It began in the rural villages, but now it is the 'talk of the town'. Even foreign television channels felt it worthy of reporting -- the 'Grease Yaka' or Grease Demon phenomenon gripping the attention of many throughout the country.
Dismissed earlier as one of those weird rumours in a country now bored without war-related news, the incidents that followed, however, took a frightening and even deadly twist.
The situation was so serious that in some towns like Puttalam, Batticaloa, Pottuvil, Mannar and Jaffna, the Army had to be called in under Emergency Regulations. So much so that it gave rise to speculation that the entire exercise was orchestrated by the military, disgruntled that their powers were to be whittled down by the impending relaxation of the State of Emergency.
Unfortunately, neither the Government, nor its internal security arm, the Police Department, has so far given a clear picture of who may be behind these almost synchronized incidents taking place mainly in the North, East, Central and North western Provinces. The incidents have come close to triggering inter-communal disharmony, all over again. Such was the hype that some Government politicians who tend to see an enemy behind every bush, felt it was an 'international conspiracy'.
The whole episode, still not over, reflects poorly on the law enforcement agencies of the state. As we celebrated the 145th Police Day yesterday, a retired DIG of the old school reflects on what ails the once proud service. Having got accustomed to being 'at ease' in their stations and going out only for traffic duty or VIP protection during the 'war' years, using the 'war' as a convenient excuse to stop their routine duties, the Police have failed to resume their normal services to the people. Public relations have completely broken down, though hopefully, not irreversibly.
The crisis at the Free Trade Zone recently was a classic example where the Police capitulated and the Army had to be called in to restore law and order. The people, feeling they have no alternative at times, take the law into their own hands as public confidence in the Police has withered.
The OIC of a station no longer expects to catch the eye of his top brass by cracking a case and having the details reported in the local media. Information now is distilled and channelled through the Police Spokesman at Headquarters. Promotions are anyway now the prerogative of the politicians and the police officer has to seek their blessings for his upward mobility in the service rather than look after his 'beat'.
At a different level, the Attorney General's Department has fallen to the dumps requiring a major injection of public confidence in its own work. Recent discharges relating to alleged murderers, rapists and fraudsters - all politically related, and car importers from paying Customs fines etc., due to 'other considerations', have eroded public confidence in the entire law enforcement process. The judiciary remains the last bastion to fall.
As the country limps towards a demilitarized state, hopefully, it is of crucial importance that the one arm from which the Government's writ runs throughout the country be brought back to its original state: that of a de-politicised Police service. Inaction will only lead to more unease and unrest, and the role of the Army having to be redefined. That all this comes at a time when terrorism has been defeated is what is disturbing.
Kachchativu belongs to Sri Lanka
Indo-Sri Lanka relations have long had a bumpy ride; the highs and the lows; the pot holes and the smooth surfaces; from India's flagrant sponsorship of terrorism and the separatist movement in Sri Lanka to its eventual nudge to liquidate the LTTE in recent times.
Now, new issues have arisen, ranging from infrastructure development in post-war Sri Lanka; India gaining a firm foothold in North Sri Lanka and real concerns over China's increasing involvement in this country's future, among other issues. The recent development of Sri Lankan minority parties making a pilgrimage to consult New Delhi and air their woes is bad enough, but the move smacked afresh of India's treatment of its southern neighbour as a satellite state, a fiefdom.
This week, however, one significant feature of this fluctuating relationship was India's assertion that the islet of Kachchativu situated in the Gulf of Mannar between the two countries belonged to Sri Lanka, period. India's External Affairs Minister laid to rest months of continuing agitation in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, led by none other than the state's Chief Minister that the issue of Kachchativu's sovereignty be revisited.
It was a welcome statement even though the Sri Lankan Government has not officially reacted to it; probably on the basis that it was not merely a statement of fact, but a statement of the obvious. The agreement to grant the title of 'Kach' to Sri Lanka was not only signed jointly by the then Prime Ministers of the two countries in 1974 and the documents tabled in the respective Parliaments, but it followed intense discussions over several years.
Setting the record straight, however, is not the end of the problems surrounding the placid waters of 'Kach'. The issue of poaching and claims from the Indian side that there exist 'historical fishing rights' in the area surrounding the islet, a euphemism for allowing Tamil Nadu fishermen to poach in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka, remain an issue that will surely resurface in the continuing friction between the two countries.
But at least one must be thankful to the Central Government of India for educating the Tamil Nadu political leaders on the issue of the sovereignty over Kachchativu, and asking the cacophony of voices that called for the issue to be revisited, to shut up.