Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Dissecting Dayan Jayatilleka's Past and Present

by Sachi Sri Kantha, February 29, 2008

"Dayan must be familiar with the phrase ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. By the same token, rubbish, even if covered by a layer of Marx and Gramsci would still stink. Premadasa remains a tyrant."

Currently, I’m reading Charlton Heston’s invigorating autobiography ‘In the Arena’ (1995). After 300 pages, I’m half-way through. Still another 275 pages to go. While describing his troubles in shooting the movie, ‘55 Days at Peking’(1962) that retold the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 for the movie screen, Charlton Heston had the following appreciative words for his co-star David Niven. I quote the short paragraph verbatim:

“David Niven is my happiest memory of that whole shoot. He was that increasingly rara avis, a true gentleman, funny as only Brits can be, a flawless professional and best of all, a superb actor. When he’d won his Best Acor Oscar for Separate Tables, he stumbled going up the steps to the stage. Improvising a thin gag about falling because he was loaded with so many good luck pieces he was top-heavy, he said, ‘The reason I fell is that I was loaded…’ and was drowned in the largest laugh in the history of Academy acceptances (admittedly not a rich mine of wit).” [pp. 292-293]

After reading this paragraph, my thoughts drifted to the recent scribblings of the Sinhalese political analyst-actor, now performing in Geneva. Unlike the debonair and witty David Niven on that Oscar Awards night, this political opportunist Dayan Jayatilleka - currently performing as the Goebbelsian Gong of President Mahinda Rajapakse – appears to be top-heavy with sycophantic grub and maldigested Marxian chaff. Having positioned himself as the Sri Lanka’s head barker in Geneva since last year, the bottom line in all the scribblings of this soothsayer amounts to “The LTTE – not the Tamils, not Tamil nationalism, not Sinhala nationalism- is The Absolute Enemy. It poses no less than an existential threat to us Sri Lankans. We cannot coexist with it. It must be fought and defeated.” [Island, Colombo, Jan.31, 2008].

As a Tamil observer, should one be silent? The past flip-flops of this Goebbelsian Gong needs some exposure; if not, for the sole reason of rebuking his weathervane drivel, now splattering the electronic media ad nauseam. To do this without any rancor, first I provide two published evaluations on Jayatilleka’s intellectual credentials by his fellow Sinhalese peers, who have no love either for Tamil nationalism or for Pirabhakaran. This strategy, while smacking at the political opportunism of Dayan Jayatilleka, somewhat eliminates the pro-Tamil bias which I may be accused of.

The thoughts of Rajpal Abeynayake in 1997

The following excerpts, appeared in an opinion piece with the caption, ‘What has Laurent Kabila got to do with the Lanka Guardian?’ [Sunday Times, Colombo, June 1, 1997].

“Dayan is currently the Editor of the Lanka Guardian, founded by his father, senior journalist Mervyn de Silva. For those with short memories, Jayatilleke was better known as Anuruddha Tilakasiri during the Premadasa era, when he wrote a regular column for the Observer, taking on most of Premadasa’s many pugnacious detractors. Now, Jayatilleke has metamorphosed into Editor, turning the Lanka Guardian into a magazine that is largely a reflection of the Editor’s convictions.”

Abeynayake continued further:

“If the Lanka Guardian is a reflection of Dayan’s ideology, then it's not surprising that the Guardian has also carried various tracts and analysis intermittently on Marxist doctrinal affairs. But, compared to the force of the pro-Premadasist, fiercely anti-PA stance [note: PA refers to the People’s Alliance headed by Chandrika Kumaratunga, the then President] that the magazine now regularly adopts, the little nod at dialectical Marxism is a quaint aberration it appears.

To me, Jayatileke embodies the noveau capitalist ideologue, and since ‘capitalist ideologues’ did not exist in the same sense that ‘Marxist ideologues’ existed, I see Jayatilleke as one among a new breed of ideologues who have emerged in the vacuum created by the ‘death’ of Marxist ideologues in the post-Cold War political discourse.

For example, one cannot accuse the Guardian these days of not taking a stand. This is not to say the magazine is devoid of its intellectual flavour, but since Dayan took over the day-to-day operation of the Guardian, the magazine has become a pro-active political organ as opposed to a purely journalistic device which it used to be when Dayan’s father Mr Mervyn de Silva ran operations.”

The thoughts of Malinda Seneviratne in 2000

The following excerpts, appeared in a rebuttal to Dayan Jayatilleka with the caption, ‘Some mild thoughts on Dayan Jayatilleka’ [Island, Colombo, Oct.9, 2000].

“Take away all the spurious linguistic theatrics in Dayan’s article and a couple of issues emerge. First. He does talk about the alleged Sinhala Buddhist hegemonism and what he chooses to call ‘the new global reality’…

Dayan complains that my ‘howl’ against globalization is insincere because I have failed to ‘acknowledge the positive Sri Lankan experience of 1989/90 – 1993’. Being a sycophant of Ranasinghe Premadasa, I suppose Dayan is obliged to say nice things about the man. Premadasa was the architect of the most violent period of our post-independence history. True the JVP is not as innocent as their spokesmen claim. I don’t know from which piece of Marxist literature Dayan found solace (if he was a sincere Marxist) during those times of defending Premadasa, but 60,000 people being tortured and killed during a person’s tenure as head of state is a far cry from a ‘positive experience’…

About Dayan’s history, let me say it all in one line: it includes a particularly funny way of handing over nomination papers, a funny way of popping in and out of the country, offering an abject public apology to J.R. Jayewardene, not to mention defending the party lines of the various groups in power (nationally and regionally). It would suffice to say ‘Danno Danithi’ at this point.

Dayan must be familiar with the phrase ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. By the same token, rubbish, even if covered by a layer of Marx and Gramsci would still stink. Premadasa remains a tyrant.”

Lanka Guardian cover February 1 1982

What Dayan Jayatilleka wrote in 1982

The Lanka Guardian magazine of Feb.1, 1982, featured a three page commentary by a 25 year-old Dayan Jayatilleka, who then portrayed himself as a Sinhalese contra carrying a flag of a pro-Tamil agitator. It was entitled, “Jaffna: Individual terrorism or guerilla war?” Here are excerpts from that commentary. The words or phrases in bold font are as in the original.

“The steady, selective liquidation of Tamil militants is accompanied by the parallel process of a deliberate attempt to ‘de-legitimize’ and ‘criminalize’ the political-military struggle in the North. Both are the work of the bourgeois state, using the repressive apparatus for the physical action and the ideological apparatus for the physical action and the ideological apparatus, the mass media, for the psychological exercise. One seeks to destroy the physical being; the other his identity.

Thus the bourgeois state has succeeded in organizing a consensus to support the most repressive legislation that the State now employs against its ‘main enemy’ – the Tamil ‘terrorists’.

That the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – this faction or that – should support this consensus is no surprise to anyone. There’s no greater Sinhala chauvinist than Sirimavo Bandaranaike and neither the Maoists nor the Trotskyists, her present supporters, can erase that fact just as her past partners, the LSSP and CP could not wash her away the guilt of 1971. But what does surprise one is that the Left movement, succumbing to the ideological psychological warfare of the bourgeois state should also join this consensus and denounce Tamil ‘terrorism’ or ‘individual terrorism’.

This unfortunately has drawn significant layers of the proletariat into the reactionary consensus. My purpose then is to make two points:

(a) The armed actions in the North are not terroristic and alien to Marxism-Leninism but are in fact typical of an early stage of a protracted peoples war of national liberation.

(b) These actions are very much in the authentic tradition of the Bolsheviks under Lenin.”

Dayan Jayatilleka continued to propound his thoughts as follows:

“The Tamil guerillas, while being in the phase of ‘Strategic Defensive’, are accumulating strength through a series of relatively minor tactical offensives. The massive retaliation by the State reveals to the Tamil people their enemy in all its bestial ferocity. But this is not all. The repression which, making no distinction between the armed combatants and unarmed youth, encompasses in its scale and scope, the entire Tamil nation in the North. Every Tamil there, by the very fact of his or her Tamilness, is deemed an enemy and treated as such in practice. This forces the Tamil people to see themselves as the State sees them at the very time it tries to deny it, i.e., as a separate nation! Thus, the inexorable dialectic of vanguard violence and state repression enables the Tamil people to know themselves and know their enemy. It raises their political consciousness from the level of a nation un sich to that of a nation fur sich. The dialectic also forces sectors like the TULF and the Sinhala Left to take up positions on either side of the fence. Trying to straddle the barbed wire proving uncomfortable to their lower extremities.

The sudden, spectacular and successful military actions by the urban guerillas against definable sources of repression and visible institutions of the State, begin to convince broader and broader layers of the populace that armed struggle is possible as well as morally justifiable and absolutely necessary to break free from oppression. As this happens, the masses themselves begin to enter the struggle. A Peoples Army of national liberation will, in the obvious conception of the Tamil militants, emerge through a gradual accretion of guerilla fighters as the struggle proceeds from hit-and-run attacks (low intensity/small unit operations) via skirmishes, on to confrontations of wider scope. Right now what the guerillas are trying to do is to offer practical proof to the masses of the effectiveness and feasibility of an armed struggle strategy for the achievement of Eelam, in the face of the manifest failure of the TULF’s parliamentary strategy and the continuation/escalation of military repression. This is known as the tactic of armed propaganda.

What have the armed Tamil youth achieved so far?

(1) According to Habash, the inability of the enemy to destroy the movement in embryo is in itself a victory for the movement. The Tamil militants have achieved this victory.

 

(2) They have prevented the State from ‘normalizing’ the situation.

 

(3) They have withstood the shift in counter-guerilla operations from the hands of the police to that of the regular Army. The Tupamaros could not survive this qualitative shift. (Admittedly they were operating in a different context – that of class warfare.)

 

(4) They have eliminated the information gathering capacity of the special (political) police in the North. (Learning to combat the political police is a necessary attribute of a revolutionary cadre according to Lenin’s ‘What Is To Be Done?’)

 

(5) They have accumulated a sufficient minimum of fire-power as well as considerable financial strength.

 

(6) They have re-introduced the problematique of revolutionary violence, first posed by the JVP (its great historic merit) into the debate within the Left movement, while providing a necessary critique (in practice, by weapon) of the JVP’s strategy then and now (parliamentarism).”

Hyping the mule-brained EPRLF

Many, including Dayan Jayatilleka himself, may find it difficult to gulp what the current lead barker for annihilation of LTTE, wrote in his salad days in 1982. The vehicle Dayan Jayatilleka boarded in early 1980s was EPRLF and its hodge-podge mix of Marxist rhetoric and Tamil nationalism. While I have read Dayan’s homages to the EPRLF and its leader K.Padmanabha in the Lanka Guardian magazine and other mouthpieces of Sinhalese majoritarianism, I have not seen any mention or rebuke from Dayan on the issue of that demented 1984 kidnapping of newly-wed Ohio couple (Stanley and Mary Allen) in Jaffna and ransom demand made by his EPRLF pals, among whom Douglas Devananda was one, who now parades as a virtuous democrat in President Mahinda Rajapakse Cabinet. I refrain from repeating here, what I had already written on the abysmal failure of EPRLF leadership and the reasons for its dismal performance among Eelam Tamils for recognition, in my Pirabhakaran Phenomenon (2005) book.

While re-reading in 2008, what Dayan Jayatilleka had written in 1982, check again the phrases such as, ‘tactical offensives’, ‘vanguard violence and state repression’, ‘manifest failure of the TULF’s parliamentary strategy’, ‘sufficient minimum fire-power as well as considerable financial strength’, all of which have come to characterize the LTTE imprints, and not the EPRLF that danced to Indian puppeteers’ strings.

Hyping Karuna

Since March 2004, when Karuna was evicted from the LTTE, one of Karunas’s voluble cheer-leaders was Dayan, a tawdry von Clausewitz impostor, who never saw field action in a battle field. Here are four excerpts from what he had written hyping Karuna, between 2004 and 2007.:

Item 1:

“Karuna’s great strength is that he has a cause, an idea: he has raised the standard of revolt and liberty against a brutal tyranny. He has wisely refrained from unveiling a detailed programme which could narrow his appeal and options or prove divisive among potential allies, and narrowed the target to Prabhakaran’s dictatorship and the domination of the East.
His great achievements are fourfold: (i) Staying alive (ii) weathering the storms of the April retreat/dispersion, the Kottawa killings and Reggie’s death (iii) becoming internationally known, recognisable and (iv) expeditiously achieving a politico-military capacity by combining the classic ‘armed propaganda’ of selective attacks with the formation of a political front….Karuna’s great underlying strength is that his struggle is in keeping with the spirit of the times, the strongest force in human history: the search for a wider freedom, for liberty.” [‘In defence of Karuna’, Asian Tribune website, Oct. 19, 2004]

Item 2

“We can be certain of winning the war even in the largely mono-ethnic Jaffna and Wanni theatres if (a) Karuna has been involved in drawing up the battle plans and (b) the opposing LTTE cadres know that in addition to the Sri Lankan armed forces, their legendary former commander has taken the field, leading a well-trained, equipped and formidable Tamil formation.” [‘The Morning After Muhamalai’, Asian Tribune website, Oct.14, 2006.]

Item 3

“A Karuna–dominated Eastern council would achieve two positive results: (1). It would enable Karuna to strengthen himself and expand his base, which in turn would mean that we could hand over many security functions to the Eastern council (the law and order function is devolved and there is provision to raise a police force, hence the earlier North east Provincial Council’s CVF militia) draw down our forces from the East and commit them to defeating the Tigers in the North. (2). With the patronage he is able to extend through the Council, Karuna would be able to raise an army in the East which can work in parallel with the Sri Lankan armed forces in any offensive in the North and the Wanni. [‘De-merger: Give Karuna the Eastern Council’, Lanka Academic Forum website, Oct.28, 2006]

Item 4

“Sun Tzu says the target of all strategy is the mind of the enemy commander. Col. Karuna should be asked to war-game, anticipate Prabhakaran's moves, while bearing in mind that Prabhakaran will anticipate this and strive to use new, post-Karuna tactics.

Karuna, given his impressive performance against Jayasikuru and at Elephant Pass, and Douglas Devananda, given his knowledge of the North and its people, should be intimately and organically involved in designing the campaign, and invited to make operational, problem-solving inputs as the process unfurls.” [‘Pushing 60: Independence Day Manifesto’, Sunday Observer, Colombo, Feb.4, 2007]

That Karuna’s stars didn’t glitter either in the East Eelam or in the North Eelam as Dayan Jayatilleka had naively hoped and that Karuna - the great hype of Dayan - is now literally ‘counting bars’ in a London slammer, should have been an utter disappointment for this anti-LTTE scribe. For obvious reasons, during the past two months, Karuna name-droppings have disappeared from Dayan’s scribblings. The reasons Dayan attributed as Karuna’s “great achievements” in his ‘defence of Karuna’ polemic in late 2004, have been proved right in a perverse sense in 2008; “becoming internationally known, recognisable and staying alive” in a London slammer!– not for any liberation-related cause for which Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela had gone to prison, but for illegal entry with a forged diplomatic passport under the Sinhalese name Kokila Gunawardana – purported Director General of Wildlife Conservation.. Huh! Anyone for Hubris?

Coda

There is one plausible reason for Dayan Jayatilleka’s crankiness and continuing drivel against the LTTE. And Charlton Heston has noted it, in his autobiography. “We’re all sensitive to other actors’ assaults on great roles we’ve played too.” Dayan in his salad days of 1980s dreamt himself as a Sri Lankan militant revolutionary a la Fidel Castro, leading his raggedy bunch of companeros under the banner Vikalpa Kandayama – only to fail miserably, kneel on his knees and negotiate an amnesty deal with his then adversary (J.R.Jayewardene) in 1988, and then launch his career as a political opportunist.

The successes of Pirabhakaran as a militant revolutionary probably make Dayan puke, day in and day out. The bottom line is, unlike Dayan Jayatilleka, the LTTE leader never allowed his battle-field adversaries to gain an upper hand on him, and did send Jayewardene and his three successors who posed as Commander in Chiefs into permanent political retirement. As the title of Charlton Heston’s autobiography is tagged, Pirabhakaran is still active ‘In the Arena’, decades after the likes of Dayan – the phony von Clausewitzs - have settled for a diplomatic cover, while praying for a wounded and wilting Sarath Fonseka (GOSL’s current Army Chief, the 12th man in the job since mid 1970s!) to work a miracle.

*****