|The Sri Lankan team with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse after beating India in the recent tri-series final in Colombo
Calcutta: Assassinations aren’t new to Sri Lanka, but those who matter in New Delhi (and even Colombo) are “relieved” that the latest ' foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s last Friday ' happened two days after Team India’s departure from the Emerald Isle and not during its 19-day stay in Dambulla and the capital.
Well-placed sources of The Telegraph have revealed that the tour was actually cleared only after the green signal from a three-member recce team which “assessed” security arrangements in June itself.
For whatever reasons, that trip was kept under wraps.
The recce team, one learns, was headed by Brij S. Katoch (a joint secretary in the ministry of external affairs) and one of its recommendations was that a security officer from the high commission, in Colombo, accompany Rahul Dravid and Co. throughout.
Katoch, it may be recalled, was also on the recce team which visited Bangladesh before our tour last December. That trip made headlines, as also IG Yashovardhan Azad’s visit to Pakistan before the 2003-04 Revival Tour.
Azad, incidentally, went to Dhaka as well.
The recommendation by Katoch and his colleagues was accepted and high commissioner Nirupama Rao assigned K.N. Murali, on deputation from the Tamil Nadu police, to travel with Team India.
“We wanted our players to be absolutely reassured. Surely, the comfort level is higher when security is coordinated by somebody from your own country,” remarked one of the New Delhi-based sources.
According to another source, “security concerns” touched Himalayan heights when the official vehicle (a Toyota Land Cruiser) of India’s assistant high commissioner, K.R.R. Pillai, was hijacked a few hours before Team India landed in Colombo on July 23.
“Mr Pillai and his family were travelling from Kandy to Colombo and had stopped at a place not far from Dambulla' While they were at a restaurant, a couple of armed men forced the driver (a Sri Lankan) out and sped off.
“The police were intimated within minutes, but the vehicle hasn’t been traced till this (Saturday) morning' Doesn’t speak highly of the agencies in Sri Lanka' Some, unfortunately, are too lax,” the source, who is also based in New Delhi, pointed out.
Mr Pillai is posted in Kandy.
The source added: “Frankly, we weren’t heart-broken when Sri Lanka won the tri-series final (by 18 runs) as an Indian win could have instigated some mad man to lob a grenade at our players or the team bus' In today’s world, anything is possible.”
Absolutely, or else Kadirgamar wouldn’t have been killed in his own house by a suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam sniper.
Kadirgamar’s security, by the way, was on a par with President Chandika Kumaratunga. If numbers were counted, it would certainly have been impressive.
However, generally, the past few years have seen less intimidating security: Just about no road blocks, fewer metal detectors on big occasions and almost non-existent frisking.
It used to be far different in the 1990s ' for example, after President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s assassination (May Day, 1993).
Footnote: Right now, there aren’t concerns over security in Zimbabwe. If something untoward crops up, manager-designate Amitabh Choudhary should be able to respond appropriately. He’s from the IPS.