To commemorate the memory of the 1300 KIA braves of the IPKF in OP PAWAN, a group of veterans gathered on 29 Jul 22 at the National War Memorial to mark the 35th Anniversary of OP PAWAN in Sri Lanka. The day marks the signing of the Indo – SL Accord in 1987. The eclectic group, more than 70 strong, with ladies who also participated in the wreath laying and floral tributes. The oldest attendee was Lt Gen AS Kalkat, the former Force Commander now in his mid-90 s, who gracefully consented to allow the anguished mother of a war hero, 2 Lt Bedi, VrC ( Posthumous) from 8 Engr Regt, to do the wreath laying honours. Lt Gen Milan Naidu, Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, Lt Gen Kanwal Kumar and Lt Gen Rajinder Singh were the other veterans who attended the ceremony. This would be the IPKF veterans’ second private remembrance at the NWM, as the government only formally honours the KIA of 1971 and the Kargil War of 1999 at this location.
In the engrossing Netflix serial, Outlander (based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon), the chief protagonist and lady, Clarie Fraser, from Scotland, shuffles in time from the mid, post-WW 20 Century to the mid 18th Century by a freak chance, almost 200 years apart. The former nurse uses her modern nursing skills acquired in the Second WW to provide succour to the beleaguered Scottish folks fighting the British Red Coats in the mid-18th Century. Initially, she is widely respected as a healer, till such time opinion turns against her, with accusations, albeit false, of her being an Outlander, and a witch, cropping up regularly leading to her trial and being spurned!!
The Indian Peace Keeping Force, too, likewise, once welcome and feted as a magic pill for the ills of Sri Lankan Tamils, soon turned sour when it morphed to assume the thankless role of a peace enforcer. In the event, it ended up pleasing neither the Tamils of India and Sri Lanka nor the majority Sinhalese.
The buggers’ muddle, and the poor planning and execution of putting across a Corps level force, ill-prepared and with no inkling of the challenges it would face, resulted in the death of 1171 soldiers and more than 3500 seriously injured, who under the circumstances performed admirably, by driving the LTTE into the jungles, out of Jaffna Town and holding the suspect SLA at bay, the latter whose sinister involvement in instigating the LTTE came to fore later on. The peculiar and dangerous local situations would stretch the Indian Army s fabled ACR quality of “Tolerance for ambiguity” to break point, often sealing the careers of many who fought valiantly while harbouring those who stayed away or dodged an Island tenure. It should be remembered that both US and the Russians had intervened in Vietnam and Afghanistan, respectively, to realise that such forays can only create conditions of effective governance, and without the political will to implement the mandate, they fail. Their interventions were much longer, in most cases almost two decades.
Nevertheless, the IPKF intervention provided Jayawardene, the then President, with much breathing space to tackle the local Sinhalese militancy, which was rarely acknowledged. The intervention also saved the Tamils from certain decimation with the launch of IAF s Operation Poonamalai to drop supplies to the beleaguered Tamils, now holed up and ringed by the menacing, rapidly advancing SLA in Jun 87.
The IPKF finally exited when the thinking of both the Indian Govt and the SL Govt under the newly elected Premadasa converged, as both wanted the IPKF out of SL in Mar 1990, albeit for different reasons. The LTTE assassinated PM Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, a fatal self-goal, isolating themselves completely and signifying the crossing of a threshold in their battle, one which they would rue. The SLA would take another two decades to finally crush the LTTE while eliminating Prabhakaran in the jungles of Mullaitivu on 18 May 2009. LTTE would face a ban in many countries now, effectively choked logistically and financially.
Poetic justice seemed to reign as SL constructed a memorial for the IPKF near Colombo in 2009, much before an embarrassed Indian Army woke up to reality and did likewise on 9 Feb 2004, in Bhopal, under the aegis of 21 Corps, the HQ of which was supplanted, by the nucleus of the Force HQs, IPKF. It is anybody s guess whether the Indian Army would have constructed such a memorial if SL Govt had not taken the lead!
The irony of the IPKF being spurned and not accorded its due was not lost, as at least four army Chiefs and two more from the sister services, all Op Pawan veterans, did little to restore the legacy of the IPKF, often called India s Vietnam. The official history of OP PAWAN is also awaiting release. The political failure of the leadership bears much in common with the 1962 War, when weak, inept political leadership would result in disaster in the Himalayas, only salvaged by the raw bravery of the soldiers. The IPKF would earn laurels in the form of 1 PVC and 6 MVC s, apart from the scores of other wartime gallantry awards, but was denied any battle honour, having lost more than 300 killed in the initial bloody Jaffna battle of two weeks in October 87. The epic loss of 29 braves, including Maj Virender Singh VrC (P), of 13 SIKH LI was poignant, where the hapless Sikhs fought valiantly under withering LTTE, HMG and AK 47 fire till bayonet point, but the Indian Army did not think it fit to honour their collective sacrifice suitably. It was left to the unit to commemorate
this battle locally !! No less was the bravery of men of 10 Para Commando under then Maj RS Bhadauria, who lost six men in this engagement alone.
Post all battles, where Generals usually wield pens, here it was left to the junior leadership to adorn the mantle of restoring the image and legacy of the IPKF to its rightful place in Indian military history. In the last three years, a group of IPKF veterans have so far recorded more than 15 webinars with the help of Bharat Shakti, Strive and Frontier India, to refocus the spotlight on this unique, out-of-country operation. More than 30 articles have been published in various newspapers such as Goa Chronicle, Financial Times, Print and Tribune. They have also published four books comprising personal accounts by Lt Col Atul Kochhar, co-authored with Lt Col BR Nair and Maj Gen Arjun Muthanna. The annual wreath-laying to honour the KIA of this operation has been done on two occasions and is now a yearly affair. The veterans would now petition the RM to accept the genuine demands of the veterans of IPKF. It is hoped that the authorities that be would take notice and exorcise those ghosts which linger on.