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Tuesday, 04 January 2005  
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J. N. Dixit and Lanka's conflict

The passing away of one of India's most well known diplomats, Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who was National Security Advisor at the time of his death, would take many minds back to a crucial phase in the evolution of Lanka's ethnic conflict or 'National Question'.

India's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka at the time of the J. R. Jayawardene and R. Premadasa administrations, which marked a troubled phase in Indo-Lanka relations, Dixit was closely associated with the framing of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 which paved the way for the 13th Amendment to the Lankan constitution, which in turn brought into being our Provincial Council system.

It is perhaps for these reasons that Dixit was considered controversial by some but more than 15 years after the signing of the Accord it could be said that power devolution is here to stay. Power devolution in fact was the cornerstone of the year 2000 draft constitution which was framed under the guidance of President Kumaratunga.

Dixit's association with the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 also links him with the induction of the IPKF, a move whose merits and demerits are being debated to this day.

By hindsight it could be said, however, that had the IPKF been allowed to complete its assignment here, Sri Lanka's post-independence history would be different, in a positive sense. Making this pronouncement doesn't amount to endorsing a military solution to the ethnic conflict because Lanka would have been obliged in terms of the Accord, to earnestly devolve power on the provinces.

However former President Premadasa thought otherwise. In marked contrast to President Kumaratunga, who swept to power later, Premadasa preferred to follow a populist course and appealed to the gut sentiment of some by requesting for the pulling out of the IPKF.

The extracts which we reproduce on this page from Dixit's well known book 'Assignment Colombo' put the record straight on some of the achievements of President Kumaratunga and those of her predecessors. President Kumaratunga is assessed by Dixit as an intelligent, articulate and clear-headed leader, who was in earnest in her efforts to resolve our conflict peacefully and justly.

History has vindicated Dixit. We now know that President Kumaratunga would have gone on to resolve our conflict by political means if she wasn't thwarted in her course by LTTE intransigence and an opportunistic opposition. President Kumaratunga's year 2000 draft constitution was a clear advance on all efforts at devolving power but she didn't receive the required cooperation from some vital sections of the polity.

Thus we need to arrive at a non-populist assessment of Dixit. When viewed impartially, it could be seen that Dixit's impact was considerably positive on his times and on Indo-Lanka relations.

A ride to freedom

The axiom "stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage" was proved to the hilt on December 26 when chaos wrought by nature enabled 300 convicts in the Matara prison to make good their escape - nay ride on a crest of a tidal wave to freedom.

Prisoners fleeing their pen is not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka. There have been instances where they have been helped in the act. But one cannot recall an instance when prisoners broke free courtesy of the ravages of nature.

In this instance the inmates of the Matara prison could claim they were running with the tide. They would not pause in their tracks to consider the grim irony of their freedom. Here is an instance freedom has been won by a minuscule community while a monumental section of their brethren were locked up in misery and destitution.

Hot on the heels of the great escape comes the news that the Matara Magistrate's court had lost all its records in Sunday's deluge. It is very likely that the case files of these escapees would have been among these.

Here is a heaven sent opportunity for these 300 escapees to lose their identities among the chaos. After all, who would look for a mere 300 prison inmates in the midst of an earth shattering catastrophe as wrought by the tsunami tidal wave. Besides won't the police and other law enforcement agencies be up to their necks in relief activities. Would any sane individual want them to divert their energies instead to the capture of fleeing convicts ?

In any event no one in their right minds would begrudge a new lease of life to a few hundred prisoners when life itself has become so fragile as amply proved last Sunday. Who knows, they would even be better by the experience and turn out to be law abiding citizens.

Of course, some would argue that law and order should be preserved at all costs even at the worst times of adversity. With the country facing a disaster of this magnitude, others would hardly call it an occasion for the strict enforcement of the rule of law with regard to these prisoners. Our best hope is that they would turn themselves in - or turn their lives for the better.

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