By Tisaranee Gunasekara –You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” Malcolm X (Advice to Youth of Mississippi – 1964)
Senior Journalist J Tissanayagam was charged with creating ethnic dissension, by a regime which included such apostles of reconciliation as Champika Ranawaka. Azath Salley has been arrested for fermenting religious disharmony by a regime which is providing succour to such proponents of brotherly love as Rev. Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero.
Mr Salley was arrested because he made the cardinal error of criticising the Rajapaksas, because he had the temerity to take on the BBS. He stood up to the BBS while Muslim ministers maintained radio silence – probably because they know that the BBS is a Rajapaksa-monkey; and that any minority leader who opposes the saffron-mobsters engaged in Rajapaksas’ work risk imprisonment or worse.
Mr. Salley’s arrest probably has multiple objects. Perhaps the regime wants to frighten the Opposition into total inaction so that the 19th Amendment can be passed fast, with minimum fuss. Maybe the regime wants to send a message to all minority leaders about the costs of dissent. It might even be the essential first step in manufacturing an Islamic version of that old Naxalite Plot, which in turn can be used to neutralise Delhi, London and Washington (Delhi and London are important conjuncturally, vis-à-vis the Hambantota Commonwealth; Washington is important structurally because Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are US citizens while America is the favourite port-of-call, whenever President Rajapaksa has a health issue).
The arrest of Mr. Salley is unjust; it must be opposed unconditionally. Whatever Mr. Salley did in his political past – including his one-time support for the Rajapaksas – is of no consequence, now. He is a victim of Rajapaksa injustice and abuse, and as such deserves the support of all who care about democracy and basic rights.
We cannot remain silent and inactive about the arrest of Azath Salley, without encouraging the Siblings to reach even deeper depths of repression and impunity.
Protesting against the injustice done to Mr. Salley is an inextricable component of the struggle for Lankan democracy.
The BBS and its ‘Nationally Important Task’
The Rajapaksas may have saved the Hambantota Commonwealth by promising to hold Northern Provincial Election in September, but it is a promise impossible to deliver.
The Rajapakses do not want to share power with anyone, including the parliament, the SLFP and the judiciary. The Siblings cannot allow a provincial council which is not under their familial control to come into existence. The Ruling Family’s real problem with a TNA-controlled NPC is not that it will promote separatism but that it might strengthen national opposition and provide a rallying-point for Rajapaksa-opponents.
The Rajapaksas do not believe in the existence of an ethnic problem. According to their thinking, the Tamils were living in perfect contentment, until Tamil nationalists came along and sowed discontent. Eelam War erupted not because Tamils had real grievances but because Vellupillai Pirapaharan wanted his own state.
The Rajapaksa notion of how reconciliation should be achieved is dependent on this diagnosis.
Since Tamils have no legitimate grievances, a political solution/devolution is unnecessary. Any Tamil dissatisfied with the status quo is a Tiger by definition. The way to avoid another ‘problem’ is to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards any sign of minority activity, from the very beginning. Hit hard, at the earliest possible sign of life, so that the minorities learn to curb their thoughts, mind their language, control their activities, and accept their secondary status – and even learn to live with the demented ravings of the BBS/JHU.
If the Rajapaksas hold the NPC poll in September, either the election will be violent, unfree and unfair; or the provincial council will be denuded of all powers. Since a violent election might create too many regional and international waves, the Siblings might opt for the 19th Amendment, so that limited political-devolution is downgraded into not-so-generous administrative-decentralisation and provincial councils become glorified pradesheeya sabhas.
Many minority parties belong to the UPFA. Their leaders hold ministerial/deputy ministerial positions. But a small measure of personal power and a limited capacity to advance themselves are all they really possess. The minority parties are mere show-pieces to bolster the Sri Lankan credentials of a Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist regime. In any case, even Sinhala ministers possess little actual power, because all power is concentrated in the hands of the Siblings and a few trusted acolytes.
That is how the Rajapaksas would want all Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim leaders and activists to conduct themselves. Anyone refusing to toe that line can face persecution or worse, be it the war-winning Army Commander or a one-time ally like Azath Salley.
The relationship between the Rajapaksas and Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists is a symbiotic one. Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism provides the Siblings with an attractive mantle for their naked power agenda. By attaching themselves to the Rajapaksa Juggernaut, Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists in turn have gained more power and influence than they ever possessed, including in 1956. Had the Siblings tried to impose familial rule without the cover of patriotism, they would have encountered far more Southern dissent. It is the Sinhala-Buddhist mantle which has enabled the Rajapaksa project to achieve hegemonic status in the South. Thus the Rajapaksas cannot ditch Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism anymore than Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists can ditch the Rajapaksas (as Gen. Fonseka found out to his cost).
As memories of the spectacular victory over the LTTE fades with time, the Rajapaksas need to deliver socio-economically, in order to retain their Southern hegemony. This means ensuring that the Sinhala South is given rapid and adequate access to the peace dividend, in the form of lower prices and higher living standards, less poverty and more employment, better educational and health services and improved opportunities.
But these developmental goals are unachievable under Rajapaksa rule, which prioritises guns and tamashas over rice. That prioritisation is inevitable; without a militarist conception of national security, the Siblings cannot justify the muffling of the media, the criminalising of dissent and the subjugation of the judiciary, in peacetime.
Thus the need to create a fear psychosis in the South, which alone can justify the continuance of impunity and excess. The BBS is a star player here; its Rajapaksa-mandated task is to create a climate of paranoia by fostering politics of fear, hate and hysteria.
According to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the BBS monks ‘should not be feared or doubted by anyone’ because they ‘are engaged in a nationally important task’. Indeed; this ‘nationally important task’ of the BBS is to keep Sinhala-Buddhists focused on Tamil enemies, Muslim threats and Christian conspiracies, to addle their brains with fear, so that they will not have time to worry overmuch about economic woes or develop the sense to see through the Rajapaksa façade.
Azath Salley, whatever his past mistakes, did the right thing by exposing these Rajapaksa machinations. That is why he is behind bars. And that is why his unjust arrest must be resisted.