By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
Their greed, our apathy; their fanaticism, our indifference; their brutal aggression, our embarrassing cowardice: such are the basic ingredients of the baleful concoction which is seeping into almost every aspect of Lankan life, undermining Lankan stability and destroying Lankan security.
The unnatural and repeated earth-tremors affecting Ampara and the (mercifully unsuccessful) attempt to divide the Bar Association, the attack on the President of the Colombo Magistrate Court Lawyers’ Association, Gunaratne Wanninayake and the dangerous babblings about a ‘Hulftsdorf coup’, the disgracefully trite decision to withhold funds from the UNDP-sponsored Annual Judges Conference and the road bisecting the Yala National Park which has become a death-trap to the wildlife: these are some of the many disasters generated by Rajapaksa-absolutism, in the enabling atmosphere created by our indifference.
Miracles are occurrences which fall outside/violate the natural order. In that sense, Rajapaksa Sri Lanka is rapidly becoming a land of daily miracles. The tremors in Ampara, often accompanied by massive noises variously described as ‘explosive’ and ‘booming’, are not caused by natural seismic activity, according to the Chairman of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau: “These earth tremors are unusual, as they occurred several times in one day, and some people claimed they heard an accompanying loud noise…. That’s too unusual to be natural. That’s why we are suspecting these tremors are manmade” (The Sunday Times – 16.12.2012).
In Ampara (like in the rest of the East and the North) large-scale economic operations are not possible without Rajapaksa involvement/sanction. Ampara is also the chosen location for the next Deyata Kirula extravaganza. So the tremors shaking Ampara cannot but be of Rajapaksa provenance, as much as the impeachment is or the white-vans are.
Manmade tremors, if ignored, can grow in intensity and destructive-power. GivenSri Lanka’s minute size, the earth-shattering activities in Ampara can eventually impact on the rest of the island. Will we wake up from our self-enforced slumber at least then?
Commenting on the Connecticutelementary school massacre, John Lee Anderson asked, “What does it take for a society to be sickened by its own behaviour and to change its attitudes?” (The New Yorker – 16.12.2012). That question would not be inapposite in today’sSri Lanka, caught between the hammer of Rajapaksa-absolutism and the anvil of our collective indifference. We Lankans have ample reason to be concerned about the present state and the future trajectory of our country. Even if we do not care about politics, we should be bothered by the erosion of the rule of law. Even if the mass arrests ofJaffna students do not move us, we should be affected by the damage done to our environment, to the point of creating unnatural earth tremors. Even if we feel that the assault on lawyers and judges is not our problem, the arbitrary price hikes and the wanton waste of public funds should outrage us.
We must realise that none of us can remain islands of comfort and safety, when all around us the skies are darkening and the seas are heaving.
The Absolutist Project
The Rajapaksas are absolutists. Nothing less than total power and complete control can satisfy them. They abhor independent spaces. They are distrustful of and hostile to any institution which is not under their complete control. They work actively to undermine, divide and, if necessary, destroy anyone and anything standing in their way. No political corner or societal cranny is beyond the reach of their power-grab. Their victims vary from civilian Tamils to the war-winning army commander, from Lasantha Wickremetunga to the weekly-dead at unprotected railway-crossings, from the CJ to the pregnant leopard and the baby elephant killed by speedo-maniacs on Yala’s ‘Death Road’.
To complete their absolutist agenda, the Rajapaksas need the judiciary to commit hara-kiri and be reborn as a Familial tool, as the military and the bureaucracy have done; and the parliament is doing.
As the impeachment travesty raced towards its prearranged conclusion, many a UPFA legislator hurled verbal thunderbolts at the judiciary and proclaimed their readiness to uphold parliamentary supremacy at any cost. But these same ministers and parliamentarians unanimously approved a bill which would erode a key power conceded to the legislature by Sri Lanka’s presidential system – that of financial control. Denying the all-powerful executive president the control over finances was one of the few balancing acts contained in the lopsided constitution of 1978. This is why a three-judge Supreme Court bench (headed not by Shirani Bandaranayake but by Shiranee Tilakawardana) “expressed reservations over allowing the Minister of Finance to withdraw funds allocated for specific purposes”; the bill which facilitates such a power-transfer “presents a direct challenge to the onus of parliament to have full control over public finances” (The Sunday Times – 9.12.2012). Instead of embracing this judicial decision reinforcing legislative supremacy in financial matters, the UPFA majority in parliament decided to the opposite. These self-proclaimed defenders of parliamentary supremacy voted for a bill which undermines parliamentary supremacy by allowing the executive to poach on legislative control of finances.
The UPFA legislators can contort themselves into veritable corkscrews to suit Rajapaksas purposes, in the hope of safeguarding their powerless-positions; but the Siblings are fickle towards all but their own kin. For instance, while ordering UPFA legislators to attack the CJ and accuse the judiciary of plotting a pro-Tiger coup, the Rajapaksas are taking pains to publicly distance themselves from the impeachment travesty – obviously in an attempt to evade international opprobrium. Mahinda Rajapaksa says he did not see the impeachment motion until it became a done deal. Basil Rajapaksa says he too did not see the impeachment motion until it was tabled in parliament. Namal Rajapaksa says he is not happy with the impeachment. If the Rajapaksas are to be believed, the impeachment was done without their knowledge, let alone approval.
The Rajapaksas’ ‘Chinese Monkey’ act regarding the impeachment demonstrates yet again their essential untrustworthiness. They will not hesitate to sacrifice anyone and anything, from the SLFP to the Sinhalese to maintain themselves in power. Any bureaucrat, military officer, judge or lawyer who succumbs to the Rajapaksas today can face betrayal and abandonment tomorrow. They do not even have to oppose the Rajapaksas a la Sarath Fonseka or Shirani Bandaranayake. Like the serfs who signed and investigated the impeachment, they can be turned into scapegoats and thrown to the wolves of national/international public opinion, whenever necessary.
(Interestingly, this inherent Rajapaksa unreliability and untrustworthiness seems to have been grasped accurately byBeijing. A new Chinese loan of Rs 8.9billion for the power sector will not be released until and unless Colombo pays a fee of Rs 627million to a Chinese insurance company).
When will we understand that the Rajapaksas, left to their own devices, will do to Sinhalese in particular and Lankans in general what the Tigers did to the Tamils? What will make us shed our mantle of apathy and open our eyes and our mouths? White-vans pursuing judges and lawyers? Yala denuded of wildlife? A manmade earthquake which kills? A devastating financial crisis, surpassing the ongoing (modern-day) Greek tragedy?