By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“All neighbourly and easy talk are gone…..” – Yeats (The Curse of Cromwell)
During his meeting with the TNA Mr. Modi has laid down the parameters of his administration’s preferred solution to the Lankan ethnic problem. A political package which builds on the 13th Amendment, within a united Sri Lanka[i]; meaning, in essence, 13+ up to federalism; not 13-, which is the status quo; and not confederation, let alone separation.
This BJP stance is no different qualitatively from that of the previous Congress administration. The difference, if there is to be a difference, will be in the implementation mechanics. Will Mr. Modi mount consistent pressure on Colombo to restore 13 and move beyond, within a specific time frame? Will there be a ‘Road Map’? Or will Indian pressure ebb and flow, depending mostly on extrinsic matters such as Colombo’s relationship with Beijing and Mr. Modi’s own politico-electoral needs?
Mr. Modi’s stance seems to have taken Colombo by surprise, even though it is similar to what was told to President Rajapaksa when the two leaders met immediately after the Indian premier’s inauguration. In the interim period, the Rajapaksas seemed to have returned to the belief that as fellow majoritarian-supremacists (and anti-Muslims), they and the BJP will be able to establish a special relationship. In forming this misconception they would have been aided and abetted to no small degree by Subramaniam Swamy.
The Siblings obviously believed that Dr. Swamy has a decisive say in the formulation of Modi government’s Lankan policy, even though he joined the BJP only in 2013[ii]. The Rajapaksas may have thought Subramaniam Swamy was speaking for Narendra Modi, when he pronounced, at the recently concluded Defence Seminar, that Sri Lanka has only a linguistic problem and not an ethnic problem[iii]. Dr. Swamy was vocal in his opposition not just to 13+ but even to 13, stating that the North has no need for police powers, to the manifest delight of the Rajapaksas and assorted Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists.
When Dr. Swamy said that the TNA leaders cannot visit Delhi until and unless they obtain permission from President Rajapaksa, Colombo may have believed he was expressing the new Modi Doctrine. “Though sections of the UPFA perceived Swamy as a powerful voice of a policy maker in….BJP Government, his remarks made clear he was not in the loop on key issues between Colombo and New Delhi. The TNA visit planned earlier had been kept a closely guarded secret until two days ahead of the delegation’s departure.”[iv]
Mr. Modi’s stance on the Lankan ethnic problem is an unexceptionable one, unless you are a Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist or a Tamil extremist. His backing for 13+ would be equally unacceptable to the Rajapaksas and to the Tamil Diaspora hardliners. According to The Sunday Times President Rajapaksa is angry about the TNA visit[v]. But however enraged the Rajapaksas might be, they are unlikely to respond abrasively to the latest message from Delhi, after the fiasco of the Defence Ministry website article. It is possible that instead of a strident official response, the Rajapaksas will opt for official silence and shrill unofficial reaction. The Siblings might use their useful extremist pawns (Ministers Weerawansa and Ranawaka/BBS and Sinhala Ravaya) to unleash a screaming campaign against Indian interference.
The Rajapaksas are opposed to devolution for the same reason they are opposed to division of powers or to fundamental human rights. They see all these democratic measures as impediments to their abiding desire – to rule supreme and long. Ever since winning the Presidency in October 2005 (thanks mainly to the inane boycott imposed by Vellupillai Pirapaharan) the Siblings have been moving inexorably to occupy every Lankan space and institution, so that they can have their undisputed way not just in the North but also in the South, not just with the minorities but also with the majority – including Buddhist monks.
To Occupy the Nation
Last week, Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thero charged that the government is planning to give itself the power to appoint chief incumbents to temples through the new Temple Ordinance[vi]. Traditionally this power has rested with the existing chief incumbent and/or the heads of the relevant Nikaya. These archaic laws, which often turn temples into the private property of chief incumbents and result in the ordination of unsuitable relatives for the sole purpose of keeping temples in familial hands, need to be amended. However the solution must not be worse than the problem. If a Commissioner General functioning under the Ministry of Buddha Sasana is to be given extraordinary powers over temples, including the authority to appoint chief incumbents, it will place the Sangha Sasana under the Rajapaksa thumb. This way the Rajapaksas will be able to use the law to reward their robed-acolytes and to punish those monks who oppose them. If enacted, such a law will further encourage anti-Buddhist behaviour among monks. More monks will wallow in extremism, in the hope of getting their hands on prestigious and lucrative temple properties. Such a development will be inimical both to Sri Lanka and to Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
The Rajapaksas continue to undermine the 13th Amendment for the same reason they are undermining every Lankan institution, norm and tradition.
This year a student was admitted to a university, outside the normal procedure, due to political influence. The influence reportedly came from Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa.
Until this year, university admissions remained one of the few areas untouched by the corrupting influence of partisan-politicisation. You made it to the university – or didn’t – thanks to your own efforts. Not any more. A letter by Namal Rajapaksa has resulted in a student being admitted to a national university. Since the Minister of Higher Education defends this unprecedented action and the president has failed to say a word about his son’s execrable conduct, it is reasonable to assume that in the near future political influence and not merit will become the decisive factor in university admissions.
The Rajapaksas have subverted another decent Lankan practice.
The Rajapaksas want to rule supreme. Their real concern is not Lankan sovereignty or even Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism. Both are vehicles to achieve what they really desire – Rajapaksa supremacism and Rajapaksa sovereignty.
According to The Sunday Times, the Monitoring MP for Foreign Affairs, Sajin Vaas Gunawardena has signed another deal with another American public relations firm, for 6 months at a monthly fee of US$ 5,000 (Rs. 650,000)[vii].
And, again according to The Sunday Times, President Rajapaksa has gone abroad, to the US. The purpose of the visit is said to be private, to meet with his brother[viii].
Contrary to their rhetoric, the Rajapaksas cannot do without the USA. Two of the three Ruling Siblings are American Lankans. If Washington imposes travel and asset bans on top Lankan leaders and officials at the conclusion of UNHRC investigation, it will be an enormous blow to the Ruling Family.
Thus the hurry to hire multiple PR firms.
PR firms do not decide US foreign policy, anymore than Dr. Swamy is Premier Modi’s Lankan avatar. But learning lessons from past mistakes requires some intelligence.