Does the present regime encourage lawlessness & promote political thuggery?
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
(The second coming – by W.B. Yeats – 1865 – 1939)
Considering the far too many incidents of violence and thuggery carried out recently with such impunity, one cannot blame the people if they raise this question. The government seems to rely heavily on thuggery and lawlessness to win elections and once in power to hold on to it. Any kind of protest or dissent is put down ruthlessly.
The election commissioner has complained that the police had ignored his orders issued just before the recent elections. Among those who violated election laws were several government ministers and officials he has said. Had the election laws been strictly enforced, perhaps Bharatha Lakshman Premachndra would be alive today and Duminda wouldn’t be in hospital. But then who cares? We are now quite used to turning a blind eye to all forms of thuggery unless it affects us personally. For instance when a Minister manhandled one of the parents at a school, he openly declared, “I am the thug, your MP and your minister” implying that no one had the right to question his actions or argue with him. The people seem to have meekly accepted this all too powerful minister’s authority to control their lives.
“The main suspect in the assassination of Sunday Leader editor (Lasantha Wickramathunga) died at the Colombo National Hospital last afternoon, the police said”. This is a simple newspaper report without any comments. But we know that Lasantha was killed in broad daylight while he was driving to work in January 2009. There were many who witnessed the crime. But even today 3 years after the murder the police investigation is heading nowhere. The case has been handed over to the Terrorism Investigations Department, and no suspects have been found. It was revealed earlier that Jesudasan and the army officers arrested could not be charged with murder or aiding and abetting murder. There was no evidence and everyone else was released but not Jesudasan. Today after 3 years in custody a ‘chest pain’ has released him. What was his crime and why was he kept in custody? No one seems to know or care. What the newspaper report said was that Jaesudasan was a garage owner from Nuwara Eliya. He was arrested after CID stated that he had purchased five SIM cards which were allegedly used by the killers using his national ID card. However despite investigations the CID was not able to unearth any further information following the lead. It would be very easy now to close the file because the one and only suspect is dead. It is ironic though that it is a man from a minority community who was used as a scapegoat to save the real murderers of Lasantha who sacrificed his life defending human rights and minority rights.
The murder of Bharatha Lakshman further exposes the depth of our moral degradation. “A belief in impunity lies at the heart of the Kollonawa killings; those who shot Premachandra repeatedly at point blank range in full public view believed they were above the law. Why else would they be unfettered by the presence of so many eye witnesses who can testify against them in a court of law?” asks a well known journalist. But the ordinary Sri Lanka knows that soon the powerful regime will prove beyond doubt that there were no eye witnesses and Duminda Silva was not involved in the murder. Premachandra’s driver, an eyewitness told BBC on 12.10.2011 “MP Duminda Silva fired at Mr. Premachandra after he fell down to the ground”. But two days later Director General of the Media Centre for National security told the same BBC that Parliamentarian Duminda Silva who was seen by the people as the chief accused is not a suspect at all! It is the government version that will finally prevail as in many cases and a scapegoat will soon be found. Just as the people accepted the Defense Secretary’s version of what happened during the final stages of the war-that not a single civilian was killed by the army, this ‘truth’ too could be accepted reminding us of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty four’. Some of the senior ministers have expressed their concern. One of them is reported to have said, “It is a shock that the incident that took place on 8th October happened under President Rajapakse’s government. We have to enforce the law against “the barbarians” who assassinated former parliamentarian and presidential advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and social justice needs to be put in place”. But this could be only a voice in the wilderness because the majority in parliament, including the opposition would want to protect and support this regime for their own survival in power. Thanks to the 18th Amendment which was passed in parliament with the support of the so called “Old Left” the president today is not only all powerful but also “infallible”. He can do no wrong.
The Defense Secretary is reported to have admitted that thugs are being used by politicians and he would introduce army personnel to keep a tab on such activities by political thugs. But the irony is that Duminda Silva, who is seen not only as the main suspect in the murder of Premachandra but also as a political thug and drug dealer is referred to as ‘Gota’s man’ by the President himself as reported in a newspaper. It is also reported that the Defense Secretary spent two hours at Sri Jayawardanapura hospital making all necessary arrangements for the security of the wounded Duminda. Patients going to this hospital say it now looks like an army camp. But there are the defenders of the regime who say the Defense Secretary would never have known about the underworld or weapons or any of this. The same minister (Rajitha Senaratne) goes on to say that Duminda though he has links with the underworld is a very very nice person. “He is pleasant, soft-spoken, smart and very gentle until he pulls out a gun. And at the moment he is not a suspect”. The point is drug dealers and underworld thugs have been used by politicians for a long time in their struggle for power, but the situation today is different. Drug dealers and underworld thugs themselves have directly entered parliament and other local government bodies. This truth was revealed by the prime Minister himself recently.
When the international community and the UN make allegations of human rights violations and war crimes, they are not attacking the Sri Lankan nation as a whole or the Sinhala people. They only hold the present Rajapakse regime accountable for these violations and demand an independent investigation because they realize how easily the regime covers up all crimes committed, like for instance the murder of Lasantha and many others. Therefore it would be foolish to call them “International vultures” hovering around our brave little Sri Lanka. What they are concerned about is the misuse of power by the present regime. When the same international community exposed the atrocities committed by the LTTE the Sri Lankan government accepted it as authentic. What’s different now?
Quite often the question is asked; “Do the Tamils really have any grievances?” Reams and reams have been written setting out their grievances starting from 1948 up-to-date, if anyone cares to read. It is not correct to say the LTTE suddenly sprang up from nowhere demanding a separate state and resorting to terrorism. How and why did the demand for a separate state arise and when and why did the Tamil youth take up arms? The answer to these questions would explain the grievances of the Tamils. Terrorism raised its head only in the 1980s, but why were the Tamils attacked in the 1950s and 1970s when there were Tamil leaders like Chelvananyagam and Amirthalingam who used no weapons, other than stayagraha? While terrorism cannot be justified on any grounds, the causes that led to terrorism must be understood, if an acceptable political solution to the ethnic problem is to be found.
The other question raised is “How can devolution of power solve the problems of the Tamils?” Devolving power to the provinces will help all the people living in the different provinces, not only the Tamils in the North and East. People living in the provinces will be able to monitor their own affairs. The needs of a village are best understood by the villagers themselves, not by the central government. Our parliamentarians have very little contact with the villages except during election times. If the village leaders are given the power and the resources to develop their villages, they would do a better job than the MPs, and it would certainly ease the tension in the areas occupied by Tamil speaking people. Power sharing through devolution is a must and so is power sharing at the centre which would prevent discriminatory laws being passed (e.g. The Sinhala only Act). Even today one hears TNA leader R.Sampanthan saying that the LTTE was created by successive governments which refused to ensure the linguistic and cultural rights of the Tamil people, although there were leaders like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayake who tried to do it but were not allowed to. The Tamil people did not create the Tigers, but they suffered at the hands of the Tigers and the Army. Now they deserve peace and freedom not forced development.
Today Sri Lanka lacks an effective opposition that can mobilize the people to protest against the abuse of power by the government. Instead we have a ‘permanent’ leader of the opposition who does not want a regime change. He seems to do everything possible to strengthen the regime while dividing and destroying his own party with the help of the government. It’s a great pity that the LSSP of N. M. Perea and Colvin R. de Silva has been reduced to a few spineless ‘intellectuals’ acting as advisors to the president. Our only hope is that the few journalists, activists, academics and members of civil society who have the courage to speak up will not join the vast silent majority. Many ‘intellectuals’ among the silent majority remain deaf dumb and blind, thus safeguarding their positions within the regime. They do not lack conviction, they are simply being opportunistic.