By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Increasing light throws darker shadows.” – AC Grayling (Toward the Light of Liberty)
In an election campaign predictably marred by violence and malpractices, the unlooked for, the unimaginable also happens.
PL Keerthisinghe, the OIC of Wanduramba, resigned after 18 years of service, in protest against political interference in police work. “He charged that despite the political pressure on him, none of the senior police officers were willing to take action against the politicians…”[i]
Such an act of courage would have been unbelievable just days ago. That it actually happened is one more indication that something is changing in Sri Lanka.
On Monday, the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation carried a news item indirectly blaming Maithripala Sirisena for the inclement weather conditions. A tamed-astrologer was used for the purpose. In 2009 Chandrasiri Bandara made history, inadvertently, by becoming the first astrologer to be taken to the Fourth Floor[ii]. He had predicted governmental collapse and was promptly arrested. Mr. Bandara emerged from his ordeal as a born-again Rajapaksa-devotee. Last week he promised to shoot himself if Mahinda Rajapaksa does not win a third term.
Asked for an astrological analysis of the current spell of bad weather, Mr. Bandara said that nature-gods are angered over the evil acts of an evil person. He claimed that the inclement weather began on November 21st, the day this evil person commenced an evil campaign to divide the people[iii]. This act of superstitious buffoonery was aired on the main news telecast! Lankan state television has an inglorious record in sycophancy; but never has it stooped so low or sounded so antediluvianly stupid.
Last week saw a sudden hike in election-violence. But according to Basil Rajapaksa, the opposition is not being attacked; it is attacking itself. At a recent party hosted by the chairman of the Ceylon Tourist Board, a journalist had asked Minister Rajapaksa about election violence, with particular reference to the Wanduramba incident. According to Irida Divaina, the Presidential Sibling’s reply was: “You are mistaken. Who will attack those? The whole world knows that if a stage like that is attacked at a time like this, popular sympathy will go to the other side. What if they did it? They plan and attack their own stage. People think they were attacked. We knew early on, that in an election like this, they will use such cheap tricks.”[iv]
In the next two weeks, the Rajapaksas will churn out more drivel and unleash more violence. But their real dependence will be on racism.
Racism is in the very blood of Rajapaksa politics. The Siblings can neither retain power nor rule without inciting majority racism and minority phobia. Without racism, the Siblings cannot retain the support of the economically distressed Sinhala masses.
The Siblings know that if this election is fought on economic/cost-of-living grounds they cannot avoid defeat. That is why they are making a desperate attempt to reframe the election from a democratic exercise to a war. In this rendition, the election is really a continuation of the old Eelam War and the first battle of a new Jihadist-war. If the Rajapaksas lose, separatists and Jihadists – and their Western backers – will occupy and dismember Sri Lanka.
The Rajapaksas are deliberately sowing the seeds of a renewed ethnic conflict and a new religious conflict in order to retain power. They obviously do not care about the consequences of making Sinhalese hate and fear their Tamil and Muslim neighbours – and vice versa. They obviously do not care that embedding such a fear psychosis in Southern society will create a fertile breeding ground for race riots. They obviously do not care that majority violence will sooner or later give rise to minority violence, to the common ruin of us all.
That is why a Rajapaksa victory – and a continuation of Rajapaksa rule – is unaffordable from the point of view of national unity, societal peace or popular sanity.
Rajapaksas Cannot Build Peace
The Rajapaksas made substantial use of racism even in the 2010 Presidential Election. During his inaugural election rally (in December 2009), Mahinda Rajapaksa proudly claimed that neither “his government nor he would seek money from LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s parents for any matter and will not betray the nation by doing so”[v]. With this statement, he made Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s parents responsible for the crimes of their son, even though they were never members of the LTTE. (A few months later this theory of familial-guilt was used against the war-winning army commander and defeated Presidential candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka.)
Mr. Pirapaharan’s mother died in February 2011. Hours after she was cremated, some unknown persons brought three dogs to cremation site, shot them dead and dumped their poor corpses on the ashes. The message was clear – the mother was guilty of the crimes of the son[vi]. Predictably, inevitably those responsible for this barbaric deed were never caught.
Most Tamils had some relative in the LTTE. How can reconciliation be possible, given this Rajapaksa doctrine of familial-guilt?
Post-war, national security depends not on keeping North and East garrisoned, but on winning over Tamils to the idea of a common Lankan future.
Not only are the Rajapaksas incapable of performing this indispensable task; they are busy antagonising at least one other minority. If they survive this challenge, by the time they leave, Sri Lanka will have not just an unresolved ‘Tamil issue’ but also a full fledged ‘Muslim issue’.
More than 25 years ago, Yesoshaphat Harkabi, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, warned, “To offer an honorable solution to the Palestinians (or other repressed peoples) respecting their right to self-determination: That is the solution of the problem of terrorism. When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes.”[vii]
The Rajapaksas do not want the swamp to disappear. They need the swamp, not just one but many swamps. Without suitable enemies, how can they retain their relevance as ‘saviours’?
In his blazing criticism of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis mentioned those afflicted by a “sickness of considering oneself immortal, immune or indispensable”[viii]. The Rajapaksas depict themselves as indispensable to national security but for this claimed indispensability to have even a passing validity there must be a visible national enemy. That is why the Rajapaksas will continue to feed the swamp instead of draining it.
The state must become the state of all peoples and must take seriously its duties and responsibilities to its Tamil and Muslim citizens, if Sri Lanka is to be peaceful and whole. The Rajapaksas have proven that they are incapable of fulfilling this essential task.
If they win this election, the attempt to maintain peace at gun-point will intensify and spread from North to East and South. Money which should have been spent on education, health and employment and income generation will be wasted on maintaining a mammoth military. This huge defence expenditure coupled with the wasteful mega infrastructure project will leave the country with a stark choice: between financial bankruptcy and vassalage.
[i] Daily Mirror – 23.12.2014
[iv] Irida Divaina – 21.12.2014 – translation mine
[v] Daily mirror 19.12.2009
[vii] quoted in Noam Chomsky’s Interventions