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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

The PA angel and a diabolical Tiger

13th December 1998

Mr. Kadirgamar has rarely been short of detractors since he assumed office. A shrewd politician’s repertoire should consist not only of intelligent sycophants and publicists but also of trigger-happy critics. The latter do more to spread one’s glory than the labours of a venal propagandist or a well meaning relative such as Rajan Kadirgamar, the principal of Jaffna College who penned a genealogical eulogy of the Foreign Minister in the Morning Star.

Mr. Kadirgamar will certainly be more than cognizant of the signal services rendered by his detractors to enhance his standing in the eyes of his Cabinet colleagues and the President.

Only the Sinhala Nationalists occasionally and grudgingly measure out praise for his crusade to crush the Tigers.

Nevertheless one must say to his credit that in recent weeks two issues have successfully driven home the impression that he has scored remarkably and has left in his wake many chagrined Diaspora Tamils gnashing their teeth and wringing their hands helplessly.

One is the UNDP’s National Human Development Report and the other is the programme of the South African Parliamentarians who are here on a government invitation.

The Minister of course had nothing to do with the preparation or publication of the UNDP report. But his detractors saw a sinister coincidence in the timing of the report’s release last Wednesday and, as usual, ended up giving Kadirgamar, unwittingly, the merit that he may not have actually deserved.

His critics, especially those in the Tamil Diaspora, refuse to believe that he did not have a hand in the processes that brought out the report at that particular conjuncture.

The UNP was urging the government to accept Prabhakaran’s peace offer following Maveerar Day on November 27. The Minister had responded by hitting out even harder at the LTTE.

For a moment it appeared that the PA might look the real warmonger, and Prabhakaran a ‘dove’, eager to join the economic and technological progress of the world. Then came the report. An AFP dispatch from Colombo said ‘UNDP slams Tigers,’ The Reuters also had a similar story.

The UN body, according to the impression one got from the dispatches, had accused the LTTE as the obstacle to peace and development in Sri Lanka.

The UNDP report was categorical -

“The chief barrier to future progress in human development in Sri Lanka is the secessionist conflict led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam demanding a separate state”. The report is very, but not so subtly, favourable to the PA government. The picture that emerges at the end is of an angelic PA and an insatiably diabolical Tiger.

The report, for example, says “The devolution proposals of the government, which envisage extensive devolution of power to the regions, may form a basis for a political solution to the secessionist conflict. However, the LTTE has not shown itself willing to accept a political solution. Instead, it has insisted on obtaining a separate Eelam State. As long as the LTTE remains implacable in its refusal to accept any political solution short of a separate state and engages in armed violence to support its position, it is difficult to end the conflict situation” (p.64).

Nothing could have been timelier to endorse Kadirgamar’s harsh reaction last week to the peace overture by Prabhakaran in his Maveerar Day speech. The UNDP report and the agency stories that flashed its condemnation of the LTTE across the globe constituted verily a deus ex machina for Minister and the government in general at the conjuncture, which looked as though it might paint both into a corner internationally.

In this the casualty, as usual, was the truth:

1. That the report had been prepared by a national team, comprising, five Sri Lankan university academics and an official of the Ceylon Electricity board in close consultation with a supervising committee of seven members, five of whom were Asoka Gunawardene, former chairman Finance Commission, D.G Jayasinghe, Secretary, Finance Commission, Dr. Pat Alailima, Director General, National Planning Department, Ministry of Planning, Abeyagunawardene, Director, National Planning Department, Ministry of Planning, S. Amarasekera, Director General, Regional Development Division, Ministry of Plan Implementation and Parliamentary Affairs.

This Consultative Committee had reviewed and discussed a number of the report’s drafts.

2. That the report credits the government for doing its best to sustain the high level of educational achievement in the northeast and blames the LTTE for the woes school children face there while crudely glossing over the fact that there is a ban on school uniform material, blackboard paint, funds to repair bombed out schools etc., and that malnutrition and the severe health problems are due to the restrictions on food and medicine etc.,

3. The prefatory opinion of the UNDP resident representative in Sri Lanka Arve Ofstad in the report that “I am convinced that while some of these results are as expected, others will be highly surprising and perhaps controversial” and that “finally it should be noted that while the UNDP and the Government have supported this Report and participated in the review of various drafts, they do not necessarily agree with all the analysis, conclusions and recommendations…”

Hardly had the alarm in Tamil circles over the UNDP report subsided when the South African Parliamentary delegation arrived last Wednesday. It was clear that the delegation’s programme had been designed to impress upon the South African MPs that the LTTE is an intransigent bunch of fascists.

The MPs, among whom Dr.K. Rajoo of the Inkhata National Party and Desmond Padiachy of the National Party, , met with EPDP leader Douglas Devananda on Thursday and TULF General Secretary R. Sampanthan.

The former is strong in his views against the LTTE and the latter thinks that the PA package is a very good deal for the Tamils. A brief six hour visit to Jaffna on Saturday followed by a visit to the refugee camps in Puttalam where Muslims evicted by the LTTE from Jaffna live and thence to Kandy to see the Dalada Maligawa and obviously the scars of the Tiger bomb.

Doesn’t this not look a perfect scheme by the ever resourceful Mr. Kadirgamar to drive the real or imaginary wedge between the alleged Eelam sympathisers in the ANC and the LTTE?

But the decisive political reality is ultimately the ground situation in the Wanni and what the PA leadership feels about it on the run up to the elections next year.

One wonders whether he grasps this when he convincingly rattles the sabre and shakes the mailed fist at the Tigers. (might even congratulate himself on his performance).

The minister, nevertheless, can make an attempt to learn by asking, if he feels so inclined, the chief of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority for the North, Mr. Obadage who was in the Wanni this week in his official capacity and had had cordial discussions with Karikalan before returning to Colombo on Friday.

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