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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
On the Performance of Police Chief Chandra Fernando
15 March 2006
Chaplin’s use of inept cops for humor
Henry Bergman (1868-1946), John Rand (1872?-1940), Tom Wilson (1880-1865), Chester Conklin (1888-1971), Edgar Kennedy (1890-1948) and Bud Jamison (1894-1944) are few names which may fail to click now. But, all contributed their talents to make millions laugh uproariously in the movie theatres for nearly a quarter century, roughly from 1915 to 1940.
These professionals belong to a select cluster of actors who starred as inept and bungling cops who chased and tormented Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), the lovable Tramp. In my view, the current Sri Lankan Police Chief Chandra Fernando seems a perfect professional descendant to fit the bill of uniformed officers in the Chaplinesque comedy reels. On his affection to the uniformed tribe servicing the community, the great Chaplin had reminisced in his autobiography as follows: “I told [Mack Sennett]: ‘All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.’ As a matter of fact I had made some of my most successful pictures with just about that assembly.” [book: My Autobiography, Penguin Books, 1966, p.159]
If Chaplin had met the current Sri Lankan Inspector General of Police - Chandra Fernando - in his life, he might have even not needed a park and a pretty girl as props for his rib-tickling comedy. Chandra Fernando’s head, hat, parrot tongue, medals and uniform would have more than sufficed as props for Chaplin.
By his own admission, the IGP had reminisced, “During my college days, I was certainly not a bright student. I held no College Prefectship, nor did I walk-away with a single prize, but all knew that I was a great plodder who never, gave up...” [the news story by Sarath Malalasekera: ‘IGP felicited at his alma mater’, Colomobo Daily News, Oct.27, 2004]. The performance of Chandra Fernando in the recently concluded Geneva Talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE representatives attests to the fact that insufficient intelligence and common sense deficit still plagues the IGP, even after a lapse of nearly five decades. This was particularly exposed by Anton Balasingham, the chief negotiator of LTTE, when he blunted and countered the IGP on issues relating to the assassinations of Alfred Duraiappah and Lakshman Kadirgamar.
On another occasion, Chaplin had written how he struck gold by his incorporation of fumbling cop characters as his comedy foil. “Comedy moving pictures were an instant success because most of them showed policemen falling down coal holes, slipping into buckets of whitewash, falling off patrol wagons, and getting into all sorts of trouble. Here were men representing the dignity of the law, often very pompous themselves, being made ridiculous and undignified. The sight of their misfortunes at once struck the public funny bone twice as hard as if private citizens were going through like experience.” [an essay: ‘What People Laugh At’, in American Magazine, November 1918].
Views of the editor of Sunday Leader
I’m not alone in enjoying the comedy of the police Chief Chandra Fernando. Here are two sarcastic quotes from the editorials of Colombo Sunday Leader, when Chandrika Kumaratunga held the presidency. The first quote appeared before the assassination of former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, and the second one appeared after the assassination.
The profile of Police Chief and his crocodile tears
I have been a bit baffled on the subtle discrepancies on the ‘past details’ which have appeared in press about the professional profile of Chief Chandra Fernando. If these are not typographical or transcriptional errors, the discrepancies reveal some obsessive impulse to hide something. As per the description provided by Iqbal Athas, describing the performance of Chandra Fernando in Geneva last month,
I wonder why the police Chief has to post-date his joining the Police force to 1973. A news report by Sarath Malalasekera which provided a profile on this Chief’s assumption of duties as the 29th IGP of Sri Lanka, mentions
I found out that even this sentence has one factual error. Chief Chandra Fernando did join the police force in December 1971, but not in the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police. My impeccable source is the Sri Lankan Parliamentary Debates [Hansard] of January 5, 1979, p.170. I had saved a copy of this particular issue in my personal collection, since it contained the roster of then ranking Sri Lankan police personnel, as an answer provided by the then Minister & Deputy Minister of Defence T.B.Werapitiya, to a question raised by R.P.Wijesiri MP, on behalf of his colleague Ananda Dassanayake MP.
During the 1970s, select members belonging to the Sri Lankan police elite (including some Tamils) were the recognized faces of Sri Lankan state’s anti-Tamil terror. In 1979, this elite cluster consisted of 1 Inspector General, 5 Deputy Inspectors General, 30 Superintendents-Grade I, 34 Superintendents-Grade II, 65 Assistant Superintendents, 8 Probationary Assistant Superintendents, 20 Acting Assistant Superintendents, 9 Chief Inspectors, 41 Inspectors-class I and 477 Inspectors-class II.
Between pages 169 and 171 of the Jan.5, 1979 issue of the Hansard, the then serving 65 Assistant Superintendents had been listed. Among these 65, the name ‘C.Fernando’ appears at No.38 – then serving the Gampaha division. His date of birth was given as 12 Oct.1945. Thus, the police Chief is now 60 years old. The date of his first appointment is given as 15 Dec 1971. But, he was not appointed as the Assistant Superintendent of Police [ASP] then. He received promotion as ASP on 15 Dec.1974. One may wonder why the Police Chief then has to post-date his joining the police force to 1973, in Geneva last month. Is he suffering from amnesia, of his own professional past?
Last month in Geneva, the Police Chief Chandra Fernando also has shed crocodile tears for the assassinated TULF leader Amirthalingam. It was a performance worthy of entry in a Chaplinesque comedy reel. Eelam Tamils have vivid memories, how some lower grade minions belonging to the same Sri Lankan police force had abused, assaulted, manhandled and threatened Amirthalingam publicly on numerous occasions in 1960s and 1970s.
Not only Amirthalingam, even his family members (wife and sons) have been tormented by the Sri Lankan police force then. Mrs.Mangaiyarkarasi Amirthalingam has gone on public record, how she was abused and threatened by one of Police Chief’s then Tamil colleagues who answered to the name of Bastianpillai, belonging to the CID division. Not only Amirthalingam, even other elected representatives of Eelam Tamils belonging to the TULF [like K.Thurairatnam and V.Yogeswaran] had personally suffered from the atrocities perpetrated by the Sri Lankan police force in 1970s.
“Throughout his career he had been in close touch with developments in Jaffna.”, noted Iqbal Athas in his puff piece on the Police Chief’s performance in Geneva. If this is sincerely true, then Chandra Fernando should have offered his apologies for the indignities by the Eelam Tamils from his timid police force. One just has to read the complaints made by the then TULF representatives in the parliament against the police atrocities in the Northern and Eastern provinces, between 1972 and 1983. But no such apology was forthcoming from the police Chief Chandra Fernando.
I had mentioned the name sadistic cop Bastianpillai in the previous paragraph. He is now a foot-note in the Eelam Tamil militant history. In his book, ‘Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas’ (1996, 2nd ed), M.R.Narayan Swamy had briefly annotated how this sadistic cop met his death on April 7th 1978. Even Narayan Swamy got the initials of this then prime torturer of Tamil youth wrong.
For historical record, I provide a few details on T.L.B.Bastianpillai, as available from the Hansard Jan.5, 1979 issue. He was born on Dec.27, 1941. He received his first appointment in the police force on May 18, 1964; and was promoted to the grade of Inspector Class II on June 1, 1972. At the age of 36, Bastianpillai departed to meet his Maker on April 7, 1978, while combing for Tamil militant activity in Murunkan jungle of Mannar district. While making a specific mention of the 1975 assassination of Alfred Duraiappah to score a dubious debating point, it would have been apt, if police Chief Chandra Fernando had also referred to the atrocities committed by his senior contemporary Bastianpillai in 1970s.
While I was affiliated to the University of Peradeniya as an assistant lecturer between 1978 and 1981, I had one Tamil medical student named P.R.Seermaran who was a detainee and torture victim of this sadistic cop Bastianpillai. From him, I had heard about the torture details as served on teenage Tamils by Bastianpillai and his colleagues. Leader Amirthalingam’s second son was also a student of mine during 1979 and 1980. Now for political gain, the police Chief sheds crocodile tears on the fate of Amirthalingam and the Tamil child conscripts by LTTE.
Lakshman Kadirgamar assassination
The then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated on August 12, 2005. Immediately, like a seer blessed with supernatural powers, police Chief Chandra Fernando pointed the assassins – the usual suspects – to the Reuters news agency.
Now seven months have passed. I provide below relevant excerpts from a select list of brief news reports/commentaries from Colombo which cumulatively contradict the braggadocio of police Chief Chandra Fernando on this issue.
1. Jayampathy Jayasinghe: Kadirgamar assassination; Ballistic experts rule out sniper gun. Sunday Observer, Aug.21, 2005.
2. Editorial: ‘That Elusive Southern Consensus’. Sunday Leader, Aug.21, 2005.
3. W.A.Sunil and K.Ratnayake: Unanswered questions about Sri Lankan foreign minister’s assassination. World Socialist Web Site, News & Analysis Aug.26, 2005. [ www.wsws.org/articles/2005/aug2005/sril-a26_prn.shtml ]
As of now, this remains as the only well-balanced and thought provoking analysis, providing emphasis on the lack of hard evidence surrounding the assassination. Sunil and Ratnayake also infer that “much of what has been leaked to the media is either dubious or has been later shown to be misleading or false.”
4. Sarath Malalasekera: Gnanakone detained till completion of investigations – CCD. Daily News, Oct.25, 2005.
5. Sarath Malalasekera: Kadirgamar assassination; Suspect linked to underworld. Daily News, Nov.22, 2005.
6. Iqbal Athas: Face to face with President Rajapakse – War on Corruption – Don’t Shut Out Media. Sunday Times, Jan.8, 2006.
7. Kadirgamar assassination case: Suspects further remanded. Government Information Department News Room, Jan.18, 2006 [site: www.news.lk/news_2006_01_183.htm ]
8. Sarath Malalasekera: Kadirgamar assassination case; Colombo Chief Magistrate orders to expedite investigations. Daily News, Feb.13, 2006.
A retrospective analysis on the shooting and the post-event bungling
I also located a retrospective analysis, contributed by a correspondent identified as J.Edirisinghe to a pro-Sinhalese website [ [ www.lankaweb.com ], dated Aug.22, 2005, which is somewhat interesting for the presented details. I reproduce a segment, since the queries raised by this correspondent again raise doubt on the (1) inept quality of police protection offered to Sri Lankan VIPs, and (2) the motives of police Chief Chandra Fernando in implicating LTTE to the assassination: