27 October, 2020

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In Remembrance Of Lakshman Kadirgamar

By Tissa Jayatilaka –

Tissa Jayatilaka

Given the shrillness  of the nature of  public debate in recent times, especially postwar, most Sri Lankans I know have avoided getting involved in them.  The latter   have resorted to ‘quiet discussion’ with fellow citizens who are not uncomfortable with points of view that are not in harmony with their own and who indeed are looking for  such carefully articulated alternatives. The late Lakshman Kadirgamar was one such Sri Lankan with whom I could trade ideas and opinions with utmost ease even when they did not necessarily mesh with his own. He had the emotional  intelligence and the humility of the truly educated human being to be open to such give and take at all times.  In an exchange similar to the ones I used to have with the late foreign minister that I now have with a few very close friends, we happened to discuss, among other issues, what Lakshman Kadirgamar would have done to extricate Sri Lankafrom the unfortunate predicament it is in had he yet been with us today.  I thought it might be useful to reflect and expand on this particular theme as a tribute to the man whose seventh death anniversary falls on Friday the 12th of August.

The greatest asset that Lakshman Kadirgamar possessed was his freedom from narrow nationalism. He was thereby  free of  ethnic and religious bias. He was a Sri Lankan and a citizen of this world. He did not carry to an extreme the labels Tamil and Christian  he was given at his birth over which he, like all of us over our own labels, had no control . He was a good and responsible Christian( I recall here in particular his Revd. Celestine Fernando Memorial Lecture of the early 1990s on the general theme of the  Social Relevance of the Bible) and also a firm follower of all that is good and meaningful  in other religious philosophies. It is this largeness of heart and generosity of spirit which enabled Lakshman Kadirgamar to be the most effective diplomat Sri Lanka has had from 1994 until his cruel assassination in 2005. Apart from Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike( prior to the Republican Constitutions of 1972 and 1978, the prime minister of our country was also the minister of defence and external affairs), no other foreign minister of Sri Lanka has rendered such invaluable service to our country. His formidable intelligence, sincerity, grace, charm and superb sense of humour, that the visiting British minister Liam Fox also recently extolled while delivering the 2011 Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture, enabled him to establish a rapport with his counterparts both in our part of the world and in the west. He was never out of his depth nor ever ineffectual as nearly all of his successors have been and are in either part of the world. Nobody doubted his credibility or his ability. He was bold, candid and assertively forthright without ever seeking to score cheap debating points or end up looking pathetically melodramatic as his less experienced   fellow- Sri Lankans have in recent years. Even when he was in strong  disagreement  with his interlocutors he never lost his composure or his wits, and both of  these attributes were on splendid display during his BBC Hardtalk interview  of 16 March, 2005. His interviewer  observed  that the government of Sri Lankahas been criticized by Chandru Pararjasingham of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization on the score of ‘not helping  us (the Tamils of Sri Lanka) enough’  and posed the question ‘does that sound like propaganda to you?’ Kadirgamar’s response was that it absolutely was propaganda. The interviewer then, in a bid seemingly to reinforce the point she was seeking to make, tried to quote what she thought was an authoritative source and indicated to the minister that no less a person than Joel Charny of  Refugee International who had been monitoring developments in Sri Lanka since the tsunami of December 2004 hit Sri Lanka also says the same thing.  The response from Kadirgamar was both swift and pointed. Having first noted that he does not know who the gentleman is and on being told that he is a westerner, the minister shot back: ‘I am sorry, the fact that he is Western doesn’t impress me the slightest’. There were no histrionics, no melodrama and the response was in the dignified and famous ‘mellow tones’ of Lakshman Kadirgamar. That is the sophistication and effectiveness we glaringly lack today in dealing with criticism from whichever quarter they emanate. Today’s spokesmen seek to play to the domestic gallery and shoot the messengers without   taking on board their messages and   forensically dismissing them where such dismissal is justifiably called for.

An area where there is a great deal of ignorance about Lakshman Kadirgamar pertains to his response to the Sinhala- Tamil conflict or the ‘national conflict’ as some refer to it. His enlightened and principled opposition to the Tamil Tigers was frequently misunderstood both by his Sinhala admirers and his Tamil detractors. Unintelligent and ethnically prejudiced Tamils saw him as a traitor and unsophisticated Sinhalese   as a supporter of Sinhala ‘majoritarianism’.  Both were and are dead wrong.  Throughout his bold campaign for peace in our time in Sri Lanka, he was convinced that human freedoms need not be repressed in the peacemaking process. Whilst he was relentless in his criticism of the terror tactics of the Tamil Tigers, Kadirgamar worked resolutely and tirelessly towards a political solution to our long drawn out ethnic imbroglio which would enable the Tamil citizens of Sri Lankato live in dignity within a united Sri Lanka.  As  Mangala Samaraweera has correctly noted,  Kadirgamar’s  oft-stated belief was that the battle for peace must be fought and won in and through the hearts and minds of the people of Sri Lanka; the Tamils of Sri Lanka in particular. Towards this end, Kadirgamar took a keen and personal interest in projects that were close to the heart of the more sensitive Sri Lankans. An example of such a project that he involved himself in was the restoration of the Jaffna Public Library. He actively campaigned for donations of books and other materials for the Library during his days as our foreign minister.

One of the key areas in which the late Lakshman Kadirgmar excelled was  ‘quiet diplomacy’, an attribute that is, to use an apt cliche`, conspicuous today by its absence. I make bold to say that had he yet been with   us, we would not have had to contend with the indignities that have been heaped on us by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts Report or the exceedingly damaging Channel Four Videos.   Flawed though they may be in certain respects, the fact remains that such reports and videos are now in the public domain and they contain some truths than cannot be cavalierly dismissed as pure fabrication. As Lakshman Kadirgamar  did when he successfully campaigned for the listing in the west of the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist outfit, he would have so handled the foreign policy dimension of these grave accusations as to save Sri Lanka from the moral opprobrium it has now been subjected to.    Effective, timely and sensible diplomacy would certainly have   made it possible for Sri Lanka to avert   such disastrous negative publicity. Lakshman Kadirgamar and the senior professional diplomats in the ministry he led with such aplomb and grace would certainly have provided us with the expertise, maturity  and competence called for to deal with this dreadful damage to our country.  First and foremost, Kadirgamar would have seen to it that amateur place seekers would have had no role to play in the business of inter-state relations unlike is the case today.  Every   other person in government or political appointees outside of   it  appear to be directing or dabbling in the conduct of our foreign policy at present.  My sympathies are with the foreign ministry and its professional diplomats as they have been sidelined by   these opportunists who are singing, and singing   grossly out of tune at that, for their supper!

Lakshman Kadirgamar would also have read the tea leaves more accurately than his successors appear to have done. The world is a far more complex place today than it appears to be.  Today’s friends can easily become tomorrow’s enemies or neutral observers of the passing scene. Political deals are possible at any time between seeming antagonists as we have witnessed to be the case in recent months. We know only too well that the practice of international relations is no morality play. Self-interests govern inter-state relations,   not perceived friendships or enmities. Inter-state relations are amoral at best and at worst mostly immoral. Double if not treble standards apply in this domain as many a contributor to our national newspapers   has alleged.  There is a noticeable one standard for the economically powerful and militarily strong and another for the weak and less influential economically, militarily and politically. The Sunday Times editorialist and diplomatic editor in their respective most perceptive contributions of the 7th of August, 2011 correctly point out what could likely happen in the months ahead. As things stand, the impression one gets when studying present national strategy (to the extent that one is discernible) is for Sri Lanka to look to fall back on China and Russia to bail us out should concerted international action put Sri Lanka in the dock. The Sunday Times asks a most vital question:  what guarantees are there that Sri Lanka will be the beneficiary of  such  assistance  given the fact that countries far more useful to China and Russia as Sudan, Iran and Libya have not been recipients of  similar anticipated succour? It might be unwise to put all our  hopes in that one basket if the experience of other countries who did so before us is a criterion to go by.  To urge Sri Lanka to punch in its own weight class is not to recommend national subservience to unscrupulous outside forces. Rather it is to forewarn Sri Lanka to be cautious, prudent and pragmatic in its international relations. It is such pragmatism based on our enlightened pursuit of non-alignment in international   affairs which stood us in such excellent stead in the recent past.  A serious  consideration  of a return to that  past might be in our national interest. There is a pithy Sinhala saying which reminds us that when  giant  thoras and moras  fight, small fish tend to get in harm’s way.  Isn’t there a moral in this that we can draw?

I am of the opinion that Lakshman Kadirgamar would have helped us to navigate these tricky,  shark  infested and polluted waters had he yet been  the undisputed helmsman of  our international relations as he was in his day. He would have forestalled post-war external interventions and ledSri Lankato an acceptable domestic resolution of our crisis by working with our moderate middle. He would undoubtedly have   finessed  at one and the same time the dangerous external challenge arising  from the extreme diasporic Tamils and that  emerging from the ultra-nationalist Sri Lankans at home. Lakshman Kadirgamar would have realized that the best and the morally correct way of neutralizing external threats to our country is by doing  ourselves what needs to be done to build a reconciled and united  Sri Lanka  from the ashes of a horrifying internecine war that is now mercifully behind us.

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    The less people try to gloat on this character LK is best, as otherwise his shortcomings will be highlighted. Both Lakshman Kadiragarmar and Jayantha Dhanapala were contemporaries at Trinity College. When JD was thinking of vying for the post of Secretary General of the UN it was this man LK who scuttled JD’s chances, prevailing on CBK not to support the move. So much for LK’s generosity and his vicious, selfish self. His morals and his integrity are no better as I explained elsewhere. His honesty on business transactions are no better as revealed by Mahinda Ellepola the Lawyer who attested the John Bostock’s house which LK bought while living.

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    Like a lie repeated ad nauseam,it is believed that the Tigers killed LK.
    Where is the evidence and why hasn’t anyone been prosecuted? There are other actors in this play and we will never know the truth.

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    There are no evidence that LTTE committed the assassination.
    GOSL did their best to do that, framing charges against Tamils but failed miserably.
    I have written in detail on Amali W’s article.

    @Tissa. It is a polite article like a performance at Lionel Wendt theatre like the old days of yours. But comparing LK the FM under President Chandrika, and the current FM’s under the mad President and his family is unfair. Lakshman would not have tolerated a young punk and crook of a MP like Sajin placed as his monitor at the ministry ruling the roost? He would have resigned and gone home.
    But Tissa is right, Mangala, Bogols or even GL cannot hold a candle to the refineness and diplomatic qualities he possessed. He was also a great sportsman and a Tamil from a respectable family with great brothers. The others were only good at playing pocket marbles, and GL did not even play marbles (bunks) at Mount… He was mothers boy always with the books.
    Now that he is a pole vaulter the Rajapakses have no respect for him and use him like a condom.
    Lakshman would not have tolerated Tamara either, since he was in Geneva as well as she was connected through marriage to his own kadirgamar in laws… (I won’t go into details and Tamara can explain from Havana if she so desires and write a tribute to a so called great FM).
    As far as LK helping the peace process and Jaffna library since 1994 until 2005, I have never heard of. Please explain..
    I already have written about his role for the proscription of the LTTE, and the peace process. LK hated the Norwegians and was insulting them and snubbing them via President at every opportunity.
    ie: Sabotaged the process in more than one way….

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      Framing charges against Tamils or the LTTE?
      The LTTE DID NOT represent ALL the Tamils = FACT, even if that was the propaganda that various politicians have been hinting at for decades with the intention of brainwashing the masses.

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    Please also note LK would have gone all the way with United States if confronted to choose between China and US.

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    “There are no evidence that LTTE committed the assassination” Socialist Equality Party (WSWS) has written few reports on this issue. The arguments they put forward are convincing and I believe they are based on reliable sources (they don’t give us the source). Lankaleaks had an report that someone (??)got Julampitiye Amaray to do the job. But no hard evidence so far come out yet, though this is a theory that worth investigated and corroborates WSWS theory based on possibly powerful foreign intelligence. I believe the truth will come out soon.

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    The truth is unlikely to come out as the MOD and Police of the past and current regime have been involved in the cover up and suppressing of evidence.

    There are glaring errors/blunders in the investigations which are more deliberate pretending to be incompetency..

    Even the poor gardener of Thalayasingam called Sahadevan was arrested and tortured.. The suspect in Lasantha’s murder, an upcountry Tamil named Jesuthas also died in jail, and they claim it was a heart attack.. But he never had previous heart ailments..

    8 army soldiers were released, after the arrest, thanks to the intervention of Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, visiting them in jail and promising them deals. Those 8 live in comfort in the army with no specific duties, including selling Wambottu (Katharikkai) or cleaning jails. This professor has now become an expert on State Terrorism!!!

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    When Chandrika was elected as President initially she gave LK the post of Deputy Foreign Minister. But LK shrewdly told Chandrika that he being a Tamil and if she gave him a deputy post then it would make the Tamils unhappy and finally hoodwinked her to give him a full portfolio. LK was never elected by the Tamils and for that matter by the people of SL. But being a Tamil he used the trick of “pleasing the Tamils” and got what he wanted from Chandrika.

    This same LK after some time even refused to accept or hide the fact that he was a Tamil. His family hailed from a village called Alvai as very pious Hindus. Later his grandparents moved to the south, acquired Christianity and prospered under the British. Of course Laxman’s latter stage he married a Buddist woman and virtually became a Buddist and his funeral was held in a Buddist way. Not only that his children from the previous marriage were even kept away by the new Sinhala Buddist wife.

    Some years ago when LK was a Foreign Minister, an ambassador stationed at an Asian Country argued with me that Laxman was a Sinhalese. In fact he went onto say that many Tamils thought that he was a Tamil but really he was a Sinhalese.

    This is the pathetic story of Kathirgamar, who inherited a very strong Tamil Hindu name, to end up like that with total loss of identity.

    I had the opportunity to meet him on an occasion when he came to deliver a lecture in a university and he refused or reluctant to talk to many Tamil professionals and academics there and even did not want to identify himself as a Tamil. He was clinging onto his new Sinhala wife as if some one may run away with her.

    Of course his lecture, that was arranged by a local Malayalee Lawyer, who is Laxman’s friend, was an utter wastage of time. He was supposed to talk as usual for one hour but he went on and on for more than one hour and forty five minutes and finally stopped his sermon only after the crowd became restless and the chief guest on the stage had fallen asleep. The lecture was just mumbling, in monotonous tone, no joke and no break…it was a monotonous mumbling of written notes.

    I just could not digest the fact that he being educated in Oxford did not know that Lectures, orations are only for one hour and you must be able to take the audience along with you and not to put them to sleep.

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    Tissa Jayatilaka must be regretting now after trying to eulogise LK, thus opening the pandora’s box. I remember another University Don from Pera, who wrote a Feature Article in the ISLAND paper doing the same after LK’s death and was very proud of it. The truth is under the pretext of writing eulogies, the writer seeks to promote himself to limelight. This is so with the other Uni Don I mentioned and Tissa, I used to know him playing soft ball cricket in Kandy in the early ’60s and trust he also was not prompted as the former I had mentioned.

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    MR was behind LK’s assassination, both were vying for the prime minister post at the time. With LK at the helm we could have acheived peace without the bloodshed and the embarrassment we suffer now.

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    @Ananda.. MR was PM from April 2004 and LK and JVP lost that battle. What a strange combination that was?.

    Politics make strange bed fellows.

    LK was not a contender for the Presidency in August 2005.

    However, nothing could be put beyond the Rajapakses keeping in mind that they cut a sordid deal with Emilkanthan and the LTTE in October 2005, although for LTTE the 2 million dollars was pocket change and it was not about money.

    Some of the reasoning could be Karuna, Moulana, Pilliayan, wrong advise from the Tamil diaspora guys and poor performance by the UNP. Their inaction between July and October 2005.

    Above all the miscalculation of the inhumanity and ruthlessness of the State Terrorist who killed, raped and tortured over 100,000 Tamil civilians after starving them for 6 months.

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