By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“If Vigneswaran and Sumanthiran insist (sic) any more Nandikadals at Wellawatte, Mattakkuliya or in any other part of the country, they are bound to confront them”.- Champika Ranawaka (Nation – 29.9.2013)[i][ii]
In 2011, the Rajapaksas introduced a hugely controversial new law: the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill. Commonly known as the ‘Sacred Areas Act’, this bill gave the Minister of Buddha Sasana the power to expropriate any private land anywhere, just by labelling it a ‘Protection Area’, ‘Conservation Area’, Architectural/Historic area’ or ‘Sacred Area’.
On 2nd December 2011, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke decreed that the new bill cannot be presented to parliament without the consent of all provincial councils as land is a devolved subject. A few days later, the government withdrew the Bill.
In less than a year, the regime introduced a punitive impeachment motion against the CJ. Within months, she was hounded out and a Rajapaksa-acolyte installed atop the judiciary.
That watershed decision is a blow not just to Tamil-rights but also to the basic rights and freedoms of all Lankans. For instance, there is nothing to prevent the regime from reintroducing the land-grabbing ‘Sacred Areas Act’ to the common detriment of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.
That the Siblings are furious about the outcome of the Northern PC poll is no secret. The Northern vote is not just a challenge to the Rajapaksa efforts to monopolise all power in familial hands; it is also a personal affront. After all, ‘Northern Spring’, the regime’s flagship ‘development’ programme for the North, was personally headed by Basil Rajapaksa. The Tamil people, by exercising their democratic right, have humiliated the Siblings. And the Rajapaksas never pardon an ‘insult’, as the fates of Sarath Fonseka and Shirani Bandaranayake demonstrate. When Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second ‘Oxford Lecture’ was cancelled due to Diaspora-Tamil protests, he responded by reintroducing the Sinhala Only National Anthem!
The Rajapaksa attitude to Lankans in general and the Tamils in particular is rather similar to the attitude of colonial rulers towards their subject people. Colonialists loved to claim that the natives must be occupied, guided, taught…and punished, for their own good. In the Rajapaksa-Nerverland too, people are eternal juveniles, stupid, gullible, incapable of realising their own best interests. They too need to be monitored and guided – and punished when they stray.
According to this Rajapaksa-worldview, no dissent is genuine. When Sinhalese express dissent, like in Weliweriya, it is because they have been corrupted by evil foreigners. When Tamils and Muslims express dissent, it is because they are inherently unreliable, being the ‘Ethno-religious Other’ by birth.
The Northern Tamils have strayed and must be taught a lesson in obedience, again. So the 13th Amendment will be disembowelled legally, one court ruling at a time. Sinhala racism and anti-Tamil phobia will be reignited, to prevent a South-North alliance against these tyrannical measures.
The task of isolating the TNA-led NPC from Southern oppositional forces has been allocated to the regime’s in-house extremists. Their brief is to depict the Northern verdict as a victory for separatism, to equate the TNA with the LTTE and justify politico-legal assaults on the NPC as patriotic measures.
According to Champika Ranawaka, the TNA victory “could bring about daunting results and….the military victory at the war has been politically defeated”[iii]. Ravana Balaya, reportedly a Wimal Weerawansa-appendage, has threatened to launch a country-wide agitation against the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.[iv] Basil Rajapaksa, the supposedly sane and sensible Sibling, too joined this racist fray; he appealed “to the Northern politicians not to give arms to the youth again (and) said that the Southerners too should be alert on this, and if not a reign of terror would begin again”[v].
If the government is motivated by Lankan or even Sinhala-interests, it would allow Tamil politics to return to the un-heroic democratic groove. It would adopt a hands-off policy within the boundaries of the 13th Amendment and let the TNA-led provincial council grapple with the nitty-gritty of governance – such as resolving the conflict between Tamil and Tamilnadu fishermen.
But the Rajapaksas, like the LTTE, are not motivated by national or popular interests. They want all and eternal power for themselves. So they will attack/sabotage the NPC, hoping for an intemperate reaction. Champika Ranawaka was threatening nothing less than a bloodbath a la Black July when he said that if the TNA challenges the government, “once again the Tamil community and its future generations would have to move towards Nandikadal lagoon”[vi].
Without racist-fires, how can the Rajapaksas maintain their relevance as the Sole Saviours of Sinhala-Buddhists?
An Alliance of Moderates
The new ruling is the first salvo in the Rajapaksa politico-legal offensive to undermine the democratically expressed will of the Northern people and sabotage the TNA-led provincial council.
The TNA of 2013 is not the TULF of 1977. In 1977, the TULF asked for a mandate for a separate state, openly and unequivocally[vii]. In 2013, the TNA did not ask for a separate state; its magnificent victory is a mandate not for Eelam but for provincial self-rule.
This crucial difference is beyond the comprehension of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists and the Tamil Diaspora-hardliners. Both sets of extremists see the vote as an endorsement of a separate state. They are equally deaf to the TNA’s clear disavowal of separation, in its manifesto and in its victory-statement.
The Rajapaksas are hoping to provoke the TNA into intemperate reactions vaguely reminiscent of the LTTE. They would want to create fears in Delhi and elsewhere that the TNA is not free from Tiger-thinking. They would think that if India and the world can be convinced that the TNA is being manipulated by pro-Tiger elements in the Diaspora, they can obtain an international carte blanche to destroy the NPC, politico-legally.
That is why the TNA needs to cleave to moderation and work with the Southern opposition.
The new SC ruling is a threat to devolution and to democracy. It will render not just Tamils and Muslims but also Sinhalese vulnerable to Rajapaksa voracity. It must be opposed not just by the TNA/Tamils but by the entire opposition, and any Sinhala-supporter of the Rajapaksas with an iota of sense.
The Southern opposition has nothing to gain, politico-electorally, by trying to outflank the Rajapaksas on the ‘patriotic-front’. This is evident from the trouncing received by the JVP and the Champika Ranawaka/Wimal Weerawansa candidates at the PC polls. The Rajapaksas have hogged the racist space. Any sensible opposition party must look for political-relevance elsewhere. Gen. Fonseka’s initial reaction to the TNA victory indicates that he may have realised this: “No one needs to be afraid of the success scored by the…..(TNA)….as it will not pave the way for separatism…. The separatism bogey was unnecessarily fed into the minds of the people by the Southern political parties which have embraced communalism for their own survival”[viii].
The opposition and the country need a North-South-East unity. An alliance of oppositional-moderates is the only effective countermeasure to the Rajapaksa plan of igniting a new inferno.