The Sunday Times on the web

Rajpal's Column

8th August 1999

Analysing an assassination – the politics of a tribute

By Rajpal Abeynayake

Front Page
Business | Plus | Sports |
Mirror Magazine

Front Page
Mirror Magazine

The analysis made in almost avuncular tones in the Daily News Centerpiece, (August 4) by the Editor-in-Chief of Lake House Ajith Samaranayake is much appreciated. Mr. Samaranayake seems to have made a sincere attempt to draw some meaning out of the tributes paid to the late Neelan Tiruchelvam immediately after his death. 

So, though Mr. Samaranayake seems to agree with some of the points made by me in last week's column, he disagrees with some of my other "less tenable"(…but not untenable) contentions. He says that I "almost entered a caveat for the Tigers." 

The "caveat" was in contrast to some of the other tributes, he writes, that "were justifiably condemnatory of the LTTE."

Mr. Samaranayake will see that in the article I have stated "there was absolutely no justification for Neelan's death". Certainly, that was condemnation enough for the murder, in case the point was missed. But yet, Mr. Samaranayake says that I almost entered a caveat for the LTTE. With that fine word "almost" used in (almost) all the crucial places, Mr. Samaranayake infers that my article as a whole was more "caveat" than condemnation.

The article was an honest attempt, if that may be said, to look at the issues boldly in the face. Quite obviously, Dr. Tiruchelvam was a very good man, and there would be hundreds saying it. But, the fact that he was a good man is not something that could be looked at in isolation, particularly because of the very important role he came to play in the contemporary political arena as a co- author of the PA political package.

Never mind from which vista in the political divide the question is looked at, the contention that successive Sinhala governments could not be trusted is one that has achieved credence over the years by most objective reckoning. Successive government's include UNP governments and SLFP governments ; most independence governments, lest it be misunderstood that there is some partiality in this argument.

When Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power in 1994, there was an unprecedented fount of goodwill that accompanied her ascendance. There was a tremendous amount of goodwill that greeted her from all communities, particularly since she seemed to have the potential to forge a consensus from among the diverse parties involved in the conflict.

But, the government squandered this goodwill in quick time, and irrespective of what the Tigers did, the integrity of the government was open to question from the outset of its (almost) libidinously heady quest and campaign for peace.

To begin at the beginning, there was the suicide bombing that took the life of then Opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake, even before this President had become President. This bombing which was so banally similar to the one that took the life of Neelan, was not received with half or even a fraction of the contempt that Neelan's killing draws today from the government.

The government didn't even blame the LTTE as it now does. There is an easy chance here to say that it was the government's good intentions for peace, that were at the bottom of this decision to ignore the LTTE's attack.

But, the position is only one example which showed early that the government had no integrity in its general outlook towards the conflict. The government was politicking from the very start. Whereas the extraordinary goodwill that it received from all sides called for extraordinary integrity on its part, the government showed that it was so painfully and so familiarly slick. 

Quite soon, the government showed that it was but yet another Sinhala dispensation that couldn't be trusted with its pledges – not its promises to the LTTE, but its promises to the Tamil and the Sinhala people on the ethnic issue.

Soon, that supposition seemed almost beyond doubt. Time and again, in the four year tenure of this government, when this writer asked the Minister of Constitutional Affairs at post cabinet briefings about the government's intentions, the Professor trotted out answers that were almost laughable in their attempt to show that the government was sincere in its peace quest.

(At various times he said the Dalada Maligawa bombing had something to do with the fact that a referendum cannot be held on the peace package; a referendum that has still not been held despite the fact that the Dalada Maligawa now looks spankingly clean and spectacular almost three years after the attack.) The government was all the while making a lot of noises for peace.

All these Peirisms which are on the record, together with the government's general and incrementally lackadaisical attitude towards the package showed that it was afraid to take a quantum leap for peace, probably because as Ajith Samaranayake says, the government was afraid of the whiplash that would be inevitably generated from the "obscurantist fringe." But wasn't a sincere government that had some integrity at its core, at least obliged to try, even at the risk of its own political life? 

So, it's with this sort of a government that Neelan set out to build bridges – in collaboration with the "best elements of Sinhala society" as Mr. Samaranayake says it. Even with all his ICEStic gentility and intellectual sincerity, there was time for Dr. Tiruchelvam to have bailed out when it was becoming obvious that one cannot build bridges in cahoots with gentlemen who were gun - shy (at best) for peace, and were (at worst) a bunch of brazen political prevaricators/liars.

In all the tributes that have been paid so far, Dr. Tiruchelvam has never been accused of a lack of brains. With all the astuteness with which he has been credited, how come he did not divine from the time of the government's cool reaction to the Dissanayake murder (which was before the peace package was hatched) that this was a government which lacked the basic integrity for solving the problem of the minorities for whom he stood?

To me it seems, he at least probably doubted the government's bona fide's but soldiered on nevertheless.. Which is why I say he was more in love with the process, than he was a visionary or bridge - builder as Mr. Samaranayake says (…..and I didn't say he was a king-maker, those are Mr Samaranayake's words.) 

That may be harsh assessment of a much loved – erudite – dead man. But these are extraordinary times which probably call for something more than collective civility and posthumous unctuousness. It's almost in reflex that Colombo's intellectual elite try to gloss over some of the political imperatives that relate to Dr. Tiruchelvam's killing, in their haste to say that the killing was a horrendous act. The killing was horrendous, and as Mr. Jayatilleke said barbaric and fascist. I reiterate — there was absolutely no justification for it. (And the severest condemnation should be reserved for the LTTE in the process, for it was the LTTE which first baulked at peace by resuming hostilities.)

But that wouldn't absolve the government of its incorrigible laziness towards peace. And who knows, there maybe some truth in what worthies such as Nalin de Silva and S L Gunesekera articulate when they say that Tamils have no grievance. If so, the real grievance is in the hypocrisy and the cant of Sinhala governments. Even if, hypothetically, this country doesn't need devolution of power and regional councils, the fact is that the Tamil community has already been suckered by successive government's with the promise. And Neelan, bless his soul, is only guilty of having acquiesced.

Hulftsdorp Hill

Editorial/Opinion Contents

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Hosted By LAcNet

Rajpal's Column Archive

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.