Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Who Is Dayan Jayatilleke Advising?

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia

Jayatilleke believed in revolutionary politics at that time strongly enough that he dropped out of graduate school in favour of activism, returned to Sri Lanka and engaged himself in full time revolutionary politics.  He was part of an underground group called “Vikalpa Kandayama” and Jayatilleke and his comrades got armed and trained.  According to Jayatilleke, the idea was that the non-LTTE groups among the Tamils and the non-JVP groups among the Singhalese could link up and prevent what they thought of as the terrible polarization of fundamentalism on both sides.  Unfortunately, as the dynamics of ethnic conflict were too entrenched for this utopian idea to allow the two groups to cooperate, this idea did not work. 

The Sri Lankan armed forces must be swiftly strengthened.  President Rajapakse’s impending visit to China must be used for the purpose, sealing a weapons agreement and/or securing an outright grant which will enable us to buy the weapons on the open market.  The president should follow this up with a visit to Russia, which must also focus on security and struggle against ethnic separatist terrorism.  Both Russia and China (especially Russia) manufacture excellent ship-to-ship missiles, which can give an edge to the badly battered Sri Lankan navy.”

Dayan Jayatilleka – “Death Of A Thousand Cuts” in Lanka Academic – April 23, 2006


“President Rajapakse should appoint the TULF leader Mr Anandasangaree as special representative, assisted by SCOPP’s Kethesh Loganathan, to hammer out a devolution deal in consultation with the non-Tiger Tamil parties, the politicians of Tamil Nadu (known to Mr Sangaree), and New Delhi(where he will be welcome), as well as the Sri Lankan parties in Parliament.

Mr Anandasangaree belongs to the old Federal Party tradition, and therefore has longstanding Tamil nationalist credentials.  He is also a veteran parliamentarian, and is untainted by association with any kind of violence, unlike the other non-Tiger Tamil groups.  He has good relations with JVP and JHU, who would shoot down his devolution proposals at the cost of exposing themselves as extremists.” 

  Dayan Jayatilleka – “War Clowds, Silver Lining” in Asian Tribune – May 5, 2006


We need devolution of such magnitude, delivered through the legislature with such speed, as to (a) neutralise/pre-empt Tamil Nadu (b) shift India off the fence to a posture of active support for Sri Lanka (interdiction of sea Tiger supply ships) and (c) motivate the US into giving us satellite intelligence, dedicated ground attack aircraft and attack helicopters.”

Dayan Jayatilleka – “Getting The Message” in Lanka Academic – June 7, 2006


Sri Lanka is at crossroads at the moment, wondering whether to choose war or peace.  President Mahinda Rajapaksa has to choose one or the other, sooner rather than than later, to decide his political future.  The ceasefire signed in February 2002 between the Sri Lankan Government (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the peace process that followed this ceasefire facilitated by Norway and backed by the EU, US and Japan, recognise the LTTE as the representatives of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and an equal partner with the GoSL for this purpose.  Although the whole peace process came to a standstill during President Chandrika’s time due to her political rivalry with the former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, after Rajapakse became the president (with the help of the Marxist and Singhalese extremist parties such as JVP and JHU), the country plunged into a state of violence and low intensity war.  This is mainly because of the pressure put on Rajapakse by his allies, the JVP& JHU, and by the hawks who surround him as advisors to annihilate the LTTE militarily and then impose a solution to the Tamil demand for their right to self-determination.

Dayan Jayatilleka is a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Colombo. He writes about this conflict often in over-heated and forceful terms. NGOs based in Colomob promoting peace believe Jayatilleka is very influential in Rajapakse’s decision-making process and is one of those guiding Rajapakse towards the path of what was once unfortunately termed “war for peace.”  The head of one such NGO held this opinion recently when this author met him in Europe and he was highly concerned. 

This brings us to the question whether Jayatilleka is a real advisor to Rajapakse or whether the NGOs are imagining this because of his high rhetoric writings on the conflict.

To know whether or not to take seriously what Jayatilleke says, one needs to know more about Jayatilleke’s past, rather than just the high profile he has earned by the political noise he has been constantly making .  This author met Jayatilleke on almost a daily basis for a few years, when he was an undergraduate student at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy at a time this author had just started lecturing in the Agriculture Faculty of the same University.  During his student days Jayatilleke was a strong JVP supporter and played a leading role in all the students’ demonstrations organised by the JVP at the university.  Jayatilleke was an admirer of the Tamil rebel leaders at that time, particularly the then prominent leader, the late Mr. Umamaheswaran of PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam).  LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran was not in the limelight at that time.  Those are the days when posters carrying the photographs of the most wanted Tamil rebels were displayed in public places.  Jayatilleke had lengthy discussions with this author admiring these Tamil militants and their struggle for independence.  When this author left Sri Lanka for his post-graduate studies in 1978 he lost direct contact with Jayatilleke.

Jayatilleke appeared on this author’s radar screen again only when he became a Cabinet Minister in the now-defunct North-East Provincial Council (NEPC), a regional council created to give more say to the Tamils in government through the infamous 13th Amendment to the constitution under the Indo-Lanka Accord.  This accord was signed between the then Indian Prime Minister Late Rajeev Gandhi and the then Sri Lankan President Late J.R. Jeyawardana.  Before this, for a period, Jayatilleke had had to leave Sri Lanka clandestinely with the help of the Tamil militants to escape from the JVP that was hunting for his head.  After this short stint at the NEPC, Jayatilleke was an advisor to the then President Late Premadasa.  President Premadasa not only could not prosecute the war against the LTTE successfully, stop the war, or find a peaceful solution, but also could not save his life from his adversaries.

After migrating to Australia in 1989, this author has been following Jayatilleke's media contributions to finding a solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka closely because this author also started his own contributions.  As a result, this author has appeared in two Australian TV documentaries on the Sri Lankan national conflict alongside Jayatilleke.  The latest was just after Karuna defected from the LTTE and was almost a debate involving only this author and Jayatilleke.   

Jayatilleke’s past

In Sri Lankan universities student unions are dominated by leftist oriented students, mainly from the arts faculties.  Many leftist political leaders in Sri Lanka have their origin in these unions.  Following the footstep of prominent leftist leaders, Jayatilleke, who was a revolutionary in the 1970s, used the then popular JVP bandwagon amongst the students to project himself as a potential future leader.  I have seen Jayatilleke leading student protest marches on campus and addressing student rallies.

Jayatilleke, holder of a First Class Honours Degree in Political Science and winner of a Fulbright scholarship, was once a doctoral student in Political Sociology at the State University of New York. Jayatilleke believed in revolutionary politics at that time strongly enough that he dropped out of graduate school in favour of activism, returned to Sri Lanka and engaged himself in full time revolutionary politics.  He was part of an underground group called “Vikalpa Kandayama” and Jayatilleke and his comrades got armed and trained.  According to Jayatilleke, the idea was that the non-LTTE groups among the Tamils and the non-JVP groups among the Singhalese could link up and prevent what they thought of as the terrible polarization of fundamentalism on both sides.  Unfortunately, as the dynamics of ethnic conflict were too entrenched for this utopian idea to allow the the two groups to work together, this idea did not work.  Some of them got killed at the hands of either the JVP or the State armed forces. Some of them went underground.  Last year Jayatilleke confessed to Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker magazine that he received arms training from the EPDP leader - and a Cabinet Minister in the present government - Mr. Douglas Devananda.  Jayatilleke spent a good part of his underground period as an exile in India with the help of the non-LTTE Tamil militant groups he was associated with and, during this time, he made friends in the Indian Intelligence Agency that was using these Tamil militant groups to keep the Sri Lankan government under their control.  In 1987 he was indicted, in absentia, in the Colombo High Court as the first accused on 14 counts, including conspiracy to overthrow the State through violence.  The then EPRLF leader Late Mr. Pathmanaba was also indicted with him.

When Jayatilleke was living underground he must have seen a political future in the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) that was founded in 1984 by the former President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunga (CBK) and her husband Vijaya Kumarathunga (VK), a charismatic movie star.  The Kumarathungas left the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the party of the Bandaranayakes, to form the SLMP and Vijaya entered politics to promote a multi-ethnic, federalist policy for Sri Lanka.  Jayatilleke was a Central Committee member of the SLMP.  Vijaya was murdered by the JVP in early 1988 and with that the future of the SLMP was sealed. 

Under the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 Jayatilleke received an amnesty and, when his allies in the EPRLF was installed by the Indians as the governors of the then newly-created North-East Provincial Council (NEPC) in late 1988 to give more political autonomy for the Tamils, Jayatilleke was nominated as one of the 5 Cabinet Minsters of the Council to represent the Singhalese, as a Central Committee Member of the SLMP.  Thus he became the Minister of Planning in this regional government.  Jayatilleke's title as Cabinet Minister was very short lived.  He had to resign this position 6 months after he assumed office, due to a conflict in policy with the rest of the Cabinet.

By this time President late Mr Ranasinge Premadasa had replaced his own rightist UNP party predecessor, President late Mr. J.R. Jeyawardana, who was behind the Indo-Lanka Accord.  President Premadasa campaigned during the Presidential election promising to send back the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) deployed in the North-East of the country under the Indo-Lanka Accord.  The JVP, that had become the arch-enemy of Jayatilleke by this time, started a violent campaign in the south of the country against the government demanding to send the IPKF out of the country in alliance with the LTTE.  The JVP, using this opportunity, was involved in mass murders of their rivals, especially UNP supporters. 

Jayatilleke, being back in Sri Lanka and having identified himself with mainstream politics after accepting the Cabinet post in the NEPC, had to worry about his safety and his political future.  Therefore, Jayatilleke decided to make the huge political somersault to abandon his revolutionary comrades and support the Colombo-based Singhalese political elite. Jayatilleke approached Late President Premadasa, who was dealing at that time with the JVP rebellion against his party supporters, readily embraced Jayatilleke as President Premadasa knew that Jayatilleke had insider knowledge of the NEPC and Indian affairs and, hence, might know how to get rid of the IPKF quickly.  Jayatilleke quickly won President Premadasa’s confidence and became an important advisor.  President Premadsa managed to send the IPKF home and quell the JVP rebellion, but his advisors could not save his life from his adversaries.  President Premadasa was assassinated by a suicide bomber at the 1993 May Day Rally in the heart of Colombo.     

The 1994 election was won by President Chandrika, one of the founders of the SLMP in which Jayatilleke had been a Central Committee member, and she had seen Jayatilleke’s political somersault during her predecessor’s regime, so she could not entertain Jayatilleke advising her.  Therefore, Jayatilleke’s presidential advisory role started with President Premadas and also ended with him.  However, Jayatilleke’s regular political analysis columns in various media make some people to think that he is still a presidential advisor.  Someone may have to ask President Rajapaksa to confirm this.

What is DJ’s contribution to Sri Lanka now?

Apart from teaching Political Science at the University of Colombo (one needs to ask his students to verify whether he still imparts Marxism and Leninism, which he strongly believed in, at least in the past) Jayatilleke writes political analysis very regularly about the conflict in newspapers such as The Island and web-sites like the Asian Tribune.  When one follows what he writes now on a regular basis, a few observations will become obvious:

A) Jayatilleke is concerned that things are not happening and decisions are not being made by the government in the way he would like. One might therefore infer that either he is no longer an advisor to the President, or the current President does not listen to his advice. 

B) Jayatilleke has two old enemies, the JVP and the LTTE. He wanted to exterminate them when he joined the revolutionary movement, the Vikulpa Kandayama. Both have grown in enormously more than he expected and therefore he is a frustrated man and would like to take revenge. 

C)  Jeyetilleka relishes using his flowery English vocabulary in criticising these enemies in whatever he writes, even if what he writes is out of context. 

D) Admirably, for personal or political reasons, Jayetilleka does not like human rights violations committed against innocent civilians. 

E) Jayetilleka has this dream that any political solution to the conflict should be found by annihilating the LTTE. To achieve this aim, he would like to convince the international community that the Tigers are international terrorists and wants to have the Indians and Americans come to the aid of Sri Lanka. 

F) Jayetilleka agrees that there should be maximum devolution to the NorthEast region to satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people.  But whether it should be under a Unitary State or United State, he cannot decide - or does not want to decide - so that he could switch back and forth between the two options, depending on the mood of the Singhalese people and their political parties.

If one reads the three papers I have quoted from at the top and another paper titled “How to beat the Tigers” published in the Asian Tribune on 25.06.06, by the observations I have mentioned above will become obvious.

Through these papers:

In April, he advised that Sri Lanka should not go to war now, but when Sri Lankan Security Forces are better prepared and with the world on the Sri Lankan side.  He advocated Sri Lanka to use anti-LTTE Tamil forces to weaken the LTTE.  He said Federalism is simply not on and devolution only under a Unitary set up is acceptable.  “The issue is not whether federalism is desirable or not (personally, I think some form of it is); it is whether it is feasible, given public opinion.  Sri Lanka is a democracy and the electorate has clearly indicated its preference for a unitary, not a federal system.”      

In May, Jayetilleka said “So the Sri Lankan forces are no longer paralysed, and are giving battle.  Every time they do so, and inflict casualties on the Tigers, it is an act of liberation, in the psychological sense...”.  He justified why India and US should act against LTTE terrorism and help the Sri Lankan security forces.  He also suggested that the President should use a Tamil leader who was rejected by the Tamil electorate, Mr. Anandasngaree, to hammer out a devolution deal in consultation with non-Tiger Tamil parties.  Mr. Anandasangaree has not turned up on President Rajapaksa’s radar and, therefor,e this President is not taking Jeyatilleka’s advice yet.

In early June, in the aftermath of the EU message after they imposed restrictions on the LTTE and the message of the Co-Chairs to both sides, Jayetilleka lamented that both sides have been equally warned and Sri Lanka needs the international community, but the LTTE is not dependant on them.  He complained that the international community has asked for maximum devolution from the Sri Lankan government, but the government has nothing on the table and he worriedly emphasised that the international community has asked for a solution within a united (not unitary) Sri Lanka.  He concluded, “As far as world opinion goes, we are all in the dock.”

In late June, Jayetilleke, in promoting University of Chicago’s Professor Robert A. Pape’s idea of “killing as many of this generation of terrorists as possible while simultaneously beginning to terminate the …policies and presence that motivate our present enemies and, if continued, will motivate greater numbers in the next generation”  to defeat the Tigers, he again is a worried man that, even the short-lived media spotlight on the indictment of the Tigers over the Kebitigollawe bus bombing shifted to stinging condemnations of the Sri Lankan armed forces from quarters  as diverse as the UTHR-J, AI, the website of the US Catholic Bishop’s Conference, the BBC and the mainstream political leaders of Tamil Nadu.  Jayetilleka has also expressed his worries about the developing changes in the Indian political system, now seen as sympathetic towards the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka similar to what prevailed in the 1980s.  Realising that under this changing scenario, federalism or quasi-federalism is unavoidable in Sri Lanka in the future, Jayetilleka says that “However India for its part must understand that to be implementable and sustainable, there must be a ‘nexus’ (Delhi-speak of the 1980s) between federalism or quasi-federalism and US and Indian security guarantees for the Sri Lankan state.”  In another way of putting it, he says that, “federalism of any sort must be under an Indo-US strategic umbrella, and embedded in security partnership between our three countries.”  Jayetilleka thinks that only this partnership can assuage historic fears, provide incentives for the Sri Lankan military, and contain the extremists of the North and South.

From being a revolutionary, Jayetilleka has evolved through being a Provincial Cabinet Minister and a Presidential Advisor into an academic and a political commentator.

When I stop and think of my friend during my undergraduate days, Dayan Jayetilleka, it reminds me of the famous Englishman and space fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke who opted to retire in Sri Lanka and continue his writing.  But most of what Sir Arthur C. Clarke writes has either become reality or been used by moviemakers.  It is a pity that what Jayetilleka writes these days is not only ignored by the President, politicians and even his former comrades-in-arms, but remains printed on paper or computer screens to be used as casual reading by those who browse for material on the Sri Lankan conflict.

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