Minister Bathiudeen takes on the ‘Pressure’


The Minister of Commerce and Industry Bathiudeen told parliament as reported in The Island of May 24 that he ‘never pressured the Army Commander’ regarding one Mr. Jainuideen’s ‘complaint’. Apparently Jainuideen’s son had been ‘nabbed’ by an ‘unidentified group of people’ who ‘visited’ Jainuideen’s home. No possible reason for the ‘mystery’ arrest was disclosed by Jainuideen or the Minister even though most could guess rightly. It is clear that the request of Jainuideen was to get Ministerial ‘pressure’ applied to locate his son arrested for suspected terrorist connections. Did the minister not know this?

While the country was reeling after the deaths of nearly 260 and 500 wounded, Bathuideen ‘spent two days visiting police stations, without success. Sadly, it appears that it was the minister not the father who went searching for the missing person. Was it because Jainuideen for some reason was afraid for himself and believed that only the Minister could find his son? Was he not looking for the minister to apply 'pressure'?

Bathiudeen says he then contacted the State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene on the advice of the Police. Was this not to use pressure? Why did he not do so before? Was there a secret he preferred to hide? Wijewardene however in turn apparently advised Bathuideen ‘to contact the Army Commander’. This inspired recall unlike other details was not known to the public until 23 May.

This is the point at which the denial of ‘pressure’ on the Army Commander becomes a bit curious. The Minister who apparently only on the advice of the police contacted the State Minister could have requested or even ‘advised ‘or ‘pressured’ the latter to make the contact with the Army Commander himself. After all he says he only wanted to know ‘if the missing person was with the Army’. A telephone call may have sufficed. It was such a simple request. It would be in order especially as the Minister was doing the search on ’humanitarian grounds’ - even as SL bled.

For some unknown reason Wijewardene shied away from volunteering to do so. Why was Bathuideen ‘pressure’ rebuffed? Could the request have been a slightly more complicated, involved or embarrassing for Wijewardene to ask the Army Commander? What was the charge if it was not for terrorist connections or activity? Why did Bathuideen insist on proceeding further?

Now comes the ‘pressure’ or whole point of the Minister’s story. He says he only ‘contacted’ the Army Commander ‘to find out if this person was with the Army’. Did he make only one contact with the Army Commander or was it several? If it was, was it not pressure? He says it was not to pressure the Army Commander or ask him to ‘release any individual either’. The latter could not be done in any case except by a judge as the Minister should know, so why stress the obvious? If it is the former the Minister needs to clarify what he understands as ‘pressure’.

With an Emergency on, after the shocking carnage of Easter Sunday 21 April, the act of requesting the Army Commander to tell the Minister whether ‘this (missing) person’ (obviously arrested for being involved with the terrorists) ‘was with the Army’ cannot be glibly or so innocently described as a ‘humanitarian’ gesture as the minister paints it to be. Instead it does smack of pressuring if not exerting influence. The subject was outside the Minister’s area of responsibility.

Not that the Army Commander would bow down to such ministerial actions but it is still an attempt. Why did he apparently tell the Minister to call again after 18 months if it was not a rebuff for pressuring or an attempt at wire pulling? Whereas the Minister’s actions are not unusual for SL politicians, this time it was not for jobs or favours but to interfere in a terrorist case. That is unforgiveable.

Bathuideen should ask the Prime Minister who was a minister then what would have happened had anyone attempted pressuring the then State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne during the JVP insurrection of 1989-90. Sixty thousand died, agonizingly.

A. Patabendige

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