Mob rule and the ‘Hambantota Doctrine’

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Thursday 24th April 2014 Marauding saffron armies and increasingly unruly proGovernment mobs are casting long shadows on ri !an"a#s future $ambantota is %a&apa"sa country' The rest of ri !an"a may be in the vice grip of a raging personality cult( but the southern district is a ruling family fiefdom' The $ambantota )istrict is home to Medamulana in the *eliatta +olling )ivision( +resident Mahinda %a&apa"sa#s ancestral village and the seat of his power' ince the

+resident assumed office( mega development pro&ects have been channelled into the

dry and sparsely populated agricultural district( turning the sleepy region into an infrastructure hub that will one day( according to the %a&apa"sa Government#s vision( rival the capital ,olombo' -very gleaming new structure . airport( harbour( stadium and convention centre . is stamped with the %a&apa"sa name or +residential initials' /ne road in the main $ambantota town sports an array of street lamps embla0oned with the smiling faces of %a&apa"sa clan members that are eerily illuminated at dus"' /ver the past nine years that +resident %a&apa"sa has governed ri !an"a( his family has been the font of all political power in $ambantota' The realm is closely guarded by top rungs of the ruling administration and regime patronage is a pre-re1uisite for all levels of political engagement in the area' arath 2onse"a( former army chief and leader of the )emocratic +arty learned the difficulty of navigating this regime stronghold while campaigning for the southern provincial polls held last month' /ther opposition parties were confronted with their fair share of problems campaigning in the district( but as the b3te noir of the %a&apa"sa Administration( 2onse"a was worst affected' Met with violence and administrative bloc"ades at every turn and finding that his complaints were falling upon deaf ears( 2onse"a folded up his campaign in the district' $is party polled poorly in $ambantota( allowing the 45+ that was more established in the region to gain the lion share of the 6third force# vote'

hattered calm o when the 1uiet of the April 7ew 8ear holidays was suddenly shattered outside the Mattala %a&apa"sa 9nternational Airport :M%9A; last Thursday( it was not difficult to connect the dots' An unruly mob spewing profanity and insults wal"ed up to the entrance of the country#s second international airport and pelted five opposition parliamentarians with rotten eggs' ,rowds of police personnel and airport security were reduced once more to being passive observers( even when the M+s repeatedly appealed for assistance' The crowd was a law unto itself( breaching the high security confines of the airport with impunity and aplomb' The 6protest# had all the hallmar"s that have come to define pro-Government demonstrations in recent years' The degree of access granted to these protestors is usually a "ey indicator' )uring the ,ommonwealth $eads of Government Meeting :,$/GM; last year( similar crowds were permitted unparalleled access to the *andaranai"e 9nternational Airport#s arrivals terminal( even when the airport comple< had been declared out of bounds for anyone but accredited personnel because of the high profile visitors landing there to attend the summit' The impotent reaction of the police also tends to reveal the level of protection and sanction the 6protestors# have been assured' This same helplessness plagues the police force during attac"s and raids by rampaging *uddhist mon"s( creating similar perceptions of sanction and patronage from higher powers' +olice have been "nown to crac"down with lethally effective force during opposition demonstrations( as its reaction to the %ailway Trade =nion protest in ,olombo 2ort on Tuesday amply demonstrated( so it has never been a 1uestion of capacity' 2act-finding mission The =nited 7ational +arty#s decision to send a team of 6fact-finders# to $ambantota to inspect the capacity and condition of two pet government pro&ects in the area( followed months of 1uestions and debate raised in +arliament about M%9A and the Magampura Mahinda %a&apa"sa +ort' *oth the port and the airport were constructed with high interest loans obtained from ,hina#s -<im *an"( and using ,hinese contractors' *oth pro&ects have been mired in controversy from the outset( with critics and opposition parties calling them sprawling white elephants that would have failed feasibility and return on investment tests if they had been conducted before the developments were commissioned' The =7+ !eadership ,ouncil led by >aru 4ayasuriya commissioned the fact-finding mission of =7+ M+s( marshalling professionals from within the party to conduct the

assessments and report on their findings' The group of five included two engineers . A&ith Manapperuma and 7alin +riyantha *andara( two lawyers . A&ith +erera and %' 8ogara&an and former ban"er and financial e<pert( -ran ?ic"remaratne' ?ic"remaratne has been vocal in his criticism of both pro&ects in +arliament( slamming the Government for wasting ta<-payer money on development pro&ects that were offering little or no return' Media personnel were invited to &oin the +arliamentarians on the tour( which would include a visit to the M%9A comple<es and the $ambantota +ort' The =7+ had notified Aviation and +ort authorities of their visit in advance and were graciously received by airport officials who gave them a tour and responded to their 1uestions about the operational aspects' ?hat would have passed as an uneventful tour of the +resident#s home district( ended in a storm of controversy when the M+s were mobbed as they e<ited the airport soon after their tour' The pistol wielding Mayor -ra& 2ernando and the unruly mob had handed the /pposition a ma&or opportunity to showcase politics . $ambantota style' Guilt by association Town councillors and low-level politicians in the $ambantota )istrict are the firearm brandishing sort' =+2A Tangalle +radeshiya abha ,hairman ampath 5idanipathirana( now the main suspect in the murder of *ritish tourist >huram hai"h showed similar proclivities' *oth miscreants reign over separate &urisdictions in %a&apa"sa territory' *oth have escaped admonishment or condemnation from the regime or the ri !an"a 2reedom +arty' 5idanapathirana was only indicted because of tremendous pressure brought to bear upon ,olombo by the *ritish Government and the victim#s family' +olitically( he escaped punishment( retained his position at the helm of the local council in Tangalle and remained a free man for nearly two years after hai"h#s murder' ?ith the e<ception of speculation about a lambasting over the telephone by +resident %a&apa"sa for claiming he was acting on the direction of $ambantota )istrict M+ 7amal %a&apa"sa( -ra& 2ernando#s actions last Thursday have not been condemned or disowned by the ruling party' +resident Mahinda %a&apa"sa has put the attac" down to 6public anger# over the un&ust attac"s on the Government#s development pro&ects in the area' The state controlled media has defended the assault as nothing more than democratic dissent( a"in to piethrowing against *ritish M+s in the => in protest at unpopular policy' This( in an age when bona fide civilian demonstrations are regularly disrupted using brutal Government force'

The guilt by association therefore( is inescapable' 9n spite of the shoc"ing scenes last Thursday( the $ambantota assault has had a curious effect on the main opposition party' The =7+ presently functions under the stewardship of >aru 4ayasuriya who is acting for +arty !eader %anil ?ic"remesinghe who is on a wor"-study sabbatical in *oston' The five M+s came out all guns bla0ing about the incident at a press briefing on unday( laying blame s1uarely at the door of +resident %a&apa"sa for the attac" on democratically elected representatives of the people' 4ayasuriya#s decision to attend the press briefing last unday had a dynamic impact on the five 6fact-finders# who noted privately that the presence of the party !eader( even one who holds the mantle only in an acting capacity( had strengthened their hand and their credibility' 2rom Attanagalla to $ambantota 7o doubt unintentional on the part of the Government( the incident has spurred the =7+ into action( with the party sensing it has somehow gained the upper hand and seriously e<posed the Government#s bullying tactics' The main opposition party is now mulling a return to Mattala( a place the party is now claiming is 6uncleared area# that needs liberation from the regime#s stranglehold' )iscussions are being held as to whether the party will move its May )ay event to $ambantota and stage a 6satyagraha# in the area( or go bac" sooner to conduct a peaceful protest' The %a&apa"sa administration has a reactionary strea"( li"ely to result in another showdown if the =7+ carries its plan forward' That appears to be a calculation the main opposition party has already made' The incident has re"indled political memory( with =7+ members recalling that when +resident 4'%' 4ayewardene travelled to the *andaranai"e stronghold of Attanagalla in the 1@A0s as an /pposition M+( his delegation was set upon by political goon s1uads' The attac" was reportedly defended by then +rime Minister irimavo *andaranai"e( leading 4ayewardene to deliver a famous speech in +arliament in which he referred to the incident and the state reaction as the BAttanagalla )octrineC to suppress political opposition' ,hannelling the 4ayewardene legacy( the =7+ is see"ing to portray the attac" on opposition +arliamentarians as +resident %a&apa"sa#s own 6$ambantota )octrine# aimed at controlling public discourse and stifling dissent in order to permit an untrammelled abuse of authority by the Government' affron immunity *ut whatever political advantage the =7+ has espied( the triumph of mob rule casts long shadows upon ri !an"a#s future' Afforded political patronage and immunity(

unruly( terror-inflicting mobs now come in varying shapes and si0es' 2resh from its pre-7ew 8ear raid on a &oint press conference by the moderate mon" leading the 4ana *ala ena . ?atare""e 5i&itha Thero( the *uddhist hardline *odu *ala ena group is on the rampage once more' /n Tuesday( a large group of protestors laid siege to the Mahiyangana +radeshiya abha where 5i&itha Thero is a member( forcing the priest to flee the premises in a police vehicle( amidst fears he would be attac"ed by the demonstrators' 8esterday( the *odu *ala ena too" over the fight' torming the Ministry of 9ndustry and ,ommerce( headed by Minister %ishard *athiudeen who has become the latest target of the hard-line group( five ** mon"s combed the building for 5i&itha Thero( claiming he was being granted refuge inside the premises' The *odu *ala ena is accusing Minister *athiudeen and the moderate mon"( of conspiring to settle Muslims within the ?ilpattu forest reserve' The bra0en raid on a government ministry comple< illustrates how much power and protection the group can command' Ministry officials mee"ly permitted the mon"s to search every room of the building( with the e<ception of *athiudeen#s office( which only confirmed the group#s wild speculation that the mon" was being protected by the Muslim Minister' ?ith the e<ception of a bi0arre altercation with a vociferous police official inside the Ministry( yesterday#s story followed the familiar script' *ullies by nature( groups li"e the *odu *ala ena respond only to shows of force( and the mon"s were seen to bac" down and leave the premises after the arguments with the police officials got heated' ** General ecretary Galagodaththe Gnanasara was a conspicuous absentee at yesterday#s ministerial raid( now facing prosecution over his thuggish behaviour at the press conference at 7ippon $otel ,olombo two wee"s ago' ** D =nplugged +redictably 1uiet during the =7 $uman %ights ,ouncil sessions in Geneva( it appears the ** and its affiliates have been unleashed again to carry on its anti-minority( inhala supremacist campaign' The groups are threatening the fragile balance of ethno-religious relations in the country with their terror tactics( yet officially no one cares' The passive patronage afforded to these groups by the incumbent administration reinforces perceptions among minority communities and the last of the country#s moderates and liberals that the Government is actively see"ing an ethno-religious pogrom to rival 4uly 1@EF' %ampaging mobs( once unleashed are not so easily recalled' The ri !an"an tate( aptly aided by the marauding saffron armies is so busy protecting *uddhism( the practice of the doctrine appears to have been entirely

forgotten' =sing flimsy sections of the +enal ,ode( a magistrate yesterday deported a *ritish tourist for sporting a tattoo of the *uddha on her right arm' $er crime( police said( was Bhurting the religious feelings of othersC even though the tourist( 7aomi ,oleman claimed to be a practicing *uddhist and the tattoo in no way distorted the image of the *uddha' The incident has already resulted in an updated travel warning by the =nited >ingdom( which only last wee" issued a fresh advisory to *ritish citi0ens re1uesting travellers to be wary of the harassment and manipulation of tourists visiting ri !an"a' 9n the absence of genuine reconciliation and a tangible economic peace dividend( the ri !an"an tourism boom has been an enduring post-war success story' ince the guns fell silent( visitors have floc"ed to the island in search of sun-"issed beaches and misty mountains' 4eopardising tourism 9ronically( over the past month the ri !an"an Government has actively &eopardised this success' 2irst it announced a resurgence of terrorism in the north that has already brought about at least two negative travel advisories and will almost certainly drive maritime and aviation insurance premiums up( creating &itters in the shipping and leisure sectors' ?ith ,oleman#s harassment and deportation( the Government has set in stone its growing intolerance of visitors to the island who fail to live up to ri !an"a#s e<acting standards when it comes to respecting the *uddhist tradition' 9mpunity granted to marauding mobs( led by groups li"e the *odu *ala ena( ma"es the destination doubly ris"y for tourists( who may unwittingly become targets because of body-art or clothing that is deemed insensitive to local religious tradition' 9n the !and of the *uddha( tolerance is becoming an increasingly rare virtue' 5iolence and intimidation are fast becoming rule rather than e<ception' 9f the Government really wants to root out terrorism( very soon now( it may have to start loo"ing further south'

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