The political contradictions of Lakshman Kadirgamar
The full six months after his cruel assassination there is no end to
the outpouring of grief and tributes to the memory of former Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. If at all the flood tide of encomia seems
to have gathered further momentum.
Among those who have paid tribute to the former minister are those
who have never penned an appreciation in their lives. World leaders and
diplomats, the good and the great and the humble have all been united in
their sorrow. If our democratic and republican times have ever produced
a secular saint, it is Lakshman Kadirgamar.
The Kadirgamar commemoration issue of 'Lanka Outlook' a publication
of the International Foundations of Sri Lankans (IFSL) is a compendium
of the tributes paid to him by International figures, feature articles
in newspapers and other such writings since his killing.
As the magazine explains in an editorial comment the late Minister
had been closely associated with, if the highlight of which had been an
inspirational address on the theme 'Global Impact of International
Terrorism under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International
Affairs and the IFSL at Chatham House, London in 1998.
Among the tributes collected in this volume in order of appearance
are those by Bandula Jayasekera, H. L. De Silva P. C., S. L. Gunasekera,
V. S. Sambandan, Sir Adam Roberts, Carlton Samarajiva, Peter Jay, Padma
Rao- Sundarji, T. M. Deen, Dr. Rajasingham Narendran, B. Bamau and
The two most remarkable features of Kadirgamar's public life and
outlook was that he belonged to the elite as opposed to the masses and
that he was a relentless critic of the LTTE's terrorist methods.
As a Tamil and a Christian he was quite untypical of the average mass
politician but the very fact of his withering criticism of the LTTE made
him popular with the Sinhala masses gripped as they were by feelings of
being besieged by the hostile LTTE propaganda. By the same token he
became the LTTE's prime hate figure and target.
As H. L. De Silva notes perceptively Kadirgamar took pride in the
fact that he could not be labelled or rigidly classified in the routine
way. "He was a true cosmopolitan in spirit.
In the best sense of that term, one who was free from narrow national
limitations... While acknowledging his sense of justifiable pride in the
traditions and cultural inheritance as a Tamil, he declined to be
confined by any ties of tribalism and exclusivity."
This is correct but since although born in Jaffna he had his entire
education and upbringing in the South and overseas, Kadirgamar was to
suffer some of the emotional deprivations which come from an immersion
in a cosmopolitan non-Tamil milieu cut away as he was from the roots and
anchor of a Jaffna Tamilian ethos.
This was what separated him from the mainstream Tamil nationalism of
the LTTE which although expressing itself in political violence had by
the time of his return from abroad become the main discourse of Tamil
politics. It was also this which made him an untypical Tamil politician
(different for example from Mr. Anandasangaree who too is critical of
the LTTE) and which made him with his considerable cerebral gifts the
sharpest ideological critic of the LTTE.
The circumstances of his political advent also confronted Kadirgamar
with another contradiction. As Foreign Minister he had to maintain
excellent relations with the international community but often had to be
critical of Governments which treated the LTTE with kid gloves and
turned a blind eye to its propaganda and fund-raising activities in
As H. L. de Silva notes he realised both the futility of appeasing
the rebels as well as deluding ourselves that foreign countries would be
so generous or altruistic as to pull our chestnuts out of the fire.
No external help would ever be forthcoming except in terms of a quid
pro quo which could only be debilitating of Sri Lanka's sovereignty,
says de Silva.
In that sense six months after Kadirgamar's killing and a new
Government in power the scenario has not changed.
The former Foreign Minister, as an editorial in 'The Hindu'
reproduced here notes, expressed repeated misgivings about the February
2000 ceasefire agreement 'brokered by Norway granting too many
concessions to the LTTE'.
Now not only is there no progress on the peace process but there are
fresh outbreaks of violence on the part of the LTTE while the Sri Lankan
armed forces are themselves feeling the strain of maintaining the
Padma Rao-Sundarji, the South Asia Bureau Chief of the German
Magazine Der Spiegel who was the last journalist to interview Kadirgamar
two weeks before his death credits him with two statements "If the
ceasefire - no matter how tenuous - holds, the Tigers will tire of war
preparedness and will negotiate.
But all it will take is the killing of one important person and it's
back to war." That important person was Kadirgamar himself but the truce
held and is still holding although only just. But what will tomorrow