By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“If the King destroys a man, that’s proof to the King that it must have been a bad man….” – Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons)
Where would all the fairy tales be without the monsters?
How does a hero escape irrelevance, once the last monster is slain?
Can a king muster armies and stifle opponents, if the land is not menaced?
Sans a suitable enemy, how can the Rajapaksas insist on their indispensability? Or justify satiating a gargantuan military machine when ordinary people, from North to South, suffer from want? Or excuse the steady asphyxiating of basic rights, the brutal suppression of democratic dissent, even in the Sinhala-South?
A suitable enemy is to the Rajapaksa state what oxygen is to living beings.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa always had a knack for conjuring enemies. But in his Speech at the latest Defence Seminar[i] he truly surpassed himself. Not only did he come up with a veritable stable-full of foes; his definitions of these myriad enemies are so amorphous as to be applicable to any Lankan (and quite a few non-Lankans), at will.
According to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the enemy is the Extremist, a many-headed, fecund and omnipresent Hydra.
- Tamil Extremists (International) – They want “the division ofSri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam”.
Resultant Enemies: Any expatriate Tamil/Lankan, any Indian (especially from Tamilnadu), any Westerner, INGOs, United Nations and its constituent organisations.
- Tamil Extremists (National) – “As a result of their actions and statements, it is possible that radical elements will feel empowered to once again attempt to take up arms against the state in the name of separation”.
Resultant Enemies: The TNA and other Tamil parties and organisations, any Tamil, anyone dubbed a ‘Sinhala/Muslim Tiger’, NGOs
- Left wing Extremists – Extremist groups “involved in previous insurgencies. Some of these groups are trying to reorganise within Sri Lanka and mobilise people to once again take up extreme left wing causes. Even today it can be seen that there are attempts to radicalise students and even the public and encourage them to take to the streets in various protests on various pretexts”.
Resultant Enemies: The JVP/JVP offshoots, trade unions and mass organisations, ordinary people who engage in non-political protests a la Weliweriya…
- Islamic Extremists – Muslims fundamentalists from abroad “may try to promote Muslim extremism inSri Lanka…”
Resultant Enemies: Any Muslim organisation or individual who does not toe the Rajapaksa line or falls foul of the likes of BBS/JHU/Sinhala Ravaya.
Criminal Extremists – Those engaged in ‘Organised Crimes’.
Resultant Enemies: Any Lankan.
- Media Extremists: “….subversive elements with ulterior motives (who)….portray demands by sections of the public to showcase the country in a negative light”.
Resultant Enemies: any media personnel/organisation/website, professionals who make factual analyses, ordinary citizens willing to write about wrongs.
- Western Extremists: “There is a possibility that some western powers wish to have a Sri Lankan Government that is closely aligned with their interests. They may seek to influence Sri Lanka’s destiny so that it cannot pursue the independent course it is following at present”.
Resultant Enemies: The UNP, NGOs and INGOs, liberal intelligentsia, SLFP/UPFA leaders who fall foul of the Rajapaksas.
- Anti-democratic Extremists – People who “go beyond peaceful demonstrations and engage in violent protest, incite violence or act in other undemocratic ways”.
Resultant Enemies: The entire opposition, SLFP/UPFA supporters who oppose Rajapaksa interests inadvertently, such as the ‘true blue’ people of Weliweriya.
- Irresponsible Extremists –People/Organisations who fail to “exercise their democratic freedoms with responsibility”.
Resultant Enemies: Any Lankan citizen, lay or ordained; any Lankan organisation, political or non-political can become an accidental extremist.
These categories are so fluid and overarching they can include any Lankan, many times over.
Thanks to the prolific and shoreless imagination of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Rajapaksa state will never be bereft of an enemy. Indeed, a different enemy can be showcased, depending on the need of the moment. For instance, the ‘Islamic enemy’ can be foregrounded, to curry favour with the West/India; the ‘Western enemy’ can be focused on, when political and financial assistance from the Third World (especially Arab/Islamic world) becomes necessary; the IMF and other international financial organisations can be offered the ‘Left-wing enemy’.
The Rajapaksas are not just another bunch of corrupt and vainglorious leaders ubiquitous across the World. They are political fanatics (rather like Vellupillai Pirapaharan) obsessively and single-mindedly committed to a project of dynastic rule. And they possess the determination, the drive, the ingeniousness and the discipline needed to impose that project on Lankan society. The sui generis 18th Amendment, designed to suit the politico-dynastic requirements of the President and his family, was proof positive of this Rajapaksa exceptionalism. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s list of enemies is one more indication that the Siblings will go anywhere and do anything to protect their rule and destroy their opponents.
The regime has reportedly signed a deal[ii] permitting 40 (or so) Chinese fishing vessels, flying the Lion flag, to fish in Lankan waters.
The Rajapaksas have adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards Tamil Nadu fishermen fishing in our waters. But the same regime is permitting China to perpetrate a far greater plundering of our aquatic resources, under the protection of the national banner.
That contrasting policy reveals the reality behind every Rajapaksa-hype.
For the Rajapaksas crime – both political and non-political – depends on the identity of the perpetrators. The Rajapaksa supporters are allowed to break any law, violate any norm, with impunity; anything can become a crime, if done by a Rajapaksa opponent.
The rule of law would bar the Siblings from turning political opponents into terrorists or criminals, at the turn of a word or the affixing of a label. That is one reason the Siblings hounded out Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake through a manifestly fraudulent impeachment; that is why they are continuing the witch hunt against her even now. They want Shirani Bandaranayake to become for all judges/lawyers what Sarath Fonseka became for all military men – a terrifying symbol of the costs of barring the Rajapaksa Way.
Selective injustice has multiple uses. The threat of being labelled and persecuted unfairly can be used to keep supporters in eternal subjugation and silence/co-opt opponents. It can be used to further weaken the existing opposition, discourage the formation of new centres of resistance and habituate the general public into indifference and apathy. It can be used to violate academic freedom, undermine professional integrity and turn honourable citizens into dishonourable subjects.
In ‘A Man for All Seasons’, Robert Bolt’s play on Thomas More, the traditional role of the chorus belongs to the ‘Common Man’, who also doubles up as the Foreman of the Jury and the Headsman. In the final scene, after beheading Thomas More, the Headsman once again becomes the Common Man and delivers a chilling monologue: “I am breathing. Are you breathing too? It’s nice, isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends just don’t make trouble…”
In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, citizens will be safe only if they do not make trouble. Be silent and look the other way, when your water is poisoned, when a child is raped or a neighbour/friend/relation is targeted; or you will be labelled an ‘extremist’ and condemned to an unhappy fate.
[ii]Irida Divaina – 25.8.2013; according to the article only 10% of the catch will be sold to the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation; 30% will go to China; the rest will be taken by a private company; the main Lankan shareholder of this company is said to be a ministerial coordinator.