By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants…” Camus (Resistance, Rebellion and Death)
The Rajapaksas are imposing the superstructure of a prosperous, developed nation on the base of an underdeveloped, cash-strapped economy.
The Rajapaksas are antagonising every single ethnic and religious minority inSri Lanka, simultaneously.
Any one of these strategic mistakes would suffice to undermine Lankan stability and security. The harm the confluence of all three can do toSri Lankaand all her people would be unfathomably immense and unimaginable various.
Previous governments were not immune to these mistakes, but none committed all three, all at once. Their simultaneous occurrence is a function of familial rule, of the measures implemented by the Siblings to promote dynastic needs and satiate megalomaniac desires.
The Rajapaksas are parasitic rulers; they can grow and thrive only by sucking the nation dry, of its resources, potential and friends.
In his Mattala Address, President Rajapaksa tried to justify his regime’s proclivity to borrow. The problem is not debt per say, but how the borrowings are used. Under Rajapaksa Rule money is borrowed to maintain a gargantuan military in peace time, to create infrastructural monstrosities unnecessary/damaging from a national/popular perspective, to service existing debt. There is very little income or employment generation and negligible forward or backward linkages in these unproductive uses; they just burden the country with a growing herd of white-mammoths.
To sustain the unsustainable, the Rajapaksas are implementing a policy of extortionist-taxation; people are milked dry via indirect taxes. Refuelling at the Mattala Rajapaksa Airport will be done at cut-rates while fuel prices are hiked-up nationally. The proposed electricity hike will reportedly impose a 53% increase on the lowest users (up to 30 units)[i] and a relatively low 22% increase on the highest users (400 units and above). This is just one more indication of how Rajapaksa economics imposes a disproportionately high burden on those at the middle/bottom of the economic totem-pole. For all the rhetoric, the Rajapaksa strategy is structurally biased towards the rich and prejudiced towards the poor and the middle classes. (The conspicuous consumption by a segment of the middle class is enabled not by an increase in household-income but by an increase in household-debt. This is another bubble which cannot last).
The anti-minority politics is partly aimed at creating a ‘feel good factor’ amongst the poor/middle class Sinhalese overburdened by the skewed Rajapaksa economics.
In the movie ‘Mississippi Burning’, the Gene Hackman character reminiscences about his racist father who killed the mule belonging to an up-and-coming black farmer and justified his crime by arguing ‘If I am not better than them (blacks) what good am I?’ The poor whites of the Jim-Crow South felt less discontented about their poverty because they were politically superior to even the most accomplished black. The Rajapaksas offer their Sinhala base an identical quid-pro-quo: the pride of belonging to the superior ethno-religious community as compensation for exacerbating economic pains. Once Tamils, Muslims and Sinhala-Christians are rendered lesser citizens, even the poorest Sinhala-Buddhist can forget his/her economic sorrows by wallowing in a sense of political superiority.
Such delusions can dull the hunger pangs, for a while.
President Rajapaksa recently warned about attempts to scuttle peace in Sri Lanka. Indeed; and if he wants to see the faces of the culprits, he should look at his brothers and look in a mirror.
Last week, the President declared open a memorial of the Arantalawa massacre. The memorial included the statues of the murdered monks in their death-agonies. An Arantalawa-memorial could have been constructed without including those grotesque and hate-inducing statues. Clearly the purpose is to keep Tamil-phobia alive in Sinhala minds.
If there are no enemies, would the Sinhalese need the Rajapaksas?
Post-victory, the Siblings could have made an effort to win over Tamils. This could have taken the form of political concessions and/or a Marshall Plan type development-drive prioritising the housing, health, education, employment and poverty alleviation needs of the Tamils. Any act of sympathy and understanding in their hour of politico-psychological nadir would have gone a considerable way in healing the wounds of war and rendering the notion of a common Lankan future acceptable to most Tamils.
But intoxicated by Sinhala supremacism, cocooned in a Chinese embrace and confident of its capacity to deceive Indiaand the West ad infinitum, the Rajapaksas rejected the moderate path. Having won the war on a Sinhala-supremacist platform they saw little reason to depart from it in their moment of greatest triumph.
Cementing familial rule and building a dynasty were/are the Rajapaksa priorities. Devolution has no place on that agenda; nor do the minorities, except as bogies/enemies.
A recent speech by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, at a ‘literary’ event, reveals the mindset which made the Siblings reject the possible path towards a consensual peace. According to this Rajapaksa-worldview, the war stemmed solely from Tiger terrorism, aided and abetted by Tamil nationalism, Indian interventionism and Western imperialism. Successive Lankan administrations did not make any errors (except that of being too-soft on Tamils); the Tamils have no specific grievances and thus require no ameliorative measures. Consequently devolution is an undesirable (perhaps even dangerous) irrelevance.
Mr. Rajapaksa depicts life in the ‘welfare villages’ in rainbow-hues; according to his version, these barbed-wire enclosures were oasis of plenty with free rations, cooperatives, banks, post offices, communication centres, schools and vocational training centres; There was capacity building, empowerment and career counselling for adults and ‘Happiness Centres’ for children, facilities for “arts, music, drama, yoga and sports… churches, kovils and mosques….. “.
The spirit of Theresienstadt is alive in Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, even if the name is unknown to him.
Today Sri Lankans can’t visit Tamil Nadu, not even to play cricket. A less coercive and more inclusive peace-and-nation-building strategy could have isolated the diehard Tiger supporters. If, for instance, the Northern provincial council had been up and running, subsequent to a free and fair election, the extremists in Tamil Nadu could have been weakened and isolated.
But it was not to be. Nor will it be, so long as the Rajapaksas rule.
Devolution is as antithetical to the Rajapaksa project as democracy or separation of powers. Devolution is as impossible under Rajapaksa rule as judicial independence or free and fair elections. The Siblings do not want to cede power to anyone or share power with anyone.
The notion of the enemy within, of the minorities as perennial Trojan Horses working to further Indian/Tamil, Western/Christian or Arabic/Muslim, is aimed at justifying Rajapaksa politics and explaining Rajapaksa economics. It is the cord which is expected to bind Sinhala-Buddhists to the Rajapaksas for evermore, despite economic woes and international isolation.
The Rajapaksa-cohorts of the BBS are now gunning for Muslim and Christian extremists.
Peace cannot survive in an atmosphere of fear and hate. Progress requires tolerance. Intolerant lands often deprive themselves of some of their most precious resources, when they alienate and exclude the ethno-religious other.
The Siblings are parasites, feeding onSri Lanka, to the common detriment of all Lankans.
Sri Lanka survived 30 years of Vellupillai Pirapaharan. She may not survive 30 years of Rajapaksa rule.
[i] There will be a 47% increase for 30-60 units; 59% for 60-90 units; 54% for 90-120 units; 39% for 120-180 units; 37% for 180-210 units; 34% for 210-300 units – source Daily Mirroor – 27.3.2013