|Wonders! A Tamil Architect!|
Having watched Jamie Metzl’s Asia Society interview with External Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris, on the internet, I was left with the feeling that something was not quite right. Of course, the first thing that would strike anyone is the manner GLP fielded the questions. Both the interviewer (Metzl) and GLP acquitted themselves very well and it was a good interview by any reckoning. Metzl prefaced his interview by telling GLP that when mountain climbers clamber up the slopes of the Alps, they may at times take paths that may seem to be the best way to get to the top, but the people hanging around in the restaurants below sipping hot coffee are able to see that the climber has not taken the correct path to reach the top. That set the tone of the interview – GLP was the mountain climber who is unable to see anything but the rock face a foot away and Metzl was the relaxed coffee drinker who could guide the climber and show him the best way to get to the top of the mountain if only the climber would consent to be guided! It’s quite amazing to see how even an independent western intellectual like Metzl could so closely parallel the views held by most western governments about Sri Lanka. Every western government seems to think that they know how Sri Lanka’s problems should be tackled and even seem peeved that the SL government has not been willing to accept their guidance. The first question that GLP was asked was, if he was a Sri Lankan Tamil who opposed the violence of the LTTE, but also felt that Sri Lankan Tamils and other minorities were not being treated equally and fairly by the Government of Sri Lanka, how would he feel about his place in Sri Lankan society today?
If Metzl expected to put the SL minster on the defensive with this question, well it did not quite work out that way and GLP’s reply was the equivalent of sinking the enemy vessel with the first broadside. His answer was that C.Anjalendran, an eminent Tamil Architect from Sri Lanka had been interviewed in this very room not so long ago and when Anjalendran was asked "How was it possible for you as a Tamil, oppressed as you are in Sri Lanka, to produce work of this quality?" To this the intrepid Tamil architect (A friend of GLPs) had replied "All right, I was born a Tamil but, I am a Sri Lankan and I have had every opportunity to engage in my profession and to achieve the heights of excellence as I have done. Nobody stood in my way. There was no discrimination. I was not threatened or discouraged and that it is the answer I am giving you".
Having thus used Anjalendran’s answer by way of answering the question thrown at him, GLP went on to administer the coup de grace pointing out that the oppressor of the Tamils in Sri Lanka was the LTTE, and that eminent Tamils like Neelan Tiruchelvam and the political leadership of the Tamils were killed off by the LTTE, not the government. GLP pointed out in so many words that it was not as though the Tamils of Sri Lanka were under a tyranny and that the LTTE were the saviours of the Tamils. He went on to explain that in Sri Lanka, there is equality of opportunity, free education from the kindergarten to the University and Tamils have reached the zenith of attainment, in many walks of life, in politics, in professions, in banking, in entrepreneurship. It is rarely that a politician gets an opportunity to do such a complete demolition job on western misconceptions and this opening salvo set the tone of the whole interview.
There were many questions of similar nature that were posed and fielded by GLP with equal adroitness. With all that bowling and batting going on in an interview that lasted more than an hour, it was easy to miss the main point that should have been noticed and in fact, even though I was left with a vague feeling that something was not quite right, it took me a while to realize what was wrong with that interview. What was out of place, is that the interviewer Jamie Metzl seemed to be very familiar with Sri Lanka and even the minutiae of politics in Colombo. He posed questions for example about the 18th amendment to the constitution which abolished term limits for the Executive Presidency and in his own words, "empowers the President to appoint many Commissions that the President wasn’t empowered to appoint previously, including elections, national police, human rights, ombudsman". He also posed questions about the "increasingly powerful role the family of the President was playing, with the President himself personally in charge of several key Ministries, while his brother Basil is the Economic Development Minister, his brother Chamal the Speaker of Parliament, his son Namal a member of Parliament, and his brother Gotabhaya the Secretary of Defence. He was even aware that the Attorney General’s department now functions under the presidential secretariat and not under the Justice ministry - a fact that many Sri Lankans would be unaware of.