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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 and rock-and-roll.


 Kethesh Loganathan

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 him:

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 Jaffna.

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 community:

'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 19th 2005).

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 the analysis.

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, India.

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 institutional space.

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 time.

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 movements.

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.

 

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