Kethesh Loganathan: A committed, engaged individual
Second Death Anniversary :
1956, half a century ago, the year I was born, was a strangely
seminal year: it was the year that Fidel and Che landed on the shores of
Cuba, the year of the Suez crisis, of the 20th Congress of the Soviet
Communist party and de-Stalinisation; it was the year of Elvis Presley
It was also the year that Alan Ginsberg published his poem 'Howl',
which began unforgettably: "I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked".
Looking back on my country in my times, the indelible impression is
of seeing the best minds of my generation murdered by those once thought
to belong to the same side; believers in the same ideas and project;
comrades even. A collective Abel slain by a collective Cain.
Kethesh Loganathan was one of those 'best minds'. He was above all
else a committed, engaged intellectual.
He was indubitably one of the sharpest analytical intellects, one of
the finest Sri Lankan minds of his day.
He and I had a generation, social background, ideological formation
and historical-political experience in common.
Kethesh Loganathan, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Rajini Thiranagama, Lakhman
Kadirgamar. Brilliant minds, interesting, attractive and even compelling
personalities, with diverse choices and trajectories, and yet, a common
fate: murdered by the Tigers. These names and many more, are a rollcall
of the Tamil tragedy and larger Sri Lankan lament.
Kethesh belonged to the Sri Lankan and larger South Asian Who's who:
C. Loganathan's son (or simply "Loganathan's son" in Colombo). An
alumnus of Georgetown and Sussex, he could have wound up a member of the
Asian-American elite, but he chose another path, or another path chose
That of Marxism. Within that Marxism, he could have been an academic,
teaching in a Western university or heading a policy studies think-tank.
Indeed he worked at MARGA and then took over his father's institute in
If world history, that of the twentieth century, marked by the
magnetism of socialism and Communism, shaped part of Kethesh's destiny,
the contemporary history of the country and society he was born into,
determined the rest of his life: July '83 and the Tamil struggle.
What decided his death was a third factor and fact; the evolution of
that struggle, the obduracy of the Sinhala state and society, the
character of Tamil society and the nature of the LTTE.
This is summed up and prefigured in a paragraph from an article
written by Kethesh; a paragraph which contains the very crux of his
thinking on the Sri Lankan conflict, in an article which was
transparently self revelatory.
Kethesh's core idea contained here is the message he leaves us all-
from the Sri Lankan state to civil society; from the Lankan left to the
Tamil Diaspora, from his Indian friends to the Western DPL and donor
'This absence of "enlightened self-interest" in my opinion, although
now largely rectified in relation to Indo-Lanka relations but not
necessarily irreversible, continues to dog the Colombo political
establishment on other matters relating to the peace process, and has
provided the LTTE its very mode of existence.
The confusion between engagement and appeasement of the LTTE is a
case in point. Another is the failure to forge a southern consensus on
the Ethnic Question based on self-rule and shared-rule.' (Kethesh
Loganathan, 'Mervyn's Insights were Foresights', Sunday Observer, June
Kethesh agrees with Mervyn de Silva's identification of the
wellspring of our problem as the absence of enlightened self-interest on
the part of the governing classes or ruling elite, and goes onto develop
He lists four huge follies on the part of state and society, which
have resulted in the current catastrophe and provide, as he says the
LTTE's very mode of existence'. These are:
'The absence of enlightened self interest' The mismanagement of
Indo-Lankan relations. The practice of appeasing the LTTE and mistaking
it for engagement and the absence of a solution - and a Southern
consensus on a solution - to the ethnic question based on a combination
of self rule and shared rule.
In other words the LTTE's conditions of existence are not supplied by
the LTTE itself but by others, including those who claim to oppose
separatism and terrorism. There are two types of people and policies
which furnish the Tigers with their mode of existence;
Policies of appeasement in the name of engagement, conflict
management and resolution, and policies which obstruct power sharing,
self rule, the very recognition of the existence of an Ethnic Question,
and thereby the most constructive relations with our strong neighbor,
Let there be no mistake: Kethesh didn't die because he turned Marxist
or didn't take his place in the Tamil elite, or joined the EPRLF, or
left in frustration the smarmy civil society outfit he worked for, or
because he worked for the Government as deputy of the Peace secretariat.
Neelan Tiruchelvam did none of these things and indeed was the
opposite of Kethesh and Rajini Thiranagama:
He stayed with the programme, in the mainstream, a pacifist
intellectual who was the epitome of liberalism and civility. And he was
blown up by an LTTE suicide bomber within sight of his civilised
Neelan, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Kethesh: Harvard, Oxford, Georgetown.
What gems of the small Sri Lankan Tamil community! What priceless
resources for their society and South Asia!
They went their different ways and died violently, assassinated in
the same town, by the same organisation, the Tigers, led by the same
man, Velupillai Prabhakaran. That Prabhakaran chose to snuff out lives
as precious as these, that the LTTE's struggle could regard these
individuals as traitors to their community, tells us as much about
Prabhakaran, the Tigers and Tamil Eelam, as the fact that individuals so
gifted, courageous and committed chose to oppose, dissent or stand apart
from the LTTE, tells us about them. These are the real heroes of our
How does a mature democracy like Sri Lanka breed such fanaticism?
Nothing exemplifies the very essence of the LTTE, more than murder at
its hands of those who in any other place, would have been its members,
supporters or sympathisers, just as nothing exemplifies the essential
nature of the JVP better than the list of those Sinhala leftists who
died at its hands in '86-89, and who in any other struggle would have
been the natural supporters of the radical left.
In both cases, the deviation from the norm of behavior of liberation
movements world-wide is the pathway to understanding the nature of these
In the Sunday Observer article cited above, Kethesh described himself
as an internationalist.
Both the LTTE and the JVP killed precisely the internationalists, the
anti-racist progressives on both sides; those who stood for 'self rule
and shared rule' as a solution to the Ethnic Question.
From Vijaya Kumaratunga to K. Pathmanabha, from Nandana Marasinghe to
Neelan Tiruchelvam, from Daya Pathirana to Rajini Thiranagama - over the
last two decades the fanatics and fundamentalists on both sides snuffed
out the most engaged and engaging, the best, of our people.
The practices of these movements illustrate their policies, and the
practices and policies taken together indicate the worldview, the
ethics, morals, and values, of these entities. The reality that reveals
itself is not of liberation, but of fanaticism, savagery, barbarism.