By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Colombo’s Sunday newspapers published an article by me entitled “Why Prabhakaran Will Lose”, dated October 17th 2004. That was over a year before the changing of the guard with Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sarath Fonseka, Wasantha Karannagoda and Roshan Gunatillaka walking on to center stage.
It is with this experience that I see the acute similarity between the Karuna moment and the Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe episode.
When the UNP is out in the cold for a long time after the next national elections of 2019-2020, as it has been in 1956, 1970 and 1994, future history will observe the similarity between the Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe episode and the Karuna rebellion of 2004. That earlier rebellion could have been forestalled if the LTTE leader had listened to the civic leaders of the Eastern province who attempted to mediate. Instead he took the side of Pottu Amman. The Karuna rebellion failed, not least because it was betrayed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who instructed the Navy to permit a sea landing behind Karuna lines at Verugal, by Prabhakaran’s forces, in violation of the CFA.
Though the rebellion failed in an obvious sense, the Karuna breach marked the beginning of the end of the LTTE. Right now, it looks as if Ranil and the UNP’s neoliberal hawks have prevailed. But what was most significant, and quite irreversible, is that Wijeyadasa blew the whistle on the UNP government on the steps of the Ministry of Justice while leaving the building and the job, and those ideas, that critique, was carried on prime time news by every TV channel, right into the drawing rooms of the voters, including the UNP voters. And that is the schism, the fracture, which will catalyze the defection or neutral abstention once again as in 1999 and 2004, of the Sinhala Buddhist voters from and of the UNP.
Of course the UNP isn’t quite as dependent upon those voters as the SLFP or JO-SLPP are, but the UNP’s Sinhala Buddhist voters do make the difference between narrow victory and utter defeat. Wijeyadasa’s resistance was consequence, cause and catalyst of a tectonic shift of the Sinhala Buddhist vote, including that of the UNP, away from the UNP. Not all the Champikas and Sarath Fonsekas can put that Humpty Dumpty together again.
Today’s UNP is a party that hounds Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe but will staunchly defend Rajitha Senaratne. Today’s UNP, a party that prides itself on being the party of professionals and the educated, is a party that replaces as Minister of Justice, a President’s Counsel and a former examiner in the Faculty of Law at Colombo university who has also earned two PhDs, with a lady who has no academic or professional credentials that come within light years of the former. Today’s UNP is a party which scrapped the mandatory percentage of electoral candidates under age 35, a recommendation of the Youth Commission appointed by (UNP) President Premadasa in the aftermath of the JVP’s second insurrection and implemented by him.
All these changes stem from and reflect the perspective of the leadership. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrated 40 years of politics recently. Of those 40 years, he has been the leader of the UNP for 23. That’s over half. These are exactly the 23 years that the UNP, which produced six leaders of the country under the Westminster and Presidential models, has not been able to lead the country even once.
Since the next presidential election is due only in late 2019, we can safely say that the UNP would not have had someone at the helm of national affairs for a quarter century. In democratic politics that’s a heck of a long while. And yet, the UNP rallies around this same personality. This corresponds perfectly to Einstein’s line that doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of lunacy. So what’s wrong with the UNP? And what is the core issue of the Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe dissent and its suppression?
The UNP has turned its back on the three streams that fed it and ensured its victory. It has therefore lost its identity. Those three streams are (I) the liberal-conservative agrarianism and welfarism of the Senanayakas (II) the Presidentialist strong nation-state of JR Jayewardene and (III) the patriotic populism and social democracy of Premadasa. Having ruptured with all three, the UNP is now following the vision of Ranil Wickremesinghe, which is one of Sri Lanka as a local branch of a multinational corporation; a local subsidiary of which he is (or becomes) the CEO. It is a vision which is shared by the Working Committee he has appointed and the parliamentarians he has given nomination to, but has not taken him or his party to the top because it is unacceptable to the country.
The key posts in the Sri Lankan state are occupied by a combination of UNP sympathizers who served during the CFA period of appeasement and those who didn’t but were since coopted by the West and India. They seek to end our national autonomy and integrate this island into the US-India-Japan strategic grid aimed at China (and Russia). The island is being penetrated, opened up and carved up i.e. semi-colonized, by these powers at the solicitation of this puppet government which is an elected version of those of Chiang Kai Shek, Batista and Ngo Dinh Diem.
Our lengthy chronicled history, among the longest continuous chronicled histories in the world, tells us of the invasions by the neighbor, driven almost ineluctably by the temptations of geography. And yet, through millennia the neighbor couldn’t carve a path deep into the Sinhala heartland, over the central hills and into the Deep South. It is only under this UNP that India (which has Tamil Nadu as an important component, shareholder and driver) could move into the Ruhuna and base itself there. A controlling share in Mattala airport will give India a runway and dual use airbase which permits direct flights from the massive Thambaram airbase in Tamil Nadu this far south into this island, allowing it to project power right into the rear of the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala nation. Which other country would do this? This could only happen here, under the premiership of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
As a society, we are losing the capacity to reason, to think—which is why we are allowing our core national interest to be damaged. Worse still, rot has entered our collective soul as a nation. We disown our heroes or ‘damn [them] with faint praise’. The French resistance hero, postwar thinker and moralist Stephane Hessel authored a pamphlet in his last years which sold millions of copies, entitled “Indignez Vous!” which was translated into English as ‘Time for Outrage’. We Sri Lankans are no longer outraged. How do we recover our spirit, our soul as a nation– our soul that is being bartered away for foreign patronage and money, in a Faustian bargain?
Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, said that true wisdom is the ability to view the future retrospectively. Future Sri Lankan history will view the present Yahapalana government as a dangerous, degenerate, never to be repeated, grotesque aberration. It is Yeltsin’s Russia. It is Brutus’ ‘Yahapalana’ Rome after the assassination of ‘the tyrant’ Julius Caesar and before Mark Antony prevailed. It is the dark descent into servility to the foreign. It is the season of the nation’s fall.
Soon, we Sri Lankans will no longer own our country except in the most nominal sense of domicile and formal citizenship. Our sovereignty as a country and as citizens will be rendered a fake and fraud because we shall no longer control the destiny of this island. When and how do we get our country back, before it is irretrievably lost to us and to future generations?