By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“‘Are their heads off?’ shouted the Queen.
‘Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!’ the soldiers shouted in reply.”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
The mass proscription of Tamil Diaspora organisations has been followed by the blacklisting of 424 Tamils of Lankan origin as ‘Tigers’. Unsurprisingly Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP, the hand-picked successor of Vellupillai Pirapaharan and the man once described as an ‘Interpol wanted terrorist’ by the Defence Ministry website[i] is not on the terrorist-list[ii].
The Rajapaksas are on a new rampage, which is likely to push Sri Lanka into the biggest quagmire of her conflict-ridden history.
The Fourth Eelam War was waged on an ‘eternally and totally wrong them’ vs. ‘eternally and totally right us’ premise. Almost five years after winning the war, the Rajapaksas continue to view the world through those same black and white dichotomised spectacles. The identity of the ‘them’ might change, from the war-winning army commander to a middle-aged Tamil woman trying to discover the fate of her ‘rehabilitated’ child (plus her 13 year old daughter). But there is, and will always be, a ‘them’, so long as the Rajapaksas rule. An enemy, and the no-holds barred ‘just war’ against that enemy, is indispensable in explaining the inexplicable and justifying the unjustifiable.
For a while it seemed as if the Siblings might settle on ‘Islamic terrorists’ as their new strategic enemy. But post-Geneva, their choice had reverted to the ‘Resurgent Tiger’. This does not mean that sporadic attacks on mosques and churches, Muslims and Christians will cease. Such anti-minority crimes will remain a standard feature of Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, given the Siblings’ need to use Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism as a politico-ideological cover for familial rule. So Muslims and Christians will function as tactical enemies while the Tiger – and therefore Tamils – will be made the strategic enemy.
Compared to the 2011 local government election, the UNP vote has dropped in all districts, including the base-districts of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and would-be leader Sajith Premadasa (the UNP vote decreased by 4.79% in the Colombo district and by 5.26% in the Hambantota district between 2011 and 2014). In sharp contrast, the opposition vote, the anti-regime, anti-Rajapaksa vote has increased significantly in most of the districts in which PC polls have been held. This does not bode well for the Rajapaksas, especially if they are still intent on holding national elections prematurely. The need to kill even slightest sign of life in the Opposition and to nip in the bud any possibility of a North-South politico-electoral cooperation assumes an overwhelming importance and urgency in this context. The Resurgent Tiger would be of incalculable help in this task as well.
President Rajapaksa has excoriated Minister Nimal Siripala for admitting that “mega-development projects would not suffice to win votes”[iii]. Cleary the Siblings are not going to effect any course-corrections, post-polls. They will continue to squander national wealth and pile-up national debt via mega projects which benefit neither ordinary people nor economy. Ironically the Rajapaksa lies about a Tiger resurgence and a new war will undermine their economic model which aims at turning Sri Lanka into an R and R (rest and recreation) destination for wealthy foreigners (casinos, tourist islands and the latest project, a ‘gold market’ a la Dubai).
The myth of the infallible leader was a Tiger axiom. It is also a Rajapaksa axiom. In the world of the Tiger, whatever Vellupillai Pirapaharan did in the name of Eelam was considered, ipso facto, good and just, and deserving of unconditional unquestioning support – including such manifest stupidities as the murder of Rajiv Gandhi and such abominations as child conscription. In the Rajapaksa wonderland, the Siblings are always right and anyone criticising/opposing them is a traitor by definition. Now some of these ‘traitors’ (including Sinhala and Muslim ones) can be labelled as ‘terrorists’ and condemned to a living death through prolonged incarceration and material dispossession.
The Travails of a Racist Peace
This is a telling accusation. In the Rajapaksa eyes, commemorating Black July is no different from commemorating the LTTE’s Mahaveer Day. Mr. Pirapaharan equated Tamils with Tigers; Messers Rajapaksa wholeheartedly agree.
The vanquishing of the LTTE could not provide Sri Lanka with an opportunity to rectify past mistakes and embark on a new nation-building course because the Rajapaksas continued to rule, post-war. Given the nature of the Rajapaksa project such a forward march towards a genuinely Lankan future was an impossibility.
Almost from the very inception of his presidency, Mahinda Rajapaksa made no secret about his sincere disbelief in the existence of an ethnic problem. He was determined to end the North-Eastern crisis but saw its resolution in purely military terms: imposing a total defeat on the Tigers. Once the Northern crisis is blamed on the malignancy of the Tiger and the avarice of Tamil nationalists, the Sinhala majority, and successive Lankan administrations, are absolved of all blame. In the Rajapaksa version of history, there are only Tamil excesses and Tiger crimes, no Sinhala excesses or governmental crimes. It is this perspective which sees nothing anomalous in equating the commemoration of Black July with supporting the LTTE. Nor is this equation a one-off fluke. In 2008, the Rajapaksa regime ordered Lankan diplomatic missions to request their host governments to ban Black July commemorations by LTTE ‘front organisations’[v] (i.e. any Tamil).
In 1983, most Sinhalese looked away as a minority of rioters attacked civilian Tamils. That deadly indifference stemmed partly from the belief that Tamils are responsible for Tiger crimes. (A similar unjust justification underlined every Tiger attack against non-military targets, starting with the Anuradhapura massacre.) Under Rajapaksa rule, this deadly mix of racism, indifference and inhumanity made a triumphant return in the guise of official patriotism. This was the mindset which enabled the post-war outburst of febrile triumphalism, unaccompanied by even a modicum of pity for the plight of civilian Tamils – and the subsequent mad rush to visit the North unaccompanied by any desire to help the displaced Tamils. (The comparison with the celebrations which followed the defeat of Nazism is inappropriate for one obvious reason – the Second World War was not a civil war; post-war, the victors did not have to share a small island with the vanquished). The germs of the current crisis were implicit in that heartlessly inane euphoria.
Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism bred Tamil separatism. From the Sinhala Only of 1956 to the Black July of 1983, majoritarian extremists demonstrated that there is no Lankan identity and that Tamils and Sinhalese are incapable of coexisting with each other.
The best arguments for separation were created precisely by those who sincerely believed that they were relentlessly battling separatism.
Motivated by their ideological predispositions and dynastic ambitions, the Rajapaksas are driving the country down a retrogressive course, back to the disease vector which turned a linguistic division into an ethnic problem and bred a long war. Just as the Tigers eventually became the greatest objective enemies of Eelam, the Rajapaksas seems determined to become the greatest objective friends of separatism.
[i] This is what the Rajapaksas had to say about Mr. Pathmanathan before he changed his allegiance from the Sun God to the High King
[v] The Sunday Times – 6.7.2008