By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“With or without anticipation, Israeli policies helped shaped the kinds of enemies that pledge to sacrifice their lives to fight the Jewish state…” Saul Landau (IPS – 29.2.2009)
The Rajapaksas are masters at the art of political marketing. They have developed an ‘all you need to know’ crash course in building innocuous facades to hide insalubrious realities. Perhaps all the people cannot be fooled all the time. But, going by the Rajapaksa record, fooling all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time can more than suffice.
For a while, at least.
From 2006, the Siblings have promised varying degrees of devolution to the Tamils. Every promise was observed in the breach. Four years after the war ended, the North remains a de facto occupied territory, with little normalcy and even less democracy.
Last year President Rajapaksa promised to hold provincial elections in the North in September 2013. If that promise is kept, the North will have an elected provincial council in five months, headed, most probably by the TNA.
Will the Siblings honour that promise? Or will that too become an empty pledge?
What did Gotabhaya Rajapaksa mean when he said, “The ongoing crisis in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, over accountability issues here, should discourage those pushing for devolution of power under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. A hostile Provincial Council Administration in the Northern or the Eastern province in Sri Lanka could be inimical to the post-war national reconciliation process”. (The Island – 29.3.2013)
Are the Siblings planning to postpone PC polls in the North? Can they get away with it?
Lankan National Interests vs. Rajapaksa Familial Interests
Holding a reasonably free and fair election for the Northern provincial council, on time, is the most sensible course of action from the point of view of Lankan national interests. Such an election will satisfy the moderate majority and isolate the hardline fringe in Tamil Nadu (after all, the plight of Lankan Tamils is not the sole issue in Tamil Nadu politics). In fact nothing will prick the pro-Tiger balloon in Tamil Nadu faster than a functioning provincial council in the North, consequent to a free and fair election. Every time the Rajapaksas delay the Northern PC poll, they play into the hands of the pro-Tiger lobby in India and in the West. Every postponement merely proves the hardliners in the Diaspora right and turn Vellupillai Pirapaharan into a prophet, posthumously.
The Rajapaksa reluctance to hold PC polls in the North is sourced not in national security concerns but in concerns about their own power. The Siblings are as opposed to devolution of power as they are to separation of power. Any lingering doubts on that score should have died with the impeachment of the Chief Justice and the supine conduct of the Usurping CJ.
In order to win the Northern provincial council election, the Rajapaksas will have to engage in violence and malpractices (including outright rigging) on a horrendously massive scale. And they will have to do so throughout the campaign plus on the day of the election. Such a manifestly unfree, unfair and violent electoral process will inflame Tamil Nadu. It will also strengthen the demand for a boycott of the Hambantota Commonwealth.
Is postponement the way out? Can the Rajapaksas use their usual delaying/deflecting/time-buying tactics with customary impunity? Or will they have to pay a price, this once?
The Siblings neutralised Delhi in the past, with a combination of guile and unctuousness. According to a Wikileaks cable, President Rajapakse achieved Indian neutrality during the Fourth Eelam War by offering New Delhi a carefully calibrated combination of information and misinformation, false promises and dissembling reassurances. He allayed Indian fears about the human cost of the war by promising a ceasefire, reassuring New Delhi officials that, post-conflict, he would undertake to implement a political solution to the ethnic problem. According to one cable, a senior Indian official informed the US ambassador that ‘President Rajapakse had agreed to announce on April 27 a cessation of hostilities with the LTTE’ after consulting his cabinet, and the NSA wanted the Americans to stay silent ‘until Rajapakse fulfils his pledge and announces the pause’. According to another cable, the Indians assured the Americans that Rajapakse ‘intends to pursue political devolution (‘the thirteenth amendment plus’) and will make a gesture soon to win over Sri Lanka’s Tamils’.
Given this record, the Rajapaksas might be thinking that they can postpone the Northern PC poll without suffering any major ill effects of Indian provenance. If Delhi proves uncharacteristically recalcitrant, Colombo can always use the threat of Chinese subs enjoying unrestricted access to Lankan waters. Indeed, Delhi may prefer to limit itself to mere rhetoric, but concerns about electoral futures and national stability might preclude such an insouciant response. Congress administration will be concerned about national elections in 2014 while the Indian state would worry about the radicalising effect the unresolved ethnic problem will have on Tamil Nadu. A postponement of the Northern PC poll would be a whole red flag to the Tamil Nadu bull, electorally and politically. Therefore Delhi is unlikely to allow Colombo to break this promise with the same ease and impunity as it broke every previous promise.
And the Indians do have a handle this time – the Hambantota Commonwealth Summit. An Indian threat to boycott the Hambantota Summit can seriously derail the Commonwealth hopes of the Rajapaksas.
So the Siblings are facing a conundrum. They cannot have the election because they are bound to loose it. They cannot postpone the election because that is likely to incense Delhi upset the Commonwealth-applecart.
So what will the Rajapaksas do? Manufacture a crisis? If so what form will it take? The resurrection of the LTTE? An outbreak of anti-Muslim violence? A TNA-Al Qaeda nexus? Will Kuragala be turned into a mini-Ayodhya? Will there be some ‘incident’ in the North, which can be blamed on Tiger-remnants backed by Tamil Nadu?
Whatever the crisis the Rajapaksas manufacture, it will have to be carefully calibrated. It cannot be a generalised crisis since that will strengthen the demand for a Commonwealth venue-change. And any bogey will have to have a limited-reach because one with a national presence will bolster the boycott demand.
The Rajapaksas may or may not succeed in conjuring such a localised crisis and a circumscribed bogey. They might succeed in postponing the Northern PC poll without endangering the Hamantota Commonwealth dream or they might not. But they cannot cheat the Tamils and demonise the Muslims without seriously undermining Sri Lanka’s national security. The attempt to disempower the minorities and forcibly weld them into a Sinhala-led nation might help cement Rajapaksa Rule; but it will also cause the country to careen into a new conflict.
Already the Lankan Diaspora is as large as 3 million – this in a country of just 22 million. If a new conflict erupts, all those who can get out will do so, leaving this place a festering hell for the rest.