Early this month, former President Maithripala Sirisena, learnt from his sources that he had come under the adverse notice in the Report of the Commission of Inquiry that probed the Easter Sunday massacres in 2019. Yet, he was not sure what it said.
So, he hurriedly sought appointments with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Basil Rajapaksa, founder cum strategist of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the main partner in the ruling alliance. He made a plea to all three of them in separate meetings – asking for photocopies of the Report where there were references made to him.
Premier Rajapaksa met him in the afternoon of February 4, hours after he had taken part in the 72nd Independence Day celebrations. They discussed Sirisena’s concerns but did not have a copy of the Report. The following week, President Rajapaksa drove to Parliament, when it was in session, to meet Sirisena. Sirisena made the same plea. The President listened to his plea but had not brought a copy.
Basil Rajapaksa, who received a request for the meeting, had told Sirisena that he would come to his residence. When he went there, there were many others present. They included Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Mahinda Ameraweera, Duminda Dissanayake and Shantha Bandara. The subject turned to the Report. Basil Rajapaksa said he was not aware of the issue raised but assured it would be conveyed to President Rajapaksa.
By Tuesday, key elements of the Report became public. A copy sent to Parliament and received by Speaker Mahinda Abeywardena had been sent to the library. Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) frontliner Harin Fernando walked in, used the camera in his mobile phone to take pictures of the pages containing the conclusions and recommendations. Later, others also obtained similar copies. Fernando hurriedly tweeted it and the news spread worldwide. The Government’s communications machinery is in such shambles that the officials were not wise enough to disseminate it. They were also embarrassed. The next day, all parliamentarians received copies.
The well-known Sinhala adage gahen watuna minihata gonaa anna wagey or a bull goring a man who had just fallen from a tree aptly describes Sirisena’s reaction. Paradoxical enough, it was then President Sirisena who appointed the five-member Commission of Inquiry five months after the April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday bombings. It was headed by Supreme Court Justice Janak de Silva.
Now it is widely known that the Commission had recommended in its 472-page report “criminal proceedings” against Sirisena for “criminal liability” on his part in the ghastly Easter Sunday incidents. He hurriedly summoned a meeting of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Central Committee to discuss the Commission’s findings. Speakers lamented that the blame should not have been placed on the former President. They cited similar incidents in other countries. One was the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001 and the attack on a mosque at Christchurch in New Zealand during Friday Jummah prayers on March 15, 2019. Speakers noted that the leaders of those countries (President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) were not slapped with allegations of criminal conduct.
The SLFP’s All Island Executive Committee was hurriedly summoned for a meeting on Thursday. It was held at the Galle Face Hotel. Here was a party, founded by the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike for the common man, choosing a five-star hotel for the event when it had its own multi-storied headquarters building at Darley Road. The Committee endorsed a decision made by the Central Committee to reject the recommendations against Sirisena by the Commission. In reality, such a decision would be of no use. If for example, the Attorney General chooses to indict a member of the SLFP for any alleged offence, would a resolution by a party body be of any help? The meeting also took the opportunity to re-appoint Sirisena as the SLFP leader.