My former colleague in the Foreign Ministry,
Izeth Hussain (IH) has responded to my article in 'The Island'
of September 20th through two articles published in 'The Island'
dated October 4th and 1st November respectively. In the first
article he commented on my statement where I expressed dislike
over the term Sinhala chauvinism he had used. He also explained
that the idea of Islamic Umma which I referred to as a concept
different from chauvinism though I did not exactly equate the
two. I had made only a passing comment on the idea of Sinhala
chauvinism which many writers here and abroad seem to use rather
uncritically. I did not enter into a detailed discussion of it.
That would take much space and it is not my intention to open
that subject here. As far IH's explanation of the Islamic Umma,
I have been elucidated but at the present stage I wish to keep
my mind open until I do more research on it if I have the time.
I had no intention to enter into a debate over
this issue of racism which IH raised more pronouncedly in the
second article. I had no particular interest in the UNP to
defend its position either. However, as IH has, in his further
rejoinder brought out the same issue more pointedly
substantiating his Ambassadors (in the Foreign Service) stinks
to high heaven of racism, and also accuses the "Sinhala racists"
for aborting his appointment to Paris besides making a personal
remark as to how I stand in his estimation on the issue of
racism, I thought a response from me is well deserved.
Before I do so, I wish to express my
appreciation of IH's comment that I am not a racist. However, he
has diluted that remark when he says that I have "swallowed
whole a familiar argument of the racists that there is no racist
discrimination against minorities by our governments but only
abuse of power." I do not recall my ever having entered that
general debate but I think IH arrives at that conclusion on the
basis of my remarks on his case, i.e., my reference to his
"personal bitterness with the UNP government." That
interpretation seems to have hurt him probably as it detracts
from the thesis he was building up over the presence of racism
practiced against 'Marakkalayas'. Even IH's choice of the word "Marakkalaya'
seems to exhibit the bitterness than it proves anything else.
So, I start with this stigma placed on my head.
That does not bother me but let me say that I keep on reminding
myself what a venerable old grand-uncle of mine told me 50 years
ago and my father had been repeating many of times that there
could be a Kerala strain running through blood of the family
which is remembered to have migrated in the Dambadeniya or
Kurunegala kingdom times and appointed guardians of Totagamuwa
Vijayaba Pirivena/temple. There may be something in it as that
institution had a strong Southern Indian link and had given much
prominence to Tamil studies and as our family still carries the
"Ge" name of the village adjoining the temple. I keep on asking
how then I could have any claims or pretensions to be a racist
in the Sri Lankan context.
Racism as theoretical concept
When IH tries to build up a theory that the UNP
and the Sinhalas are practicing racism, which seems rather
puerile, he has to meet a whole body of multiple scholarly
discourses on the subject of racism. Today, even the historical
role of the Greeks, the first people who were thought of having
introduced the idea of race superiority with their idea of
others as 'barbarians'; and the European Christians (Roman
Catholics) who practiced discrimination against the Jews to a
greater extent stand absolved of the charge of practicing
racism. In later social science studies the idea was presented
that these people had not even reached the threshold of racism.
I see two strains of assumptions in IH's second
article. First, he accuses the UNP government of practising
discrimination against minorities using the evidence of
treatment he received as a senior Foreign Office official at the
time he was ready to take up higher office as Head of Mission.
He furnishes three instances as evidence of this discrimination.
Second, he accuses "Sinhala racists" for aborting his
appointment as Ambassador in France.
He shows that the nomination as Ambassador in
Bonn was aborted because the government wanted to appoint a
Cabinet Minister whom it wanted to keep as far away as possible.
He does not explain what brought about the abortion of the
second posting to Moscow. He had found the cause of the abortion
of the third appointment (to Paris) eight years later, i.e., in
1995 in 1995 when someone who had worked in former Foreign
Minister, A. C. S. Hameed's Bureau informed him that there was a
petition from the Buddhist group in Paris over his appointment.
From that he concludes that it was "Sinhala racists" who stopped
his posting there. At this point his ire shifts from the UNP
government to the "Sinhala racists" yet his overall perception
of the UNP following discriminatory practices against minorities
remains. It is this "interference" with the appointment to Paris
which occupies more space in IH's mind.
In this process, one observes that his ire
against former Foreign Minister Hameed is diluted progressively,
perhaps, on account of the emergence of "new" evidence. However,
he does not completely absolve the Minister of responsibility
and accuses him for not arguing out his case over Paris
appointment which he says, the President never revoked.
Now, let us see how things stand against the
overall picture in the Foreign Ministry.
When IH tries to build up a thesis on the
practice of racism by the former UNP government against the 'Marakkalayas'
he does so on the basis of the solitary evidence of his own
case. Curiously, the situation has repeated at least three times
as he explains. That repetition could be seen as fertile ground
for a surmise of the presence of discrimination. This is no
doubt, a worse case of injustice and unfair treatment committed
against IH; but can it be construed as discrimination against
the minorities? Wouldn't that be holding on to too rigid a
position and going too far trying to over-milk the evidence. One
could even perceive here an attempt to equate one's personal
situation to that of an entire ethnic group.
Now let us take some counter points.
1. Couldn't one argue that despite a certain
strong opinion which existed in the country at the time, the
appointment of a Muslim to the higher portfolio of the Minister
of Foreign Affairs by the UNP government of President J. R.
Jayawardene demonstrated that it was above discriminatory
practices against that particular community?
2. Still more, when under the first phase of the
same UNP government in 1978, or by the same Foreign Minister, a
relatively exceedingly large number of Tamil career diplomats,
some of whom were junior to others (who were bypassed), were
appointed over the heads of others, didn't the UNP government
show that it was not practicing discriminatory treatment against
minorities? (The more senior career officers who were overlooked
were myself, Gamini Seneviratne, Stanely Jayaweera, Tissa
Jayakody, and Jayanth Rajapakse who were (wallowing) in the
Ministry at the time). I was in a 'Goulag' created for myself.
3. More significantly, these appointments were
to what IH classifies as more important posts such as London,
Paris, Bonn, Beijing, Cairo. Singapore and other. This is how
things stood in July 1983 when the ethnic riots broke out when
there was outright condemnation internationally about the way
the Tamil minority was treated.
4. My batch-mate, P. M. D. Fernando was singled
out to be posted to what IH calls "less important posts",
namely, as Ambassador to Baghdad and then to Maldives after an
earlier stint in Philippines. He retired early perhaps, in
disgust. Doesn't that situation alone make IH's argument that
less important posts were offered to IH as further evidence of
discrimination as a 'Marakkalaya' less plausible? In this light,
doesn't the charge of discrimination against IH as evidence of
discrimination against 'Marakkalayas' lose its steam?
5. IH has refused my comparison of his case with
mine. This is correct up to a point because his appointment to
Paris was completely aborted while mine finally went through
after a six month's delay. The latter took place only because
the President wished to stop over in Paris on return from the
Bahamas (CHOGM) to meet the new Ambassadors he sent out to
Europe after July 1983 events. He was surprised to find that his
orders regarding Paris and London had not been carried out and
Balasubramanium and Moorthy still remained heads of mission in
those two places. That is how my appointment finally took place
and Minister Hameed just gave me three days notice to proceed to
Paris after delaying for six months, and as an afterthought,
extended it by two more days for me to 'observe Wesak' in
Colombo! On arrival in Paris I found that he had countermanded
the orders of Secretary Jayasinghe and stopped the Embassy
intimating the French Foreign Office, the date of my arrival six
months earlier. He had been present in Paris at the time.
What does one make out of it? A personal
discrimination against me by Minister Hameed? Or, a
discrimination on grounds of my ethnicity? Or my religion? I
cannot level that charge against the UNP government as it was
clear that it had nothing to do with it. Some of my friends
suspected that it was my ethnicity and religion which was not to
the liking of the Minister but I refused to accept it. One of
them had even mentioned it to Prime Minister R. Premadasa who
sent me word asking me to wait saying better days would come. As
the head of the Board of Governors of the Central Cultural Fund
he had come to know earlier that Minister Hameed was
discriminating against me because I was taking an overt interest
in activities of the CCF. He had not even acknowledged two
letters sent to him by the Minister of Cultural Affairs, Mr.
Hurulle recommending that my air passage be paid to attend the
inauguration of the Cultural Affairs, Mr. Hurulle recommending
that my air passage be paid to attend the inauguration of the
Cultural Triangle Project by UNESCO Director General, Mahtar
M'Bow. Even duty leave was not sanctioned. I finally came over
at the request of Esmond Wickremesinghe, with Mr. M'Bow at my
expense and using my private leave available to me. What would
one call that? Personal dislike of the Minister? Or prejudice on
grounds of ethnicity/religion?
6. Again, when the Minister of Tourism,
Anandatissa de Alwis appointed me as the first Sri Lankan
representative to WTO in Madrid where I was C/A Ambassador, the
Credential were held up by in the Foreign Ministry for over a
year on Minister Hameed's order and this came to light when I
was asked by the Tourism Ministry to lead the delegation to WTO.
At that point the Credentials were rushed to me and I did not
attend the Conference. The Director General of WTO was too busy
to receive me and I sent my credentials to him through courier.
The newspapers published a picture I had taken with his
7. How is it that the Buddhist group was active
on-line Paris? A Muslim later succeeded as High Commissioner in
London. There was no problem of the sort IH experienced.
What does all this evidence throw up? Can IH's
argument of discrimination against minorities by the UNP
government be upheld? If one could use that argument, does it
not appear that there had been discrimination against the
Sinhala officers by Minister A. C. S. Hameed, if not against the
Sinhala ethnic group? I do not subscribe to that view. None of
the other officers who were overlooked by him did so, as far as
I knew. In my own mind I thought if my seniority was being
sacrificed in the round of appointment of heads of mission in
1978 in order to give priority to career officers from minority
ethnic groups with a view to bringing about a settlement of the
national question, and to disprove the presence of
discrimination against minorities, (rather mistakenly though),
then it was well and good and I must accept that decision.
A colleague downgraded
IH's remark that only "B de S's and Daya Pereras
and the Sena Pereras" could be sent to more important and the
more attractive posts, notwithstanding Hameed’s abuse of power,
does not seem to be in line with the generally highly principled
arguments which IH follows. It seems rather to smack of pique at
this particular point. I am indeed sad that my colleague who was
an outstanding member of the career service thought of grouping
me who was his professional colleague carrying 27 years
experience as a professional career diplomat at the time besides
having held the (high ranking) post of Minister in the Embassy
in France up to three and half years earlier which position gave
me access to the same officials as that of an Ambassador, along
with Daya Perera and Sena Perera, however outstanding these two
may have been in their respective professional fields. Didn't he
think that as a professional I deserved to be Ambassador to
France or any other such (important) post and that through
proven competence in the field of diplomacy, I earned that as a
matter of right?
As IH reveals, he came to know in 1995 that the
reason for aborting his appointment was that there had been a
"powerful group of Buddhists there" (in Paris) which he
interprets as "Sinhala racist objection to his appointment". He
cites a petition sent by the so called powerful Buddhist group
which his informant had referred to. At this point the direction
of IH's ire shifts from the UNP government to "Sinhala racists."
He seems to discreetly avoid reference to Buddhists in the
conclusion though he referred to the objection as arising from a
"powerful group of Buddhists there." Foreign Minister Hameed
whom IH had been accusing all along for his misfortune is also
cleared to some extent when he quotes Minister Hameed asking him
to be patient for a while till the situation cleared up. His
problem with Minister Hameed is that he finally did not back him
up sufficiently enough by pointing out to the president that he
had not recalled his name.
Crux of the matter
The crux of the matter, as IH rightly points out
is that there was a certain Sri Lankan individual (on the spot)
with "powerful backers" (who was trying to use the Buddhist
group there to promote his personal advancement); but it is not
correct to assume the "Sinhala racists" for that reason for
aborting his appointment. It would be like my accusing the whole
Muslim community for what I went through under Minister Hameed
including the denial to me my post as the Director General after
I returned and the 'privileges' that went with it. IH never
faced such a problem like non-availability of seating
accommodation in the Ministry that I had to go through. Under
President Premadasa a new Foreign Minister was appointed. I had
the first inkling of what Prime Minister Premadasa returned to
as the 'time' would come, when the first things that the new
Minister Ranjan Wijeratne did was to restore my place and
appoint me as the senior Director General I was later appointed
as the first resident Ambassador to Iran with a very important
The intrigues that followed the "person with
powerful backers" which IH referred to coming into the scene was
the beginning of the break up of the Buddhist group in Paris.
That can also explain how the petition that IH speaks came to be
sent. One wonders if the original Buddhist group (Dhamma Cakka)
even knew that the name of the Buddhist (group) was being used.
My assertion is that the petition IH speaks of could have
originated form a ghost organization, if not from a ghost
This Buddhist group of Sri Lankans in Paris came
together after the spill over of July 1983 riots to France where
the large Tamil Diaspore took the upper hand even committing two
murders of Sinhalese there, under the encouragement given to
them by my predecessor, Ambassador Balasubramaniam. It even
received the active support of Christians and Muslims. The Bank
loan to purchase the land to set up the Buddhist temple was
arranged by a Roman Catholic, who worked with an Arab Bank. He
watched over the progress of the temple and its activities with
enthusiasm. The South Africa lawyer Mitchel Hegg. an old friend
of Lalith Athulathmudali, assisted in the legal work and
interceded with me to bring about a settlement of disputes which
had risen later. The role of the individual referred to was to
break up this unity to promote his advancement.
Similarly, earlier, there was a petition against
one of the nominees for the post of Permanent Delegate to UNESCO
after I left the Embassy at the end of 1980 after my first
assignment there when the government decided to have a separate
post of Permanent Delegate. That was brought to my attention by
Prime Minister R. Premadasa who was showing interest in that new
post. (CCF sponsored?).
On that occasion while I was awaiting to take up
my second appointment in Paris, in view of my long experience
with UNESCO where I had initiated the Cultural Triangle project,
and brought UNESCO into two other projects in which the
President was personally interested, namely, the Arthur C Clark
Centre and the Institute of Fundamental Studies, President
Jayewardene sought my opinion to sort out the suitability of the
two candidates who were being nominated to the post of Permanent
Delegate to UNESCO, one of them jointly sponsored by Foreign
Minister Hamid and Esmond Wickremasinghe, and the other by the
Prime Minister. Naturally, I was in a difficult situation, not
because I had any difficulty in assessing the merits of the two
candidates, but because of Prime Minister who was present with
the President was expecting me to support his candidate.
Following the discussion, none of the two contenders were
selected. They were found other niches of lower dimension and
another outsider who had some difficulties at his own place of
work in Paris, who was later backed by the Prime Minister was
When IH was appointed to succeed me, obviously,
as IH surmises, this person again became active again. When
Warnasena Rasaputram was appointed to succeed me finally instead
of IH, the intrigues did not stop there. Rasaputram had no
misgiving that it was this person's machination that saw him
moved out within a short time after appointment of Paris. The
argument over separating the functions of Ambassador of France
and Perm. Delegate to UNESCO was then reversed to say that one
person could again handly both! What followed is history! So IH
is not the only victim of this situation.
The issue of Ambassador in France, therefore,
has a longer history and a more complex background than what IH
makes out and the "Sinhala racist objection" to his appointment,
he speaks of, has another dimension. Perhaps, he has mistaken
one person promoting his self advancement using the Buddhist
cover to make a generalization. This is rather unfortunate. All
this may be degrading exposure not worthy of persons who had
held high office but I do so taking that risk because I thought
it more important while I possess information to state that
frankly in defence of a people who are being accused as "Sinhala
racists" based on an unjust interpretation. I have left out more