Prisoners of the Past — says Dayan Jayatilleka

Elmo Jayawardane, reviewing Dayan Jayatilleka: Long War, Cold Peace

DAYAN J in mountainsDr. Dayan Jayatilleka has not stopped at merely hitting the nail on the head; he’s gone a lot deeper! The man has taken a Black and Decker and drilled the skull of the reader and carefully pushed in 498 pages of faction and action (shameful and laudable) that relate to our “Long War” of almost three decades.

It is a timely publication too. The International Tambourine Men gathered in Geneva flaunting their lily white innocence in attempts to barbecue us. At least, we the ordinary habitants of this land should know how the cookie crumbled while we suffered the consequences of divisibility for thirty grisly years. Of course the ‘mea culpa’ rests with none other than the leadership. They festered the wound of ethnic divide and titillated political maggots that nearly annihilated us as a nation. We need to know some truths that have been gagged and swept under the carpets by both sides, ably assisted by the good Samaritans who sat on the third seat preaching negotiated peace. ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ is the answer. Dr. Dayan is punching hard, in a ring where he knows the rules, and he is not holding anything back. There is a good possibility that the book may take him to the mouth of a long menacing serpent in the political game of ‘Snakes and Ladders.” But then, with his historically valuable contribution in ‘Long war, Cold peace’, he will walk tall among people who really matter. 

DJ-ook cover-LWCP-combinedDr. Dayan opens the batting with the post-Chelvanayagam political squabbles that dominated the racial disharmony before the guns started firing. He details the conflict resolutions, the battles themselves and the half-baked ceasefires that resulted in the deaths of ‘Boys’ and ‘Soldiers’ who fought and died in the jungles, paddy fields and the narrow dusty roads of the North and East.  Then there were the innocent, men women and children, the ones who lost their lives in the cross-fires in the Vanni or got bomb-blasted in trains, buses and city-centres south of the border.  “Long War, Cold Peace’ records them all in ‘as it happened’ mode and the flow and the word play are articulate and smooth. There is no unwanted varnishing here, nor any manipulative tarnishing. In his own words, he certainly has not ‘spray painted the lily.’ The book has a postscript dated 2013, and that takes care of the present situation, the aftermath of the war and the ramifications of searching for peace, both up to date and current as the highlights of Halal and judicial impeachments.

In short, Dr. Dayan has done the ‘Full Monty’ to the conflict with this blockbuster of a book, now published by Vijitha Yapa and available at Rs 1,500 locally or online from the publisher.

We Sri Lankans had the most gruesome experience of a civil war and it continued unabated till the final phase in Nandikadal. Up to now there has not been a comprehensive account published that gives the optimum exposure to all the events that took place. Such a task could only be undertaken by someone who has the ability, the qualification and unquestionable neutrality to make a fervent attempt to place the best possible truth before the reader. A young Dayan did sing ‘saadukin pelenawun dan ithin nagitiyaw’ in his ‘Bolshevik Red’ days.  His ambassadorial positions were amidst the elite of diplomacy, among the Jeremiahs of Geneva. He sure has ‘clinked glasses’ with the prime players of the world games where the ‘Big Boys’ played marbles with Lilliputians like us.  Dr. Dayan held his ground and represented us with remarkable aplomb in the backdrop of a tainted image of Sri Lanka. He’s read for a PhD and his Political Science education gives him the credentials to address an ultra-important issue, the ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka. The question then is whether he is honest in his opinions? You read and judge, as for me I learnt much I did not know. I feel he has done justice in recording the events of the war, from the beginning to the end without picking sides and creating non-existent heroes and making a mockery of history.

Dr. Dayan has praised the praise-worthy and criticised with ample reasoning the ‘decision making donkeys’ (bulls would be more appropriate, to stay with the idiom) who in the thirty years presumed the ethnic war was their personal ‘china shop.’ Feeling infallible in the roles they played as leaders, they lacerated the lives of our youth, which resulted in the dead dying young. Who cared? It was the expendable that got maimed or buried with posthumous promotions. Mahaviru or Ranaviru, they were all cannon fodder, and the blood they shed had nothing to do with the designing of the war. Dr. Dayan gives the details; it is for us to read and understand the shame of it all.

What about us, the bystanders, who stood on the side lines? “Life was dominated, distorted and to some extent determined by the conflict and its cumulative gravitational pull. The greater the number of deaths of those one felt something for, the more difficult it was to walk away from it all.” Weren’t we, the ‘also rans,’ painted by the same brush?

The names and the events that played on the 30 year old stage are now fading from our memory. The book brings them back to the forefront, carefully re-locating them in places they occupied and the roles they played.  Sivakumaran, the first cyanide victim, Uma Maheswaran of PLOTE, Pathmanabha of EPRLF, Mahendraraj alias Mahaththaya, Praba’s trusted disciple who was killed by Prabakaran’s order. Kittu, Raghavan, LTTE’s co-founder, Thamil Selvam, Anton Balasingham, they all re-enter the stage and strut around to kindle our memories. Dr. Dayan makes them come alive in distinct detail. The events too are clearly recorded; such as why the LTTE roasted TELO youth on Jaffna streets and gunned down sixty EPRLF soldiers locked inside two rooms? The author sure has done his homework. The other side of the coin comes with even greater clarity. The government leaders, their national plans and the peace proposals are all here. JRJ, Premadasa, Chandrika, Ranil, Gamini, Lalith, Mangala and Anurudha Ratwatte are prominent in the pages. The second string too is eminently addressed, luminous as ever, litmus at times, as some changed allegiances to stay afloat in the political mire.  ‘Prime Time’ is given to the Military Brass, the men who led their forces and fought battles, sometimes with their hands chained with political padlocks. The knell of the death bell rang, 60,000 or 100,000 times, who knows? What would the relevance be of numbers when the entire script was so very tragic and meaningless?

What about the unanswered questions? Dr. Dayan bares it all. Who gave arms to the LTTE to fight the IPKF? How did the State versus the LTTE battle get twisted and become a Sinhala Tamil war? Did the paradigm shift occur with the Black July of 83 and the possible reciprocation of the Anuradhapura massacre in 85? How did Prabakaran get the better of the much glamorised and mythicized Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, General Krishnaswamy Sunderji?  What was the truth behind the Karuna story? Who really was General Fonseka? How effective was his leadership? And how did the current President and the Defence Secretary create the political will to win the war?  All these are detailed including Babu’s complicity in killing President Premadasa and JRJ refusing to talk at a round table conference with Prabakaran, saying in jest that ‘Praba’ will ask for a ‘separate table.’

Amidst all this Dr. Dayan quotes Simon and Garfunkel too, in the poetic lyrics of ‘Boxer’ and adds ‘that a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest, Lai la lai lai lai lai la, ’ sure at peace talks they only heard what they wanted to hear and the repetitive ’Lie’ part fitted the peace talks  perfectly . Tongues twisted whenever they sat to talk peace between the two factions. The Ceasefire Agreements, Thimpu Talks, Indian interventions where Prabakaran flew to Delhi, the Bangalore meeting in ‘86, Norwegian connection, P-TOMS after the tsunami, all ended in broken promises and more frustrations for the people and more coffins among the fighting cadres of both sides. The innocent died while the leaders talked and shook hands and went away with promises that were never meant to be kept.

Then came the final battle, the government resolution hampered by the international infringements and the defeat of the Tigers. Who did what in the last days that led to Kilinochchi and the Nandikadal Lagoon is logically recorded by the author with careful considerations. Whatever picture I had in mind as to how the ethnic war ended became clearer after reading the book.

The war was over, so began the Cold Peace. “Ours is a story of unfulfilled promise, of a front runner who fell behind, took the wrong fork and got lost in the maze of his/her own conflicted character”  says Dr. Dayan. He goes on to add ‘Both Sinhala and Tamil sides have resolutely remained prisoners of the past. What we need is to analyse the situation from a problem solving perspective, one that is finally policy-prescriptive.”

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What I liked most was his simple expression “We had failed to become us.” That said it all Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, I salute you for a book of excellence.

This sure is a ‘must read’ and a ‘must keep’ book for any Sri Lankan, local or diasporic. It was our ‘to hell and back’ of thirty-plus years. ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ will give us the enlightenment, lest we forget how terrible the carnage was and how and why it all happened and most importantly, who pontificated from pedestals whilst being nothing more than whitened sepulchres?

Capt Elmo Jayawardena=


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