Rajeewa Jayaweera: A postscript for posterity
Posted on June 15th, 2020

BY DR D. CHANDRARATNA Courtesy The Island


Just like RRW’s appreciative comment on Rajeewa Jayaweera, yesterday, I, too, never met Rajeewa except through his essays to this newspaper and other news sites. He was a regular contributor to these pages, for many years, and it was a pleasure to read and I enjoyed them every time. The well-researched analysis, on many topics, too numerous to list, were factual, objectively composed and fair to everyone. He was a prolific writer on matters of public interest, providing knowledge and insights to inform and enrich our lives. His writings were always non-partisan. During the last two weeks, in June, he wrote, if my memory serves me right, two pieces, one on irresponsible Covid behaviour of bigwigs, limbering at Independence Square, and the second on misuse of public monies by Foreign Service officials, who seek overseas postings to secure health costs for existing chronic illnesses. He wrote on all sorts of public issues, ranging from corruption, in public places, to civil aviation. He was at his best on diplomatic issues, and foreign affairs, given his family background.

Rajeewa was born to fortunate circumstances, being the son of Stanley Jayaeweera, who was in the Foreign Service: the diplomat who served the nation with distinction. Neville Jayaweera, his uncle was the civil servant who found the bureaucracy, more supple than what many critics say, to serve the people. Both these public servants, as Rajeewa commented in the essay, on the third death anniversary of his father, were the embodiment of discipline and formalism, and on the occasion of leaving the Singapore posting, his father made sure that he returned the wrist watches, gifted to Rajeewa and his sister, by the Sri Lankan businessman in Singapore. His father left his last assignment for not supporting the decision of a President on the IPKF occupation. Mr Jayaweera rather stood by his firm convictions to resign his consultancy forthwith, to return home by bus, just the way he took up his first job at the Foreign Ministry.

Neville Jayaweera, his uncle, was also faulted for supporting Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake’s agricultural drive, about which Rajiv wrote that his uncle stood for his convictions. Neville Jayaweera has said ‘I was not a stooge of anybody, but I was convinced that the only way the country can progress is to achieve self-sufficiency in food and that all of us, as citizens, should contribute towards that noble objective. I did the job I was entrusted with to the best of my ability’. One can think of no better upbringing to a young person to become an upright citizen in the fullness of time. Browsing through his writings, the sentiments, he expresses, are testimony to that fortunate background.

He was a public intellectual in the proper sense of the term. It may be true, in general, that human beings have a spontaneous tendency to grow into the modes of thinking appropriate to and predominant in their society, class or set, just as they have a tendency to drop into associated modes of conduct. There are exceptions, of course, illustrious and otherwise to prove the rule. Rajeewa had been moulded into a prim and proper human being from young days. This philosophical foray into Rajeewa’s life, through his essays in the newspapers, over the last so many years, is penned as a tribute to a valued public intellectual who contributed ideas towards social progress, making good use of the conjuncture of social circumstances into which he was born, and the intellect of an upright citizen who served our reading community and society at large.

Though I have not the space to dwell at length, his writings, on Lord Naseby’s debate on war crimes, are still fresh in our minds. He wrote numerous pieces on the matter last year. He wrote with passion but objectively. It was in the pursuit of national interest. ‘With all due respect to the Minister, the false allegations of genocidal numbers of civilian casualties, in Sri Lanka, are repeated everywhere. The opportunity that has arisen due to The Naseby initiative is too valuable to be squandered away. Towards this end, a thorough spring clean at the Foreign Office would be a good start. Improvement of procedures to enable delivery of a letter from the Head of State to any major capital in the world, in no more than 72 hours, is a prerequisite for such a project, instead of 19 days.’

On the Swiss saga, he protested that ‘the government has failed to request an explanation from Ambassador Mock of discrepancies between several versions of the abduction given by the alleged victim to the CID, and his complaint on November 27. It was not right that GR received the Swiss Ambassador and even informed him that the Swiss were not under suspicion. It would have been appropriate for GR to decline to receive the Ambassador till the matter has been cleared up. He could have been directed to deal with the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Relations Minister. That is what any self-respecting country would do.

Rajeewa was a true Sri Lankan to the core. On a related matter, regarding the unity of our country, he wrote that we must never forget history, even ugly history, but need to live in the present, and should aim for everyone to be equal within the nation. Cancelling ugly history is a dangerous form of denial. Denying true history risks repeating it. Leave the ugliness in plain sight and learn from it. It is time for rational thought and robust discussion to take centre stage in national mayors.

We will miss his insights and this endnote be a ‘Thank you’ for posterity.

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