The above observation, which Minister Dilan Perera made at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Liberal Party, was exemplified recently following an interview I did in Delhi with IANS, the agency that one associates with distinguished journalist Narayan Swamy. This time it was a younger man who interviewed me, for a very long time, though what was ultimately sent out was a relatively short piece, reproduced below.

I found out about it from the BBC, and thought it basically fair when I read it, except for a couple of misrepresentations. I inquired about the main one from the journalist, as follows – ‘The BBC rang about your piece, which had appeared in the Daily Mirror in Colombo.  Generally fair, but I was wondering about the headline – Don’t seek exclusive rights to Sri Lanka, India told – – which was not at all what I said (my point was that India and China never had, and the concept of exclusivity is a Western notion based on oppositions, whereas India was ok with our connections with Pakistan etc over the years, and the same goes for China). I wondered then if the headline was a Mirror idea, since the article itself did not give the idea of the headline. The only other point to make is that the micro-credit idea is mine, and I don’t think government will approach India in this regard, given all the other projects that are in train.’

Dr Dass responded immediately as follows – ‘It was wonderful interacting with you ysty. The headline was given by a very senior colleague who liked your interview. As far as the story goes, it is really nice of you to consider it to be generally fair.’

I did not think the point needed to be labored, except that I thought an opportunity had been missed, given the very different point raised by the BBC – ‘Thanks – though I fear (do tell your colleague) that the headline was misleading. Entertainingly, the BBC Sinhala Service rang about it, but wondered why I did not worry about India, given that the JVP thought India was hegemonic.  I do not blame the JVP which has to try to gain votes by whatever policy pronouncements come to hand, but can you imagine the BBC employing people still stuck in that mindset? In that regard I would have liked some reference to my point that exclusivity was a Western desire, as exemplified in Cold War days, might have got the BBC to think in a way more suited to the current context!’

But I should have realized that the misleading headline would be taken advantage of by other unscrupulous forces. Almost immediately, the Tamil News Network took up the story and tweeted the headline under its Tiger logo

I presume the intention was to convey to India that I was reproving them.  IANS, which is familiar with Tiger techniques, should have been aware of the possibility, so I hope they will issue a correction as I have requested.

But meanwhile the other extreme was getting carried away in a different direction. The BBC Sinhala Service, which veers between JVP and LTTE (though I should say soft LTTE perhaps, because they stop short of glorifying terrorism) perspectives, in what is basically uniform hostility to the government, questioned me about the interview in terms of my failure to appreciate concerns about Indian attempts to establish its hegemony.

I was astonished. I had assumed they would play the American card, which the LTTE forces abroad are also playing, which is to say that we are too close to China and India should be careful.  Indeed I responded to their initial query with that in mind, citing a recent article in ‘China Daily’ by a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, which quoted approvingly a talk I had given in Delhi which he seemed to think substantiated his own stress on India’s neutrality and a ‘degree of convergence between the two countries with regard to South Asia’.

But the BBC was more concerned with what it claimed was the threat presented by India, as alleged by the JVP.  When I said that this was not something to be taken seriously, I was asked whether I did not take the JVP seriously.  My point that, as a party elected to Parliament, albeit at the DNA, one took them seriously, but the UNP had to be taken more seriously, was not accepted, the journalist, an Elmo Fernando described by the main BBC journalist Priyath Liyanage as ‘Very senior journlist. Our main man in Colombo. Has been a journalist for 40 years. Politically very neutral’, refusing to grant that the UNP had to be taken more seriously than the JVP.  I was trying to point out that the UNP was not being critical about Chinese influence, whereas in the eighties, along with the JVP, they had been critical of India, but for the BBC what the JVP said about India was the salient point.

As Dilan said, the two extremes feed on each other. The Tigers, or rather its rump representatives functioning in the West, want to attack us for being critical of India.  The JVP, or rather its rump sympathizers functioning in the West, want to attack us for not being critical enough.  Both work in terms of the dichotomizing that I fear is part of Western philosophy, as the brilliant Indian critic Nirmal Verma put it.  Neither can appreciate what I believe Asian foreign policy exemplifies, the notion as the ‘China Daily’ article has it, that “there is enough space in the world for the development of both India and China and indeed enough areas for India and China to cooperate”.

I was sorry then that the IANS article had a headline that suggested we subscribed to the Western / LTTE / JVP notion that our Asian friends seek the exclusivity that the Cold War mentality nurtured. The article below gets what I said generally right, which is why I am sorry a basically sensible journalist allowed his senior colleague who had not been at the interview to introduce a concept Tigers would leap upon.

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