20 April 2014

One heck of a nation

Eraj Ravindra Fernando is one heck of a politician.  Following the incident in Hambantota where a set of UNP parliamentarians were attacked by a mob, Fernando, captured on camera with pistol in hand made a series of statements.  First he said he didn’t have a gun and that he had come to protect the said parliamentarians. Then he said it was a toy gun that he carried.  Finally, he said he was instructed to go to Magampura, where it all happened, by UPFA Member of Parliament Namal Rajapaksa.  Rajapaksa has since denied he gave any such direction.

The Headquarters Inspector of Hambantota, Anura Chandrapala, is one heck of a police officer. He claims that the rotten egg attack was directed not at the UNP MPs but at a journalist.  He says further that the issue has been blown out of proportion implying that it was a minor incident where some people booed the said MPs. 

The ‘spin’ is that the mob was made of people loyal to UNP MP Sajith Premadasa, their complaint being that the visiting colleagues of Mr Premadasa had not helped their boss during the election campaign.  That’s hogwash. 

The truth is that the UNP MPs were manhandled. The truth is that the bus they and some journalists were traveling was attacked. The truth is that the police did nothing to stop the mob.  The truth is that the police ignored the MPs when they requested help.  The truth is that this had nothing to do with intra party animosities or disappointments.  The truth is that Eraj Fernando’s various statements make him look like a clown. He had no business to be brandishing a gun.  Claiming it was a toy turns slip into a flat-on-face fall.  Egg on the face to boot, one might add. 

What do we make of all this?

First of all, it is a positive development that the UNP has decided to get out of its comfort zone.  The responsibility of the opposition is something more than firing off media releases.  Checking on the government’s signature projects is a start and a good one too.  To be fair, the relevant officials had not been uncooperative.  That’s a good sign too.  It is still a long way from the Mattalas and Mahampuras to the hearts and minds of ordinary folk of course, but these MPs deserve applause for their initiative. 

Secondly, we have a local politician operating either on his own steam or as per instructions.  Either way, he’s out of order.  Indeed, if it is the former then the issue is bigger than the errant politician. It means that he felt this was the right thing to do, this was what would please his superiors and this was a necessary condition for political betterment.  Where did that ‘lesson’ come from?  It could only come from indulgence on the part of the party bigwigs when there were similar or worse transgressions.

Mervin Silva’s antics are too numerous to mention in full, but Eraj seems to have been wrought from the same mould.  Duminda Silva is another politician of the ruling party ever ready to whip out a pistol and flex his muscles.  The UPFA doesn’t seem to know the word ‘discipline’ or the concept ‘party discipline’.  The best that Susil Premajayantha can do when queried is to say ‘we will conduct an inquiry’.  It is doubtful whether the UPFA has ever conducted any such inquiry into the misconduct of its high profile members.  

Finally, there’s the police.  There’s ample footage showing police officers twiddling their thumbs while a loud mouthed thug ran riot right under their noses.  The very fact that Eraj Fernando can arrogate upon himself the responsibility (as he claimed) maintaining law and order shows that the police is absolutely impotent.  Inaction is one thing, but there are allegations of collusion too.  That’s more serious, obviously.

Karu Jayasuriya says that these kinds of acts give credence to the kinds of charges leveled against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.  That’s stretching it a bit, but then again the government is certainly not covering itself in glory by giving the green light for thugs like Fernando to create situations and resolve them too in an as-you-like-it manner. 

The bottom line is that the nexus between politician and law enforcer is unhealthy.  Worse, it is an inevitability that flows from the current constitutional arrangement.   We have Mervin and Duminda. We have Eraj.  None of them are aberrations of nature. They are all products of specific institutional flaws.  That said, culpability cannot be laid at the door of ‘institution’; it rests squarely on those empowered to correct flaw. Need we add that they don’t lack the necessary numbers in Parliament to do so?  Should we not conclude that it is not inability but lack of will? 

Yes, we have one heck of a constitution, one heck of a government and one heck of an opposition.  We are, therefore, one heck of a people.