By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Let them hate us as long as they fear us.” –Caligula[i]
At first sight, it read like the sort of buffoonery newspapers delight in, to honour the April Fools Day: ‘MOD ponders rehabilitating NPC member Ananthi’[ii]. But this is January not April; and arresting the TNA provincial councillor who was second highest on the preference-votes list sounded just like the sort of something Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would love to ponder, if not do.
“A senior Defence Ministry source told…that those who hadn’t been arrested/surrendered at the conclusion of the conflict…missed the government rehabilitation project. Ananthi was among those who had avoided rehabilitation, the official said, adding that a decision would be made soon.”
Ms. Sasitharan was not a member of the LTTE; her husband was (a prominent one). Therefore the government has no legal right to ‘rehabilitate’ her, even according to the MOD’s inane logic. The Rajapaksas, with their feudalist-mindset might believe that a wife should be punished for the crimes of her husband, but one almost pities the plight of the Lankan delegation compelled to make that particular argument in Geneva.
(Incidentally Ms. Sasitharan did surrender to the military together with her husband. That was when her husband reportedly disappeared.)
If the Rajapaksas act on this peerless brainwave, the ensuing disasters are all too easy to imagine. But the ‘government’ reportedly thinks that the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages: “The spokesman admitted that the detention of Ananthi…. could trigger strong protests from the international community ahead of the forthcoming UNHRC session … However, the government was of the opinion that Ananthi would continue to undermine post-war reconciliation process unless she underwent rehabilitation, he said.[iii]”
Nothing Ms. Sasitharan can say about the Lankan government can be as damning as the image which will be created if she is arrested and detained in a ‘rehabilitation facility’. If the regime indulges in that unforgivably criminal folly, even the most diehard Tiger supporters in the Diaspora will find themselves supplanted in their anti-Sri Lanka propaganda – by the Rajapaksas. The most extreme arguments put forward by the most ardent Tiger apologists in Tamilnadu will be forever eclipsed by this one Rajapaksa deed.
So why are the Siblings even contemplating such a heinously inane deed? (Apart from a visceral tendency towards derangement, of course.)
“Asked whether the government was planning to hunt for those who had managed to avoid rehabilitation, the official said perhaps Ananthi wouldn’t have adopted such a hostile stance towards the government and the military if she had undergone rehabilitation.”
Emperor Caligula is supposed to have lamented that Romans do not have one neck (preventing him from decapitating the populace with one stroke). The Rajapaksas know that targeting the right kind of neck can lower many more in abject terror. That logic was behind the incarceration of the war-winning army commander and the impeachment of the chief justice.
The ‘government’ thinks that detaining Ms. Sasitharan is necessary for ‘reconciliation’ because according to Rajapaksa-worldview, reconciliation presupposes a subjugated minority/minorities. As the UTHR pointed out, “During the past rounds of the war, the Army has used brutal and indiscriminate bombing and shelling against civilians. But that was usually when the security forces felt they were at some disadvantage, insecure and in some ways militarily inferior to the LTTE at its height. But….from January 2009, indiscriminate brutality causing huge civilian casualties was used when the LTTE was virtually broken and was merely prolonging the war by throwing in conscripts. This time, moreover, the bombing and shelling of areas full of civilians seemed almost vindictive. “The largest civilian losses came at the last stages due to indiscriminate fire when the LTTE was virtually finished.”[iv] The Tamils were being punished for their past sins and taught a lesson-in-obedience for the future. The same motivation was evident in the incarceration of around 300,000 civilian Tamils in ‘Welfare Villages’. Similarly, by threatening to detain her, the regime is hoping to frighten Ms. Sasitharan into silence and intensify the fear-psychosis in the North (plus incite Sinhala-racism in the South, and gain some electoral traction).
Like the Tigers before them the Rajapaksas believe in using naked and arbitrary terror to suppress opposition/criticism and force dissenting communities/groups into obedience. When Rajapaksa-acolytes attack a church, mosque or kovil, and get away with it, the message sent to the minorities is simple: Yes, we can and we will. The pliant conduct of the Tamil and Muslim parties in the government is the best possible indication that this anti-minority terrorism works, in the short term. In the medium term it will discredit moderation and encourage extremism/fundamentalism within minority communities. Though that will be disastrous for Sri Lanka and all her people, the Rajapaksas would not mind a new conflict. They desperately need a convincingly nasty enemy, to justify their repressive governance internationally and frighten the Sinhalese into continued thraldom, despite growing socio-economic misery.
The Family Problem
When Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra was gunned down, allegedly by the Rajapaksa-pet, Duminda Silva, his supporters erupted in fury. They openly called Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ‘godfathers’ of the alleged killer. Even within the normally dormant SLFP, waves of dismay and discontent were clearly visible. The leaders of the other UPFA parties joined the chorus of condemnation[v]. As the SLFP came to the brink of an anti-Mahinda/anti-Gotabhaya implosion, the Brothers imposed a curfew in Kollonnawa; and Basil Rajapaksa set forth to the rescue.
Basil Rajapaksa was unsullied by any public association with the alleged killer. He worked tirelessly soothing incensed tempers, smoothing ruffled feathers, calming the impending storm and preventing the closet dissenters within the SLFP from teaming up with infuriated Bharatha-loyalists. He succeeded because Mr. Premachandra’s supporters failed to see the familial nature of the problem and consequently did not realise that when they opened the door to Basil Rajapaksa, they were, inadvertently, letting Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in. When, in the near future, Mr. Premachandra’s outraged daughter shares a Rajapaksa-stage with his alleged killer, Sir Basil’s work of deliverance will be completed.
The Ruling Siblings have diverse characters and styles and varying strengths and weaknesses. But they all stand or fall with familial rule. As Ambassador Robert Blake pointed out, “…the President’s brothers play an important and influential role in shaping GSL security and political policy. Moreover, one of their biggest roles is to provide political cover to the President. The President often has Gothabaya and Basil take credit for decisions so he can appear less involved in actions that earn the GSL criticism at home and abroad”[vi].
Basil Rajapaksa is the peacemaker of the Family Inc. But according to Rajapaksa worldview, peace works best when it follows (and is informed by) naked, abject fear. And sowing fear is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s speciality. Sans Gotabhaya’s mailed-fist, the Rajapaksas cannot create a non-consensual peace and turn an imperfect democracy into a patrimonial oligarchy.
The planned detention of Ananathi Sathisaran is a sign of suicidal insanity which is a visceral quality of Rajapaksa rule. But this madness will not stop with Tamil/Muslim/Christian victims. No Sinhala-Buddhist can feel safe, because anyone wittingly or unwittingly challenging Rajapaksa-interests can become the target of Rajapaksa terror, as Sarath Fonseka, Shirani Bandaranayake and people of Rathupaswala discovered.
[i] Believed to be a favourite motto of Emperor Caligula, this Latin dictum originally appeared in a work by Roman poet Lucius Accius
[iii] Emphasis mine