A wake-up Call

Island Editorial

A wake-up call

Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran has appealed for calm while protests are being held against the killing of two undergraduates in Jaffna. Had the police acted cautiously and responsibly, that unfortunate incident and the attendant problems could have been avoided.

It is wrong to drink and drive or ride and one asks for trouble when one defies police orders to stop, especially at checkpoints, but the two undergrads shouldn’t have been shot. For, they posed no threat to anyone. The guardians of the law would not have acted in that manner if a powerful politician or his son had defied their orders and driven away. There have been instances where armed policemen, roughed up by VVIPs’ sons, took it lying down.

The police have earned notoriety for opening fire on people for defying their orders to stop in other parts of the country as well and there have been public protests against them. It was only natural that undergrads and others took to the streets condemning the killing of the students and demanding justice. Protests are to be expected when such incidents occur.

The northern hartal was, however, different. The government, to its credit, ordered a probe and took prompt action against the police personnel concerned, who were immediately arrested. The matter should have been left to the judiciary thereafter. All right-thinking persons condemned the tragic incident unreservedly and demonstrations were held in Colombo as well against it. The government and the police got the message loud and clear.

But, some sinister political elements in the North seem to be fishing in troubled waters and advancing a hidden agenda. There have been attacks on policemen in some parts of the North. It looks as if the disruptive elements had been waiting for an opportunity to swing into action and wreak havoc. The shooting incident served as a trigger. They seem to be limbering up and the government must remain vigilant without lowering its guard.

Those behind the well organised protests have demonstrated their ability to cripple the entire North and stop the writ of the state from running there. Even the public institutions and the state-run bus service in the North did not function during the hartal. Were public officials under duress to stay away from work?

If only the people of the North and the East had taken to the streets and staged hartal when the LTTE started violently suppressing dissent, extorting money from them, abducting their children who were turned into cannon fodder. They chose to dree their weird without offering any resistance. It is a supreme irony that among the organisers of the hartal against the recent police shooting are some politicians notorious for commemorating dead Tiger leaders who once perpetrated heinous crimes against civilians, and making not-so-surreptitious attempts to revive the LTTE. How can they reconcile their new-found concern for human rights with their desire for reviving terrorism? They are sure to do everything in their power to provoke a backlash so as to give a turbo boost to their political project.

The government must not make the mistake of taking the situation in the North lightly. Most of those at the levers of power have a history mismanaging national security and appeasing terrorists and terror backers in the name of peacemaking. They should also realise that the country is in no mood for levity. That is why, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s jokes about the Ava group, which is active in the North, went down like lead balloons in Parliament instead of providing a moment of levity.

It is good that Wigneswaran has appealed for calm. However, he and others of his ilk have to act with restraint without resorting to rabble rousing to achieve their political ends. Their irresponsible utterances and actions are fraught with the danger of letting the genie out of the bottle once again. They ought to learn from the mistakes of the Tamil political leaders who created conditions for terrorism to thrive and paid with their dear lives for that.