By Kumar David –
The Nugegoda meeting of 18 February, organised by Reincarnate Mahinda Zombies (RMZ) Wimal, Vasu, Gammanpila and Dinesh, which attracted about 10,000 people, may be Colombo’s baptismal Nuremburg Rally. It could lead to the birth of proto-fascism if Rajapaksa’s prime ministerial bid falters. The bid could stall if he is charged with bribery or attempting a coup, if wiser counsel prevails in the SLFP and his aspirations are blocked, or if his “faction” is defeated at the elections. Then, or earlier, fascist style street mobilisation could be attempted. MR’s charge that the new government intends to “undo all that he had achieved” – that is alleging a plot to divide the country – signals the revanchist scaremongering underlying the campaign. Justice Wigneswaran and the NPC, to the delight of the RMZ, have done their bit to pour buckets of fuel on the fire; but more on that later.
Sirisena and Ranil (S&R) do not seem to have what in politics is called the killer-instinct to meet fire with fire and mobilise on the streets. The killer-instinct is what the Rajapaksas and their cabal were amply endowed with. S&R have not apprehended perpetrators of gigantic scams, drug barons, coup makers, and only after much delay a woman accused of passport fraud. Clearly anti-fascists cannot look to weaklings or to the UNP to pilot resolute mass action, but it is crucial to deny racist proto-fascists control of the streets. Nor should arrest of UPFA scum-bags be delayed. In fairness I grant there has been some movement by law enforcement after February 18; there must be follow-up. I also hope that recent changes in the army signal that democracy respecting brass has been promoted or reinstated.
Do S&R reckon that pandering to defeated UPFA Ministers and Deputy Ministers (M&DM) can win votes towards the two-thirds needed for 19A? All booted-out M&DMs have been provided with two cars, two drivers, petrol allowance and ministerial housing. In which pluperfect madhouse are 70 members of a defeated government maintained in luxury by the public purse? Ravi Karunanayake, Ranil and the UNP should defray this from party or personal funds; otherwise it is another case of misuse of public money. I wonder if S&R realise that if pro-Rajapaksa mobs gain ground the pressure on SLFP MPs to undercut 19A and inflict a humiliating defeat on the two of them will be irresistible.
Tough action against mega-rogues and simultaneous political counteraction can nip proto-fascism in the bud. If there is doubt about 19A securing 2/3, it is best to dissolve forthwith and declare that the next parliamentary election will be regarded as a de facto referendum by President and Prime Minister, and a new constitution will be promulgated afterwards. To be this assertive needs a ruthless political instinct. (“All armed prophets have conquered and all unarmed ones been vanquished” – Niccolo Machiavelli). Old Nic would have had no patience with compassionate amateurs and gentlemen of good class quoting due diligence while Rome was blazing.
If a harsh, even damning UNHRC Report had surfaced before the elections, the UNP would have been in a pickle. Every Sinhalese worth his racial sodium-chloride is sworn to extol the “heroic armed forces”; every Tamil who took up arms, even if he witnessed his mother’s rape, is a terrorist. That’s the rhetoric; you may deviate from this script at your electoral peril. Ranil would have been compelled, by the usual imperative of stupefying the voting public, to reject all adverse findings. Imagine if the report held the hallowed trinity MR-GR-SF guilty of war crimes or human rights infringements? Imagine if it said the military wantonly bombed and shelled civilians? The report, if it touched on white-flag episodes, would not have whitewashed coldblooded murder. All this is dynamite in Mother Lanka; election loosing dynamite for the UNP.
If the UNP spurned the UNHRC out of electoral necessity it would have kissed good relations with the West and India goodbye and folded plans to move the economy away from the cupidity of exclusive dependence on China. Heads the UNP would have lost the next election; tails it would have lost the election it won on 8 January! Delaying the UNHRC Report till after the elections was a necessity. I am pleased with the delay; anything that strengthens the Rajapaksas is ghastly. Secondly if the report is issued later, and if the SLFP is kept out of power, some follow-up may be possible.
Mangala rides West
Was it possible that Foreign Minister Mangala was sent overseas to play good-cop in a good-cop bad-cop dramatisation of the national question? The evidence does not support this; the guy pitched much farther than needed to win Kerry and State Department, Ban Ki Moon and Zaid al-Hissein for a deferral. The West is committed to regime change as I have repeatedly insisted from early 2014; with an anti-Rajapaksa India on board it is not going to scuttle this government in its infancy. Mangals’s presentations at Carnegie Foundation and New York Press Club were excellent and can be taken at face value. Ranil and Mangala have made a commitment to implement 13A-slightly-minus (most land to be returned, military harassment of the public to terminate and a decent police force albeit under the Centre).
This is not great devolution, and a far cry from the right to self-determination, but it is miles ahead of Rajapaksa tyranny, and realistic, given power balances. Circumstances may dictate after the election that the TNA accepts positions in a liberal-bourgeois UNP government provided Tamil rights are secured. Let the dogs in the diaspora bark, but the caravan must move on. This would be wonderful as it leaves the opposition space empty for a strong and principled left, including the JVP and those coalescing around the Reconstituted LSSP’s strategy, I hope, of a unified, unitary left party – the Syriza model. The left as a whole must strive for a unitary structure as a medium term perspective; its immediate function is oppositional as in 1948-1970 and undertaking political education of the middle and working classes.
Father-in-Law Acute Race Trauma (FLART)
When relatives develop similar chronic ailments one attributes it to a shared genetic defect; but there is no way a fruitcake gene can stretch between fathers-in-law. Vasu, instead of timely (dis)graceful retirement has chosen to climb aboard the dishonourable, chauvinist, Wimal-Gamanpila-Dinesh bigot-wagon, the RMZ. But Wigeneswaran’s (CV) malady is more complex. Previously, he rightly insisted that Tamils had been deprived of civic and human rights, and possibly suffered war crimes, but that there was scant evidence of genocide. Then he succumbed to FLART (don’t omit the L) and sponsored a Northern Provincial Council (NPC) resolution asserting that what had not happened had happened.
CV’s political career is not at an end; he is strong and can afford to talk sense without kowtowing to emotional hot-heads; but he flipped at a time when ethnic relations were on the mend and it would have been wise to show restraint. Was he concerned that in the euphoria of election victory Tamil concerns were being marginalised or is he exhausted struggling against loony Tamil extremists (the Tamil people are not itching for a showdown with Sirisena-Ranil)? Whatever the reason it was unwise and also erroneous. The TNA, unsurprisingly, has not disassociated itself due to electoral calculations. Ranil’s cousin and deputy defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene went to Mullaituva army camp and gave an undertaking never to take the military jackboot off Tamil necks.
Some Tamil groups claim that large tracts of civilian land have not been returned but a Defence Ministry statement says 27,000 of the 35,000 acres sequestered in the N&E during the war has been given back to civilian owners and that 50 battalions have been withdraw from the North. Still there is bitterness about land sized by the military from Jaffna people. Bulldozing of homes and temples continued apace in the KKS area all of last year, hence Tamil frustration. The new government must not let the military dominate the public as the previous one did. An out of control military is a power unto itself and a menace to society. Rumour among Tamils has it that Ranil even proposed making Karuna a deputy minister; so there is much distrust on all sides.
These annoyances notwithstanding, the assertion of genocide is flawed because though Tamils have been subjected to oppression and repression, genocide in the proper sense is moot. Killing hundreds in 1958 and thousands in 1983 was foul, but race-mobs that evaporate afterwards don’t equate to intentional institutionalised genocide. Arguably, there was premeditated butchery in the last months of the war and if the NPC confined its assertion to this it would have been on firmer ground; but alleging decades of genocide is patently false. I have no wish to say good things (or bad things) about the Sinhalese (or the Tamils) as I disdain all nationalisms. (At least a few readers I trust will empathise with this worldview). Let’s have unemotional, level-headed views on whether Ceylon/Sri Lanka has had a history of genocide.
Two recognised definitions of genocide are:-
United Nations General Assembly (1946): “Genocide is a denial of the right to existence of entire human groups”. This is the shortest, clearest and gets the main point across unambiguously.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: “Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children to another group.
Crucial is the intention of a state or quasi-state player, not a bunch of hoodlums, and secondly the scale and duration of the slaughter. I am not persuaded that the case of the Tamils, with the possible exception of the last phase of the war, fits either of these. Nazi extermination of Jews and the one million Hutu’s slaughtered in Rwanda fit. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the fire-bombing of Dresden and Berlin were certainly war crimes in the modern sense of the term, but absent the intention of wiping out the Japanese or German people, neither would be genocide in the formal sense.