By Izeth Hussain –
The recent Nugegoda rally in favor of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa would of course have been meticulously organized, but all the same the immensity of the crowd that assembled there was beyond dispute immensely impressive. It becomes all the more impressive when we bear in mind that the organizers did not have the resources of the SLFP but only of three small parties whose voting strength is negligible. These facts, taken together with the fact that thousands go on daily “pilgrimage” to MR’s Hambantota home, attest to his continuing popularity with the Sinhalese voters, more particularly with the Sinhalese Buddhist voters. Probably Ranil Wickremesinghe and other UNP big shots have their repose disturbed these days by the uneasy premonition that that local Nostradamus might have been right after all: MR suffered only a temporary eclipse and could blaze resplendently again as Prime Minister after the forthcoming General Elections. The reason is that the minority vote which was solidly against him would be divided.
What else could the Nugegoda rally signify? In my view it vividly illustrated the two major contrasting trends in our politics: the maturing of our democracy and the dynamism of racist neo-Fascism. In an earlier article I made some observations on our conquest democracy under which the victors at the General Elections behave like conquerors over both the defeated Party and the Sri Lankan people. The defeated were booed at sight, sometimes thrashed and their properties torched. They abided their time meekly like mice until the next General Elections, after which they too behaved like conquerors. Nothing like the Nugegoda rally at which MR rose resplendently, just weeks after his election defeat, was even imaginable in the past. Furthermore, the Government did not try to prevent the rally, nor has there been any punitive action against the notables who were present there. In his time President JR would have seen to it that his Jay Gang storm-troopers administered merciless maulings to the whole lot of them.
So the Nugegoda rally, along with much else, attests to the maturing of our democracy. As for the neo-Fascist aspect of the rally, I will point to the implications of a couple of details in MR’s message which was read out on his behalf. One is this: “We were not defeated but deprived of power”. Apparently he did not explain in what sense he was not defeated at the elections, a fact which he has earlier acknowledged. Nor apparently did he explain how and by whom he was deprived of power. A further significant statement is this: “What we are experiencing is not a defeat but the result of a conspiracy.” I myself believe that the hill-country Tamil vote was influenced by RAW, and that certain powers were involved in trying to bring about his defeat. But the facts of overwhelming importance are that the elections were held under his auspices, they have been universally regarded as free and fair by our standards, and he suffered a decisive defeat. He is now unwilling to accept those facts. Is it that he has become so imbued with a Fascist mentality that he can no longer understand and accept democratic norms?
I am afraid that the answer has to be not only that he is imbued with a Fascist mentality but that he is an anti-minority racist. He is now refusing to accept defeat because the notion has gained ground that the crucial factor behind his defeat was the minority vote: 80% of the Tamils voted against him and even more of the Muslims did so. According to the Fascist reckoning the minorities are no more than visitors to this country and therefore they are not wholly and properly Sri Lankans. MR got 55% of the Sinhalese vote, which means that a clear majority of the true sons of the sacred soil of Sri Lanka were with him. In that sense – according to Fascist logic – he was not defeated. I charge therefore that the Nugegoda rally was at its core an outburst of racist neo-Fascism.
A couple of clarifications need to be made about the minority vote. They are supposed to constitute 24% of the population, and if the Catholics and other Christians are also to be regarded as minorities – since according to crazy racist Fascist logic only Sinhala Buddhists are true sons of the sacred soil – the minorities would total 30% of the population. Even if every single minority member voted against MR their votes would not have sufficed to defeat him. That defeat was possible only because a substantial proportion of the Sinhalese voted against him. The number is estimated as 45%. There is an important factor to be borne in mind about that percentage. It is known that all the resources of the State were used – illegally and criminally – to promote MR’s candidature. Without that factor the Sinhalese vote against him could well have amounted to 47% or 49% or even more. Anyway, it is ridiculous to hold that MR was defeated because of the minority vote.
The other clarification I have in mind arises out of the sharpening of the ethnic polarity in Sri Lanka as a consequence of the Presidential elections. The question to be asked is this: Can the minorities be blamed for voting against MR? Everyone understood that there was not the faintest chance of a political solution to the Tamil ethnic problem as long as MR was in power. Furthermore the Tamils were being needlessly humiliated. That has been shown by the corrective action taken by the present Government, such as the release to the rightful owners of a thousand acres of land which were held by the armed forces without any security justification. As for the Muslims, I wrote a series of articles showing that the charge that the Muslims posed an existential threat to the Sinhalese was nonsensical, and that the issues that have been bedeviling Sinhalese-Muslim relations sometimes for decades can all be resolved without much difficulty if they are properly addressed. By way of reply I have had abuse but no refutation that can be taken seriously. I must add that MR and his Government were clearly seen as supporting, blatantly though not explicitly, the BBS in its anti-Muslim campaign, as shown by the persistent refusal to apply the law against the BBS and other extremist groups. The minority vote against MR should therefore be seen not just as legitimate in terms of minority interests but as a signal contribution to the promotion of national harmony.
After Nugegoda – What? I have a thoroughly unorthodox suggestion to make, which to my mind makes good sense. I hope that a new Party will emerge, a racist neo-Fascist Party for which the most fitting leader would be Mahinda Rajapaksa. He would be the most fitted because with decades of political experience behind him and his undoubted political ability he should be able both to exploit racism for political purposes and also to hold the mad racists in check. Young racist hotheads won’t be able to do that. My suggestion arises out of the fact that Sri Lanka has never had even a single national Party that is accepted unequivocally as such by the minorities. The UNP, the SLFP, and even the Marxist Parties are seen as essentially Sinhalese ethnic Parties. It is a fact that racists are to be found in all our parties, which in my view has had a tragic consequence. Whenever one of our Governments seems to be approaching a solution to the Tamil ethnic problem, the main Party in opposition has always sabotaged the process. That is because of the strength of the racists in the Opposition. If they are concentrated in one Party, with racists from other Parties gravitating towards it as their natural habitat, it might become possible to contain them and stop their using several Parties to go on the rampage.
The SLFP is now undergoing an identity crisis. It has always had schism at its core with SWRD representing its democratic modernizing trend and Rev. Buddha Rakita representing a retrogressive racist Fascist trend. If MR gets control of the SLFP and leads it to triumph at the General Elections, it would amount to the triumph of the Buddy Racketeers. If in the alternative he forms a new party the SLFP will be split and the UNP could triumph. What is the solution? I don’t know at the moment. But I would be sad to see the SLFP go because I have been sympathetic to it since 1956, partly because my politics have always been left-of-center. The more important reason is that the fair treatment, and more than fair treatment, that I received from the SLFP together with generous acknowledgment of whatever abilities I may have displayed, was out of the world. The experience of that fair treatment, nullifying the ethnic divide, convinces me that ultimately the Sinhalese people will triumph over the racist neo-Fascism that burst out at the Nugegoda rally.