‘Only a warrior following the call of his Karma and at peace with his destiny, would fight hard and die well, even in a foreign land he knows nothing about!’
– Col RS Sidhu, an IPKF veteran
In the face of official apathy to publicly honour the legacy of the soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice in Operation Pawan, the IPKF veterans have undertaken this onerous task. The veterans of the IPKF privately commemorated the supreme sacrifices during Operation Pawan at the National War Memorial (NWM), New Delhi, on July 29, 2023. The honours for wreath laying this year were vested with Smt Kamlesh, Vir Nari, w/o Late L/Nk Rajbir Singh, VrC, 5 Raj Rif KIA in Operation Pawan, Maj Gen R Bhalla, ex GOC 54 Inf Div in Operation Pawan, Col RS Sidhu, IPKF Veteran, and Capt Raii, on behalf of Commanding Officer & All Ranks 16 SIKH.
Adjutant General’s Branch, Army Headquarters accorded sanction for Wreath Laying as a private ceremony by IPKF veterans, provided back-end support at the NWM, and enabled the presence of 40 NCC Cadets as spectators.
However, no wreath was placed at the NWM on behalf of senior national and military dignitaries from the Army Headquarters.
We are ignorant of any official communication from the Indian Navy on this aspect.
Indian Air Force
Air Marshal B Manikantan, AOC-in-C Southern Air Command, IAF, addressed Air Force Station Sulur personnel reminiscing the courage and professionalism displayed by air warriors during Operation Pawan, while Gp Capt Sumit Garg, Station Commander Air Force Station Thanjavur, celebrated the occasion by publicly honouring the IAF veterans of Operation Pawan.
Review of Progress
There has been grudging progress by Army Headquarters in understanding the viewpoint of IPKF veterans over the last three years. The phrase “…It shall be a silent ceremony” from their sanction letters for 2021, and 2022 is not included in the sanction letter for 2023.
Four wreaths were permitted to be laid this year, from only one wreath laying on the previous two occasions. The NWM has, for the first time, acknowledged this ceremony on their official Twitter handle.
The presence of NCC cadets as spectators is the beginning towards the official presence of the uniformed fraternity from the nation’s armed forces, whose personnel made the supreme sacrifice during Operation Pawan.
Fact Sheet of Operation Pawan
It is India’s longest Joint Services Military Operation, 32 months, from July 29, 1987, to March 24, 1990.
Headquarters IPKF is India’s first Joint Operations Military Command and is the rightful forerunner to the future Theatre Commands now under consideration.
Nearly 100,000 troops from the Ti-services were under the command of HQ IPKF.
1171 Killed in Action.
More than 3500 Wounded.
Awarded 1 Param Vir Chakra, 6 Mahavir Chakra, 98 Vir Chakra, 1 Sarvottam Yudh Seva Medal, and other Gallantry Awards, including the award of 1 MVC and approximately 15 Vr C to the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force.
The Indian Navy ferried 100,000 tons of war-like stores and supplies. IAF aircraft flew 70,000 sorties.
Busting Fallacies on Operation Pawan
A Failed Military Operation
Shorn of manipulated political and parochial viewpoints, this tri-service operational venture was a big success.
The India-Sri Lanka Agreement (ISLA) of July 29, 1987 is the basic document for deploying the IPKF in Sri Lanka.
The IPKF had succeeded in achieving the politico-military objectives spelt out in the ISLA within under 18 months.
The Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka had been amalgamated into a single constitutional administrative entity. General elections to the unified Provincial Council had been successfully held. A duly elected civilian government had been sworn in as the Northeast Provincial Council. LTTE, the dominant Tamil militant organisation opposing the ISLA, had been marginalised. Defunct civil infrastructure had been restored. An overall environment conducive to the recommencement of private enterprise had been established in Northeast Sri Lanka.
On December 10 1988, the duly elected Chief Minister of the North Eastern Provincial Council in Sri Lanka was sworn in by the President of Sri Lanka. GOC, IPKF, having accomplished the assigned politico-military objectives set out in the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, signalled the Government of India: “Mission accomplished, awaiting further orders…”(1)
At this stage, the Government of Sri Lanka, under diverging interests with the Government of India, called for withdrawing the IPKF from its sovereign territory. After protracted negotiations, a political decision was taken to de-induct the IPKF from the island nation.
The informal agreement for deinduction of the IPKF was finalised between the diplomats and military of the two countries by September 1989. Deinduction in agreed-upon stages commenced from October 1989 onwards, much before the change of Government in India in December 1989.
The deinduction of the IPKF from Sri Lanka was as much a political decision of the same government that had ordered the initial induction in July 1987!
Commemoration of Operation Pawan Not Conducive to Bilateral Relations with Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has erected a War Memorial, prominently laid out in their capital city of Colombo, to honour the IPKF. A commemoration service to honour the supreme sacrifices by the soldiers of IPKF to uphold the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka is held here on January 26 and August 15 every year.
High Indian dignitaries, including the Prime Minister (2), the Foreign Minister (3), and the Indian military Service Chiefs (4) (5), visiting Colombo, have paid public homage at this war memorial.
The Defence Attache of Sri Lanka has extended an outreach to IPKF veterans.
The official silence may be attributable to perceived political rather than national considerations.
The IPKF Veterans Viewpoint
“As young leaders, our Karma was to lead our men in intense combat in Operation Pawan. As veterans, it is our sacred Dharma to ensure that the supreme sacrifices made by the men we led are commemorated with due honours.”
The absence of the uniformed fraternity from the Wreath Laying at the National War Memorial is a point of deep anguish for the IPKF veterans. It is only fitting that the uniformed fraternity from the Indian armed forces stands shoulder to shoulder with its veterans to commemorate the supreme sacrifices made on the battlefield, be it in a foreign land.
Towards this effect, we salute the exemplary laying of wreaths, alongside us, by 16 SIKH to honour their supreme sacrifices during Operation Pawan.
We look forward to the Chief of Army Staff, the highest custodian of our military traditions, to review the current decision to keep the IPKF saga in official shadow.
(1) The Provincial elections were conducted in November 1988. On December 10 1988, the duly elected Chief Minister of the North Eastern Provincial Council, Annamalai Varadaraja Perumal, was sworn in by the president. On the same day, I intimated my government in New Delhi: ‘Mission Accomplished’, awaiting further orders…” An extract from “IPKF heroes were ignored for 30 years. They are finally getting their due under Modi Govt”, by Lt Gen AS Kalkat, former GOC IPKF. (The Print on July 27 2021)
(2) Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lay a wreath at IPKF War Memorial at Colombo. (Times of India, March 7, 2015)
(3) Smt Sushma Swaraj laying a wreath at IPKF War Memorial at Colombo. (First Post, March 07, 2015)
(4) India Today October 13 2021 – Gen MM Naravane, COAS, laid a wreath on October 13, 2021, at the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) War Memorial in Colombo, paying tribute to the soldiers of the Indian Army who laid down their lives during the Peace Keeping Operations in Sri Lanka’s civil war.