No sooner had the government won the budget vote than its goons attacked two buses carrying UNP supporters after the party`s convention in Gampaha on Sunday. The UNP has complained to the police that a group of its activists engaged in putting up flags were also set upon and over 200 flag posts forcibly removed. Is this the way the government is celebrating its victory? Those dastardly attacks must be condemned unreservedly!
The UNP has identified the assailants and one is said to be a goon working for a ministerial thug. The police claim an investigation is underway but it will certainly be hushed up unless adequate pressure is brought to bear on the government. How would the police have acted if the victims had been government supporters? If so, the attackers would have been captured and hauled up before the courts in record time. Yesterday, we reported the police had taken the trouble of disguising themselves as telecom workers to gain entry to Reuter Photojournalist Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi`s house to question his wife on his contacts. The Kiribathgoda Police recently summoned one of our senior journalists over a report that money had been forcibly obtained for a religious function by a gang with political patronage. The usual practice is for the police to contact the Editor concerned and not summon reporters. However, the police got cold feet later, obfuscated the issue and apparently dropped it. Why do the police lack such high octane performance when the Opposition activists are attacked and their property destroyed or looted? By the way, what has become of the investigation into the burning of the Sunday Leader press?
Yesterday, UNP stalwart and parliamentarian Sarchchandra Rajakaruna appeared on TV condemning the attack in Gampaha and urging the police to act swiftly to bring the culprits to book. The old faces in the UNP always remind a political commentator of the massive boost that the culture of political violence got in the 1980s and in the early 1990s. Did the UNP leaders do anything about it then?
The Mahara by-election of 1983?in the Gampaha District?opened a new low in Sri Lankan politics. The Opposition fielded its most popular candidate Vijaya Kumaratunga, while Kamalawarna Jayakody entered the fray from the UNP. The present-day UNP leaders were in charge of the then government`s campaign and violence against the Opposition knew no bounds. Vijaya was roughed up and his supporters beaten by the notorious criminal Gonawala Sunil and his men working full-time for the JRJ government. An attempt was made to physically eliminate Vijaya and one of his friends was killed. That election was rigged to the hilt as orders had come from the very top to defeat Vijaya `by hook or by crook`.
Vijaya won in the first round of counting and a second round was ordered. Then there occurred the infamous blackout at the counting centre and by the time electricity was restored, Vijaya had lost by a few votes. The Opposition insisted that someone had literally eaten several of Vijaya`s votes to ensure Jayakody`s victory!
Political violence has developed into a vicious cycle with successive governments having made no serious attempt to break it. Usually, those who condemn it and vow to stamp it out become worse perpetrators upon being voted to power.
The best example was President Chandrika Kumaratunga. She promised to eliminate the twin evil, dooshanaya and beeshanaya (corruption and violence). But, it was under her watch that the country had the worst election?the North-Western Provincial Council election of 1999, where she put her confidant and the then Minister Mangala Samaraweera in charge of the government campaign. UNP activists including women were stripped naked and paraded on roads and the election was turned into a looting of votes! Voters were chased away and ballot boxes stuffed under the nose of the Police. Both Chandrika and Mangala are today backing the UNP!
President Mahinda Rajapaksa played the role of a lay preacher during his election campaign in 2005. He quoted Arahant Mahinda and promised to be the guardian of the land, its people and fauna and flora. He said he would rule the country according to dasaraja dhamma (principles of good governance the Buddha preached to kings). But, today, the goons of his government including ministerial wild buffaloes are using the Opposition as a punching bag. (During a recent vote on financial bills, the government MPs assaulted an Opposition MP behind the Speaker`s seat. He later complained his assailants hadn`t even spared his private parts. Today, he is in the government as a minister! Mahinda Ratnathilake is his name. )
President Rajapaksa was himself a campaigner against oppression during the Premadasa regime. He held many well-attended protest campaigns like the Human Chain, Jana Gosha and Pada Yathra. His failure to rein in his violent parliamentarians and their goon squads has not only given the lie to his commitment to dasaraja dhamma but also dented his democratic credentials very badly. Has he lost control over them or is he turning a blind eye to their violent campaign to intimidate the Opposition into submission?
The President cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for the freedom of the wild ass his party men are enjoying and the attendant violence. It is not only the northern terrorism that needs to be countered. Violence against civilians attending a rally of a democratic political party is also terrorism, which must be stamped out.