By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“….it is the President who has solutions to all these problems. He quelled terrorism and it is he who could solve problems of this sort…. Everybody should present these problems and the President will solve it. Nobody else can solve them.” – Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (Daily Mirror – 2.7.2014)
Jean Lacouture wrote that André Gide’s cry, ‘Families, I detest you’ is “a slogan that ought to be framed and hung in every presidential palace in the Third World”[i].
If Mahinda Rajapaksa wins the next round of national elections, the Rajapaksa dynasty will become a fait accompli, barring a miracle. And Brother Gotabhaya will play an even more strategic role in the new administration than he did in the two previous ones.
In his recent Daily Mirror interview[ii] Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reiterated his readiness to enter electoral politics, if invited by Brother Mahinda. And with characteristic arrogance, he stated, “I can do much better than many of these politicians currently holding office”. (A digression: It is an open secret that SLFP old-timers worked hard to deprive Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s nominee Udaya Gammanpila of the No. 1 position on the Colombo preference votes list at the PC polls. Hopefully a similar effort will be made, if Gotabhaya Rajapaksa contests from Colombo?)
Soon after his Family won the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa gave an exclusive interview to The Island[iii]. In it he declared that the new government “should be prepared to thwart a fresh attempt by separatists operating abroad to throw a lifeline to the LTTE”. He also emphasised the ‘pivotal importance of the judiciary, particularly the Attorney General’s Department, in supporting the government’s efforts to suppress terrorism’.
Barely a month later, Brother Mahinda took over the Attorney General’s Department. Less than three years later, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached for refusing clear the way for Brother Basil’s Divineguma Bill, extra-constitutionally. She was replaced by a trusted legal henchman of Brother Gotabhaya. The subsequent appointments to the Supreme Court included a legal acolyte of Brother Basil who reportedly played a key role during the impeachment witch-trial.
The upper judiciary was thus brought to heel.
And the spectre of the resurrected Tiger became the ubiquitous sword and a shield of the second Rajapaksa administration.
Oracle Gotabhaya and the Unending Enemies
What is the main justification for continued Rajapaksa rule? That the Siblings defeated the LTTE and brought peace to Sri Lanka (thus the Rajapaksa need to monopolise the credit for victory by demonising Gen. Fonseka).
But as the public memory of the victory wanes, the raison d’être for familial rule and dynastic succession begins to lose lustre and legitimacy. It is significant that there were hardly any popular celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the ‘V Day’. There were no religious observances, blood donation campaigns, banners or other familiar signs of mass commemoration. In fact had it not been for the official celebration, the ‘V Day’ would have been just another day, even for most Sinhalese.
As memory wanes, new reasons must be created to justify the continued rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers. The Sinhala public must be convinced that post-LTTE, the country remains at peril and only the Rajapaksas can save the motherland from a fate worse than even the LTTE. And as his brother’s Defence Czar, it is the responsibility of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to come up with suitable new threats, which can be overcome only by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Enter Islamic terrorists. Had Sri Lanka a Sikh minority, it would have been Sikh terrorists.
Recently Gotabhaya Rajapaksa himself assured the new Indian government that there are no Islamic terrorists in Sri Lanka. But that bogey is necessary for domestic consumption – to browbeat Muslims into submission and to prevent the Sinhalese from abandoning the Kurakkan shawl.
Asked about the role of BBS in the Aluthgama violence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa sought refuge in the bogey of Islamic terrorism: “If you go through a recent speech I made at the Kothelawala Defence Academy, you will see that I spoke of various potential threats to the country and one of it was Islamic terrorism. I spoke of the possibility. Even at that time many Muslims politicians irresponsibly tried to blame me without understanding what I was talking about or the realities.”[iv]
In the KDA Speech[v], Gotabhaya Rajapaksa characterised Sri Lanka as a country confronted by a variety of threats and enemies. He made particular mention of Tamil extremists (national and international), left-wing extremists, Islamic extremists, criminal extremists, media extremists, Western extremists, anti-democratic extremists and irresponsible extremists.
A few months after Gotabhaya Rajapaksa made this speech, his brother’s government moved against ‘Tamil extremists’ by imposing a wholesale ban on Tamil Diaspora Organisations and activists.
Is Aluthgama the second step in that process? Was the anti-Muslim violence an attempt to counter ‘Islamic terrorists’?
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa laments the unfairness of connecting him to the BBS simply because he once attended a BBS function. Has he forgotten the speech he made which was nothing less than a ringing endorsement of the BBS’ work? He said that he decided to attend the event “after realising its timely importance” and emphasised that “these Buddhist clergy who are engaged in a nationally important task should not be feared or doubted by anyone”[vi].
So what is the ‘nationally important task’ the BBS is engaged in? Taking on Islamic terrorism? Was that what Aluthgama was all about? Incidentally, Aluthgama seems to have become another occupied zone. Security personnel in uniform and civvies are reportedly thick on the ground, some of them photographing visitors to the area on mobile phones and listening to conversations, causing a ‘fear-psychosis’[vii].
Once the next round of national elections is won and the ‘Islamic terrorist’ bogey loses its efficacy, will the Siblings take on the other ‘extremists’ mentioned by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his KDA speech[viii]. Who will be targeted after the Tamils and the Muslims? Will it be the JVP and its offshoots, the ‘leftwing extremists’ “involved in previous insurgencies (who)…are trying to reorganise within Sri Lanka and mobilise people to once again take up extreme left wing causes”? Or will it be the media, “….subversive elements with ulterior motives (who)….portray demands by sections of the public to showcase the country in a negative light”? Or will it be just any opponent, charged with not exercising “their democratic freedoms with responsibility”?
On the night of the 2010 Presidential Election, armed soldiers sealed off the Colombo hotel Candidate Sarath Fonseka and other opposition leaders were staying in. Barely two weeks later, Gen. Fonseka was arrested under military law. In the subsequent months and years, the Rajapaksas moved with single-minded determination to subvert and destroy all alternate power-centres. If the Rajapaksas win the next round of national elections (and they will, if the Opposition fails to unite), the coming years will see an even greater concentration of power (not just political but also economic, religious and socio-cultural) in Rajapaksa hands.
And the country will be saddled with a new bane.
President Mahinda and Minister Basil are bad enough.
But Prime Minister Gotabhaya?
[i] The Demigods: Charismatic Leadership in the Third World
[ii] Daily Mirror – 2.7.2014
[iv] Daily Mirror – 2.7.2014
[vi] Sri Lanka Mirror – 10.3.2013