A Comedy of Errors
The decision by the forces is a matter of concern though it appears to be justifiable: from where did they get the courage, skill, and strength for the action and why didn’t they think of alternatives when they had plenty of other administrative avenues to raise the issue? Creating situations that are well blown up, extravagant, and thus improbable; the whole drama became a ‘Comedy of Errors’
That the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province should not be permitted to enter any Military Establishments, and also to shun any event attended by the CM. They have issued the direction following consultation with the Defence Secretary, who should have been more judicious. Why didn’t the other two commanders leave it for Navy Chief to tackle by himself?
The three Commanders, on May 25 ordered in writing, ‘…that the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province should not be permitted to enter any Military Establishments, and also to shun any event attended by the CM. They have issued the direction following consultation with the Defence Secretary, who should have been more judicious. Why didn’t the other two commanders leave it for the Navy Chief to tackle by himself?
Certain Opposition sections over-reacted to the embarrassing treatment of Captain I.R. Premaratne, a senior officer of the Sampur Navy Camp by Eastern Province CM; some even suggested perilous consequences, implying possible anti-government action by military. These are highly exaggerated sentiments expressed by politically motivated and administratively ignorant individuals. While the Joint Opposition used the opportunity to generate a gap between the Government and the Armed Forces, the other Rajapaksa sympathizers, especially the Sinhala/Buddhist extremists, organized demonstrations in many parts of the country, including the home town of the Navy Officer on whom the CM used abusive vocabulary, calling it another instance of pestering the armed forces or government’s alleged harassment against the Rana Viruvo.
‘ … Democratic institutions in the post-cold war era have come to be regarded as the only legitimate forms of governance. Elections have seemingly replaced coups as the main mechanism for changing rulers, and there remain very few overtly military governments. And the fact that more and more societies have experienced order and government disintegrating under the pressures of violent conflict and internal war pose even more intractable obstacles to the institutionalization of democracy and human security.’ – ‘Governing Insecurity: Democratic Control of Military and Security ...’ Gavin Cawthra and Robin Luckham -2003: [Review]
Mobilization of the armed forces on security and civil responsibilities in many countries had helped trigger conspiracies and consequent coup attempts to bring down elected Governments
Another episode in the May 20 Sampur drama, perhaps the final…, ended on a happy note when Eastern Province C M Nazeer Ahamed, accompanied by Minister Malik Samarawickrama and Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister S. Iswaran, was welcomed by the Navy when they attended a luncheon at the Naval Base in Trincomalee on Wednesday .
This was CM’s first visit to a defence forces base after his tirade against the Naval officer at Sampur. The CM had not been allowed to go into a military camp from May 26. On May 27, the CM wrote to the President and PM, apologizing to all concerned including the naval officer and also reproving the decision of the security forces. However, the MoD had revoked the decision on May 30.
The ‘drama’, though, appears to be no longer an issue, it has left a few questions in the nature of ‘lessons to learn’. The CM rebuking the naval officer in the presence the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka was triggered by an incident that occurred the same morning when the governor had arranged a helicopter to take the ambassador from Kinniya to Sampur and the CM too seeking to join in the flight but he was told of the difficulty, in finding accommodation. Some attempted to paint it in a racial colour while others chose to condemn him and to personally threaten him. However good sense prevailed as government intervened; and the forces declared embargo and ban on CM from visiting any camps and the boycott of all events attended by him were lifted after a few days though the protocol argument raised by CM warrants cautious consideration.
A video footage went viral in the social media; and the other media reports followed up with detailed descriptions of all episodes.Hence these will not be repeated. The CM in a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena said, “When I came up on stage, a naval officer who was acting as the ‘master of ceremonies’, physically obstructed me from proceeding to take my place on the stage…I would not hesitate to express my unequivocal regret and apologies to all those who were present, including the staff and students of the school, the foreign dignitary and the concerned naval officer for my strong but justifiable reaction.”
Joint Opposition used the opportunity to generate a gap between the Government and the Armed Forces, the other Rajapaksa sympathizers
Can the Chief Minister’s childish behaviour in-front of school children and the American Ambassador be attributed to a trend set by his predecessors. The governments, previous and present turned a blind eye towards the behaviour of Eastern Province’s CM and other leaders. MR tolerated Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillyan) and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (Karuna)’s antics: they know that the governments need their support.
Forces on Security and Civil Responsibilities
Mobilization of the armed forces on security and civil responsibilities in many countries had helped trigger conspiracies and consequent coup attempts to bring down elected Governments and rule by military juntas or setting up of some form of undemocratic regimes; such exercises though mostly unsuccessful, cannot be ruled out totally. The recent decision by the President-Premier unity rule to withdraw the Army from VVIP security contingents and the City beautification programme was rightly attributed to reasons of confining military establishment to its legitimate role. However, deviating from the above stand,
The President announced on Sunday 5th at the Environment Day ceremony held in Matale, that he had issued instructions for deployment of Tri-Forces men for an active participation in apprehending those involved in illegal sand mining and tree-felling.
The individual units were aggressively organizing themselves to face any emergency situation. Orders to be carried out by the Forces and the Police for uninterrupted maintenance of services and supplies were prepared well ahead.
Lessons from the Past-1961/62 Experience
The Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government in late 1961contemplated the ‘exploitation’ of Armed Forces during anticipated strike action and suspected violent disturbances. The Deputy Minister of Defence, Felix Dias Bandaranaike accordingly distributed a questionnaire to the Police and the Armed Forces calling for views and ideas on how to deal with such circumstances with special emphasis on deployment of military men. About the end of 1961, a very large number of Harbour workers went on strike; they were soon joined by the CTB. In anticipation of this strike and perhaps of probable subsequent strikes, all volunteer units were summoned for service.
In December, the bank staff, cinemas, gas company and oil workers joined too. Marxist Trade Union leaders who controlled 85% of the working class, planned a nationwide one day strike in January in sympathy with other strikers. That a critical state of affairs was imminent,[ if not already existed]. The Army had to be mobilised in transporting food. Trade Unions became agitated as the Government failed to respond effectively to their demands and instead attempted sabotage TU action by the deployment of Armed forces. The strikes were led under the instigation of LSSP, MEP and CP leadership. The situation became chaotic. Intelligence reported that a nation-wide General Strike, in parallel with street violence like in the 1953 Hartal is to be launched in late January 1962. It was decided to engage the services of the armed services to assist the authorities in maintaining essential services. The individual units were aggressively organizing themselves to face any emergency situation. Orders to be carried out by the Forces and the Police for uninterrupted maintenance of services and supplies were prepared well ahead.