Meera Srinivasan, in The Hindu, July 2014
When Sri Lankan archaeologist Sudharshan Seneviratne drove down to Chanakyapuri on a hot day recently, memories of his Delhi days came back gushing. From being a student in the city in the 1970s to returning now as the highest representative of his country, life has come a full circle, says Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India who, as a student, spent a decade in India, studying in New Delhi and later researching early Buddhism in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
On 13th Amendment: In an interview to The Hindu , days ahead of his big move, Mr. Seneviratne says issues such as the implementation of the 13th Amendment — India has been pushing Sri Lanka to devolve more powers to its provinces as per this Amendment — the fishermen’s conflict or [the claim to] Katchatheevu could be resolved by coming together and working without “being parochial about it”.
Senevirante receiving his office
At the recent bilateral meeting in New Delhi where Foreign Ministers of both countries met, the countries resolved to address the fishermen’s issue in the most humane way, he says. Though not a career diplomat, as someone “nurtured by both cultures” he expresses evident optimism about his new role that sees him transitioning from an academic to a diplomat.
According to him, there is a need to redefine diplomacy to include shared histories, culture and heritage of countries, in addition to economic and political ties. Rather than trying to resolve issues by using a “drab, dry language of diplomacy,” it is important to look at them holistically, he emphasises.
“Ultimately, when we speak of two countries, we are not talking about faceless people, but about real human beings. When we are representing countries, we are representing people.”
The High Commissioner says he hopes to draw upon his experience as a “heritage manager” and forge a strong people-to-people connection between the countries.
Seneviratne teaching ISLE Program students in Lanka– Pix from Bowdoin College
Education in India: As a young historian training in India, Mr. Seneviratne worked under many eminent historians, including Romila Thapar and R. Champakalakshmi. Delhi University, where he pursued his Bachelor’s degree, was not too different from the urban academic space in Colombo, “but the vibrancy and ethos at Jawaharlal Nehru University [where he did his masters and PhD] was unbelievable,” he says, his face lighting up as he speaks of his alma mater .
It is exciting, he adds, that many who went to University with him were today prominent intellectuals, journalists and politicians in India. “I look forward to connecting with them.”
‘Gamut of people’: Mr. Seneviratne also wants to meet his friends in Tamil Nadu. “When we went to places like Kanyakumari, Pudukkottai [for research] the people were just so warm and affectionate, it was as if your mother was around.”
Speaking of possible avenues for collaboration in academic programmes and heritage that is currently exploring, he observes: “It’s not the few decision makers or the sophisticated elite [ who matter], but a gamut of people who see the shared heritage we have on a day to day basis.”