The Sunday Leader

Public Property In The Midst Of Paada Yathra

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The protest march carried out by the former president has become a topic of much discussion in recent times. While some have justified the protest march, others have criticised its motives.

The protest march was organised by the Joint Opposition who claimed that the present government had failed to deliver 99 per cent of the promises that they made during their election campaigns. The march urged the government to hold elections, halt VAT increasing, cease the war crimes investigation and putting an end to political revenge. Explaining the reasons for organising the protest, MP Dullas Alahapperuma said they wanted to show the government that they do not have the majority support in the country but only in parliament.

Many incidents were reported during the several days that the march took to reach Colombo from the Peradeniya junction in Kandy. Even an SLFP union leader was remanded in custody for misusing public properties. This incident took place as the protestors were garlanding the statue of Dharmasiri Senanayake. The Airport and Aviation Authority was also dragged into this incident. It was reported a van and a crane unlawfully obtained from the Authority had been used at the event. Hence the JO members in the protest including Dullas Alahapperuma have been accused of misusing public properties. Thereafter, an official named Mohandiram has been remanded in custody.

The mater was again taken into hearing last Thursday and surprisingly, the court then released the official and the vehicles because it was proved the vehicles had been obtained legally. Then the police have been accused of arresting the official without substantial reasons.

 

Failed attempts

However, several attempts made by this newspaper to get a comment on the issue from Airport Authority officials and trade union representatives were unsuccessful as the case was on trial. On Thursday, after the trial, secretary of the Nidahas Sewaka Sangamaya and welfare officer at the Airport, Dinesh Perera commented on the issue as follows:

“We did everything legally. We possess all the necessary documents. Anyone can inspect them. The Court decision has confirmed it. This is taking political revenge. The Paada Yathra went past Dharmasiri Senanayake’s commemoration ceremony. So, we cannot prevent them from joining the ceremony. We had no knowledge of the route and time of the protest,” he said. He further stated that since the police had acted with a wrong understanding, the Court has released everyone involved on bail.

The accusation levelled against the protestors is misusing the government vehicles obtained for a different purpose. Initially, the Airport officials were firm that the vehicles had been legally obtained. The commemoration ceremony is held annually and this is its 16th. As usual, the commemorators had obtained police permits to use sound equipment and other things. Could the IGP have been misled on such an issue? When queried, the Police Media Unit claimed that they did not receive such a report and refused to comment.

 

Comments

Then this newspaper asked the politicians involved in the matter to find out what really took place at the commemoration. MP Dullas Alahapperuma said: “We had planned to offer flowers to the statue. But the government prevented it by making false accusations. In 1977, several UNPers lead by Paul Perera attacked the Bandaranaike memorial and said that Sirimavo, Anura, Chandrika, and Sunethra had to be tied to the pillars. But still we stood for the Bandaranaike policies. It’s the trade union chairman who is accused of bringing in these vehicles. We don’t know to whom they belong. Our protest march reached the venue the day after the statue of Dharmasiri Senanayake was unveiled. So there was a large crowd gathered at the place. Our agenda did not include a commemoration. But when we reached the place, they requested that we participate in the event. There was a crane at the venue. How can we refuse a request to pay our respect to a great man – a former SLFP General Secretary? But now it has become a punishable offense under the UNP government. This is what our followers must understand. Our trade union secretary had only organised a commemoration ceremony. He had not supported our march. Even the Airport Chairman states that the vehicles had been taken away with permission. What more is needed? If a government member had done this, it would have never become an issue. But since the JO is involved, it has become a crime. This proves the barbaric rule of the UNP.

Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, JVP MP said: “The JO stated that they would bring 1 million people to Colombo. They also boasted that they would topple the government on the way by getting the SLFP support towards them. But nothing happened. So the illusion Mr. Rajapaksa had about his influence was lost. Apart from the people brought in by some local council members who had lived off corruption during the previous regime; the general public did participate in the march. This is the last “Paada Yathra” of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political career. If the SLFP top brass cannot take any steps against these rebels, the next best thing they can do is to erect ground level effigies of Duminda Dissanayaka.

For those who swindled billions of rupees, misusing a vehicle or two is nothing. But the real problem is, the present government has yet to implement its “Yahapalana policies” realistically. The people demand that the culprits engaged in major corruptions to be brought before justice. If government does what people demand, they can avoid these things happening further.”

The convener of the Joint Opposition, MP Prasanna Ranatunga, said that the court decision clearly indicates the conduct of the present government. He said that the country is moving towards a Police State, and the court has to act according to the information provided by the police.

He also said that even though the government had promised to take into account the demands of trade unions, at present it is even banning commemorations of trade union leaders who had fallen in the name of the cause. He said that he would condemn taking political revenge. He further pointed out that the only way to prevent this dictatorial governance is to topple the ‘hybrid government’.

Even some members of the SLFP had expressed their displeasure over the protestors’ attitudes. Some claimed that this march stained the history of protests in the country. They claim that at the end of a protest march, people must be able to see some progress.

The most impressive protest march that has been ever recorded is the great march in China in 1934/35 that had covered over 6000 miles. In Sri Lanka, the Communist party Youth Organisation marched from Rathnapura to Colombo in 1969, urging the then government to provide employment for the youth. In 1993, the Jana Gosha protest march that went from Katharagama to Colombo against the then UNP government is still remembered by many as a successful march. In 2003, the JVP marched against the separation of the country. In 2010, university lecturers and students marched from Galle to Colombo and from Kandy to Colombo urging the then government to allocate 10 per cent of the GDP to education. These were some of the memorable protests marches carried out in Sri Lanka.

 

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