By Kumar David –
The LSSP-CP, Rajitha Senaratne, SLMC,Douglas, Thonda and many in the SLFP who don’t want to show their hand, quite rightly oppose watering down or repealing 13A. Though 13A has weaknesses, the motive of those who attack it at this particular point in time (JHU, Gota, Wimal, BSS) is to deny Tamils opportunities similar to what Sinhalese have enjoyed for 25 years. The issue is not 13A per se, but a chauvinist onslaught on devolution of some power to the Tamils. At another time I would be willing to reconsider 13A in the context of a well thought out alternative devolution package.
The fairy tale that separatists lurk behind every palmyra palm and a Tamil PC is a formula for breaking-up the country is poppycock; a nursery tale to fool that section of the Sinhala public which yearns to be fooled; unfortunately this is a majority. In the aftermath of a racist civil war, anywhere in the world, intolerance and a thirst for vengeance on the winning side, and bitter sullenness among the losers, will persist for a long time. Let’s be frank and call a spade a spade; our common man has, justifiably, been much derided for racism and foolish voting preferences.
The first-named group campaigns against messing with 13A on its own, while another left-oriented lot (Bahu, Siritunga, Mano Ganesan) does so separately. The first lot refuses to cooperate with the second because the latter has links to the UNP. But why; who enacted 13A in the first place? The UNP! It is amazing that DEW, Tissa, Rajitha (sic) are oblivious to the inane incongruity of their sectarianism. Why this bashfulness of the UNP? It is not a theoretical or rational stance pertaining to 13A. No, the reason is to protect their Cabinet posts and not strain too hard at the leash by which the Rajapakse siblings hold them in fealty. Nevertheless, despite this cynicism, I am pleased by the refusal of Rajitha, SLMC and the Dead Left to kneel before Gota and Mahinda, and welcome their independence. They may capitulate at some point down the road as with 18A; hope not, but let’s see.
UNP ducks and runs
Notwithstanding a welcome backbone, sprouting in the government camp, imagine this paradox. The UNP, which introduced 13A and made mild noises against repeal or change, up to a few weeks ago, has got into a funk. Ranil has decided to cut and run. He has retreated from a “defend 13A” tune, to an “Oh it’s not very important” melody. Ranil signalled retreat a while ago, but it came into the open with the stance taken on 20 June by the UNP delegate at a meeting of the aforesaid ‘second-lot’ to plan action in defence of 13A. The cat leapt out of the bag; the delegate said “The important thing is getting 17A back on the statute books; as far as we the UNP are concerned, 13A is a secondary matter”.
Unless you are a suckling babe, the game is clear. Ranil fears that if he is seen as a 13A defender he will lose Sinhala-Buddhist votes; so he has become bashful about 13A and the UNP draft constitution which promised “genuine devolution”. The Central Province and NCP are majority Sinhalese, so he now needs a gimmick to get off the hook on 13A and devolution. The 17A red-herring is the stunt; typical of the man who sabotaged Chandrika’s year-2000 Constitution at the last moment to play Sinhala-Buddhism against her concessions to the Tamils. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, an erstwhile insider, lays bare the sordid story of Ranil’s deceitfulness in a Daily Mirror interview on 20 June. It is well known in political circles, but Wickremarate fills out the anecdotal details.
We have a backboneless UNP and a disunited opposition; so where are we to look for practical leadership on the 13A issue since moral rectitude is too much to ask for? Let me summarise Rajapakse’s conundrum before returning to strategy.
The regime stands seriously challenged on many fronts; the economy is worsening especially the foreign trade, debt and fiscal deficit scenarios; the electricity price hike is unpopular; law, order and police are in turmoil; Northern Province elections cannot be evaded and the TNA will win; CHOGM is a hassle and the Indian and international backdrop is hostile. The government is not about to fall, but opponents are chipping away and the Rajapakse edifice is eroding. True, so long as ethnic emotions run deep Rajapakse will survive, but a semi-despotic state is visibly transmuting into a regime of crisis. These challenges to the regime denote the unfolding of this transition.
The sure sign of a weakening structure is internal dissension and the surfacing of factions pulling in contrarian directions. Rajitha represents a group that I understand is small but determined to shield 13A; the Dead Left is similar but less resolute and less reliable because of Vasudeva. The NSSP, Rajitha and the Dead Left, all 13A supporters, suffered considerable losses in murderous attacks at the hands of the JVP in the late 1980s. The SLMC is a different variety of dissent; it stands for Muslims who want to retain 13A for reasons benefitting the community. In the opposing camp, but in the same government, is the JHU which demands, and has tabled a resolution in parliament, to have 13A repealed, and loopy Wimal. There are two other dissidents as well in government, Douglas and Thonda. If you believe that all hands on deck, madly scurrying hither and thither, is a sure sign of a sinking ship, then steamship Rajapakse is listing badly. It is going down slowly, it will not sink tomorrow, but the disarray cannot be patched up to make it seaworthy as before.
A factor fuelling internal dissent, but actually more important in frightening the regime into abandoning attacks on 13A, is the whiplash from India. The project to mess with 13A seems to have been abandoned for now. I quote three phrases from Indian government statements that show its severity; “The Prime Minister (Singh) said he was dismayed”; “These changes would be incompatible with LLRC recommendations”; “Raises doubts about the commitments made by GoSL to India and the international community”. Clearly India is laying the groundwork for follow up action. Rajapakse capitulated.
This is not the end of the regimes problems; it is the start of a different type of imbroglio. That’s why this administration has become a regime of crisis. The anti-13A and chauvinist forces are not going to take Rajaapkse’s capitulation lightly. They are mobilising on the streets and will come out in force led by monks. Many, including the BSS and All Ceylon Buddhist Congress will commence action with a convention on 2 July. Newspaper reports assert that Cabinet Ministers, Dinesh Gunewardena, Champika and slapstick Wimal will lend their support and participate in the event. Rajapakse is caught between an Indian devil and a sea of yellow robes; mishandled, he is kaput.
In opposition to the Gota and the yellow robe mobilisation, on 24 June Rajitha, Reginald Cooray (CP), Tissa, and a delegate from Thonda’s CWC held a press conference at the LSSP-HQ in support of 13A and denouncing chauvinism. The government has virtually split.
Keeping up the pressure
Politics in Lanka has entered a new phase; the phase in which the instability of a regime of crisis becomes manifest. I have been pressing the point that with the economic downturn that started in August 2012 a new phase was round the corner; manifestly, that corner has now been turned. Don’t get excited and hope that the sibling regime will speed to obliteration with unstoppable momentum. That’s not the way things happen in the real world, and the siblings have much cunning and great reserves of strength. Their greatest strength is the depth of Sinhala nationalist emotion in society at large. That too can erode, but the pace depends of the outcome of many future local struggles, and the firmness of Indian and international commitment to democracy in Lanka. And of course the siblings will twist and turn and weave in the struggle to survive. For example, what if Rajapakse, with his back to the wall, gambles with a constitutional amendment abolishing the Executive Presidency? Don’t underestimate the regime’s resourcefulness; it knows how to juggle with deceitful distractions.
What course the public should adopt, in the midst of this bedlam, to protect democracy and ensure that the rights of minority communities are respected, seems obvious. Use every contradiction, form all alliances including temporary ones, be all sided in action and eschew sectarianism, do all that pushes history forward in the correct direction. What is the correct direction? Simple, weaken dictatorship and the all powerful Executive, impede efforts to make the state a corporatist venture in the hands of a few, obstruct feral politicos who have spread across the body politic like a cancer, and promote power-sharing with minority communities. It’s going on right now all across the nation in Brazil; why not here?
Since the political scene is in such turmoil, now is an opportunity for forceful public intervention. The weakening of autocracy is always an opening for the people. Never ever, however, put too many eggs in one basket. Make use all the afore-named contrarian factions, whenever possible, to push for the public good, but do not place too much faith in any of them; their track record has earned none high confidence. Can a people’s power movement be stirred up in contemporary Lanka? It was the legacy of this movement that finally made it possible for Benito Aquino III to negotiate lasting peace in Mindanao.