I have been reading with some bemusement the recent exchanges regarding the role and views of my old friend Dayan Jayatilleka, who has been under attack because of his support for the 13th Amendment and devolution. This is an old story, and he is well able to defend himself. But recently there has been a change, because he is attacked not only for what he believes – which he would be quite happy to deal with – but also on the grounds that he caused problems for the government because he defended us forcefully against attacks in the international arena way back in 2009.
The argument is that he put us in a difficult position through his defence, which involved commitment to the 13th Amendment. As I have said before, this is nonsense, because all he was doing was reiterating what our old friend Mahinda Samarasinghe would describe as the consolidated position of the government of Sri Lanka. This had been expressed clearly by the President in a joint communiqué with the Indian government as also in a joint statement issued together with the UN Secretary General. This last indeed contained material relating to accountability which I thought unnecessary, but which it seemed only Dayan and I, thought of as outsiders with no diplomatic training, recognized was potentially dangerous. Foreign Ministry officials saw no problem with that commitment on the part of government, though later Palitha Kohona told me he had advised against that clause, and it was only the President’s haste to settle the matter that curtailed further discussion.
That having been said, the clause would have caused no problems had we interpreted it straight away on our terms. It was the culpable neglect of what we had pledged that has contributed to our problems, and that was nothing to do with Dayan, who was given the cold shoulder soon afterwards. He was to spend a year in limbo, until the President recalled him to service in Paris, where he did a fantastic job.
Unfortunately he suffered in that post too from even more vicious and continuous criticism, from a range of sources. One bone of contention was his work with the diaspora, which is of course in line with official government policy. Fortunately we now also have envoys in Australia and the United Kingdom who are doing their best, though sadly the Ministry has not issued clear guidelines in this regard, nor provided adequate support (though I should note that the Secretary to the Ministry, along with our High Commissioner and the Consul in Canada, did do wonders to ensure that the launch of my trilingual poetry book in Toronto was a great success, despite the determined opposition of Tamilnet).
Dayan however went out of his way to establish contacts also with future leaders, which led to adverse reports. And most seriously, after he had had an important discussion with Dr Karan Singh, who has often been used by the Indian government as an informal envoy, the Minister of Education delivered a sharp critique about this to the President, in which the canard was first spread that Dayan was an agent of the Indian government. Needless to say, what was attributed to him, in a memorandum that was obviously not the work of the Minister of Education himself, but seemed to have been prepared in the Ministry of External Affairs, was what Karan Singh himself had said. Typically, the Minister of External Affairs – in whom Dayan did have misplaced confidence, unlike in the case of the previous Minister whom he made no effort to work with (which was a problem I used to advise him about, unsuccessfully of course, given Dayan’s absolutist approach to life) – did not defend him.
Given that he was also on the verge of being charge-sheeted for perfectly ridiculous reasons – whereas the person primarily responsible for the charge sheet had given out much more dubious contracts while in Geneva, which were then swept under the carpet – Dayan decided to call it a day, and did not even think of an extension. What saddens me about this though is that, while he continues to believe that the President, if permitted to fulfil his own agenda, would prove the leader Dayan was proud to serve, he seems increasingly to feel that the agenda is being driven by others without the same sensitivity to political realities.
Fortunately recent developments seem to confirm his initial faith. But despite this clear proof that the President was not going to renege on his commitments, Dayan’s critics, in attacking him, continue too to in effect denigrate the President, in blithely denying that he made some very clear commitments back in 2009, and indeed never repudiated this position. Instead they now seem to hold up the Secretary of Defence as their ideal, a dangerous practice because efforts to split the Rajapaksas seem to me both fruitless and foolish, so close is the personal understanding between them. Holding different views on various matters does not take away from their mutual confidence, nor from the clear understanding on all sides that the President is in charge.
Nevertheless, the extremists, in a last ditch effort to fulfil what way back in 2009 we saw as the Sarath Fonseka agenda, at a time when the President himself was making his commitment to devolution and pluralism clear, have no compunction about abusing the President too. Most recently, having got used to Dayan and me both being attacked on the grounds that we are Christians, and that this, as opposed to long standing political principles based on democratic perspectives, explains our pluralistic approach, I saw an allegation that the President too was a Christian at heart.
Such allegations come from what seems a lunatic fringe. But I think it is time that more serious opponents of devolution dissociated themselves from such attributions of motives, and at least recognized that the President who managed to deal so effectively with the separatist terrorism can be trusted.