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18th July 1999

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    Tear gas politics.

    Curious, and almost queer statements have been made after the clobbering of media personnel and others by the Police at an opposition rally against the Executive Presidency last week. If a Martian landed in Sri Lanka, and read these statements , he would probably have believed that the "UNP mob'' hurled tear gas at itself. The partisan politics of all this can only be galling to us, because it's our journalists who are laid up in bed at the National Hospital. To them statements and counter statements would sound absolutely puerile and disturbing because there is no need for anybody else to edify them on what happened at Town Hall. All they know is that the Police set upon them, clobbered them and fired tear gas missiles in their direction. This, without any provocation while they were engaged in their professional duty of covering a political event.

    A statement emanating from the cosy confines of the Presidential Secretariat after the event claimed that the Executive Presidency was the UNP's creation. This is from the same President who refers to the legislation that introduced the Executive Presidency as the "bahubootha JR viyawasthawa" ( .or the absurd JR Jayewardene constitution.) If that's the way she feels about the issue, it beats us how it makes sense for her to condone the clobbering of the media and the disruption of the rally , when in fact she should have been leading the demonstration against the "bahubootha constitution'' herself? The presidential logic certainly is puzzling, to say the least. We don't have to labour the point because it's a virtual certainty that the government and the President will learn sooner or later that antagonising the collective media will be the beginning of the end.

    We would have expected the state machinery to be somewhat contrite about the event, given that media personnel were caught up in the melee. Instead, the strategy has been to go for the hardsell and to blame it all on the UNP, a palpable falsehood to all the journalists who were there and who do not need any fresh lessons on what happened and how it happened.

    It displays a callous disregard for the truth and the sensibilities of professionals . That aside, it's true the Executive Presidency is the UNP's creation , but certainly the UNP didn't promise to abolish it. That among other things seems to confirm that this government is amnesic and perhaps hallucinatory too, about this whole contretemps.

    The co-word

    The dust seems to have settled in the recent dispute between India and Pakistan over the Line of control in Kargil. By all accounts, it appears that India scored a military and diplomatic victory over its traditional rival. Pakistan's efforts at intruding in Kargil and internationalising the Kashmir dispute in the process seems to have come a cropper.

    It's easy for us Sri Lankans to imagine how infuriated India was at the interference of Pakistani regular forces and extremist elements in Kargil. This empathy exists somewhat paradoxically because of our own experience with India's interference in the North of Sri Lanka in the past. India provided arms training, funding and diplomatic support for the Eelam separatist movement, and eventually it was Pakistan that came unreservedly to our rescue in a bad situation.

    Being the wiser from that experience , we urge for non interference in the Kashmir conflict, particularly as there is potential for Kashmir to flare up into a futile but explosive conflagration between these two nuclear powers. Non-interference and co existence therefore should be the credo of the big brother states north of us, both states being friendly states in alliance with us within the folds of SAARC. It was a great Indian who underlined the importance of co- existence, and his words ring truer today than when he uttered them. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the post independence Indian Prime Minister said the credo is that "either we co- exist or we co-perish.''


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