By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“A foul, dishonourable crew” Giaccomo Leopardi (To Angelo Mai III)
In the Rajapaksa Security State, insecurity is the common condition of the rest of us
Impunity makes jungles out of civilised societies, where the big and the powerful prey on those smaller and weaker, at will. In such lawless-states, violent death can befall any citizen who incurs the ire of someone stronger. When governance is criminalised, all are unsafe, from beggars to Presidential advisors
Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra was a veteran SLFPer. During Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency, Premachandra was that rare thing – a Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalist. In those long, lean years, while Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were pursuing the American Dream, Premachandra backed Rajapaksa openly, incurring presidential-wrath in consequence.
Then Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidency, and his family took over. Basil Rajapaksa claimed Gampaha as his fiefdom; Gotabhaya Rajapaksa appropriated Colombo as his dominion; and Namal Rajapaksa began his own creeping-invasion of the SLFP through Tharunyata Hetak and Nil Balakaya.
The Rajapaksa dynastic project requires a remoulded SLFP. Creating a new breed of politician whose primary loyalty is not to the party but to the Ruling Family is central to this task. Newcomers, who lack a politico-electoral base within the SLFP and thus are abjectly-dependent on the Siblings for their political-lives, are ideally suited to this purpose. UNP defectors such as Milinda Moragoda and Duminda Silva and political-neophytes such as Sachin Vas Gunawardane all belong in this category.
Duminda Silva epitomises this ‘New Rajapaksa-man’, who can act with impunity, so long as he abides by the iron-rule of unquestioning subservience to the Ruling Family. During his tenure as a UNP provincial councillor he rapidly made a name for unruly and criminal conduct.
Apart from being indicted for sexually-abusing a minor, he was arrested for other criminal deeds. In 2004 he was indicted for abduction and on four other counts; the main witness, Roger Allen Francis told the court that, “he was abducted by the accused, Silva, and his armed gang, demanding that his daughter be sent to him” (Sri Lanka News First – 5.9.2008).
In 2006 he was remanded for assaulting Provincial Minister Hector Bethmage, and remanded again for causing “injuries to an American woman sailor and assaulting two other American security officers of the US Embassy at a night club” (Daily News – 6.6.2006).
Despite this unblemished record of criminal-conduct, Silva was tolerated by the UNP and welcomed by the SLFP. Post-defection, he became a favoured-acolyte of the Rajapaksa Siblings. The charges against him were withdrawn by the AG and he was named the ‘monitoring MP’ of the Defence Ministry. Obviously the Siblings were aware of the ilk of the man they appointed to such a sensitive position. Equally obviously for the Siblings, Silva’s criminal conduct was a matter of negligible import; so long as he was servile to them, he could act as he wished towards others.
The feud between Premachandra and Silva was thus more than a political-turf war over Kollonnawa. It was a manifestation of the silent-contestation between the pre-Rajapaksa SLFP and the Rajapaksa SLFP.
As the Rajapaksas consolidated their stranglehold over the state and the government, the power of the likes of Duminda Silva within the SLFP began to grow, at the expense of old-timers such as Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. The Rajapaksas in power desire servile-acolytes, not loyal allies.
According to his family, Premachandra believed his life was in danger and complained to the authorities about it. His sister also wrote to the Speaker, asking protection for her brother. But the power-wielders were indifferent and the police, consequently, apathetic.
Perhaps this lackadaisical response emboldened his rival. Because a belief in impunity lies at the heart of the Kolonnawa 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?
According to the testimony of Premachandra’s driver, “MP Duminda Silva fired at Mr. Premachandra after he fell down to the ground” (BBC – 12.10.2011). Rationally, Silva cannot be faulted for thinking that so long as he kowtowed to the Siblings, he could get away with blue-murder.
After all, the AG did withdraw two very serious charges against him and he was anointed as the ‘monitoring MP’ to the Defence Ministry. And the police are yet to move against him, despite the eye-witness testimony, though a less-favoured citizen would have been placed under arrest, even if he/she was dying. Perhaps Silva’s implicit faith in his political-masters is well-founded?
In one of his final speeches, Premachandra speaks of the threats to him and his supporters. Quoting Pastor Niemöller passionately, albeit inaccurately, he sounds a warning to fellow-SLFPers: “This shadow of death will someday come to their doorstep. I am telling you. Beware!” (www.colombotelegrpah.com).
It is an oddly prescient remark, a warning any SLFPer unwilling to become a Rajapaksa-cipher should heed. Because if the Rajapaksas are not restrained, there will be other Duminda Silvas, and therefore other Bhraratha Lakshman Premachandras
Recently, TULF leader V. Anandasangaree (whose anti-Tiger credentials are impeccable) protested to President Rajapaksa about the regime’s plans to launch a land-registration drive in the North.
Itemising the inappositeness of such a move in a province still reeling from war-ravages, he warned that “the people who had lost almost all their possessions are now scared that they will lose more under this scheme”. Obviously the Northern Tamils fear that this registration drive is an attempt by the state to use the post-war confusion to grab their traditional lands.
It is a reasonable fear, given the regime’s land-grabbing activities in the South. The latest such case is from Anuradhapura: “Residents of Palmadullagama say that they have been severely inconvenienced after their traditional farming lands were taken over by the state
They question the justice of these lands being taken over by the government and being used for development initiatives… Meanwhile, huts that had been built in Chenas in the Udaththawa (Hasalaka), have been burnt to the ground” (News First – 12.10.2011).
Impunity respects no boundaries, geographic, ethno-religious or political. So Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra met the same fate as the beggars murdered in Kelaniya and innumerable victims of custodial-killings.
The Sinhala peasants of Anuradhapura and the Tamil peasants of the North are to be dispossessed of their lands. The rest of us too will experience the ravages of this cancer; no citizen is safe when the Rule of Law is replaced by the law-of-the-rulers.
So the UPFA lost Colombo, despite the no-holds-barred campaign by all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, plus the King’s family and the King himself.
Colombo’s poor know of the Rajapaksas’ plan to evict them from their homes and Colombo’s citizens are arguably better informed than their counterparts elsewhere and thus more aware of Rajapaksa crimes and misdeeds. This confluence of economic and governance issues prevented a Rajapaksa-victory in Colombo, despite a weakened and fractured opposition.
But if the opposition fails to unite to prevent mass-evictions and defeat the anti-democratic Colombo Corporation plan, this victory may be its swan-song.