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Seeking indian intervation


According to media reports ((Sirasa 9 pm news telecast, 15/12; Daily Mirror front page story, 16/12) the UNP leader, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe "welcomes" the visit to Sri Lanka of Mr. Pranap Mukerjee, the External Affairs Minister of India in connection with our internal terrorist problem. It will help he says in "resolving the longstanding national question". The same media reports also quoted our own Media Minister, Mr Yapa Abeywardena, as saying "There was no official request from the Indian government —- for such a visit." The UNP leader’s pronouncement is therefore not a response to an Indian request but a policy statement, the import of which is to invite India to intervene in our internal affairs.

The UNP leader is not unique in this. Seeking Indian intervention, at least not at the Indian state level, has a long history in our country. In fact the UNP leader only became the very latest in a long line of Sinhala leaders who, defeated and rejected, have openly sought intervention from Indian sources in our affairs to resurrect their fallen fortunes. And the consequences of each of these interventions have been as disastrous to this country as the UNP leader’s other exercise, the CFA.

This tradition of seeking Indian assistance against political opponents began as long ago as the first century AC. That was a time before full state formation had taken place in the sub-continent and there were no states that disgruntled leaders here could appeal to. Miltary assistance on a political basis therefore was not available. Hence what Sinhala leaders did was to go to South India to recruit soldiers who would fight for pay. They thus brought over armies of such mercenaries to the Island to overthrow their political opponents. One of the earliest Sinhala leaders to do so was Ilanaga in 35 AC who brought an army of such mercenaries to settle his succession dispute. He had many other such disappointed leaders who emulated him like Abhayanaga in 236 AC and Mogallana I in 495 AC.

Importing mercenaries to dislodge political opponents was a risky business and had its own grave consequences. They became an incubus in the body politic that snowballed and in time turned out to be a source of rebellion and with foreign invasions a fifth column. This was the price the Island had to pay then for seeking this kind of intervention from the sub-continent.

But once political formations took firm shape in South India and Pallava, Pandya, Chola and Chera crystallized as nation states, seeking their intervention to settle the internal problems of Sinhala leaders had consequences that were profoundly graver than importing mercenaries. These consequences shook to its very foundations the island’s sovereignty and independence and had effects that were long-lasting.

The first Sinhala leader, the UNP leader’s earliest predecessor in this regard, was Manavamma. What he did in the 7th century, circa 684, was to seek Pallava assistance to win the throne for himself. The Pallava ruler sent his army to install Manavamma as king.

Manavamma was an outstanding military commander. His reign was long and peaceful and he ushered in the second Lambakanna dynasty that occupied the throne for many years. But though retribution was a long time coming, it ultimately came.

What caused it was the obtaining of Pallava aid. This was the time when Pallava and Pandya were jostling for power in South India and in that struggle the strategic importance of the North of this island emerged as a factor for the first time in South Indian defence thinking – though not the last in the politics of ensuing centuries. The realization grew that the North of the island in hostile hands could be a security threat to a South Indian power. It could be used as a safe-house for dissidents, a training ground for rebels and a launching-pad for invasions.

Pandyan defence thinking would have viewed the entente cordiale between Pallava and this island from that perspective. For in the reign of Sena I Pandya launched a devastating invasion of the island. Such was price the Sinhala nation had to pay when the UNP leader’s 7th-century predecessor sought Indian intervention.

Five centuries is a long time but apparently long enough for some Sinhala leaders to forget. For in 1250 we find another Sinhala king seeking Indian intervention. So catastrophic were the consequences that followed that it led for the first time in the 2000 years of the existence of the Sinhala state to the founding of a small separate kingdom within its territories in the North.

Chandrabanu an adventurer from Java invades the south of the island but is repulsed. He tries again, this time invades the north and subdues it. Parakramabahu II appeals to Pandya for help. Jetavarman Vira Pandya, the Pandyan king, responds promptly and positively by sending a military force, which helps the Sinhala army to defeat Chandrabahu who is killed on the battlefield.

Now came the quid pro quo. Instead of handing Jaffna over to the Sinhala king and returning, what the Pandyans did was to install Chandrabanu’s son as the ruler of Jaffna. It was the old argument of the strategic importance of the North for the security concerns of a power in South India. As Paranavitana says –

"Instead of a strong Sinhalese state in a unified Ceylon, the Pandyans no doubt wanted both the contending parties in the island to be subordinate allies of theirs."

(University of Ceylon. History of Ceylon:Vol. II, page 628)

Later there is a further twist which revealed Pandya’s real objectives. The puppet Jaffna king invades Sinhala territory again. Parakrama II appeals to Pandya, again. Pandyan troops come, again. This time their commander, Ariyachakravarti, takes over Jaffna under Pandyan suzerainty and the North becomes a Pandyan province. As K.M. de Silva says –

" —- Sinhalese control of the Jaffna kingdom was still equally unacceptable to the Pandyans —- ."

(A History of Sri Lanka, page 92)

Then when Pandyan power declined with the rise of the Vyjayanagara empire, Jaffna became an independent state under the successors of Ariyachakravarti.

The catastrophic consequences, therefore, of seeking Indian intervention in this instance was the fragmentation of the island and the emergence of a separate state in the North created by the very Pandyans the Sinhala king turned to for help.

Thus sensitivity of Indian states towards a potential security threat from the island’s North has been the recurring theme that has made seeking Indian intervention in the island’s affairs a perilous business. It resulted in the very first Pandyan invasion. Then subsequently when Chola was in the ascendant in South India and the balance of power foreign policy adopted by later Sinhala kings led in an amazing diplomatic volte face to an alliance with Pandya, it was again ultimately these same security concerns that precipitated Chola to invade, destroy the then 1500-year old Anuradhapura kingdom and subjugate most of the island.

Despite the vast changes in the political landscape of India that have taken place in the modern, post-colonial era, the new political formations that have emerged there have adopted the same strategic thinking unchanged. It is this same ingrained, atavistic mind-set that has influenced leading military strategists there like K. M. Pannikar and even the great Jawarhal himself to pronounce quite unequivocally –

" —- that the defence of independent India would be inconceivable

without Sri Lanka and Burma being incorporated into Indian defence strategy."

(Editorial, Daily Island -9th July 1998)

How real and deep-seated this approach is in actual fact was forcefully demonstrated in the Indian response in the 1980s to the then UNP leader’s pronounced tilt towards the West. What was India’s 1987 parippu drop then but a repetition of the 10th century Chola response to the then Sinhala leader’s tilt towards Pandya? The extent to which Big Brother is prepared to go to wave the Big Stick to intimidate this little island is revealed in another little known incident. When in the course of its Ceylonisation programme the CGR retrenched 800 of its casual, temporary labourers of Indian origin, who should come charging down to remonstrate but the great Jawaharlal himself – vide W.T. Jayasinghe: The Indo-Ceylon Problem, p. 58.

The lesson that history teaches is very clear. Indian intervention and seeking Indian intervention has been fraught with danger and has in every single instance resulted in consequences that were – quite apart from ethical considerations of justice or the bullying of a smaller state – catastrophic to this island’s sovereignty and independence. The UNP leader and all those who think like him should be aware of history’s lessons before they "welcome" Mukerjee’s visit.

~ The Island ~


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