Monday, December 15, 2008

Lakshman Kadirgamar

Diplomat who made the world listen to Lanka’s tragic saga
Lakshman Kadirgamar

It is now three years since the diplomat, politician and lawyer Lakshman Kadirgamar passed away. With the distance of time I am still trying to understand the tragedy of his passing. After his assassination, I started to look for answers to life’s tragedies. Like most distraught persons, I turned to religion and philosophy to understand why this icon was removed from our midst.
Buddhism explains things with the inexorable law of Karma. You reap what you sow in the long journey of Samsara. But it was the story of Lazarus in the Bible (John 11) that came to mind. Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, had profound faith in Jesus Christ. Christ walked up to the cave where Lazarus was entombed and said, “Lazarus, come forth.” And Lazarus walked back to life.

Who has the faith of a Martha and a Mary, I wondered .Who will say, “Lakshman, go forth and serve the people who loved you so much.” Even as these thoughts flashed through my mind, I realised that these were flights of fancy. He was gone.

What is the legacy that the former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has left behind? Has he left his country a better place after his gentle and brief walk through the history of this sad and troubled land?

He was Sri Lanka’s most potent weapon in the halls of international power. He walked through the chancelleries of Europe, and to the court of St. James, the White House, New Delhi, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, persuading, mesmerising and convincing his peers as he spoke of the dilemmas of our island nation. Lakshman spoke not as a supplicant begging for favours, but with the righteousness of a man demanding that the world listens to the true facts of a nation imperilled by the barbaric force of terrorism. He changed world opinion.

He died so we could live. A few days before his death, he spoke to me about the heightened threats to his life from the LTTE. I invited him to visit a private bungalow in the south, where he would be far removed from the threat posed to him in the capital city. “I have an engagement with the Ambassador for the United States. When I finish that, I will take you up on your offer,” he said. It was not to be.

It is a sad indictment of our land and culture that the statue made in Lakshman Kadirgamar’s memory by a world-famous Russian sculptor still lies prostrate. The LTTE killed him, and the nation he served so well fails to honour him. This was the sad lament of his devoted wife Suganthi.

Lakshman had the rare privilege of having his portrait unveiled at the entrance to the hallowed halls of Oxford. The unveiling ceremony was a star-studded event. Prime Ministers, ex-Presidents, ambassadors and ministers from different countries assembled to pay tribute to him. In his speech, Lakshman said: “The icing on the cake may have been at Oxford, but the cake was truly baked in my island home of Sri Lanka.” A product of the University of Peradeniya, Lakshman did not forget to pay homage to his early seat of learning.

He was proud to be a Sri Lankan. He abhorred tribal appellations such as “Tamil”, “Sinhalese”, “Muslim”, etc. He belonged to the human race, and could not understand the stratifications of birth.

I would like to strike a personal note.

My son Uchi had passed all his law examinations in the UK and was awaiting acceptance at one of the Inns of Court schools of law to complete his barrister’s examination, only to be told that there were no vacancies and that he would have to wait another year in England. I spoke to Lakshman. He immediately spoke to the Lord Chief Justice of England. He came back and said to me: “You will hear from one of the schools of law.”

Two or three weeks later a letter arrived, accepting Uchi to one of the premier schools of law. Lakshman had only to pick up the phone to talk to people like the Lord Chief Justice of England, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and other world leaders. He knew them personally.
His wife Suganthi is keeping his memory alive. A Lakshman Kadirgamar Foundation has been inaugurated and worldwide sponsorship is flowing in from his international friends.

Suganthi mentioned the eminent men appointed to the foundation. I do not recall the name of Wimal Weerawansa, but it was Mr. Weerawansa who single-handedly organised Lakshman’s funeral arrangements. Chandrika, whom he had loyally served, was only cosmetically involved. Wimal Weerawansa saw what was happening and stepped in to honour the fallen leader. He mobilised the entire might of the JVP.

Lakshman did not belong to Colombo, to Trinity College and the urban elite. As he said at Oxford, he was a home-grown product and a son of sovereign Sri Lanka. To honour him selectively is to do him an injustice.

Let me end by quoting from the book of condolence left at Lakshman’s funeral. Here are the words of a peasant farmer from the Ruhuna: “In your journey through Samsara, may you be reborn in our country just one more time, so you can finish the work you started.”

Malinga H. Gunaratne - 2008

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