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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Kethesh Loganathan: the loose cannon
21 August 2006
Since Kethesh Loganathan (K.L) is no longer living, I’ll not hit below the belt in this commentary. Concurrently, I’ll also not refrain from commenting about his scarred political underbelly. In variance to the eulogies which have appeared to-date, penned by anti-LTTE scribes (Dayan Jayatilleka and D.B.S.Jeyaraj, to name a few), if he was indeed a Tamil intellectual as presented by his admirers, I take the view that K.L deserves a more fair appraisal of his professional career.
As Shakespeare had eloquently mused on human nature,
I was somewhat intrigued by the brief eulogy delivered from an unexpected source.
Only 36 words. But, still the source was “The United States”. I wonder whether President George W.Bush or the Vice President Dick Cheney or the Secretary of State Condelezza Rice even knew about the existence of Kethesh when he was alive. When was the last time, “The United States” offered such a personal eulogy on the untimely death of a Sri Lankan Tamil, who was not holding a top tier administrative/executive position? If I’m not wrong, it was in 1999, when Neelan Tiruchelvam was killed. The then President Bill Clinton offered a high-octane sham eulogy. I call it ‘sham’, since if President Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton really had a soul bond with Neelan Tiruchelvam, it would have shone up, when they later published their autobiographies. Not a single sentence appeared in their autobiographies about Neelan Tiruchelvam.
Now, the eulogy proferred to Kethesh Loganathan by “the United States” seems to be somewhat of low caliber. The Federal Civil Service of USA has General Schedule (GS) Grades 1 to 15. Suppose if the eulogy to Neelan Tiruchelvam by President Clinton can be assigned to Grade 6, the eulogy to Kethesh Loganathan should be calibrated around Grade 13. So much for that.
I also wonder whether the folks at the American Embassy in Colombo (who probably would have penned the GS Grade 13 eulogy) also know that in 1984 the same Kethesh Loganathan was a spokesman to the EPRLF, which kidnapped the newly-wed American couple Stanley and Mary Allen in Jaffna and demanded ransom payment. This was the one and only time, when two American lives were threatened with dire consequences by the members of a Tamil militant group who pledged support to Marxist-Leninist mantra. [Read below the pen-sketch for K.L., which had appeared in 1988 book, published in New York.] One of the chief culprits of this sordid episode is a member of the Cabinet of President Mahinda Rajapakse. It is indeed a tribute to the market-based economy that those who pouted Marxist-Leninist mantra in 1980s transformed themselves as ‘social democrats and human rights activists’ in 1990s and 2000s, and have earned eulogy rights from their once admonished soul-adversary.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a great fan of American culture, but I have no taste for the nonsensical literature produced by the Poo Bahs in Washington DC or their professional representatives. I think, perhaps a metaphorical eulogy to K.L. had been delivered crisply by a no nonsense American icon, who knew his stuff.
That’s Marlon Brando speaking, about his specific choices of roles for stage and cinema. (Autobiography; ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me’, Century, London, 1994, p.406).
One can only wish, if K.L. had bothered to read Brando, in addition to his taste for Marxist-Leninist tomes and take Brando’s earthy and practical advice to heart, his life may not have ended abruptly.
I present below a snippet from K.L.’s thoughts (delivered in 1986), which his other eulogists had hidden. This appears in the book, ‘ War Zones: Voices from the World’s Killing Grounds’ (1988), authored by siblings Jon Lee Anderson and Scott Anderson. I present the pen-sketch of K.L. which appeared ahead of his quips to the Anderson siblings, as well. (Italics and word within parentheses are presented, as in the original).
Well, as per factual record presented by Anderson brothers, in 1986 at least, K.L. was the “spokesman for the EPRLF.” But by 1995, he had quit EPRLF and had embedded himself with the think-tank Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), which came into existence in 1996. K.L. served as the Head of the Peace and Conflict Analysis Unit of CPA. During my last visit to Colombo, from one of my friends, I came to know about a flourishing a personal/professional link to a Bandaranaike family member and a live wire of CPA. Then, in April 2006, K.L. had jumped into the bandwagon of President Rajapakse as the Deputy Secretary General of Sri Lanka Government's Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP).
Let me connect the dots and show that K.L. was rather an unabashed chameleon careerist, whose professional deals were tuned to convenience, and not to heart-felt conviction.
From 1983 to 1995, K.L. was with EPRLF, pouting Marxist-Leninist mantra as the panacea for Tamil liberation. With the assassination of EPRLF’s leader Padmanabha in 1990 and the failed Moscow putsch of Communist Party hardliners in August 1991 against Gorbachev, the luster of Leninist revolution dimmed for sloganeering Leftists like K.L.; and overnight, they transformed themselves as ‘social democrats and human rights activists’.
When Chandrika Kumaratunga became the Sri Lankan president on a high falutin peace pledge in 1994, at the opportune moment in 1995, K.L. also quit EPRLF and joined the think tank CPA which had a valuable family link to Chandrika Kumaratunga. Then, from 1995 to 2005, K.L. preached his version of equality for Tamils, always badmouthing LTTE’s goals, actions and its leader. This was the tune, the Chandrika Kumaratunga and her coterie wanted to hear and K.L. was most obliging.
When President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s stars dimmed in late 2005, hey presto, K.L. quit the CPA and moved in to cohabit with President Rajapakse as the Deputy Secretary General of SCOPP.
Kethesh Loganathan was indeed a loose cannon. I mean it, based on the various meanings provided in the dictionary for the word ‘loose’. Here are seven, as I culled from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 6th ed, 1980).
K.L.’s pronouncements as I had gleaned from his writings on Tamil liberation do incorporate various shades of looseness, as presented in the above seven listings of the word ‘loose’. K.L. was a bundle of contradictions.
I should not fail to add that one of the Tamil politicians of earlier generation, C.Suntheralingam (1895-1985), also functioned as a loose cannon. Some of the good contributions of Suntheralingam to the Eelam Tamil society were tarnished by his naivete advisory role to the D.S.Senanayake Cabinet in 1930s-1940s, and overt expression of caste supremacy (in 1960s) which were out of tune to the times. I, for one, have sensed subtle threads of crypto-casteism in K.L.’s columns and commentaries which dealt with his covert criticism on LTTE and its leader. Based on his cavalier abandonment of Marxist-Leninist ideals in early 1990s, one could also deduce that K.L.’s initial alignment to EPRLF and its leader Padmanabaha, rather than LTTE, was rather based on caste affiliations and not on Leftist thoughts.
To sum up the flawed career of K.L., I can do no better than quote Shakespeare again,