”Thus, if the police continue to turn a blind eye on Mr. Silva’s role in the Kolonnawa multiple-killings, the inescapable conclusion would be that this miscarriage of justice, this selective application of the law is due to Mr. Rajapaksa’s undue influence on behalf of his protégé.”
“Look at who they are, how they behave, and what they have done, even to each other”. Roy Bennet (Zimbabwean opposition leader – quoted in ‘The Fear’ by Peter Godwin)
Will Duminda Silva be placed under arrest – or will he get away with murder?
The answer to this simple question would tell us much about the nature and the destination of the Rajapaksa regime. And the fate of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans under Rajapaksa rule.
Duminda Silva is the monitoring MP of the Defence Ministry and an obvious favourite of the Defence Secretary. Though his guilt – or innocence – can be determined only by a court of law, there is prima facie evidence for the police to consider him as a suspect in the murder of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and place him under arrest.
According to the testimony of Mr. Premachandra’s driver, “MP Duminda Silva fired at Mr. Premachandra after he fell down to the ground” (BBC – 12.10.2011). That degree of evidence would have more than sufficed for the police to immediately place under arrest a less well-connected citizen. But the police get their orders from the Secretary Defence; and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is Mr. Silva’s patron.
Thus, if the police continue to turn a blind eye on Mr. Silva’s role in the Kolonnawa multiple-killings, the inescapable conclusion would be that this miscarriage of justice, this selective application of the law is due to Mr. Rajapaksa’s undue influence on behalf of his protégé.
At his post-Kolonnawa meeting with media heads, President Mahinda Rajapaksa made lofty pronouncements about his determination to crackdown on the ‘underworld’. The ‘underworld’ is guilty of many a crime, but the murder of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra is not one of them. L’affaire Kolonnawa was not a battle of the underworld, but a battle of politicians.
True, that clash had all the ingredients of a mafia-movie: turf wars, goons, guns, corrupt policemen and complicit politicians. But the two main protagonists of that mini-war were not gangsters at variance with the law but politicians with connections to the very top of the totem-pole of power. If underworld elements were involved in that bloody-drama, it was merely as extras, probably bodyguards of one or both protagonists. They were the monkeys to the politicians’ organ-grinders.
Thus the root-cause of the Kolonnawa tragedy is the propensity on the party of many a politician to abuse power and break law with impunity. In that sense the Kolonnawa mini-war is symbolic and symptomatic of what Lankan politics has become under Rajapaksa Rule.
L’affaire Kolonnawa did not come of the blue. It had been brewing for quite a while. Mr. Premachandra had been a leading member of the SLFP for many decades and Kolonnawa was his home-base.
Mr. Silva is a recent UNP defector who was appointed by the Rajapaksas as the organiser for Kolonnawa. Mr. Premachandra, the old Rajapaksa-loyalist, was angry about this preference given to Mr. Silva, the new Rajapaksa-favourite. Mr. Silva’s violent persecution of Premachndra-supporters made matters infinitely worse. It was a situation made for disaster.
Mr. Premachandra was a fighter who, in his time, did not hesitate to take on the UNP and the JVP. But this time his enemy belonged to his own party and had the full blessings of the family-cabal running it. Mr. Premachandra may have been a Godfather in Kolonnawa, but Mr. Silva had the full backing of a much bigger Godfather (he was also a key member of Namal Rajapaksa’s Nil Balakaya).
Mr. Premachandra refused to yield, but he clearly felt threatened – as is evident from his final speech (available on the website, Colombo Telegraph). The obvious threat to Mr. Premachandra’s life made his sister write to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, seeking special protection for her embattled brother.
Unfortunately, the power-wielders seemed to paid little heed to Mr. Premachandra’s plight. The police, taking their cue from the politicians, remained unmoved. According to media reports, the police even ignored an order by the Elections Commissioner to provide extra security to the Kolonnawa area.
The Executive Director of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFÉ), Keerthi Tennakoon says that the Elections Commissioner “had instructed the Elections DIG to provide adequate security in the area after he received several complaints about the growing tension in the area. The instructions sheet sent by the polls chief had said a Colombo District United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP is applying undue pressure on the voters at several polling stations….” (Daily Mirror – 14.10.2011).
In the last few days of his life, Mr. Premachandra shared his misgivings with several senior UPFA ministers. For instance, according to Minister Dinesh Gunawardane, “I met Bharatha in the morning of the fateful day and had a long conversation with him. He…..blamed the police for unpleasant incidents taking place in some areas of the Kolonnawa electorate” (The Island – 10.10.2011).
And the top UPFA vote-getter in Kolonnawa cum Premachandra-loyalist Prasanna Solangarachchi had “complained to Wellampitiya police that MP Duminda Silva had threatened him…” (Sri Lanka Mirror– 14.10.2011). But Mr. Premachandra’s star was demonstrably waning, and Mr. Silva’s was equally demonstrably rising. The police, cognizant of this reality, obviously had no intention of backing the wrong horse.
The fact that even after the multiple-killings the police do not dare to place Mr. Silva under arrest is a testimony to the power he wields over law-enforcement authorities as a key-satellite of the Defence Secretary.
President Rajapaksa says Mr. Premachandra was provided with adequate security. Minister Rambukwella claims that President looked after Mr. Premachandra. But Mr. Premachandra’s brutal murder (he was shot many times, including with a T56) in broad daylight in a very public place, makes nonsense of both claims.
Obviously he was not provided with adequate security; equally obviously the President he served loyally (at considerable risk to his own political career; he received step-motherly treatment from President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga because of his support for Mahinda Rajapaksa) let him down. Mr. Premachandra, in his final speech quoted Pastor Niemöller, warning his fellow SLFPers that someday they too would have to face the same fate as he and his followers.
Had he but known it, he would have deemed far more apposite to his condition the death-bed statement attributed to Cardinal Wolsey, once the chief minister of Henry VIII, abandoned by his master and persecuted by his enemies: “Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the King, he would have not given me over in my grey hairs”.
The Rajapaksa world is a black-and-white one. It is a world of patriots and anti-patriots, with the stand on the Ruling Family as the dividing line between the two categories. Thus Kumaran Pathmanathan is a patriot and Gen. Sarath Silva is an anti-patriot. Similarly Duminda Silva is a patriot whose patriotism gives him special privileges not accorded to those who are SLFPers rather than Rajapksaists, like Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra.
If Duminda Silva escapes justice (this time as well; he escaped being prosecuted for child rape and abduction by joining the government) it will encourage other Rajapaksa-acolytes to regard the SLFP as their plaything and long-standing SLFPers (including senior ministers) as mere bagatelle of little or no consequence.
The President in all his pious pronouncements about goons and guns evades the real issue – the illegal and unethical doings of Rajapaksa acolytes. These politicians abuse power and break the law with impunity. Hitherto their victims have been ordinary citizens.
Mr. Premachandra’s killing indicates that even fellow SLFPers are not safe from these marauding Rajapaksa acolytes. If Duminda Silva is not arrested and brought before a court of law, it will prove that in Sri Lanka, the law of the Rajapaksas has replaced the rule of the law. Any Rajapaksa-acolyte can waste billions of public funds or run amok and murder fellow party men, so long as he remains a Rajapaksa acolyte.
If Duminda Silva is brought to justice, the transformation of the SLFP into a Rajapaksa-fief can be impeded; if not, the transformation of the SLFP into a Rajapaksa Family Party will become unstoppable. Kolonnawa is a turning point, for both the SLFP and the country.
The battle for the CMC was a Rajapaksa (rather than UPFA) enterprise. The entire Rajapaksa family became personally involved in the campaign. They desperately wanted to win Colombo not only because of the symbolic importance of such a victory but also because it would enable them to implement their Colombo Plan with ease and speed. So Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Namal Rajapaksa threw their collective weight behind Milinda Moragoda’s campaign.
The President even made a very public tour of Colombo Central, just before the election, trying to drum up support for his puppet mayoral candidate.
The people of Colombo obviously saw through the lies and false promises of the Ruling Family. They voted for the opposition, despite its lackadaisical conduct, because they wanted to send an unmistakable message to the Rajapaksas.
The Rajapaksas turned the CMC election into a do-or-die battle. The people responded by voting against them.
The Rajapaksas are unlikely to take this defeat lying down. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had earmarked Colombo as his own private fiefdom. If he cannot win power over it democratically he would do so by anti-democratic means.
Thus the Rajapaksas will try to resume their campaign of mass-evictions, as soon as possible. They are also likely to speed up the plan to incorporate the CMC and five other local government bodies into an unelected Corporation under the control of the Defence Secretary.
How will the UNP respond to these twin challenges?