Front Note: On Combating Factual Abuse by Colombo Hacks
‘He will lie, sir, with such volubility that you would think truth were a fool’
Shakespeare, in All’s well that ends well, IV, iii.
The internet has been a godsend for researchers like me. It has permitted access for various documents which are in the public domain, for me to study the Pirabhakaran Phenomenon. If not for internet, I wouldn’t have been able to study in full, the Supreme Court verdicts delivered in May 1999 by Justice D.P.Wadhwa, Justice K.T.Thomas and Justice S.S.M.Quadri on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial.
However, internet also has enabled hacks to promote half-baked research and malicious distortion of facts for their nefarious purposes. It is sad to note that Colombo has become a breeding ground for such factual abuse in the internet via the anti-Tamil mouth-pieces of journalism, which nominally pass as ‘daily newspapers’. Before the advent of internet, these Colombo-based mouth-pieces of half-baked journalism were not accessible for researchers and non-Sri Lankan journalists beyond the boundaries of Sri Lanka for months. But, internet has accelerated the access of these newspapers to those ‘foreign correspondents’ who are in need of quick ‘information’ for filling the blanks for their own half-baked reports. Thus, factual abuse perpetrated by the Colombo hacks on Pirabhakaran routinely spread like viruses. One simple form of protection, in my belief, is to write brief rebuttals for such distortion and place these in the internet websites so that these get linked to the original sources of misinformation. As a Pirabhakaran-watcher, I do my share for the simple reason that Eelam Tamil opinion deserves to be recorded, however time-consuming or distracting from routine work, they may be.
Thus, before I proceed to analyze this week’s theme on the judicial angle of Justice Quadri related to Rajiv Gandhi assassination, I wish to place on record three emails I had sent to the editor of Island (Colombo) newspaper which touch on Pirabhakaran. Why I sent these emails are self-explanatory.
Letter 1: sent on Oct.19, 2001
It’s always good fun for me to read your editorials, and to enjoy the irony soaked in them. And I thank the internet pioneers in my heart who have allowed me to read your partisan views with easy access. Since you solicit comments on your thoughts, I hope you wouldn’t mind hearing from me frequently these days. In the old days of Wijewardena Mudalali and Dasa Mudalali, editors who were fart-catchers for those robber barons could censor the unpleasant thoughts of readers which differed from Mudalali’s position in Sri Lankan politics. Even when I was in Sri Lanka, long before Prabhakaran’s appearance in the political radar, none of the few letters I sent to the Daily News or the Sun appeared in print. In that sense, I admire Mervyn de Silva for his vision and sense of balance. Thank God, those days have gone by. Even if you do not have the will to place my opinions in the pages of your newspaper, I can find a website to present these opinions for other readers to enjoy.
This letter is related to your most recent editorials: ‘Pre-election skullduggery to the fore’ (Oct.17), ‘A question of principled politics’ (Oct.18), and ‘Santa’s early arrival’ (Oct.19). In all these, you take issue with President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s style of governance, arrogance and cavalier disregard for accepted norms of politics. It is as if, you have stumbled on these issues only lately. But Prabhakaran and LTTE thinkers have scaled these same traits of the current President in 1995 correctly.
Mr. Editor, you cannot have your cake and eat it as well. On one hand, you have been preaching that Prabhakaran cannot be trusted since he will never give up his fight for Eelam and come to the negotiation table. This stance is fine, if the other party has been a model of virtue. You say now that Prabhakaran’s main adversary during the past 7 years is a bungling buffoon who is not worth her salt.
You had stated that, ‘Many will differ from the President’s estimation of herself’ (Oct.19). Bless you for saying that openly now. So, isn’t your lament confirms Prabhakaran’s position for all these years? How about some principled journalism on your part, Sir?
In your 20th anniversary editorial you bragged, ‘We are of the opinion that all communities got equal rights’ (Oct.4). Then, how come the Sri Lankan army consists of 95% (or more) Buddhists, when the Buddhist population in the island is only 75%? Either you should be mathematically-challenged to believe that 75 equals 95, or you are a hypocrite to say, “We are certainly not against the Tamil community. We support their rights and say that they are citizens of this country as much as those of any other community are.” If you sincerely believe what you say, will you campaign for proportional representation of all communities in the Sri Lankan army?
But I can sense your feeling of desperation. You have a day job to do, and you have to write ‘something’ to fill the blank space. Otherwise you will not get paid. How about more logical thinking on your part? Isn’t it better to leave the blank space as it is in the editorial column occasionally, like you leave out Wijesoma’s cartoons on some days, with the note ‘Not available today’?”
Letter 2: sent on Dec.13, 2001
Your past observations on Chandrika Kumaratunga, Anuruddha Ratwatte, Anura Bandaranaike, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, and their ilk have been of help to me to my selected theme ‘Farting Jesters’. Also, your regular contributors such as moralist Mahindapala (from Australia), ‘O-My Gosh!’ Godage, colic Chandraprema and ragman Ranatunge (from London) add more fun as farting jesters to the Island’s columns. What a team you had assembled to prance on Pirabhakaran. Sometimes I used to wonder whether if not for Pirabhakaran, all these guys would be out of work and starving. This includes you as well.
Now the new political jesters have gained their position of power, I do hope that you contribute your insight more on the new jesters as well, which will be of help to me for my work. My only delight in looking at the Island has been Wijesoma’s scribblings. But of late, he also has become senile and has lost his wit. Hope the new political jesters will provide him some invigorating tonic. Thanks.”
Letter 3: sent on Dec.15, 2001
Further to my previous communication to you on my interest in collecting materials for my forthcoming book ‘Farting Jesters in Fabled Lanka’, I wish to comment on your editorial of Dec.15, 2001 entitled ‘South Asian way of fighting terrorism’. You are entitled to your opinion, being a fart-catcher of your employer. But, to retain your credibility as a Colombo journalist, you should work hard Mr.Weerakoon. You cannot distort facts to suit your misguided opinion. This is in reference to your innuendo in one sentence you have included in your editorial which states, “Another example of the subjective attitude of India towards terrorism is that despite the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran being sentenced to death by the Indian Supreme Court for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi...”
I take offence with this fabrication of the Indian court’s verdict. Either you have not read the verdict delivered by the three judges of the Supreme Court (which is available online in the website maintained by the Central Bureau of Intelligence-India) or you maliciously reported a lie to mislead your readership. Only fart-catchers of your caliber in Colombo journalism can do this. Mervyn de Silva wouldn’t have written such a nonsense. The legal facts pertaining to the Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial shows that the LTTE leader Pirabhakaran was not under trial. According to the Indian authorities, he is an ‘absconding accused’. But for him to become an accused, a court summons should have been served on him. It has still not been established whether such a court summons was served to him by the official Indian representatives in Sri Lanka, since 1992. If you have some journalistic conscience, would you have the courage to publish this rebuttal to your editorial?”
To end this front note, I should add that the idea for the funny title for my proposed book, ‘Farting Jesters in Fabled Lanka’ originated when I read the Island editorial of Nov.20, 2001, which recorded the antics of President Chandrika Kumaratunga (again linking Pirabhakaran!) in a TV transmission of a recent test cricket match. Excerpts:
“On Saturday [i.e., Nov.17, 2001], viewers of Rupavahini’s second channel, Eye, that was showing the final day’s play of the First Test match between the West Indies and Sri Lanka may have been wondering what President Kumaratunga had to do with the match. She kept on appearing in between overs – smiling and holding hands with children, next thundering that although Prabhakaran had robbed her of one eye she will not dance to his tune etc. Whether these were paid advertisements or not there were no indications. Is it a presidential privilege to barge into international cricket TV commentaries? It is certainly not cricket, any true cricketer will say…”
For priority reasons, I place in public domain the proposed title for my book, so that none can steal it from me. In my opinion, the peak in scorn index by using ‘fart’ as a word was achieved by Lyndon Johnson who offered the ultimate put-down on one of his successors, Gerald Ford that ‘Jerry Ford is so dumb that he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time’ [source: The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations, by J.M. and M.J.Cohen, rev.ed., 1980, p.175]. I would add that it would surprise that Texan arm-twister that the Sri Lankan politicians who had ruled the country for the recent past seven years (Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mangala Samaraweera, Lakshman Kadirgamar and their ilk) can chew chicken, fart gas, swindle dough and talk rubbish – all at the same time. Here is the word directly from the horse’s mouth; I cite excerpts from a report by Ravi Ladduwahetty, which appeared in the official mouth-piece Ceylon Daily News early this year.
“Over 40 percent of the funds allocated for development was consumed in wastage, inefficiency and corruption by the state sector, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said yesterday….I am not going to tolerate corruption in the state sector, she said…The President also said that promotions and increments for the public sector in the future would strictly be based on merit…” [February 14, 2001]
Now, to the main body of this week’s chapter.
Calibrating the Justice Scale in India
In science, the first step carried out before one makes a measurement of any parameter is calibration of the instrument or equipment to check whether the results obtained by the instrument will bring accurate and precise data. This calibration step is vital to the success of any experiment or even for any measurement taken at home such as one’s weight or body temperature. Similarly, it is appropriate to calibrate the ‘justice scale’ first before analyzing the verdict of the Rajiv assassination trial.
As a simple calibration step, I thought of presenting to the readers the status of Indian judiciary as it existed in 1992, and revealed in a critical feature entitled ‘Crumbling Citadel’ (by Rahul Pathak and Anirudhya Mitra) in the India Today magazine. The second named reporter had contributed articles on LTTE to this magazine as well. In this feature, which appeared at the same time when the charge sheet prepared by SIT identified 41 accused in the Rajiv assassination trial, Pathak and Mitra had focused on three major problems eroding the worth of Indian judiciary. These were, namely, (1) politicization, (2) corruption, and (3) system overload. Among the three, I reproduce the details presented under the politicization problem.
Politicisation of Indian Judiciary
“…A whole industry of touts and fixers has grown around the buzz that judgements can be bought. Smugglers from all over rush to certain high courts where they believe relief will be easily available.
Mrs [Indira] Gandhi pioneered the operation to take over the judiciary. She superceded those who opposed her. Sixteen judges were transferred during the Emergency and another 40 were to follow suit when she was ousted. Ironically, the move obtained the sanction of the Supreme Court following its controversial verdict in the judges’ transfer case. The court ruled that since the President was the ultimate appointing authority and was bound by the advice of his council of ministers, these ministers had the last word in the appointment and transfer of judges.
Now, political interference is no longer a surreptious exercise. It is stated policy. The V.P.Singh government stalled the appointment of 67 candidates and got away with it by telling the Supreme Court that the new chief ministers had the right to re-examine them. The chief justice of India found himself discarding the names he himself had cleared in favour of the favourites of the new bosses…
Politicians are forever looking for a higher judiciary that they can control. There is a kind of quid pro quo between them. As each helps the other, both are forced to overlook misdemeanours and improprieties. A perfect example of the pitfalls of this arrangement surfaced early last year [i.e. 1991] when Rajiv Gandhi placed a secret call to Rabi Ray, then Speaker of the Lok Sabha. The impeachment motion against Justice Ramaswamy had just been initiated. Rajiv told the Speaker that Ramaswamy had been appointed chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court because he had promised to be ‘strict’ in granting bail to militants. He had kept his word and done a signal service to the nation. Rabi Ray was asked to keep this in mind while dealing with the motion…
Judges retire at 65 and are entitled a maximum pension of Rs. 4,500 a month. Many need perks like commissions of inquiry. But there are also other carrots politicians dangle… Sometimes, the carrot being dangled in front of a judge becomes a gun pointed at his head.” The perks referred to are political appointments such as Congress Party nomination to the Rajya Sabha...
Eminent lawyer and former law minister Shanti Bhushan says the entire tragedy of the country has been that judges have tried to anticipate what the Government expects of them.” [India Today magazine, June 30, 1992, pp. 51-57]
I value this feature, since after its appearance, no credible criticism appeared in the India Today magazine to contradict the report. Thus, one can safely assume that the Rajiv assassination trial also was burdened with the three problems (politicization, corruption and system overload) identified by Pathak and Mitra which have been corroding the Indian judiciary system. This need to be kept in mind in interpreting the verdicts delivered in the Rajiv assassination trial. The third problem – i.e, system overload – was visibly evident from the years consumed for completion of the trial and appeal. The problems of politicization and corruption couldn’t be understated as well.
But what Shanti Bhushan had commented was not far-fetched.
Supreme Court Verdict of Justice S.S.M.Quadri
In this chapter, I wish to present the Supreme Court verdict of Justice Quadri for three specific reasons. First, of the three verdicts, it was the briefest, consisting of 25 printed pages (The printout of the verdict was taken from the website maintained by the India’s Central Bureau of Intelligence. Hereafter, the page numbers I cite for all three verdicts refers to the printed page number of each separate verdict). Secondly, Justice Quadri had provided a clear summary of what the trial was, what were the charges and how it progressed. Thirdly, probably not to confuse the political issues and the affiliated bias, Justice Quadri has not mentioned Pirabhakaran’s name in the 25 pages, even once.
Summary of the Assassination Trial