By Kumar David –
It is important to separate the military serving in the public interest – floods, earthquakes, coronavirus epidemic and emergencies – from any involvement in politics. When a president makes the military a main tool in his duties he opens the road to two dangers: Either he bypasses legislature and judiciary, undercuts democracy and sets off on the road to dictatorship, or the second more dangerous option is that he becomes redundant encouraging the Brass to take power into its own hands. Right now, it’s the first (we have had no parliament for five months!) but don’t discount the second when future economic meltdown induces civil commotion. It’s easy but unwise to discount what is over the horizon but invisible; things move fast in unstable times
Ranaviru (warrior) hero-worship is stoked by politicians but not to benefit the common foot soldier. Brass and ex-Brass ride on this veneration to forage for sinecures and appointments. They do indeed believe that they are the best to “save the country”, but the engineers think the same of themselves (come with me to a gathering of our clan), the GMOA thinks that a medical-mafia is the road to salvation and lawyers never stopped claiming that verbal diarrhoea is God’s word. The simple fact however is that the military can do a job well (supervising curfew, managing rehab centres and handing attacks) if it is asked to do only its job. It is hopeless if asked to take political power, manage an economy or rebuild trust between communities. Consider today’s military regimes; Al-Sisi in Egypt, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and the behind-the-scenes generals in Burma. Crummy failures addicted to power (Syria), or lining their pockets and building private business empires (Egypt from Mubarak days), or plain incompetent (Venezuela). That’s military regimes today.
The warrior parable is woven into history and mythology. The Dutugemunu story underscores victory over Tamils. It helps that one of Gamini’s generals was Gothaimbara – the modern version is probably Gotabaya – though it is not clear if he did much because the final encounter was a duel of kings mounted on elephants. Cultural solidarity, racial superiority and religious fervour underlie ranaviru idolisation. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living and just as they seem to be doing something new they conjure up the spirits of the past, borrowing names, battle slogans and costumes to present their own acts in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language”. (I have mucked about with the original a bit for context).
That’s to say, putative Gotabaya autocracy or a plain military regime cannot justify itself except ideologically as the saviour of hela and jathiya. It must be rooted; it must flow with the prevailing temper of unfriendliness to Muslims and putting Tamils in their place. To understand dozens of events such as the presidential pardon of Sunil Rathnayake convicted of eight murders or the relentless harassment of Rishard Bathiudeen we must note that the former’s victims were all Tamils and Bathiudeen is a Muslim. The saffron robe was the deciding force in both cases. (Gnanasara was pardoned by Sirisena also to placate saffron). The bottom line whether consolidating autocracy or stark militarisation is a need for ideological props; in our case addiction to race and religion. Police, STF officers, an ex-army special force sergeant etc. are suspects in drug running. The Angulana police shot dead a civilian in cold blood and so the list goes on. The uniform is their shield and they will to get away scot free.
Militarisation first erodes democracy and shackles the people; it then amends or repeals the constitution to defang parliament and render the judiciary even more pliant. Eventually, what happens to all military regimes is that they become corrupt. There is not one counterexample today in Africa, South and Central America, Middle East or in Asia – Pakistan, Burma and Indonesia. Militarisation must be opposed tooth and nail. Neither the Sajith nor the Ranil gangs nor the effete Tamil parties will take a stand. The SLPP is playing the game till the water gets hot under its future parliamentary seats. Sadly, candidates and parties fear to censure ongoing militarisation; it seems safer to condemn imperialism and enjoy a tot of xenophobia! Overall, the prognosis is worrying.