By Sarath de Alwis –
Mahathma Gandhi stood for ‘Ahimsa’. His assassin Nathuram Godse inflicted ‘Hinsa’ on the saintly freedom fighter. Liberal America discovered ‘Ahimsa’ of Mahathma Gandh and equality before the law in the sixties of the last century through Dr.vMartin Luther King Jr.
The principle of Ahimsa and its fragility in State sponsored ‘Hinsa’ resonates in American jurisprudence. Justice Stephen Breyer of the US Supreme Court in a recent Book ‘US Courts and the World’ points out to a uniquely American way of looking at liberty and power.
“They think we have something uniquely American. Well, that is not a surprising thought. One can go back and see how Madison described our Constitution and our federal government. “The Constitution is a charter of power granted by liberty,” not, as in Europe, “a charter of liberty…granted by power.”
State sanctioned ‘Hinsa” is the aggregate or summation of the plaint filed by Ahimsa Wickrematunge in the US Federal District Court of California. She is suing former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa naturalized citizen of the United States and patriotic citizen of Sri Lanka born in the southern village and now the town of Weeraketiya.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the prime motivator behind the ‘Api Wenuwen Api’ campaign that dynamized the Sinhala Buddhist psyche to a new high of patriotic militarism. The soul stirring, evocative melody ‘Apen Ekeki Ey Minisa’- ‘He is one of us’, was the fulcrum on which the popular Sinhala psyche tilted firmly to a determined onslaught to end the war.
It would be the height of ingratitude and a churlish distortion to deny the role of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s directorial competence and supervisory charisma, ( if there is such a thing) in ending the war.
That said, he cannot accuse Lasantha’s daughter for disparaging his achievements as Defence Secretary by seeking closure in the brutal murder of her father.
As Historian and Anthropologist Michael Roberts would later acknowledge “Api Wenuwen Api” (We for Us) was a far cry from the wooden and prosaic campaigns associated with usual government advocacy efforts. “It was slick, catchy and motivating.”
The campaign was launched in both Sinhala and Tamil. But the idea was aimed at the Sinhala Buddhist head and heart already cocooned in the Mahawamsa legend of Sri Lanka – the protected repository of Theravada Buddhism.
Mahinda Rajapaksa did not just defeat the tigers. It was no ordinary triumph. It was ‘Dhigvijaya’- a supreme triumph. The “Rana Viru” myth was born. The preposterous idea that a war can be a humanitarian venture became accepted wisdom and a consecrated ideology.
Api Wenuwen Api was a simple idea. Simple ideas most often turn in to explosive ideas. What makes simple ideas deadly ideas is the way they are delivered.
The lyrics of patriotic songs written by militant monk Elle Gunawansa thero offer a fine example. He called them “බල සෙනඟට රණ ගී” – “Bala Senagata Rana Gee”- War hymns for heroic troops. “Upanna Mawubima Rakinna Yana Magey Soora Veera Vu Sebala Puthey, Nivan Dakinnata Ey Pinkama Athi Mathu Bawayedi Rathhran Puthey ( උපන්න මවුබිම රකින්න යන මගෙ සූර වීර වූ සෙබළ පුතේ, නිවන් දකින්නට ඒ පිංකම ඇති මතු භවයෙදි රත්තරං පුතෙ)
My precious soldier son striding forward in gallant defense of the motherland, your worthy offering is enough to make you see nirvana in your next birth.
අසිපත කොපුවෙන් එළියට ගන්නේ, ලේ නොම තැවරී නැත එහි ලන්නේ – Asipatha Kopuwen Eliyata Ganne. Le Noma Thawerie Natha Ehi Lanne – The drawn sword will not go in to the scabbard if not daubed in blood.
Interestingly, the patriotic poet priest allegedly received a dollar disbursement from China Harbour Engineering Company as reported in the New York Times expose and later repeated in local media.
Let us not fool ourselves. It is not only Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is facing inquiry in a California courtroom and by inference universal scrutiny. He is one of us – Apen Ekeki Ey Minisa.
In the 21st century modern state, we are all responsible for the insanity of extreme expressions of ethnoreligious identity.
As Ward Churchill activist and ethnic studies academic says “It is the collective responsibility of the citizens in a modern state to ensure by all means necessary that its government adheres to the rule of law, not just domestically, but internationally. There are no bystanders. No one is entitled to an ‘apolitical’ exemption from such obligation. Where default occurs, either by citizens endorsement of official criminality or by the failure of citizens to effectively oppose it, liability is incurred by all.”
When group identity is used to frame policy and frame voter expectations the voters will always prefer the party identified with the numerically dominant group.
When that happens, the leadership qualities of giants of the type of Colvin, N.M, Pieter Keuneman, M.D. Banda, T.B. Ilangarathne, Peter Kandaiha become irrelevant. Such attributes of competence, probity, or what we call decent quality will not matter. The threshold for wining is demagoguery and cunning.
It has been established that ethnic politics go hand in hand with corruption. It explains the ethnic stress on the media outlets owned by oligarchs identified with Gotabaya’s presidential candidacy.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term and a pivotal principle in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It stands for nonviolence. The opposite is Hinsa which means harm or violence. It is not a contrivance of American imperialism or a western neoliberal thingamajig.
Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered in a high security zone in a ruthlessly efficient surveillance state. It was a quasi-theocratic state in which state violence was approved as a necessary means serving the higher purpose of defending the faith and destiny of an ancient people.
The investigation in to his murder got mired in manipulated mayhem.
In 2015 the people demanded ‘good governance’ in place of a palpably tyrannical ‘securocracy’. We elected a new president and installed a new administration. They promised to restore the rule of law, end impunity and lock-on accountability.
In 2016 the freshly appointed Director General of the Commission on Bribery and Corruption, Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe produced the former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and a few top Army and Naval officers before a magistrate on bribery and corruption charges. The new President who promised to ensure the rule of law placed whom he called war heroes beyond the ordinary law.
As the report in the New Indian express stated “President Sirisena was incensed when the Bribery Commission hauled up three former Navy chiefs and a former Defence Secretary, who happens to be the war-winning Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Sirisena felt that this would do his government great political harm as the personalities hauled up are heroes of Eelam War IV. “
In the ensuing brouhaha, an anti-corruption activist and an insider in the Sirisena coterie became an expert on the bribery law. (In 2019 he has been rewarded for his pains with a plum assignment.)
In a newspaper article he wrote about what he thought was the predicament of the Director General of CIABOC.
“The first critical allegation levelled against her was that by filing a lawsuit (on Avant Garde) under ‘Attempted Corruption’ instead of filing it under the Firearms Ordinance as it should have been, she had created an opportunity for suspects to go free. This, politicians used to their advantage.”
Now that was a load of BS. The President was furious that he was not on the loop when the war heroes were produced before the magistrate.
The man we elected to ensure the rule of law had his own rules on the subject of equality before the law. That it is the great big idea of the 21st Century has escaped him. Rule of Law is a principle. It is not a rule. Rules can be broken. Principles are either respected or raped.
In the past four years ‘good governance promise ‘has been more honoured in the breach than in its observance. Retired Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals hold press briefings to urge investigators to disregard the complicity of colleagues in murder and abductions. Devout prelates find it inconceivable that heroic soldiers are accused of murder, abductions and extortion.
What the current government has done in the cases of Lasantha’s murder, Keith Noyahr’s abduction and torture and Ekneligoda’s disappearance is profoundly sinister and competes with the original crimes in measuring up to the levels of the original evil. It has mutilated the idea of truth over an agonizing four years in power. Ahimsa Wickrematunge has had enough.
In a concise comprehensible book meant for the average citizen entitled “The Rule of Law”, published just before his untimely death, the crusading British judge Lord Bingham has traced the sources and the genesis of the phrase and the conception of the Rule of Law. The book published by Penguin won the Orwell prize for the best political book in 2011. It is heartily recommended to my fellow countrymen wishing to unravel the gibberish of Professor G.L. Peiris Distinguished Visiting Fellow of Christ College, University of Cambridge.
The eminent jurist describes the purpose of his elegant analysis of the concept known as the rule of law. “Although written by a former judge it is not addressed to lawyers. It is not a legal text book. It is addressed to those who have heard references to the rule of law, who are inclined to think that it is a good thing rather than a bad thing , who wonder if it may not be rather important, but who are not quite sure what it is all about and would like to make up their minds.”
The rule of law is the overarching rule of the polity. It is not simply parroting a principle or claiming to own a body of rules ignored at one’s convenience.
In the slim volume Lord Bingham anticipates the charlatanry of Professor Peiris type political academics. He explains that these conceptions are held in a political framework and not in a narrow party-political framework.
In post 2015 period, the UNP of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the SLFP of President Sirisena took turns in insidious cover-ups of investigations in to shocking, nauseating atrocities by the state security apparatus .
Two aspects of the Rule of Law are foundational – the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the legal profession both private and state. It is not an abstract principle. It is not a political polemic. It is intended to create a real lawful civil society in which individuals and society are protected by a framework and an approach based on the application of principle and rules adhered to by all that does not privilege the politically powerful.
Ahimsa’s plea made in a California court is a chilling admonition that the surveillance state – the Securocracy of Gotabaya, Hendavitharna et al is far from dismantled. She makes only a single demand – Freedom from deception.