Petty politics

Neither the assassination of (Retired) Major-General Janaka Perera earlier this week, nor for that matter the deliberate scuttling of his funeral arrangements by the Government, really took the nation by surprise. But they happened
However ambitious he may have been - and ambition is no crime - the warrior's entry into active politics was a commendable act. His action was fraught with danger.

Just as he would often do in the war against the LTTE, he waded into the political battle-field, into the thick of things as it were. His induction at the recent North Central province elections proved that he had the confidence of the people when he won the most number of preferential votes. Much has been said about the security that he was surely entitled to, but not given. He was made to beg at every turn, and eventually it was the Supreme Court that afforded him some protection at least during the recent elections.

The Government has no excuses for the shabby treatment of the man who held his nerve and led his men when the Jaffna peninsula was on the verge of falling into LTTE hands in April 2000. Elephant Pass had just fallen, and 40,000 troops were under siege when this man inspired them with stirring speeches and exceptional leadership until reinforcement arrived by way of heavy artillery to prevent the fall of Jaffna.

His command at Welioya saw a major LTTE onslaught repulsed inflicting one of the biggest defeats on the enemy, both in cadres and morale. He won the kudos of the nation, but his successes were his own un-making. The political establishment was wary of such a successful General.

His entry into Opposition politics immediately turned him from Hero to Zero in the eyes of this Government. And the manner in which this Government treated him in life, and in death, (Please see adjoining political column) is nothing but a disgrace. One could, therefore, share the empathy of the honourable Prime Minister when he came to Parliament and said he tried to help in the funeral arrangements, and took the blame for whatever mishandling that had taken place.

To quote the poet Laurence Binyon in a poem often quoted in military circles; we might say of all fallen war heroes;

"They shall grow not old, As we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, Nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them".

The Opposition Leader quite rightly told Parliament, the conscience of Government leaders would prick them as the sun rises and sun sets each day on how they treated this particular war hero. When will we come of age as a nation, leaving aside parochial politics when it comes to national issues; and in the words of the Buddha pay homage to those who deserve homage.

She sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind

The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and the Minister of Defence at the time Major-General Janaka Perera was due, by virtue of seniority and merit, to become Commander of the Sri Lanka Army was President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Ours was no ceremonial Army at the time. We were, as we are now, at war with a deadly terrorist organisation. Instead of giving him the office he was entitled to, she sent him to Canberra as the Sri Lanka High Commissioner.

This week the Supreme Court delivered a stinging verdict on the former President's official conduct in a different matter. The court held her guilty of abuse of power and issued an additional fiat that she should be investigated by the Bribery and Corruption Commission.

As the court went deeper into what has come to be known as the Water's Edge case, it discovered more dirt. In the Water's Edge case, it was found that the former President had helped a family friend fill his pockets with state money, and in another case she was found to have given land belonging to the Sri Lankan people to her foreign male masseur.

It can certainly be said that former President Kumaratunga allowed her friends to make hay while the sun shone. The court drew attention to the negative effect of politicisation in the area of foreign investment, and said Sri Lanka should learn something from Singapore, the state that once looked up to Sri Lanka as a model.

The court emphasised the Doctrine of Public Trust, making a powerful statement, saying "actions being instituted against an incumbent President cannot indefinitely shield those who serve as President from punishment for violations made while in office, and as such, should not be a motivating factor for Presidents - present and future - to engage in corrupt practices or in abuse of their legitimate powers".

Those words should be a timely reminder.

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