By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Real patriots ask questions.” – Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)[i]
It is a union more perfect than perfect. Bodu Bala Sena has returned to its maha gedera (ancestral home) to openly assist its progenitors in their hour of need.
The BBS’s public alignment with the Rajapaksas provides yet another indicator about the sort of campaign the Siblings will run. There will be temporary price decreases and other giveaways. But the main theme of the Rajapaksa platform will be Fear. Fear of omnipresent threats and omnipotent enemies, the great big ogres out there waiting to get us. The identity of the enemy will vary depending on the time and the place; it could be rejuvenated LTTE, Islamic Jihadists, foreign conspirators, religious converters, economic saboteurs….. But the enemy will always be there, threatening to destroy national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, sow anarchy and drown the country in blood. The only bulwark against this terrible calamity, the citizenry will be told, is of course the Rajapaksas; so elect them, even if you are economically hurting and hopeless.
The world out there will be depicted as an unholy cabal of capitalists, imperialists, colonialists, Christian fundamentalists, Islamic Jihadists, Tamil Diaspora, NGO-types and human rights campaigners – all of them obsessed with Sri Lanka and united in their determination to destroy the country’s sole defenders, the Rajapaksas. Acolytes will wail that if Mahinda Rajapaksa is defeated, he, his brothers and all ‘War Heroes’ will be dragged before an international war crimes tribunal, found guilty wholesale and sent to the electric chair en masse. Candidate Rajapaksa will thunder that he will brave the electric chair a thousand times for the sake of the ‘War Heroes’ and ask the electorate to vote for him in gratitude.
Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera has already fired the first salvo with his word-picture of the heroic Rajapaksas bidding a poetic farewell to Mother Lanka as the evil international forces take them away, bound hand and foot.
Will the public fall for these fake tale?
The only ‘War Hero’ to be dragged into undeserved incarceration, literally kicking and screaming, was the war-winning army commander Sarath Fonseka. And that act of base injustice and ingratitude was perpetrated by the super-patriotic Rajapaksas, just because Gen. Fonseka exercised his democratic right to oppose them legally and peacefully.
The only ‘War Heroes’ to be publicly humiliated were the soldiers who were officially assigned, by the state, to guard Candidate Fonseka during the 2010 Presidential election. They were ordered out of the Colombo hotel where Gen. Fonseka was staying, made to kneel on the road and taken away to jail manacled hand and foot. And that act of viciously petty revenge too was perpetrated by the Rajapaksas.
Then there was the senior intelligence officer who had an encounter with the abominable offspring of Minister Mervyn Silva. That ‘War Hero’ was accused of all sorts of crimes and forced to incriminate himself publicly (rather like the Samurdhi official), to save the ministerial brat. The Rajapaksas authored that egregious deed as well.
That is how the Rajapaksas treat any current or former military man when it suits their purposes.
That is their patriotism and their gratitude.
The Rajapaksas are covering themselves with the tattered patriotic flag and arming themselves with past-the-sell-by-date gratitude argument because they cannot conceive of a life without power. Other presidents could retire and go home. Presidents JR Jayewardene, DB Wijethunga and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga did so. President Premadasa already had his retirement planned and was getting his future office in Colombo Central ready[ii] when he was killed by the LTTE.
The Rajapaksas cannot go home because there are all too many of them, occupying unmerited positions across the state and wallowing in luxuries at the expense of the people. Can most of them go back to being nobodies? Can they manage without power and its many trappings and privileges?
There is nothing they will not do to prevent their world from unravelling.
An unusually perceptive piece on elections quotes a small-scale bakery owner (and a Sinhalese) calling on all candidates, “Make sure our lives are better off than they were before”[iii]. It is a sentiment most Lankans, irrespective of the usual divides, are likely to agree on. Currently most Lankans are focusing on their own very real economic issues. And the Rajapaksas, in order to win without massive violence and utterly de-legitimising rigging, need to change this focus. In order to win with even a fig leaf they need to make Sinhala voters concentrate on imaginary enemies and imaginary threats.
Fear is the way to do it.
The BBS would play a major role in this campaign of fear-mongering.
BBS as Shock Troops
Cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who came up with the concept of ‘frames’, argues that “People use frames – deep seated mental structures about how the world works – to understand facts. Frames are in our brains and define our common sense. It is impossible to think without activating frames and which frames are activated is of crucial importance.”[iv] The Rajapaksas would try to imprison the election – and the electorate – in a frame of fear. They will seek do so with fake tales about enemies, threats and conspiracies. They will use all resources of the state to take this message into every Sinhala home. This may not suffice to prevent a large chunk of the Sinhala voters from deserting them. But the Siblings have no alternative, this side of generalised violence.
The BBS will be invaluable in this effort, because it can be delegated with the task of coming up with the really lurid anti-minority, anti-Western rhetoric. What will be said with a little obliqueness on the official UPFA platform will be shrieked with open belligerency on the BBS platform.
The BBS may also be used to physically attack opposition campaigners and supporters, especially monks who back Maithripala Sirisena. The possibility that thugs/former servicemen disguised in robes and led by a couple of bona fide BBS monks will be used to cause mayhem at opposition gatherings cannot be ruled out. The BBS after all has a history of physically assaulting political opponents. By using the BBS as shock troops the Rajapaksas can claim that the opposition is being attacked by patriotic monks enraged at the planned treachery.
If the Rajapaksas succeed with their fake tales, by the time the election is over, the divide between the majority and the minorities would have widened and deepened exponentially, rendering a peaceful Lankan future utterly impossible.
In real life, the story about the Emperor’s cloak can have several alternate endings, Terry Pratchett reminds us. It could be the story of the boy who was punished by his father for being rude to royalty; or the story of the crowd forced by armed guards into affirming that the emperor was always gloriously clothed or “the story of how a whole kingdom suddenly saw the benefits of the ‘new clothes’” and followed the imperial example, resulting in economic recession and/or a Pneumonia epidemic[v].
Which ending will the story of the Rajapaksas and their glorious patriotic cloak have?
Will Sinhalese see through the fake tales or fall for them? Will they succumb or will they overcome?
[i] This particular chapter was co-authored by Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s wife.
[ii] Visura Building which subsequently housed the Premadasa Centre
[iv] Don’t Think of an Elephant
[v]Thief of Time