By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Traitors should be given capital punishment.” – Gotabaya Rajapaksa (The Island – 6.5.2010)
A former LTTE colonel who pleaded guilty for the assassination of Major General Janaka Perera was given a 20-year prison sentence this week.
General Perera was murdered by a Tiger suicide bomber in 2008. A popular figure with Sinhala extremists because of his role in the long Eelam War and his hardline political views, he joined the UNP in 2008 and was made the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the North Central Province. The UNP lost but General Perera topped the overall preference vote count.
It was no secret that General Perera was on the LTTE’s hit list. He would have got all the protection he needed had he joined the UPFA. Basil Rajapaksa reportedly met Gen. Perera and asked him “whether he would support the government and play an important role. He could even be a defence advisor…. The soldier turned diplomat…..politely turned down the offer….. The meeting ended with Rajapaksa sounding a note of caution that he would then have to face the political consequences.”[i]
The harassment started soon after. His request for security was refused by the patriotic government, compelling him to seek judicial intervention. The Supreme Court ordered the Defence Ministry to provide protection and Gen Perera was given seven police guards. But these were removed a week after the election, probably because Gen. Perera turned down another request to join the regime. As he revealed in his final public speech (minutes before his assassination), “I was asked by the government to join forces with them after the results of the NCP polls…. They told me you must be with the government if you want to do something for the country. But I did not join hands with the UNP and chain of opposition forces only to abandon it now.”[ii]
When his security was withdrawn Gen. Perera lodged a complaint with the police. “Maj. Gen. Perera in his complaint to Anuradhapura SP’s office said that on a Supreme Court order prior to the provincial council elections he was provided seven police guards but all of them were withdrawn a week after the elections.”[iii] The police ignored the complaint; perhaps the police had to, since Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had reportedly decreed that his former colleague did not face a security threat[iv]. Gen. Perera, who was being very active as the leader of opposition of the NPC, was compelled to seek judicial intervention again. “Maj. Gen Perera had signed the proxy giving permission to the lawyers to go ahead with the petition….. The petition was to cite Defence Secretay Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Police chief Jayantha Wickramaratne and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, among others.”[v] The petition reportedly stated, “The Government has failed to provide security to the petitioner despite the fact that the General Public regard him as a war hero and the LTTE regard him as an enemy….due to the fact that he holds the political views of the UNP”[vi].
Before the petition could be filed, the Tiger struck, killing Gen. Perera, his wife and several others.
Gen. Perera may have been killed by the LTTE even if he was given all the protection he asked for. But the absence of any security would have made the killer’s task immeasurably easier.
A Cautionary Tale
Janaka Perera’s fate is relevant today because of what it says about Rajapaksa politics and the manner in which the Siblings use the patriotic card.
From a Sinhala supremacist point of view, Gen. Perera was unquestionably a patriot. He fought against the LTTE; his attitude to issues such as human rights and the ethnic problem placed him in the company of Sarath Fonseka and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. But in Rajapaksa eyes none of these mattered once he joined the political opposition. He ceased being a patriot and became a traitor the moment he turned down Basil Rajapaksa’s offer. And the ‘consequences’ Mr. Rajapaksa hinted at included depriving Gen. Perera the security he was in need of. Vengeance thus became official policy, a standard occurrence under Rajapaksa rule.
Gen. Perera’s fate illustrates how the Rajapaksas draw the all important line of demarcation between patriots and traitors. Those who support the Rajapaksas are patriots and those who oppose the Rajapaksas are traitors. Just a year after Gen. Perera was murdered, one of the people sighted in his petition as respondents, Sarath Fonseka, was accorded similar treatment for the same reason by the Rajapaksas.
When Gen. Perera was assassinated, the government rushed to condemn the murder and heap encomiums on the former soldier. The President made a passionate appeal to all Lankans to unite to defeat the LTTE. Probably taking these public utterances at face value, the then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake agreed to the UNP’s request for a helicopter to transport Gen. Perera’s body to his home in Anuradhapura. The coffin was taken to the Ratmalana air port by family members and colleagues for the promised transportation. After a wait of five hours they were informed that no helicopter was available.
Questioned in parliament, a desperate PM blamed miscommunication for the non-appearance of the promised helicopter. But the Rajapaksas were not really interested in covering up. A key purpose of revenging on enemies, even in death, is to send a message of deterrence to all other opponents, potential and actual. So the Media Centre for National Security stated that a helicopter was never promised, and could not have been promised because of the war.
The Rajapaksas’ revenge went further. Efforts were made to sabotage the funeral procession as it wended its way from Colombo to Anuradhapura. Roads were closed arbitrarily and police escort withdrawn. A protest by a group of traders in Anuradhapura against the assassination of Gen, Perera was stopped by the police[vii].
Barely four months later, addressing the 2009 Independence Day celebration, President Rajapaksa proclaimed the policy his government would follow, post-war: “We are today a nation that has defeated a powerful enemy that stood before us. Similarly we should have the ability to defeat all internal enemies that are found in our midst.” The manner in which Gen. Janaka Perera was treated, both in life and in death, demonstrate who the ‘internal enemies’ really are and how the war against them will be conducted.
The ‘divide’ between patriots and traitors will be showcased again, once the presidential election season begins. The traitor label will be used to attack opposition candidate/s, especially those who are likely to win minority support. The task of physically attacking opposition gatherings might even be outsourced to various ‘patriotic organisations’ such as the BBS and Ravana Balaya. The Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara types will be used to invade opposition gatherings, sabotage opposition campaign/s and confuse opposition voters. Such attacks will be passed off as ‘public interventions’, manifestations of patriotic outrage against the opposition’s ‘treachery’. This way the Rajapaksas will be able to beat back their opponents without dirtying their own hands.
Given this possible future, it is instructive to remember how the patriotic Rajapaksas treated the Sinhala hardline war-hero Janaka Perera. Rajapaksa-patriotism must be exposed for what it is – a weapon to attack Rajapaksa-foes and a shield to defend Rajapaksa-crimes.