Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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On Kadirgamar, Khlestakov and Kumar Ponnambalam

by Sachi Sri Kantha

“If at the end of the day and at the end of the road, you could tell yourself that you have, even in the remotest way, the love of your own people, which is the greatest thing in life, you would have achieved something much greater than the useless banning of the LTTE by America and you could die a happy man.”...

Kadirgamar never received the love of his own Tamil people. This is because he gloated and deluded himself as a ‘Sri Lankan nationalist,’ whereas in reality, ‘Sri Lanka’ as a viable nation had been obliterated beyond redemption.


Following his assassination on Aug.12, 2005, the Sinhalese apologists contributing to the muffled mass media in Colombo profusely heaped praise on the memory of Lakshman Kadirgamar. They oozed endearing encomiums on Kadirgamar as the next incarnation of Ponnambalam Arunachalam (1853-1924), a Tamil visionary of colonial Ceylon, who had died 8 years before Kadirgamar’s birth. Was Kadirgamar really an academic and political heavyweight, as his eulogies in the Colombo press touted him to be? Should this be of interest to Eelam Tamils now? For accuracy’s sake and the societal record, one cannot allow the truth to be compromised.

Nothing but an Academic Dwarf

I have searched and found out that the ‘academic brilliance’ of Kadirgamar rests more on fallacy than on facts. He is nothing but an academic dwarf. Here are my findings.

(1) Does anyone know whether Kadirgamar has authored a book or monograph of substance in law, politics or any other subject, in either English or Tamil during his lifetime?

(2) Has he received any recognition in the form of award or prize in Sri Lanka or in any other country for authoring a book or monograph?

(3) Does the L.Kadirgamar name appear under the author’s listing in the authentic five volume ‘A Bibliography of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), compiled by H.A.I.Goonetileke, which covers the literature published pertaining to Sri Lanka until December 1978?

My search turned out to be negative for all these three questions. Especially of interest are the numbers relating to the third question. Goonetileke’s monumental compilation provides a literary record of 27,540 titles of books, monographs, book chapters and articles. By 1978, Kadirgamar would have been 46, and he had not written a single substantial article (leave alone a book or a monograph) on Sri Lanka that would have merited inclusion in this bibliography. He wrote nothing subsequently, either.

Thus, I could only infer that Kadirgamar’s academic brilliance was nothing more than a publicity blurb which was first gulped innocuously and now had been transformed into an urban myth. Along with his lack of a stellar legal history and no political background, this reinforces the perception that Kadirgamar - a political neophyte with no political base in any community - was chosen as a token Tamil to deflect concerns of racism in the government.

In my readings, one of the culprits who was engaged in promoting the non-existent 'academic wizard' image for Kadirgamar in the mid-1990s was none other than Mervyn de Silva, the editor of the Lanka Guardian. (See below the appendix, in which I reproduce a correspondence of G.G.(Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr. to the Sunday Leader weekly in 1997. Mervyn de Silva may have had his innocuous reason to promote the political career of Kadirgamar – a token Tamil, who was a nobody for Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims when he became a cabinet minister for the first time in 1994.

For a proper grading of where this token Tamil dimwit stood, Kadirgamar’s academic non-publication record (until 1978 that is) has to be compared with that of legitimate legal scholars. Here are the numbers of academic contributions (books/monographs/book chapters/journal articles) on themes relating to Sri Lanka culled from the same Goonetileke, ‘Bibliography of Ceylon’ for four  eminent intellectuals who shined in law, politics and culture. I have chosen Arunachalam as one of the four, and the other three were Kadirgamar’s contemporaries in law. Among these three, Justice H.W. Tambiah (1901-1997) and Prof.T. Nadaraja were Kadirgamar’s tutors at the university. Pon. Arunachalam has 24 entries. Justice Tambiah has 27 items under his name. Trotskyist politician and author Colvin Silva (1907-1989), ever prolific with the pen, has 51 entries. Prof. Nadaraja has 9 items listed. And Kadirgamar has none! To quote the lines from a signature song of comedian Danny Kaye in his biopic movie ‘Hans Christian Andersen,’ the creator of the 'Naked Emperor' story, The King is in the all together - But all together the all together; He's all together as naked as the day that he was born.

Mention should also be made of a Tamil linguistics scholar, Dr.Sabaratnasinghe Thananjayarajasingham (1933-1977), who was months younger to Kadirgamar but had a short life span. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh in 1972 for his thesis ‘The Phonology of nominal forms in Jaffna Tamil.’ Before his untimely death at the age of 44, ‘Singhi’ as he was known in academic circles was highly prolific. Under his name, there are 35 items in Goonetileke’s ‘Bibliography of Ceylon.’

If Kadirgamar could not boast of a single publication to showcase his academic credentials, the only valid inference was that he was nothing but a sham intellectual.

A Passage from ‘The Inspector General’

I can state that Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), the 19th century Russian satirist, anticipated a mediocrity like Kadirgamar in his classic farce, ‘The Inspector General.’ In this play, first produced in April 1836 in St.Petersburg, Gogol created a prototype of Kadirgamar named Ivan Alexandrovich Khlestakov (a government clerk from St.Petersburg) who pretends to be the Inspector General to the governor and his coterie of a provincial town in pre-revolutionary Russia. Notes of Gogol for this character state, “A skinny young man of about twenty-three, rather stupid, being, as they say, ‘without a czar in his head,’ one of those persons called an ‘empty vessel’ in the government offices. He speaks and acts without stopping to think and utterly lacks the power of concentration. The words burst from his mouth unexpectedly.”


The only variant between Gogol’s Khlestakov and real-life Kadirgamar was that, while Khlestakov was portrayed by Gogol as a ‘skinny young man of about twenty-three,’ Kadirgamar was 62 when he adopted this role in the Colombo political theater in 1994, and charmed his captive audience in Colombo, Chennai and elsewhere. Kadirgamar was a charmer to a degree because he could glib-talk profusely to the journalist hacks and editors (including Mervyn de Silva and N. Ram) who were salivating for political news-scraps, all the while delivering self-promotional spins. But, Tamils on the whole never gave a damn to this empty vessel.

Here is a passage in Act 1, scene 3 of this Gogol farce to relish, where Khlestakov makes Anna Andreyevna (the coquettish wife of the provincial town’s governor) swoon with his fibs. Marya is the daughter of Anna. [Italics are as in the original English translation.]

Khlestakov: …You see, I write all sorts of sketches for the stage. I’m on the inner circle of the literary set. Why Pushkin and I are old pals. I often say to him, ‘Well, how’s it going, Pushkin, old boy?’ Oh, he’s a rare bird, that one.

Anna: You write, too? How delightful? Do you write for the papers?

Khlestakov: Oh, I toss off some things for them, too. I write in so many fields, operas – Marriage of Figaro, Robert the Devil, Norma – and some others I’ve forgotten about. I somehow fell into it. I didn’t want to fool around with the stage, but a manager I knew kept bothering me, ‘Come on, write something for me, old boy!’ So I thought, ‘Why not?’ I dashed off ‘Figaro’ in one day. Or was it two? Oh, I have a prolific flow of ideas. I also work under the name of Baron Brambeus for the Moscow Telegraph.

Anna: So you’re Brambeus!

Khlestakov: Of course. And you know that sensational novel, The Frigate of Hope? It came out under the pseudonym Marlinski. That was me – I mean, I. As for most of the top rank poets – why Smirdin, the publisher, pays me forty thousand a year to polish their stuff.

Anna: Then you must have written Yuri Miroslavski.

Khlestakov: One of my minor efforts.

Anna: I knew it right away!

Marya: But Mamma, it says on the title page the author is Zagoskin.

Anna: There you go again – trying to start an argument.

Khlestakov: That’s true. There is a Yuri Miroslavski by a Zagoskin. He stole my title.

Anna: I’m sure I read yours. What lovely writing.

Khlestakov: My salon is the most exquisite and famous in St.Petersburg. Everyone tries to crash it. Because of my cutting wit, I’m called Ivan the Terrible! If any of you ever visit St.Petersburg, you must be sure to visit me. I insist on it. I give lavish fancy dress balls, too.

Anna: I can imagine the good taste and magnificence!

From 1994 to 2005, if Kadirgamar was Colombo’s Khlestakov, provincial-grade President Chandrika Kumaratunga was Anna Andreyvna. Like how Khlestakov claimed credit for authoring the work ‘Yuri Miroslavski’ in Gogol’s farce, to the gullibles in Colombo, Kadirgamar dubiously appropriated the credit of placing the LTTE on the ‘foreign terrorist organization’ list of U.S. State Department in 1997.

Kumar Ponnambalam’s rebuke on Kadirgamar

It is of interest to re-read one stinging rebuke, delivered by G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr. (the son of Tamil Congress founder leader G.G.Ponnambalam and father of Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam) in 1997, on the political boast of Kadirgamar that he had been of service in contributing to the American tag of the LTTE as a ‘foreign terrorist organization.’ This had appeared in the ‘Sunday Leader,’ under the caption ‘Not with a ban but a whimper.’ One notable point mentioned by Kumar Ponnambalam was that, when he invited Kadirgamar to attend a meeting of Tamils on March 26, 1994, the latter had feigned disinterest with a quip, “What politics for me, Kumar.” But within few months of that invitation, Kadirgamar embedded himself as a token Tamil representative in the Chandrika Kumaratunga Cabinet. What is rather poetic is that, in 1997, Kumar Ponnambalam had presciently mused on the fate of Kadirgamar as follows:

“If at the end of the day and at the end of the road, you could tell yourself that you have, even in the remotest way, the love of your own people, which is the greatest thing in life, you would have achieved something much greater than the useless banning of the LTTE by America and you could die a happy man.”

Since Kumar Ponnambalam was a tragic victim of President Kumaratunga’s regime in January 2000, I reproduce his rebuke to Kadirgamar in full as an appendix, for its historical value. Kadirgamar never received the love of his own Tamil people. This is because he gloated and deluded himself as a fictional ‘Sri Lankan nationalist,’ whereas in reality, ‘Sri Lanka’ as a viable nation had been obliterated beyond redemption.

Kadirgamar’s Contradictions

The Colombo Daily News of Jan.11, 2006 carried a feature by journalist Ajith Samaranayake with the caption, ‘The political contradictions of Lakshman Kadirgamar.’ Among our generation of Sinhalese journalists, next to Mervyn de Silva and Gamini Navaratne, Samaranayake has been frequently contributing sensible opinions about the Tamils; of course, within the tolerable boundaries set by the Colombo press barons. But I felt that the press baron from whom Samaranayake receives his paycheck now may have twisted the wrists in such a way that Samaranayake’s eulogy to Kadirgamar on Jan.11, 2006 was an outlier to his regular contributions. Samaranayake dizzied himself with superlative praise for the supreme collaborationist. To quote, “If our democratic and republican times have ever produced a secular saint, it is Lakshman Kadirgamar.” Phew!

Samaranayake identified two “political contradictions” in Kadirgamar’s career. These were as follows:

First, “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.”

Secondly, “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 their countries.”

The first cited contradiction (if it was that!) is just non sequitur. There are tens of thousands of Eelam Tamils from the NorthEast (which includes me as well) who had their entire education and upbringing in the South and overseas and we never suffered from “emotional deprivations which come from an immersion in a cosmopolitan non-Tamil milieu.” Kadirgamar should have been an exception, since he wanted to chase his rainbow as a collaborationist.

The second cited contradiction is just a charade. Being the prime beggar for funds from a poorly managed, corrupt and dysfunctional country, he only had a donkey’s chance to be taken seriously, even if he had the nerve to criticise the policies of donor nations for their tolerance of the LTTE.

It is my contention that Ajith Samaranayake failed to present the most glaring contradiction in Kadirgamar’s politics. While bad-mouthing the LTTE on the child soldier issue from any international podium where he planted his feet, by design Kadirgamar turned a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s image as a paradise for foreign pedophiles and the citadel for child sex. It is not an exaggeration to state that Kadirgamar, while officially functioning as the Foreign Minister, was also tactfully promoting the flourishing child sex tourism industry.

Kadirgamar's interest on child welfare per se was only skin deep. During his reign as the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, one cover story of the Asiaweek magazine (Feb.7, 1997) contributed by Peter Cordingley and Alison Dakota Gee provided the number of under-age prostitutes in Sri Lanka, as “over 28,000.” This shameful figure was nearly fifteen-fold higher than the alleged number of LTTE child soldiers, if one has to level the numbers. To quote from the Asiaweek cover story again, “In Sri Lanka, the child sex business often makes use of children from orphanages along a stretch of coast from Negombo, north of the capital, Colombo, down to the southern coastline. Children from the orphanages, some of them run by Westerners, are taken to hotels to service foreign customers. The beaches are open pick-up spots. Tourists and prostitutes – mostly boys – can be seen engaged in horseplay, and more, in the shallow water.”

Not with a ban but a whimper

by G.G.Ponnambalam Jr.

[courtesy: Sunday Leader, Colombo, Oct.26, 1997]

“Minister Sir,

I will not say ‘Vanakkam’ because it is more than likely you do not know the meaning of that word. So greetings to the darling of the Sinhala chauvinists. Before anything else, hearty congratulations in getting the LTTE recognised as a terrorist organisation by the USA. This must surely gladden the hearts of most Sinhalese. Congratulations also, for having been voted ‘The Sri Lankan of the Year’ by the Lanka Monthly Digest!

G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam, Jr.

Kumar Ponnambalam (picture courtesy TCHR)

At the risk of you and your ilk gloating over the fact that this letter is an indication some Tamils are reeling under this move by the USA, I write this letter as a Tamil, since you expect the Tamils to rethink their position vis-à-vis the LTTE in the light of this ban.

But first, can you recall the day I invited you to attend a meeting of Tamils at the BMICH on March 26, 1994 before the general elections? Your immediate reaction, which still rings in my ears, was ‘What politics for me, Kumar?’ Before I could bat an eyelid, you had allowed yourself to be catapulted into the Cabinet by two Tamils: one, a well known professional ‘fixer’, and the other, your cousin, who is today a very disillusioned man about the government you serve.

Do you remember the day you were taken for an audience with Chandrika Kumaratunga when she said she was looking for a ‘respectable Tamil’ for the Cabinet and you offered yourself but said you would not put a pottu on your forehead and seek the votes of any Tamil? When the slot was eventually offered to you, do you remember running for a joint meeting to an erstwhile television baron, partner of a legal firm and an editor well known for his conviction for fearless and independent journalism – all very good Sinhalese – for their advice as to whether you fitted the bill because you did not want to rely on the judgement of any Tamil, not even those two who ferreted you out?

Tell me, minister Sir, did you go into the Cabinet because, within four months you understood what politics was all about, or was it that this government sought to make use of your name, which happens to be a Tamil name, only to show the world that they also have a Tamil in the Cabinet? Having only lent your Tamil name to the machinations of this government, you described yourself as a representative of the Tamil at the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 1994. Were you being honest in so describing yourself, having gone into parliament through the back door?

Do you remember, minister Sir, your momentous words in that self-same speech that the Sinhalese are never racists? Of course they are not, because Gamani Jayasuriya has siad the other day that the Sinhalese are a generous people who treat minorities not condescendingly as second class citizens, but with sympathy and consideration. But your matriarch has said (in your absence perhaps, at Anuradhapura) that this island is a Sinhala Buddhist land. How would you describe this outburst? Anglo Saxon courtesy?

As if this was not bad enough, you have repeatedly asserted, publicly and dishonestly, that the LTTE regused to look at some political proposals that your government had ready by April 19, 1995 on which date you allege the LTTE broke with talks. Is it not the fact that even in June 1995, your government did nothave a word on paper on the subject of the political resolution of the Tamil problem? This was disclosed to me by one who is still a colleague of yours in the Cabinet.

Do you remember July 1995, minister Sir, when your dishonesty was shown when you took the ICRC to task for having made public, the bombing of the Navaly church which killed so many innocent Tamil civilians after your government asked the Tamils to go there for refuge? Do you also remember the September of that year when you tried dishonestly to hide the cruel bombing of a school in Nagar Kovil, when so many children were killed during the lunch break? Have you heard, minister Sir, about intellectual dishonesty?

On the basis of such dishonest misrepresenting, you were directed by your government to use your Tamil name and to do the rounds of countries to blacken the name of the LTTE as an intransigent and terrorist organisation. India obliged first by banning the LTTE over a year ago. But since then, the Tamils of South India have repeatedly rallied round the LTTE and the Tamil cause with massive public support, as was evidenced through the Indian newspapers. Your government or India could not drive a wedge between the Tamils of India and the LTTE. In fact, the support for the LTTE was more vociferous in India after the ban than it was before the ban. I have still to come across one incident after the ban that has impinged on the LTTE to detriment. Have you come across any incident, minister Sir?

Thereafter, a Canadian court held the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in August 1997, but there does not seem to be any lessening of the ardour the Tamils in Canada have for the LTTE. Have you been able to see any qualitative change in the situation in Canada, minister Sir? Never has the LTTE said or done anything on American soil which has been against any American law. Therefore, one is at pains to understand America’s move and on what evidence she has sought to act. Erudite American and Canadian legal scholars have given evidence in courts of law and written articles to learned journals, not only to the effect that the LTTE is a national liberation organisation, but also that it has legal justification to take to arms when there is oppression of its people. Furthermore, the USA, in its latest report onSri Lanka that was published in April 1997, not only desisted from referring to the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, but also sought to castigate the Sri Lankan government for its wanton human rights violations.

In the face of all this, if this supreme step has been taken to curb LTTE raising funds, I do not know whether America seriously thinks it can achieve this objective. For, the giving of money is very much a matter of the heart. LTTE has always been very close to the hearts of all the Tamils of this world, wherever they may be living. The giving of money and the buying of arms and ammunition is never done with fanfare at a market place. Therefore, one is at a loss to understand what America proposes to achieve in banning the LTTE. This act has only helped to bring America down in the eyes of the world. America could have well used its good offices in a constructive way by bringing about a resolution of the Tamil problem instead of bending backwards only to placate a dishonest and dubious Sri Lankan government.

You have shed crocodile tears at the United Nations this year that the LTTE is conscripting children into their ranks quite ‘forgetting’ to tell the world forum that your army thinks it fit to snatch Tamil kids from the cradles to rape and kill them! Would you say it was honesty that made you ‘forget’ to tell this aspect of the story? If it is your position, minister Sir, that some kidnapped children are brainwashed and sent by the LTTE to the battle field, is a conventional army then, numbering so many thousands, being given the run for their lives by a few misguided 10 year old boys and girls?

It is one of the greater tragedies that the countries that have branded the LTTE as terrorists have done so knowing full well that the free media of the world have been prevented by your government from going to the war zone to see for itself and assess the type of dastardly things your Pan Sinhala Army is capable of. There are a few questions that have to be answered dispassionately. What is terrorism? Can only organisations that have freedom fighters be terrorists? Cannot political parties and, indeed, governments be terrorists? Is it not the fact that it is common knowledge in Sri Lanka that various Sri Lankan governments have been guilty of terrorism? Is it not a fact that political parties in Sri Lanka are and have been guilty of terrorism?

The world was quick to damn the LTTE for the deaths of Athulathmudali and Kobbekaduwa. But the findings of a commission set up by your government are otherwise. Perhaps, it is your turn now, minister Sir, to suggest a repository for the report of this commission, so that your hobbyhorse of describing the LTTE as terrorists can be maintained.

At a time when the Sri Lankan opposition and all Tamil political parties together with non governmental organisations and many foreign countries are one in desperately clamouring for the LTTE to be brought immediately into any serious discussion of the Tamil problem, we receive this news about the banning of the LTTE and your ‘vision and courage’ in getting it done at this time even though USA’s banning of the LTTE had been on the cards for, at least one year. I therefore, charge you, minister Sir, and your insincere government with deliberately torpedoing with the help fo certain countries any prospect of peace in Sri Lanka, for it is in the interests of these countries to keep the war alive so that they can continue to sell their weaponry to both sides of the conflict and keep their industries running. I dare you and your dishonest government to put any blame on the LTTE hereafter or to talk about ‘peace proposals’ even with your tongue in the cheek.

You have said that America’s decision will compel the LTTE to talk to your government. This shows how very remote you are from Tamil sentiments. LTTE is not the kind that will talk to you under these circumstances and please be informed that no proud and worthwhile Tamil will allow the LTTE to touch your government with the wrong end of a barge pole under these circumstances. This means, therefore, that your government has put paid to any political solution to the Tamil problem, and so be it.

Why is there this jubilation and triumph about the ban anyway, minister Sir? Is it not the position of your colleagues in the Cabinet that the war would be over before the year is out? If this is the position of your government, how does America’s ban coming so very late in the day help your government? There is also the report in the newspapers that America’s Green Berets are here for the third time to help the Sri Lankan government to flush out the LTTE. When the Green Berets came first to Wirawila, your government dishonestly denied their presence. Your government also dishonestly denied their presence in Tangalle when they came a second time. Have you forgotten what you told the BBC in their interview of you on October 12 that Sri Lanka can win this war on its own? What is your government’s position today? Anyway, what does India say to all this?

Why should the American Green Berets be here, minister Sir, when you have already said that the Sinhala people are ready to fight for 50 years to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the Sinhala Budhist land? You talk about a fight in the same breath that you say that the path of war is the path of doom. Then, what do you say about the ‘war for peace’? It seems to me that only you would understand what you are talking about.

Please be informed minister Sir, that the Tamils of the north-east of Sri Lanka and the Tamil diaspora, like the LTTE, are not the type of Tamils that you are used to dealing within the ballrooms of Colombo. Theire ball game is something quite different. They will never tolerate arm twisting and for this reason, they will only consider and allow a solution that is consistent with honour, dignity, self respect and justice – a solution that must necessarily reflect the aspirations of the Tamil nation. Minister Sir, yo have to be a Tamil to understand the Tamil psyche.

In the meantime, if at the end of the day and at the end of the road, you could tell yourself that you have, even in the remotest way, the love of your own people, which is the greatest thing in life, you would have achieved something much greater than the useless banning of the LTTE by America and you could die a happy man. But in your case, who, indeed, are your own people? An answer to this will show you to be a very sad man! I remain, A Tamil.


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