Prosecute, but don’t persecute


By Rohana R. Wasala

Listening to the Adaderana TV 8 pm/May 25 news bulletin the next day (May 26) on the internet, I was shocked and saddened by the unjustness, the irrationality, and the insensitivity of what prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe (whom I always respect as a decent and cultured person) was reported saying from his official residence Temple Trees about former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s casual remarks in connection with public protests following the recent gang rape and murder of an 18 year old girl in Jaffna. Mr Wickremasinghe accused the former president, among other things (which were incoherent to me), of trying to capitalize on the said abominable crime for staging a counter-revolution (prativiplavayak); he said that ‘Mr Rajapaksa and his regime’ if returned to power next time will include the right to rape in the constitution; he suggested that they should apologize to all women about this. In another source, I read that what Mr Rajapaksa actually said was that considering the current situation there, the government should investigate the incidents. We don’t see anything wrong in that. !". Mr Rajapaksa is a man of feeling and great humanity. He has demonstrated that he is not vindictive, though people may falsely claim that he is.

Relentless persecution of persons out of visceral hatred is not the same as legitimate prosecution of those individuals on the basis of plausible allegations, if any, against them. To all appearances what is now happening is the former. But the common people are waiting for the powers that be to expedite the latter process. If those accused are found guilty of the alleged offences, then by way of consolation we can only sing "Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time". However, we still feel that the Rajapakses who put themselves in the firing line for the sake of the country should not be treated as common criminals simply on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. They should not be denied the benefit of the doubt until proven guilty.

Honestly, no Sri Lankan executive can do more than Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa did for the Tamils and other communities while consolidating the normalcy he brought to the whole country without endangering national security. He ended armed terrorism and unified the country which had been virtually divided. Like Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa the ‘commoner’ who came to hold executive office before him, Rajapaksa inherited a country politically destabilized by terrorism. When the latter was elected president in 2005, not only was the country on the verge of being dismembered, it was also on the brink of economic collapse. The 2005 to 2015 decade, for almost the whole of which Mr Rajapaksa was at the helm, saw a total reversal of this situation. Terrorism has been ended; and according to Mr K.M. Mahinda Siriwardana, Director of Economic Research, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, this year (2015) the GDP growth rate can be expected to be 7% with the inflation rate at 3%, as reported in The Island, Friday 22nd May, 2015. Mr Siriwardana expressed this opinion in a lecture he gave at the Centre for Banking Studies, Sri Jayawardanepura University under the title: ‘The State of the Economy as reflected in the Central Bank Annual Report 2014’. That such a ‘good enough’ forecast could be made by a responsible official despite less than encouraging conditions having emerged for positive economic prognostications to be made in the wake of the ‘change’ is a positive reminder of the soundness of the public sector-led infrastructure development model adopted by the previous government (important at a post-conflict recovery stage).

Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa had a well thought out nation rebuilding plan for the whole country. Under him, the rail and road communication infrastructure system has brought the previously artificially estranged north and south, economically re-opening the provinces to each other; the rehabilitation of some 13,000 captured Tamil combatants was given priority. Some young LTTE cadres were even. found foreign employment opportunities. Schoolchildren from the north and the south were taken on organized mutual visits. The Ten-year Trilingual Programme was meant to bring members of different language communities together in addition to empowering them through knowledge. The government started recruiting young Tamil men and women for police and army service. Some of the projects begun during his tenure have started yielding results. However, the greatest service Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa did for the country was to successfully lead the war against terrorism and to usher in peace and normalcy.

A war cannot be won by a combination of political power and military might alone. Victory is a product of the two being combined with a vital intellectual element. Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa supplied this. He was the live wire that linked the political authority in the form of his brother Mahinda with the personnel and equipment of the military machinery operated by the service commanders including General Sarath Fonseka. It was with justice that journalist and political analyst Mr C.A. Chandraprema wrote in his book about the government’s military response to Tamil Tiger terrorism entitled "Gota’s War": "Without Mahinda there would have been no decision to wage war. Without Gotabhaya, no victory", a victory that put an end to "Sri Lanka’s four decades long agony". Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa had said to Bernard Kouchner and David Milliband (foreign ministers respectively of France and Britain at that time) who had come to persuade him to stop the military operations against the Tigers when they were about to be defeated: "For you people what happens here is news, but for us, it’s agony

Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was only a government functionary during his brother Mahinda’s presidency. He served the nation with great distinction. His professional dedication to the onerous duties he was entrusted with by his brother was well known, and was appreciated by a grateful public. He was a brave soldier and an efficient public servant in one of the most daunting times of the history of the country. Those who are being driven by personal hatred towards the Rajapaksas are insulting the peace loving Sri Lankans of all communities by trying to humiliate one of the architects of Sri Lanka’s historic victory over terrorism, that brought peace and security to the whole country and restored normalcy and democracy to the north and east.

As secretary to the ministry of defence, in addition to his role as the coordinator between the political authority and the military, Gotabhaya took practical steps to stop earlier rampant corruption in the army’s weapons procurement transactions exposed by journalists like Iqbal Athas of Sunday Times. With his background in the professional IT field, he started the website in order to provide the world with true information about the doings of the Sri Lanka armed forces, which were being invariably misreported and misrepresented by anti-Sri Lanka media outfits. He also introduced humane measures to raise the morale of the personnel behind the weapons. He saw to it that the navy came to possess a fleet of innovatively constructed fast boats for swift deployment when needed. The ‘Api Wenuwen Api" housing project for war heroes was his brainchild; so was the hospice in Anuradhapura for wounded and disabled soldiers. As secretary to the ministry of urban development he was instrumental in giving a new look to Colombo and adjacent areas by renovating old unused dilapidated buildings, some of them relics of the colonial era, and by landscape gardening underutilized or abandoned sites in those places. Some of these projects have become sources of income for the government and employment for young people.

Though under a cloud now, the youngest Rajapaksa sibling Basil, proved himself to be an efficient manager. Whatever he performed he worked with dedication. The oldest Rajapaksa sibling, Chamal, as the Speaker has been performing his duties well, so well as to be confidently identified with his honourable predecessors in the august office such as Anura Bandaranaike and W.J.M. Lokubandara before him.

I have just hastily scratched the surface of what could be written about the good things that the Rajapaksa brothers have done for the country. Whatever their human failings, they should not be hounded and harassed like common criminals. To heap abuse on them as ‘horu’ (thieves) on unsupported or trumped up charges reflects badly on all of us Sri Lankans, because they gave us vital leadership during extremely difficult ten years made worse for them by the personal hatred of detractors. Now their opponents are having the upper hand. But I think we are not so unfortunate as to see any or all of the Rajapaksas unduly harassed in the future for performing the tasks assigned to them by popular will as best they could. We always admire Mr Rajapaksa for standing up to international terror.

Though a grateful people including Tamils (as we saw on TV screens) started praising him as ‘maha raju’ (great king) for overcoming hateful terror, Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa never acted as one. He has always remained a common man among common people, something which accounts for his still undiminished popularity. Probably, he sometimes showed an authoritarian streak in dealing with some of his closest allies. If he didn’t, considering what some of those people had been up to (according to report), it would have been abnormal. Mr J.R. Jayewardane and Mr R. Premadasa were known for the same trait, but with less justification. Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a shrinking violet either. But his strategically concealed toughness is always mellowed by his sense of humanity, something obviously lacking among the uncommon lot who are baying for his blood at present. He might have hammered one of his friends (from the Kelaniya side) for overstepping the limits of his patience by his misdemeanor; but he would never forget or betray those who trusted and supported him, whatever the cost. It is not his fault that he was himself betrayed by some of his most trusted colleagues. Rajapaksa visits his supporters in detention, even convicted ones serving prison terms. That’s because he won’t abandon those who stood by him. He knows that if people have done wrong, they can reform. Those who betray their friends can betray them again. Mahinda has proved that he will never forget his friends nor abandon his people. These are my personal views and are challengeable. I believe my readers are as fair minded as I think I am, whether they agree with me or not.

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