi for an exchange of views. Puri was explicitly told not to show the agreement to Prabhakaran and give him only an outline of it. Puri went to Jaffna the same day. It had been decided to show the agreement to Prabhakaran in the presence of a competent Tamil interpreter later.

Puri returned from Jaffna after holding discussions with Prabhakaran on 19 and 20 July. Puri confirmed that Prabhakaran was generally agreeable to the proposed Accord and that he had only two pre-conditions: (a) the Sri Lankan Forces should close down all the military camps set up in the Vadamarachchi region after 25 May 1987, and withdraw to older camps/barracks; and (b) he would like to be taken to Madras and Delhi in an Indian Air Force plane, implying thereby New Delhi's recognition of the LTTE.

He also expressed a wish to call on M.G. Ramachandran and Rajiv Gandhi. This information was conveyed immediately to the Prime Minister, who confirmed that the demands would be met. Rajiv Gandhi directed that Prabhakaran be airlifted from Jaffna on 22 July and brought to Delhi.

In the meanwhile, First Secretary Puri, had proceeded to Jaffna to organize the airlift of Prabhakaran, four members of the LTTE political committee, Prabhakaran's wife and children, to Delhi via Madras. Prabhakaran and party were airlifted in two helicopters of the Indian Air Force from the grounds of the Suthumalia Amman Kovil Temple on 24 July to Trichy, from where they were taken by special aircraft to Madras. Prabhakaran called on the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and proceeded to Delhi, leaving his wife and children behind in Madras. His Political Adviser in Madras, Balasingham, was also asked to go to Delhi.

The assault of Gandhi

This is how the assault on Rajiv Gandhi is described in Dixit's book.

"Rajiv mounted the saluting dais, the two national anthems were played, the combined guards presented arms, and the Prime Minister proceeded to inspect the guard of honour accompanied by the Chief of Naval Staff of Sri Lanka. Hardeep Puri had walked down the lane where the cars were parked, as Rajiv commenced his walk down the red carpet, along to the front row of the guard. We had walked out about 30 yards down the lane when he heard a commotion behind us. A couple of Sinhalese with their lungies tied up above their knees were running away from the square where the guard of honour was being held. One of them was shouting something in Tamil. I asked him what had happened. He said something had happened to the Prime Minister of India and there was going to be shooting.

Hardeep and I rushed back to find Rajiv calmly standing with Sonia beside him, looking tense and not conversing with Jayewardene, as his official limousine was being lined up for his departure. I found a very distraught Gamini Dissanayake standing near the VIP group. To my anxious query, he replied that he did not exactly know what had happened, but some member of the guard of honour had apparently fallen out of line and disturbed the Prime Minister's inspection. By this time, Rajiv and Sonia had got into their cars.

I approached Jayewardene and asked him what the commotion was about. He looked me coolly in the eye and said: "Nothing serious. Rajiv tripped a little and slightly lost his balance as he was reaching the last group of soldiers in the guard of honour." As we rushed back to our cars, an Indian TV journalist told me that one of the Sri Lankan soldiers had tried to hit Rajiv with the butt of his rifle as he was reaching the end of the front row of the guard.

On getting into the aircraft, I found Sonia seated in tense quietude. I walked up to Rajiv and apologized for not reaching in time to bid him farewell. I put the burning question to the one person who could give the correct answer.

Rajiv had taken off his Bandgala and was in the act of removing his bulletproof vest when I brought up the incident. He smiled ruefully and said. "What is all this nonsensical speculation? Of course, I was hit." He pulled down his shirt and vest from his shoulder and said, "Mani have a look."

There were big blue welts a little away from the base of his neck, and on the shoulder blade, and on the flesh at the back of his shoulder. He put on his shirt, shook me by the hand and said: "Don't worry. You and your colleagues have done a difficult job, wonderfully. Such things keep happening."

Puri's commitment in the discharge of his duties at the time of the signing of peace agreement has come for high praise from Dixit. Puri's name makes reappearance in the news headlines as India's Permanent Representative to the UN during the days when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's panel was deliberating alleged war crimes and human rights violations against Sri Lanka at last stages of the war with LTTE. It was no secret that Puri maintained close connections with the panel members.

All in all, Puri's supposed arrival in the country as a special envoy may not augur well for the Rajapaksa Government in the coming days.