By Ajita Kadirgamar –
On the Occasion of Lakshman Kadirgamar‘s Twelfth Death Anniversary – When good men leave us too soon
Twelve years ago today, on August 12th, my father’s life was brutally cut short by two bullets to the chest and one to the head. A good man, at the height of his intellectual and political prowess, he was felled to the ground like a majestic tree axed because it stands too proudly in a forest that men covet for their selfish and ulterior motives.
Twelve years after the deed, the question of who really killed LK may seem like a closed case, however conspiracy theories still abound as to who gave the orders for his life and voice to be silenced.
Would it be pompous and arrogant of me as his daughter to state that with his departure, we witnessed the death of the species of noble and patriotic politician? Is it a generational phenomenon or have we finally experienced (in our lifetime) the demise of the honest, accountable, articulate, gentleman politician who puts country before self.
If I had the luxury of saying LK must be “turning in his grave” at the present circumstances in Sri Lanka’s foreign affairs department, I would humorously throw it out there. However, since his spot in the family grave lies empty, that idiom doesn’t quite work.
Being the die-hard patriot he was, if at the age of 85 he was still alive today, he would probably weep at the wretched state of affairs in Sri Lanka. The post of Foreign Minister which he elevated to one of high esteem during his tenure (1994 to 2001, 2004 -2005) has today fallen into the clutches of dastardly thieves and base scoundrels and the government currently finds itself looking for a replacement from among its pathetic ranks. As an elder statesman, perhaps his counsel would have been sought this past week with regards to the nomination of a suitable replacement Foreign Minister.
What would LKs stance have been on the choice of candidates so far discussed? 1) A former attorney general and member of parliament who resigned in 2015 as a minister over the Avant Garde statement in Parliament; 2) A minister, also a lawyer, who despite his father having been a prominent political figure in the 90’s, who was killed by a suicide bomber, has maintained a somewhat low profile in local politics; 3) A minister with a foreign degree in Economics who has diplomatic experience, has represented the country at numerous international forums, and who speaks ‘proper’ English; 4) The recent, former Foreign Minister.
Would he recommend the one with diplomatic experience and exposure to the world stage? Or perhaps one from the legal fraternity – the older more jaded man or the fresher face with yet untainted blood? Would he vote for the one who has already held the post and knows the inside workings of the Foreign Ministry and has established relationships with his counterparts the world over? What if LK, still in the living world had mentored a worthy successor all these years? Would we be where we find ourselves today?
We will never know and I cannot presume to guess. What I do know however is that LK had a solid knack of choosing the right people to represent Sri Lanka. In my biography ‘The Cake that was Baked at Home’ (2015), published on the occasion of his 10th death anniversary I recount stories of and from personalities he called on to serve the country.
“My father enticed other top professionals to join the service as ‘non career diplomats’. They included the likes of H.L. de Silva (Lawyer), Mangala Moonesinghe (Lawyer/politician), Warnasena Rasaputra (former Governor of the Central Bank), John de Saram (Lawyer/UN Diplomat), S.B. Pethiyagoda (Academic/FAO), Devinda Subasinghe (US-based economist) and others. Such people had fine, quick minds, they were highly cultured and well travelled and by virtue of their professions they had the kind of on-the-job training required to act independently or with little supervision.”
What certainly distinguished LK from other foreign ministers (and politicians in general) was that he was not a time server; he was not in the game to fleece state coffers or to secure his political status by devious means. To him serving his country was a calling and he once told a colleague “Since one has to die some day it would be an honour to die in harness” (to die while still working or active, prior to retirement).
“Perhaps because LK came into politics so late in life and following a highly successful UN career, his purpose and ambition were different from other run of the mill politicians and even his predecessors in the Foreign Ministry. He did not have a constituency to please for votes to keep him in office, he was not in it for the perks (travel, per diems, press coverage etc); he quite simply wanted to be a vehicle for change. As he so often said, he wanted to give back to his country.
I think to LK ‘giving back’ meant offering his services to the nation and asking for nothing in return. His vast intellectual capacity combined with international legal expertise meant he could quickly pinpoint areas for action and reform. He could see the bigger picture at all times and anticipate the necessary response. He could pick up a phone and speak to senior movers and shakers almost anywhere in the word. His years at the UN had provided him an unsurpassed network. These were some of the unique facets he brought to the table.”
By god where have all the decent men gone? The fact is, there will never be another Lakshman Kadirgamar. Never again will we have a statesman of his calibre. This sentiment originates not from me, but echoes timelessly from the multitude of people I continue to meet in this life journey of mine.
I attempt to sum up the man in the closing paragraph of my book, thus: “My anguish aside, I cannot deny my father, Lakshman Kadirgamar, was a colossus, a unique being, the likes of which the nation will never encounter again. He gave his all. He was the last of the Ceylonese. I think that’s how he would like to be remembered.”