Chamal R shows the way

Daily News Editorial

Ex-Speaker and elder sibling of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal R. has spoken. Contrary to the rumpus kicked up by fellow Joint Opposition parliamentarians, the modest and more temperate of the Rajapaksas, CR, while lauding the government’s moves to create an industrial zone to compliment the Hambantota port project says that the harbour was constructed not to keep it in isolation but to link it to an industrial complex in the vicinity.

Addressing parliament, Chamal said, what he is opposed to is only with regard to land acquisition, with the story of a 15,000 acre takeover of land in Hambantota alone causing unrest among the people of the area, not to mention the 99 year lease agreement with the China Merchant Company. The senior Rajapaksa said if there is a need for more land they should be acquired from suitable places in adjacent districts.

Cartoon from Ceylon Today

He however commended Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for clearing matters at their joint meeting with the Tissamaharamaya Nayaka Thera, although this did not clear the suspicion of the people, and hence the agitation. Chamal was also aggrieved at the alleged government sponsored thuggery.

It is hoped that the fears of the people of Hambantota will be allayed by this clean bill of health given to the Hambantota port project by none other than a Rajapaksa himself. Rajapaksa senior, no doubt, is aware of the benefits that would accrue to his constituency by the massive transformation that the project will ensure. Hambantota is still a largely backward area in spite of the patina of modernity that Mahinda Rajapaksa strove to give it by the construction of a port, airport and international cricket stadium. A large segment of its youth are unemployed, with none of the mega projects launched in the area succeeding in bringing down unemployment.

A US $ 1.1 billion investment is certainly going to turn things around for Hambantota and the Rajapaksas cannot afford to let go this opportunity. That is, if the rest of the Rajapaksas genuinely care for the people of Hambantota. Obviously Chamal, the mature politician that he is, has seen the potential and hence his defence of the project.

True, the UNP while in the Opposition was critical of the construction of a port in Hambantota and even coined various derisive terms to describe the project. But it is now a fait accompli and time to move on to the next stage to realise its full potential. Premier Wickremesinghe told parliament that the first factory to be opened in the Hambantota Industrial Complex will be by a Sri Lankan and that 95 percent of the land acquired will be state land. He asked Namal Rajapaksa if they wanted a industrial zone in Hambantota or not and that there are many takers for such a venture among his ministers in their electorates.

It is unfortunate indeed that while Chamal Rajapaksa is dwelling on the virtues of the Hambantota Industrial zone project, his colleagues in the Joint Opposition saw it fit to lead a mob to disrupt the agreement signing ceremony attended by the Chinese Ambassador. The Police had no option but to act the way they did. There is no knowing to what extent the rabble would have carried out their violent protest. The Ambassador and other diplomats who graced the occasion had to be protected at all costs from the rampaging mob.

What motivated the likes of Udaya Gammanpila and Dinesh Gunawardena, great China lovers not so long ago, and who made nary a whimper of protest when the Chinese had virtually a run of the country during the hay days of their erstwhile boss, to act the way they did, is baffling indeed, unless this was another opportunity not to be missed on the way to once against enthrone Mahinda Rajapaksa. Where were they when Port City land was given gratis to the Chinese. Did they, who are today shedding copious tears over the alleged loss of land of the people of Hambantota, object, when a sizable part of the Port City was being earmarked for a car racing track, for the amusement of the Rajapaksa progeny.

The government did right by effectively confronting opposition to a development project that would bring immense benefit to a large neglected rural populous whose innocence and backwardness are being exploited by crafty politicians. A poor country like Sri Lanka cannot afford the luxury of protests and agitations against development projects meant to take the country forward. A big issue is being made by spokesmen of the Joint Opposition that Bikkhus were set upon by the police. They say that mobs and police did not even spare the Sangha who were about to chant pirith. No prizes for guessing who these monks were.

The Prime Minister has already given an assurance that no temple or archeological site in Hambantota would fall victim during the land acquisition. Besides, Buddhist clergy should conduct themselves with dignity and in keeping with the veneration in which they are being held. Hopefully the sentiments of statesmen like politicians such as Chamal Rajapaksa would strike a chord in the hearts of the people of Hambantota.