Sunday Leader on Kadirgamar
Kadi blunders on with none to hinder
Lakshman Kadirgamar, our flamboyant foreign minister, has enjoyed a meteoric rise across the political skies. Returning to his motherland some years ago, the brilliant lawyer found himself thrust into the centre stage of politics when the PA found itself lacking an eminent Tamil name to be included in its national list. As luck would have it, none of the Tamil candidates of the PA who faced the direct hustings were elected, thus leaving the field clear for `Lucky' Kadirgamar, the token Tamil on the PA national list.

Even then Chandrika Kumaratunga's initial move was to make Kadirgamar only a deputy minister, but the shrewd Kadirgamar pointed out to her that the chief minority community in the country the Sri Lankan Tamils would consider it a slight if the only one representing them within PA parliamentary folds was not given a cabinet appointment. Thereafter Kadirgamar was given cabinet rank and appointed foreign minister by Kumaratunga. This was perceived as a very smart move by her in the context of the raging ethnic war.

Any fears that the Sinhala community may have felt about appointing a man bearing a Tamil name as foreign minister were quickly dispelled when Kadirgamar said in parliament that the Sinhala community had totally shed its communal outlook and could not be termed racist. This was a blanket testimonial that even a staunch Sinhalaphile would have found hard to accept. While accepting that many symptoms of racist attitudes displayed earlier are now a thing of the past, saying that the community had collectively eschewed such a consciousness totally was by any stretch of imagination a far-fetched one. Yet, Kadirgamar went on to repeat this testimonial even in the UN assembly.

After establishing his credentials with the majority community by these utterances, the man who made his entry into parliament as a `Tamil' swiftly began demonstrating his reluctance to identify himself overtly with anything that could be termed Tamil. When Tamil expatriates in the USA wanted to meet Kadirgamar, he declined. These Tamils were not of the LTTE variety, it must be pointed out.

Diplomatic offensive
But Kadirgamar's opportunity to fulfill his historical role came with the outbreak of hostilities with the LTTE. The demonstrative and utilitarian value of having a Tamil foreign minister at a time when the country was at war with Tamil separatists was tremendous. Kadirgamar took upon himself the task of combating the LTTE on an international scale. He spared no effort in exposing the Tigers for what they were worth. His diligent efforts against the LTTE earned for Kadirgamar the wrath of that organisation and he was soon placed at the top of a Tiger hit list. But to Kadirgamar's credit, this did not deter him at all and he courageously continues to combat the LTTE effectively in the diplomatic arena.

Unlike the UNP era where the government of the day did not enjoy high moral ground, the PA regime under Kumaratunga was better placed. The patent efforts of Kumaratunga to enter into a political dialogue with the LTTE and the irresponsible manner in which the LTTE spurned it and re-commenced the war caused that outfit to stand condemned in the court of world opinion.

The devolution package proposals of the government along with the description of the war as one aimed at ushering in peace made Chandrika's stock rise further. The LTTE resorting to blatantly terrorist activity made them further ostracised by civilised society. Moreover in a unipolar world, the west itself was veering around to a consensus against terrorism. Thus Kadirgamar found himself with a very good brief when he embarked upon his anti-LTTE crusade.

Man with a mission
Still, that does not detract in any way from the kudos deserved by Kadirgamar for the meticulously efficient manner in which he discharged his functions. He was like a man with a mission. Apart from the advantage he enjoyed as the representative of the politically correct PA government, Kadirgamar stood head and shoulders above the LTTE overseas lobby that he was up against. Gone were the days when Tamils of stature and known ability, projected the Tamil cause in international fora. The LTTE by its insistence on a Tiger monopoly of Tamil political affairs had silenced many sections of Tamil opinion possessing substance, experience and contacts.

A motley crew of Tiger minions had now usurped the task of international lobbying. Most of these Tiger representatives had neither the acumen nor the approach necessary to promote the Tiger cause.

Kadirgamar with his impeccable background (Oxford and all that), sartorial elegance and ebullient eloquence overshadowed the Tiger lobby. Blessed with a sense of calculated showmanship, Kadirgamar has made sure that his efforts are well publicised at home. His anti-LTTE speeches are published in full. Some of his acts and speeches may seemingly be targeted at foreign audiences but the reality is that they were for domestic consumption.

Soon Sri Lanka, particularly the Sinhalese people, were being subject to a delightful change. Gone were the days when the world looked at the Sinhalese people with disgust over the ethnic problem. Now it was the LTTE and by extension the Tamils, who were in the dock. The Sri Lankan point of view was being heard, accepted and even appreciated.

Naturally, much of the credit for this was given to Lakshman Kadirgamar. The tremendous courage he displayed by working against the Tigers was indeed commendable. So Kadirgamar found himself the darling of the Sinhala masses.

From the mahanayake theros to the man in the street, everyone had a word of praise for his efforts. His ministerial colleague Prof. Lakshman Peiris was unpopular with some Sinhalese people for his advocacy of the devolution proposals but Kadirgamar, despite being a Tamil, was a much-loved personality. So great was Kadirgamar's stock with the Sinhalese people that he was being seriously spoken of as a possible contender for the prime ministerial stakes.

The corollary to Kadirgamar's enhanced reputation among the Sinhalese people was his corresponding loss of prestige among the Tamil people. Many Tamil people, not all of them LTTE supporters were disappointed by his conduct. He is seen as a servile sycophant trying to whitewash Sinhalese racism and ingratiate himself with the Sinhalese power bloc. It has been pointed out that Kadirgamar despite being a Tamil has not evinced any public concern over the plight of innocent Tamil civilians suffering in this war. Expectations that he would intervene at ministerial level with his cabinet colleagues and alleviate at least some suffering of the Tamil civilians have not been fulfilled.

Kadirgamar has been turning a blind eye and paying no heed to Tamil problems, charge his Tamil critics. As such he is described as a nominal Tamil who though bearing a name connected with the holiest Hindu shrine in the country, in actual practice is more Sinhalese than the Sinhalayo themselves.

Just as the Skanda of Kadirgamar is now the Kadirgamar deiyo and more of a Sinhalese deity than Tamil, Kadirgamar too is depicted as a Sinhalaised `Kadurugamuwa' now by some Tamil sections. The issue here is not whether these perceptions are right or wrong but to take cognisance that such views are in existence.

Not defensive
Lakshman Kadirgamar, however, has not responded defensively to the criticism of his ethnic kinsfolk. He has continued with his consistent efforts against the LTTE regardless of the threats to his life. Rather than identify himself as a Tamil, Kadirgamar has been striving to project himself as a Sri Lankan. This endears himself more and more to the Sinhalese people who after all are the dominant and powerful community of the island.

The visibly manifested goodwill for Kadirgamar, however, has created another problem. His courageous campaign against the LTTE has blinded the nation to certain deficiencies in the discharging of his ministerial duties. The unidimensional progress of his anti-LTTE effort has made the glossing over of his many mistakes possible. To most newspapers Kadirgamar is almost a sacred cow above reproach or constructive criticism. Even the most glaring examples of his blundering pass without criticism. As such, the man goes on merrily making mistakes. [ABRIDGED]

Courtesy: Sunday Leader June 07, 1998 [politics]

Note: A snoop says that Kadirgamar divorced his Tamil wife and married a Sinhalese girl who could have been as old as his daughter. Setting an example for assimilation?

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