Lakshman Kadirgamar – An illustrious product of the Peradeniya University | Sunday Observer

Lakshman Kadirgamar – An illustrious product of the Peradeniya University

Lakshman Kadirgamar
Lakshman Kadirgamar

Fourteen years ago, on August 12, 2005, the then Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Lakshman Kadirgamar was brutally assassinated at his residence by an LTTE sniper.

The same year on March 18, there was a ceremony at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom to unveil the portrait of this great son of mother Lanka who had been a student at the Oxford University almost 50 years before.

This was a singular honour bestowed by the Oxford Union on only 15 others in its 183-year long history. At that ceremony he (Kadirgamar) amply demonstrated his love and loyalty to his country saying “I would like to, if I may, to assume that I could share the honour with the people of my country. I had my schooling there, my first university was there, I went to law college there and by the time I came to Oxford as a postgraduate student, well, I was relatively a mature person. Oxford was the icing on the cake but the cake was baked at home.”

On February 18, 2015, 10 years after that event and his demise, his portrait was unveiled in the presence of his wife Mrs Suganthi Kadirgamar and the then State minister of Higher Education , Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe at the University senate room by the then Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Athula Senaratne, at the University of Peradeniya (his first University); his home, where as he had said “the cake was baked”. This was a memorable and a historical occasion as this was the only portrait of an illustrious alumnus of the University of Peradeniya unveiled at the University in its existence.

Three years preceding this portrait unveiling ceremony, a string of events happened in Kandy commemorating this celebrated product of Kandy.

In 2012, during the author’s tenure of presidency at the Kandy Society of Medicine, which is the second oldest and the largest medical association of Sri Lanka, accepting a proposal by Prof. Ananda Jayasinghe, the council of the Kandy Society of Medicine honoured the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar as the symbolic chief guest at the society’s 34th annual academic sessions on February 9, 2012.

In response to the act of honour bestowed on the Kadirgamar, Mrs Suganthie Kadirgamar and the members of the Kadirgamar foundation offered a medal to a medical student of the faculty of medicine to honour the medical profession in reciprocation.

The award, ‘The Sri Lankabhimanya, Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar Gold Medal for excellence’ is presented annually to the student who has recorded the best performance and obtained a First Class Honours at the final MBBS Examination and has shown commendable performance in extracurricular activities during his/her undergraduate medical career. The first medal was awarded at the General Convocation of the University of Peradeniya in 2017 to Dr. Miss A. M. B. D. Alahakone.

On August 15, 2014 at a ceremony in the Faculty of Medicine Mrs Suganthi Kadirgamar donated the monetary donation of Rs. 1 million for the medal to Prof. Athula Senaratne, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya. As a response to a request made by the Vice Chancellor during that ceremony, a portrait donated by Mrs Kadigamar was unveiled at the university on February 18, 2015.

The portrait of this extraordinary alumnus which was unveiled 62 years after he graduated from the University.

Kadirgamar was born on April 12, 1932 to Samuel J.C.Kadirgamar and Edith Rosemand Parimalam Mather as the youngest of six children. His father was the founder President of the Law Society of Ceylon.

While all his brothers were educated at Royal College, he was the only boy in his family who was educated at Trinity College, Kandy from 1942 to 1950. Throughout his college days, he had been an academically brilliant, athletically celebrated multi-talented youth. He captained his school’s first eleven cricket team and was a member of the college athletic and rugby teams. He was a rugby coloursman, an athletics Lion and the winner of the first Duncan White Challenge Trophy. He culminated his trail blazing school career being appointed as the Senior Prefect and the winner of the Ryde Gold Medal for the best all round student.

During this time the vision of Sir Ivor Jennings was ripe in creating in Peradeniya, a model of Cambridge. Kadirgamar was certainly lucky to be in the original batch of undergraduates transferred from Colombo to the new Peradeniya campus of the University of Ceylon. He graduated from the University of Peradeniya in 1953 with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) degree.

After his spell at the Ceylon Law College at Hulftsdorp Street, in which too he excelled in his studies, he won a scholarship to the Balliol College, at the University of Oxford in 1956 as a postgraduate student and received the B.Lit degree. There he became the Treasurer of the Union in 1958 and the President in 1959.

It was here that he acquired the Balliol traditions at its best. Language in his speeches began to show a mental precision. Every word plain, lucid, terse, direct and with no frills, had its mark. The eloquence was sharpened in the debating chamber of the Oxford Union. He was remembered at Oxford as one of the best speakers ever.

He practiced law for many years in the Sri Lanka Bar and before the Privy Council in London. Later he became a President’s Counsel. The crowning glory of his legal career was when he was elected as an Honorary Master of Inner Temple of Great Britain in 1995. In its 496-year history, Kadirgamar was the second Asian to achieve this status after the former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahaman in 1974.

He gave up his flourishing legal career on behalf of the country on the request of the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and was the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1994-2000, 2001 and then again for the third time in 2004 until his assassination.

Lakshman Kadirgamar became the Foreign Minister during one of the most difficult periods of our recent history. His presence raised the image of the Government in the rest of the world as he was already acknowledged internationally. Since assuming office in 1994, he worked tirelessly to bring back dignity and recognition to our country. Kadirgamar is considered as one of the most successful foreign ministers Sri Lanka has had, due to his successful efforts in changing international opinion on Sri Lanka and the LTTE. His efforts in getting the LTTE listed as a terrorist organisation contributed to its ultimate defeat in 2009.

He projected his vision for a new Sri Lanka which went far beyond the parochial boundaries of race, caste, creed and religion. During his tenure as the foreign minister he undertook with much enthusiasm to restore the Jaffna Public Library.

He was instrumental in setting up the Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies to create an independent, multidisciplinary research institute, capable of analysing Sri Lanka’s strategic interests in the contemporary global environment.

It was renamed Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies after his demise.

Though he was a born Christian, he respected all religions. He brought a proposal to the UN to make the Vesak Day an international celebration day. He was a firm follower of all that was good and meaningful in other religious philosophies.

While being proud of his Tamil origins, he spoke of a Sri Lankan identity and fought on behalf of a country where all sections of our communities could think of themselves as Sri Lankans while maintaining their own ethnic identity. He believed in unity through diversity. During a BBC interview he was asked if he thought he was a traitor to the Tamil people since he was a minister in a Sinhalese dominated government.

He said “People who live in Sri Lanka are first and foremost Sri Lankans, then we have our race and religion, which is something given to us at birth. We have to live in Sri Lanka as Sri Lankans tolerating all races and religions.”

The writer is a Professor in Medicine at the University of Peradeniya.