It was ludicrous for members of the Front-line Socialist Party (FSP) to have clashed with the police on Friday in an attempt to forcibly enter the Immigration and Emigration Department demanding Sri Lankan citizenship for their politburo member Premakumar Gunaratnam.
They staged this hilarious drama on the day after the Kegalle Magistrate sentenced Gunaratnam, an Australian citizen, to a one year jail term and a fine of Rs.50,000 after finding him guilty of overstaying his visa. Interestingly Gunaratnam’s attorney, had at no time during the hearing, dismissed the charges.
The strategy adopted by the FSP to obtain Sri Lankan citizenship for its politburo member was childish. Gunaratnam, earned the sympathy of many Sri Lankans after he was abducted apparently by a state security arm reportedly at the insistence of a bigwig of the previous government before being released and deported to Australia in April 2012.
He later entered the country on a 30-day tourist visa, which expired on January 30, 2015 and since then had been absconding until his arrest by the Kegalle Police on November 4 last year at Anguruwella in Kegalle
In the meantime, the FSP had urged the government to permit Gunaratnam to engage in politics, which was not the issue because though illegal, Gunaratnam was interacting with his party members since his arrival last year, but the issue was his overstaying his visa. Throughout his trial, the FSP was agitating for the granting of Sri Lankan citizenship while the Immigration and Emigration Department argued that it was inappropriate to grant citizenship to a person who was facing charges for overstaying his visa. Had he applied for citizenship at the time he visited the country in January last year, he might have succeeded by now.
When Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle, two prominent members of the FSP, were abducted by the notorious “white vans” during the previous regime, the party surprisingly did not resort to this type of demonstrations or protests though such agitation was warranted.
There is a larger breathing space for democracy now when compared with the period before the last presidential election. But that does not mean that the current situation may last forever. The country has been administered by both the main political parties in the past and when looking back there is no assurance of total democracy or the presence of repression, irrespective of the party at the helm. Hence, political parties should not launch struggles which call for suppression, which is seen as justifiable by governments, because in the long run it would give legitimacy for suppression of even just struggles by workers, students and farmers.
There is no doubt, Gunaratnam deserves Sri Lankan citizenship and he has every right as well to engage in politics in this country. As he had told Court, he was born here, studied here and forced to migrate to Australia due to the brutal repression unleashed against the JVP, the party of which he was a member, before, during and after the party’s second insurrection in 1988/89. But there are procedures to follow if a person is to return to the country and engage in politics.
The FSP must also understand that only its members are concerned about Gunaratnam. Other people have their own problems to contend with. As a revolutionary party, it claims that it had fought to ease the plight of paddy farmers, while the weight it had given to the Gunaratnam issue might have increased its support base among the farmers.
President Maithripala Sirisena invited those who had been compelled to leave the country during the previous regime, to return, soon after he assumed office last year. Hence, there cannot be any valid reason now for the authorities to reject an application from asking for Sri Lankan citizenship. Now that the case is over, FSP must follow the due procedures to apply for such a status without resorting to amusing, childish “struggles” while on the other hand the red tape or arrogance by the authorities should not stand in its way.