25 September, 2020

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Falling Out Of Love With The Army

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

How quickly a besotted Sinhala public turned from adoration to angst of the country’s military and police has taken me by surprise. Perhaps this is but a passing lover’s quarrel which will blow over and adulation of the “brave heroes who vanquished the most ferocious terrorists on the globe” will soon return. Or perhaps a paradigm has shifted. I am referring to the change in public mood evident after the shooting of civilian protesters at Weliweriya village on 1 August 2013. The ingredients for a wakeup call have been long present; but an introductory paragraph is necessary to put things in perspective.

In all cultures, and Lanka is no exception, the heroes of a tribe, race or nation are the conquerors of a historical enemy. The first great hero of the Sinhalese race is Dutugemunu who vanquished the Tamil king Ellalan in 160 BC; the Sinhalese mass sees the victors of May 2009 in a similar light. One might add, en passant, that another lesson of these two events is that the 15% cannot militarily defeat the 75% without substantial overseas aid. Conversely, the occasions on which catastrophic defeats were inflicted on the Sinhalese were when powerful South Indian kingdoms undertook invasions, or when colonial powers brought to bear their superior technology. The two best known examples of the former are the sack of Anuradhapura by Raja Raja Chola in 993 AD, and the seizure of Polonnoruwa by Kalinga Magha in 1215 AD using Chola and Pandyan mercenaries. (Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are the oldest seats of Sinhalese civilisation though two thousand years more recent than counterparts in China and India).

Waliveriya

It started as a localised problem; drinking water was being poisoned by the discharge from a factory owned by a subsidiary of one of Lanka’s largest companies, Hayleys. It could have been settled at the local level but government party cronies in the local administrations were on the take. A not very large demonstration led by youth was organised, and it still remained a minor local affair. Then came the fireworks, first the police and then the army rolled in, assaulted the villagers mercilessly, made the youth kneel down and continued to beat them with blunt weapons, and finally for reasons that absolutely no one can understand, opened fire. It is beyond comprehension why firearms were used against a small protest rally by unarmed villagers – civilians. Three of the injured have died so far. The anger that has poured out all over the country, not just in that locality, but nationally in the electronic and print media, in statements and petitions, and in Lanka oriented international websites, has been prolific. As a fried of mine said: It’s stunning, it’s as if a dam has burst and all the pent up anger is pouring out.

The government is dumbfounded; neither President nor his brother and all powerful Defence Secretary have opened their mouths in public up to this time of writing. An attempt to pass the buck and have a military spokesman carry the can misfired badly. The Brigadier made such a monumental ass of himself, making references to the diaspora, a hidden black-hand and miraculous flying rocks, that it confirmed the old story that marching too much in heavy jackboots emulsifies the brain. It looks as if a kind of political turning point has been reached but it’s a month too early to say. Three Provincial Council elections will be held in September; the government will be trounced in the Tamil Northern Province, that’s sure, but the outcome in the Central and North Western Provinces will test the barometer; let’s see. If the UPFA loses even one of these, it will sound the tocsin of the Rajapakse Regime.

The obscenity of race politics

In essence what happened in Waliveriya and the slaughter of tens of thousands of unarmed civilians in the final stages of the civil war in early 2009 are the same; what is different is only an astronomical disproportion in scale. Sinhala society remained dumb at that time though the warning was sounded by some, like this writer, that the guns the state was discharging against the Tamils would soon point at the Sinhalese themselves. The obscenity of race politics is that until this actually happens, those of one race remain dumb about the slaughter of the other. Still, better late than never; the Sinhalese are at long last learning that a military suckled on blood, like a vampire, is indiscriminate about where to gorge its blood-lust next. The function of the repressive organs of the state is not to protect the people, perish that thought; its role is to keep the people in subjugation to the rulers. The Rajapakses of Lanka have not relinquished one iota of their desire for a Corporatist Dictatorship; this explains their silence, their conduct, and their relationship to the military-police establishment.

I have been approached more than once to participate in statements and activities to condemn the Waliveriya shooting. If the request came from a Sinhalese quarter or someone previously linked to the Rajapakse Administration, invariably they wish to remain silent on the slaughter of Tamil civilians in the civil war. This hush must not be permitted; there must be no cover up of the obscenity of race politics.

Has Mahinda lost control of Gota; or Gota lost control of the army?

An essay that I presented in Lanka’s Sunday Island and the website Colombo Telegraph on 21 July was widely read. It discussed a nagging concern; is there a conflict between the siblings Mahinda and Gotabahaya Rajapakse. Does the former tango softly-softly for the international community while the latter devil-dances to keep Sinhala-Buddhist extremism on board? I had to leave the answer open three weeks ago, but the probability has shifted since in the direction that there may indeed be conflict and dissension within the regime. There are only two options now; either President Mahinda has lost control of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya, or they are both steadily losing control of the army.

I will give three reasons. For years it has been said that organised widespread human rights violations in Lanka was a cooperative effort by the organs of military repression hand in hand with the political powers. Now has the Rottweiler broken the leash and marauding on its own? That is possibility number one. Second, the Weliweriya incident has caused the government great embarrassment and may even lead to electoral setbacks. This suggests that the siblings no longer see eye to eye, or that a section of the army has decided to go its own way and tell them both to go to hell.

The third reason may look small but it says a lot.  Minister Meryn de Silva, hated by all, is a kind of a Rasputin. His son, like father, has been throwing his weight around and recently even assaulted an army officer in public. Well, let me now reproduce a newspaper report that says it all.

The Island (31 July 2013).

The police suspect security forces were involved in Monday’s attack on Malaka Silva, son of Public Relations Minister Mervyn Silva at the Odel car park. The police said that the manner in which Malaka Silva had been attacked by the gang suggested that a group of experienced security forces men was responsible for it. Investigations have revealed that the attackers were wearing boots similar to those worn by the security forces personnel. The police said that the attack had been recorded on the CCTV cameras at the car park, but the attackers could not be identified. The video footage will be sent to the Moratuwa University for further examination. The police said that the attackers had been waiting for Malaka at the car park”.

Is the political establishment is being told to get out of the way? I rest my case.

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Latest comments

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    David,

    Your take on the obscenity of race politics is right. When JVP youth were massacred in two waves Tamils stayed quiet, so did the Sinhalese for all the massacres of the Tamils in the North-East, and for the periodic anti-Tamil pogroms, though many Sinhalese helped Tamils in those pogroms.

    Now the cycle of military violence, against Sinhalese this time, is rolling on. Weliweriya; is it in the early stage, or just an isolated mishap? Only time will tell.

    I’m convinced they are all in it together: MR, GR and the security forces.

    Remember, together they also face possible international war crime investigations. Sticking together might strengthen their defense.

  • 0
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    Well said Kumar, the Sinhala masses will learn the hard lessons from the Medamulana rogues sooner than later.

    A SL spring is the only way to move forward and it looks like things are going in that direction post CHOGM with the Goat brother will tighten his screws on the protestors in any situation and economy falling down like a pack of cards.

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    Frankly the Sri Lanka Army then had a strong element about it that would not allow a Malaka beating a Major incident to occur…if and whenever such occured a truck load of troops would be dispatched to hammer, bulldoze everything associated with it. This was the army then. However we are yet to see how the current politicized, “police-ized” army now will do as the old guard is largely depleted, retired, sent home..with a few cronies of Gota left to “prosper” …..

    Malaka assault/ambush incident clearly indicates a remnant of old guard spirit, which I frankly support…after all this is an army of men, with no gays openly tolerated like the US army of “nurses”.

    Weliweriya incident, was clearly ordered by Gota and is clear In the post-incident management psychology that lacks professionalism, strategic thought and displays village-style southern Rajapassa psyche…

    It should be noted that Jagath Jayasuriya type “good boys” may not be in abundance…and the establishment cannot go on a sending home spree of officers as it clearly is a double-edged sword and with a clear risk of Malaka-treatment on the Rajapassa or their boys…this is probably why they do not employ officers around their security..the upper-mid career officers will clearly not tow the line with Gota’s housemaid-style army management..

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    Good piece!
    Gota’s ‘deep state’ is kicking in and CBK and SF will have to rally the old guard of the SLFP and segment of the military to undo the Rajapassa brothers dictatorship..
    Ranil who is destroying the UNP is clearly out of the political game..

  • 0
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    BLOW BACK is the name of the game – the military will get Gota the paranoid goon, as they did Malaka Silva one fine day..

    Meanwhile lets educate the masses on how to vote better in future…

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    The Regime did get away in the numbers game: “zero” civilian casualty to
    70,000 deaths. Now the game is localised: 3 to 11 innocent Sinhala deaths. By the time the hidden-media comes out, so much of water would have flown under the bridge ( in Weliweriya too) and the Regime will
    do the same thing again – just to keep up the dynasty built up so far.

    The Voters have no choice, as ANY election will be a UPFA win. The
    frame-work is set.

  • 0
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    The answer could be YES, quite possible, to your very last question.

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    It is relevant, in the context of Weliweriya, to bring to the attention of CT readers that the Sri Lankan navy regularly assaults, verbally abuses, destroys their catch, their nets, and have even killed several hundred Tamil Nadu fishermen in the Palk Straits.

    The alleged reason being that they entered Sri Lankan waters. Even so, they should be treated humanely with due respect. You can see a video of this in the You Tube.

    Is it on Sri Lankan government policy, or on the Navy’s own initiative do these inhuman actions occur?

    Thuggery of security forces is thuggery whether it is on Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, or Tamil Nadu people.

    Nobody seems to bother about these hapless fishermen, except Tamil Nadu people and their politicians, not even the Indian government.

    It might become a flash point between India and Sri Lanka one day, especially with fishing vessels manned by Chinese nationals seen in the Palk Straits. These Naval actions have caused lots of unhappiness in Tamil Nadu.

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      I recently saw a newspaper paper article which stated that Tamil Nadu fishermen had asked fishing rights in Sri Lankan waters ?

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    Before you call the Army Genocidal, inquire whether these soldiers have received any Psychological assessment and Therapy after the Trauma of the 30 year war on Terrorism. From the news that we receive the Army has only been Lauded for their efforts in ending the war, not for the Psychological Distress and Trauma they would have felt after killing so many Humans, even if they were Terrorists!
    Psychological assessment for ‘Delusions of Grandeur’ should be performed on MR and GR too, for their delusion of having Won the War all by themselves, from the comfort of their ‘Haansiputuvas’.

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    Armchair:
    Apart from your blatant homophobia, your b.s. makes no sense. One of the drawbacks of CT is that idiots like you with pretensions to being “analysts” are permitted to sully perfectly logical treatises such as Kumar David’s!

  • 0
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    What I can not understand when there was a problem with water why and who wanted to organize a youth organization and who transported students from other areas ?

    What was the objective ?

    Arab Spring type uprising ?

    • 0
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      Jim Nutty
      You are not understanding because you are so nutty. You may want to consult with gay Bensen Burner!

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    People in uniform have no way to vent their frustrations. They cannot talk, shout, complain. Apart from showcasing them and getting them to clean the drains and grow grass and veggies, they are doing sweet nothing. After fighting a ruthless enemy they are faced with a situation of a different sort which requires patience and restraint. It is a vastly different task to which they are used.

    They are well aware of the feelings of the people whom they are asked to repress and subjugate. The people who are oppressed curse them silently. People complain about the takeover of lands. People resent their interference and presence. So definitely the forces are under an immense phsychological pressure. They see only an enemy who has to be eliminated.

    So the policy of keeping a large number of troops mobilised without much to do will certainly have its repercussions. Deploying armed troops against civilians is certainly a huge mistake, let alone ordering them to open fire. It is only a matter of time when the bonds will be broken and the servant turns against the master.

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    How quickly a besotted Sinhala public turned from adoration to angst of the country’s military and police has taken me by surprise.

    Wow! One needs a Ph.D. and a little more erudition to so accurately sense how the general public feels about this whole affair.

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    I think it is possible that Gota was behind this tomfoolery just like so many other buffoon actions. However MR will be 100% behind Malli.

    that is what is driving the Pakse’s and that hopefully will be their undoing too.

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    Where is the cardinal! why is he quiet,

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    Look at the stakes and the players- Dhamika’s companies employ tens of thousands of people. Dissent in any form or any quarter could spiral out of control. Industrial action must be put down lest it spreads. Cronies must be protected; politicization of a dispute with an industrial outfit must be contained.

    The larger picture- The peace dividend is waning and polity increasingly disillusioned. There is a clear message in the disproportionate response. Grin and bear. Being disillusioned is fine; being disloyal is not on. If you dare, the punishment is swift and the consequences dire. A few corpses, and pools of blood, portend the future. So stay at home.

    There are rewards- Loyalty pays. Those loyal to the regime shall be backed, irrespective of consequences. Stooges learn quickly. It doesn’t pay to be honest. I am the lord and masters voice.
    There is far more to Rathupaswala than meets the eye. There are far too many puppeteers, each one with a big stake in the outcome, each orchestrating their own side show. Each one mired in a web of lies and deep in corruption, owing each other far too many IOU’s.

    They must knit well together for their own survival, a cauldron of violent ideas and ideologies, all persevering to perpetuate their grip on power. We the common men and women are part of the side show and are expendable!

  • 0
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    Has Mahinda lost control of Gota; or Gota lost control of the army?

  • 0
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    Has Mahinda lost control of Gota; or Gota lost control of the army? Gotta is planning to hand over his brother Mahida to Intenational court and take over the President post

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    Nobody has lost control of anybody,its how they operate.
    Balaclava clad soldiers didn’t fall from the sky,they were given orders first to deploy and then kill.

    The world knows who “order givers” are.

  • 0
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    Has everyone forgotten how short the memories of the people of this country are? Weliweriya will soon be forgotten as have other ‘incidents’ of this nature.
    Falling ‘out of love’ and ‘in love’ are two sides of the same coin!

  • 0
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    Rajapakse silence on Weliweriya is same as silence during CJ impeachment and so many others.people now realise their modus operandi of wanting to show aloof of killings,impeachment,price rises etc (he never heard “the buck stops here”)
    CJ impeachment too reluctant ministers now aney palayan yakko yanna ministers were deployed by rajapakse to defend and “explain” just as now.

  • 0
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    Thank You Professor David for this measured take on the post-Weliveriya state of play. MR-GR-BR-thearmedforces are all, arms inextricably linked, in a lethal dance that cannot stop. The dark unseen forces supply the music and the opportunistic, fetchingly yellow-clad chorus from the BBS clap their hands to keep accelerating the rhythm of the dance. The hapless brigadier who was left to defend the armed forces/government with some of the most puerile statements made in recent years must surely qualify to join the somnambulic Keheliya Club for those who reach new heights in ‘defending the indefensible’.

    You also write about the imbalance between the Sinhalese and Tamil populations and that ‘15% cannot militarily defeat the 75% without substantial overseas aid’. Alas, this was something that the untutored VP and his LTTE could not understand. Having failed to nip in the bud the northern insurrection in the early 80’s, it took the state nearly thirty years to get its act together, do the maths, and redress past failings. VP and his henchmen pinned their faith on New Delhi effecting a Cyprus type division of the island and it did come very close to that at one stage…..but the very small window of opportunity came and went; for good now. Aah, what might have been.

    As for the despicable son of Mervyn, it was an open secret that retribution was on the cards. The only question was where and when. That the chosen spot was the bustling Odel car park, in broad daylight, says as much as ‘we-don’t-care-’cause-nobody-can-catch-us-sunnyboy’. And you know what, young Malaka will need to go about in brown camouflaging trousers (for obvious reasons)because ‘they who must be saluted’ are still looking for a further opportunity to administer some outstanding, long-overdue ‘correction’.

    As for your take on the upcoming election, it will interesting indeed to see how much the electorate will read into the debacle of Weliveriya. I fear that the fatalistic karma-ridden common man will bendover and let the UPFA and friends have another go. What to do?

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    Whilst the government in Colombo was tongue-tied on the situation in Weliveriya, in far off London Dr Chis Nonis was promoting the Commonwealth Business Forum and hosting 170 business leaders and great and good to a sumptuous lunch at the High Commission. Among those breaking bread with captains of industry were Euan Blair, the fresh prince of Leicester square, and the delightful Princess Katrina*, formerly Lady De Silva? Dr Nonis, our man in Bayswater, spoke gushingly ‘and with passion’ about how good the royal family was for the commonwealth and passed on the good wishes of the Sri Lankan people to the latest heir to the throne and his parents. He went on to invite everyone to come to Sri Lanka and ‘ and join in Sri Lanka’s renaissance’. What does the dapper Dr Nonis know that we don’t? As my old house master said, hope does indeed spring eternal.

    *Princess of a kingdom that doesn’t exist.

  • 0
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    “Sinhala society remained dumb at that time though the warning was sounded by some, like this writer, that the guns the state was discharging against the Tamils would soon point at the Sinhalese themselves.”

    Kumar David knows better than above.What it demonstrates is his communal bias though he tries to portray that he is above communal politics.

    Sinhala society experienced the brutality of state military force way before his lamented defeat of LTTE in May 2009. Once in 1971 and again in 1987-89.

    The key issue is the entrapment of masses in communal politics by the political leadership & more sadly by the so called intellectuals (such as Kumar himself) of respective communities, Sinhala, Tamil, & Muslim.

    It allows state to turn it’s guns on rotational basis at each of those communities because the rest of the population will remain dumb when one segment is under attack.

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