India's Vietnam
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  Part 1: The IPKF was totally unprepared and ill-equipped

Part 2: Don't worry about the LTTE, they are our boys


India should not have withdrawn

Read Josy Joseph's interview with General Harkirat Singh from the beginning.

So from word go it was flawed?

General Harkirat Singh They should have had a proper war game. They should have known which troops to send. They should have known the terrain in Sri Lanka. Not that we rescinded it, we were pretty happy. I had in my mind that we would have the settlement by December and be back in Secunderabad. But then the whole critical political failure. We had no political backing. There should have had a civil-military liaison office. They should have come from the beginning. All IAS, IFS officers came much later. All political problems, it is not for the army to handle. We don't handle political problems, we only fight.

At the end of it all, when you were transferred out in an year, you felt humiliated?

No. Why should I feel humiliated? No question. I never felt guilty. It is this [then Indian high commissioner to Colombo J N] Dixit. When I refused his orders it was Dixit who went and spoke to the chief. A Sri Lankan author has written in his book. I walked into Dixit's office in Delhi, I said, You have done this? No Harry, I haven't done it. Come, I will come with you to the chief. I said, the chief was on the Chinese border. But he never went. He told me a lie. The same man who told me, What you have done the nation will appreciate and I speak on the behalf of the prime minister!

How was General Sunderji as chief?

He was with us in the Staff College. Jab log army chief ban jathi hain, they have high hopes. Ambassador ban jayenge, governor ban jayenge. They have a carrot hanging. Sunderji as lieutenant colonel [in the Staff College], one could say, he is The Man. A genius, very well-read. But he fell under the impressions of the government, Maneckshaw didn't give in to Indira Gandhi. He said, I am not ready to fight in the Bangladesh war, I need time. I have to re-deploy my troops. He chose his time in December.

Should the IPKF deployment have been delayed?

The IPKF should have waited. When they said hard options, what should have happened? I should have got instructions, then there would have been discussions. I would have presented my plans, I would have made my bid for additional troops. It should have been flown in, we would have regrouped. And then launched the plan. Where was the hurry? What was the hurry, I don't understand. This was nothing that we were losing. We were holding on to our land.

They pushed us like this. It was chaos at the airfield, how troops were being landed. Commanders kahin,, troops kahim. Hatya hai nahin, guns hai nahin. Unless an infantry is self-reliant, it can't fight wars. Infantry must fight with its weapons. What he gets from artillery, what he gets from air force, what he gets from armoured corps is complimentary. To enhance the firepower of the infantry.

The political system pushed the Indian army into the furnace?

Pushed the Indian army.

After you left that command, did you face any harassment?

No, no. Nobody could harass me. I was better off than the chief. I was senior advisor to Ratan Tata for six years. Ratan Tata just picked me up.

But people humiliated you?

Nobody. Even Dixit did not dare to talk to me. Mein to uska patloon utaroonga [I will take off his pants]. Really, I have not forgiven him. He has done the greatest damage.

Your bosses failed to defend you?

That is why I said I wanted a commander like Maneckshaw, or Rolli. They were strong chaps. Unfortunately, they are gone. That is the kind of people you need. I saved all my brigade commanders. A week I was away, they sacked brigade commanders, sacked battalion commanders. The moment I landed at the airport, I was given a list. I said, They will not leave Jaffna. They will be back in their command immediately. And they were back in their command.

I could have been a national hero by sacking all my brigade commanders, all my battalion commanders. In saalo ne kami nahin kiya. Me tho inko dodatha rahe, in logo ne aage tho nahin chala [These people did not work. I kept on driving them, but they would not move forward], I could have said lies. That is what many people do. They could not go out of my area. Bechare, they all retired in the same rank, they were not promoted. But at least they were not humiliated. And I went and visited them in each battalion and praised them in front of the soldiers.

Was the withdrawal rightly timed?

The IPKF should have never withdrawn. Why should they be withdrawn? Why they got withdrawn? Because [then Sri Lankan prime minister] Premadasa wanted them to withdraw. At what cost have we come back? We lost 1,500 to 2,000 people. All the weapons we imported, we handed them over to the EPRLF.

He had no business to do that, [Lieutenant General] Kalkat. The IPKF boarded the ships, the EPRLF was annihilated by the LTTE, and all the weapons were taken away. EPRLF was put into a ship and rehabilitated in some island off Orissa. They deserted Jaffna. And Jaffna is back with the LTTE.

This fellow was the commander on the ground, he should have convinced V P Singh. People had lost their children. This chap should have rescinded. Aaj tak tho peace hua nahin Sri Lanka mein. We should have stayed on, we should have ensured that elections took place, we should have ensured that an interim provincial government was formed within the constitution of Sri Lanka, and was administered by the Tamils. Aren't you doing that in India? We could have done that. And left peacefully, honourably.

Why are you not given security though you are high on the LTTE's hit list?

The Intelligence Bureau people came, investigated the whole thing. I said, no thanks, I don't need security.

But you asked for a pistol, and it was rejected by the army?

I think I should write a personal letter to [army chief General V P ] Malik that I be given a pistol. They should have given a pistol at least. For personal protection you need a pistol, I am not going to sell it. They can put an embargo, that it is only for lifetime.

You have your children in the army?

No, no. Thank God. I have only one son, he is vice-president HRD with Netsell360.

Will the fight in Sri Lanka go on?

They are going to fight. We have parallels in Nagaland. Troops were inducted in 1957, now how many years? Still, fighting...roz mar jatha hain [Every day they are getting killed]. This will carry on. The LTTE is not a simple soul to crack. A hard nut. Lead by Prabhakaran, a highly-motivated man. He has only one aim, Eelam.

When India went in, they didn't want them to win independence outside the constitution because it had problems in Kashmir etc. They didn't want Trincomalee to become Diego Garcia, because there were oil wells there. I don't see any peace in the near future.

More than ever, Eelam seems a reality now

Back to India's Vietnam

  Part 3: The IPKF's military role ended in 1988

Part 4: The most difficult part was managing the withdrawal

Part 5: The humiliation wasn't in Sri Lanka. It was when the IPKF returned

Part 6: Ultimately the Indian soldier was humiliated

Part 7: Till they get Eelam, the LTTE won't stop

Part 8: Shoot Prabhakaran, shoot Mahathiah!

Part 9: Nobody sounded even a Last Post for our dead

Part 10: India should never have withdrawn