21 November, 2018

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In The Springtime Of Tyrants

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Civic passivity and willed blindness were the preconditions for the triumph of National Socialism….” ~ Fritz Stern Leo Baeck Lecture

This June marks four years of Aluthgama and three months of Kandy. The perpetrators of Aluthgama were never prosecuted. Some perpetrators of Kandy are under arrest, though not charged. The fear that they would be released on bail with no case being filed is a realistic one.

In Aluthgama and in Kandy, ordinary crimes were reinterpreted in ethno-religious terms and used as justifications for ethno-religious violence. Monk Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara played an authorial role in this transformation. He did so openly in Aluthgama, at a public meeting where he made an incendiary speech, summoning the faithful to arms. He did so covertly in Kandy when he visited the funeral house of the Sinhala lorry driver killed by three Muslims in an act of extreme road rage. In both places, hours after he appeared on the scene, the violence began. 

Today Monk Gnanasara is behind bars, though not for inciting religious violence or causing murder and mayhem. He is yet to be charged with such crimes. The reason for this governmental inaction is not the absence of evidence but the absence of political will. The Rajapaksas had no intention of prosecuting the saffron-robed rabble-rouser for Aluthgama; after all, he was their man doing their work. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government does not dare to prosecute him for Aluthgama or Kandy; they fear extremist backlash. Though elected to challenge extremism of every variety, the government’s preferred policy is a cross between appeasement and acting the ostrich. 

So Monk Gnanasara was found guilty of a relatively less serious crime – that of threatening Sandya Ekenligoda, the wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekenligoda, outside Homagama court premises. Before he threatened Ms. Ekneligoda, he ran amok inside the court, berating and insulting the magistrate. The magistrate filed a case against him which is still being heard. 

The fate of Monk Gnanasara reveals the degree of progress made since January 2015 as well as its limitations. Under Rajapaksa rule, Monk Gnanasara could have threatened Ms. Ekenligoda (or anyone else) to his heart’s content; he could have run amok in any courthouse of his choice. Nothing would have happened to him. Ms. Ekeneligoda’s courage and commmitment made the case against the monk possible, but it is necessary to bear in mind that the case was filed and conducted by the AG’s Department. In his remarks on the day of sentencing, the state counsel quoted Martin Niemöller to highlight the dangers of impunity and the importance of drawing lines. Had the AG’s Department tried to act in a similar manner towards Monk Gnanasara during the Rajapaksa years, the saffron-robed arsonist would have invaded the department with his lay and ordained goons, with total impunity. 

Political and moral cowardice is a hallmark of this government. But it did restore judicial independence and allowed the AG’s Department to prosecute Monk Gnanasara. It’s much less than what the government promised and what we expected. But it is something, compared to what went before. 

In May 2014, the then AG ordered the courts to discharge two men accused of raping a mentally disabled woman in 2010. “The Court had earlier ordered a DNA test to be done because the woman….had subsequently given birth. The test has confirmed that the DNA of one of the suspects had matched with that of the child. Meanwhile the Attorney General had instructed the Magistrate to release the two suspects Susantha Vijitha Bandara and Dharmasiri Bandara from the case. The Attorney General had asked the court to inform him within 14 days of what action had been taken.” 

The two suspects were not men of renown themselves. But they would have had patrons in very high places. Why else would the AG move in a manner so contrary to all norms of justice? He would have done so, because his political masters ordered him to do so. And his political masters were the Rajapaksas in general, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa in particular (since he brought the AG’s Department under his direct control in 2010). 

This horrendous miscarriage of justice in a non-political case, where the victim was especially deserving of protection and common kindness given her mentally disabled condition, was indicative of the way the AG’s Department and the courts were made to function under Rajapaksa rule. Thanks to the unforgivable incompetence and delinquency of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe, that past is where Sri Lanka is headed right now. 

Habits of Amnesia

Ven. Galkande Dhammananda Thero was one of the very few Buddhist monks who spoke out against the anti-Muslim violence in Kandy, while the fires were still raging. Recently he used Buddha’s teachings to enlighten and inform another ‘hot-button’ topic – how the end of the long Eelam War should be commemorated. He did so by asking a rhetorical question – what was Buddha’s teaching about war victory? – and answering with a stanza from the Sukha Vagga (Happiness) in the Dhammapada. 

“Victory breeds hatred in the conquered. The defeated live in sorrow. Giving up both victory and defeat, the appeased live in peace.”

Sri Lanka could have based her post-war policy on this stanza alone, and gone a long way towards reconciliation. Instead, it did the opposite; a policy of triumphalism was adopted and every possible humiliation was heaped on the defeated; domination rather than reconciliation was the desired goal.

This kind of crass triumphalism will play a key role in the Rajapaksa comeback campaign, especially if Gotabhaya Rajapaksa becomes the SLPP’s presidential candidate. Already Mr. Rajapaksa has ordered the revival of umbrella organisations of former soldiers and their families (Ranaviru Sansada), according to a report in Lankadeepa. Under a Gotabhaya presidency, every pigmy step taken by this government towards reconciliation will be abandoned. The occasional Ifthar breakfast or Nallur pooja notwithstanding, Sri Lanka will officially embrace Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism and the practice of targeting this or that minority whenever the government is in need of an enemy.

When past is poised to become the future, remembering is of vital importance. In the immediate aftermath of Aluthgama, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was moved to unbridled anger. The cause of this anger was not the violent attacks on Muslims in Aluthgama. That he dismissed as a ‘most minor incident.’ His rage was directed at a peaceful protest by Muslims against Aluthgama. “During the conflict period the LTTE killed people irrelevant of their ethnicity. Certain groups that didn’t dare stage a single hartal campaign during the LTTE period have now started them. Large scale (Maha loku) hartal campaigns are organised for even the most minor incidents.”

When asked about the role of Bodu Bala Sena in Aluthgama, in the immediate aftermath of Aluthgama, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa blamed Islamic terrorism: “If you go through a recent speech I made at the Kothelawala Defence Academy, you will see that I spoke of various potential threats to the country and one of it was Islamic terrorism. I spoke of the possibility. Even at that time many Muslims politicians irresponsibly tried to blame me without understanding what I was talking about or the realities.” 

That was how the Rajapaksas reacted to anti-minority violence while in power. That is the way they will react to anti-minority violence once back in power.

 ‘War heroes’ will be another key trope in the Rajapaksa comeback effort. During the Rajapaksa years, the veneration of ‘war-heroes’ in the abstract went hand in hand with neglect and even humiliation of flesh-and-blood soldiers. While politicians sang their praise from platforms, the actual soldiers were forced to sweep sidewalks, uproot weeds and clean city parks. 

In 2014, Brigadier Deshapriya Gunawardane, of Weliweriya and White Flag ignominy was rewarded with a diplomatic appointment. When questioned, the military spokesman argued that the posting was a reward for his war-time services. The same government in the same time decided to suspend salary payments to disabled soldiers, even though these soldiers had been disabled by fighting in the Eelam Wars. It is apposite to remember that this decision was taken by an institution functioning under Defence Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Eventually, 292 disabled soldiers, representing the interests of around 6000 disabled colleagues, were forced to file a case in the Appeal Court against the government’s decision to suspend their salary payments arguing that according to military regulations, their salaries must be paid until they reach the retirement age.

That was how Rajapaksa concern for the majority community and the minority communities worked in practice. When a horrendous past threatens to become the future, amnesia is not just a sickness; it is a crime. 

Shades of things done and not done

Politico-moral cowardice is in the genes of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. Monk Gnanasara is not the only bully the administration fears. The government succumbed to pressure from fundamentalist Muslim clerics and shelved the MMDA reforms, despite the crying need to redress the egregious practices sanctioned by the MMDA, especially child marriage. The government gave into pressure from Buddhist monks and the Catholic hierarchy and shelved a law allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest and where the mother’s life is in danger. It succumbs every time the GMOA or the private bus operators flex their muscles. It doesn’t have the courage of conviction because it has no convictions. 

The government’s support base consists, in the main of political and religious moderates rather than extremists, social liberals rather than conservatives. By succumbing to extremist pressure tactics, the government is causing this base to haemorrhage. As moderates turn away from the government and politics, the door opens even wider for a new extremist surge, led by its organic leaders, the Rajapaksas. 

Jean Lacouture wrote that André Gide’s cry, ‘Families, I detest you’ is “a slogan that ought to be framed and hung in every presidential palace in the Third World.” In Sri Lanka too, now more than ever. If Gotabaya Rajapaksa runs, he will do so as the representative of the Rajapaksa Inc. If he wins, it will be because he has the full backing of Mahinda Rajapaksa. This is not a case of bad Gotabaya vs. Good Mahinda. This is a familial project, and whatever the internal discontents, in the end, the Rajapaksa family will opt for the candidate best able to return the Rajapaksa family to power.

The SLFP seemed to have metamorphosed from a Bandaranaike party into a Rajapaksa party during the Rajapaksa years. There is no SLFP vote anymore. There is a Rajapaksa vote. Going by electoral statistics, it could be around 38% to 43% of the electorate. The SLFP came into being and lived most of its life as a Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist and socially conservative party. The Chandrika-years marked not a change but an anomaly. The base went along with the party leadership but its core-beliefs remained unchanged. In Mahinda Rajapaksa, the SLFP base found a leader who is akin to them, a leader who gave voice to their innermost desires and fears.

Maithripala Sirisena took the official party, but not the base. In the immediate aftermath of his presidential victory, he could have rebuilt the SLFP as a modern social democratic party. He chose not to. The time for such a transformation has come and gone. President Sirisena might think that by launching regular diatribes against a wide variety of targets he can win back the SLFP base, but it is an illusion. With his antics, he will merely destroy his own legacy and weaken Lankan democracy, perhaps fatally. 

We live in the springtime of tyrants. Authoritarianism is once more in fashion, the direction in which the world is moving. This tendency has been enabled by democracy’s inability to successfully address basic living condition issues. Democracy is, in the final analysis, a numbers game, a matter of straightforward math. That is why in times of growing economic distress and hopelessness, candidates who appeal to the baser instincts of an electorate has a better chance of victory. The solution is not to push more people into the hands of would-be autocrats waiting in the wings. The solution is to do something in the here and now to improve living conditions of the masses and, through such concrete actions,  reignite hope of a better tomorrow. 

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Latest comments

  • 1
    9

    IT is the democracy which says 2% protestants are equal or superior to 69% sinhala buddhists inclucing those converted Anglicans, catholics and tele evangelists because they are the chosen leaders of Sinhale.

    • 8
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      Jim
      Are you now inferring 69% Sinhalese Buddhist in the country so clueless ,soft and so unimaginably illiterate they let 2% to lead them ?
      Oh! DEAR.
      So sad 69% Jim.

    • 8
      0

      This nation would have been flourished, if all these Rajapakshes would face it the way late Premadasa met it with. There are no other way this nation to be guided so long Rajapkshes are part of lanken abusive politics.
      They abuse the innocient, gulliable masses to the core as no other leaders in this world.
      Telling something and doing totally different pleasing their rascals is the nature of Rajpakshe politics. No law and order would get its due place but to govern the country.

  • 5
    5

    OK Rajapaksha’s introduced mega corruption to the country, but this green mob that we have, hiding in the shadow of one blue-misguided, misled, and now lost in his tracks Pres, are far worse than the Rajapaksha’s when it comes to corruption and big talk but no action what so ever. Yes, it is the people that should have the last say, but the score and half CT’s bash-the Rajapaksha gang are not the people that count. It is the mega times electorate out there, who have chosen Rajapaksha’s as their representation. No doubt people here fear their return, but I guess Rajapaksha’s will return to power regardless, only because the green mob trusted to put the country to right betrayed the people. The people will take their revenge on the bank robbers and country’s asset strippers, rogues that stole people’s pension funds; so right that they should!

    • 3
      0

      Can they take revenge by choosing a worse set of rogues?

    • 2
      2

      There was mega corruption before rajapakse came. What world do u live in? I read in the daily mirror a few weeks ago that the commission for the coal power plant was 200 million dollars ?that would be chandrika time.and before that jr made money on arms ?and now bond scam 16 billion dollars plus the increase in interest rates .

    • 3
      0

      Thrisu, as one who USUALLY handles millions for your reseaerch projects, you should know it better ´Dr Thrisu.
      We all know it is not BOND scam what makes it worst, but the huge debts that Rajpaakshes were made without thinking twice.
      To his days, he enjoyed grace periods of all the credits taken from the banks of their choice.

      But with the election of Current duo, they started paying both Interests and installments.

      Let s see it in a large picture, why you guys just hang on with Bond Scam ?
      There are prima facie evidence to prove that the huge sums that the Rajapakshes grabed fo rtheir family wealth, the sum would have been thousands times more than the bond bank scam losses.

      Now with the media is caught by the handling of Meeharaka Rjaapkashe, even if Mr Siirisena has been the Prez, all is heard as if Current GOVT worsened it, Is that at all fair ?

      You are given a brain no t just to do university Research but also to see it right and leave your thoughts consistently right ?

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 2
      0

      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      Did you exceed 300 words or write filth?

      • 0
        0

        Dear Native,
        Where can I find time to write 300 word essays?.
        I have to play Golf and earn a living too….,

        • 0
          0

          KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

          “I have to play Golf and earn a living too….,”

          Dayan thinks he is foreign and domestic political expert you think you are a Golfer.
          I think both of you are unemployed unemployable loafers.

          Is he still your friend?

          • 0
            0

            Dear Native,
            Please don’t compare Sumane with Dr Dayan , who is all class from Top to Bottom, having born with a Silver Spoon in the Mouth, just like his nemesis Dr Ranil..
            Sumane didn’t have brekky even in his late teens., because my extended family fed the weakest first . And it left nothing for the rest.
            You think Dr Dayan and Dr Ranil went without breakfast ever..?.
            Now I skip Brekky by choice, because I don’t want to be like your hero Dr Ranil .
            Bad enough pushing the Buggy and walk 6 & 1/2 Ks , Just imagine if I had to carry one like Dr Ranil’s as well….
            BTW I don’t want to tell you my hourly rate.
            But It leaves my divies all for Golf and Charity work And Single Malt of course….
            I saw Dr Ranil trying to do the Twist in that Gypsies new release” Dan Saneepada”..President Rajapaksa asking the Yahapalana suckers..
            It is hilarious..
            For me only Rock& Roll .. How about you Native?….

            • 0
              0

              KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

              “For me only Rock& Roll .. How about you Native?….”

              You must be in your late 90s. Are you that old?

              “Please don’t compare Sumane with Dr Dayan , who is all class from Top to Bottom, having born with a Silver Spoon in the Mouth, just like his nemesis Dr Ranil..”

              Dayan the public racist is now permanently stuck with his foot in his mouth. Have you ever met him for champagne and Cuban cigar?

              Listen to this about the Prick Priyankara:
              https://ru-clip.com/video/NcyRokiPj6M/hiru-news-6-55-pm-2018-02-22.html
              The Sinhala/Buddhist member of Sinhala Jathika Sangvithanaya questions why the prick was stealthy taken away from the airport where he was awaiting to hand over his blessed hand grenade.

              Then the two comedians, Ganapathipilla and Sangili Karuppan.
              Must watch

  • 0
    0

    My dear Concerned citizen

    The four Nayakkar Kandian Kings were not from Kerala but Karnataka (Bangalore). They may have spoken Tamil due to their kingdom also situated in Thamilnadu but their native language was Telengu, which is what spoken in current day Bangalore. The Ahikuntakas are decendants of these Telegu people

  • 0
    0

    Dear Author,
    Weather Rajapakshas, or Wickremasinha and Sirisenas, weather Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Muslim authoritarianism, or slavery and oppression, the life of a person let him or her be any of the above, whatever he or she does unto others he or she is doing it unto himself or herself. If he or she is a leader taking responsibility of several people or a Country, the effect of the doing is more violent than the effect if the person is a simpleton and without power. Torturing or victimizing is fundamentally never tolerated by this world. It is historically known to historians educated Journalists, Academicians, around the world. The one who feels free to be extremely authoritarian to another has never lived to complete his desire.

  • 1
    2

    Understand TG’s fear mongering. They know what they have collectively hoisted upon the nation under a fraudulent slogan ‘yahapalanaya’ was exactly opposite of the very meaning of ‘yahapalanaya’. This junta cannot establish law and order in the country, cannot protect it’s citizens, endangers country’s security, has robbed the country dry in a very short span of time beating any record Rajapakses may have set, and simply have no economic vision or capacity other than selling country’s assets off and living on the sales proceeds.

    The populous is waiting for their chance to kick these bastards out. TG’s fear mongering cannot prevent it.

    • 3
      2

      Helass

      “They know what they have collectively hoisted upon the nation under a fraudulent slogan ‘yahapalanaya’ was exactly opposite of the very meaning of ‘yahapalanaya’.”

      It appears you don’t remember Mahinda Chintana, Vision for a New Sri Lanka 2006 to 2016, an exact copy of previous UNP manifesto.

      You should limit yourself to crossing the Galle Road at Wellawatte and having your daily feed of Idli, Sambar, Dosa, Sambol, Vada, …………….and a strong cup of tea. Avoid politics at all cost for your own health reason.

      • 1
        1

        NV,

        Mahinda delivered on his vision unlike the current pathetic lot. Mahinda had a team of doers (far better than the current junta) including his brothers even with whatever failings they had. What has your crown prince Dr Ranil delivered during the past 3 years of majarapalanaya?

        • 1
          0

          Helass

          “Mahinda had a team of doers (far better than the current junta) including his brothers even with whatever failings they had.”

          Of course they are the robber barons who really did well for the clan.
          How long do you think the people of this island are indebted to foreigners for the waste, corruption, unwanted projects. And you think Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation.

          “What has your crown prince Dr Ranil delivered during the past 3 years of majarapalanaya?”

          Whoever gave you that idea?
          This alone proves your stupidity, I am using the term mildly.

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3
    0

    We love our dearly beloved Thisarani so much. It is so good you are back at writing nice articles for ct

  • 3
    2

    Among all the article writers here, Thisarani is the most qualified

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 1
    1

    Ms T didn’t barrack for Mr Pirahaparan and his LTTE….. Did she?.
    I saw some some commentators have mentioned the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelaam.

    • 3
      0

      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      Did you also see VP helping MR win two elections and one war and made him the head of a rich clan in Southern South Asia?

      • 0
        0

        Dear Native,
        If Dr Rajitha & Son say the Earth is Flat you will believe it..
        I don’t blame you mate,
        Because there are sooooo many other Yahapalana suckers too doing the same although they pretend to be better and smarter than than the Natives like you….

        • 1
          0

          KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

          “Because there are sooooo many other Yahapalana suckers too doing the same although they pretend to be better and smarter than than the Natives like you….,”

          Whoever gave you the stupid idea I am better and smarter in the first place? I have no qualms about I am being bit thick. Without the guidance of my Elders I would have turned out to be another KASmaalam like you.

          “If Dr Rajitha & Son say the Earth is Flat you will believe it..”

          However Thomas L Friedman thought “The World is Flat”. What do you have to say to him?

    • 0
      0

      The Ghost of Mr Pirahaparan is still haunting Sumangalam.

      • 0
        0

        Mate,
        How can I not remember Mr Pirahaparan, when BIL Sivajilingam and Vellala Wigneswaran keep holding Memorials with more and more Bells & Whistles now that Dr Ranil has given them a free hand.
        In fact I am collecting any memorabilia of Mr Pirahaparan which I can get my hands on.
        Just imagine how much well sought after they would be ,once the Vellalas get the Eelaam and the Diaspora retirees make it their Homeland..

  • 0
    0

    Tisaranee Gunasekara – “The SLFP seemed to have metamorphosed from a Bandaranaike party into a Rajapaksa party during the Rajapaksa years. “

    The country is gradually being metamorphosed from a democracy to authoritarian rule whether it’s under MR or My3 or Ranil. Corruption is at its worst…

    another Singapore?….dream on for another generation….

  • 0
    0

    In 1977 (Even before) the UNP govt. had the Sansoni commission to look into violence but none of the culprits were punished. Then came the 1983 communal violence culprits were never punished.
    Then full scale war erupted.

    Now in the North Hindu leaders with the Buddhist.monks are protesting to ban beef stalls etc.. They are provoking against Muslims and Christians. They too jointly declared Sri Lanka as a Buddhist country in a recent protest in Chavakachcheri. But in general Tamil leaders are keeping quite and just protesting when Buddhist temples are built in the North.
    These people should be also punished like the Gnanasakara Thero without things go out of hand.
    .

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