Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

Creating Paradises

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Faith indeed has up to the present not been able to move real mountains…. But it can put mountains where there are none”.
Nietzsche (Human, All too Human)

Gotabhaya Rajapakse is no seer. He sounds prophetic because he, together with his siblings, runs the country. When the Rajapakse regime decides on some controversial issue of national significance, Defence Secretary Rajapakse announces it to the world not as fait accompli but as a desirable measure. Perhaps the Defence Secretary is somewhat indiscreet; perhaps his task is to make bald pronouncements which can act as trial balloons. If there is too much of a backlash locally or internationally, the decision is either rescinded or put on the backburner. If the reaction is muted then the decision is officially announced. That seems to be the modus operandi of the Rajapakses.

All this makes the Defence Secretary a man to be listened to. And in the week gone by he made several pronouncements of critical importance. He said the Tigers should be banned, a condition supposedly put forward by the JVP as part of the price for its cooperation with the government. Far more worryingly Mr. Rajapakse held forth on the virtues of a censorship and advocated the return of the Criminal Defamation Act. Given past practices it is likely that the Rajapakses have decided on all three measures and are waiting for apposite times to make the decisions public and official.

That time may not be now – if the government has even a modicum of sense. The warning of Japanese peace envoy Yashushi Akashi could not have been clearer and should not be taken lightly: “We could be forced to review our aid policy if military actions keep escalating….” (AFP – 31.1.2008). A Japanese aid cut will hurt Sri Lanka badly because Japan is our largest international donor. The patriots can preach about the value of self-sufficiency but the truth of the matter is that the ordinary people of this country cannot take any more economic shocks. And the price of aid curtailment by our biggest donor, like the price of every other disaster, will have to be borne almost exclusively by the ordinary people of this country.

For the people, in the North and in the South, there is no respite, from bombs and price hikes, from war and economic crisis. A bomb went off in a private bus plying between Dambulla and Anuradhapura, early Saturday morning, killing more than eleven people. This and the claymore attack on a van carrying a group of schoolchildren in the Madu area are but the latest outrages in a war in which all protagonists regard civilians as fair game, to a greater or a lesser degree. Common sense dictates that the LTTE is responsible for the Dambulla attack and the SLA is behind the Madu. Even if the identities of the culprits cannot be proven there is no doubt that both sides are capable of carrying out the attack and then denying responsibility for public benefit. Since the unofficial Fourth Eelam War commenced the LTTE, the Lankan Forces and anti-Tiger Tamils have all committed atrocities against civilians, both Sinhala and Tamil, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently. There is no reason to think that this abhorrent practice will be abandoned by any of the protagonists since they all seem to think that by hurting this or that group of civilians they can harm the enemy.

Objective Realities

There is a point beyond which the subjective cannot override the objective. And in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, an expensive war cannot be sustained, a populace fed and a country managed without a great deal of resources. This means, for a Third World country, continued international assistance. By failing to understand the need to prosecute the war within internationally accepted norms, we are endangering that international assistance. And if international assistance is curtailed it will affect our capacity to sustain the war. That is the obvious truth which escapes the Rajapakses but is understood by Vellupillai Pirapaharan.

The Japanese threat is crucial because it results from the errors of the administration and the inanities of its allies. The President’s proposal for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment is turning out to be another Rajapakse charade. Perhaps President Rajapakse would like to implement a version of the 13th Amendment, if all conditions are favourable. However he knows full well that even the most minimalist version of the 13th Amendment cannot be implemented because of the obduracy of the ally he cannot do without – the JVP. Dependence on the JVP is almost as dangerous as dependence on the LTTE – and the Rajapakses did make a Faustian bargain with the JVP over the budget vote. The JVP is clearly intent on interpreting this bargain in the most extremist form possible and to impose it relentlessly on the regime. Either the President did not realise this before he proposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, in which case he is dangerously obtuse; or he did realise it, in which case he was intent on dissembling. His decision to appoint a cabinet sub committee to study the 13th Amendment points to the second possibility rather than the first.

The JVP has declared war on the 13th Amendment and an Interim Council for the North. A series of rallies will be held, beginning in Colombo (on the 12th) and Anuradhapura. The JVP has also begun to identify anti-Tiger Tamil leaders, especially V Anandasangaree and Douglas Devananda, as enemies, alongside and equal to Vellupillai Pirapaharan. Any concessions to these leaders would be tantamount to concessions to the Tiger Supremo, according to the JVP’s Weltanschauung. In this context nothing is likely to come out of the APRC exercise, as the JVP will oppose, with the same degree of venom and violence, any attempt to devolve some power to the anti-Tiger Tamils as it would to the ISGA. The APRC may be kept in existence for a little while more on life support as a sop to the Tamils and the international community. But it will deliver nothing, not even an emasculated 13th Amendment.

This leaves the Rajapakse administration crippled, since it will be compelled to pursue a purely militarist strategy without any political component. The Rajapakses, even assuming they so want, will not be able to implement any measure that will turn the Fourth Eelam War from a Sinhala nationalist war against Tamil nationalism to a Sri Lankan war against the LTTE. Since so much that needs to be done cannot be done, and so much that should not be done will have to be done, the regime will feel compelled to take every possible and impossible measure to make invisible the widening gulf between reality and rhetoric. Attempts will be made to achieve this aim through lies and hyperbole but in order to endow these with an illusion of probity some sort of censorship would be required.

Therefore bribery and intimidation may give way to stronger methods – both official and unofficial - as the gap between reality and rhetoric becomes unseemly and unmistakably wide. Defence Secretary Rajapakse when he made his comments to the Sunday Lankadeepa was testing the waters rather than talking out of turn.

The Japanese, in making their ‘threat’, would have been motivated by the APRC charade as by the Chinna Pandivirichan attack on the bus filled with schoolchildren. Equally obviously the Japanese were not intimidated by the JVP’s tough talk to Mr. Akashi. The JVP leaders, when they met Mr. Akashi, were rude and insolent; they reminded the Japanese envoy about Kamikaze pilots and lectured him about their willingness to die for the country – or so the media reported. The Japanese response to this boorishly inane conduct is now painfully evident. It is to be hoped that President Rajapakse will restrain his verbal-trigger-happy allies from committing further extravagant follies or we will find the Japanese threat becoming an actuality even sooner than warranted.

A prudent government that is committed to giving all it has to sustain the war could have postponed the day of financial reckoning. The Rajapakse regime is not such a government. It wants to win the war while continuing to enjoy the good life. The financial irresponsibility of the Rajapakses is criminal. How else can one explain the ‘Deyata Kirula’ exhibition, a seven day Extravaganza which will cost billions - money could have been spent on other more critical areas, from the welfare of the soldiers to the welfare of the people? This exhibition, like Mihin Air, reveals the true nature of the Rajapakse regime; its primary objective is not the defeat of the LTTE but the greater glory of the Rajapakses. There will thus come a moment when the government cannot maintain the war and run the economy, when the money that is needed to do both will not be forthcoming unless there is substantial devolution and an improvement in human rights. And the government will not be able to do either without endangering its own survival because of its dependence on the JVP and the JHU. Any attempt to adopt strong arm tactics to intimidate these Southern extremists will backfire. The deadlock will be complete and impassable.

History Repeats?

The JVP can obviously read the writing on the wall and working towards and readying for a 1987 type scenario, as its trade union boss parliamentarian Lal Kantha indicted in a recent speech: “India violated the territorial sea and air space of Sri Lanka in 1987 when the army was defeating the LTTE terrorists during the Vadamarachchi Operation. It was once again trying to stop the victories of the armed forces as it did during the time President J. R. Jayawardene was in power…. President J. R. Jayawardene`s arm was twisted and he was coerced to accept the Provincial Council system in 1987 but it was an illegal and undemocratic political intervention by India… The Government should vanquish terrorism from the country but it had to give the people in the North and East their basic rights. However parcelling out separate regions on the ethnic lines, like one region for Muslims and anther for Anandasangaree or Douglas Devananda was going to create a worse confusion than at present” (The Island – 31.1.2008).

When the deadlock happens the populace, which currently is solaced by the belief in a short sharp war would have been disillusioned. There would prevail in the country a mood of anger, a feeling of being deceived. The JVP will utilise this sense of disenchantment to launch a nationalist-populist political war against the regime/system. And this time it will plan to win: “It is clear that the 1987 drama is being replayed. The challenge is to ensure that this old drama does not end in a tragedy. It can be believed that the patriotic forces of this country have that capacity. What is necessary is to enhance that confidence… It is necessary to understand the present in the light of the past and the past in the light of the present. Then the final act of the first staging can be forgotten and all those who are trying to repeat history can be deprived of both the stage and the acting profession” (Lanka, political column – 3.2.2008).

Ranil Wickremesinghe made a Faustian bargain with the Tiger and he lost the Presidency as a result. The Rajapakses too would come to grief because of their own bargain with Sinhala extremism. As Sri Lanka observes her 60th anniversary of Independence, there is very little reason to celebrate. With a war that is unlikely to end soon, with a populace suffering from economic distress, with a government that is blinded by its own illusions and blindsided by its allies, the country is in for harder times. Mahinda Rajapakse witnessed what transpired when the SLFP tried to gain power on a platform of extremism and with the backing of extremist in the 1980’s. That memory should warn him of the likeliest destination of his own path – Purgatory not Paradise.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this