The Lion of Lanka: Remembering Kadirgamar 13 years after his death
I thought the best way to pay tribute to the late Lakshman Kadirgamar this year is by using his own words. These are extracts from one of the many interviews I did with him for the ‘The Island’ of 6 March 2003. Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister then. Kadirgamar was in the Opposition and much a flawed peace process was in operation. Lakshman Kadirgamar told me “Those who believe in a separate state in this country would see him as a person who is against the separation of this country. I regard myself as a Sri Lankan. I do not consider myself a Tamil first and then a Sri Lankan” Only if he could see from heaven today, how this country is being sold, he would weep for Mother Lanka.
On why some Tamils hated him a lot and if he had betrayed their cause:
“Those who say so believe in a separate state in this country. They will see me as a person who is against the separation of this country. I do not believe that the ethnic communities in our country should have ‘causes’, I believe fundamentally that there should be a united Sri Lanka, which must be a multi- ethnic, multi-religious society. I am totally against any divisions, exclusive homelands for some. I am for a solution, which allows all Sri Lankans to move freely in the country. Even the Prime Minister has said there is no such thing as a homeland. He has said that the 25,000 square miles of Sri Lanka are everybody’s homeland. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that some Tamils accuse me of betraying their cause. I regard myself as a Sri Lankan. I do not consider myself a Tamil first and then a Sri Lankan. It has been the competing claims of exaggerated ethnicity that have caused so much trouble for all of us.”
On why he was critical of the role played by the Norwegians:
“The Norwegian role has been patchy. We engaged them in 1998 purely to facilitate talks between the government and the LTTE. Certainly, mediation was completely out. Now we find the Norwegians playing a huge role. Doubts have occurred from time to time whether the Norwegians are tilting towards the LTTE. The Norwegians seem not to be totally impartial. Their agreement to act as consignees for radio equipment to the LTTE was a case in point. A sovereign government should never have agreed to help our government in that way, which is obviously contrary to our law. That has given cause for concern. On the other hand, there have been occasions where they have been impartial. For instance, their reaction to the LTTE’s demand for the dismantling of high security zones. The monitors came out very strongly against such a demand. They said that the balance of forces must not be disturbed during a ceasefire. ”
On the role of India and if India was fully with Sri Lanka:
“India stands clearly for a negotiated solution for our problem, which accommodates the aspirations of all our communities, consistent with the territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. They have been consistent about that stand for several years. At one time, they were talking more about the rights of the Tamil people. But, that has changed. I don’t think they are happy about what’s happening in the North and the East today. What they would do about it remains to be seen. But, there cannot be any constitutional arrangement here, which India cannot live without. In the final analysis India is the only country that counts as far as a solution to Sri Lanka’s problem is concerned. It is the only country, which has a legitimate stake in the destiny of Sri Lanka. The other countries will come and go. The solution ultimately has to be worked out by the people of our country, and India will always have a legitimate interest and concern in what happens here. We must never lose sight of the geo-political realities of Sri Lanka’s location in the South Asian Region”
(Such prophetic words. Only if Mahinda Rajapaksa read and remembered Kadirgamar’s words of wisdom)
On the role played by the West and the wisdom of the then government relying mostly on the west:
“I think the government should not give the impression that it is totally committed to a western approach to the solution to our problem. A degree of international support is certainly important in our efforts to resolve our problems. Fighting global terrorism requires a global effort. So the government is right to enlist as much as international support as it can. But, it would be unwise for the government to rely too much on Western countries, because ultimately they have no stake here. They are not going to be here permanently. Someday Norway and all the others will have to go away. They will have to disengage. The solution that is worked out must fundamentally be acceptable to all the people of Sri Lanka. There is no substitute to that. The government is foolish to say that the problem has to be resolved between the present government and the LTTE. Every Sri Lankan is and must be involved in the solution if it is to be durable. Nobody, no other party, no other country can be allowed to impose a solution on us or engineer one, which is not totally acceptable to us. We are the final architects of our destiny. As I say India is the only other country which has a legitimate and a lasting, stake in the future of Sri Lanka.”
Lakshman Kadirgamar is the best foreign minister Sri Lanka ever had and the best foreign minister Sri Lanka will never have.
Mother Lanka miss you even more today, Sir.
BY BANDULA JAYASEKARA