The professor, his fan club and their sporadic howls

By Malinda Seneviratne

(May 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Prof. Tissa Vitarana is supposed to have sweated a lot over the All Party Representative Committee, whose mandate was to advise the President about salient issues pertaining to conflict and conflict resolution. The APRC and its Chairman, Tissa Vitarana, believed that it was mandated to find a solution to the conflict. For reasons best known to him, President Mahinda Rajapaksa went along with this misconception.

Even if that were the mandate, the APRC went about it in the most unprofessional manner. First of all it was a bunch of politicians doing their politics. They did not start at the beginning, i.e. obtaining a decent and comprehensive articulation of the problem. They missed the second part, i.e. obtaining the true dimensions of related grievances. They were slow or made to be slow and if the latter was the case both professor and committee betrayed a sad lack of backbone.

If they had an iota of integrity, they could have said (if this were the case) ‘the President is not interested in the submissions of the APRC but is only using outfit as an exercise to buy political time from the international community and in particular India’. I didn’t hear Tissa say anything of the kind. All he did was genuflect before the President and look sillier with each excuse for impasse trotted out.

Now Tissa Vitarana, let us not forget, was the favourite target of the devolutionists from the time the APRC was set up until the whole affair ran out of steam and was bulldozed over by post-war political maneuvering.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, for example, wrote on almost two years ago the following: The APRC has behaved as feared. It has delivered for the regime and not for the country. Clearly Professor Vitarana could not hold out – encomiums about his persistence notwithstanding. He obliged his president and produced the Interim Report of the APRC eighteen months after it was convened. The Majority Report and the Vitarana Report are all history – His Excellency demanded and determined and hey presto they produced a mouse, heralding in, in our inimitable way, the Chinese Year of the Rat, no doubt!

In other words, Saravanamuttu is essentially saying a) Vitarana is incompetent, b) Vitarana lacks integrity and backbone, and c) Vitarana is President Rajapaksa’s puppet.

Fast forward to April 2010. Tissa Vitarana was left out when the President and his advisors dished out cabinet portfolios. He was later given a ministry, almost as after thought in the manner of crumbs-off-the-table. The Professor did not complain and may or may not be embarrassed or chuffed by the nice things said about him, first by Jehan Perera and most recently by Paikaisothy Saravanamuttu (Daily Mirror of May 1, 2010: ‘Big mandate, big majority and big responsibility’).

Saravanamuttu is now weeping copious tears over the omission of Vitarana. Vitarana is no longer bad boy for our devolutionists. He’s now ‘dear professor’, a man to be sympathized with. Saravanamuttu claims that this ‘omission’ ‘reinforces the contention that the APRC was set up for the sole purpose of placating the international community’ and that it was never meant by the regime to be anything else’. Saravanamuttu, then, is whining that incompetence is not being celebrated. He is lamenting that sycophancy has not been rewarded. He is aggrieved that the regime is not propping up cowards and cowardice.

The ‘good professor’ probably knows best. If he’s as worthy of cabinet portfolio as Saravanamuttu claims he is, then he can come out and tell us straight whether or not Mahinda Rajapaksa took him for a ride. Vitarana is not passé on account of him being partial to power-sharing and federalism; he is passé, period!

It doesn’t take much to understand that Vitarana (like D.E.W. Gunasekera) would have lost had he contested. The poor performance of the pro-devolution candidates is something that Saravanamuttu cannot stomach and/or explain.

Why this sudden love for Vitarana though? Have Saravanamuttu and Perera run out of people to love? No Prabhakaran these days to write into the equation, no TNA, no strong ‘international community factor’, nothing! So they cling to poor Prof. Tissa Vitarana, virtually begging the President to keep the man politically relevant.

Well, either the President took Prof Vitarana and the APRC for a ride or he didn’t. If he did, that’s something Prof Vitarana would be aware of. Saravanamuttu probably knows the good professor’s address. Would he do his best to get Prof. Vitarana to quit Parliament on account of being led up the garden path? What says Prof. Vitarana? If he was a pawn in a larger political game, isn’t it time he cut his losses and went home? If not, will he tell Saravanamuttu where to get off?

Saravanamuttu wants the Professor to be treated kindly. He wants himself to be treated kindly. I don’t think anyone owes either Prof. Vitarana (whose party hardly contributed to the UPFA victory) or Saravanamuttu any favours. Saravanamuttu has been a consistent pawn in LTTE games and a happy mouthpiece for machinations related to furthering the Eelam project.

But we can still be kind to him. To Prof. Vitarana. We can tell them the kindest thing there is to tell: ‘retire’. I would add, ‘gracefully’.

President Rajapaksa has more things to worry about at this point than the anxieties experienced by articulators of political positions that were unceremoniously dismissed by the voters. Yes, he got a big mandate and a big majority. Yes, he has a big responsibility. He has given a slot in the National List to Prof. Vitarana. That’s being very generous, considering that the current strength of the LSSP and the man’s vote-getting capacity. He’s even given the man a ministry. That’s going out of his way to be nice.

Those who pimped for Prabhakaran, let us reiterate, and were ball-boys of the Eelam project don’t have any legitimate right to ask for anything or complain about someone like Prof. Tissa Vitarana being sidelined. They can howl. No one says ‘no’ to that. So if and when Prof Vitarana retires (and he should if Saravanamuttu is correct) Saravanamuttu can howl. Not many will take any notice, though.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at