ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39
Columns - Political Column  

JVP-UNP in battle over India

  • Somawansa warns of boycott of Indian goods, but Ranil rushes to New Delhi's defence
  • Big Rajapaksa family show at Tissa provokes criticism of carnival amidst war
  • Major controversy and questions as to why Bribery Chief was removed

By Our Political Editor

JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe addressing the Anuradhapura rally. Pic by Athula Bandara

The ongoing Eelam War IV notwithstanding, some 1,800 policemen and 800 soldiers were deployed to provide security to a gala event, the Carlton Motocross, in the southern city of Tissamaharama for three days beginning February 15.A sprawling 485-acre farmland became a racing track for motor cars and the venue of an exhibition for the Motocross.

The highlight was the stalls that represented the military depicting their weaponry and achievements in the war against Tiger guerrillas. They were transported to the venue after being hurriedly dismantled from the Deyata Kirula (meaning Crowning Glory of the Nation) exhibition at the BMICH in Colombo. If he were living, even the late King Kavantissa, father of Dutugemunu and Saddhatissa, who ruled the southern Kingdom of Ruhuna, would have pondered. Tisa Wewa, the lake he built to help farmers cultivate their land, was the venue for water sports. Last Sunday, the final day, more than 250,000 people attended the events.

The name for the gala event, Carlton Motocross, derives from the private residence long occupied by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in nearby Tangalle. The prime mover behind the show was his son Namal. The chief guest was Shashindra Rajapaksa, Private Secretary to the President. More importantly, he is the Basnayake Nilame of the Ruhunu Maha Katharagama Devale. Both military and police top brass attended the event during the three days. Though President Rajapaksa was due to attend, he had cancelled it on grounds of security.

The key players who organised and took part in the event, no doubt, gave it a family flavour. Detractors of the Carlton Motocross called it a "family affair," and a "carnival in the midst of a war." They said such an extravagant tamasha, when troops were battling to defeat Tiger guerrillas, was an exercise in blatant waste of public funds. Some also viewed it as an exercise to boost the family's image at state expense.

Protagonists of the event, however debatable it is, had a thought-provoking reason. Even if it was not publicised, the Tiger guerrilla attacks on civilians near Buttala, had led to a fear psychosis among people in the area. Some feared tilling their paddy fields. Others spent the nights in temples or community centres as the marauding Tiger roamed almost at will. Worse enough, attendance of devotees to Kataragama Devale, Kiri Vehera and Sella Kataragama dropped to worrying levels. Hence, Carlton Motorcross was held. Appropriately, the Basnayake Nilame was the chief guest. The event did generate public enthusiasm and to some extent lessened the fear psychosis that had gripped the region in recent times.

But that feel-good factor was to last only two days. On the third and final day, the Navam Full Moon Poya on Wednesday, Tiger guerrillas struck again. They ambushed an Army route clearing patrol at Dambakotte on the Kataragama-Buttala Road. Three soldiers died on the spot. On the opposite page, our Defence Correspondent deals with details of the incident. It occurred only a short distance away from Galge where Tiger guerrillas had earlier attacked Army patrols. The fact that the attackers got away has once again re-ignited, to some extent, the fear psychosis among the public in the area. In the three days that followed, the flow of devotees to the sacred temples in Kataragama dropped once again.

It has again caused serious concern to the political establishment. Whilst the Army launched a search operation in the area, Government leaders were examining what other measures should be taken immediately to prevent a deterioration of the situation. One such measure is the conduct of a special Pooja in Kataragama attended by several dignitaries to which a larger public turnout is to be sought. The cycle of events, only underscore the complexities of a guerrilla war and the futility of ad hoc measures, without a cohesive plan, to counter it.

This week, it is in this backdrop that the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has to contend with issues on a number of fronts. His proposal to implement provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, as a means of resolving the ethnic conflict, saw the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) launch an anti-India campaign in Anuradhapura last Monday.

JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe was to warn that if "India gets involved in the country's problems" his party would launch a campaign to call upon people to boycott their goods - a grisly reminder of the JVP's ruthless campaign in the 1987-89 period when they engaged in just such a campaign against the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of the time. He said the JVP will not allow the implementation of that Agreement.

Amerasinghe said "the Mahinda Chinthanaya" (Mahinda's Vision) -- the election pledges ahead of presidential polls in November 2005 -- does not mention anything about devolution of power. If there is any reference, we challenge the Government to show it to the public. The JVP is calling upon the Government to restore democracy. We want the Government to introduce a solution which is acceptable to everyone, not one that divides the country. President Rajapaksa does not have a mandate to introduce any proposal that will lead to the division of the country."

Amerasinghe charged that under the pretext of devolving power, President Rajapaksa was giving way for "Indian expansionism." This is what is behind the moves to set up an Interim Council for the North. "We cannot allow that to happen. The JVP will campaign against it," he said. Students of contemporary political history will recall that one of the five lessons taught to original JVP cadres of the 1971 insurgency, of which Amerasinghe is the only leader alive today, was 'Indian expansionism'.

Amerasinghe asked "who is our enemy?" and went on to provide the answer. He said "First it was Norway and thereafter Brussels, the European Union, Washington, Tokyo and other Western countries. They acted against us openly. There is another hidden enemy. That is New Delhi." He charged the opposition United National Party and various NGOs were helping these enemies.

He said the people have not given a mandate to change Mahinda Chinthanaya. They had given a mandate to defeat terrorism. That task was being carried out by the soldiers and was the only correct thing that was being done by the Government. All other areas like food prices and economic issues have worsened and there were no solutions to them from the Government. The public was tolerating these issues because the heroic soldiers were making great sacrifices. How the Government can therefore talk about devolution proposals, he queried. It was a joke to call the Tissa Vitharana proposals an All-Party proposal since the main opposition UNP, the JVP and other parties were out of it. "There are only "three-wheeler" parties that were supporting it. It was his lust to remain in power that Mahinda Rajapaksa is pursuing these proposals, the JVP leader said in direct criticism of the President.

Amerasinghe went on to say; "today the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government is involved in nepotism. Advisors, secretaries and chairmen were appointed to various institutions and they have been accused of corruption. This is not why we supported Rajapaksa."

JVP parliamentary Group leader and propaganda secretary, Wimal Weerawansa added to the criticism: "The Government has submitted an interim proposal due to pressure, mainly from India. Both India and Western countries do not like to see stability in Sri Lanka. When Operation Liberation was under way in Vadamaratchchi, the Indians air dropped food and forced the late President J.R. Jayewardene to sign the Indo-Lanka peace accord. India does not like to see the LTTE is in full control, but equally it does not want the government to be in full control. India and other western powers are prompting separatism in a different way."

Utterances in Anuradhapura by JVP leaders were to have their sequel at a Parliamentary Group meeting of the UNP in the Parliament complex. Kotte UNP parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake raised issue over the matter and declared that "the JVP cannot be allowed to go on maligning India, a friendly neighbour." He said they were carrying out a slanderous campaign against a friendly neighbour who has always stood for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. The remarks drew a stinging statement from Wickremesinghe. "When they want to flee Sri Lanka through India, they were good for the JVP. But now, when India is not dancing to their tune, they are our worst enemies."

The UNP and Opposition leader was alluding to the exit of Somawansa Amerasinghe through India to Britain at the height of the crackdown on the JVP insurgency in 1989. Wickremesinghe urged Karunanayake to raise the matter in the House. He did so with more stinging remarks on the JVP. He said they could only "bark" against India but had "no bite in them." He said the UNP as a party would protect their friend India and urged the JVP to desist from carrying out their "vicious" campaign.

It was ironic, that though the JVP targeted the Rajapaksa administration for its cosiness to India via the 13th Amendment, it was the opposition UNP that came to the defence of India.

Wickremesinghe also told the Parliamentary Group that the opposition should continue to mount pressure on President Rajapaksa to appoint the Constitutional Council. Here, the UNP and the JVP joined hands in attacking the Government for the delay in appointing the Constitutional Council that will be responsible for the appointment of those who will serve in the appellate courts, and the top jobs in the police, public service, elections commission and the bribery and corruption commission.

On an earlier occasion recently, when the UNP broached the subject, the JVP had remained significantly silent, but this week, Weerawansa joined the chorus of voices from the UNP benches demanding the appointment of the Constitutional Council, instead of the Presidential appointments that are being witnessed these days to these very same e top posts.

Wickremesinghe also said they should continue with the campaign against Government's tolerance of corruption. He said he would speak to MPs during a two-day seminar in Kalutara to formulate a national policy.

This national policy is to be the instrument for the National Congress (both UNP and SLFP-Mangala faction) to pursue its activities. A public campaign to formulate such a policy will be inaugurated in Colombo on March 5 by leaders of the National Congress. Then, a district level national consultation process is to follow. The final document containing the national policy will be adopted at a national convention at the Sugathadasa Stadium in May attended by some 15,000 delegates.

Another issue on which the Government has earned widespread criticism is the sudden removal of Piyasena Ranasinghe, the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption. Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Thursday Ranasinghe had been removed since he was spearheading investigations into the controversial MiG-27 procurement deal from Ukraine as well the probe into corrupt and irregular activities highlighted by the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

Two years ago, Ranasinghe was the subject of a muted controversy within the higher echelons of the Navy. This was after he addressed a seminar on bribery and corruption for officers and men of the Navy at the Dockyard in Trincomalee, headquarters of the Eastern Naval Area. Then Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, had extended him a rare privilege - a stay with his family at the plush Navy House, usually reserved for some Cabinet Ministers and the President. He and his family had also been escorted in naval vessels on rides in the seas off Trincomalee. At that time, both senior Navy and Commission officials insisted that Ranasinghe had not committed any irregularity or was responsible for any wrongdoing.

The Sunday Times has learnt that one of the major reasons for Ranasinghe's sudden removal has not yet become public. He has been chasing what one authoritative source described as 'very big whales' and not just the 'big sharks'. At least in one instance, the target concerned was not only enormously rich but wielded both influence and power, said a source declining to elaborate any further. Separate reports say that Ranasinghe was a victim of a campaign by a former Public Trustee who had been investigated by the Bribery Commission.

There were counter reports too. They said that Ranasinghe had teamed up with one of the Commissioner's and become a law unto himself keeping other Commissioners in the dark. These reports add that he had been instrumental in 'grilling' an eminent Professor over funds allegedly misappropriated over the Cultural Triangle Fund, a UNESCO sponsored project.

Ranasinghe was given no notice when the President's Office removed him from the post and brought him to the Presidential Secretariat. When he reported for duty, he didn't even have a desk to sit at.

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