A sad reflection of our times

He was once suggested as a prime ministerial choice; he could have walked into any political party. He was not a malicious politician and counted friends in all political parties. He had no foes. Lakshman Kadirgamar, assassinated by Tamil rebels, was an ideal candidate to lead Sri Lanka’s peace negotiating team under President Chandrika Kumaratunga but his unwavering stand opposing Tamil Tiger guerrillas, despite being a Tamil himself, saw him sidelined from the peace process. Despite his opposition to the Tigers, he was interested in peace but stressed that the rebels should lay down their arms while negotiating a peace deal. Accolades and sympathies have flowed in from all over the world for a man who could easily have stepped into the shoes of a foreign minister in any country. Sri Lanka has lost a long list of illustrious leaders mainly due to the conflict. Many have keen killed while others have gone abroad for greener pastures and to escape the conflict.

Among the Tamil minority community itself, the LTTE has killed leaders like Alfred Duraiyappah, A. Amrithalingam, Neelan Tiruchelvan (the country’s best academic at that time), Rajani Thiranagama and many others, all killed because they stood in the way of the rebel demand for a fascist state. The rebels also killed scores of political opponents including those who led rival rebel groups. The other victims of the Tigers include President Ranasinghe Premadasa, Deputy Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake (both potential prime ministers and presidents), and others. Separately, the JVP or People’s Liberation Front – now seemingly a respected political party – accounted for other victims including politicians and officials when the former was in the throes of a ruthless campaign to oust the government in the late 1980s.

It would be useful for a study to be undertaken essentially on what impact the loss of some of the best brains the country has had on the development of Sri Lanka in terms of its political and economic strengths. From 1930 to the 1950s, Sri Lanka made great strides in the social arena and was soon ahead of other Asian countries in indicators like education and health. But we lacked vision and insight in formulating economic policies that ran parallel to such path-breaking social initiatives. We are nowhere near as an economy compared to Malaysia or Singapore. In the early part of this decade, local think-tank the Institute of Policy Studies undertook a comprehensive study of the cost of the war including the deaths of people and the man-hours lost. In that study done in the late 1990s, the Institute concluded that the country had lost twice Sri Lanka’s GDP in 1996 – that is more than 1,000 billion rupees!

While not occurring with increased frequency as in the 1980s and early 1990s, there is concern about the loss of our leaders and the gap in the country’s intelligent base particularly amongst political leaders. Another related facet is the impact of terror on the thinking of leaders. A sad reflection of the times Sri Lanka is in.

Samath, a freelancer, writ-es for THT from Colombo