By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Patriotism is as….irrational as a headless hen.” – Ambrose Bierce (Collected Works)
Next to China, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is Rajapaksa Sri Lanka’s most reliable international friend. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Geneva this season. Moscow is at the forefront even now, opposing the US sponsored resolution and defending the indefensible record of the Rajapaksa regime.
Such unconditional support always comes with conditions.
Last week, the Russian Ambassador met External Affairs Minister GL Peiris with a request[i]. Moscow wanted Colombo to support Russia in the ongoing Ukraine-Crimea crisis. That Sri Lanka is in no geopolitical position to openly back Russian actions in Ukraine is unarguable; Mr. Putin has annexed the territory of a tiny neighbour, and that constitutes bad news to all little countries with big neighbours. Equally indubitably, Sri Lanka is in no position to refuse Russia anything, given the Rajapaksas’ dependence on Mr. Putin’s goodwill in Geneva – and beyond. Had Sri Lanka issued a qualified statement, Moscow in turn may have toned down its support for Colombo in Geneva. So Sri Lanka was forced to take a stand blatantly inimical to her own national interests, a stance which can boomerang on her, if someday she is faced with a real threat to her own sovereignty and territorial integrity from her giant neighbour.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had reportedly berated his Foreign Minister for backing Russia’s naked violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Minister GL Peiris, whose chief interest is in keeping his job, would not have dared to remind his Master that it is thanks to Rajapaksa greed and Rajapaksa obduracy that Colombo is in no position to refuse Moscow – or Beijing – anything.
Colombo’s public backing for Russian annexation of Crimea is a clear warning of the self-eviscerating path Sri Lanka is treading under Rajapaksa rule. Almost five years after the triumphant end of the war, Sri Lanka is caught in a tangled web of crises, challenges and threats, nationally and internationally. Tragically, most of this damage is self-inflicted; or inflicted by the Rajapaksas in their short-sighted and uncompromising pursuit of familial interests.
Take the antics of the Bodu Bala Sena et al. Early this year, the Rajapaksas realised the need to keep the Muslim world in their corner until Geneva was over. So the BBS was put on cold-storage, and the country enjoyed some relative peace and quiet for more than a month. Then the Siblings unleashed the BBS again, because they needed someone to attack Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (who is turning out to be a much better ex-president than president). Clearly no one in the SLFP was willing to do that particular Rajapaksa hatchet-job, so the saffron-enforcers were tasked with it.
Soon the Rajapaksas had another task for the BBS – attacking Minister Hakeem. Then the BBS was used to organise a Tiger-style non-voluntary Hartal in the East, against the Geneva resolution. Currently, the BBS is on rampage again, antagonising minorities, exacerbating ethno-religious disharmony and talking about the need to “rectify the ‘Hakeemfied’ judiciary, which is also stuck with the ‘Kottu roti’ legal system introduced by the white men”[ii].
Fanatics of every religion encourage and justify violence against the ‘religious other’. Their psychology and language are characterised by illogic, misinformation and ignorance, hatred and ridicule. The Rajapaksas’ use of the BBS et al will, sooner or later, alienate most Lankan Muslims and antagonise many of Colombo’s traditional Islamic allies. Thanks to familial rule, Sri Lanka will become more divided and conflicted nationally and more isolated internationally.
The Congress Party, facing near-certain defeat and desperate for Tamilnadu support, has taken a stance on Sri Lanka which is far more extreme than the position adopted by any Western Country. The Congress Manifesto not only supports an international investigation; it also wants that investigation to focus exclusively on Colombo’s crimes: “We will work with other countries to prevail upon Sri Lanka to ensure a credible, objective, time-bound inquiry into human rights violations and excesses committed by Sri Lankan forces during the concluding phases of the operations against the LTTE.”[iii] The panic-stricken Congress Party, after years of waffling, has shifted to the other extreme, and is trying to shield the dead Tiger from even an iota of blame. By comparison, the US resolution is far more balanced and impartial; it wants to investigate alleged crimes committed by both Colombo and the Tigers from 2002 to 2009.
Incidentally the Congress Manifesto also supports the creation of “autonomous provinces, especially in the north and the east”[iv]. The exact nature of that statement is not clear, but that the Congress Party is shifting to a position which goes way beyond even 13 plus is indubitable.
The BJP Manifesto is not yet out, but the saffron party will have to offer Tamilnadu as much as or more than what the Congress did. Plus its ‘rainbow alliance’ in Tamilnadu consists of parties which are more extreme on Sri Lanka than either the DMK or AIADMK. During the celebratory press conference, after the formation of the new alliance, BJP leader Rajnath Singh said, “Under the UPA, India was not able to impress Sri Lanka to resolve the Tamil issue. The NDA will work to impress Sri Lanka as it is also in our national security interests.”[v]
The Rajapaksas are cowing about the BJP’s rejection of the Eelam call. The Siblings are clearly as uninformed about Indian realities as their Tamil counterparts, the pro-Tiger fanatics in the Diaspora, are; they cannot understand that neither India nor Tamilnadu would want a Tamil Eelam in North-Eastern Sri Lanka. But if the Rajapaksas continue in power, Delhi, motivated by national security concerns, might consider a Crimean solution to the problem created by the existence of a Chinese-pawn on its doorstep.
The Siblings need continuous Russian and Chinese support to prevent an eventual UN Security Council resolution which is inimical to themselves and their kith and kin. By subsuming national interests to familial interests (plus personal whims and fancies), the patriotic Rajapaksas are fatally undermining Lanka’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Crimean crisis will blow away eventually. But the Crimean precedent will make the world an even more precarious place for smaller countries with larger neighbours. The only way out for Sri Lanka would be to follow a strictly non-aligned foreign policy. Instead, thanks to the Rajapaksas, we will find ourselves more and more aligned to China and Russia and less and less capable of saying no to either Beijing or Moscow, even in our own national interests.
Post-Black July, there was an immeasurable volume of goodwill and sympathy, regionally and internationally, for Tamils and their struggle. Over the next 25 years, the LTTE, with its blind-extremism and murderous-maximalism, denuded that reservoir of goodwill. Finally, the world allowed the Rajapaksas to wage a punitive war on civilian Tamils in order to defeat the Tigers. If the Sinhala-South, blinded and stupefied by patriotic miasma, fails to dislodge the Rajapaksas from power, there will be a Nandikadal waiting for Sri Lanka as well.
[ii] Sri Lanka Mirror – 26.3.2014