Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara writes that “After the 2015 presidential elections, for reasons better known to DJ, he approached GR and joined Viyath Maga.” That’s a blatant lie.
As Dullas Alahapperuma and Matale Mayor Mohammed Hilmy will attest, “After the 2015 presidential election” I met ex-President Rajapaksa at Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa’s residence on 10 January and rolled out a recovery strategy centred on Dinesh Gunawardena in Parliament. Furthermore, as Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dullas Alahapperuma, Udaya Gammanpila MP and Wimal Weerawansa would attest, I spent weeks meeting them at my home and that of others, working out the revival of the Opposition.
It was at such a working dinner that the idea of the Nugegoda meeting was arrived at. I still recall Wimal looking up from his plate and saying, “Kavuru nokarath ehnang mama oya rasveema sanvidhanaya karanava!” Admiral Weerasekara must understand why I was invited to read out President Rajapaksa’s message at Nugegoda on 18 February 2015.
Viyath Maga, Viyath Handa and Eliya
There was no Viyath Maga at the time. I had not met Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the time except during the Kurunegala campaign, and he was maintaining a low profile. Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and I were among a small group that worked on the August 2015 parliamentary election manifesto with the approval of ex-President Rajapaksa who I was meeting regularly. We later combined our efforts with another group of young academics close to Basil Rajapaksa. There was no Viyath Maga anywhere in sight at the time.
As far as I know Viyath Maga and Viyath Handa were two organisations of professionals that were together at one moment, broke up at another and reunited down the road. I was invited to a dinner meeting at the 80 Club by some professionals and academics with whom we had worked in the 2015 campaign, and Viyath Handa invited me to speak at a seminar or two, which I did. I never joined either Viyath Maga or Viyath Handa. Indeed I declined to attend the opening of the Viyath Maga office for the reason that I gave the friend who brought the invitation. I explained to her that the ideology and profile of Viyath Maga were too traditionalist, Sinhala nationalist and neoconservative, not of a sort I could be associated with.
I never requested a meeting with Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It was often suggested to me by Dilith Jayaweera and I was taken to see GR by Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa. I liked him, and found him sharp, realistic, and receptive. When he invited me to speak on foreign policy at the first major Viyath Maga meeting at the Golden Rose Boralesgamuwa, I readily agreed. Unfortunately for Rear Admiral Weerasekara, the filmed footage of my speech opens with a clear statement by me that I am not a member of Viyath Maga—so much for seeking membership! Now why does he think I said that, thereby differentiating myself publicly?
I did briefly join Eliya at GR’s invitation but that was only because it was dedicated to a single issue of campaigning against the new (federalising) Constitution. During the planning sessions for the first Eliya public seminar, GR clearly told us not to speak about the 13th Amendment at all—neither for nor against. Three speakers defied him on the platform and attacked 13A: Sarath Weerasekara, Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa and Manohara de Silva. I adhered to GR’s request in my speech, sounding only an oblique warning about the need for geopolitical realism.
When GR criticised this deviation at the Eliya review session, the defiance was reiterated. This is when I knew that there was a strong extremist ultra-nationalist lobby which had no compunction in overriding GR, and that if this project comes to power, even GR will be pushed into taking stands that are dangerous to the country or at the least will be prevented from taking the stands necessary to avoid a disastrous confrontation with the external environment that we cannot win for geopolitical and geostrategic reasons that are obvious to anyone but the ultra-right wing hawks such as Sarath Weerasekara.
When GR left for LA, giving instructions that Eliya should only speak about the Constitution and instead it held media briefings at which other matters of a controversial nature were commented upon in an immoderate manner, my wife and I opted out.
Now to move from the lies to the nonsense which verges on the moronic. Weerasekara refers to the hard-core federalists such as DJ who argue that 13A is the only answer. If I had been any kind of federalist, hard-core or not, I should have supported Chandrika’s 1995 and 1997 packages instead of being a prominent and early opponent of them—so prominent that Prof. Buddhadasa Hewavitharana’s book against the package thanks me in the Introduction for inviting him to write on the subject to the Lanka Guardian which I edited at the time. If I were any kind of federalist I would have been for the new Constitution instead of being one of the earliest and most prominent critics of it.
More basically, Sarath Weerasekara’s ignorance is so vast that he thinks that “hard-core federalists” support 13A and 13A supporters are hard-core federalists! 13A is precisely devolution within a unitary state. This is why the TULF never accepted it in 1987 and even wrote to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi criticising it. This is also why, to date, the TNA refuses to take 13A as the basis of negotiation. Weerasekara obviously does not know the difference between devolution/autonomy and federalism. I for one do not have tie to educate him on something every first year undergraduate student of politics and law knows. Yes, it is true that 13A is convertible to federalism if the executive Presidency is removed, but that is one of the reasons why I have been an early and prominent critic of any idea of removing the executive Presidency. I have opposed to publicly even when ex-President Rajapaksa seemed to toy with it.
I have never advocated the “full” implementation of 13A, but only “the implementation of 13A” as the Government of Sri Lanka, including President Rajapaksa, Gotabaya, Basil and Lalith Weeratunga promised India during the war and in its immediate aftermath in May 2009. This promise was made to the Govt. of India as well as the UN Secretary General in official Joint Communiques. When a Government, nay a state, makes a promise in a bilateral and multilateral context, that country is judged by whether it keeps its word. If not, there are consequences, some of which are quite deleterious and needless. This is what happened to the Rajapaksa Government in its second term. President Rajapaksa was sincere in wishing to fulfil his promise which is why he finally held the election to the Northern Province, knowing full well he would be defeated, in 2013. It was too late though—India had already turned away from us and joined the West in Geneva.
My view is not “full implementation”, and I have never once advocated it in print or on the public record. That is another Sarath Weerasekara falsehood, or should I say “musaavadaya”. I have said 13th Amendment and no more but no less—by which I mean no new Constitution or amendment that go qualitatively beyond 13A, still less one that seeks to drop the term “unitary”, but also no constitutional amendment that seeks to scrap or reduce or dilute 13A.
I support graduated and phased implementation based on President Rajapaksa’s instructions to his negotiating team in 2011 at Foreign Minister G.L. Pieris’ residence (a meeting at which I was a participant) that the negotiations should be based on the 13th Amendment and should arrive at a compromise on the concurrent list which would involve swaps. It was the TNA that scuttled that deal by seeking powers over land and land use that went beyond the 13th Amendment.
Vardaraja Perumal did not declare Eelam, he threatened to do so. But that is irrelevant. He made this move in 1990, while in early 1989, a year earlier, my open letter of resignation from Perumal’s Cabinet was published in the Sinhala and English newspapers—and as anyone from Gen. Cyril Ranatunga to Bradman Weerakoon to Sajith Premadasa can attest, when Perumal did make his move I had long been at President Premadasa’s side, helping him formulate policy to combat it, in my official capacity to which he appointed me, as Director, Conflict Studies of the Institute of Policy Studies, a para-state think tank, where I was employed by the Ministry of Policy Planning and Plan Implementation.
Now to Geneva. Our resolution which won us more votes than the US ever got against us, came up for a vote on 27 May. It was submitted on 26 May 2009. One week before, and completely unknown to me, as Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha will attest, two meetings took place in Colombo with an Indian delegation and the UN Secretary General at which the country’s leadership signed joint communiques agreeing to “proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment”. Of course I agreed with the pledge but had nothing to do with it.
After the Communiques of 21 May and 23 May, four of the five of our crucial allies of the BRICS, namely Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa—and many outside in in the Third World, strongly suggested that we incorporate the joint communiques into the Resolution , the original draft of which did not contain it. This was because it would help our allies to help us, since a crucial question all our friends faced from within their countries (i.e. India, South Africa, Malaysia and most of Latin America) was “now that the war has been won by the Sri Lankan state and the Tamils have been weakened, what is to be the political resolution of the Tamil question”?
On a conference call, the then Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary instructed me to “stick to the language of the text of the Joint Communiques”, which I did, but not before every word was scrutinised by the Senior Legal Advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Rohan Pereira, the members of the AG’s team Shavindra Fernando and Yasantha Kodagoda, the Minister of Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe and his Secretary, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha.
Of course, I reiterate that I totally supported the inclusion of the promise made in the Joint Communiques to both the Indian Government and the UN SG. I was sacked probably because I took that promise seriously and knew that we would pay a price if it was thought that we had reneged on it, and therefore I kept urging its implementation. I was also probably sacked because of my critique of Israel’s Gaza war. Now these are not two reasons but one—because the lobby that is anti-13A is also the pro-Israeli lobby. That was so then and it is so now.
“But, we know that DJ is anti-Buddhist. When he was the Ambassador to France the first thing he did was to remove the Buddha statue kept at the reception of the Embassy office.”
Well, one of the first things the “anti-Buddhist DJ” did when he took over as ambassador to France and UNECO was to organise an international conference at UNESCO in record time, to celebrate the Sambuddathva Jayanthi. It was given publicity through a beautiful poster which we at UNESCO designed collectively, attended by speakers and representatives from seven countries, including the Ven. Rector of the premier Buddhist University of Thailand, who presented me with a gold-painted Buddha statue for the excellence of my effort. I was one of the speakers on the theme that we had decided for the conference, namely ‘The Contribution of the Thought of the Buddha to Universality, Humanism and Peace’.
It is true that I removed the Buddha statue from the office room of the ambassador and transferred it to a position of honour in my official residence. It is only my immediate predecessor who had such a statue in the ambassador’s office. As guest (as an A/Level student) of my father’s friend Ambassador Tissa Wijeratne, whose brother was later the Diyawadana Nilame, I was fully aware that the Buddha statue was in the ambassador’s residence, not the office.
One of my most distinguished predecessors Prof. Senaka Bandaranaike did not have the Buddha statue in his office in Paris —with very good reason. Though a Catholic country, France is the most secular state on earth. Representatives from the French Foreign Ministry and media used to pay calls on me in my office. They have been told by the Tamil diaspora that in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society like Sri Lanka, the State is mono-religious if not semi-theocratic. I would have played right into their hands if I kept the statue of a single of Sri Lanka’s many faiths in the ambassador’s office. I did not substitute the Buddha statue with any other—I removed all religious symbolism from the ambassador’s office where I represented my country in a state that was secular.
Weerasekara says: “DJ also had the audacity to prohibit playing our National Anthem at the Independence Day reception held at the embassy in Paris. It is up to the public to decide whether a man who has no respect to his country’s identity and the national anthem is fit to represent the country.”
Now this is a Goebbelsian lie, so typical of Weerasekara. The National Anthem was sung, in Sinhala, on both National Day celebrations that took place when I was ambassador.
The Tamil question
To conclude let me say that what is important here is not that which is said about me. It is about the country’s future, and the avoidance of utter disaster which will reverse the victory of 2009 and achieve for the Tamil separatists that which they have always sought. That is the active support of India and the West, and the neutrality or abstention of our friends Russia, China and the global South.
Weerasekara talks about Putin. There is a reason that Putin held elections in Chechnya BEFORE the final offensive on Grozny. That election brought into power Ramzan Kadyrov as President of Chechnya. It is that arrangement that has made the pacification of Chechnya politically and ideologically far more successful than that of the Tamil North. A supreme realist, Putin knew that Chechnya had to be run by and through an ally of Russia, but a Chechen ally, and that Chechnya should have an autonomous political status to defeat separatism politically, ideologically and psychologically.
In Sri Lanka, this was not realised though I kept plugging the message and lost my job. The State needs a Tamil ally to run the north. That Tamil ally has to be elected or appointed to run an Interim Administration as per the 13th Amendment. That Tamil ally must have a political base. There is no Tamil political player or party that will settle for anything less than the 13th Amendment. That being the case, how on earth can Colombo run the province? Through the armed forces and ex-military governors?
If not the 13th Amendment, what is the answer Sri Lanka can give anyone who asks what the political solution is that is being proffered for the Tamil question? Who in the world out of 193 states can Sarath Weerasekara convince that there is no specifically Tamil political question? He reminds me of someone who still believes the earth is flat or the sun revolved around it.
The Tamils are getting radicalised and restive. How are we to face this politically—apart from the obvious security measures that will have to be taken? If we crack down without a political solution in place or in hand, the world will turn against us as in the 1980s.
Rear Admiral Weerasekara should invest in a map. China has no overland route to help us. We are an island on India’s doorstep. Mattala and Palaly will give our neighbour a deep power projection capacity that it never had here, and no country has given its large neighbour. India cannot be neutralised by promises to be equidistant between it and China. India cannot be neutralised without a political solution to the Tamil question, at least along the lines that it was promised in 2007-2009.
We have a bilateral accord with India on this matter, which cannot be unilaterally abrogated or ignore because we shall not be allowed to. True we were coerce into signing it, but that asymmetry of hard power which gave us no option but to sign, has grown exponentially, not shrunk since 1987. India and the USA are strategic allies now. India is also partnered with Japan, Australia and is major buyer of arms from Russia. No one will support us against India. Any attempt to tamper with or freeze the 13th Amendment and the Tamil separatist will get the external alliances they have long sought and we shall be in no position to counterbalance it.
The psychological problem here is that the Sinhala Alt Right think that the State having beaten the Tigers, it had also beaten the Indo-Lanka Accord and the Indian military, which they haven’t. This is why they tried to stall the 13th Amendment since 2009. Now they think they can fulfil this fantasy of rolling back the 13th Amendment and any autonomy/evolution base solution to the collective identity issue of the Northern Province with a Gotabaya victory.
The line that Sarath Weerasekara is taking and the Viyath Maga and Eliya have gone along with, taken together with Gotabaya’s silence, fill me with the grim foreboding that we are headed along the route that Milosevic of Serbia and Mikhail Shakashvili of Georgia respectively took—a route that is unviable with a large ethnic kin state as your neighbour. It can only end horribly badly.
I conclude by correcting myself about Rear Admiral Weerasekara. He is not merely a Sinhala Buddhist ultra-nationalist or even what would be called a “Mad Dog” in Washington insider parlance. He and his co-thinkers are quite simply, dangerous fascists.
Weerasekara calls me a separatist: “separatists such as DJ…” Now we have a choice. Do we believe Sarath Weerasekara or Anton Balasingham on this subject? My first book (‘Unfinished War, Protracted Crisis’, Vikas New Delhi 1995) was met with a blistering full page critique by leading Tiger ideologue and spokesman Anton Balasingham in his ‘Brahmagnani’ column, in which he said: “Sri Lankan political discourse, in recent times, has produced an amazing variety of political theorists and analysts whose main vocation seems to be to produce denunciatory criticisms of the politico-military strategy of the LTTE and offer ideas or solutions as to how to end the so-called terrorist menace. Among these political theorists Dayan Jayatilleka stands out as a unique character in his irrational and ruthless criticism of the LTTE.” (Inside Report – Tamil Eelam News Review, 30 June 1995).