COLOMBO: India’s new Foreign Secretary Dr.S.Jaishankar is admiringly remembered in Sri Lanka for his sterling performance as a young Political Officer in the High Commission at a time when India had assumed humongous political and military responsibilities following the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987.
“Jaishankar made a significant contribution to India’s efforts to settle the Tamil question at that time. He was objective, unbiased and focused,” said R.Sampanthan, the senior-most leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), who had interacted with Jaishankar as one of the three top leaders of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).
Jaishankar was in Lanka between June 1988 and July 1990, when India had set up Provincial Councils under the new 13 th. Amendment of the constitution which it had inspired. Given the intense opposition to the Accord from President R.Premadasa, Sinhalese extremists and Tamil militants, India had to deploy a combination of military power and political skills to conduct provincial and national elections and enable the newly created North-Eastern Provincial Council (NEPC) to function.
“Jaishankar displayed a rare combination of lucid realism and engaging charm. He had a ready grasp of the complexities of Lankan politics and society,” said Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka, a Sinhalese minister in the NEPC.
“Jaishankar will promote India’s interests. But being a realist, he is unlikely to make the mistake of imposing too large an Indian footprint on the island,” ” Jayatilleka said.
Former Ambassador C.Mahendran remembered Jaishankar as one who “played with a straight bat”. He felt that Jaishankar might push for devolution of power under the 13 th.Amendment.
Dr.K.Vigneswaran, who was Secretary to NEPC’s first Chief Minister, A.Varadarajaperumal, said that Jaishankar had a critical role in getting the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) to contest the first NEPC elections after the TULF chickened out fearing LTTE reprisals. The Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) was persuaded to contest the parliamentary elections, albeit as an LTTE proxy.
However, neither the LTTE nor Premadasa allowed the NEPC to function. While Premadasa armed the LTTE to fight the India army, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi and Prime Minister V.P.Singh backed the LTTE politically. By July 1990, all work done by diplomats since 1987, came to naught. The NEPC collapsed and Eelam War II began.