Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the former war-torn Jaffna, the citadel of Tamils in Sri Lanka, six years after the war between LTTE and Sri Lankan army ended with the dreaded LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran killed in encounter.
Jaffna is the capital of the troublesome northern province of Sri Lanka. It has been witness to massacres, atrocities by both militiamen and soldiers and the birth of Tamil aspirations for a separate Eelam.
With the war now over, India has several infrastructure development projects on the ground. India is building around 50,000 homes in Jaffna, There are thousands of homeless Tamils whose lives have been torn by continuous wars and strife.
In 2013, India's then External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had wished that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could have visited Sri Lanka, with a special visit thrown in for Jaffna, but "coalition compulsions" forced Dr Singh to stay away, with the belligerent DMK breathing down his neck. Modi has no such compulsions.
Had Manmohan Singh agreed, he could have become the first head of a government to visit the Northern Province since Sri Lankan independence in 1948, much before his British counterpart David Cameron did. However, Khurshid's wish remained unfulfilled.
At that time Khurshid told a leading daily, “Let the people judge whether their (those objecting to the PM's visit to Sri Lanka) strategy has brought benefit. My objective is to get the Sri Lankans to get back on their feet and have self-confidence.”
Jaffna province is home to a population of around 6 lakh people, primarily Sri Lankan Tamils. Tamils were the worst affected in the Sri Lankan Civil War which erupted in 1983 and ended in 2009 with the decimation of the dreaded LTTE.
No Indian Prime Minister visited this area ever before, to check the flagship project being built with Indian assistance by Sri Lanka. With a target of 50,000 houses to be built, only 14,500 have been built in the last four years.
Did the past really haunt the Indian Prime Ministers?
Consider the scenario. In 1983, the worst of anti-Tamil pogroms, also known as Black July, took place after the LTTE killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers.
This caused a week-long massacre. As was quoted by BBC News at that time, the mass destruction caused an estimated death toll range between 400 and 3000, nearly 8000 homes and 5000 shops were destroyed and around 1,50,000 people were left homeless. This was more of a revenge on Tamils under orders from the then dispensation.
Since the Indian Tamils held strong connections with their Sri Lankan counterparts and wanted to assist them , the Indian government appealed to the then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka JR Jayewardene to stop the massacre of Tamils.
However, the sufferings of Tamils continued unabated. As an immediate and interim measure, India supported the Tamil groups and exerted pressure on Sri Lankan government to start talks.
By now Sri Lanka started drifting towards the US and Pakistan causing worries to Indian security as well.
Several militant groups raised their heads in the northern province, with the LTTE – The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the most prominent among them.There were reports in the media that the LTTE was being given material support by Indian security agencies.
When Rajiv Gandhi took over as Prime Minister in 1984, he started the process for peace in Sri Lanka.
At that time, the Sri Lankan government was close to defeating the lead militant group LTTE, which was besieged in Jaffna. Indian Air Force planes dropped 25 tons of food and medicine by parachute into areas held by the LTTE in a direct move of support toward the rebels.
However, peace talks continued both with Sri Lanka and Prabhakaran (who even came to Delhi for talks), but Prabhakaran decided to take up arms and spurned the peace process. On July 29, 1987, the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi went ahead and signed an Indo-Sri-Lankan Peace Accord with Sri Lankan President Jayewardene according to which India ceased its support to the Tamil insurgents and deployed the Indian Peace Keeping Forces in the northern province.
While most Tamil militant groups laid their weapons before the IPKF and agreed to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict, the LTTE refused to disarm its fighters.
LTTE was furious about what it called the U-turn by Rajiv Gandhi. The fighting between IPKF and LTTE continued, with Sri Lankans led by the then prime minister Premadasa also demanding that the IPKF leave. Forced to fight with "one arm behind its back", the Indian army-led IPKF was ultimately withdrawn and LTTE ooccupied the whole of northern province.
Prabhakaran in blind rage ordered his assassins to kill Rajiv Gandhi. The chief of LTTE's spy wing Pottu Amman ordered Sivarasan and the main assassin dhanu alias Thenmozhi Rajaratnam to carry out the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi who was then in the thick of election campaign in 1991. The assassination was carried out in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, with the human bomb Dhanu blowing herself, Rajiv Gandhi and his security personnel to pieces.
The Sri Lankan army under its chief Gen Sarath Fonseka, carried out a major campaign to crush LTTE, which was eventually decimated in 2009 with the death of Prabhakaran.
In the rebuilding of Jaffna, India offered assistance to Sri Lanka. The Modi government announced development projects worth Rs. 365 million in August last year.
Modi has taken a major initiative in rebuilding the Tamil-dominated province. India hopes Tamils will get a fair share of power in the Sri Lankan dispensation, and they will forget their bitter past.