Last week dozens of people boarding and getting off buses and trains in the Pettah were being literally forced to sign a petition against the UN Advisory Panel report. Asked if they had any idea what the report contained they shook their heads mutely. Placing their signature to a government petition was ok, a minor annoyance, “it doesn’t matter” they muttered in Sinhala before boarding their bus or train that would take them away, from a madness they little understood.
A reader wrote me an amusing account which encapsulates how little Sri Lanka’s public are aware of the contents of the UN panel report or who, even Ban Ki-moon is. He wrote how he was visiting a friend in Peliyagoda and while speaking to her in walked her domestic fondly referred to as “ammey” after her Sinhala New Year vacation. Pleased to see her she was asked how her children were and about the travel from her native place in Ulapane. She had replied her children were keeping fine and at the Fort Railway Station she was asked to sign a petition against “Moon Mahathaya.” Asked whether she knew who “Moon Mahathaya” was, she promptly replied, “Why he is our Moovin Amathi Thuma who is said to be behind the Kappan Kelliya at Peliyagoda Fish Market, also known to have tied a Samurdhi Niladhari to a tree and threatened us not to eat vegetables.” Hilarious. But this is the knowledge our ordinary people have on Ban Ki-moon’s panel report. Whatever it was, “Ammey” was overwhelmingly satisfied that she had signed a petition against a person known to her as “Moovin Amathi.” We can only hope that others too who signed will have the same justifiable satisfaction.
Whether the campaign, collecting signatures will have an effect is another matter for we have witnessed similar ones before, like for instance, Mr. Farce Unto Death, only to be resurrected after a prearranged offer of a glass of thambili water fed for the benefit of the cameras by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself.
It will be 28 years since Black July ‘83 – and nearly two years since the war ended… in a remote mangrove in the North.
And we are stuck with a government suffering from acute PARANOIA. Their knee jerk reaction to the UN Advisory Panel report is a case in point.
How else can anyone explain the continuing abduction of journalists (Prageeth Eknaligoda), attempting to reactivate the Press Council – which had no effect – and trying to reintroduce draconian laws against the media – by giving a fancy name like Media Development Authority.
How else does one explain a few thousand workers being mustered and ordered by the government to walk the streets today in protest against the UN Advisory Panel report which none of them have even read.
It is a comic situation. This effort will only result in further suppression of the freedom of movement and expression. Most elections are over – the presidential and general elections are over and won’t be held for another five years. But, yet when you switch the radio or TV on one gets the feeling that the President is being promoted, as if another presidential election is around the corner?
Government paranoia extends to the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order which launched a programme last year to register all citizens of Sri Lanka. Insisting the move would make Sri Lanka a safer place to live.
With this bogus objective in place the police and army were given unlimited powers to “flush out” any “suspicious” Tamils.
In her chequered history Sri Lanka has done this before. In the 1960s there was no violence but it was equally telling – a language issue was brought up which drove the Burgher community away. They left in droves to Australia and they have prospered. Sri Lanka has been the poorer for they were the binding force between communities. Yet, the nation shows no regret.
The Indian labourer who has contributed so much to our economy in the Hill Country and of course a few Chinese families were stateless for well over 50 years since independence. What a disgraceful indictment on a country that insists it is a thriving democracy. But hardly anyone cared.
When developed nations are moving to allow their citizens who are overseas to use their franchise at elections we moved to disenfranchise those who fled the North and East.
There is only one explanation for all of this. The current leadership of this country is suffering from an acute attack of PARANOIA.
Sooner than later the government will have to decide to call an end to trying to find the last of the LTTE cadres. Checkpoints will have to be dismantled and emergency rule ended. If the government for political reasons decides to continue the hunt for the remaining few cadres of the LTTE indefinitely, then reconciliation and economic development will be affected.
The government needs to consider the repercussions of over militarization. It will not only create an issue of massive cost but also take people out of productive work. At the same time if the North is made in to one big military garrison then reconciliation will be a non starter. Normalcy is when there are no uniformed armed soldiers on the streets and police is there only to maintain normal law and order.
The other danger for the government is when the very same people who praise them for the military victory, get disillusioned when there is no peace dividend in sight. People expect the economy to grow, jobs to be created, services to improve etcetera. What has been proven time and again in this country is that our people are an impatient lot. They will not wait for years for the peace dividend. Without the country returning to normalcy very quickly, this peace dividend will not materialise and the government may find itself in political trouble much sooner than they expect.
For decades now successive ruling parties have killed, harassed and intimidated journalists they did not like. In the last few decades no single political leader or political party whether in power right now or in opposition can claim otherwise. No political leader can claim that he or she took positive action when journalists were being murdered. They did nothing.
What is frightening is that all this happens when the ruling party is enjoying an unprecedented wave of popular support following the defeat of the LTTE. And more so with the Opposition in its usual apathy and state of mindless grovel, the government should have nothing to fear.
Imagine if you can, what the response of this government would be when it is not so popular and the Opposition gets its act together? One does not have to be an astrologer to predict that.
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