honoured men and no doubt honourable too
Mea culpa. My general computer illiteracy got me all tangled up
and the wrong column ended up in this newspaper last Sunday.
I had already got a quick draft done while waiting for a word or
two more on Deshamanya Doctor (or should that be the other way round?)
Lalith Kotelawala's Dubai discourse and sundry matters when the
unexpected and premature death of fellow scribe and friend Ajith
Samaranayake came like that proverbial bolt from the blue.
managed to get a line in to what I had tentatively written when
I found I had time enough to do a quick re-write of what I had already
penned. That is precisely what I did. But then the best-laid plans
of mice and men, as they say, tend to go awry. Result- the wrong
copy ends up on the editorial desk. So my lines on Ajith, who I
had called the last of the Lake House Mohicans, on Kotelawala semantics
and the "Double Rs" (Radhika and Rock) remained steadfastly
locked in my computer and looking forlorn when I checked last Sunday
to unravel the mystery (to me at least) of my missing column.
Since I did not have the assistance of Scotland
Yard, not having rushed to secure its investigative skills nor haggle
over a memorandum of understanding, I was left to draw my own conclusions.
It had all to do with my technological ineptitude. I will miss Ajith
who, in the old days was my regular companion in the Press Gallery
in the old parliament and the new. We were Lobby correspondents-another
unfortunate misnomer-for the two Lake House English language newspapers
(he for The Observer and I for the Daily News which I did for more
years than I wish to remember) until he migrated to another place.
Whenever I returned home from Hong Kong or London
we would always meet for endless conversations and elbow bending
in one of the pubs somewhere in town. The last occasion was nine
months ago. Those were good times. As scribes at the same or different
institutions and the twice yearly meetings in Colombo when assessments
were made, political stories and jokes exchanged, local and international
politics and global economic trends dissected, we had some good
laughs at the foibles of Colombo society and the antics of politician's
While Ajith Samaranayake always presented a refreshing
perspective on matters this self-effacing journalist would be the
last to expect us to dwell overly on him instead of looking at the
larger picture and at the people and the politics that contributed
to shaping its contours.
So, as a bow to a friend and a fellow scribe who
would have eschewed such honours as deshamanya even if it were forced
down his throat, unlike some tribesmen who prefix their names with
such impedimenta, I turn to the Kotewallian characterisation of
This has ruffled many a feather. Spokesman Rambukwella went into
one of his regular outbursts while others perhaps wished the deities
would deal with Kotelawala, if not the government. Some wanted his
title taken back and chucked in the Beira.
Apparently in the wake of all this came a somewhat belated 'clarification'
by the one responsible for what might be called the original sin.
Deshamanya Doctor Lalith Kotelawala's interview
with the Dubai-based Gulf News last month would have gone largely
unnoticed had the Daily Mirror not reported it, 11 days after it
first appeared in Dubai. "They (LTTE) have done great service
to their people and you can't brand them as pure terrorists as they
are genuine freedom fighters," the Daily Mirror quoted Kotelawala
as telling the Gulf News.
Later he says "We can't ask them to disarm
in order to sit down and talk while we hold onto our arms."
Implying that if the two sides wish to negotiation both should abandon
their arms, a novel contribution to the plethora of thinking on
negotiating with secessionists who several countries have described
as terrorists. Kotelawala calls them "not pure terrorists"
implying perhaps they are impure ones.
He had made other observations too. But it is the
pearls of wisdom quoted above that interested me for they show either
a rather confused mind or the enunciation of an interesting socio-political
philosophy, to say the least.
Readers will note that this is not reported speech, they are direct
quotes from the Kotelawala interview. In what was called the "statement"
released by Deshamanya Kotelawala these words are not denied. The
statement only seeks to "correct a serious misinterpretation"
as he called it.
It is the media that done it, is the perennial
cry of politicians caught with their flat feet in their big mouths.
But here is a businessman pleading he has been wronged. Naturally,
with all this ho ha (or is it ha ho?) by the so-called international
community and their fellow travellers in the NGO caravan calling
for "impartial investigations" into this, that and the
uncollected garbage in Colombo there is no reason why should we
not stick our oar in this mess too.
After all we cannot let a tycoon down could we,
not when he is a respected deshamanya and all that. So we asked
ourselves what is this "serious misinterpretation" and
who are the "some people who have misunderstood" the poor
man, in a manner of speaking that is. But there is a deafening silence.
Kotelawala is quick to plead that what he actually
said, or intended to say, was that "since they (meaning, I
suppose, Prabha and the boys) were considered freedom fighters by
their own followers they would have no difficulty in winning their
elections in the areas they hold."
The poor man must have run into some invisible
linguistic barrier for the Gulf News quotes him as calling the LTTE
"genuine freedom fighters." I read that interview in the
Gulf News weekend review several times but for the love of me I
cannot understand how anybody could have misinterpreted those words
which are as clear as a fine summer day. The difference between
calling the Tigers genuine freedom fighters and saying that their
followers think so, is as vast as the Gobi desert.
Are the "some people" who misinterpreted
the herr doctor's words the interviewer who signs off as JP and
the Gulf News? If so did the dear deshamanya write to the Dubai
newspaper asking for a correction to this terribly misleading interpretation?
Or are the guilty somewhere in paradise? Unfortunately we could
only speculate as the statement is silent on that.
Then comes that intriguing denouement. How, asks Lalith Kotelawala,
could you ask the Tigers to disarm while we (meaning presumably
the state) hold on to our weapons.
This must surely be the first time in the history
of conflict between a state and those who wish to secede from it,
that the state is also asked to lay down its arms if the other side
is asked to do so. If there has been an occasion when negotiations
were preceded by the state too laying down arms, the public would
surely like to know.
Perhaps Kotelawala knows more about these things
than we poor bystanders. So perhaps he could edify us all with empirical
evidence when all parties to a conflict that included the state,
were held in such parity. Now that we have had Sinn Fein's Martin
McGuinness and former Northern Ireland minister Paul Murphy providing
some kind of input concerning our own problem, one might look at
the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement that brought
an end to the Northern Ireland conflict.
There was never a question of the British Government
laying down its arms. That would have been ridiculous, for the state
has the larger responsibility of safeguarding its territorial integrity
and sovereignty. Or take the recent case of Nepal. To even suggest,
as Deshamanya Kotelawala does in our context, that the UK surrender
its arms along with the IRA would have been laughed out of existence.
This remark attributed to him has not been denied
either. Where he picked up such rubbish would doubtless interest
Talking of rubbish, it appears that spokesman Kehelia Rambukwella
wants legal opinion over the Kotelawala remarks. For what, pray?
For calling the Tigers freedom fighters?
Was not Rambukwella in the government that lifted
the ban on the Tigers as a terrorist organisation and so conferred
legitimacy on it? As a one-time member of a party that proudly flaunts
the elephant symbol, Rambukwella seems to have a short memory.
We live in such times. What was it in the Latin? O tempora, O mores
or something like that.