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A Diplomat Recounts

N. Manoharan

By Lakhan Mehrotra
Har-Anand Publications, Delhi, 2011, pp. 254, Rs.595.00


The year 2012 marks the 25th year of the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. The book under review is, therefore, timely. It is simplistic to say that My Days in Sri Lanka is a narration of events of Lakhan Mehrotra’s 14 month tenure as India’s High Commissioner in Sri Lanka. The book goes beyond that to deal with important actors and actions of the Island, though it revolves around one of the most tumultuous periods in Sri Lanka, 1989-90. Internally it was turbulent because of the simultaneous existence of Sinhala and Tamil militancies led respectively by the Janata Vimukti Permuna (JVP) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Bilaterally, the period was most testing bringing usually friendly India and Sri Lanka close to blows. It was a period not only of change of regime in Sri Lanka, but also in India. The author, thus, had to witness several tectonic shifts in domestic and foreign policies. It was indeed a challenging and risky assignment. The author’s earlier stint in more tumultuous and ethnically fractured Yugoslavia and his tenures in Cuba, China, and Argentina during crisis times made him the natural choice for the job. According to the author the assignment ‘had come as a complete surprise’ but he ‘welcomed it and was ready for it mind, body and soul.’ He went to Sri Lanka with a clear objective: to carry out ‘a peace offensive’. When the author stepped in as India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, signed in July 1987, was already in trouble. Mehrotra soon realized the existence of several internal contradictions playing themselves out on the Sri Lankan stage, basically between extremism and moderatism, but unfortunately, extremists having the upper hand. The Sri Lankan President, Premadasa opposed the Accord and was insisting on ‘a fresh treaty guaranteeing permanent peace and friendship between the two countries.’ He was prepared to go to any length to achieve his objectives and would not care if the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord was abrogated and relations with India ruptured. At the same time, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran quickly went back on his initial acceptance of the Accord, which made it clear that any solution to the ethnic issue should not be at the cost of Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity. But the LTTE was obdurate about a separate Tamil Eelam. It ...

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