ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 27
Columns - Thoughts form London

Such honoured men and no doubt honourable too

By Neville de Silva

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.

I 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 progeny.

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 the LTTE.
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 sociologists.
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.

Top to the page

Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.