By C. A. Chandraprema
In the middle of the sensational events of the past few days, the sacking of one prime minister and the appointment of another, the multiple press conferences being held by the rival camps, the shooting incident at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, the petroleum strike, and the crossovers and counter crossovers taking place, one event that went almost unnoticed was the reduction of the former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s (RW) security detail from around 1,000 to just ten. If this was a temporary tactic to get the squatters in Temple Trees out, then it is quite understandable. However, if it is a permanent reduction, then that means that the alleged assignation plot affair has gone much further than anyone imagined and that the President has heard something that we have not heard.
What is important here is not our gut feelings or opinions, but what kind of tape recordings President Maithripala Sirisena has been listening to. It is true that the UNP went to extremes to keep the Rajapaksas out of politics by bringing in the constitutional provision that dual citizens would not be allowed to contest elections. That was brought in specifically to keep Gotabhaya and Basil Rajapaksa out of politics. Then they restored the provision that anyone who has held the position of President for two terms cannot contest again to in order to keep Mahinda Rajapaksa out. Then they increased the age limit to contest a presidential election in order to keep Namal Rajapaksa out.
Though RW would resort to such legalistic dirty tricks to keep out the competition, I do not think he would resort to the physical elimination of anyone to achieve that objective. There however are two complicating factors, in this drama – the first is the other politician whose name is being mentioned as having been involved in the assassination plot. Both Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil wickremesinghe (and all of us to boot), would not put anything beyond that Minister.
Immediately, after Lasantha Wickremetunga’s brutal murder, the then Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in fact accused that particular gentleman of being behind the killing. After the yahapalana government came into power there was absolutely no investigation as to who actually was behind the killing of Lasantha. That government dared not investigate the killing for fear that the investigation will end up exposing one of their own. The so-called investigations that appeared from time to time especially at election time was just eyewash. The most recent hullabaloo with the remanding of retired DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara was an investigation into what happened to Lasantha’s notebook –– not into his murder. The CID brought a retired DIG to courts and presented him to the Magistrate as the ‘maha molakaru’ (mastermind) behind the disappearance of Lasantha’s notebook on which the latter is supposed to have written the numbers of the motorcycles that were following him.
After a while, photocopies of the said notebook were recovered and it was discovered not unsurprisingly that the numbers were false. There ended the purported investigation into Lasantha’s murder. The yahapalana government never really investigated it for fear that the person responsible would emerge from their side. The alleged involvement of this tempestuous character who everybody thinks is responsible for Lasantha’s death, in the alleged plot to assassinate MS and GR was one major complicating factor. The second and even more important issue is that the voice in the tapes made public by Namal Kumara, which can be heard clearly plotting to assassinate Maithripala Sirisena and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa with the involvement of underworld king pin Makandure Madush is that of the arrested DIG Nalaka Silva. Members of the journalistic community who know Nalaka Silva confirm that it was indeed his voice in the tape recordings. The whole country heard those tapes being played over the TV news bulletins. For a DIG of the Terrorism Investigation Division to be heard plotting the assassination of the President and former Defence Secretary of the country was quite unusual to say the least.
UNP’s inexplicable nonchalance
The government should at least have shown some curiosity in this matter. But what we saw instead from the UNP side was an attempt to make light of the whole matter and even to defend Nalaka Silva. The first to come to the latter’s defence was the IGP who said that the tape was not authentic. Then government spokesmen began to strenuously argue before the media that none of the tapes examined and confirmed by the Government Analyst as authentic had any discussions that related to any murder plot. That claim was being made in circumstances where the whole country had heard an assassination plot being discussed in a recorded conversation. This was a government that arrested and kept former DIG Anura Senanayake in jail for more than a year without any charge. Senanayake was later to say that the government was trying to obtain a statement from him implicating the Rajapaksas in the Thajudeen murder and they were keeping him behind bars until he broke.
He is out on bail now, and no charges have still been framed against him. Former DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara was arrested and kept in remand on the allegation that he had destroyed Lasantha’s notebook. President Maithripala Sirisena himself had to summon a special Cabinet meeting to prevent the CID from arresting the serving Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne the highest ranking serving military officer in the country on the allegation that he had given a Naval officer wanted in connection with a criminal investigation money to flee the country. This in a situation where the suspect concerned had clearly stated that he had not been given money by anybody and that he had used the money he had got as back wages to leave the country legally, through the Katunayake airport. So this is a government that arrested and jailed people at the drop of a hat. In such circumstances, the question would naturally have arisen in Maithripala Sirisena’s mind as to why the IGP and the entire government was going out of its way in this manner to avoid arresting Nalaka Silva.
If Maithripala Sirisena has freaked out over this talk of an assassination plot, the UNP has only itself to blame. There was a clearly visible reluctance on the part of the UNP government even to record a statement from Nalaka Silva. Ultimately he was summoned to the CID only due to pressure from the public. When the CID recorded statements from him, he was always allowed to go back home. The public watched Nalaka Silva’s comings and goings to the CID with stupefaction because under the yahapalana government, it was so unusual for anybody who went to the CID to return home without being trundled off to remand prison. You cannot say that Sirisena is making up stories that will not even be believed by ‘punchi lamai’ (small children).
One of those said to be behind this plot is a person RW himself once accused of being behind the killing of Lasantha. So President Sirisena, being the person targeted in the alleged plot would naturally be concerned. How can things go on as if nothing has happened when the Prime Minister and a Minister in the UNP Cabinet is accused of plotting to kill the President of the country and the former Defence Secretary both of whom were possible contenders for the presidency and there were tape recordings to prove that a plot actually existed? The UNP is now suffering the consequences of their attempt to sweep the assassination plot under the carpet. Having said that it should be stressed that once the former PM is out of Temple Trees, he should be provided with an adequate security detail befitting a former Prime Minister.
The UNP government reduced the security of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa knowing fully well that they had a level of threat that Wickremasinghe never had. The yahapalana government reduced MR’s security following the Galle face rally in 2017 as well. This is why we all had such contempt for the UNP government formed after January 2015. That was a government of scoundrels. However, the new government should not follow that bad example, and President Sirisena, though he may be rattled and justifiably furious at the UNP’s attempt to sweep an assassination plot against himself and the former defence secretary under the carpet, should restore an adequate number of security personnel to RW.