Did Narendra Modi know about the Easter attack beforehand?

Addressing an election rally in the Western State of Rajasthan, just hours after the serial blasts in Sri Lanka, Narendra Modi played politics with the issue. “Should terrorism be finished or not?” he asked. “Who can do this? Can you think of any name aside from Modi? Can anybody else do this?”

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In 2019 quickly after the carnage, Narendra Modi began his Sri Lanka visit by paying his respects at one of the sites of the horrific Easter Sunday Attack, St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade. [narendramodi.in]

Sri Lanka shouldn’t have been overly surprised by Indian Premier Narendra Modi’s declaration that Congress callously gave away the Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka.

Obviously, Premier Modi, eyeing a third term at the forthcoming general election (April 19 to June 1, 2024), wants to influence the crucial Tamil Nadu state. Modi lashed out at the Congress on March 31.

“Eye opening and startling! New facts reveal how Congress callously gave away Katchatheevu. This has angered every Indian and reaffirmed in people’s minds – we can’t ever trust Congress,”

Modi wrote on X obviously playing to the gallery, especially in Tamil Nadu. So, like most politicians, PM Modi, too, will stoop to any level.

The Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) leader also accused the Congress of weakening India’s unity. “Weakening India’s unity, integrity and interests has been Congress’ way of working for 75 years and counting,” Modi added.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reiterated Premier Modi’s concerns on the following day.

The Indian media reported that the issue at hand reemerged after a media report, based on an RTI reply received by Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai on the 1974 pact.

It was a meticulously planned propaganda project meant to influence the Tamil Nadu electorate, ahead of the general elections next week. Tamil Nadu goes to poll on April 19. The decision on the part of the BJP, in power since May 2014, to rake up this issue now, suggests that the BJP is under tremendous pressure.

Whatever errors the Gandhis may have committed during their long rule, yet no one can doubt their own zeal to hold a disparate country like India together, while still guarding its democratic foundations, unlike the unscrupulous West paying lip service to such ideals, while destabilizing any country that do not toe their domineering imperialist line. Nor can anyone deny the solid foundation they laid for India to become a global giant today in the fields of education, technology, industry, etc., despite its vast poverty.

The actual truth is that the BJP is clearly facing defeat once again in Tamil Nadu, where the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-Congress alliance is expected to comfortably secure the majority of 39 Lok Sabha (Lower House) seats there and the one seat from Puducherry.

At the last general election, the DMK-led alliance won 38 out of 39 seats. Therefore, in spite of the Premier himself, and the much-respected and admired External Affairs Minister leading the BJP’s Tamil Nadu campaign, the outcome is very much unlikely to be in the ruling party’s favour.

India under Premier Indira Gandhi ceded Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka, in 1974, when she had such a good working relationship with our then PM Sirimavo Bandaranaike. It was several years before it began recruiting, training, arming and deploying Sri Lankan Tamil community against us, obviously to spite our then leader J. R. Jayewardene, known as Yankee Dickie because of his ardent pro-American views. JRJ was so arrogant, with his party commanding a 5/6 majority in our Parliament, he became blind to emerging regional realities and foolishly offered the Strategic Deep water Trincomalee harbour to the US, while his government members mockingly compared Mrs. Gandhi and her son Sanjay to Mrs. B. and her son Anura. When finally New Delhi militarily intervened here with an airdrop to force a halt to the first big ground operation at Vadamarachchi by the Lankan security forces to crush the Tigers in what was considered their lair, the Yankees failed to lift even a finger to save the JRJ government from humiliation. It would be pertinent to mention that India intervened here years before Sri Lanka’s conflict exploded, following the killing of 13 Lankan soldiers at Thinnaveli, in Jaffna, in July 1983. The often repeated claim that the war erupted, following the killing of ordinary Tamils, consequent to the Thinnaveli attack, is nothing but propaganda meant to justify separatist Tamil terrorist campaigns that at one time threatened to overwhelm Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka should be ashamed of its failure to protect Tamil civilians. Instead of taking immediate measures to quell the violence, the then President J.R. Jayewardene, in his own wisdom, allowed killings and destruction of Tamil property.

The Indian intervention (Indian role in the killing of 13 soldiers by providing expertise and weapons) shouldn’t be used, under any circumstances, to justify attacks on the Tamil community, following the Thinnaveli attack, the first such ambush of a military patrol by Prabhakaran’s fast growing terrorist outfit, the LTTE.

Let me reproduce what late J.N. Dixit, who had served as Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1985-1989) at the height of the Indian intervention here, said in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’, launched in 2004, regarding the terrorist project here. Dixit didn’t mince his words when he found fault with the then Premier Indira Gandhi for two Indian foreign policy decisions. The relevant section verbatim: “…her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she could not openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils.” (emphasis mine).

Dixit, hailing from neighbouring Kerala state, like so many of India’s top bureaucrats, served as Foreign Secretary (1991-1994) and National Security Advisor (May 2004-January 2005) before his sudden death. Dixit was 68 years old at the time of his death.

In hindsight, Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka cannot be justified under any circumstances. India and Indira Gandhi paid a huge price for that foolish decision to train terrorists. Likewise, Indian rhetoric over Katchatheevu Island shouldn’t be condoned though all know the BJP is playing politics to woo the fishing community vote there.

The boycotting of the two-day annual St. Antony’s Church festival at Katchatheevu, in late February this year, by Indian devotees, perhaps was influenced by interested parties in Tamil Nadu. Who would benefit from Tamil Nadu fishermen’s boycott of the religious event?

An absolute bombshell

Just over a week before Premier Modi’s attack on Congress over the Katchatheevu affair, former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena declared that he was aware of the identity of the masterminds of the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre.

Sirisena, now an MP who represents the SLPP, told the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), a few days later, that he believed India engineered the Easter Sunday attacks. Sirisena, notorious for various unsubstantiated claims over the years, has asserted that the Easter carnage was meant to influence the Indian electorate during the previous general elections, conducted from April 11 to May 19, 2019.

At the time of the near simultaneous Easter Sunday blasts, Sirisena, his wife Jayanthi Pushpakumari, and other members of the then first family, were in Singapore. Controversy still surrounds whether the President was on a holiday or visiting Mount Elizabeth Hospital for a medical check-up, or both.

The President and members of his family flew to Singapore following a private visit to Tirumala, in Andhra Pradesh, to offer prayers at the hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara Swamy. Sirisena visited the shrine in February 2015 and August 2016, and the 2019 visit was his third.

What really prompted MP Sirisena to accuse India of masterminding the Easter Sunday terror project? Or who influenced the now beleaguered SLFP leader to make that accusation in Kandy?

Now the matter is before Maligakanda Magistrate Lochana Abeywickrema, who, on April 4, directed the CID to report the progress of the investigation to her Court on May 10. Pending the investigation, the statement recorded by the CID will remain confidential.

Did the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks have a bearing on the Indian general elections? Perhaps an examination of the 2019 election results, and comparison with previous polls, may help us to understand the post-Easter Sunday developments. Against the backdrop of MP Sirisena’s still unsubstantiated allegation, shouldn’t we examine whether the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) suicide bombing campaign helped the BJP?

The NTJ struck amidst India’s staggered general election that began on April 11 and continued till May 19.

Did the NTJ operation influence the Indian electorate? Sri Lanka cannot afford not to examine every possibility to prevent the NTJ, or its affiliates, undertaking fresh terror projects. Who really provided the wherewithal to the perceived leader of the terror project Zahran Hashim?

The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that probed the Easter Sunday massacres conveniently failed to probe the external factors. However, the PSC had an opportunity to seek the opinion of those who provided evidence, in camera, as regards external factors. The PSC, perhaps, never bothered to vigorously inquire into external factors or it lacked the mandate or the capacity to do so.

The PSC consisted of its Chairman Ananda Kumarasiri (UNP/Moneragala District), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara), Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (UNP National List), LSSPer Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (UNP National List), M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna District) and SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem (UNP/Kandy District).

The government proscribed the NTJ, on May 13, 2019 – 23 days after the Easter carnage. The Jamaathe Millaathe Ibrahim (JMI), and the Willayath As Seylani (WAS) were also banned in terms of regulation 75(1) of the emergency regulations.

The NTJ struck between the second and the third phases of the Indian elections. The first phase, conducted on April 11, covered 91 constituencies in 20 States. The second (95 constituencies in 13 States) and the third (117 constituencies in 15 States) were held on April 18 and April 23, respectively. The remaining four phases were held on April 29 (71 constituencies in 09 States), May 06 (51 constituencies in 07 States), May 12 (59 constituencies in 07 States) and May 19 (59 constituencies in 08 States).

Modi condemns

Narendra Modi was the first foreign leader to condemn the Easter Sunday attacks. The Indian leader condemned the Easter Sunday attacks on the same day, two days before the Islamic State claimed responsibility. However, no less a person than Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne, the senior officer in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), declared, before the PSC, that there was no evidence to link the Islamic State, thereby contradicting the much publicized government claims. Seneviratne appeared before the PSC on July 24. Perhaps, the CID’s opinion should be sought on this matter.

Addressing an election rally in the Western State of Rajasthan, just hours after the serial blasts in Sri Lanka, Narendra Modi played politics with the issue. The media quoted Modi as having said the electorate should give him a second term as only he could beat the terrorists threatening India.

“Should terrorism be finished or not?” he asked. “Who can do this? Can you think of any name aside from Modi? Can anybody else do this?”

“In our neighbouring Sri Lanka, terrorists have played a bloody game. They killed innocent people,” Modi said.

At another rally, in Rajasthan, also on Sunday, Modi again mentioned the attacks in Sri Lanka and said that India, too, continues to suffer because of militants.

“India has now ended its policy of getting scared of Pakistan’s threats,” Modi said, “‘We have a nuclear button, we have a nuclear button’ they used to say.”

“What do we have then?” he said, to cheers from the crowd.

The Easter Sunday carnage certainly influenced a section of the Indian electorate. Modi directly blamed Muslims for the Sri Lanka attacks.

Having comfortably secured a second term, Modi visited Colombo, on June 09, on his way to the Maldives. President Maithripala Sirisena is on record as having said that he requested Modi to visit in the wake of many countries issuing travel advisories. During his four-hour stopover, Modi visited St. Anthony’s Church, Kotahena, where many Tamils perished in the Easter Sunday carnage.

A week after Modi’s visit, the then Indian High Commissioner here, Taranjit Sandhu, assured the prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters India’s commitment to Sri Lanka’s security.

The Indian High Commission issued the following statement, following Sandhu’s visit to Kandy: “High Commissioner of India Taranjit Singh Sandhu paid respects at Sri Dalada Maligawa and received the blessings of the Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Mahanayake Thera of Malwatte Chapter and Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Mahanayake Thera of Asgiriya Chapter in Kandy on May 17.

“High Commissioner conveyed greetings on the auspicious occasion of Vesak to the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras and recalled the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka for the International Vesak Day celebration in 2017 and the exposition of the sacred Sarnath Relics in Sri Lanka in 2018.

“High Commissioner also discussed the prevailing security situation with the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras and offered India’s full support to Sri Lanka in dealing with the common threat of Jihadi terrorism.

“Both the Mahanayake Theras deeply appreciated India’s unconditional and strong support for Sri Lanka, including in the security sphere.

“High Commissioner Sandhu also reviewed the progress of the Kandyan Dancing School, being constructed with Government of India’s assistance of around 150 million SLR at the Sri Lanka International Buddhist Academy (SIBA) campus in Pallekele, Kandy.”

It would be a grave mistake, on Sri Lanka’s part, to assume Zahran Hashim and his band of brainwashed terrorists carried out the Easter Sunday attacks on their own. Zahran and his colleagues couldn’t have handled the logistics alone. Zahran was used by those who exploited the political chaos in Sri Lanka. In fact, the NTJ operation caused much more harm to the Muslim community, in Sri Lanka, than any other post-independence event.

The PSC proceedings revealed negligence on the part of the political leadership, law enforcement authorities, intelligence services and the Attorney General’s Department. The PSC proceedings also revealed how the Finance Ministry weakened the Central Bank vis-a-vis its regulatory powers in respect of foreign financial transactions. However, so far no effort has been made to inquire into possible external factors. Did the planners of the NTJ operation take into consideration the Indian election? That is an issue which required serious attention.

Let us hope the proposed three-day debate on the Easter Sunday carnage, in the last week of this month, would pave the way for all political parties, represented in Parliament, to reveal their position in the wake of Sirisena’s bombshell.

Shamindra Ferdinando

Shamindra Ferdinando is a Deputy Editor of a Colombo-based daily newspaper, The Island.

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