By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Just how seriously we should take Ambassador Bandu de Silva’s reminiscences is best evidenced by how much or little he knew about what was going on in the foreign policy realm during President Premadasa’s tenure, and how he wittingly or unwittingly falsifies facts. This is what he says about the Foreign Affairs Study Group (FASG) and the Chairmanship of Dr. Gamini Corea.
“…As for the formation of FASG (Foreign Affairs Study Group) under President Premadasa with Gamini Corea as Chairman and Mervyn de Silva as Deputy Chairman, whose report was handed over after President Premadasa’s (untimely) death. Gamini Corea was a senior adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1985 but I do not recall him in a role as Chairman of FASG. Not while I was in the Foreign Office till 1990 before appointment as Ambassador to Iran. I recall, however, a few people headed by Major General Anton Mutucoomaru, former Army Commander and Ambassador, after his retirement in 1969 forming a study group in foreign relations along with and a few others including Mervyn de Silva. That was during the regime of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike in 1970s. I say this with confidence as I happened to be at every meeting where President Premadasa discussed anything to do with foreign policy. Where does the commissioning of a report on reforms at the foreign office headed by Bradman Weerakoon and the appointment of FASG coincide?”
Now, what is the truth of the matter about which Ambassador de Silva is quite so categorical? What are the facts? What follows is what senior Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo wrote in the Daily News in September 2007. Ambassador Rodrigo, as I said earlier, was a member of the FASG. (I believe I have somewhere in my father’s library, photographs of the FASG in session, with Dr. Gamini Corea in the chair and Ambassador Rodrigo around the table, but no matter.
“It is not much known that it was indeed on a proposal by Mervyn, at the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA), that the Foreign Affairs Study Group (FASG) was set up by President R. Premadasa under the Chairmanship of Dr Gamini Corea, to make proposals for greater efficacy in our foreign relations…The FASG had members from the corporate sector, the Central Bank, the Legal Profession (the late Lakshman Kadirgamar), the Media (Mervyn, of course) and the Foreign Service. The recommendations of the FASG did promote useful changes in the Foreign Service, including more interaction with the corporate, defence and financial sectors and the media.” (http://archives.dailynews.lk/2007/09/05/fea01.asp)
So whom do we believe? Nihal Rodrigo or Bandu de Silva? And what does this say about the veracity of the rest of Bandu de Silva’s reminiscences?
Now we come to the hub of the issue, namely President Premadasa’s appointment of the Mossad commission. There are two aspects to this. One is that Bandu de Silva thinks that Premadasa was just not smart enough to have read and understood Victor Ostrovsky, and he had no one around him (not even Bandu de Silva?) smart enough to have pointed it out. He pronounces that:
“…I am not inclined to attribute such high profile thinking to President Premadasa such as a deep understanding of Ostrovsky’s book for him to be motivated to pursue his Israeli policy. Nor was there anyone around him who could have translated the book’s significance to him. (My apologies to Secretary K.H.J. Wijeyedasa). There was none in the Foreign Office I knew of. There was, of course, Bradman Weerakoon, Presidential adviser but I doubt if he had any role as he was appointed the Chairman of Air Lanka with its multifarious problems.” (ibid)
One notes the slippery use of the word “translated”, but let’s move on. Now those around President Premadasa included Bradman Weerakoon, Susil Sirivardhana and Neville Jayaweera, all of whom were stellar products of the old civil service and certainly acknowledged by society as much smarter than Bandu de Silva. Susil Sirivardhana was educated at Oxford and Harvard.
But that’s not really the point. The point is how smart Premadasa actually was. Here is the testimony of Neville Jayaweera a First Class Honours graduate in Philosophy and one of the best known products of the Ceylon Civil Service in the post-Independence years:
“…The soaring vision he had for his country, and I do not mean merely for the Sinhala people but for Sri Lanka as a nation, was unmatched by any political leader of the last century, either conceptually, or in terms of the intelligence and managerial energy with which he backed it up, even though that vision was tainted by his many failings…”
(http://archives.sundayobserver.lk/2009/01/11/fea15.asp, my underscore- DJ)
Here Neville Jayaweera’s favorable comparison is with any and every Sri Lankan political leader of the last century! The indicators used include “intelligence” and “conceptual” prowess. Jayaweera was not going to benefit in anyway by flattering a dead Premadasa, and writing as he was doing in 2009 in a state newspaper, during the glory days of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
So, when judging someone’s intelligence, whose evaluation would you go by—Neville Jayaweera or Bandu de Silva (whose real claim to fame is the less than flattering portrait in one of Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s stories)?
To proceed. Bandu de Silva ventures a suggestion or implication that Mervyn de Silva might have been the one who briefed President Premadasa about Ostrovsky’s book. I do not know whether or not he did, but neither Mervyn nor Bradman ever said so–and Bradman Weerakoon wrote that Premadasa would get Mervyn on the phone to discuss foreign affairs with him (as did President Jayewardene, but those chats were in person and could be, since Mervyn was a neighbor of long standing). Let us assume that Mervyn and Premadasa spoke on the subject of Ostrovsky’s book and Israel. Is Bandu de Silva attempting to say that Mervyn could not understand the book’s meaning or that he deliberately distorted it and Premadasa stupidly swallowed the distortion, going on to confront Israel? Or is he perhaps saying that Mervyn did not understand Israel’s behavior? And if not, what is the relevance as to who Premadasa’s source was, if there was indeed such a source. It would have been quite amusing for the reader if Bandu de Silva had ventured these views in print about Premadasa’s Israel policy when either Mervyn or Izzeth Hussein were alive…!
What is most crucial, and what Bandu de Silva totally avoids are the points I made about the veracity of Ostrovsky’s book. If the book was credible, and I have argued why it was, then the shocking revelation on Sri Lanka and the damage done to this country should also have been taken seriously. Premadasa did so. No self-respecting leader could have taken these revelations lying down. Premadasa did not.
What I have also pointed out is that Premadasa’s reaction to the Ostrovsky book, and to Israel were not isolated phenomena but all of a piece with his larger foreign policy, which I have gone on to detail. Bandu de Silva, who claims to have been at every meeting on foreign policy Premadasa ever had, either is ignorant of all of Premadasa’s moves and stances in the realm of international affairs, or chooses not to comment on them.
Anyway, all these issues on Premadasa’s foreign policy are quite easily resolved. The most crucial witness in all of this, Bradman Weerakoon, the Presidential Advisor on International Relations during the Premadasa presidency, is still very much alive and remains utterly lucid.
Several of us used to meet every Saturday morning in Bradman Weerakoon’s office next to President Premadasa’s, on the President’s suggestion, to pick our brains on policy matters. Bradman Weerakoon would summarize the discussion in writing for the President and minutes were presented to us at the next meeting. We were invited in writing for every meeting. The personalities who caucused weekly were Susil Sirivardhana, Gen. Denis Perera, ex-IGP Cyril Herath, Charitha Ratwatte, Jayanath Rajapakse and myself, among a few others whose names I cannot recall at the moment. Several of the personalities I’ve named are still alive and can contradict me. I most certainly do not recall Bandu de Silva being anywhere around or ever mentioned!
All one has to do is read what Bradman Weerakoon has published or simply to ask him, on the public record, to know who is telling the truth and who is lying, on Premadasa’s foreign policy thinking and measures.