A yahapalana snafu
Posted on December 14th, 2016

Editorial Courtesy The Island

A large number of Hambantota residents took to the streets yesterday against a government move to lease out a vast extent of land in the area to some Chinese companies. These protests and the Hambantota Port workers’ agitation are likely to snowball if the government resorts to coercive methods to neutralise them without addressing the root causes of people’s unrest.

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne continues to draw heavy flak for Saturday’s crackdown on protesting Hambantota Port workers. It is unfortunate that a battle-hardened naval officer who proved his mettle in many a daring encounter with terrorists and reached the pinnacle of his career through sheer hard work happened to behave like Captain Haddock. He is in the soup, so to speak, because he went overboard. High ranking police and military officers had better learn from his costly blunder.

It is a supreme irony that the top guns of the previous government, responsible for the Rathupaswala brutal military crackdown in 2013, have condemned the naval action at the Hambantota Port, where thankfully nobody was harmed. Had the port workers resorted to a protest of this nature before last year’s regime change Eraj and Mervyn, with the help of their private armies, would have brought the situation under control in next to no time. They are now with the present administration which has, however, refrained from ‘deploying’ them. So far so good!

Director General of Government Information Ranga Kalansooriya has sought to apportion the blame for Saturday’s incident to the journalist manhandled by the Navy. He says the victim violated media ethics by entering a restricted area, provoking the attack. His argument makes one wonder whether Bovine King Kekille actually lived here and his descendants have got into high posts under the present government. For, no one with an iota of common sense will demand that journalists obey the dictates of military and police officers.

The yahapalana Goebbels who have secured high posts thanks to their boot-licking skills mastered while they were members of the kept press are apparently trying to promote embedded journalism in peacetime as well. Journalists have to gain access to even restricted areas, at times, in the line of duty as is common knowledge. No one has a right to assault or kill such enterprising scribes for doing that.

The Hambantota Port workers overstepped their limits, as we argued in this space the other day. Their right to protest cannot be cited in extenuation of the serious offence of seizing a foreign vessel and holding its crew members incommunicado. Their modus operandi, which should be condemned unreservedly, has ruined the image of the country. But, the naval reaction was manifestly disproportionate to the workers’ action. The strength of the navy team consisting of heavily armed seaborne commandos who took part in Saturday’s raid would have been sufficient even to overrun an LTTE base during the war!

The government which promised to scrap the Chinese funded Port City project has shamelessly handed over a port in a strategic location to the Chinese! Worse, while pontificating about the virtues of the Liccavi method of resolving conflicts peacefully it is bulldozing its way through. It has caused the country to get entangled in a foreign policy snafu through its disastrous Hambantota deal with China.

The late J. R. Jayewardene, who in trying to curry favour with the US, blundered on the foreign policy front and antagonised India, thus plunging the country into a protracted war. India’s former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon is reported to have said in his new book, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, that Sri Lanka’s internal war cost as much as USD 200 billion. One wonders whether this is the amount India, which created, trained, armed and funded terrorists including the LTTE, owes this country by way of reparation. How much the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s foreign policy bungling which is likely to turn the country into a battleground of superpowers will cost remains to be seen.

The government is playing a very dangerous game by allowing powerful nations to secure the control of seaports and airports here. Unless it stops this practice forthwith the country will be in the same predicament as the proverbial monkey which, in its wisdom, placed itself between two enraged elephants battling for supremacy and got crushed in the process. Is the genie already out of the bottle?

The government must meet the protesting port workers and find a negotiated solution. Port and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, while constructing a huge Christmas tree purportedly to promote reconciliation, is threatening to sack the Hambantota strikers unless they fall in line. He must practice what he preaches. Instead, he sounds just like the late JRJ, who unflinchingly terminated about 100,000 strikers overnight in 1980 for demanding a pay hike.

What causes the government to act in this suicidal manner may be called political autoimmune disease. It has become its own enemy! It may have the pleasure of destroying itself but it must not seek expedient solutions to its politico-economic problems at the expense of the country’s interests.

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