By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
Hope our quarrels never stop.
Helping them to split and fool us,
So they can remain on top.”
Brecht (Solidarity Song)
The practice has been around for millennia, but the term was born in 1944, out of a movie. In ‘Gaslight’[i], a man uses a series of manipulative tricks to drive his wife insane. These include surreptitiously increasing and decreasing the gaslights in the house while pretending that the lighting has remained constant. As his wife moves from doubt and perplexity to terror, he cuts her off from friends/allies, so that her dependence on him becomes complete.
‘Gaslighting’ in psychology denotes a form of brainwashing, “the systemic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality”[ii].
Rulers, who plan to take nations to places they do not intend to go, often use a form of mass-gaslighting. Threats are manufactured, enemies are created, suspicion and fear turned into emotional-constants. The people, rendered infantile, isolated and divided through pathological-mistrust, can be manipulated into embracing the abusive rulers as their sole protectors/deliverers.
That is the Rajapaksa-aim.
This is the Rajapaksa-narrative.
The ‘Enemy’ is ‘Global Conspiracy’, a nebulous monster which is part-Tiger and part-Indian/Western, politically invasive, economically debilitating, ethno-religiously alien and socio-culturally corrosive. This ‘Enemy’ might be motivated by a thirst for Lankan resources (especially the Trincomalee harbour) or hatred for the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation’ or even envy, because of Sri Lanka’s proven-prowess in combating terrorism. Whatever the reason of the season, the ‘Enemy’ will always focus its ire and fire on the Rajapaksas, because the Ruling Siblings constitute the island-nation’s only rampart against a sea of bestial threats. SinceSri Lankastands or falls with the Rajapaksas, total and absolute allegiance to the Ruling Family becomes the sole measure of patriotism. Fulfil that condition and even a habitual child-rapist can be a glorious patriot; fail it, and even the war-winning army commander becomes an ignoble traitor.
That is the reality the Siblings want us to believe in.
The premise that many a world leader spends an inordinate amount of time, energy and resources plotting the downfall of the Rajapaksa regime is hardly credible. So different ‘threats’ are manufactured periodically, to inflame public fears and passions.
Some months ago the threat was ‘Halal’. Then it was the 13th Amendment. Currently it is the ‘Flying Fish’, a movie. The movie was made here, with local actors; it represented Sri Lanka at several international film festivals[iii]. Flying Fish was just another – albeit extremely successful – movie, until someone, somewhere in the Rajapaksa state decided that it can be used to gaslight the Lankan public.
So the ‘Flying Fish’ replaced the 13th Amendment as the threat of the moment. Within a matter of days the movie was banned by the Defence Ministry and investigated by the CID and the army. A demonstration, orchestrated by the regime, was held against the French Embassy in Sri Lanka for promoting it.
The Rajapaksa propagandists excel at noise-mongering rather like Dr. Kakofonous A Dischord and his side-kick, The Awful DYNNE, in ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’. Not only is the young director of Flying Fish being decried as a ‘Sinhala Tiger’; Gamini Viyangoda is being castigated as the evil-genius behind this latest ‘conspiracy’. Mr. Viyangoda has denied having anything to do with the movie, but facts are outcasts in the Rajapaksa universe. He is a Rajapaksa-critic and he has a French-connection, which suffice to make him culpable in Rajapaksa-eyes.
When the public is bombarded by incessant propaganda about unceasing threats, it can become addlebrained, and incapable of understanding what a dangerous place Sri Lanka is becoming, not just for Rajapaksa-opponents but also for apolitical, solidly middle-class Sinhalese.
Take the fate of planter Nihal Perera who was brutally murdered because he reportedly opposed a tree-felling racket and other nefarious deeds of a local UPFA bigwig. Mr. Perera was earlier beaten up inside his own bungalow. “A local politician was reported to be behind the incident. The Deraniyagala Police had failed to entertain the complaint….”[iv] Three months later he was abducted “beaten with clubs before being slashed with swords”[v]. The main suspect, the former chairman of the Deraniyagala PS Anil Dhammika Wijesingha, was on bail for “slashing the throat of the area Divisional Secretary after he refused to allocate two acres of land”[vi].
This heinous crime should concern every non-political Lankan, because it presages a state of general insecurity.
Or take the fate of the grandmother of Danuna Tilakaratne (Gen. Fonseka’s son-in-law). She was indicted for providing a night’s refuge to her fugitive grandson. What is the state of a nation when an elderly lady is dragged through prisons and courts for the crime of keeping faith with her grandson? Will Sri Lanka become a land where children are encouraged to inform on parents and parents are compelled to betray children, in the name of patriotism?
The best way to prevent Sri Lankans from focusing on such ominous omens is to stun their minds with fear and inflame their senses with hatred.
Justice Wigneswaran, the next National-threat?
The Rajapaksas habitually transform any impediment to their familial project into a national threat.
The TNA’s decision to nominate a man of learning, experience and courage as its Chief Ministerial-candidate would have dismayed and even frightened the Rajapaksas. The last thing the Siblings would want is a man of Justice Wigneswaran’s calibre becoming the Northern CM.
Justice Wigneswaran has asked for the restoration of civilian rule in the North and the East. That perfectly reasonable and completely democratic demand constitutes the antithesis of what the Rajapaksas intend for the two provinces in which the minorities form the majority. The Rajapaksa plan is to demographically transform the North and the East by implanting military families (such state-orchestrated colonisation is totally different from the free movement of private citizens). Once the cantonments are complete and military families become residents and voters, they can be used as a break on any future political re-awakening in the North. The colonists will be intrinsically opposed to devolution and would need the protection of the military to feel safe in an alien territory. The argument of ‘democracy’ can thus be used to oppose both devolution and de-militarization.
A Chief Minister Wigneswaran can be a real impediment to this Israeli type Settlement Plan.
So the Siblings will target Justice Wigneswaran. The first salvo has already been fired. SM Chandrasiri, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, has demanded that President review all the judgements given by Justices Wigneswaran and Waravewa[vii].
Justice Wigneswaran, spoke in defence of democracy and judicial independence during the Impeachment travesty. He has the potential to become a Lankan leader, not by ignoring or denying the specific issues facing Tamils, but by affirming them and placing them within a national project of reclaiming democracy, rule of law and common decency.
A nonpareil candidate, one who can be a bridge between the North and the South: that would be a Rajapaksa nightmare. Which is why Justice Wigneswaran might replace the ‘Flying Fish’ as the ‘next-national threat’.
Can the Rajapaksas gaslight the South into believing that an eminent former Supreme Court judge is a Tiger? Are we that addlebrained?
[i] The movie is an adaptation of the play, Gas Light.
[ii] The Gaslighting Effect – Dr. Robin Stern
*Picture – Igilena Maluvo