In March 1987, the Indian government led by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent the Indian Amy’s elite commandos from the 10 PARA clandestinely to Sri Lanka to evacuate the then President JR Jayewardene, who faced threats from the Sinhalese Buddhist militancy.
The Tamil issue was simmering at the time and was yet to peak. In 1983, the ambush of Four Four Bravo (a Sri Lankan Army patrol by the call sign) by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) led to the Black July riots – the anti-Tamil pogrom fanned by the ruling United National Party (UNP). The LTTE saw youth joining its ranks and began dominating Jaffna. Black July riots transformed the militancy into a civil war.
At the same time, Jayewardene also faced opposition from Sinhala militancy and, to a certain extent Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Marxist–Leninist communist party and a former militant organization. Jayewardene feared a coup by ‘internal enemies’ having a soft corner toward the Sinhalese Buddhist militants who subscribed to Sinhalese chauvinism. The ‘insiders’ believed that Jayewardene would go soft on the Tamils under international pressure, especially by India, which pushed for a negotiated settlement.
Jayewardene sends SOS to India
Jayewardene opened secret channels with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It is unknown when he approached India, but the 10 PARA had enough time to prepare for its mission.
A bit on 10 PARA COMMANDO
9 PARA SF, formerly known as 9 PARA COMMANDO, can be touted as the first special operations unit, similar to the British SAS, created by the Indian Army to perform various roles and tasks ranging from conducting covert operations to cross-border raids across enemy lines.
9 PARA SF is the leading unit in India that made the Indian Army develop “Unconventional Capabilities” and “Asymmetric Warfare” modes to carry out covert operations and create hell behind enemy lines. Conceived initially during the Indo-Pak War in 1965 as the Meghdoot Force created by Lieutenant Col Megh Singh, its mission was to carry out cross-border operations in Kashmir initially and behind enemy lines. Meghdoot in the Hindi language means a messenger from the cloud or, in this context, the messenger of Megh Singh. They were known as the Mountain Rats. The unit played a fundamental role in creating other special operations units such as 10 PARA SF, 3 PARA SF, 11 PARA SF, 21 PARA SF, National Security Guards and Rashtriya Rifles.
10 Para Cdo (10 Para Commandos) was raised on June 1, 1967, hived out of the 9 Para Cdo for Desert Operations and were called the Desert Scorpenes. They come under the Indian Army’s Southern command located in Pune. In the 1980s, the Para’s had many masters, which included the Indian external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), the Home Ministry and logically under the Intelligence Bureau (IB) etc. The Paras wore many operational hats until PM Rajiv Gandhi created the National Security Guards (NSG), which includes the famous Black Cat Commandos, in 1987.
10 Para Cdo in Sri lanka
The R&AW, which already operated in Sri Lanka being an external intelligence agency, is known to have arranged for the 10 Para Cdo to extricate Jayewardene if necessary.
An unspecified number of 10 Para Cdo personnel in a team led by an officer of the rank of a Major headed to a southern Indian Air Force base, possibly Air Force station Yehlanka in Karnataka, for training. Later an eight-member team, including the Major rank officer, were taken to Sri Lanka in a ship and later Gemini-like inflatable craft. They were housed in a five-star hotel with a helipad, close to the Sri Lankan parliament. The team was on alert for ten days for an Operation Entebbe like scenario.
The anticipated coup did not happen, and the team returned back to India.
Aftermath and 10 Para Cdo
Subsequently, the relations between India and Sri Lanka deteriorated when PM Rajiv Gandhi air-dropped supplies over the besieged town of Jaffna under Operation Poomalai in July. A clever, Jayewardene signed a peace accord with India and invited the Indian Armed Forces to facilitate disarming of the Tamil militants. The Indian Armed Forces arrived in the Island Nation under Operation Pawan as the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The peacekeeping force soon turned to the peace enforcers and fought pitched battles with the LTTE. The 10 Para Cdo played a stellar role in the conflict but also had a setback during operations over the Jaffna University football field. As per hearsay, the LTTE cadres would run when they saw the bearded soldiers (Para Cdo) approaching.
10 Para Commando returned to India on 22 March 1990. Thirty-five years later, the sacrifice of the Indian Servicemen in a foreign nation has been obscured from public memory, with 1300 dead in battle and about 3500 grievously injured. The IPKF veterans are now fighting a new battle for the recognition of their dead comrades who were cremated or buried in Sri Lanka in unmarked graves. All they want is an official day dedicated to their fallen brethren like India celebrates Operation Vijay.