Anniversary of ‘Operation Cactus’ in Maldives

By I. Ramamohan Rao

New Delhi, Nov. 3 (ANI): Today is the anniversary of Operation Cactus , when the Indian Commandoes flew into the island territory of Malidives when it was threatened by a group of mercenaries, who had taken over the Presidentaial palace in Male at 4 a.m. on the morning of November 3.

India received a request at 5.30 in the morning for help. Foreign Minister of Maldives, Fataulla Jamil rang up Rajiv Gandhi, who responded to the request.

Things started moving fast in Delhi. As Principal Information Officer of the Government of India, I was asked to be present at the operations room of the Army Headquarters early in the morning. General V.N. Sharnma, who was the Chief of the Army Staff, told us that India would send a detachment of the Para Brigade to Male and the Air Force has also been asked to be ready for an airlift.

What was not clear was whether the aircraft carrying the troops could land at Male airport. If it was under the control of the mercenaries, then the paratroopers would be airdropped and asked to capture the mercenaries. What was not clear was the number of mercenaries and the weapons they had.

I was asked whether we should take the media to cover the event. The Union Cabinet was to meet later in the morning. I suggested that we should take the media, particularly the photographers and the audio-visual media. I mentioned to the Army Chief that an operations of this kind, which had international implications should be covered.

The consensus at the meeting was that the operations should be kept ‘Top Secret’, and the media briefing should be done after the completion of the operations.

I was told that the Joint Secretary in the prime minister’s office, Ronen Sen, or G. Parthasarathy, who had headed the External Publcity Division, would let me know if there is a change in the decision.

I happened to be on leave that day as my daughter Smita was getting married that evening. I returned home and got busy in making arrangements for the religious ceremonies.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy had despatched INS Godavari, which was near the area to Male.

There was some delay in getting the paratroopers and their gear put together. It was important for the prestige of the country that the operations should succeed.

Late in the afternoon, the Prime Minister decided that the operations should be covered by the media. I was told that the Prime Minister asked what was my suggestion, and after being told that I had suggested coverage by the media. He suggested that media should accompany the paratroopers.

An aircraft was kept ready to fly the media team from Delhi to Agra from where the paratroopers were to be taken.

The problem then was to organise a media team at short notice. G. Parthasarty, who was the Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, was very innovative.

My daughter, was getting married to Sanjiv Prakash, the son of Prem Prakash, a pioneer in the field of audio visual media and he felt that the media was bound to be attend the ceremony at the Ashoka Hotel.

The media personnel were hijacked as the marriage reception was in progress.

There was little opposition when the para commandoes landed in Male.

I had the opportunity to visit Maldives in 1990 when V.P. Singh visited that country as Prime Minister. Maldives is an active member of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation.

Gayoom was elected for a sixth term wining more than 90 percent votes in 2003. He was defeated in 2008 by Mohammad Nasheed , who was later displaced and the situation has been fluid ever since in Male.

Every year, when we celebrate the anniversary of the marriage of my daughter Smita, I remember Operaton Cactus and the hijacking of the media personnel from her marriage reception to cover the Operation.

(The Author was the principal information officer of the Government of India. His email is raoramamohan@hotmail.com) (ANI)

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