By Kumar David –
A deputy minister appointed on 9 September is widely believed to be connected to the heroin trade. He has not been convicted in a court, hence entitled to his rights, but what government disinclined to suicide appoints such people to ministerial positions? Another is said to have imported ethanol for moonshine; thugs and crooks are alleged to be dime a dozen. Ali Baba was not the only one with forty associates of disreputable genre! What will be the state of mind of the police, law and order personnel, and the courts, faced with this surrender by president, prime minister and their confidants (CBK, UNP bigwigs, SLFP flotsam)? There were bad eggs the previous week as well; the foul-mouthed thug who ruined higher education is now “empowering” something or the other, there is a bookie in the House and someone made billions from petroleum. Are slots reserved for deadly-Dougie and debauched-Thonda?
This is neither a National Government nor a Coalition; it is a Freeloaders’ Jamboree. Take one topic; the overlapping areas of finance, economy and development, and enumerate the Cabinet, State (SM) and Deputy (DM) Ministerial line up at the feeding trough : Policy & Economic Affairs (PM), Finance (Ravi), Industries & Commerce (Bathiudeen), Public Enterprises (Hashim), Primary Industries (Gamage), Megapolis (Champika), Southern Development (Sagala Ratnayake), Finance-SM (LY Abeywardena), State Enterprises-DM (Eran), Rural Economy-DM (Ameer Ali), Policy & Economic Affairs-SM (Niroshan Perera), International Trade-SM (Senasinghe), Megapolis-DM (Alagiyawanna), Industries & Commerce-SM (Chamkipa Premadasa). Phew, fourteen feasting at a public funded trough! Worse, the boneheads will be stepping on each other’s toes. Ranil, Ravi, Champika and Eran should send the other ten on two-year all expenses paid furlough and get on with the job free of vexatious interferences. It’s the same in integration & reconciliation, education & training and elsewhere.
Notwithstanding this initial outburst of spleen my purpose today is not to vent outrage. Colombo Telegraph readers hear nothing else these days but complaints of infidelity to election promises and bewilderment at the multitude of moral lepers in ministerial office. So I have changed track; I intend to take the reasons given by S&R and followers at face value and explain on their own terms why their strategy will fail.
What reason do they give?
You won’t find it in official pronouncements or speeches, but it’s one of those things that can justifiably be called ‘As everyone knows’. It is no secret that there are two reasons for including slime balls among the 90 Freeloaders. First, it is said that the threat of Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) resurgence has to be scuttled (MR goons speak of a return to power in two years) and the way to defuse it is to buy out blackguards with juicy ministerial plums. The second peril is that MR’s counterattack, when it comes, will be racist inflaming of passions; burn baby, burn! Purchased slime balls, it is argued, can be kept leashed if communal excesses erupt
This is not an exaggerated assessment of what may happen when; (a) the economy turns down in the short-term and the screws are tightened – the balance of payments and the rupee are already much distressed; (b) domestic investigation of war-crimes follows the damning UNHRC Report; and (c) a new constitution offers lightly buttered crumbs to the Tamils. These three red-flags will be waved and racist bulls goaded on by the Wimal-Udaya-Dinesh-vasu (WUDU) djinn-quartet. Racial violence is a worst-case, but it is a credible scenario. Then ladylike tea-parties are no answer; lines must be crossed, alliances made and loins girded. I have no problem with that and I won’t waste effort fiddling good-governance harmonies if Rome is about to catch fire. Now you may well ask: “So you agree that the emerging scenario could be exceptionally dangerous, you also agree that in this case exceptional measures are justified, so what’s your problem?” That’s the numb: These particular “exceptional measures” adopted by the government won’t work, they are the wrong ones, the exercise will boomerang. Not compromise, it is confrontation that can defeat treacherous politicos and disperse fascist mobs.
Concessions to Ali Baba’s forty+ crooks and peddlers will fail. The dirt is angering the public (listen to Sobitha Hamuduruwo or the Asgiriya Mahanayake) and it is pushing ordinary folk back into MR’s fold. “What’s the difference?” people ask. Secondly, playing with fire is a gift to MR. S&R are blind not to see that this fifth-column will mine the ship, set off the explosives and sail back home to MR waters when opportunity is ripe. A national government put together to develop and heal is one thing; a den of self-seeking vipers is another. To summarise, there are tough challenges ahead, my (a) to (c); one needs strength to address them. But the way S&R have set about it will disillusion and drive people away and expose the government to a lethal undercut at its weakest moment. Let me remind you, I said my case would not be moral, but refutation of the strategy on pragmatic grounds.
The end-game of racism
This country, at the moment, is at a conjuncture where with the right approach (I have in mind not only R&S but also TNA, JVP and democratic and left civil-society, the most important of the four) it can inflict a crushing defeat on racism and proto-fascism. It can be a permanent rout which will invert the hegemony of race politics of the last six decades and crush the proto-fascism of the last ten years. The time has come when we can make racism suffer a Waterloo from which it will not recover. We can! But will we? That depends on leadership, strategy and perspicacity.
Why is there a possibility that Lanka has turned a corner; to be precise, has the potential to turn? Racism has run its course; consciousness has advanced a few steps; my evidence is that fewer Sinhalese buy the ‘Tiger behind every bush’ fairytale, more pluralism is evident, and it seems to be more difficult to whip up a race mob – the anti-Muslim riots fizzled out despite Gota; even the JVP intervened against it, a sign of the times. On the Tamil side the rejection of Wigneswaran-Gajan primitivism in August is a signal event. A much larger signal was 8 January and 17 August though President Sirisena still promotes army commanders accused of excesses in the closing stages of the war.
A factor that expedited change was the end of the war and elimination of the LTTE. Pro-LTTErs note; I am not passing judgement on the LTTE; I have my oft stated views, but it’s another matter. What I am asserting is the bland fact that the end of the LTTE wrought changes in the Sinhalese psyche. To put it another way, most Sinhalese are no longer deluded that the TNA wants to divide the country, the LTTE is biding its time to rise again, or India is sharpening a scalpel to amputate Lanka. Educated Sinhalese say: “Those silly village buggers, or backward locals etc think such and such – ha, ha, haa”. (The speakers themselves of course were no different a few years ago!). I am driving the point that there has been some relaxation of long held prejudices. All who fought long and hard on the ideological front can take credit.
The bigger background is a transformation of the world. Globalisation, technology, thousands of kids studying for all sorts of external diplomas and degrees, the Internet, easier travel, Middle East and diaspora money; in a thousand ways the world has shrunk. The minds of the local petty bourgeoisie, the aspirations of the middle classes, and the expectations of the new working class which outnumbers the old working class, have occupied new spaces. It is now a little more difficult to incite race violence because it goes against this grain. Nothing can be ruled out given MR and WUDU incitement, but the influence of racism and the highhandedness of military seem to have abated to a degree. I am cautious in making these assessments; let’s see how the domestic war-crimes inquiry and devolution in constitution making progress before getting more excited.
Racism has two roots, material-social self-interest and deep psychological ids in group-collective minds. The former is easy to understand; business competition, advancement at the workplace, personal jealousy – “The boy next door was admitted to university my son was not, damn those cliquey examiners who doctored the marks”. This material side of racism has eroded to a degree in the ways I described.
The other root is deep-buried pathological irrationality in mass mentality. For example there is no other way to describe the killing, torture and sexual violence precipitated on Tamil civilians by the Sinhalese Army at the end of the war (see Channel 4 “Sri Lanka Search for Justice” and the UNHRC Report*). Primitive crowed-psychology is better understood in anthropological than dry logical categories of coherent discourse. This is even truer of religious extremism (ISIS for example) which seeks justification in ancient texts, sanction in traditional social practices and sanctification in the divine.
Some of this irrational obscurantism will never disappear. If it does not entail hegemony, intolerance, and oppression of others, just shrug your shoulders and let it pass as endemic to the human condition. But a residue of this dross is grouping itself into a MR phalanx and WUDU djinn-band intending to act. It has to be opposed and defeated as I was at pains to point out last week (13 September). There I emphasised the importance of confrontation and added that I had scant faith that R&S would face the goons head-on.
However I do concede some government leaders have numbers; obviously Ravi Karunanayake, also maybe Ranjan Ramanayake, Harin Fernando, Rajitha, Duminda Dissanayaka, Arjuna and others. If they have guts this is their chance. If goons and djinn-bands spill on to the streets, civil society will take the lead and the small left parties are solid; the JVP, maybe? Confrontation in public, unrelenting prosecution of crooks and killers in courts; that’s the way to go. Namby-pamby coalitions and compromises have led the public to fear a hidden agenda to let crooks and killers off the hook. Mollycoddling racists is a blunder; they must be resisted and if they incite violence, directly subdued by mass mobilisation.