Neelan Tiruchelvam, lawyer, intellectual, Member of Parliament, and friend was murdered by a suicide bomber just after 9.00 am on 29 July in Colombo’s Kynsey Terrace not too far away from his home and office. His death marked yet another senseless episode in the unfolding tragedy in Sri Lanka that no longer can simply be defined as an inter-ethnic conflict between the Sinhalas and the Tamils. It has become a power play between the armed forces of the most recent of the visionless post-independent regimes and the fascist suicidal nationalism of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).
Unlike many individuals who were lost and exasperated in the midst of this chaos, Neelan Tiruchelvam brought much needed hope and vision to the country’s political sphere. In a way, that was the result of his academic background combined with the sheer weight of his convincing personality. Neelan Tiruchelvam was also a reluctant politician and certainly an odd man out in the midst of today’s violent politics in Sri Lanka. He was in politics because he thought that he could bring some sense and direction into that field of activity which had lost both sense and direction.
Being a man of peace, he never got used to and constantly felt uncomfortable with the security arrangements that were around him. Ironically however, on numerous occasions many Sinhala nationalists called him an LTTE sympathiser and branded the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo which he headed, an LTTE front. It is then much more than a tragedy when he had to pay with his own life to prove such individuals wrong.
In the long run, I wish that he had used his training at Harvard and his vast experience to remain in intellectual life and legal practice, keeping a reasonable distance from a politics that had lost all purpose. If so, in the midst of all this chaos, I would still have had a friend, even though as a country we may still be headed for self-destruction.