The police appear to have got its act together at last. It came in for heavy flak from the authorities for its lukewarm response towards the mob which attacked the Rohingya refugees at a safe house in Mt.Lavinia, where the UN office in Colombo had afforded them temporary shelter. On that occasion, as shown on TV, the police were mere bystanders, while the mob went on the rampage. Perhaps, the presence of Bikkhus, among the mob, placed the police personnel at the scene on the defensive.
There were no such misgivings, though, in Hambantota, the other day, with the police acting in earnest to quell the mob violence that threatened to cause a serious breach of the peace. The mob, led by Joint Opposition politicians, which included Buddhist clergy, was acting in clear violation of a court order that barred them entering the Indian Consulate office, the Hambantota port area and the Mattala airport.
However the court order appeared to be no deterrent to Attorney- at-Law Namal Rajapaksa who was seen leading the mob into the no go zones, defying police orders. At one point the mob was seen scaling the gates of the Indian Consulate office which prompted the police to act decisively, unleashing a fusillade of tear gas and water cannon on the rampaging mob. Nearly 30 protesters, including women were also taken into custody and driven off in a prison bus. The protesters, apparently, had been under the misapprehension that they were free to breach the law, being as they did, on Rajapaksa territory. To their credit, the men in khaki did not appear to have been awed by such considerations but carried out their duties with aplomb. Of course, there was the unfortunate incident where a police officer overreacted and slapped an individual, who, it later transpired, was a local journalist covering the protest. The heavy handed action of the officer concerned has been roundly condemned in the media, with the Police Commission too calling for a report from the IGP for action to be taken in this connection. However it has also to be conceded that the mob acted provocatively towards the law enforcement in a clear attempt to force the police into drastic action.
Under the circumstances, the police, it has to be said, acted with a lot of restraint, not falling to ploy of the mob. They (police officers) had no option but to act firmly to disperse the mob, the way they did, by firing tear gas and water cannon, to prevent the protesters from storming the Indian Consulate office. The safety of the staff could have been uppermost in the minds of the police. Any untoward incident was bound to have had serious repercussions for the government. In that context the police action, cannot, but be justified. We say this since, the police, on certain occasions in the past, had failed, or seem reluctant to act decisively in dealing with unruly mobs. This was on full display when saffron clad goons stoned Muslim shops and businesses while the law merely looked on.
Of course, that was a time when the police feared to act, lest the wrath of the Rajapaksas visit upon their men for messing around with the Galagodatte Gnanasaras, who were known to hobnob with Gota. There was the infamous scene, opposite the UN compound, in Colombo, where a police officer had his cap removed and humiliated by a mob led by Wimal Weerawansa, which, it later transpired, on inspiration derived from the former Defence Secretary. Neither did the then IGP or the any high ranking officer thought it fit to pursue the matter. It is such acts that break the morale of the police and prevent it from taking decisive action.
Be that as it may, it is hoped that the police will, in future too, act as firmly as it did in Hambantota, in dealing with unruly protests, which are mostly those carried out with political motives. The Hambantota port and Mattala airport are failed projects, for which the Rajapaksa government plunged the country into a huge financial hellhole. The massive debt has to be repaid and the best possible option is to operate both projects as joint ventures, with China as the principal partner, which the government has wisely done. It is not as if the port and airport will be taken back to China, as the protesters keep on insisting, when they claim that national assets were being sold to foreigners jaathika sampath vikunanawa. As rightly pointed by minister Vijithamuni Zoysa, if one’s business is running at a loss, the best option is to lease it out to a third party with the means to turn it around.
It is not as if the concept of privatisation is alien to Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was a senior Cabinet minister in the Chandrika government which even outdid the UNP in privatising state ventures. Those who were protesting in Hambantota, including Chamal Rajapaksa, who too was in the same government, were mum at the time. There was no talk about bartering away of national assets for a song kunu kolleta denawa.
Daily News, October 11, 2017