Today, when the statue of Lakshman Kadirgamar is being finally unveiled, we owe our thanks to those who have finally agreed to the erection of the statue at the Institute aptly named after him, which is indeed long overdue.
Though eight years have gone by since the murderous LTTE assassinated this great son of Sri Lanka, he is yet remembered with gratitude by the people of our country for what he achieved for our country. He was indeed a colossus. I was fortunate to have had the privilege of both working closely with him and also of travelling with him extensively, when this great advocate countered the biased image of our country that was being projected to the world through adverse propaganda by our enemies.
LK, as those of us in the Ministry referred to him in private, was indeed one of a kind. He was a superb sportsman, a brilliant lawyer, an intellectual and above all a principled humanist. He felt deeply for people and above all for the Tamil people of our land, who were suffering under the jackboot of a dictator, he was steadfastly opposed to the use of violence to achieve political ends. He always stood for dialogue and compromise. He yearned for an end to confrontational politics and in many conversations I had with him, he always hoped that the two principal political parties of our country would work together to solve the national problem.
He always described himself as a Sri Lankan and was four square opposed to any division of our country. There were many Tamils who described him as a Colombo Tamil and a traitor. He was a Jaffna Tamil and proud of his heritage and in the mould of Ponnambalam Ramanathan, another true patriot. CBK, it was who brought LK into politics and appointed him as Foreign Minister, no role fitted him more than that. He was not only an intellectual but also an able administrator and a visionary. Whether it was with our foreign policy or achieving peace at home, he looked beyond the horizon. He was of the view that the causes of the rebellion at home had to be addressed, this did not mean that he was opposed to the crushing of the LTTE. He was totally committed to the crushing of the LTTE, he was also of the view that International Human Rights Conventions had to be respected.
On many occasions I did hear him tell western counterparts that our government would never act like terrorists and that the government would at all times maintain the highest ethical and legal standards, to him respect for the observance of Human Rights and the Rule of Law had a sanctity of its own.
Perhaps his biggest disappointment was the inability of our two main political parties to come together and have a bipartisan approach on this one issue, the so-called ethnic problem. He even reached out to the JVP, Somawanse and Weerawanse would bear witness to this. LK worked tirelessly behind the scenes to establish communal harmony.
" He always described himself as a Sri Lankan and was four square opposed to any division of our country. There were many Tamils who described him as a Colombo Tamil and a traitor. He was a Jaffna Tamil and proud of his heritage and in the mould of Ponnambalam Ramanathan, another true patriot. CBK, it was who brought LK into politics and appointed him as Foreign Minister, no role fitted him more than that. He was not only an intellectual but also an able administrator and a visionary. "
No appreciation of this man would be complete without a reference to what he achieved in the realm of our international relations and his effort to transform the Foreign Ministry into a really professional institution. It is with much sadness that I have witnessed how in recent years his work was undone by persons who understood neither the essence of diplomacy nor the fundamentals of managing foreign relations.
In recent years, what we have witnessed is not the practice of diplomacy but something else in the manner in which we have related to our critics and also made appointments to our missions abroad.
I was stationed in Europe for eight years in the nineteen eighties and nineties and we did have the LTTE lobbyists working overtime in the west; we had over 18 resolutions in the European Parliament alone besides the resolutions in Geneva, where the LTTE had pitched a permanent camp but we engaged with our critics and won their understanding, (incidentally I was recalled from Malaysia where I agreed to go to serve the country again, after 16 years in retirement, apparently for reaching out to our critics and so-called ‘hardline Tamils’; I was also able to arrange for Malaysian PM Nagib to speak to our President and assure him that they would abstain on the US Resolution despite US and local pressure at Geneva in 2012). It was none other than LK who led the counter campaign against the LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora and our success at the time to have the LTTE proscribed was primarily due to the efforts of our great advocate Lakshman Kadirgamar and the quiet unpublicised efforts of the officers of the Foreign Service, who served in Europe and the US at the time ---- for, many imbeciles are of the opinion that they did nothing because we did not and could not as public servants, go after headlines. Without fear of contradiction I could state that the LTTE was banned in Europe and the US because of the combined efforts of our leader at the time—LK and our professionals, who represented the country in the west, who worked tirelessly to counter intense LTTE propaganda abroad.
A reference to the management style of LK is most relevant particularly today. LK was a team man and the manner in which he worked should be a lesson to those in office today both at a political level and to the officials in the Ministry, he never thought that he was the fountainhead of wisdom, he discussed issues and strategy, despite his eminence, he was humble enough to consult us, and not just the seniors, all of whom he considered as colleagues. LK, a professional himself, sought to transform our Foreign Service into a truly professional service like those in other countries, but his work has been undone in recent years by those who did not understand the need for a truly professional service to manage our relations with the rest of the world. LK, wherever he is, must be shedding tears saying “save us from ourselves”. I conclude in the hope that the President, Basil, Gotabhaya and Secretary Lalith W will be able to turn things around to save this country from disaster.