By N Sathiya Moorthy
The arrest of former Minister and JHU boss, Patali Champika Ranawaka, and similar anticipation on the part of his team-mate from the erstwhile UNP-led Cabinet, Dr Rajitha Senanaayake, have flagged allegations of ‘political victimisation’ all over again. In a sense, it is yet another repeat of what all had been done by and said about the Government of which they were a part in their time – and by those in power and the Opposition, respectively, for decades now.
Champika heads a small urban political outfit, which was originally Sinhala-Buddhist clergy-centric. The social media started referring to him by his initials, as PCR, when interest4ed sections floated his name as a possible common candidate against present-day incumbent Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. It was obviously the handiwork of those that did not want UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa getting the UNP alliance’s ticket, and taken up for a time by those who were getting increasingly tired of the party’s internal squabbles over presidential nomination.
Dr Senaratne is anticipating arrest in what the media now dubs as ‘white van case’, after men appeared at his news conference ahead of the presidential polls to claim that Gota Rajapaksa had master-minded ‘white van abductions’ of people, many of whom were then killed and fed to crocodiles. The two drivers have since been arrested, and Rajitha S is alleged to have been the brain behind their belated ‘public confessions’ at the former’s news conference when he was still a minister.
Even granting that the ‘white van’ stories are believed without proof and investigations, the ‘crocodile episodes’ seems straight out of a James Bond movie. One of the two men that Rajitha presented to the nation claimed to be a ‘white van’ driver when Gota R was Defence Secretary under brother and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, post-war. It is anybody’s guess why the two men took their time contemplating through the previous five years when the Rajapaksas were down and out, and thought it necessary to speak their minds when Gota’s chance of becoming President were bright. Rajitha S too seemed to have not asked them the obvious question before putting them up before newsmen and the nation.
Any argument that the two men were overly concerned about the possibility of Gota becoming President was upper-most in their minds for them to do their bit to tell the voters of whatever they were a part of, would not wash. If nothing else, they seemed to be even more ignorant of their own role in it and how the nation’s criminal laws viewed it – unless someone wanted to believe that they were ready to undergo trail and punishment if only it would help keep Gota out of the nation’s highest office.
Be it as it may, it may be time for the likes of PCR and Rajitha to sit back and ruminate about their own charges against the Rajapaksas, when the latter were in the Opposition for the previous five years. The Irony of post-war politics in the country was/is that almost everyone of those that levelled harsh charges against the Rajapaksas when the latter were in power, were also very much a part of it.
Starting with former President Maithripala Sirisena and whoever remained a Who’s Who of SLFP politics in the contemporary era, had levelled wild charges that would not have stood the test of time and/or judicial scrutiny. In comparison, the traditional UNP Opposition of the undivided SLFP, and whose leadership spearheaded the anti-Rajapaksa politico-electoral campaign for a decade and a half now, were more charitable, circumspect and unsure.
The standing example of Rajitha talking through the hat and unconvincingly was when after Mahinda had lost power, he declared publicly that Gota and another brother Basil Rajapaksa had ‘escaped’ from the country, through the VVIP entrance at Bandaranaike International Airport. Of course, he also said that one-time LTTE fund-raiser and arms-procurer, Kumaran Pathmanathan, too had given the slip at the time.
It became clear almost immediately that one both counts Rajitha’s claims were untrue – and tantamounted to worse. Neither did he apologise for mis-leading the nation, even if inadvertently, nor did his President or Prime Minister (UNP’s Ranil Wickremesinghe) were known to have sought his clarification and/or explanation. Such habit continued for a year and more in office, when Minister Rajitha, as Cabinet spokesperson, would claim that their Government was (still!) investigating the ‘Rajapaksa fortunes’ in foreign banks with the help of overseas governments like those of the Indian neighbour and also the US.
Today, when the chickens are coming home to roost – or, seemingly so – Rajitha especially can anticipate the possibility of the father of the girl who had claimed that the former had ‘abducted’ his minor daughter, at his son’s behest. If nothing else, the entire episode stank of suspicious conduct and interventions by and possibly on behalf of Rajitha S. Needless to point out that the Rajapaksas could – if not would – be happy to pursue the case if only the girl’s parent though it fit to demand reopening investigations into the case.
Chasing the ghosts
Whether it is the Rajapaksas arresting Champika and possibly Rajitha and others from the political Opposition on criminal allegations, or they being put through the mill in their time in the Opposition, the nation needs to grow up from this story of victimisation and victimhood. After all, the presidential and parliamentary polls over the last 10-15 years were not fought on ‘victim issue’ – not even on allegations of corruption and other criminal charges
The voter, for his part, having punished the wrong-doer in his perception on an over-all score moves on with his task – and expects his new bosses to do so, themselves. They expect their political leaderships to do precisely as much — of governing the nation in ways the nation should be governed and administered,
Yet, corruption and criminalisation of politics have to end. There is no prescription cure for the same. ‘Political victimisation’ is certainly the way, given especially the legal processes and judicial procedures. Give years after the Rajapaksas’ exit in 2015, not one case has been proved against them. So is with most of their political aides from that time. Now the courts have begun throwing out one case after the other and against the Rajapaksas and their political aides from the past, too.
Likewise, a pending case against one-time UNP strong-man Ravi Karunanayake, which was kept dangling by the Rajapaksa administration, found a quiet judicial exit with the change of government in 2015. Will the same thing happen to him in the much-bigger and even more nuanced ‘bonds scam case’ remains to be seen.
Ironically, the centre-left JVP, known for taking the high moral ground in the nation’s politics, too has condemned PCR’s arrest, that too as ‘political victimisation’. Does it imply that the JVP believes that the said accident and death did not occur? Otherwise, yes, those that have cried foul just now are maintaining stoic silence viz a near-similar ‘road-accident’ case against another politician. Former UNP parliamentarian and media personality J Sri Ranga, was arrested in the weeks prior to the presidential polls on 16 November, in relation to a road=-accident in which his personal bodyguard was killed. It does not matter that he is a Tamil un-associated with the TNA or any other major political grouping of the Tamils or otherwise, just now. The fact is that no one wants to describe it as ‘political victimisation’ though his and Champika’s case seem to stand on similar legs – though not the same.
Under the circumstances, ‘political victimisation’, rather the battle for claiming to be one has taken the shape of an ‘Us vs Them’ political and legal battle. For, in the same token as the police has commenced investigations into allegations of criminality, dating back to the UNP-led regime for two or three decades now, courts have begun acquitting the Rajapaksas and their political aides from past actions for which they were being investigated\ and/or charged and tried already.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)