By Rajan Hoole –
Part 4 –
The first comment on the violence came from cabinet spokesman Anandatissa de Alwis after the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday (27th) morning. In speaking to the Press, few deaths were admitted but there was no expression of concern for the victims. Jayewardene’s speech was broadcast to the nation in the night of 28th July. Jayewardene’s speech contained signs of his vacillations during the foregoing weeks. Had Jayewardene been firm and steady, one would have expected him to have followed de Alwis and blamed the violence on an insidious section of the opposition. He could, in addition, have said a word of comfort to the Tamils, claimed that the Government had got the situation under control, made ritual promises about bringing the offenders to book and tried to look good. But on the contrary, Jayewardene was feeling very insecure. The burden of his speech was the appeasement of the Sinhalese: “Because of this violence by terrorists, the Sinhala people themselves have reacted … the time has now come to accede to the clamour and national request of the Sinhalese people… [other than through bringing legislation to deprive those in positions of influence who campaign for separation of their civic rights, we cannot see] any other way by which we can appease the natural desire and request of the Sinhalese people to prevent the country being divided…” (T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka)
The Sun of 29th July carried what was most striking in Jayewardene’s speech as its banner headline: “JR asks people to lay down arms”. The gist of the speech then followed: “In an emotion filled tone of voice addressing the nation on radio and television, he appealed to the people to lay down their arms. He solemnly promised that he will safeguard the rights and privileges of the majority community – The Sinhala People.”
This call to lay down arms was not cited in the extract from the speech quoted by Dissanayaka in his book released a few months later, although it was, most indicative of Jayewardene’s mind. It also seemed to attribute legitimate patriotic fervour to those – identified by him as the Sinhalese as a whole – who had taken up arms against an unarmed minority at their mercy. These were not the words of a man in his right mind, and even less of a leader. It was also the same day that the Island editorial writer wrote for the next issue, 29th, the words about the ‘incubus of shame the Sinhalese people will have to carry with them to the end of time.’ Jayewardene’s deviation from the line laid down by de Alwis, the cabinet spokesman, to talk about appeasement, suggests a man fearing greatly for himself. We will see in Chapter 12 that Jayewardene’s line was influenced by his talk with the extremist monk Alle Gunawanse a short time earlier.
The editorial writer for the Sun (29th) who took up de Alwis’s theme was feeling distinctly uncomfortable: “State minister Anandatissa de Alwis did not mince his words when he revealed that there is an insidious pattern in the wave of terror that gripped the nation during the past few days. He is obviously basing his remarks on information gathered by the law enforcers and other knowledgeable sources. The similarity of the modus operandi of the mobs that went on the rampage is decidedly indisputable. It had a very basic political orientation that bore testimony to the presence of a mastermind, which wanted to destabilise the Government and its machinery….
“Some ruthless elements had successfully sown the seeds of mayhem – and the ensuing events were disastrous … But there is much to be done in preventing further damage to life and property as well as stop the incessant acts of terror that seem to continue… Under the prevailing emergency, looters will technically face the ‘firing squad’ – a meaningful deterrent at a time like this. But they seem to get away all the same. We urge the authorities to ensure that the letter of the law is followed particularly in view of the proliferating menace…”
It is implicit in what the writer draws from de Alwis that there is one organisation behind the violence, one pattern of action and one mastermind. But the law enforcers seemed to let them get away with it. The previous day the Sun struck a very different note in its editorial, viz.: “It was the loathsome Tiger atrocities in the past in the North that sparked off the chain reaction of violence”. The tone of editorials was varying depending on the Government’s latest line.
The events in July are very involved, and any attempt at explaining them is bound to have shortcomings; especially so, when we try to understand the shifts and incoherence of the leaders, as evident in the performances of de Alwis and Jayewardene above. There was also another significant event about which local writers present a confused picture.
According to T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, had telephoned President Jayewardene on the afternoon of Thursday 28th July, after he had recorded his broadcast to the nation, which was telecast that night.
The Ceylon Daily News of the following day (29th) said that Mrs. Gandhi had initiated the call the previous day saying, “she was sorry and concerned over rumours of reports she received regarding the murder of Tamil-speaking people and these questions are being raised in the Lok Sabha now in session”. The Indian Prime Minister, it said, inquired whether Mr. Jayewardene would mind the Indian foreign minister travelling to Sri Lanka and whether discussions with him could be arranged. The President is said to have replied that he would welcome the Indian foreign minister.
The Island carried the same day a different version filed by Reuters from New Delhi on 28th July: “Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi said today she was sending her Foreign Minister to Sri Lanka tonight. Gandhi told Parliament that she had suggested to President Junius Jayewardene in a telephone conversation that in view of the situation in the violence torn Island, External Affairs Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao should visit there, the PTI news agency reported. The President readily agreed, she said…. Feelings have been running high in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu over alleged atrocities against Tamils.”
Reuters had thus based this on a PTI report of Indira Gandhi’s reference to the telephone conversation in parliament. This suggests a time well before Thursday afternoon. This was after all not an ad hoc move by Mrs. Gandhi, who had expressed her concern at developments in Sri Lanka less than a week before the violence. Jayewardene was given no choice in receiving Rao.
According to other very reliable sources, after the telephone call from Mrs. Gandhi, which came late on Wednesday (27th) evening, Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe had been on the telephone in the early hours of Thursday summoning cabinet members for an urgent meeting in the Fort. The meeting is said to have been heated, with accusations being traded and ended not long before dawn. (Ratnatunga’s book (p.116 and p.118) gives the time of Mrs. Gandhi’s call as 4.00 PM on the 27th.)
*From Chapter 9 of Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To be continued tomorrow ..