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Kadirgamar: When he speaks, the world listens

Former Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, 71, has always been a journalist's delight.

india Updated: Dec 12, 2003 13:26 IST

Urbane and articulate, with a penchant for an attractive turn of phrase, Sri Lanka's former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, 71, has always been a journalist's delight.



Mediapersons would throng his press conferences not just because he would have something significant to say, but because he had a way with words which made for an excellent copy. Having been a leading light of the Oxford Debating Society as a student at Balliol College, Kadirgamar brought to his legal practice and political career back in Sri Lanka an unusually analytical mind and a persuasiveness which few of his adversaries could match.



As a lawyer, Kadirgamar touched the pinnacle, becoming the President's Counsel. As a politician, he reached a height no other minority Tamil did, as a participant in the Sinhala-dominated, mainstream Sri Lankan politics. He became foreign minister, the first Tamil to hold that post. He brought to his post the rich international experience he had gained as a top official of a Geneva-based organisation dealing with intellectual property rights. By any yardstick, Kadirgamar was an outstanding foreign minister. "One of the best in the world," as a former Indian high commissioner put it.



As foreign minister, he did what most Sri Lankans thought was impossible — get the West, the US and UK — to ban the LTTE. And few Sinhalese expected a Tamil to pursue this objective with such devotion and energy. Right from the early eighties, the West had been very sympathetic to Tamil militancy and tended to blame the Sri Lankan state for it. But Kadirgamar's tireless efforts and lobbying in key world capitals yielded unexpected results.



While stressing the justifiability of the Tamil cause, he deprecated the separatism, fascism and the crass militarism which had come to characterise the Tamil struggle for rights since the mid-80s. "Separatism is a kind of tribalism and I am not a tribalist," he once said. He is also passionately against the partition of countries, though ethnic nationalisms consider it a panacea. "Partitions create a haemorrhage which lasts for generations," he says.



In a situation, where separatism has become the accepted and legitimate creed of the Sri Lankan Tamils, it is not surprising that Kadirgamar has incurred the wrath of the Tamils. To the LTTE, he is the quintessential drohi — betrayer — and, as is only too well known, his life is under severe threat because of that. But Kadirgamar is unfazed. "I've got used to living with this threat," he would say. A hunted man, he is ringed by tight security. In a country which is craving for the internationalisation of its problem, Kadirgamar's cry for the preservation of independence and sovereignty is a voice in the wilderness.

First Published: Dec 12, 2003 11:51 IST