By Tisaranee Gunasekara -
The king can do no wrong’ was a foundational premise of absolute monarchy. The Rajapaksas have taken this anti-democratic concept to the nethermost extreme. In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka the President – and his kith and kin – can do no wrong. Minister Mervyn Silva occupies an outstanding position amongst Rajapaksa kith. When his son got into trouble with the law, again, it was a foregone conclusion that the Rajapaksas would ride to the rescue. Because that is how the system works: impunity is an axiomatic reward for fealty to the Ruling Family just as persecution is an inescapable punishment for opposing it.
Some actions carry the trademarks of their perpetrators. Only an agency with full official backing can white-van people, with impunity. A mere minister could not have compelled an army officer to commit perjury; only those constitutionally empowered to command the armed forces could have managed that feat.
Less than 24 hours after the ministerial offspring and his companions surrendered to the Slave Island police (two police teams had failed to apprehend any of them, for a whole week), Major Chandana Pradeep of Army Intelligence recanted. On 10th September he had complained to the Slave Island police that he was assaulted by Malaka Silva, Rehan Wijeratne (the son of a political appointee-diplomat) and five others in MSD-like attire.
On 18th September he informed the court that neither the ministerial offspring nor the ambassadorial offspring touched a hair on his head; he was assaulted by the five MSD types, hoi polloi unblessed with a ministerial pater or an ambassadorial mater.
That volte-face dovetailed perfectly with the writing on the wall, in the unmistakable hand of the Defence Secretary. Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed that Major Pradeep was not on duty at JAIC Hilton; on the contrary, he was “acting as a personal bodyguard of an individual, which is beyond his duties” (Sri Lanka News – 14.9.2012).
The self-appointed Patron Saint of ‘War Heroes’ threw a war-hero under the bus to save the offspring of loyal servitors.
Rajapaksa patriotism is like Tiger patriotism. Fealty to Vellupillai Pirapaharan (alias the ‘Sun God’) was the sole condition of Tiger patriotism. Fealty to Mahinda Rajapaksa (alias the ‘High King’) and his kith and kin is the sole condition of Rajapaksa patriotism.
In this Sri Lanka, none can retain the ‘war-hero’ title if he is not eternally loyal to the Ruling Siblings. Even the most outstanding fighter against the Tiger can fall from grace if he commits the cardinal sin of disobeying the regime. For such a fallen war-hero life becomes unpleasant and dangerous, as the example of General Sarath Fonseka demonstrates. The war-winning army commander lost not only his freedom but also his rank, pension and decorations.
If such a fate can befall a full General, what cannot happen to a mere major? When the Mannar magistrate was allegedly threatened by Minister Bathiudeen, the legal fraternity closed ranks in support. When Mervyn Silva tied a Samurdhi official to a tree, the victim’s colleagues rallied in protest. An army officer cannot expect such support from his uniformed colleagues. Whatever the rights and the wrongs of this case, Major Pradeep is on his own, because taking on the Rajapaksas is a far more daunting task than taking on the Tigers. The LTTE could deprive you of life and liberty; the regime can do that plus destroy your reputation, persecute your family, turn your present into a torment and nullify your future. Better let a couple of political-brats get away with assaulting you rather than run the risk of being dishonourably discharged and your reputation in tatters.
So under Rajapaksa Rule even war heroes are not immune from the senseless violence of bratty politicians and political brats. From now on, it will be as open season on armed forces personnel as it is on other Untermenschen, such as students, workers, trade unionists, academics…
When a plague is threatening the well-being of a nation, the task is not to thrash the symptoms but to identify the malady. And the plague is Familial Rule. It is this that enable the Mervyns, Dumindas, Rishads and Malakas to break the law; just as it is the Rajapaksas who enable S. B. Dissanayake and Bandula Gunawardana to undermine schools and universities; or Nivard Cabraal to disgrace the Central Bank; or the CPC to import substandard fuel… The underlying message is simple and resounding: support us and the sky is the limit; oppose us and hell is the destination.
Major Pradeep heard it in the South and betrayed himself. Rauf Hakeem heard it in the East and betrayed his voters. A chastened SLMC agreed to back the UPFA in the Eastern PC without even the Chief Ministership in return. All the SLMC got was a Rajapaksa (made-to-be-broken) Promise! Experience demonstrates that Rajapaksa promises are theatre aimed at dissembling and time-buying. The promise to the SLMC will be akin in falseness to the innumerable undertakings the siblings will make at the upcoming UPR of Sri Lanka.
After all, if the basic rights of ‘war heroes’ are not respected, can the rest of us expect better treatment? If an army officer – supposedly a member of a protected species – is denied justice, what can a civilian Tamil, victimized by the war, expect?
Invading the Judiciary
If Rajapaksa democracy is an oxymoron, Rajapaksa justice is infinitely more so. Rajapaksa opponents can still win some elections, but no one victimised by a Rajapaksa acolyte can expect justice. Impunity is a quotidian of Rajapaksa Rule.
According to Amartya Sen, “The issue of democratic practice can be closely linked with the existence and use of countervailing power in a society with a plurality of sources of voice and strength” (The Idea of Justice).
As an integral part of their anti-democratic dynastic project, the Rajapaksas want to grab all power. This requires undermining every source of countervailing power – the opposition, the media, trade unions, provincial councils… (Devolution is an impediment to the Rajapaksa-juggernaut; the 13th Amendment helped halt the Divineguma Bill, which aims at extending the economic empire of Basil Rajapaksa).
The judiciary is the primary target of this multi-pronged assault.
The Supreme Court decision on the Divineguma Bill would have strengthened the Rajapaksa resolve to render the judiciary as subservient as the armed forces or the police. “President Rajapaksa wanted the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to meet him regarding the functions of the JSC but the JSC in an official meeting has decided not to meet anyone regarding its official functions as such discussion would be unconstitutional” (Colombo Telegraph – 20.9.2012). Last week, the Secretary of the JSC, Manjula Tilakaratne, warned the public about attempts to influence and threaten the JSC and asserted that the JSC is committed to safeguarding the independence of the judiciary.
An independent judiciary is not just a sine-qua-non of democracy; it is the last remaining barrier between Lankans and total subjection to Rajapaksa Rule. If we ignore the JSC’s timely warning, it might be our ultimate – and most unforgivably inane – error as citizens.