Selected Writings by
Sachi Sri Kantha
On Kadirgamar, Khlestakov and Kumar Ponnambalam
12 August 2006
Following his assassination on
Aug.12, 2005, the Sinhalese apologists contributing to the muffled massmedia in
Colombo profusely heaped praise to 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 to be? Should this be
of interest to Eelam Tamils now? For accuracy’s sake and societal record, one
cannot allow the truth to be compromised.
Nothing but an Academic Dwarf
I had 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?
(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 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 is 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 hasn’t written a single substantial
article (leave alone a book or a monograph) on Sri Lanka, that would have
merited inclusion in this bibliography. 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.
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 Ireproduce
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 the Cabinet minister for the first time.
For a proper grading of where this
token Tamil 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’s
‘Bibliography of Ceylon’ for four eminent intellectuals who shined in law,
politics and culture. I had 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 R.de Silva (1907-1989), ever
prolific with 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
“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 couldn’t boast of a single publication to show-case his academic
credentials, the only valid inference was that he was nothing but a sham
A Passage from ‘The Inspector
I can state that Nikolai Gogol
(1809-1852), the 19th century Russian satirist, had anticipated a
mediocrity like Kadirgamar in his
classic farce, ‘The Inspector General’.
In this play, first produced in April 1836 at 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 the pre-revolutionist 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 to the Colombo political theater in 1994, and charmed his
captive audience in Colombo, Chennai and elsewhere. Kadirgamar was a charmer to
a degree in that he could glib-talk and glop profusely to the journalist hacks
and editors (including Mervyn de Silva and N.Ram) who were salivating for
political news scraps by 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) to swoon with his fibs. Marya
is the daughter of Anna. [Italics are as in the original English translation.]
…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
You write, too? How delightful? Do you write for the papers?
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.
So you’re Brambeus!
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.
Then you must have written Yuri Miroslavski.
One of my minor efforts.
I knew it right away!
But Mamma, it says on the title page the author is Zagoskin.
There you go again – trying to start an argument.
That’s true. There is a Yuri Miroslavski by a Zagoskin. He stole my
I’m sure I read yours. What lovely writing.
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.
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’ by a Zagoskin in St.Petersburg in Gogol’s farce, to the
gullibles in Colombo, Kadirgamar dubiously appropriated the credit of
the LTTE in the ‘foreign terrorist organization’ list of U.S. State Department
Kumar Ponnambalam’s rebuke on
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
“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.
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 had dizzied himself in the 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 North and East (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 to LTTE.
It is my contention that Ajith
Samaranayake failed to present the most glaring contradiction in Kadirgamar’s
politics. While bad mouthing LTTE on the child soldier issue in any
international podium he planted his feet, by design Kadirgamar turned a blind
eye to the 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. His 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 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
[courtesy: Sunday Leader, Colombo, Oct.26, 1997]
[see also G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam -
One Hundred Tamils of 20th Century]
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!
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 said 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
refused to look at some political proposals that your government had ready
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 not have 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
Do you remember July 1995,
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 on Sri 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.
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
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 of 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. Their 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, you 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.