Colombo Telegraph

Resisting Rajapaksa Rule

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“….instead of looking for necessary and sufficient conditions of change we must train ourselves to be on the lookout for unusual historical developments, rare constellations of favourable events, narrow paths, partial advances that may conceivably be followed by others…. We must think of the possible rather than the probable”. – Albert Hirschman (New York Review of Books – 10.4.1986)

Had Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga removed Presidential term-limits, Mahinda Rajapaksa would not have become the President. If the Rajapaksa dynasty takes root, every non-Rajapaksa SLFP leader will be condemned to a life of servitude.

The prospect of such a life-sentence of servility, not just to Mahinda Rajapaksa but to a host of other, major and minor, Rajapaksas, would dismay most SLFP leaders. Their dread of Rajapaksa vengeance would prevent them from voicing their discontent, but beneath this public show of quiescence, discontent will bubble. Nurturing and deploying this silent resentment is a sine-qua-non for any successful project of resisting Rajapaksa rule.

The Siblings, when inveigling opposition members to defect, use cupidity as a key psychological-propellant. The opposition can use similar tactics to cause dismay and consternation in government ranks. A word-picture of an unending Rajapakse future, consisting of unquestioning obedience to every caprice of every Rajapaksa, in every possible sphere, should be drawn for the edification of SLFP seniors and potential Young Turks. Such tactics will not produce lightening results, but those seeds must be sown, if the SLFP is to be persuaded to rebel against the Rajapaksas, someday.

Familial Rule has a critical structural weakness; it is an edifice built on an extremely weak and severely circumscribed base. A patrimonial oligarchy serves the interests not of a large and a relatively varied community but of a small kinship-group. The stakeholder-base of such a rule is, by definition, numerically minute and non-representative. It is to make up for this ingrained – and potentially disastrous – weakness that political dynasty-builders manufacture primordial/ideological/psychological facades and buttresses.

The Rajapaksas have chosen ‘Sinhala-Buddhist maximalism’ as their strategic buttress and their primary façade. So long as a majority of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority believe that Rajapaksa rule is beneficial for them, Rajapaksa rule will survive. But if economic woes continue to exacerbate (as they will), Sinhala-Buddhist masses will gradually withdraw their consent for Rajapaksa Rule. In such a context, the Siblings will need enemies and threats to maintain their Sinhala-Buddhist support base. When necessary, these enemies/threats will be manufactured, even at the cost of pushing the country into a newer and a deadlier war – as is evident from the Rajapaksa-patronage of the BBS.

That is why there will never be real peace or genuine reconciliation inSri Lanka, under the Rajapaksas rule.

The Siblings use their twisted versions of patriotism and national sovereignty to make the Sinhala people believe that they will stand or fall with Rajapaksa Rule. Without debunking this false equation, resistance to Familial Rule will be futile.

The Rajapaksas are bad for Sri Lanka; they are bad for the minorities; but they are worse for the Sinhalese, worst for Sinhala-Buddhists. The Rajapaksas are as disastrous for the Sinhalese as Vellupillai Pirapaharan was for the Tamils and an Islamic-fundamentalist leader would be for the Muslims.

The Sinhala-Buddhist masses must be made to see this insalubrious reality. They must be made to understand that they will know neither safety nor wellbeing so long as the Rajapaksas rule. The nexus between high defence expenditure/megalomaniac projects and skyrocketing living costs must be explained; the manner in which the Siblings use national sovereignty to undermine the rights of the people and patriotism to suppress democratic dissent must be revealed. These exposes must happen primarily in Sinhala language and via popular media.

That is why the Siblings have accorded priority to the task of conditioning/controlling the Sinhala media, both print and electronic.

If this circle is not squared, the Rajapaksas will succeed in making the Sinhala South believe their diabolical lies about old Tamil enemies and new Muslim threats. If the old ethnic-overdetermination is replaced by a new ethno-religious overdetermination, resistance to Rajapaksa rule will fail.

Debunking Rajapaksa-Foundational Myths

Like other political dynasts, the Rajapaksas have created their own foundational myths. The attempt to draw a genealogical-link between the Rajapaksas and the Buddha via King Dutugemunu is just the comic-tip of a vast politico-ideological iceberg[i]. Far deadlier is the equation of Rajapaksa needs/desires with the national good, Rajapaksa interests with national interests and Rajapaksa security with national security.

That is how airports sans planes and seaports sans ships are justified, attacks on the judiciary/media explained and the use of the PTA against democratic opponents/critics defended. When lies and delusions do not suffice, repression will be stepped up, as is evident from the planned re-enactment of the Libel and Slander Act and the creation of a new elite anti-riot squad[ii].

Any viable opposition to the Rajapaksas must unite moderates of all ethnicities and religions and stripes into an alliance of moderates. A key use of the BBS and its anti-Muslim/minority propaganda is to make Sinhala-Buddhists fear such an alliance and to keep the Muslims out of it by blackmailing them with their lives, liberty and property. This, for instance, was the message sent by the arrest and release of Azath Salley.

Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims need each other to protect their basic human rights. The opposition, especially the JVP, must understand that in the current context, any downgrading of the 13th Amendment will only serve to enhance Rajapaksa power. If the 13th Amendment is killed, it will deal a lethal blow not just to minority rights but also to Lankan democracy, because the powers which are taken away from the provincial councils will be concentrated in Rajapaksa hands. Tamil parties too must understand that running to India is an exercise in futility[iii]; only a Southern-Northern-Eastern unity can save the 13th Amendment.

Lankan opposition is too weak to launch a successful frontal political-assault on the Rajapaksas. Nor is the time right for such an assault. Resisting the Rajapaksas cannot/mustn’t be reduced to ejecting the Rajapaksas, immediately. Before that indispensable goal is reached, and in order to reach that indispensable goal, every Rajapaksa injustice and excess must be opposed and thwarted. What is necessary and possible is a network of struggles, a series of single issue campaigns with clear short-term goals. These can be used to inflict innumerable political-wounds on the Rajapaksa edifice, de-legitimising, undermining and weakening it, step by step.

The issues can vary from prices to the kidney disease-epidemic, from the attack on the rugby-referee to the destruction of Mattala-wild life, from the repression of Tamils and attacks on Muslims to the eviction of Sinhala farmers/fishermen/poor. No issue should be too small, no injustice too irrelevant, no victim too unimportant, no method too insignificant[iv].

A series of minor victories can give the dispirited opposition a new lease of life and some badly-needed confidence.

Most of all, the Rajapaksa-juggernaut cannot be resisted unless the opposition discards ‘narcissism of small differences’ (Freud) and work together, when necessary.

Perhaps this process can begin by the UNP and the JVP cooperating with each other to make the protest on May 15th and the token strike on May 21st resounding successes.


[ii]“According to well-placed sources within the Police Department, a special police squad is currently being trained in specialized tactics, to deal with mass protests and riots”  -Ceylon today – 6.4.2013.

[iii] India could – or would not – save the North-Eastern merger; it has failed to deliver 13th Amendment plus.

[iv] It would have taken me several paragraphs to make the point so eloquently conveyed by this single photo:

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