Thus far the innocent voter has only been thinking of the stuff that the nation’s political class, especially their elected representatives, is not made of. The list would include honesty, integrity, political loyalty, and electoral commitment to the constituents. Today, you have one of them, a minister at that, telling them as to the ‘stuff’ that a substantial number of them are made of – or, at least may have been made of.
State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake’s needs to be congratulated and thanked for opening a Pandora’s Box, a kind of Holy Grail, that no one in the country would want to touch. But then the question remains – and it will remain a question until proved true – if 24 of the nation’s 225 parliamentarians use cocaine habitually.
Twenty-four, if all of them are MPs, as a section of the media would want to assert by repeated reportage, is a tenth of the membership of the Hon’ble House that rules all of the nation, the seas and the skies that belong to the nation that swears by its official religion, Buddhism, and all that goes with the pacific intent and content of the preaching of the founder. This is also the men and women that the nation has elected to make rules for them – which include death for drugs use, abuse, misuse or whatever – or, all of them together.
Minister Ramanayake began with submitting a list of the 24, which some reports did not comprise only MPs, but was a mixture of Parliament and Provincial Council members. Better or worse still, Ranjan’s list also reportedly contained the names of some ministers, present and past – and at least, he has been quoted as claiming as such.
It is sad that a section of the House is agitated about ‘Ranjan’s revelations’, and the Speaker should be seen as dithering on accepting the possibility of it all! A ‘responsible’ Minister, sworn under the Constitution, who is also answerable to the House – and has answered to the House in the past – is saying it, in public – loud and clear. Yet, no one believes, some even seem to believe that it is some kind of a ‘diversionary tactic’, either by the minister to grab headlines for a day or a week, or at the instance of his ruling UNP and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, both of whom can do with a lot of such tactic, not just one.
One of a kind
Yet, Ramanayake’s charge is one of a kind. You have heard ministers and parliamentarians trade charges across the aisle and across the nation, on corruption, nepotism and worse – even rape and murder, even if not all of them would have been staged or stage-managed in this country, per se. But definitely, Minister Ranjan’s charges has been one of a rare variety, possibly one of a kind – that none else has said before, nor could anyone be expected to level against any other in the near and/or distant future.
Ranjan has also begun well (?) by subjecting him to a cocaine test by a private hospital and circulated its content. What else does one expect, but a clean chit for the minister concerned, who has overnight sought to become a ‘concerned minister’, who is overly, and not overtly concerned about the well-being of fellow parliamentarians – Amen!
The police, including the CID, are there to accept all complaints submitted by even a layman. Rather, in a country like Sri Lanka, registering a police complaint has also come to be seen as a part of civil and civic rights. To some, it is also a proof of ethnic equality, whatever may have come out of such registered complaints and what the police might have done – or, not done – elsewhere in the country, too.
However, it beats one’s imagination and knowledge of political probity, how the ruling UNP was satisfied with appointing a disciplinary committee to look into Ranjan’s charges against fellow MPs. After all, the minister did not at any time say that all those he was charging with cocaine use or abuse belonged to his party. Even otherwise, it was not a political issue for the party to handle thus.
Earlier, the UNP appointed another disciplinary committee, and also took action on its advice, against another State Minister, Vijayakala Mahenswaran, for supporting the LTTE’s line of thinking from an official platform in the Tamil native Jaffna. That the police too took action, arrested her and a court later granted her bail, are all only months old.
Yet, the question remains why the UNP in both cases wanted a party panel to go into respective matter, at any level, as if they were parallel enquiries to be had alongside the official investigations, purportedly entrusted to one policing agency or other. Now after a time, Cabinet Minister Lakshman Kiriella, who is better known as the Leader of the House (and of the ruling UNP-UNF combine in Parliament), has said that the Government will ask the CID to probe Ranjan’s allegations.
The question arises if the CID required clearance of the kind from the ruling party in whatever form and through whatever process, to take forward what might have otherwise looked a legit investigation of whatever kind. It was also the way forward, in a way, with the Maheswarai investigations and arrest. Her forced resignation from the ministry came first, which was already a part of the disciplinary action, and the police investigations and arrest followed.
Yet, it is a dangerous and unwelcome trend. Today, you have a parliamentarian levelling charges of a kind against fellow MPs. Whether it is true or not is not does not matter. Tomorrow, anyone, especially an MP, can make worse allegations, of rape, murder and loot of a personal kind, against any other, from the President and Prime Minister downwards.
Anyway, is it the job of an MP or minister to make such charges? Does it acquire additional credibility if a list is submitted to the CID or any other section of the police? Maybe, the CID investigations that Minister Kirriela has said would be required, should and possibly would have to begin with Minister Ranjan himself. He may have to convince the police about the sources of his information, prima facie evidence, if he had any – and also check if there were any medical or other non-criminal reasons for them to consume cocaine or any other drug in a limited quantity, etc, etc.
At another level, it is a possible case of breach of privilege of MPs, but no parliamentarian is ready to talk about it at all. This gives the impression that minister Ramanayake may be speaking the truth, though not the whole truth after all. It is another matter, if the charges of the Ranjan kind had been made even against a single and singular MP by a non-parliamentarian, the entire House would have stood as one, and hauled him up for breach of privilege, then defamation – civil and criminal, whichever and wherever applicable.
To be fair, neither Minister Ranjan, nor the CID, nor possibly the UNP team to which the former might have submitted the list, and also the office of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, have caused the ‘leak’ of the ‘List of 24’.One can only hope that it remains so, and the media, especially irresponsible and sensation-ridden sections of the social media, come up with ‘unsustainable’ allegations of the kind against the political class.
Worse still, some of them given to flight of imagination than the rest of the nation put together could claim that their list is what that the minister had given to the CID and the rest. If a particular name was not in the original, then it would be incumbent upon the minister and/or the CID and others who have official access to the same should and would have to deny it.
In turn, stoic silence on the part of Ranjan Ramanayake, the CID and the rest could imply and impute credibility to at least some of the names that the social media or any other might ferret out in public. Even a hour of silence – deliberate at times – could spoil political career and personal lives for all times to come, and even visit upon future generation of ‘innocent’ MPs who might not have known to even spell ‘cocaine’ in any language.
The last time a personal allegation of a criminal kind was levelled against a politician, going beyond those of corruption, nepotism, etc, a hapless father had charged Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, of keeping his ‘minor daughter’ in captivity, at the instance of the latter’s son, with whom the girl was said to be in love. The charges against the Minister included abusing office to twist and turn police investigations into the case and the like.
At the time, Minister Senaratne, a medical professional, was in kind of the driver’s seat, riding two horses, as a perceived confidante of President Maithripala Sirisena and the latter’s link-man to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Today, of course, Senaratne full and wholly on the side of PM Wickremesinghe and his UNP. But then, the nation knows the kind of justice that the girl’s father got from the system that is Sri Lanka!
(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)