He stood for what was right... | Daily News

He stood for what was right...

LK at the European Parliament.

Lakshman Kadirgamar sacrificed his life for a worthy cause, having worked tirelessly to restore the tarnished image of Sri Lanka. His eight year tenure as Foreign Minister, no doubt set a credible and unmatchable example to his successors. Taking up the position at a crucial juncture in Sri Lanka’s history, he handled international relations with diplomatic professionalism and prudence. Political analysts, diplomats and dignitaries here and abroad had never been hesitant to dub him “the best Foreign Minister Sri Lanka ever had.”

“There’s no doubt about that,” quickly agreed his daughter Ajita Kadirgamar.

“It was a job absolutely tailor-made for him. No one before him had done such a good job and it is unlikely that anybody else ever will,” she added with confidence.

“LK’s enormous international experience, travel and the years of protocol and etiquette involved in UN work made him supremely prepared for the role of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, where from day one he considered himself to be on an equal footing with his global counterparts,” she said

His network was such that he did not need Foreign Ministry machinery to get through to any eminent diplomat or politician in the international arena.

“He would have known some way to get through to that person, because he himself had so many contacts.”

The prudent way LK formulated the country’s foreign Policy while adhering to international laws gained much praise and got the LTTE listed as a terrorist organisation in many foreign countries. This was considered as his greatest achievement.


LK with Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and US Secretary of State Colin L.Powell
Meeting with Hennadiy Udovenko of Ukraine, President of the 52nd session of the General Assembly on October 3, 1997.

“People remember him largely for that. And it was greatly due to his ability to speak that he could convince the world,” she said.

However, Ajita said she wasn’t a fly on the wall during his tenure as Foreign Minister.

Ajita left the country in 2002 while her father was still serving as Foreign Minister.

“As you know, I came back in 1982 and was in the country for nearly 20 years, but left in 2002. So the last few years before he died I wasn’t here,”

“Initially he would still remember our birthdays and would try and send a gift or call us.”

But Ajita regretted that the practice did not continue. “Tight security and the second marriage distanced her from her father in later years of his life.

“But I can understand he couldn’t just get in the car and go anywhere. Everything was a big operation and he didn’t want to put us at risk. You know coming down the lane to visit us would have created much hassle. The one time that he came before we left, [ For US] what a big ‘ha ho’ that was! Imagine every time he came, having to do that. So that was a great pity and not only us, all his friends, nobody had access to him in the end,” she said.

Today, 11 years after her legendary father’s death, she feels remorse for not having tried to re-start the ‘conversation’ from where it ended.

“When you have an argument with someone or don’t speak with someone for a long time, a sense of distance starts. Then even though there’s no anger, both parties feel ‘should I call’ or ‘is it up to me to call’ or ‘why can’t they call me.’ And after a while, it becomes hard for both people to make up their minds and call first. I think that’s what happened and in the end there was so much distance and neither of us knew who should take the first step,” Ajita said. Perhaps she wished she could rewind time and go back to the past where she snuggled beneath the arm of her father...

Another reason why LK was unable to maintain close contacts with others was because he was not tech savvy. Ajita, in the second edition of her book, had included an interview with personal security officer of the Foreign Minister M.H.Marso, who had revealed that LK never used a cell phone.

“Emails were available, but anyway he was not a tech person. After speaking to Marso only, it really confirmed to me. My father didn’t carry a cell phone. I don’t think he knew how to use a cell phone. He never got onto a computer. He could type one finger at a time.... So forget about emails!” she went on.

Misconception

LK strived hard for the democratic rights of the Tamil people as well and constantly grieved the subjection of the Tamil people to LTTE authoritarianism. But still, why wasn’t he generally considered a hero of the Tamils, as what he fought against was terrorism, not Tamils, the Daily News questioned.

“It was. What he fought against was terrorism. This was a general misconception. But if you think back on it, 30 years ago initially Prabhakaran was everybody’s hero. Tamils even if they did not say it openly, they wanted Eelam. Even Colombo Tamils supported the idea. So he was sometimes seen as being against Tamils. It is like the Muslims now. Even we often think every Muslim is ISIS, but it is not true. It is very much a similar situation. So we tend to put things in a box,” she explained.

“He was definitely against terrorism. He was against breaking of the country. But also at the same time, because of his position, I am sure there were lots of times (I think I mentioned a few in my book) where he was approached by Tamils (may be to speak at an event or have some dealings with somebody and maybe with Tamils.) But he had to think twice because by association, then people would have blamed him taking sides.”

What her father’s stand was that he might have been Tamil by birth, but he was Sri Lankan first. “Race, caste and religion meant nothing to him as he always put the country’s interest first.”

As all Sri Lankans were aware, he was very firmly committed to a unitary state, a state within which all communities would be able to live in harmony and in unison.

Noble man

Her father was committed to an absolutely worthy cause. A noble man he was, and was by no means equal to politicians of the present day no matter whether they were UNP or SLFP.

“If at all he had a political party, it would have been the UNP. But my point is what does UNP or SLFP mean? Today, are there any diehard UNPers or SLFPers? They’d always jump from one party to another.”

“So if at all he was a UNPer, it would have been in the 50s, 60s and 70s where the party politics were different,” she stressed.

She said his father might have fit into the UNP, during JR’s or his brother HW’s time. “The ideology and mentality of politics are totally different now,” she added.

Had LK lived today, what would have been his reaction regarding war victory, the Daily News asked.

“He would have wanted the war to end, but not the way it happened, not with the kind of loss of life....,” she said, her voice so firm.

Best choice for PM

So great was his popularity towards the end of his first term as Foreign Minister, LK stood out in the Cabinet as the best choice for Prime Minister.

“Even in politics towards the end, they were sidelining him, because by that time the talk was that he would be a good Prime Minister. At the time of his death he didn’t have close ties with govt officials. And I don’t know whether I mentioned it in the book up until the last minute I think there was a distancing between him and the government. It was all organised. This is how politics work,”she added regrettably.

However, Ajita stressed that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) wanted him as Prime Minister definitely, but she was under severe pressure.

“She [CBK] wanted him definitely, but there was much pressure from the others and up until the last minute he had been led to believe that he would be the next Prime Minister, until they had to give it to the other guy,[MR],” she said.

“First of all people were saying he should have been PM. But in a majority Buddhist country I don’t think it’s going to fly no matter how great the man is,” she said.

But it was the very Sinhalese who loved him most? The Daily News asked.

“True, but then again, his Sinhala was also very basic. I don’t think we are ready as a country to accept it. Even for a man like him- who can do so much and has the mind and the willpower-, if he doesn’t meet people’s basic requirements- (must be Sinhala speaking and must be a Buddhist,)” he is generally not accepted.”

More than a decade has passed since the incident. LK is no more , but his mission was to establish a country where all communities could live in harmony as Sri Lankans.

“We have a long way to go to even to get to the point of the kind of Sri Lanka that he envisioned. One country-one community, “she finally noted

Faithful to his mission

Even though some Tamils had referred to him as a traitor, he was definitely not, Ajita noted.

He was just faithful to the job he was assigned to do.

[Some] Tamils feel that he was a traitor and betrayed their cause. If we need to get rid of the Tigers and we need to stop the war, we need to stop Prabhakaran [violence], not that we need to destroy the Tamils and kill them. But some got it mixed up.”

She confessed that, she in many ways felt sorry for her father, as he was often misunderstood.

“No matter how his heart was breaking about the fact that Tamils were suffering, what could he have done? I mean his mission in life, [the post] was the Foreign Minister, not the Minister of Defence or the Minister of War. Those decisions weren’t made by him. His job and which he did well was to convince the world what the Tigers were really like and to get the world to put a stop to supporting them and funding them thinking that they were heroes. And in that he did a good job. He told the UN about the child soldiers, he got the countries to ban them. So as a Foreign Minister he did a great job.”

She added that many good things he did for Tamils too had gone unnoticed.

“Even I didn’t know that he had done so much to help rebuild the Jaffna Library until I started researching about my father to write his biography. Being a modest person he never boasted about what he did and as a result many people were not aware of his full contribution to the Tamils.”

Patriot

His great love for the country was vividly displayed through the speech he made at the Oxford Union on March 18, 2015, at the unveiling of his portrait.

The eminent Oxford Scholar drew applause from the audience when he said thus;

“I would like to, if I may, to assume that I could share the honour with the people of my country, Sri Lanka. I had my schooling there, my first university was there, I went to Law College there and by the time I came to Oxford as a Postgraduate student, well, I was certainly a matured person. Oxford was the icing on the cake. but the cake was baked at home...”

And Ajita said that it was a fine proof of his love for the country.

“I think by saying so he also meant that he was just in many ways a regular Sri Lankan boy who had great gifts. He had the gift of being able to speak, intelligence and being able to write. This was his home, his love. Why do any of us return to Sri Lanka? Because nothing can beat the lifestyle here. You come back after 10 years, nothing has changed. You cannot beat the lifestyle here anywhere else in the world.”

His inability to converse in Tamil did not affect the least his tremendous love for the country, or for his community. Anyway she said that his could have been a different story if he knew Tamil. “Things would have been totally different. Again the core of the issue of the country goes back to the language,” she added.

She was in the US when her father was murdered. It was her friend Cherina who phoned her up to convey the shocking news. Everything else after that remains blurry..

“The biggest tragedy today is me and my brother do not have access to any of his things. Nothing nothing.... nothing.” she reiterated. “It would have looked at times like he had become a Buddhist, but most of us don’t believe that...I definitely believe he [LK] would have wanted at least part of his remains to be buried with the family...”

Anyway just as LK once said in one of his very fine parliamentary speeches, during the Tawakkal debate in 1996 “ he did not fear the bullets and the bombs aimed at him. That did not frighten him, that did not bother him...”

The greatest is gone and he is our hero. 


 

There are 2 Comments

The measure of the man . It is a pity that they do not make them like this anymore ! Now we have to settle for fellas who end up before the Bribery Commission .

Why did you not publish the name of the person who interviewed Ajitha. It would have been useful in the future at least if you had mentioned the name as it would have helped in contextualising. I remember Ajitha from the days I was a consultant in the news and current affairs division of Rupavahini and Ajitha joined the division and worked as a newscaster among other things

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