By Hafeel Farisz –
“This is a debate about the future of Sri Lanka; our future; our fate. Which side are you on? Pick one”, Dr. Jayatilleka’s Facebook page screams right above his response to my critique. I agree. In his response he calls for non-digression, although such diversion is what his response is all about. None of the issues brought to light were addressed, instead he conflates on the theoretical paradigm of the international vs the national, with Gotabaya’s practical sensibilities. This is after insisting that this isn’t about theory.
However, let us play on the turf prepared by him.
The crux of the issue is not the call for a Gotabaya presidency. Given the direction the country is headed both economically and politically, such a call is inevitable. Five years after the death of Mugabe, you would find people speaking of the ‘Good old days’. Egyptians admit Mubarak’s authoritarianism was better than Sisi’s dictatorship. The day Netanyahu leaves office, Israel’s liberals, leave alone the Far Right, would be singing praises of his iron grip. The Black community in the USA insists on Clinton being the first ‘Black President’- despite the disastrous crime bill and the crimes he committed in the name of ‘freedom and democracy’. Heck, the neo-nazis still believe Hitler to be a hero and the Eelamists believe the same of Prabakharan.
The call for Gotabaya is therefore not surprising or unusual. What is at moot however, is the hypocrisy of Dr. Jayatilleka and his band of intellectuals. Let us not digress from it.
The thrust therefore, is one of ideology. What does Gotabaya stand for, and how has he proven himself in light of it, is the question. The practical sensibilities are secondary, for the masses don’t make political identification on practical sensibilities. Political identification-when it comes to the level of national direction-is formed through ideology. As much as ‘Colombo is beautiful because of Gotabaya’ being a component of the justification, the justification itself lies far deeper. A few layers through the conversation, you would find that beneath the ideal of ‘Colombo’s beauty’ there lies some ideological identification. Similarly, Gotabaya leading the war effort falls within the ‘practical’ or the ‘pragmatic’ realm- but the ideology lies much deeper. You won’t find people singing hosannas about Ranjan Wijerathne or Premadasa for killing scores of JVPers now, would you? When was the last time we heard a person insist that Wijerathne or Premadasa was a national hero for bumping off Wijeweera and for the brutal crackdown of the JVP? Similarly, the atrocities against the JVP are not featured in the Eelamists’ call for ‘human rights’ or in the narrative of “Sinhala state repression”. Nor are they featured in any of the international players agendas. Why?
We don’t know anything of Gunarathnam’s practical sensibilities or of that of the Left in general. But there is an ideological connection which draws or dissuades people, over and above the fact that Gunarathnam or the Left have not proven themselves. Political identification runs far deeper and the side that needs to ‘picked on’ would and should be based on ideology.
Let me take the liberty of conflating Dr. Jayatilleka’s ill-founded justification for the ‘Gotabaya vanguard’ with the Gotabaya we know. For unlike Gunarathnam or the left, we have the benefit of hindsight. The Gotabaya we know represents an ideology which was not willing to concede any or all the provisions of the 13th amendment to the constitution. As soon as Mahinda’s pragmatism took over and the Northern Provincial Council election was held, Gotabaya’s ideology prevailed. A Military officer was appointed governor despite the continuous calls from the North against it. Now this was not a do-or-die concession. To not appoint a military officer? S.L. Gunasekara or Gunadasa Amarasekara could have been appointed instead, for the call was for a civilian.
But militarist authoritarianism prevailed. How such symbolic concession was too much to bear is only representative of a deep-rooted nativist, militaristic and authoritarian ideology. This does not mean Gunasekara or Amarasekara would have been better governors. Yet, the point is that he didn’t concede. How could such a supremacist and nativist ideology prevent the call for a new constitution, worse yet, a call of victimization by the minorities and a recognition of the need for secession by the international community, are questions he needs to be asking.
Dr. Jayatilleka and I are yet to see a draft of the new constitution but what we do know is Gotabaya and the ideology he represents, which was a usurpation of Mahinda and his ideology, directly supportive of the 18th amendment. An amendment to which parallels are only seen in countries in which dictatorships are in place. Erdogan’s Turkey is its new member, which was why I could hardly disagree with the categorization put forth by Dr. Jayatilleka himself. This is the Gotabaya we know.
The discerning amongst us should use the above to negate the proposition that a Gotabaya presidency would result in the North conceding to the Gotabaya ideology. The actions of the Northern Province Chief Minister are taking place under what the Ultra-Right Sinhala nationalists claim- a government of the minorities pandering to the Eelamist ideal. Gotabaya taking over would only fester that wound and the calls will be louder, only further justified by the fact that the Presidency is in the hands of a nativist. To think it would be the reverse is naiveté.
The ideology that Gotabaya represents, justified by Dr. Jayatilleka, extends further. Inherent within the nativism is also the militarist dictatorialism. The Weliveriya, Chilaw and Katunayake murders are but a minute fraction of the practical realities of this ideology. I was on the ground covering the Rathupaswela murders. A 19-year-old only boy living with his mother and grandmother was murdered, among others. For no reason. The Army shut off the electricity in the entire area that night and went on a rampage. The Church premises weren’t spared. The Army stormed into the Church and mercilessly beat those who sought safety from their rampage within it. Rathupaswala is an hour’s drive at most from Colombo and all of this and more would be attested to by the priest at the Church and the villagers. “Sinhala apita mehemanam, apita hithaganna puluwan Yaapane mun monawa karanna athda kiyala”( If this is how they treated us Sinhalese, we can only imagine how they must have treated those in Jaffna) was the villagers’ cry at the boys funeral, on record. The newspapers were barred from publishing the full story, because Gotabaya’s long arm extended that far. Dr. Jayatilleka would not know this, or pretends not to.
Dr. Jayatilleka asserts that the “battle swirls around three interconnected projects, namely the new Constitution, the new Geneva resolution and the new economic policy direction” and says that it is in this context that his ‘Gotabaya project’ is being proposed. The above negates that Gotabaya is in fact the solution. If at all, the ideology that Gotabaya represents would provide fodder to the issue’s escalation. To think that the reverse would happen is an assumption rife with ignorance. Would the international community suddenly heed the calls of nativism and say “fine, you will be left alone because you have an alpha male at the helm”? Would the diaspora and Eelamists call for secession shrink, because suddenly you have a militarist dictator running the country? Would the fair-minded people in the country actually believe that Gotabaya has the economic wherewithal to take the country away from the neo-liberal agenda, which in fact was a key component of the Rajapaksa administration?
The admission of Gotabaya to the abduction of Gunarathnam and Attygalle has been conveniently left out. The breakdown of the events of which I have listed down in the critique appeared on Friday. But to iterate, the fact that Dr. Jayatilleka tells the reader that this is a man fit for presidency should ring alarm bells. The assumptions that I made in tandem with the fact of his admission also seem too much to bear. But the polity must know that the ideology reeks with regression. An ideology that we are told is the best we have.
Yes, it is time the country picked sides.The side we are told to pick by Dr. Jayatilleka is a side which this country has experienced. “Back to the glory of the past” is a phrase fundamentalists use all along. That glory of the past was non-existent. It was a fallacy. A creation of the mind, an utopia of sorts. It could be imagined due to the stark realities of the present and hysteria over the future but that does not mean such imagination is true. It remains a fallacy.
To get back to the crux, Dr. Jayatilleka and his band cannot pretend to wish for a world in which Gunarathnam’s ideology triumphs and yet call for the victory of Gotabaya’s ideology. We don’t live in a world of fiction, where Marquez or Camus could create and recreate ideology and character. The future will be a result of the present. The world Gunarathnam calls for is a world of inclusivity and equality. Of liberty and progress. It is a world in which the North would not feel alienated and where calls for separation would cede. The Eelamist project could not extend beyond the people’s mandate and if the people of the North feel represented and at home, Wigneswaran and in extension, the Eelamist ideology would be defeated. Gunarathnam represents an ideology of a world in which the South has the same opportunities as that of those living in Colombo. That is what ideology represents.
I’m aware that the posit is an assumption of the future for which we have no guarantees. We don’t know the practical realities of a Gunarathman ideology at the helm. Dr. Jayatilleka is guilty of the same assumptions. However, the difference being that we have the benefit of hindsight- the benefit of knowledge of the hysteria, supremacy and an iron fist which is unashamedly willing to admit that they abducted people for the crime of engaging in politics.
It was a past in which Gotabaya’s ideology was at its helm. The return of that ideology will result in the abduction of Gunarathnam’s ideology. Plain and simple. The lessons from those ‘glory halcyon days’ of Gotabaya at the helm are but a reminder that Sri Lanka could and should not fall back to it.
Yes, Dr. Jayatilleka needs to pick a side. He can’t wish for a future with a ‘fair and just society’, while calling for its exact opposite for the present. He can’t wish for Gunarathnam’s world, while telling us that it is Gotabaya’s side we need to be on. This moral hypocrisy should not sit well with him, nor with anyone of us.