By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“While the piety of presidents and monarchs remains their own business, it is clear that any religiosity they express or resources they spend on religious projects are above all strategies to achieve political ends…” – Madawi Al-Rasheed (Al Monitor – 17.12.201)[i]
The Geneva Season has become an annual event in the Lankan political calendar. .Every March/April a new resolution on Sri Lanka is presented at the UNHRC session. Tensions rise, tempers fray, promises and threats are made, and then it is all over. The resolution is voted on, and Lankan political-life returns to its violent, arbitrary and abusive grooves. For the next several months, the Rajapaksas rule, more or less as they like it, until it is Geneva Season again.
Every Geneva Season, the Rajapaksas become unusually sensitive about the sensibilities of the handful of dependable allies they have in the UNHRC. Since quite a few of these allies are Islamic-majority countries, orchestrating/permitting anti-Muslim violence during the Geneva Season can boomerang on the Rajapaksas. Plus anti-minority violence will weaken the Rajapaksa case in Geneva and give an added fillip to the voices demanding that international community move beyond verbal condemnations into deeds.
For all their bravado, the Rajapaksas would not want the West to really act against them. Forget The Hague; their real concern would be the imposition of a version of the Magnitsky Act against them. A travel-cum-asset ban will really hurt the Rajapaksas. The Siblings’ anti-imperialism will not move beyond Sinhala-sloganeering. How can it, when two are reportedly American/Lankan dual-citizens?
Consequently it makes political and personal sense for the Rajapaksa to rein-in their saffron pawns when Geneva looms. And that is what the President seemed to have done before he left on his Palestine-Jordan-Israel jaunt: “At the rescheduled weekly ministerial meeting on Friday he warned the ministers to be extremely cautious over attempts to rouse ethnic tensions. Whichever community was responsible for such actions, he said, the ministers must respond cautiously bearing in mind the religious sensitivities involved. They could be reported as attacks on churches, mosques, temples or other places of worship. The incidents were being blown out of proportion by interested parties to embarrass the Government, he warned.”[ii]
In other words, hands-off Tamils/Muslims/Christians – until Geneva is done.
In his infamous interview with Al Jazeera, President Rajapaksa, instead of condemning anti-minority violence, sought to justify it by labelling it, mendaciously, as just retribution for heinous crimes, especially child rape: “There were attacks; some incidents. What was in the background? Why were they attacked? Now see a girl was raped. Seven years old girl was raped. Then naturally they will go and attack them whether they belong to any community or any religion. The people when they heard about it they were so upset, relations everybody. There were incidents like that. All incidents have some background to that”[iii].
Juxtapose this implicit justification of anti-minority/anti-Muslim violence with the recent Presidential warning against targeting minorities during the Geneva Season – the inescapable conclusion is that the Saffron-mob onslaughts against minorities are orchestrated events and the Ruling Siblings can contain them, whenever the need arises.
So until Geneva is over, the minorities can probably feel safe.
And the Rajapaksas have bigger fish to fry.
The PM, the Drug-Smuggler and the Sinhala Ravaya
Under the 1978 Constitution the Prime Minister, generally an impotent figure, becomes all important if the Presidency falls vacant through death/incapacity/removal. When the President departs, it is the prime minister who takes over, for a month. Death is the great unknown and if the grim-reaper visits President Rajapaksa before the premiership is secured, that one month will suffice for the SLFP old-guard to disempower the Ruling Family and re-take the government.
To secure familial rule and dynastic succession, the Rajapaksas need to make one of their own the prime minister.
The SLFP is not yet a fully Rajapasaised party, and that lacuna is a critical weakness in the Rajapaksa project. If the party seniors are bypassed and the much junior Basil Rajapaksa (or the total outsider Gotabhaya Rajapaksa) is appointed as the PM, it might ignite the anti-Rajapaksa sentiments dormant in the party. After all, such a blatantly unjust appointment will signify the end of hope for many SLFP seniors, pushing them into an inner-party rebellion. Desperate people sometimes do the right thing, even for wrong reasons.
Then came the drug-scandal involving Prime Minister DM Jayaratne; and the Rajapaksas found themselves with a way to square that all important circle.
Going by media reports, the PM – and his son – is indubitably guilty, either of criminal complicity or criminal irresponsibility[iv]. Knowingly or unknowingly, Mr. Jayaratne got involved in a heinous crime and he does not deserve to remain as the PM.
Had he done the honourable thing and resigned immediately from the premiership, the scandal would have died down and the Rajapaksas would not have been able to manipulate it to their advantage. Such a decent response would have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the old SLFP and the new – Rajapaksa – SLFP, to the former’s advantage. But the PM continues to cling-on, looking more ludicrous and blameworthy with each passing day. His egregious conduct demonstrates that the difference between the Rajapaksas and the old SLFP is mostly one of degrees. For instance, dynastic-politics is a SLFP disease; most SLFPers would agree that power/political status should pass from parent to offspring or sibling to sibling[v].
The PM is a member of the SLFP old-guard, identified with the non/anti-Rajapaksa wing of the SLFP. His differences (not policy but personal-political) with the Rajapaksas surfaced last year, when the President, violating a previous undertaking, refused to make the highest preference vote-getter (the PM’s son) the CM of the Central Province. The President justified this departure by saying that sons of cabinet ministers cannot be chief ministers. The PM reportedly retorted that Chamal Rajapaksa’s son became the CM when his father was a cabinet minister[vi]. And when the former CM of the Central Province was reappointed to the post, there was a demonstration by Jayaratne-supporters against it, in Kandy[vii].
The drug-scandal and Mr. Jayaratne’s odious conduct might enable the Rajapaksas to discard an unreliable PM, haemorrhage and diminish the non-Rajapaksa wing of the SLFP and appoint one of their own as premier without making too many adverse-waves.
So the issue is allowed to drag on and simmer. The latest episode in this soap-opera was Sinhala Ravaya’s siege of the PM’s office. An unruly demonstration blocking a major road in a high-security-zone cannot happen with impunity without Rajapaksa blessing. Plus the Sinhala Ravaya is an active player in the Rajapaksa demographic-engineering project in the North. The organisation has reportedly ‘resettled’ several Sinhala-Buddhist families in Navakkuli, Jaffna[viii] and got the army to build a temple, appropriately named Sihalaramaya, for these settlers[ix]. Such deeds need Rajapaksa-patronage.
When the UNP formed the Leadership Council, the Rajapaksas used the BBS to mount an invasion of Sirikotha. Now the Sinhala Ravaya is being used to besiege the old SLFP. Saffron-mobs are an important weapon in the Rajapaksa arsenal; and the Siblings will unleash them not only against minorities and the Opposition but also against fellow SLFPers.
[ii] The Sunday Times – 5.1.2014
[v] JR Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa cured the UNP of the archaic disease of familial politics. So when Sajith Premadasa says ‘I was born prepared to take over the responsibility of the United National Party’ (http://newsfirst.lk/english/2013/12/born-take-responsibility-unp-sajith-premadasa/8277) he places himself against the modernist, anti-feudal variety of politics championed by his father and in liege with the Rajapaksas and other believers of ‘inherited-leadership’
[viii] ‘Inane Piety which Creates Religious Wars – Dinasena Rathugamage – Irida Divaina – 18.8.2013
[ix] Sihalaramaya is said to be a brainchild of Rev. Magalkande Sudantha Thero, the Convenor of the Sinhala Ravaya.