BY H. L. D. MAHINDAPALA
Question: Why did Ranil Wickremesinghe get his jab at the Army Headquarters – a privilege not given to the average citizen — and then attack the Army for delivering vaccines to the people standing in winding queues, waiting patiently in the sun for their turn to come?
Answer: It’s in his nature to bite the hand that feeds him. He can’t help being himself. In other words, you can’t straighten a dog’s curved tail even if you put it in a steel pipe.
He jumped the queue by going to Army Headquarters knowing that he would get privileged treatment.
Having got the benefits from an institution of the state – mark you, his only profession has been to politically exploit the state resources for a living – he goes all out to attack the Army that has gone beyond the call of duty to serve the people.
In short, Ranil will always be Ranil, meaning that he will exploit the system to get what he can from the state, from the Party, from the people without any consideration for the consequences to the victims of his unprincipled utterances and practices.
If he is a man committed to constitutional principles, as he claims to be, why did he not follow his own principle and go to the nearest PHI in the Health Ministry, or to “the institutions which enjoy constitutionally guaranteed power such as the Disaster Management Council and the Cabinet” (Daily Mirror – 10/8/21) to get his jab?
Instead he goes to the unconstitutional source – i.e., the Army – and gets the best remedy available and then questions the constitutional validity of the Army to do the job of combating Covid-19.
The immediate need of the hour is to combat Covid-19. And does it matter who does it as long as they are medically competent to do the jab? There are no constitutional and unconstitutional means of delivering the jab to combat Covid-19.
All medically competent means of combatting Covid-19 can be considered constitutional if they can save lives. It is those means that do not save lives, like the obstructionist charivari of Ranil, that are a serious threat to the security of the nation.
Besides, it is certainly not the constitutionality of the institution that matters in this crisis. The ridiculousness of Ranil’s position was exposed by the Army commander. Shavendra Silva, who revealed that he had gone to the Naranhenpitiya Army centre to get his jab.
According to the UNP mouth-piece, Palitha Range Bandara, the General Secretary of the UNP, the Army Commander should listen carefully to his leader and note that Ranil “emphasised the importance of health officials playing the lead role in the Covid – 19 Task Force” (Ceylon Today – 10/8/21).
Obviously, Bandara is saying that his leader is a stickler for principles. If constitutionality matters more than getting the inoculation why did his leader go to the unconstitutional Army centre to get his jab?
Since action speaks louder than words Bandara should know by now that to Ranil principles are like papadams: He just breaks them each time he sees one. He is making a desperate bid to raise his profile as a man committed to constitutional propriety when the urgencies of the crisis demand direct action bypassing conventional “principles” that hinder necessary and vital action to save lives and society as a whole.
If constitutional institutions are inadequate or incompetent are we to wait till those requirements are corrected, which may be never, or are we to go for the best available resources to solve the crisis facing us?
Ranil gave the answer by going to the unconstitutional institution which gave him the inoculation. So, what is the validity of Bandara’s defence when his leader doesn’t honour his own principles / words? It is not Ranil’s legalities that will save lives. It is the delivery of the vaccine to as many as possible through whatever competent means available that matters.
The plain fact is that Ranil is trying to stage a comeback by posing as the holy man of sacred constitutional principles. Raising proprieties of constitutional principles is his current means of grabbing the headlines. In reality, he is playing his usual game of obstructionism by disguising his undercutting political tactics as sacrosanct principles.
His political career has been a long record of invoking principles to dispense with principles. Where were his principles when he sold the nation and the soldiers who defended the nation to the West in Geneva?
He has had no compunction in betraying the soldiers each time they come forward to save the nation. Now he is questioning the constitutionality of the Army which is now engaged in providing additional support to the vital duties of the Ministry of Health, winning the hearts and minds of the people.
This is not an issue that is going to bring the people out into the streets and follow him. If the people are asked to choose between Ranil and Shavendra they would, hands down, follow the latter abandoning the former.
Ranil is hoping to do a Mahathir who staged a stunning comeback in his old age. But how can he endear himself to the people when he acts against their basic interests?
It is this kind of misguided policy that brought him down to zero in the last election. And he has not learnt his lesson. Peoples’ lives do not matter to him.
In the absence of a sure-fire cure there are a few known methodologies of combatting the deadliest enemy of our time: 1. inoculation; 2. masking; 3. social distancing; 4. lockdowns; 5. washing hands and doing whatever is necessary to keep the enemy at bay. Of all the known methodologies vaccination is recommended as the best preventive measure to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Globally, governments are battling to speed up the process of inoculation. Well-being of the individuals, the economy and society at large depend on the number of the inoculated.
Having a vaccine passport is the new licence to get even a seat in restaurants in some countries. Some states are offering money, liquor and even marijuana to coax people. Paralysed states are desperately pushing to inoculate as many people as possible as it is the only available means to meet the challenges of the sick economy. Individuals have to be protected to revive the economy.
A sick society cannot produce a healthy economy. The Army has stepped in to give a helping hand in this field. And Ranil is questioning the constitutionality of this act.
When a man is hit by a deadly arrow what is the point in asking from what direction it came, at what speed, and with what legal warranties and so on? Just pull it out, said the Buddha. In other words, do what is required and necessary and do not indulge in irrelevancies.
It is unanimously agreed that Covid-19 has pushed the nation into a precipitous decline. Man has been humbled by an invisible microbe mutating faster than the speed of man to find cures.
Pretentious pundits and self-promoting political scientists blaming the Army have no alternative to meet the need of the hour: vaccinate as many cases as possible to combat the advancing microbe. This is item No: 1 in the global agenda too.
Rushing vaccination to combat the enemy has been prioritised by international organisations battling to save lives and societies.
In the battle against Covid-19 delivering the final jab is ultimate goal and those who deliver that service should be honoured as angels of mercy.
After all, what are all the vaccines worth if there is no one to inject them? Isn’t Ranil talking big today because the Army gave him the protective boost?
In the light of the worsening situation Gen. Shavendra has taken the right step by introducing mobile units to provide the vaccine to the aged and the needy.
However, it should be noted that all Governments have been victims of the world’s deadliest foe. The spread of delta has cast doubts on the efficacy of even inoculation. Washington Post reported:
“Don’t think just because your county and your city is well vaccinated that this can’t affect you,” said Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Department of Health. “Do the things you need to do, particularly with schools returning and large festivals happening. Get ready. I hope you are spared, but we didn’t think it would be this bad.”
Louisiana, where fewer than 38 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, is confronting the nation’s worst surge with 120 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.
In Orleans Parish, home to New Orleans, 53 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated, but it has still been pummeled during the surge, with 89 new daily infections per 100,000 residents.
“The problem is when you have such a large reservoir of unvaccinated individuals surrounding an island of a highly vaccinated place you are just going to have a lot of transmission,” Avegno said.
Known trends and the predictions for the future are not promising at all. The only available means so far is to inoculate and all hands available for the job must be engaged wherever possible.
All Governments combatting Covid-19 are compelled to mobilise forces to inoculate their population. Under these trying circumstances Gen. Silva has been delivering a commendable service.
He, of course, is in familiar terrain. Only the battlefield has changed. Besides, he is also no stranger to unfair and unwarranted criticism against the security forces.
This nation which was born without any army has come a long way, with the security forces playing invaluable roles in crises created by man and nature.
Even before it was born there was fear and suspicion about the creation of an army. No less a person than the Father of the Nation, D. S. Sennayake, expressed fears about the possible threats from the armed forces to the nation.
Colin. R. de Silva, the first Assistant Secretary in the Defence Ministry of independent Ceylon (as it was known then) has recorded an episode which illustrates the philosophy that stunted the early growth of the army in its early stages.
He wrote: “The Prime Minister, N. W. Atukorale, his Secretary, the Ceylon Police bodyguard, (later Sir Kanthaih) Vaithianathan, (Prime Minister’s Permanent Secretary) and I travelled by the then single class with stretch footrest plane to England.
As we approached Cairo, where the party was to be guests of the new Egyptian Government, an interesting conversation took place.
“We are going as the guests of General Neguib,” the Prime Minister said, “but I wonder whether he will still be the Head of State when we extend our return invitation”. His eyes twinkled once again questioning me.
Vaithianathan grunted. He had deduced what I had never even dreamed. I looked at the Prime Minister questioningly.
“A group of young officers was really behind the coup d’etat that sent King Farouk into exile,” the Prime Minister declared. “They needed a man of General Neguib’s stature to front for them, especially a devout Muslim. They will quietly retire him and take over. Remember the two names, Nasser and Sadat.”
A man of remarkable foresight and wisdom, this D. S. Senanayake.
“Actually, as a matter of fact this coup is lesson we ourselves must learn,” he continued soberly. “We should never give too much power to our Armed Forces, or become too dependant on them.” (p.21 – Sri Lankan Army 50 Years on 1949 – 1999).
It is this philosophy that stunted the growth of the Army in the early stages. Even when the military offensive against the Tamil Tigers were at its heights under President J. R. Jayewardene there was no attempt to beef up the forces.
Lalith Athulathmudali, the Junior Minister of Defence, too was committed to keep it as a ceremonial force.
When he visited Melbourne he told me that the Army should not be strengthened as a powerful military could be an overwhelming political force that could be a threat to democracy.
It is the Rajapaksa philosophy that turned the security forces into a fully-fledged fighting force. The greatness of the security forces is that it never overstepped its boundaries to usurp the powers of the elected representatives.
The “1962” military coup was a disaster to the Right-wing forces manipulated by a selected few at the top. The rank and file of the forces were with the people. The Left-wing never manage to infiltrate the forces.
There were one or two the odd individuals but not as a force. Maj. A.J. Z. Navaratne, for instance, was one. He told me that he used to transport his friend, Dr. N. M. Perera, in his car during times of emergencies. When “NM” became Finance Minister Maj. Navaratne was rewarded with the Chairmanship of the Lotteries Board.
Earlier, they were dismissed as a joke. The cynical Editor of Observer, Tarzie Vittachi, labelled the Air Force as the “Air Farce”. When Major-General Gerard Wijekoon held a military exercise to provide combat experience to his forces I asked him (covering the Army was one of my assignments at the time) whether he would use live bullets. He replied that the soldiers would make “appropriate noises”.
Tarzie went to town with that remark. He wrote in his “Fly-by-night” column that the soldiers would be fed on kos-ata (jack seeds) to make appropriate noises!
Another instance was when Prime Minister S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike took the salute at Independence Day celebrations with the three commanders standing in the podium located at the place where his statue is now.
The solitary ship of the navy, Vijaya, which was more or less a large fishing boat dressed up as a battle ship, was bobbing up and down in the morning sun near the Galle Face Green.
Aiming to crack a joke Prime Minister asked: “Royce (de Mel, the Navy Commander) is that your Navy?” Without batting an eyelid Royce replied: “It is our Navy, Sir!”
Of course, the Senanayake and the Rajapaksa philosophies were dictated by the necessities of their respective times.
The commitment of the Rajapaksas to transform the Army into a first -class fighting force paid dividends. It achieved what the world’s greatest army couldn’t achieve in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. It quelled terrorism and restored peace, democracy and stability. But it didn’t take long for the enemy within to betray the triumphant forces. Ranil led his forces to Geneva and sold the victorious forces without the consent of the then President, Parliament, his own Party and the people. It is his nature to betray his own people without any compunction.
His betrayal in Geneva dogged him all the way to his utter humiliation in the last election. He thought he was smart in invoking principles and posing as the champion of human rights. But the people were smarter.
They know the difference between a man of principles and one who pretends to be principled. That is why they lined up for miles on end in paying homage to Dudley Senanayake, the honoured man of principles, and left Wickremesinghe reduced to zero without a following in 2019.