astern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Ahamed should now be every chief minister’s envy. They hardly make news even when they try their personal best, perhaps except C.V. Wigneshwaran, the Northern CM for his own antics. CM Ahamed overnight broke ranks with that obscure lot to place himself at the centre of the news cycle. He is now by far the chief minister with the most YouTube views in his name after a video of him insulting a Naval officer at an official function at a school in Sampur went viral.
The defence ministry has now banned him from entering military camps and the security forces would not participate in events he would attend. The sensible way to diffuse the situation is, even now, for Nazeer Ahamed to apologize, which he has refused to do. Instead, he has condemned the ban and asked the security forces to apologize to him. Nor has his own party, SLMC thought it is worthy to discipline the CM. The danger is that his antics have created a situation that could be exploited by groups with vested interests, ranging from closeted bigots to newly baptised patriots. There were protests in Trincomalee against him and there is always a danger that they could degenerate to take a communal tone. The Defence Ministry directive would likely to be reviewed on the return of the President from Japan. If the CM and the security forces are at logger heads, not only would it complicate the administrative affairs, but also potentially threaten the ethnic relations. That he and the governor do not see eye to eye, as evident in his subsequent allegations, would not help either.
Political imperiousness has always been a problem, and the government has a responsibility to hold the Eastern Province CM accountable for his actions. How it can do that is the problem. It cannot sack the CM who is a SLMC member. The SLMC leadership who is struggling to keep the party together does not want any decision over the CM to aggravate their already dire predicament. After all, Sri Lankan politics does not have that honourable tradition of politicians resigning when they make asses of themselves.
Nonetheless, the government has to find means to hold him accountable. If he refuses to apologize, the least that could be done is that the Attorney General could file charges against him for obstructing a public official from carrying out his duties, or for that matter insulting him.If it chooses to hush things up, perhaps by following those old tactics – such as transferring to Colombo, the Navy Commanding officer of the East — that would only embolden the political thuggery. And it demoralizes not only the security forces, but also the entire public service. And there would be groups who would capitalize on the government’s mismanagement of the affair. Ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued a media statement, raising concerns over a mysterious pattern of incidents to ‘demoralize war heroes’. He perhaps forgot how he ordered the retirement of a dozen senior military officers over their alleged loyalty to the former Army Chief then General Fonseka, who was also cashiered and sentenced to prison.
While Sri Lanka has a history of political thuggery, MR is as guilty as many of his predecessors for perpetuating and cementing it. His regime went to the shameful length to shield a Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman who was accused of murdering a foreign national and sexually abusing his fiancée. Though the perpetrator was later jailed, by then the damage had been done to the image of the country’s legal system (though that was not the only incident which challenged the integrity of the judicial system during his regime, most glaring of them was the AG withdrawing the cases against politically connected suspects, including alleged child molesters). Then there was Mervyn Silva, who stormed the State television and assaulted a journalist. Silva was confronted by the enraged employees and forced to beat a humiliating retreat. MR, instead of disciplining his stooge, was livid that the employees at the State television choose to defend their colleague. That was followed by a series of mysterious attacks on the employees of Rupavahini, some were forced to flee the country.
The culture of impunity emboldened political thuggery. Mervyn Silva, then, tied up a Samurdhi officer to a tree and we are yet to know what that disciplinary committee of the SLFP-UPFA recommended against Mervyn Silva. When he was let go with a pat on his back, all the president’s men thought they were above the law. A NWP provincial councillor, Ananda Sarath Kumara forced a teacher to kneel after she allegedly disciplined his daughter. The politico was later fined and jailed, only after the powerful Teachers’ Union threatened trade union action. Rajapaksa goon and erstwhile loyalist Sajin Vas Gunawardena assaulted the then Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London Chris Nonis. Though MR might have dismissed it as a bar fight between two of his acolytes, Chris Nonis with his blooded face surely disagreed, he tendered his resignation. Given the recent history of political thuggery, the Eastern Province chief ministry might have thought it was his entitlement. The Navy, for a different reason, is likely to be over sensitive to the snub. The ex-President, as part of his strategy to consolidate his power, placed the security forces, at least their top brass, above the rule of law. The brigadier who oversaw the assault on the protesters at Rathupaswala was given a diplomatic posting. In any other civilized country, he would have been court-martialled. Thus the security forces should now feel not only that their old privileges have been taken away, they have also been humiliated. The Joint Opposition and BBS-types would try to capitalize on this sense of victim of the security forces. The government has to address those misperceptions before they become acute.
However, there is a marked contrast between ways the current government and its predecessor responded to the incidents of political thuggery and arrogance. The difference lies in the degree of responsiveness to the public concerns. Mervyn Silva could crow about in public meetings that he abducted and ‘broke the legs’ of Poddala Jayantha and still remained in the good books of the President. On the contrary, the Eastern CM should now be regretting for letting his ego to explode. That is the fundamental difference between the Yahapalanaya and its predecessor, sadly though there are inconsistencies (some ministers who insulted journalists remain untouched). Surely, the government cannot play the role of moral police over its members, who are grown-up men. It is also a little too late to instil public etiquettes in them. Therefore, it has to create some form of deterrence. As for the Eastern Province CM, the public condemnation might have done the trick.
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