Izeth and Devanesan opening batting for Terrorism’s second innings?
The greatest opening pairs have been made of batsmen who complement
each other. ‘Complement’ is of course different from ‘compliment’, the
latter is about mutual back-scratching. There are openers and those who
compliment (as opposed to ‘complement’) one another tend to be third
Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu are of the former kind. Sanath
was naturally gifted, unorthodox and impatient; Marvan the natural
‘anchor’, technically correct, solid and patient. A class act in any
form of the game. Kath Noble and Dayan Jayatilleka are of the latter
kind. They compliment each other. Frequently. Embarrassingly.
I found however, that Dayan and Kath, despite their fascination with
each other (and Dayan with himself), are still a notch higher in the
quality scale to Izeth Hussain and Devanesan Nesiah. I am referring to a
debate sparked by Nesiah’s comment on Sinhalese visiting post-conflict
Jaffna, first published in www.groundviews.com and later in a daily
under the title ‘Rebuilding Sri Lanka’.
In this piece, Nesiah, while admitting that he had not visited Jaffna
after the end of the war, quotes someone he thinks is a ‘perceptive and
sensitive Sri Lankan’, who, we are told believes that ‘the people of the
North, especially in the Jaffna district, have developed a feeling of
dissatisfaction, disaffection and contempt towards the people of the
South, who post the end of the war are now engaging in pilgrimage and
sightseeing related visits to the North in large numbers, and in the
process totally disregarding the need for privacy, encroaching on meagre
infrastructure resources and services of the district, causing
significant negative impact on the environment/cleanliness and pollution
in the area, and behaving in a manner unacceptable by the cultural and
religious values of the Northerners.’
Speaking with nostalgia
Tissa Devendra, a former Government Agent, Jaffna, subsequently
objected to Nesiah’s contention accusing him of extrapolating wildly on
a comment from a dubious source. Devendra finds it troubling that Nesiah
speaks with nostalgia about the situation in Jaffna the aftermath of the
Tiger-friendly CFA being signed.
post-war traces. File photo
Butts in Izeth. He is subtle; more like Marvan than like Sanath. He
says he doesn’t want to get involved in the exchange between the two but
does so nevertheless.
He defers in favour of Nesiah because a) he is a Tamil and therefore
should know more about the Tamil psyche (he could have said ‘He is an
Eelamist and therefore should know the Eelamist mindset’, that would
have been more accurate!), and b) he (Nesiah), according to Izeth, is a
person of ‘high moral integrity, exceptional intellectual competence,
with the background of ethnic studies and of administrative and other
experience that make him just the sort of person we need for national
reconciliation’. Well, if ‘national reconciliation’ was about submitting
to Eelamists, he, Izeth, would be spot on.
In 2003 or 2004 Nesiah told me, ‘I am amenable to a non-Eelam
solution that is within the notion of a united Sri Lanka’. I ignored the
subtle separatist/federalist push of the word ‘united’ and asked him if
he could say this anywhere north of Vavuniya and he admitted he could
Then, around 2007, he praised (from the audience) the idea of
‘federalism’ at a panel discussion on conflict resolution organized by
the South Asia Peace Institute at the JAIC Hilton.
He threw in the examples of India and the USA. I objected, pointing
out that a lot of these examples are tossed around without pointing out
to the realities of each situation, especially the centralizing
tendencies of the relevant policies subsequent to constitutional
enactment. Nesiah did not respond.
Nesiah, in his response to Devendra (published in ‘groundviews’)
states that he had subsequently gone to Jaffna and Chavakachcheri. His
‘first hand observations’ include evidence of practical issues resulting
from unprecedented numbers visiting the area. He does not say anything
to support his earlier thesis about Tamil perceptions of a Sinhalese
arrive wearing conqueror’s robe, or the encounter being one between
victor and vanquished except for a slight nod towards the person he
quoted in the original piece, viz ‘in the meantime there are ill effects
such as those referred to by the person I cited’.
When Izeth is on strike he takes a massive swing called ‘triumphalism’.
What began as one of many perceptions that some (maybe even just a few,
let us not forget) Tamils had about Sinhalese visiting Jaffna, is now,
all of a sudden, THE DOMINANT PERCEPTION. Then Izeth, true to form,
executes a perfect ‘late-cut’:
The crucial point is this: the Tamils can be expected to have an
inevitable predisposition to view the Sinhalese as conquerors as long as
the latter don’t move, after having won the war, to try to win the
peace. That will be possible only through a political solution, but
neither the Government nor the Opposition is showing any sense of
urgency about it.
What is peace and who determined it was/is co-terminous with a
‘political solution’ that takes ‘devolution’ as a non-negotiable (as
both Izeth and Nesiah have argued ad nauseam)? Nesiah, in another debate
(with Jolly Somasundram) again has taken the TNA’s point of view on
post-LTTE Tamil concerns, i.e. a virtual resurrection of the Vadukkoddai
What we have here is a deliberate and painstaking construction of a
‘Tamil perception’ regarding Sinhalese, arbitrarily pinning on the
Sinhalese a non-existent ‘triumphalism’ and ‘racism’ while
simultaneously painting Tamil (not LTTE) as ‘vanquished’. Nesiah’s
opposition to the kind of reconciliation advocated by Somasundram is
consistent with the Eelamist posturing he has been engaged in for the
past several decades (more on the lines of Chelvanayakam’s ‘A little now
more later’ because ‘the Sinhalese are not averse to giving as long as
it takes place over a long period of time’). Somasundram rejects the
kind of politics that led to the Vadukkoddai Resolution, possibly
because he is aware of the kind of outcomes that can result.
There is nothing wrong in wanting a separate state. There is nothing
wrong in promising (like the TULF did in 1977) Eelam or something close
to it. The Tamil people overwhelmingly voted for the TULF in 1977. They
voted on a dream. Fortunately for Nesiah, he was spared the ultimate
anguish that thousands of Tamils had to suffer as a result.
The TNA has had to move back a few steps. Well, move back three
decades and three years almost. They have had to reinvent themselves.
They are no longer spokespersons for the LTTE. They are the TULF (New).
They are doing their utmost to have over the Tamil community to a
possible LTTE (New) a few years from now and bury the Eelam Dream (New)
in a Nandikadaal (New) a few decades down the line. This is what Nesiah
wants. Izeth Hussain is ideal foil for this new age Eelamist. Nesiah
will keep the scoreboard ticking, Izeth will play sheet anchor.
The last paragraph in Somasundram’s article which sparked the debate
(‘A turnaround challenge for NE Tamils’,) should be a warning to Nesiah
who, contrary to Izeth, is quite a distance from being a man of ‘high
moral integrity, exceptional intellectual competence, etc etc’:
‘NE Tamils, living in this country, have to decide what is best for
them. Those living in foreign countries are not their role models or
judges. It is left to NE Tamils to capitalize on this opportunity- never
to be repeated- or blow it, leading to disastrous results. In the latter
event, there will be no one to be their saviour.’
This is essentially a wish. Politicians seldom wave the flags called
‘Reality’ and ‘The Possible’ in the face of voters; they prefer ‘Dream’
and ‘Improbable’ which they will of course disguise using the colours of
the earlier mentioned banners. One thing is certain. Twenty to thirty
years down that destructive road, a Devanesan Nesiah will tell some
Malinda Seneviratne that he cannot go beyond Vavuniya and repeat what he
had just said. And an Izeth Hussain will keep the scoreboard of
inter-ethnic disharmony ticking along with neat pseudo-intellectual
glances, square-cuts and such.
Frankly, I don’t think that the ordinary people of this country are
willing to walk that road again. If they are forced to, though, we will
see another bloodbath no doubt, but will end up where we are today, with
the Eelam Dream (New) joining its ancestor. Buried.