By Kumar David –
The people of Burma are fighting a military power grab with courage, bare hands and clanging pots and pans the traditional way to drive evil spirits away. The army responds with blazing guns killing unarmed protestors – so far about 1000 including children. Military spokesmen when questioned promise “to investigate and take action against wrong doers in the army”. Can you think of another place where we have become accustomed to the same refrain for twelve years? The uprising will spread, it will not be subdued; military goons have bitten off more than they can chew. The intensity of the revolt has taken the gorillas by surprise.
Protesters ask the occasional international TV crew that gets access “What is the world doing; are we to fight these armed to the teeth goons with our bare hands?” Intervention by the outside world to assist the people’s uprising is morally necessary but thus far very little has been done. What is needed are hard sanctions and the supply of practical tools that the people ask for. However, world leaders are cowards compared to the people of Burma. Non-interference when a nation is crying for support is betrayal and apathetic talk-only is treachery. China has still to learn its lesson for giving succour to that genocidal manic Pol Pot who murdered millions. Now Chinese factories in the Burmese countryside are being torched by an angry populace as Beijing panders to the junta. After the junta is overthrown free-Burma will turn against China; how foolish the CCP! Geopolitics is taking its toll. China’s friends including Pakistan and Sri Lanka’s Buddhist will not lift a finger to help. The Islamic world does not care, but that’s understandable. Burmese Buddhists now fighting for their lives, Aung San Suu Kyi included, whitewashed the genocide of Rohingya Muslims. A Lankan cynic would ask if and when home grown autocracy puts its dagger at the throat of the Sinhala-Buddhists: “So, what did you do when the dagger was pointed at the minorities at home?”
I plead guilty to the charge that what motivates me to indulge in this harangue is to mobilise domestic unity against anything similar in Lanka and to emphasise the importance of international diplomatic and other forms of assistance if worst comes to worst. Foreign states, China, the West and India each have their own agenda and so do we. What counts is if two or more players can align their objectives sufficiently to be useful to each other. This is what the Sri Lankan state is attempting to get out of China: “Bank roll us, vote for us in world forums and in exchange we will take your side in Indian Ocean strategy”. Conversely but in like vein, if push comes to shove, if threats to democracy worsen, we the people of Lanka can demand that international verbal condemnation of the Lankan regime in Geneva must be reinforced by stronger methods.
GoSL has been weakened by domestic bungling; the regime is at sixes and sevens. It mucks up everything it touches; these crazy buggers have broken out of the asylum and arrested the Mayor of Jaffna. “Jesus Christ, what self-destructive demon has taken possession of these crack-pots!” my grandmother would say. Are Gota’s goons going to demand the extradition of every police force and private security outfit in innumerable countries and in the US from California to New York and Missouri because their uniforms resemble LTTE kits? Every branch of state in Lanka is at the throat of some other branch. PBJ slams GLP in public; the Cabinet can’t agree whether Provincial Council should exist and on PC elections; Columbage tells Tim Sebastian that the PTA is a disgrace but pleads that the government is unable to rectify it; Gota’s popularity has plummeted to sub-zero; Mahinda and Basil, having read Stephen Hawking, inhabit alternative universes; consumers snarl, farmers burn effigies and Muslims are livid. In its second year this government has become weak, wobbly and weary. Its enemies don’t need to do anything, only to stand and wait till a Westerly wind pushes the Double-Paksas aside.
US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz told a news conference that the proposed Port City Bill opens the road to money laundering and other shenanigans. The Economic Zone will be run by a cartel appointed by Gota – no doubt with lots of military sauce – with no parliamentary oversight; companies will be exempt from income tax, casino levies, exchange controls and customs duties for 40 years. In Pakistan a retired general, Asim Bajwa, has been crowned head the Sino-Pak Economic Corridor which will lever $60 billion (money which Pakistan will repay only in its next life!). In an odd reversal of roles Ms Teplitz took a stand well to the left of the Paksas and accused the government of failing to focus on reforms and put the economy on a strong footing. Posterity will jeer Tissa, DEW and Vasu who voted for the 18-th Amendment if they blacken themselves further by backing this Bill. Teplitz is more concerned about crooked commerce than our Dead Left! Ambassadors don’t go out on a limb unless something big is in the pot. Hmm interesting times, is the US planning to cook the Paksa regime?
I wish to summarise what I said a fortnight ago. People must stand firm, retreat no further and push to recover ground lost in the last 16 months. Prospects of outright presidential-despotism or a naked military grab have suffered setbacks. Counterattacks in the liberal middle class, in political spaces, the media, among the Tamils and Muslims, and in the subaltern social classes in step with ruinous increases in living costs, have been stark. The economic debacle has made the military unpopular because in the public mind Gota and his cabal are interwoven. However, the serving officer corps and men have nothing to gain and only opprobrium to earn in any Burma style grab? What does an army gain by battling its own people? An army instinctively knows the ambitions of leaders and a wise one will not let itself be exploited. Why should it pull chestnuts out of the fire for a President who has lost his way and become a liability? It is not the active military (except Army Silva about whom the International Truth and Justice Project has compiled a 50 page indictment) but some retired brass who are ambitious; the proclivity to militarise emanates from the Executive and its buddies. It is different in Egypt or Burma where the serving military is the beneficiary and the officer corps rakes in perks and dollars while goodies are also spread across the ranks. A military takeover in Lanka, with or without a role for the Executive would be suicidal. The world and India will respond firmly; Muslims and Tamils, in the context of the anti-minority posture of the Executive will petition the diaspora and the Islamic world; the birth of LTTE-Mark 2 cannot be aborted and maybe ISIS-Lanka Mark 1 will be conceived; the junta will isolate itself from the world and from progressive Sinhalese opinion.
China will throw a few coins Gota’s way but no Chinese cockerel will fly over to fight. But what is far more important is that China, though it can fund projects, for various reasons pertaining to its of its own nature, lacks the savvy and sophistication to assist Lanka sort out its complicated skirmishes – democracy-constitution-devolution choices, Tamil/Muslim imbroglio, autocracy/militarisation threats etc. The West and India, since their polities are not one-dimensional and linearized, and since their backgrounds are liberal bourgeois, like Ceylon-Sri Lanka, have experiences useful in assisting us with our messy problems.
True Gota polled an overwhelming 72% of Sinhala-Buddhist (SB) votes and extremist and non-extremist monks rallied to his cause as did political opportunists. But I would take that election, if offered as proof that he has SB mass support, with a ton of salt. Unlike Mahinda he lacks a proven and matured mass base. He was not active in politics till 2019 and it was a fortuitous concourse of events that brought the SB mass and the Defence Secretary into alignment. But it is not secure enough to weather the gathering storm. In a tussle between Sinhala-Buddhism and militarism to which Gota is now subservient, for moral hegemony over the nation, the former will win hands down. If in addition the regime thwarts accountability, reconciliation and anti-militarism demanded by international opinion, it would be firing off its cannons on both sides and setting course for shipwreck. Lacking a secure SB base Gota is attempting to conjure up one among retired officers who served during his time as Defence Secretary and in the shallow sallow petty-bourgeoisie of Viyathmaga.
It is unnecessary to repeat in the Twenty-first Century that the supremacy of the civilian over the military is a principle whose absolute remit should never be traduced. When it is breached – Burma, Pakistan, Thailand, Egypt and Syria for example – repression and the economic deterioration ensue. Apart from military regimes there are personal dictators in many parts of the world but these are usually easier to dislodge.