The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

22nd September 1996

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The Sunday Times special: The AJR tapes

Bluff, lies and damn Indian politics


This is the second installment of telephone conversations which former State Minister A.J. Ranasinghe had with President Ranasinghe Premadasa, an Indian diplomat and other key personalities before the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was asked to withdraw from the country. On the eve of President Premadasa making the announcement at a temple in Battaramulla, he had attempted to pursuade the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo to get New Delhi to accept him as the Commander in Chief (CIC) for the Indian troops stationed here. He used his trusted lieutenant A.J. Ranasinghe to convince Indian diplomat Gurujith Singh, but all attempts failed and President Premadasa on June 1, 1989 went ahead with his decision to call for the IPKF withdrawal, leading to a flash point in Indo-Lanka crisis.

Conversation between AJR and RP

AJ: He told me to make an appointment with you and bring him to meet you. I asked him how I could take him to meet you.

RP:I will chase the person who brings him.

AJ: I told him I am a small man.

RP: The first thing you tell him that people have seen this in the 'Hindu.' Don't tell that you spoke to me. Say people are questioning why he spoke against it. Say it's good that he was not appointed as Prime Minister. If they had made him the PM everything would have been in order (ha, ha, ha).

Tell him that the President also had heard about it and is getting the hansard. Tell him all that. Now , a RAW(Indian intelligence unit) plot is being revealed that they are going to make use of local elements to assassinate. Tell that to Maharotra. Tell there is a big rumor that you'll are making use of local elements to assassinate. Put that also, Gamini and them are there no (Innawane Gaminila ehenam allaganna)

AJ: Yes, Then that letter is OK.

RP: Ranasinghe, I don't know. I won't do anything against the manifesto.

Conversation with Gamini Dissanayake

AJ: I rang up in the morning. I told him (Premadasa) that you wanted to meet him. You know he has got a little upset. It seems there was an article in the 'Hindu' newspaper and you had spoken against .............and all that . He asked me did you see. I said I didn't see. He said, "I say he has upset the whole thing. I want to know whether he has told such thing. I want to bring the hansard." I said I was in parliament and as far as I heard nothing was told to get offended. Then he said he waited to see the hansard and was rather worried about the thing. He has got a bit upset. ...... (Not clear)

Conversation between AJR and RP

RP: Gujrith didn't came.

AJ: He came. He came at 2.30.

RP: You told me about that .

AJ: Yes. After that he didn't come. He may come about at 4.00. ..... (Not clear).

Conversation between AJR and Gurujith Singh.

AJ: I just came back. Things are going very badly.

G: What happened?

AJ: Things are going on at a terrible rate. There might be a disaster now.

G: What has happened?

AJ: No. I mean nothing is seen no.

G: Anyway I must tell you there were some very good offers made from our side to your side. and unfortunately I don't think that so far they have been made use of.

AJ: Which one?

G: My High Commissioner is talking to some people.

AJ: On What?

G: Some of the things you mentioned to me ... on how to leave before 29th and

AJ: The three points I told you were .............

G: All...........

AJ: So is the High Commissioner talking to some people?

G: Yes.

AJ: With whom? Delhi.

G: Delhi and also on your side. So a compromise is possible.

AJ: So if you can tell me, because President asked me to speak.

G: No. I don't know. .. what I told you last week, after that there is no change from our side. I know the High Commissioner is trying to meet and do something on the same lines.

AJ: President is at the Cabinet.

G: The Cabinet is meeting now and what time will it be over.

AJ: I am meeting him at 9.00. The Cabinet will be over at 8.30. He wanted to meet him at home.

G: So I wish you all the best and hope you will be able to convince him.

AJ: Yes. There must be something.

G: We have offered many things, much more than the Accord. So you must make use of it. I will speak to you after I come back.

Conversation between AJR and RP

RP: (President reads out ) ................... The 29th July 1989, India and Sri Lanka will discuss the time table for the final withdrawal of the IPKF. India continues to accept the position that the President of Sri Lanka as the Commander in Chief (CIC) of all forces on Sri Lanka soil. Accordingly India is prepared to stop hostilities with the LTTE on a reciprocal basis

RP: It's fair, no.

They have responded saying "The President of Sri Lanka has requested the President to recommence the withdrawal of the IPKF. The withdrawal will recommence on or before July 29. The High Commissioner of India has reiterated to the President of Sri Lanka that the invitation of the foreign minister of India to foreign minister of Sri Lanka to visit India with a view to discuss all issues of mutual concern including the time table for final withdrawal of the IPKF, and the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement. The President is therefore sending a delegation led by the foreign minister of Sri Lanka for this purpose. The delegation will visit India on the 28th and the 29th of July.

AJ: That's OK.

RP: I told Ranjan, it is not acceptable.

AJ: That's right.

RP: Yes.

Conversation between AJR and Gurjith Singh

AJ: Now I heard that your High Commissioner is given certain briefings to Ranjan. He read me the whole thing. He says No 1 is OK, that is about sending ..No 2 is OK. But they have not mentioned about the commander in chief, and therefore nothing is coming up.

G: So you think nothing positive.

AJ: No, he is not satisfied. No 1 is OK.

G: No 1, is withdrawal.

AJ: No. 1 is withdrawal by 29th. No 2 is OK, about sending a delegation. But you have dropped the most important thing very systematically about the CIC, therefore he is not doing it.

G: So what do you want to do?

AJ: You have dropped the most important thing no

G: No. I explained to you how it cannot be the most important thing.

AJ: You know, we are friends. What can we do? The President says the most important thing has been avoided.

G: You see the main question is about the IPKF withdrawal.

AJ: The 29th is o.

G: And this is what the president said on June 1st. "We have gone a long way to come down to this position. We have really gone out of our way." You can see how he has tried to be accommodating.

AJ: That means you are sending another batch and you are going to discuss.

G: Yes.

AJ: OK.

G: That is more than OK, that was a very positive thing. You should warmly welcome it. We are not questioning the other part. Only thing I want to raise it only if it is raised the answers could be known. If you don't raise it, there will be silence. we won't say yes or no, and you can continue on the old thing.

AJ: I don't know, the President tells.

G: The main question is about withdrawal. All other issues should be kept apart. That is what we feel. You are seriously interested about the withdrawal and raise all other issues along with it. Of course you have the right to do so, but then we will also have to negotiate something. I think, we have made a very big concession.

AJ: First one is OK, that is before the 29th you will withdraw a batch and you are ready to discuss other things.

G: We will discuss everything when the delegation goes.

AJ: But the CIC thing .. you have dropped.

G: I explained to you that day also, if you assert it then the problems come. If you keep quiet, about it, don't raise it, we are not going to openly say yes or no about it. We are going to just keep quiet.

We are not going to tell the world that we don't recognize the President (as CIC). Only if asked the question, we may come out with the answer. We have been very quiet on it publicly. Inwardly, to people who are closer to us, like you and the president, we have explained the difficulty.

AJ: I will explain it to him again.

G: That is why I am happy about it, you spoke.

AJ: He {President} rang and told me. He said they have dropped the most important thing and all that.

G: What happened in the cabinet meeting?

AJ: I didn't ask.

G: Nothing interesting. I think you should advise him on these lines. He wants the withdrawal. He is getting some withdrawal, that is a big move, that is the main thing at the moment.

AJ: The other one you are not going to say yes or no.

G: You see, if he keeps asking the question and he wants the answer, as I explained to you the answer could only be known. If you don't ask the question, we don't have to give the answer.

AJ: But why don't you say that he is the president and the CIC. That is accepted no?

G: He is the CIC of the Lankan armed forces. That is your constitutional position. We respect that we have no problem with that.

AJ: But Rajiv Gandhi uttered a lie.

G: There was no lie.

AJ: He told we will go.

G: There was no lie in it. we always felt that the president of this country will be consulted on all important matters.

AJ: He said no, that J.R.J ..... is the president and he is the CIC of Sri Lanka and whenever he says we (IPKF) go.

G: He is the CIC of Sri Lanka not of India.

AJ: But he categorically used those words, that the Indian Army will be under the CIC of Sri Lanka. I can remember. I have all the references.

G: Correct.

AJ: You can't deny the fact that Rajiv told this.

G: I will explain to you in what context it was said and what the difference now is.

AJ: That is damn Indian politics. That's why the President is angry. Why was it changed?

............(not clear)

G: You must understand how the world keeps changing. Situations change. At the time Mr. Premadasa was not the president. Now we have recognized him as the president, We never missed the issue (of CIC).

AJ: That time the president was a puppet of India. That's the whole trouble.

G: That I don't know.

AJ: I'll come back to you.

Conversation between AJR and RP

AJ: Sir, Gurujith called, he asked whether the first matter regarding the withdrawal of the forces was OK. I said it is OK. Then the second one I said that when the delegation goes arrangements would be made for the phased withdrawal. I asked him what about the most important thing. (Recognizing President Premadasa as the CIC). He said "No no you should not ask that and insisted we would have to say no."

I said that is what is known as Indian diplomacy. Your prime minister is completely misleading our whole nation. They said when "so and so" was there he (JRJ) is the CIC and he is the President and we are here on his invitation. Now you are dodging diplomacy. Our people will not tolerate this. You must call a spade a spade. He said that presidents have changed. But I said presidents may change but the state is there.

RP: The constitution is there.

AJ: So states won't change, although governments change. So you can't bluff His Excellency. He said we have given the most two important things which has been asked. I said then the other one. He said please don't ask that.

RP: Then we don't want that. We will drop the thing. We are going ahead declaring tomorrow, that the IPKF can't stay here.

AJ: I told him don't lie. You are trying to bluff the whole nation and that is not the way. Merely just because the other man gave in, our president won't give in. Everybody is not a traitor I said.

RP: It's OK, that won't work.

Conversation between AJR and Gurjith Singh

AJ: I rang back and explained to him your position. I don't think anything will come out of it. He is going to announced tomorrow morning about this.

I said, "Sir don't ask that question. Other things are favorable. I also argued with my friends why should it be said, over and over again. He said no, if they are not giving in to declare IPKF as a .......that famous declaration. What can I do? I pleaded with him.

G: Well, the only hope is that when he prays in the morning he will get some revelation. and then he will take the right step.

AJ: I don't think. I know his ways. He is a man like that. You know he is such a nice man, anything can be done in the correct way. But things go the other way, it's just the other way. This is his way. I know him very well.

G: President Premadasa is a very straight forward man.

AJ: I did my best. So what can we do? We are both small people.

G: I think we still have hope, because I think in that three paragraphs, two are acceptable to you. May be there is still hope.

AJ: You talk to your High Commissioner and get back to me.

G: Tomorrow morning I am moving to the hotel. I will give a ring from there.

Conversation between AJR and RP

AJ: Hello, I told Gurujith don't try your corrupt diplomacy here. Our President if he thinks something it's like that. Not like J.R. Jayewardene .

J.R. Jayewardene tells something in Delhi and when he comes here, something else. Your own PM has told that . But this man (Premadasa) is not like that. Whether it is right or wrong, he will tell. He told will you please tell the president. I said I can't. I am telling you. He said "Please wait till tomorrow. We are going to a hotel tomorrow." He will do it.

RP: Call him and tell him, "What are you trying to do, you are going to lose a very good friend, and make a very bad enemy out of him. You don't know our president becomes friendly, Rajiv will not have a friend like that, but if you fall out with him, he will even ensure the defeat of your Prime minister.

AJ: I am sure he will come tomorrow morning.

Conversation between Gurujith Singh and AJR.

AJ: I am sorry to disturb you again. I explained the whole thing to him. You know I will tell Mr. Gurujith. A very important thing. If you can convince your government, your present PM about the other one. You know, you will be making a very good friend not like JR Jayewardene. He might be the best friend of Rajiv. But otherwise, you are losing a very good friend. that you haven't had. I will tell you, it will be very bad, for both countries. And even your president, and your PM, will have to face some music in the political world. So I and you can't try this ......

G: Yes.

AJ: Be realistic, you are losing a very good friend if you can't make this. I can tell you this. How many countries as far as I know, they have already told you this. You tell your High Commissioner that I told that you have destined to be the best friend, though a small country. You will never repent. Otherwise it will be the reverse.

'The Sunday Times' will next week publish telephone conversations related to how the government tried to solve the Satan Peramuna strike which crippled the country during 1988-89 period.

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