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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2861

The Juggernaut

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“We don’t need to invent atrocities. Ours is the sad duty of the chronicler: to record these atrocities for posterity”. Ernest Toller (Our Struggle for Germany)

In his speech to the Sri Lankan parliament announcing the victorious end to the 25 year old Eelam War, President Rajapakse proclaimed the de-existence of minorities. His claim was so outrageously absurd that few took it seriously.

In September, a piece of legislation premised on this Presidential concept will be presented to the parliament. If passed into law, it will empower the Elections Commissioner to ‘de-recognise’ political parties ‘bearing the identity of a religion or a race’. This draconian law is obviously a seminal step in creating a Sri Lankan identity, Rajapakse style - not via a democratic and consensual process on the basis of justice and equality but via legal and extra-legal compulsion.

If enacted, it will re-commence the process of de-legitimising and outlawing the assertion of minority identities and demands, which began with Sinhala Only and the consequent legal expulsion of the Tamil language from the official public space.

From the perspective of Mahinda Chinthanaya, it all makes sense. If, as President Rajapakse declares, there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, there cannot and need not be minority parties either. If, as President Rajapakse declares, there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, there cannot and need not be any minority interests or minority concerns either, or minority parties to address such issues. If, as President Rajapakse declares, there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, asserting diverse minority identities is detrimental to building a uniform Sri Lankan identity.

If, as President Rajapakse declares, there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, advocating minority rights is inimical to Sri Lankan interests. Since, according to President Rajapakse, the only division in Sri Lanka is the irreconcilable division between those who love the country and those who do not, all those who try to raise issues about non-existing minorities cannot but belong in the category of anti-patriots, those who do not love Sri Lanka and seek to harm it with their divisive politics. Stretched to its logically illogical end, this thinking can transform even the advocacy of devolution into an act of treachery.

This discriminatory piece of legislation, if adopted, will further alienate the minorities, not just Tamils but also Muslims and perhaps even Sinhala Christians. This is particularly so, since the Sinhala extremist parties, from the Jathika Hela Urumaya and the JVP to the MEP will be unaffected by this new law as these parties have names which do not directly refer to an ethnic or religious group. In fact there is no need to for them to do so; the axiomatic identification of country, nation and people with Sinhalese, which is a basic premise of the Sinhala supremacist ideology, has enabled these parties to use innocuous euphemisms for Sinhala/Sinhala Buddhism and to advocate Sinhala/Buddhist interests under guise of promoting Lankan patriotism. This piece of legislation, which its advocates would defend as patriotic, but is discriminatory, unjust, anti-democratic and in all probability unconstitutional, is an excellent case in point.

Sinhalese and Tamils - Drifting Apart

Two elections and two diametrically opposite voter responses point to the disturbing reality of Sinhalese and Tamils drifting further apart, emotionally and politically. In the Uva, there was a high voter turnout and a resounding win for the government – a foregone conclusion given the popularity of the regime amongst the Sinhala majority and the disastrous state of the UNP. In Jaffna and Vavuniya, the UPFA should have won a similar victory, as it was the only political formation allowed to campaign freely. Security concerns were used to impede the election work of opposition parties and to keep most of the non-state media away. The populace had no space to air their fears and concerns. It was an environment carefully crafted to discourage dissent and breed acceptance. And yet, dissent found ways to creep through. A majority did not vote. Despite the absence of any real competition or electioneering, the UPFA (piggybacking on the none-too-popular EPDP) could win only marginally in Jaffna and went down to a crushing defeat in Vavuniya. The TNA, disorganised and divided, did surprisingly well, winning in Vavuniya and coming second in Jaffna.

An attempt is being to explain away the low turnout in Jaffna and Vavuniya by arguing that the election was based on an old and thus outdated voter register. Perhaps; but the regime’s unseemly haste to hold elections necessitated the use of that outdated register. Revising the voter register would have taken time but that would not have suited the politico-electoral agenda of the Rajapakses.

As the manner in which the election was held demonstrates, the aim was not re-democratisation or renormalisation of the North but gaining a political fig leaf for the ruling party’s Sinhala supremacist agenda, including its disinclination to offer a reasonable political solution to the Tamils and its illegal and immoral internment of the IDPs. Though the absence of overt violence was a plus point, this was not a function of increased freedom for the populace or fairness in the electoral process.

On the contrary, it resulted from the ending of the dual power situation, with the defeat of the Tigers. In the past, the LTTE needed to use terror in order to discourage its opponents, in areas not under its control. Today the entirety of the North is under government control. That obviates the need for overt violence as a means of controlling and discouraging overt dissent, because this task can be (and was) accomplished via the use of excessive security measures, disallowing electioneering by the opposition and coverage by non-state media.

Since the Rajapakses knew full well that the UPFA, on its own, was a non-starter in Jaffna and Vavuniya, even under the most favourable conditions, they compelled the EPDP to contest as a part of the ruling coalition (Obviously the regime overestimated Minister Devananda’s capacity to deliver; at the next election, that hiatus will not be overlooked and more vigorous methods will be used to achieve the desired result). This is another example of the ruling party’s strategy of establishing a base in the North and the East, not by winning over minorities, but by absorbing into the UPFA fold those minority parties dependent on official patronage and protection.

This would fit in with the President’s vision of nation building – not as the consensual union of equals but as the forced welding of unequals. The Sri Lankan nation that will result from such a process will be a Sinhala led and ruled entity, which makes the minorities, formally a part of it, alienated and resentful. Such a ‘nation-building’ process therefore ends up by strengthening the separatism it purports to conquer and render irrelevant.

News of New Wars

The war is not over; the war continues. This claim does not emanate from desperate LTTE supporters, scurrying to salvage political and financial something from the carcass of the dead Tiger. It emanates from the Lankan government, from the man hailed as the architect of the LTTE’s downfall, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse. According to Mr. Rajapakse, notwithstanding the death of Vellupillai Pirapaharan and the capture of his chosen successor KP, the anti-LTTE war goes on: “Neither the President nor the Defence Secretary has stopped this war. That is why we tracked down KP. The war will stop only after all the enemies who acted to the detriment of their motherland were brought to book irrespective of whether they were local or international” (Indian Express – 11.8.2009; emphasis mine). Moreover this ‘post-war’ war is set to be a Herculean task, since, according to Mr. Rajapakse, ‘the LTTE had about 30,000 trained cadres before the decisive phase of the war in May’ (ibid).

Carl von Clausewitz described war as the continuation of politics by other means. Will governance under the Rajapakses become a continuation of war by other (political) means? The defeat of the LTTE has not led to any significant relaxation of the extraordinary rules and regulations created to defeat the LTTE. The PTA and the Emergency are still in force; extra-judicial methods are still being employed; even the arbitrary road closures for the convenience of VIPs continue. But if the LTTE, despite its defeat, remains a significant threat, if it has (miraculously) regained the capacity to threaten Sri Lanka, not just with stray suicide bombers but also with explosive laden vehicles, this continuance of extraordinary security measures can be depicted as necessary and therefore just. The rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens can become undesirable clutter or even dangerous impediments in the craze to build a Patriotic Utopia via the medium of a Permanent War against ‘Nation’s Enemies’.

Perhaps absurdity breeds absurdity. The Defence Secretary’s claim came in tandem with the discovery of an explosives laden van about to be sent to Colombo on a suicide mission. Twenty four hours after this discovery was announced by the government (including on the Defence Ministry website), the DIG of the Northern Province, Nimal Lewke (a former head of the STF) announced that he found this sensational find ‘suspicious and questionable’. According to DIG Lewke, the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) had initially sought assistance from the Mannar Police Intelligence Unit to apprehend a suspect, in connection with an ongoing investigation. After interrogating the suspect, the CCD had requested further assistance from the Mannar Police, to seize a suspicious van. “The Mannar Police had immediately summoned the van going on a hired trip at that time to the police station. The van was subsequently taken into custody by the CCD. They had later released the driver and taken the vehicle back to Colombo” (Daily Mirror – 13.8.2009).

The day after DIG Lewke publicly questioned both the find of the ‘suicide vehicle’ and the release of its driver, the Cabinet spokesman declared that if the van was a hoax the culprits would be punished. Are the police, not content with imitating criminals, following in the footsteps of April Fool jokesters? Perhaps no imbecility would be alien to a police force which arrested two students for painting slogans derogatory of a King, in a Republic!

The plight of 22 year old SLIIT student, Nipuna Ramanayake, abducted and assaulted by the son of a top crime-busting cop, using his father’s powers and facilities, has become something of a cause célèbre. The arrest and assault of a 14 year old school student by the police just a month ago indicate that in Sri Lanka, today, extra-judicial violence perpetrated by the rulers and their acolytes, against political opponents and personal enemies, is a norm. According to a petition presented to the Supreme Court, 14 year old Jeewantha Ranasinghe, a Grade 9 student of the Subharatha Maha Vidyalaya of Meegoda “was arrested by officers of the Nawagamuwa police station… on June 22, 2009. Two or three days later, he was produced before the Magistrate and bailed out…..arrested (again) on July 7…. and bailed out on July 9…. The Kaduwela police had not given a reason for his arrest. …. While in police custody, Jeewantha had been assaulted” (The Island – 12.8.2009). This minor was arrested due to a “complaint made by a relative of a Pradeshya Sabha member named Suresh Priyadarshana of Kaduwela….” (ibid). Obviously the reason for this infamy was a boys’ quarrel between the victim and another student of the same school! When the rule of law is replaced by the law of the rulers, anything can become a crime and anyone a victim, even school kids. The rulers, however, should not think that they can abuse power and law with impunity, endlessly. As the recent outbreak of popular violence in Angulana, in reaction to the death of two young men in police custody indicates, eventually, the worm turns.

- Asian Tribune -

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