“Never in history has such ruination – physical and moral – been associated with the name of one man ” – Ian Kershaw, Historian (‘Hitler 1936-1945 : Nemesis’ )
Over a period of 70 years, since Sri Lanka attained ‘Independence’, majoritarian racism has increasingly become a pandemic virus. Elements of ethnocracy have eaten deep into the vital organs of democracy. We have once had some eminent leaders like Mr. Wilmot Perera and a few others, endowed with strong moral fibre to repudiate racism. Noble souls of their calibre are now an endangered species – nay, almost an extinct species except, perhaps, for some principled but politically feeble sentinels like Dr. Vickremabhu Karunaratne and Mr. Siritunga Jayasuriya. Sadly, theirs is a voice in the wilderness. Many a Marxists have morphed into medieval tribalists. It is a conversion of convenience!
During a visit to Colombo on the eve of the Presidential Election in Nov. 2005, I had occasion to share a meal with some friends – Vasantha Obeysekere (Film Director, who is no more), Ms. Nimalka Fernando (Human Rights activist) and Vasudeva Nanayakkara (DLF leader). That was the last supper I have had with Vasudeva (in a literary sense – not in any Bibilical sense) . In those days we Tamils had an abiding admiration for Vasudeva. We looked upon him as a replica of an illustrious leader – the lovable Mr. Edmund Samarakody ( former MP for Dehiowita and, later, Bulathsinhala). Edmund and his colleague Mr. Meryl Fernando (Moratuwa MP ) had, to their very last breath, fought for the rights of the Tamils ; So much so, that racists derisively referred to Edmund as “M.P. for Bulath-themala ”. Verily, racism has had a hallowed history in Sri Lanka, nourished by the Southern political class !
In the course of our chitchat, I found out that Vasudeva rooted for Mahinda Rajapaksa. I had furtive fears about Mahinda’s racist roots. Vasudeva assuaged my fears saying that Mahinda was a human rights activist and a civil libertarian who had in 1990 joined him on a mission to UNHRC (then, UNCHR), Geneva to protest against army abuses/atrocities perpetrated on JVP suspects and their families. There was an irony in his adulation:
Matale was one of the hotspots of JVP insurgency. Gotabaya was the Army commanding officer in Matale from May 1989 and he left for USA in Jan. 1990, by which time the insurgency was crushed. Vasudeva initially opposed the candidacy of Gotabaya for Presidency. After expressing some token reservation, he has now emerged as a cheerleader for Gotabaya campaign. It is disgusting that Vasudeva joined forces with the war criminals to denounce the passage of Geneva Resolution on War Crimes in Sri Lanka and to suppress the visual evidence of the slaughter of our people in the so-called “No-Fire Zone” at Mullivaikkal. “That was the most unkindest cut of all” (Shakespeare). He had also commended India for shutting out “No-Fire Zone” Director Callum Macrae from entering India. (Vide– Global Times, Xinhua News, 24 Feb. 2014, “Sri Lanka warns of US threat to South Asia”).
This cruel, cold and callous attitude towards tens of thouands of Tamil victims of heinous war crimes is shared by a great majority of the Sinhala-Buddhist (SB) constituency – not merely by the ‘patriotic’ politicos and the bigoted monks. Especially, the entire media outlets in Sri Lanka, owned and operated by SBs, have unabashedly expressed their fraternal feeling of solidarity with the war criminals, acclaiming them as “war heroes”, extolling their valour and virtues and either defending or denying their atrocities and abuses. Gotabaya has been the godfather of the genocidaires and, as well, the chief architect who charted the road map and orchestrated the carnage. It is not about the deaths of the armed rebels on the battlefront. After all, war is politics – lethal politics at that, and the rebels were ready for the risks. Even here, the marauding military did not fight it clean. In violation of the rules of war, they used prohibited weapons (WMD) such as chemical weapons containing nerve agents in an ‘unequal’ war.
Sick & Senile Society?
How come a civilized society – unless of course it is sick and senile – accept and applaud the massacre of multitude of civilians marooned in the “No-fire Zones”; the abduction, torture and disappearance of surrendees/detainees held in internment camps ; the savage sexual attacks against surrendees/detainees; summary execution of captive rebels; heavy artillery/aerial attacks on hospitals and a host of such other horrible and cruel treatment of fellow-Tamil citizens?
During the siege of the “Safe Zone” with over 300,000 civilians trapped therein, the government/military deliberately understated the number and wantonly restricted/rationed supplies of food and medicine provided by NGOs. Maybe, Gotabaya wanted to replicate the Biafran scenario. Thus, hundreds of civilians were starved to death and hundreds of the wounded bled to death. In effect, Gotabaya took a leaf out of President JR’s book. JR said, inter alia, “…Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.” (per, Daily Telegraph 11 July 1983).
Isaipriya and a host of other females were sexually savaged and killed. During the influx of IDPs into the camps, our womenfolk were ordered to strip naked and paraded before male officers for ostensible ‘security check’ with their lewd look. Rajapaksas called it a “humanitarian operation” to liberate the Tamils. That is the mother of all travesty !.
Let alone empathizing with the victims/survivors and exposing the brutality of the Tri-forces personnel, media persons did not make even a passing reference to these barbaric acts. Why? Because of racism – vile, unadulterated racism, euphemistically referred to as “patriotism”.
Gotabaya is their ‘alpha male’ adored by the bulk of the pan-Sinhala citizenry for all his attributes associated with rank racism. Microaggression is one of such traits. His intemperate attacks on the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Ms. Jayalalithaa (now, deceased), abusive attacks on Tamil Nadu politicians calling them, “clowns”, sexist remarks about a Tamil medico visiting Vanni and such other outrageous outbursts are symptoms of a ‘superiority syndrome’. Again, The Hindu daily says it tellingly: (EXCERPTS)
“It is shocking that instead of addressing these issues in the right spirit,…… Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ….. has chosen to vitiate the atmosphere even more with his intemperate remarks against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, and by attributing motives to the adoption of resolutions on Sri Lanka by the State Assembly.”
“…..This includes an outrageous comment that because a Tamil woman, an “LTTE cadre” who was a British national, interviewed in the Channel 4 documentary was “so attractive” but had been neither raped nor killed by Sri Lankan soldiers, the allegation of sexual assault by soldiers could not be true. For this statement alone, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa must be taken to task. (The Hindu, Editorial, 16 Aug. 2011)
Sanitizing Gota’s sins
Even as his election campaign is airborne, Gotabaya’s fans and faithfuls seek to deny or sanitize his sins committed during his tenure. International media outlets have a fleeting glimpse of the gory events on his watch. (EXCERPTS) “Gotabaya is a hero to many majority Sinhalese, ……. but is feared by minorities and victims of human rights abuses….(H)e was accused of using extralegal methods and cracking down on those who criticised his style.”
“Gotabaya was accused of running abduction teams known as “white van” squads that whisked away rebel suspects and journalists deemed to be overly critical. Some of the abductees were released after torture, while others were never seen again. Gotabaya was also implicated in the killing of rebels and civilians who tried to surrender with white flags under a pre-arranged deal in the final days of the civil war. Ethnic Tamils say they handed over their children for investigations at the request of the military but did not see them again.” ( Al Jazeera, 11 Aug.2019 – “Wartime defence chief promises to prioritise Sri Lanka’s national security……)
“I have a vision”, declares Gotabaya recently, at his Viyathmaga Annual Convention 2019. It is reminiscent of the celebrated statement of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream” – but there is a difference ! Dr. King’s talk inspired humanity; Gotabaya’s words evoke “an eerie feeling of déjà vu. He could have declared, instead :“I have an impaired vision”.
The substance of his speech is not wholly reassuring. It reveals Gotabaya’s agenda to revive “whitevanism” and restore the culture of impunity. Many senior officers of the police/military Intelligence service, have been involved in committing serious crimes (abduction for ransom, murder, extortion, ‘disappearance’ etc.). Some of them are in custody facing charges and others are still at large, absconding or on bail. Most of them, at the behest of Rajapaksas had faithfully served them in their criminal enterprises, as swords as well as shields. Thus, ongoing investigations into the crimes are a pain in Rajapaksas’ butt. Gotabaya, once elected, would unleash the wolves, waiting in the wings and baying for the blood of the powerless humans of humble birth – and, in particular, the defenceless political destitutes of Sri Lanka, called Tamils. Let us hear him speak: (EXCERPTS)
“….(W) must reinstate the intelligence mechanism that was proactive until 2015.
We must bring the intelligence operations of the tri-Forces and the Police under the responsibility of one head and thereby connect all these units together. This responsibility must be again handed over to capable officers. At the same time, we must introduce a legal framework that will provide these officers the protection from the kind of political interference that we saw in the recent past that severely affected the confidence of our intelligence officers….”(English version of Gota’s speech, Colombo Telegraph, 9 Sept.2019-“I have a vision for my country”)
The spectre of a Gotabaya presidency evolving, in style and substance, into a German ‘Third Reich’ has spooked many a liberals for quite some time. This anxiety was aggravated by a public plea made by the Deputy Chief Priest of Asgiriya Chapter, Wendaruwe Upali Thero to Gotabaya at his (Gota’s) birthday alms-giving ceremony. The plea was that Gotabaya should “prove his critics right by becoming a real Hitler.”
Examining Gotabaya candidacy in this context, Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda has, summed up the pith and substance of Gotabaya’s intended governance :-(EXCERPTS)
“The ex-military officers who seem to constitute Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s immediate support constituency have brought into the Viyath Maga project the fantasy of a new ruler who could transform Sri Lanka into a society of docile subjects who would embrace a Sinhalese –Buddhist strongman saviour of their rata, jaathiya and aagama …… This is the Fuhrer element which Upali Thero also mentioned when he elaborated his political dream.”
“….(T)he political consciousness of this group of military officers has been shaped primarily by their participation in the counter-insurgency war against the LTTE. It is a synthesis of an extreme version of Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalism and militarism. Ideologically, they are averse to the basic dimensions of modern democracy such as, human rights, minority rights, constitutionalism, checks and balances, devolution, and institutional dispersal of politics in governance….
“….Among sections of Sinhalese-Buddhist elites, ever since the ethnic conflict escalated, there has emerged from time to time the clamour for a truly Sinhalese-Buddhist leader who would protect the interests of the Sinhalese-Buddhist majority from the challenges of the minorities without being constrained by democratic norms or international opinion. Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he was the President, nurtured these ethno-political dreams of the Sinhalese-Buddhist elites and he continued it even after he left office in January 2015. (Sunday Observer, 24 June 2018 – “Waiting for Herr Hitler ”)
Adolf Hitler gained popular support by promoting Pan-Germanism and anti-semitism. He gained political power and ascendancy through democratic electoral process. After assuming office as Chancellor in 1933, he began the process of transforming the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany, a one-party dictatorship based on an autocratic, racially motivated ideology of National Socialism. He was responsible for the genocide of millions of Jews and other minorities, including prisoners of war. I am not a prophet of doom; but I have been a victim of SB racism, and have been rubbing my emotional scars. Let me exhort the ethnically/politically vulnerable fraternity. Please don’t fail to see the parallels.
Historic parallels can be ignored only at your own peril. It may be of some relevance to reflect, en passant, on militarism: French instincts were militaristic and domineering, due largely to Napoleanic influence. Napolean was not an evil like Hitler and was hailed by historians as the “Son of the Revolution”. Nonetheless, initially he was associated with a pro-democracy political group, called ‘The Jacobins’. The Reign of Terror’ of the Jacobins is yet another story. In 1802, through a constitutional amendment, he became 1st Consul for life. In 1804, he crowned himself as Emperor. The slogan “Liberty, Equality , Fraternity ” was the motto associated with the Revolution. Alluding to the spate of Napoleanic wars, historians mockingly substituted a new slogan for the motto: “Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery”
A toxic mix of anti-Tamil/Muslim racism, religious fanaticism, militarism, authoritarian and nationalistic fascism coupled with Mahavamsa myths is a deadly cocktail in the hands of the Rajapaksas, military mafia and the saffron-robed ayatollahs to inebriate the Sinhala-Buddhist populace.
To be concluded …