23 June, 2024


Reply To Mangala Samaraweera & Sarath De Alwis: Sinhala Tiger Or Smart Patriot?

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

I must be doing something right because I have been the subject of critiques from at least three sources in just over a single week. Since I have engaged in a polemic with US-based Hafeel Farisz, I shall limit myself to a brief reply to the other two. One is, incredibly enough, the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera and the other, freelance columnist Sarath de Alwis. The latter I read unfailingly and treat with intellectual respect and a degree of fondness while the former I do not, but I shall commence with the former, if only because he holds high and responsible public office.

15 minutes into a lengthy media briefing at the Ministry of External Affairs on March 16th, Mangala Samaraweera declared that he would shift focus to two “main personalities”, Dayan Jayatilleka and Maj Gen Kamal Gunaratne. He accused me, in the main, of having been (a) a “Sinhala Tiger” who (b) obtained weapons training from Douglas Devananda and (c) chased away/deprived Sri Lanka of international support when I was a diplomat.

Mangala Samaraweera is lucky that my father, Mervyn de Silva, told me never to waste time and still less money, on mediocrities, or else I would have joined my former colleague Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam whom he falsely called a member of the LTTE, in suing him for an enormous sum. Instead, let me hold up to the light the nonsense he uttered on the record, in his capacity as Foreign Minister.

In a recent article on Anton Balasingham, the respected columnist DBS Jeyaraj put on the record what many of us already knew, namely that Balasingham used the pseudonym Brahmagnani. It is none other and no less than Balasingham who described me as “standing out” as “a unique character” among all those Sri Lankan analysts who opposed the Tigers, because of my “ruthless criticism” of the LTTE.

Over two decades ago, writing as Brahmagnani in the paper published by the LTTE until its retreat from Jaffna in late 1995, and devoting a full page to a critique of my first book (“Sri Lanka, the Travails of a Democracy: Unfinished War, Protracted Crisis”, Vikas, New Delhi 1995) Anton Balasingham pronounced on me as follows:

“Sri Lankan political discourse, in recent times, has produced an amazing variety of political theorists and analysts whose main vocation seems to be to produce denunciatory criticisms of the politico-military strategy of the LTTE and offer ideas or solutions as to how to end the so-called terrorist menace. Among these political theorists Dayan Jayatilleka stands out as a unique character in his irrational and ruthless criticism of the LTTE.” (Inside Report – Tamil Eelam News Review, June 30, 1995).

So who is better suited to provide evidence of my attitude to the Tigers? Mangala Samaraweera or Anton Balasingham?

Most certainly I was indicted, as Mangala Samaraweera said in his March 16th media briefing, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency regulations, and that too as the first accused among 23 persons, on 14 counts, in the mid-late 1980s. Whether any of the 14 charges came even remotely close to being a “Sinhala Tiger”, that is to say, a supporter of separatism and the LTTE, Mangala Samaraweera should inquire from an old associate of his, one of the ideologues of the Yahapalana regime and advisor to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Dr. Ram Manikkalingam, who was a member of our political organization known as the Vikalpa Kandayama (“Alternatives Group”) and one of those accused together with me in the same trial in the Colombo High Courts.

Ram will enlighten his old friend Mangala, that in those years (the 1980s) in which separatism was a deadly serious indictable offense, none of the 14 charges leveled against us remotely included that of separatism/secessionism or any contact whatsoever with the LTTE!

The charges all related to our alleged effort to “overthrow the state through violence” and one of the accused was K. Pathmanabha, Palestinian trained founder-leader of the Marxist EPRLF, and later a victim of a Tiger assassination squad. The 14 charges related to our idealistic, perhaps Utopian project, as a multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious group of largely urban, educated young men and women, to make a Socialist Revolution cutting across ethnic and regionalist barriers and uniting Southern and Northern leftists.

In short, ours was a socialist alternative to both the Tigers’ separatism and the JVP’s xenophobia and chauvinism—which is precisely why Vijaya Kumaratunga authored and signed a letter to President JR Jayewardene in 1987 calling for our amnesty; a call that was taken up by DEW Gunasekara in Parliament!

Samaraweera’s other charge at his long media briefing of March 16th, is that I was militarily trained by Douglas Devananda. Douglas was most certainly a comrade and I continue to regard him as one, but even if the allegation of receiving weapons training from him were true, (which it isn’t), that not only does not make me a “Sinhala Tiger”, it is further evidence of exactly the opposite, because Devananda was never once a Tiger, always fought against the Tigers, and was the target even according to US reports (revealed by WikiLeaks) of no less than eleven assassination attempts against him by the Tigers!

Mangala Samaraweera’s third major charge against me, to wit, that I lost support for Sri Lanka in the diplomatic arena, not only shows that Sri Lanka cannot count on him but that he simply cannot count. It was precisely when I was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to Geneva that Sri Lanka won, in May 2009 a near two-thirds majority of votes in the UN Human Rights Council obtaining 29 votes to 12; a number of votes that even the world’s sole superpower the USA could not secure for any of the three resolutions it brought against Sri Lanka in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Samaraweera should also note that while every single resolution against/on Sri Lanka, including the notorious 30/1 of 2015 and the impending one of 2017, expressly mention, invoke and base themselves upon the previous resolutions of 2012, 2013 and 2014, not a single one mentions the Resolution of May 2009! That is because the May 2009 Resolution gives no traction for any subsequent resolution critical of Sri Lanka. In May 2009 in Geneva, on my watch, Sri Lanka won a clear victory, hands down, with no “hook” for the future.

As General Charles de Gaulle famously said “après moi, le deluge”. After me, after my removal by the Rajapaksa administration a mere six weeks after our victory, we lost three times in a row whenever the West actually tabled a resolution in 2012, 2013 and 2014, functioning at the UNHRC Geneva under the stellar leadership of Mohan Pieris, who had unmasked himself as a pompous stooge and woefully inadequate for the task, and Sajin Vaas Gunawardena, the Rajapaksa nuclear family’s poster boy of “Thug Diplomacy”.

The Rajapaksa administration did not have the common sense to send me back in to Geneva to reverse the situation after the 2012 defeat, though I had finished my stint in France by January 2013 and could easily have been deployed in the Geneva arena. The resulting “deluge” continues to this day, sinking Sri Lanka deeper by the UNHRC session.

Sarath De Alwis

I remember Sarath with some affection in the 1970s during his Lake House days and later as top columnist “Narada” of the Sunday Times. In that decade my father Mervyn de Silva was editor of the Ceylon Daily News, the Sunday Observer and later the Sunday Times. I was a teenager and then an undergrad in his freshman year. Sarath writes:

“I do not have a ‘never-ending quarrel’ with Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka. I have known him as precocious child of mercurial father, a brilliant student and arguably the brightest student of Political Science of Peradeniya since Bishop Lakshman. He could have got the same academic distinction that Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe achieved in the same discipline, if not for his father Mervyn’s ebb-and-flow relations with the then academic elite of Peradeniya. Sins of the father visiting on sons.” 

Sarath is mostly right but slightly wrong here, so let me set the record straight. I did in fact get “the same academic distinction that Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe achieved in the same discipline”. I not only obtained a First Class Honors degree in Political Science as did Bishop Lakshman, I won the award for the best results in Political Science that year; an award instituted precisely by Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe (my father’s friend and university batch-mate), in the name of his (and his brother Esmond’s) father, CL Wickremesinghe, the grandfather of the present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. That award had not been granted for well over a decade and was not to be granted again for quite a few years after I had won it. This is borne out by eminent educationist, Emeritus Professor Carlo Fonseka’s definition of my university degree as a “first class of unsurpassed excellence” in Political Science (Prof. Emeritus Carlo Fonseka, ‘13th Amendment, Dayan & Malinda’, The Island, July 15, 2009)

However, though I did get “the same academic distinction that Bishop Lakshman obtained in the same discipline”, I was not recruited to the Peradeniya staff upon graduation in 1981, and in 1982 after I was unanimously selected at an interview for the Peradeniya post, it was suppressed!

Sarath’s informed speculation is probably quite accurate and the issues that those dull, grey academics—unimpressive personalities and intellectual mediocrities– had with the charismatic, iconic Mervyn de Silva whom they dared not take on socially or in print, were visited upon me. Later I was given a visiting lecturership at Colombo which was not renewed after the two year contract expired despite the excellent results my students had obtained and a petition signed by them to open a special degree program with me as the lecturer. When I returned from my stints as Ambassador I was not given my seniority, my promotions or increments, and in disgust I handed in my resignation. All these depredations from the year of my graduation in 1981 to my return in 2013, were at the hands of pro-Ranil UNPers (known in the ’80s as the UNP “junta”) or, this time around, the Yahapalana-NGO mafia on campus.

Sarath balances off his pat on the back, with this: “Dayan was a good envoy abroad. It is my personal and continuing regret that Dr. Dayan J did not get summarily slapped by Sajin Vass, Mahinda’s enforcer, when preaching politics of the realist school seated on a barstool in a Geneva Brasserie or a Paris bistro. I have not seen Sajin Vass Gunawardene since 1994 and I count his father too as a dear friend.”

I was once asked by an interviewer on one of Sirasa’s open air ‘stroll about’ interviews, as to what might have happened had I been assaulted by Sajin Vaas. The camera—and the evening’s newscast– caught me in of those rare moments in which I was rendered speechless, and that was because I was in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, causing the interviewer also to join in. Sarath would appreciate that slapping the genteel Dr. Chris Nonis is one thing and attempting to slap someone (even a neighbor of JRJ’s from Ward Place) who has been indicted – but not apprehended—on charges of attempting to “overthrow the state through violence”, could be quite something else, at least as far as instant responses to such thuggish actions as Sajin’s go.    

Mr. De Alwis goes on to say: “Dr. D. J. says that he criticized Gota then while others were silent. I do not know what he wrote about Gota.” Now that’s a statement I shall have to excuse as a lamentable lapse of memory due to age, because it was he, Sarath, who in an article just days ago, quoted at some length, a critique I had made of Gota in 2014. Sarath’s reminiscence was followed up by more quotes resurrected by Uvindu Kurukulasuriya. Anyway, if Sarath or anyone else wants to know what I wrote critically about Gota and the Deep State when others were silent, please refer the petition on Rathupaswela that Rajiva, Tamara and I signed, and still more substantively, portions of my 2013 book ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ (Vijitha Yapa) which was sold out that year and was republished in an updated edition in 2014. 

Sarath writes that: “Smart patriotism of the Viyath Maga ideologue Dr. D.J., is banal nationalism. It is a clever political project. This idea of smart patriotism fosters a duty towards the State in contrast to the civic nation which is a post-independence imperative of a plural multicultural democracy. Smart patriotism is a very learned and profoundly academic subterfuge to restrict civil liberties and to overcome opposition.”

I was an invited speaker at the ‘Viyath Maga’ convention and am not its ideologue. If I am ideologically associated or identified, and that too informally, with any formation or collective, it is the Joint Opposition (JO). Secondly, if Smart Patriotism as articulated by me is “banal nationalism”, Mr. de Alwis must please explain why it has been subject to savage denunciation on his website ‘Kalaya’ not once but twice, by the Godfather of “banal nationalism”, Prof Nalin de Silva, on the charge of being anti/non-nationalist! 

Closely paraphrasing Gramsci, Sarath de Alwis writes that “We are trapped between a world that is dying but not yet dead and a new world that cannot yet be born. In this interregnum, a variety of morbid symptoms can appear. Viyath Maga is one such morbid symptom of an infantile disease that Dr. D.J. describes variously as Smart Patriotism, Gota as President, Gota Project…”

As a modest student of Gramsci myself, I view the current crisis of the Yahapalana regime, bond scam, mangled Mangaloid Geneva rhetoric and all, as precisely those symptoms of an interregnum between the dying and that which cannot yet be born. I regard Smart Patriotism as the ideology of the new world that cannot yet be born, at least until the national elections of 2019-2020 and I see the “Gota Presidency/Gota project” as precisely the road to the new world that can be born; the new, strong, developed Sri Lanka that we can be; the Sri Lanka that President Ranasinghe Premadasa and President Mahinda Rajapaksa laid the foundations for and dreamt of; a “shining city on the hill” as Ronald Reagan once described America. Gota supported by Mahinda can get us there.

Gotabaya can build a new urbanized technocratic civilization which is the 21st century equivalent of the magnificent civilizations that this island once built; civilizations that put us ahead of the rest of South Asia, until the Tamil invaders drove us downward and the Western invaders finished what they started.

For this, we need a new form of state, but one that does not need a new Constitution. We need a modified version of the existing state, by a large infusion of technocrats and retired military top brass into the cabinet and the para-statal/quasi-statal sectors. The Cabinets of Cuba, Israel and China have many who hold or held high military rank. These strata can be the engine of expertise, the generators of “Smart Power” (Prof Joe Nye) and “Smart Patriotism” in our next stage of rapid development. That is where Viyath Maga can come in.

Let the next generation, in the form of Sunil Handunetti-Bimal Ratnayaka, or Kumara Gunaratnam-Duminda Nagamuwa, or indeed Namal Rajapaksa and Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, take our society forward, from that point.   

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  • 0

    Root cause is free tertiary education. Must devise a reasonable scheme to provide soft loans to students and method of recovery upon employment. People who leave the country for green pastures should clear the loans.

    Free tertiary education in not sustainable in SL.

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