‘ Lakhan Mehrotra –diplomat with a healing touch’ – Susil Sirivardana

‘Former Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Lakhan Mehrotra, was an ideal diplomat who related to Sri Lanka with profound empathy and understanding. He was a great listener who epitomized the benchmark qualities of the consummate diplomat who is expected to carry out his functions with his eyes and ears open but with his mouth shut’, Susil Sirivardana, formerly of the SLAS and currently a writer and social analyst said.

Delivering a talk on Mehrotra’s recent book, ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ at the monthly forum of the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS) of the University of Colombo, held at the CCIS on Feb. 20, Sirivardana said that Mehrotra’s capacity to relate with insight and cordiality to the officials and the ordinary public of Sri Lanka, enabled India and Sri Lanka to unravel a crisis situation in their relations in the years, 1989-1990, when issues pertaining to the IPKF withdrawal brought severe strains into their ties.

Mehrotra was carefully handpicked by the Indian authorities and sent to Sri Lanka as a trouble shooter in those extremely difficult days of the late eighties, particularly in view of his great qualities of head and heart. It was he who helped ‘calm the waters’ when the then Lankan Prime Minister R. Premadasa made the most problematic and categorical demand, while campaigning for the Presidency in late 1989, that the IPKF be withdrawn from Sri Lanka by July 29, 1990. It was a most anxious time for Sri Lankans who kept wondering whether the breaking point in Indo-Lanka ties had been precipitated. They also wondered whether an armed confrontation was at hand. However, Mehrotra’s deft diplomacy enabled India and Sri Lanka to resolve their differences on this score, Sirivardana said. The IPKF withdrawal was completed by March 24, well before Premadasa’s unilateral deadline.

The book, ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ is a ‘mirror to civility.’ Its focus is the quiet and calm diplomacy of Mehrotra which exercised a healing influence on the main actors in the IPKF-related interaction between India and Sri Lanka. The book could be read at two levels – the Realpolitik and the civilizational, Sirivardana explained. At the first level is unraveled the people and events in the IPKF-linked drama and resultant crisis situation. At the second level is the civilizational ethos which the personality of Mehrotra brings into the developments of those times. That is, the values he inherited, cherished and practised helped heal the rift in the then troubled relations between India and Sri Lanka and brought about normalcy and stability in their ties.

The events at the heart of the book are related in very lucid English with a fine dramatic sense, Sirivardana said. The simplicity of style enables the reader to graphically visualize in his mind’s eye the unfolding dramatic events which constituted a crucial crossroads in Indo-Lanka relations.

The talk was presided over by the Director, CCIS, and Senior Lecturer, Department of Sinhala, University of Colombo, Dr. Sandagomi Coperahewa. (LO)

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