Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister under President of Chandrika Kumaratunga for eight years, and who was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers this day eight years ago, would go down in history for his brave, if unsuccessful, attempt to establish a composite “Sri Lankan” identity in a country hopelessly divided on ethnic and religious lines.
Kadirgamar abhorred politics and governance being held hostage to narrow ethnic and religious interests. When the Tamil separatists dubbed him a “traitor” he pleaded guilty.
“People who live in Sri Lanka are first and foremost Sri Lankans, then we have our race and religion, which is something given to us at birth. We have to live in Sri Lanka as Sri Lankans tolerating all races and religions,” he told the BBC.
According to his cousin, Prof Santasilan Kadirgamar, Lakshman’s parents were ardent supporters of the Indian freedom struggle. When Gandhiji visited Jaffna in 1927, his father was the head of a reception committee. His uncle, Rev
J W A Kadirgamar, lived at Sabarmati Ashram and Shantiniketan. Though a Christian, Lakshman was an advocate of inter-faith dialogue. At his instance, the UN declared Buddha Poornima a holiday.
On return from Oxford in the 1960s, Lakshman was keen on entering active politics. But he found that a Tamil had no chance of getting elected from Colombo. However, the coming of President Kumaratunga in 1994 with a promise to solve the ethnic issue through devolution of power, opened the door to him.
As Kumaratunga’s Foreign Minister, Kadirgamar got the recalcitrant Tigers banned in the US and the UK.
An ardent advocate of Lanka’s sovereignty, he resisted attempts by the West and India to dictate to it. But Kadirgamar failed to establish a composite Lankan identity. The Tamil Tigers killed him and the Sinhalese denied him the coveted post of Prime Minister because he was neither Tamil nor Sinhalese.