By Kumar David–
Reports say that the Defence Secretary telephoned Federation of University Teachers president Nirmal Devasiri and assured him that white vans and suspicious characters loitering around his home have nothing to do with the defence establishment. I am no private detective hence have no way of ascertaining the truth, but my response is unhesitating: “Don’t be a fool and take a chance; only suckers ignore open secrets about abductions and assassinations; it’s suicidal to trust the state”. Yes, I know this is not new; it is the refrain that all of us who criticise the Rajapaksas, incessantly hear from family and friends. However, I most certainly am not saying: “Get into a funk and back-off. No, no, not at all; what I say is, take precautions to foil attempts to pick you up.” This is an occasion to alert all who oppose the government that it is not enough to be alert; take practical steps to protect yourself – better safe than dead!
Some months ago I had the opportunity to chat with a few young fellows from the FSP and warned them not to allow activists to become isolated in ones and twos. I hate to say “I told you so” but the abduction of two of their cadres in Jaffna soon afterwards came as no surprise. Still they learnt nothing and soon two leaders were abducted by a black agency of the state and released only when the Australian High Commissioner intervened with the Defence Secretary. This case is extremely important since it makes public the identity of the powers behind abductions. The cat is out of the bag about responsibility for abduction and murder of opponents of the regime and unbowed journalists.
One more comment before I move on. I know Devasiri, having met him at several seminars, but cannot call him a buddy since we still have not knocked back the obligatory few drams together. He seems to be a courageous fellow and hats off for that, though he is a post-modernist (yak!) and I am a Marxist. The point I am edging towards is that during the war, when I insisted that if the LTTE was destroyed it would be curtains for Tamil rights for a generation, cartloads of commentators, major generals and chauvinists, slandered me as a hidden Tiger. This time, to forestall anything similar I declare upfront that my readiness to stand up for Devasiri’s rights does not make me a pocket post-modernist; a worse insult than being called a closet LTTEer.
The poverty of the liberals
It’s not that the liberals are bad chaps; on the contrary by and large they are intellectual opponents of Rajapaksa’s drift to dictatorship, they support minority rights and reconciliation, and bless them, to man they are aficionados of good governance. The pronouncements of Friday Foreskins, national peacemakers and the new Warden of my old school by the sea are sterling stuff. Then what’s wrong with me, why am I trying to pick a fight with them? You can’t call what I am going to say in the rest of this piece picking a fight; it’s fair comment and needs to be said. Sure I agree that anyone who at this point in time is prepared to join to defeat this menacing regime-state nexus must be welcomed as an ally. Anything that weakens the practical fighting strength of the alliance is reprehensible, so mine is only an exchange of friendly-fire – no body bags needed.
While cooperating in practical actions, there is no need to conceal that we have different views of what the morrow will yield, what the nature of this regime is, and what we can expect from it. If only some leading force in the Egyptian Revolution had as far back as February 2011, spelt out to the people that glorious though the revolution was, until the military was broken and the state transformed, a mortal threat hung over the nation; if only, then the revolution would not be stalling as it is now, but be striding with confidence. Diverse forces can work together as a united front while some are more far seeing than others and this implies no conflict; it is about leadership, albeit Leninist style. To cut a long story short, the liberals cannot get beyond the “Government must do this” and the “Rajapaksa must do that” stage. They do not acknowledge the reality that the Rajapaksas will do nothing of the sort. To be more precise, in their bones they know the regime will spurn their homilies, but are rendered impotent in the face of this roadblock.
Take a case in point. Here is an extract from a new voice pronouncing the liberal gospel with much rectitude, Warden Indra de Soysa wrote in the Sri Lanka Guardian:
“Thus, the best long-term strategy for Sri Lanka to follow into the future is to win over the Tamil diaspora citizens of powerful countries because the incentives of foreign policymakers in those countries are going to be based on the consequences for them at home not abroad . . . Our efforts must clearly target those interests fighting for a separate homeland by engaging the international community in good faith about the dangers of separatism in South Asia and win back the Tamil diaspora on the basis of real reforms that they can buy into. . . . In other words, much greater openness and transparency in our actions is the only antidote to the pressures coming from the diaspora Tamils. In fact, the greater our openness to monitoring and implementation of the LLRC recommendations, the smaller the space for the diaspora propagandists to do their work”
De Soysa’s hopes have merit and in this he resembles other paragons of virtue in liberal forums, councils and foundations. However, these worthies are NOT speaking rhetorically; they are not saying the regime must do this or that as a mode of speech, knowing full well that it will do nothing of the sort. No sir, they are dead serious, they are earnestly expecting the regime to heed their guidance and function thus. You may ask; when were these people born?
Next a quote from the National Peace Council reporting a resolution adopted at its convention of inter-religious clergy. The sentiments are unimpeachable, but will this government ever listen to their voices?
” . . .the lack of proper infrastructure for people who are being resettled, the high degree of military presence which vitiates civil administration, continuing abductions and disappearances, the problems of rehabilitated LTTE cadre in finding employment, the difficulties of those who have lost their family members in getting death certificates or even ascertaining what happened to them, continuing restrictions on fishing and farming activities due to military controls, the use of outside labour instead of utilizing the people of the area in infrastructure projects, the prevalence of social vices due to poverty and abuse of power, the need to utilize both Sinhala and Tamil languages in government offices and the utilization of land to serve commercial interests rather than those of the people.
Say by dint of perseverance, or with a ‘just suppose’ proviso, one could take the worthies one step further. Suppose you could get as far as posing the question: “But what if by its very nature this regime is incapable of doing this? Granted this negative hypothesis; then what?” That’s when the worthies fall silent since the liberal ethic and logic cannot cope with the ‘beyond’ stage.
I need to reiterate, lest I be misunderstood, that the practical work these civil society groups undertake is laudable. It is the unintended consequence of pronouncements lulling the public into complacency in respect of the truth about the nature of this regime that gets my alarm bells ringing.
Telling people the uncomfortable truth
I am not suggesting that the left should break with the liberals in practical actions and go it alone. That would be rank adventurism worthy of a JVP – 1971 and 1989 style. Nor am I suggesting that the common platform with the UNP and the TNA be disrupted; these two entities, being political parties, are better grounded on terra firma than the liberals. The non Sajith-Karu UNP majority is serious about contesting the regime all round, though its focus is on the electoral register. The TNA understands that as essential protocol it has to faithfully go on with negotiations though it will not be surprised were it to end up with less than peanuts. Political entities live much less in cloud cuckoo land than liberal forums.
Colombo Telegraph has emerged as one of Lanka’s best sources of investigative journalism. It has beavered away at a goldmine of Wikileaks dispatches ferreting out many nuggets. On June 27, 2012 it dug out and reproduced a 2 June 2008 cable from then US Ambassador Robert Blake to his bosses in Washington, a part of which reads as follows:
“Rajapaksa (Gotabhaya) reportedly went on to say that the investigation of the Noyahr incident would lead nowhere. ‘There will be no investigation. It will reach a certain point and stop. No one will be able to find out what happened.’ He castigated journalists in general for focusing attention on Sri Lanka’s human rights record. ‘Human rights mean nothing. We do not want to be bothered about it while we’re fighting a war. Because of the international campaign, we can’t arrest anyone. But I don’t care; I will do what I want. The military will campaign for criminal defamation laws to stop all this. The fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution have to be repealed.’”
The leopard does not change its spots or the tiger its stripes, or more to the point, balla Singapuru giyath yanne heluweng. Devasiri and others who feel threatened would do well to remember these reports. The liberals need to ask themselves whether this kind of a ruling clique could have the appetite to carry forward worthy liberal homilies on love, fellowship, transparency, openness in governance, devolution and reconciliation with national minorities. If not, how do they propose to follow up their analgesic rhetoric with some practical medicine? I fear our liberal friends are queuing up at the cliff’s edge and enjoining their fellow travellers to step over with them.