The untimely, sudden and tragic demise of State Minister Sanath Nishantha brought to fore the fact that the government has lost all touch with reality- and is heading for certain defeat at the elections.
We do not wish to reflect on the words and deeds of the late Sanath Nishantha in these columns. Enough of that has already happened and opinion has been divided, if somewhat lopsided. It suffices to say that it is not humane to speak ill of the dead, particularly at a time when his widow and children are still grieving.
Instead, it is the reaction of key members of the government that must be called into question. Most of them reflect their stark ignorance of the depths to which the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has descended.
Nishantha died in a high-speed crash on the Katunayake Expressway, hours after attending Parliament to vote for the Online Safety Bill. His luxury vehicle was reported to have been travelling at a speed of at least 150 kilometres per hour, well in excess of the speed limit, when it rammed into a rear of a container. When extricated from the vehicle by passers-by, Nishantha had already passed away. Death would have been instant in such a high impact collision where the speed at which he was travelling is a critical factor. The blame for that must surely rest with the driver of Nishantha’s vehicle.
Chief Government Whip and Minister Prasanna Ranatunga’s response- as that of senior parliamentarian Gamini Lokuge- is that this is the fault of those at the ‘aragalaya’. Their absurd logic is that, had the ‘aragalaya’ not led to the burning down of Nishantha’s home in the Puttalam district, he wouldn’t have had to return to Colombo late at night- and would therefore have not met with the accident.
If one were to extend this logic further, if Nishantha didn’t take to politics, he wouldn’t have a luxury vehicle or this driver and would not have met with this fate. If one were to develop this ridiculous argument further, if Nishantha himself didn’t lead the mobs to destroy ‘Gota Go Gama’ on May 09, 2022, his house wouldn’t have been burnt down. Is he to blame for his own death, then?
Nishantha had an official residence in Colombo. His three children were schooling in Colombo. That is why he was returning to Colombo. Yet, Ranatunga and Lokuge want to blame his death on the ‘aragalaya’!
It is no secret that Nishantha’s death led to a furious backlash on social media. Though we do not approve of many of the comments made, it is a reflection of the anger and hate the public feel about the government and its politicians in general, not merely Nishantha. Against this backdrop, we have no less than Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena saying that those who made derogatory comments about Nishantha would be investigated and dealt with under the newly “endorsed” Online Safety Bill.
This controversial Bill passed through Parliament a day before Nishantha’s death but many have expressed concerns that most of its provisions haven’t incorporated the changes recommended by the Supreme Court. So, Abeywardena himself has referred it back to the Attorney General for review before he signs it into law. Until that happens, it is not the law of the country. Yet, in public, he claims that Nishantha’s critics would be dealt under the “new law”! Is that a ploy to mislead or is Abeywardena losing his marbles?
Next, we have another seasoned politician, Minister Bandula Gunawardena, known from time to time for his remarkable remarks, uttering yet another gem. In charge of the Transport portfolio, he says that the government will soon introduce a ‘minimum speed’ on expressways. Vehicles travelling at slow speeds are a hindrance to traffic on the expressways and lead to accidents because other vehicles travelling at the prescribed speed find it difficult to negotiate traffic, he says.
Even an Ordinary Level student can see that when a vehicle travels at 150 kilometres an hour on an expressway designed for two-thirds of that speed, accidents are bound to happen. The logical step in the aftermath of the accident would have been to strictly enforce speed limits on expressways using traffic Police, speed cameras and closed-circuit television cameras as done in most other countries. Also, the rules for speeding should be enforced on all roads without fear or favour because the worst offenders are politicians who travel at ultra-high speed with horns blaring, lights blinking and an escort vehicle clearing the way. Ah, but Bandula is blind to such blatant disregard for the law. Instead, the brilliant strategist that he is, he wants to penalise slow moving vehicles on expressways!
Last but not least, we have SLPP parliamentarian Tissa Kuttiarachchi venting his spleen about those who made derogatory comments on Nishantha’s demise. Such comments cannot be endorsed but Kuttiarachchi goes a step further. “We are not good people,” he says, “so, don’t test our patience” in what is a rather thinly veiled threat.
One should not expect a higher standard of behaviour from someone who once made extremely crude remarks against lady parliamentarian Rohini Kaviratne in Parliament but it also proves that the SLPP has lost all focus and is hopelessly disconnected from public sentiment.
Any political party worth its salt would have reflected on the backlash against Nishantha on social media following his demise and asked itself why this was happening. The first step in redressing a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Only then can steps be taken to remedy it. Had they done so, they would have realised, even at this late stage, that it is the ethos and political culture of the SLPP, styled on an oligarchy, which is being criticised here.
Instead, Tissa Kuttiarachchi and his colleagues are hellbent on persecuting Nishantha’s critics, displaying their ignorance about the feeling ‘on the ground’. Only the next election results will knock some sense into them.
Seeing these reactions, both from seasoned politicians and backbenchers, it becomes obvious that the writing is on the wall for the SLPP because, as they say, those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make them mad!