By Sarath de Alwis –
“If admirals, generals are above law, Of what purpose are courts, judges and the law.”
“අද්මිරාල්ලා, ජනරාල්ලා නීතියටත් ඉහල නන්, කුමටද ඒ අධිකරණය නීතිය සහ විනිසුරන් ?”
Nanda Malini’s lyrical lament over the tyranny of injustice is amended to accommodate Presidential Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s idea of “equality before the law”.
On a TV channel, decidedly committed to advance his presidential bid, Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained his idea of the ‘rule of law.’ He complains that he and, some retired service commanders were summoned before a magistrate inquiring into the outsourcing of the Government’s Indian ocean anti-piracy operations to a private company- Avant-Garde Maritime Services (Pvt) Ltd resulting in an unlawful loss of Rs.11.4 billion to the government.
The encounter is a treasure trove that helps you discover the mind of the man who claims that he created the perfect national intelligence apparatus that won the war and guaranteed us peace thereafter.
The reader is invited to visit the link to hear him explain why he wishes to run for president. “The people know that I am a performer and they want me.”
He explains his ‘weltanschauung’ and his idea of ‘equality before the law’ and ‘basic human rights’.
The signals are subtle and strong. This is how it all begins. A magnetic self-obsessed leader exploiting popular angst and failure of conventional politics. A leader with a talent for the theatre of the absurd promising national self-sufficiency guided by authoritarian nationalism.
You may ask why we discuss Gotabaya Rajapaksa at this hour of national anxiety? We do so because, he has offered himself to serve the nation in the capacity of the president of the republic.
Gotabaya partisans including some prominent Buddhist monks lost no time in attributing the obvious intelligence failure, undoubtedly a serious governance issue, to a weakening of state intelligence units.
That they reasoned was due to the arrests of some intelligence operatives for complicity in abductions, murder and extortion.
We must engage Gotabaya in a rational debate. First, we must understand the man. Who can explain the man better than the man himself?
In the TV encounter he does not question the legality or otherwise of the prosecution case. He objects indignantly and ferociously to being summoned before court.
When you listen to him on the link provided you can reach one of two conclusions. Either the’ rule of law’ has exemptions for Gotabaya Rajapaksa or the man is simply ‘NUTS”- Capital.
The reader is specially invited to listen to his account of the Keith Noyahr abduction and release. The defense secretary is informed of the incident. The hapless Keith is released. Now Gotabaya is genuinely bewildered why he is accused of complicity in the affair.
Possession of stolen journalists, perhaps?
This bewilderment comes from the man who claims to have had a total grip on the intelligence apparatus which he says is now ruined by do-gooding democrats.
The subject of this essay is not the candidate but the idea. The idea of the national surveillance state. The National Surveillance State is a way of governing. It is neither the product of emergency nor the product of war. It is a habit of governance possible only under a power center not accountable to the people. That is the Gotabaya idea.
First a brief exploration of the man. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a man of principles- his. He is a vegetarian. He is single minded and capable of unwavering focus.
He is a devoted husband and father. He submits to the entreaties of a wife whose family was domiciled in the US. He migrates to the US giving up his military career. He builds a new life in California the land of plenty and super abundance.
With his brother elected President, he returned to serve the land of his birth as Defense Secretary. The older brother was the executive president. Despite a macho persona Mahinda’s approach to statecraft is a peculiar chemistry of rustic cunning and graceful indolence.
The focused, target centric younger sibling was for all purposes a super empowered proxy executive president. In the decade of the MR presidency the “Idea of Gotabaya Rajapaksa” took form, gathered substance and most significantly acquired its own independent voice.
However, the migrant soldier who returned to the motherland retained his claims to his adopted homeland. That is until April, this year. The retired soldier migrating travelled economy class to California. That was the age before long haul wide-bodied aircraft.
The patriot now commutes between Colombo and the city of angels in Emirates A380 first class suites on miles earned or in full fare business class. That spectacular ‘viyathmaga’ trajectory rivals the takeoff of a supersonic MiG. It is story yet to unfold if ever.
Since Easter Sunday’s savagery, we live in searing anxiety unravelling painful truths. The ever-evolving news cycle is now tied up with terrorism, how to contain it, prevent it and eradicate it. In our public discourse the subject will gather intensity and terrorism will remain the overarching concern of the public psyche in the foreseeable future.
As the former US ambassador Robert Blake has pointed out at a recent event in Colombo under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s watch Sri Lanka did have a national intelligence network where different branches of the Intelligence apparatus gathered information and shared that information up to the senior levels making sure that such attacks did not take place.
Robert Blakes assessment is both accurate and appropriate for the ongoing debate on national security. But there is a huge but.
The Gotabaya Idea of National Security failed to make a distinction between state security and regime security. Gotabaya Rajapaksa conflated security of a clan centric regime with the legitimate security of the nation state. That must not happen again.
Two significant developments followed the Easter Sunday bloodbath. Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced that he would run for the presidency and fight Islamic terrorism.
The nation’s intelligentsia rightly concluded that the Easter Sunday Massacre did not “initiate a new fear but ignited an old one”.
We must take note of both. The first threatens a prolonged disaster. The latter indicates that we must be clear headed and trace a painful path forward to sanity.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa ignites the old fears. To be blunt, Gotabaya Rajapakse does not know this new brand of terrorist.
His expertise, if any, is on terrorists who claim a piece of real estate on ground. He has no idea of fighting the ideology of the new terrorist who claims his place in heaven. Researchers have identified this new fanaticism franchised by ISIS as a pure barbarism. A new form of mindless warfare “waged by small groups against neutrals or innocent bystanders in order to command attention and not to win territory.
We fought to suppress political violence. Although it may be inconvenient for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to comprehend it, the immediate roots of that brand of terrorism that he says he defeated , almost single handedly, could be traced to the precipitate action of the traditional Tamil political leadership in promising Tamil youth light at the end of the tunnel with the Vaddukoddai resolution.
The false promise of the Vaddukoddai resolution gathered a kind of kinetic energy from the unyielding unitarian world view of Sinhala nationalism.
The terrorists responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage would not think of cease fire agreements. They will not muddle strategy by resorting to conventional war fare. The new terrorism we confront is different.
We can arrive at three conclusions with unqualified consensus in this heated, topsy-turvy political climate.
The incumbent president doesn’t have a hope in hell in securing a second presidential term.
The Prime minister aspiring to be president is flapping like a headless chicken in the belief that we the people don’t know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.
The Leader of the Opposition with help from a largely complicit media, a coddled Buddhist clergy and a committed cohort of toadeaters dishing out profoundly fallacious but believable punditry, has no rival in sight in the business of pursuing power for its own sake.
“Orwellian” is the pejorative adjective for falsification of history, state sponsored lying, repression and manipulation.
Today, we are deliberately sliding towards what George Orwell described as “the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”
Orwell is one great bloke who refuses to fade away!