by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“Though everyone bowed down before you,
Saying virtue and wisdom lit your way,
Striking gold medals in your honour,
Glad to have survived another day,
Do not feel safe…” Czeslaw Milosz (You who Wronged)
Another emergency debate brought forth another apocryphal tale, to justify the unjustifiable. During the previous Emergency debate, the Prime Minister perorated portentously about Tiger training camps in Tamil Nadu, only to retract his words ignominiously, 24 hours later, in the face of strong Indian protests and denials. His colleagues, with barely concealed sniggers, indicated that the Prime Minister’s pronouncements need not be taken all that seriously!
For the month of April, the Prime Minister had a different tale, about former Tigers reverting back to Tigerhood. Wisely, this time around, he – or rather his puppet-masters – picked a target incapable of answering back – rehabilitated Tiger cadres: “Some LTTE cadres who were reintegrated into society after rehabilitation had been re-arrested on charges of attempting to carry out terrorist activities, Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratane told Parliament yesterday. However, he did not elaborate on it” (Daily Mirror – 8.4.2011).
The paucity of details is inevitable. These are just tales, fabricated monthly by the power-wielders and delivered dutifully by the PM, to justify the retention of the Emergency, almost two years after the victorious end of the war. Tales which are not meant to be taken seriously beyond that moment and outside that place, tales delivered with a wink and a nod, tales which will be forgotten the moment the Emergency is passed.
The regime’s serial-story about the recrudescent Tiger was debunked last week, by no less a personage than Sri Lanka’s Deputy Representative to the UN. Shavendra Silva is the antithesis of Sarath Fonseka; he is the obedient general par excellence who was rewarded for his services to the Rajapaksas with a top diplomatic posting. According to Gen. Silva, “Had the LTTE retained at least one per cent of its military capability, it would have certainly staged an attack …. The bottom line was that the LTTE military machine had been wiped …….” (The Island – 5.4.2011).
The Tiger is dead; the regime uses the spectre of the LTTE because it knows it cannot justify the extension of the Emergency any other way. Post-war, ordinary Sri Lankans do not need the Emergency to be safe; nor does Sri Lanka. The Emergency is needed for no other reason than for the protection of the Rajapaksas. The Emergency is being renewed, month after month, not for a national purpose but for a Rajapaksa purpose – to provide the Ruling Family with some excellent legal means to discourage dissent and punish opposition. The real purpose of the Emergency is not national security but ensuring the safety, security and longevity of Rajapaksa Rule by eradicating even the most insignificant challenge to Rajapaksa power.
Despots will do anything to stay in power, even by one extra hour. This is a timeless and a universal truth. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh warns that sans him as the President anarchy will engulf the land, even as he encourages tribal rivalries (and thus a civil war) to prolong his hold on power. After having accused pro-democracy rebels of trying to divide the country, Muammar Gaddafi has proposed dividing Libya along East-West, anti and pro-Gaddafi lines; all the Brother Leader wants is to stay in power, even in a truncated half-country (Tripolitania?).
Such is the way of despots. They may come in various guises mouthing a wide variety of slogans in different languages, but their real aim, behind all that glitter and bluster, is absolute and lifelong power, for themselves and often their families. They want to turn republics into de facto monarchies, with themselves as kings in all but name. They dream of ruling for a long time and dying in power, and probably of grand state funerals and handsome final resting places, at public expense of course. Quite a few of them aspire to be succeeded by sons.
The Rajapaksas are of the same ilk. The Family is gathering all power into its hands and is aiming for a dynastic succession (brother or son: that is the only unresolved question). That is why the regime is keeping the Emergency, the PTA and a host of other repressive laws and practices intact, despite the harm these anti-democratic measures are doing to the image and the prospects of Sri Lanka internationally.
Currently the Rajapaksa brothers are popular. But popularity is a capricious mistress of undependable fidelity. As economic pressures increase, this popularity will erode, slowly at first, and then in leaps and bounds. (Despotism is not without its spring of hope and very few despots are hated in their infancy and their youth; in fact quite a few of them are loved by the populace in the early delusionary years). By keeping the Emergency and other repressive laws and practices intact, the far-thinking Rajapaksas are preparing for that day in the future when their popularity is a distant memory and the public has to be compelled and rather than lulled into quiescence.
Rajapaksas do not need to fear an outbreak of popular discontent in the near future because Sri Lanka is just commencing a journey into tyranny which many Arab states, from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen and Libya have already ended or are in the process of ending. Still, the revolutionary upsurge in the Arab World seems to be causing the Ruling Family considerable unease in the here and now, for two very comprehensible reasons. Firstly the sight of a citizenry revolting against a country’s long term ruler cannot be particularly reassuring to the Rajapaksas, with their project of long-term familial rule and dynastic succession.
Despots across the Third World (the crowned and the uncrowned ones) are regarding the Arab democratic wave with the same sort of fear and loathing the crowned heads of Europe and England regarded the French Revolution or the capitalist leaders on both sides of the Atlantic regarded the Great October Revolution – as an existential threat, a dangerous example which needs to be effaced before it becomes rooted in the imaginations of their own subjects.
Secondly, the Rajapaksas are unnerved by the inauguration of the ‘Right to Protect’ principle over the skies of Libya. There is very likelihood of any direct Western intervention in Sri Lanka, now or in the future. But for the Rajapaksas, who equate national sovereignty with the sovereignty of the leader, a ruler’s right to guide the destiny of his country and dispense with the lives of his people is sacrosanct. It is this right that is being called into question over Libyan skies – a development which cannot but be unpalatable to Sri Lanka’s Ruling Family.
The most recent manifestation of this Rajapaksa nervousness came from the Prime Minister during last week’s Emergency Debate: “We kindly ask the opposition not to raise internal issues with foreign authorities. It is harmful for the entire country. Whenever there is a problem in our family, we will not take it up with outsiders. If you do it, it will tantamount to something like spitting on your own face” (Daily Mirror – 8.4.2011).
The PM – or rather his puppet masters – seems to be particularly nervous about equating Libya with Sri Lanka: “If there are problems, we can resolve them here through peaceful negotiations. We have now initiated a dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance….” (ibid).
The message to the Opposition is diabolically simple and is identical to the message sent by other despots to other opponents: we have the right to attack you and imprison and hound you out of the country; that is our inalienable right as the rulers; but you do not have the right to complain about it outside these shores; if you do, you will be deemed a traitor and treated as such. The fear of being labelled a traitor was one of the factors which prevented segments of the opposition from voting against the Emergency even after it became manifest that the real purpose of this and other repressive laws is not to protect the country or the people but to protect the Ruling Family.
Thankfully, time and too many transgressions by the regime seem to have blunted the efficacy of this Rajapaksas weapon and the three main opposition parties, the UNP, the DNA and the TNA have begun to vote against the Emergency, instead of abstaining. This is an excellent development but more needs to be done. The Opposition needs to explain to the people the truth behind the regime’s determination to hang on to the Emergency and the PTA and why this retention is not in either popular or national interest.
A nation-wide campaign demanding the immediate removal of both the PTA and the Emergency is an urgent necessity, especially since both laws will be used against the opposition (plus any group of citizenry protesting against an injustice) with increasing frequency, as the economic conditions continue deteriorate. The fact that on this issue the North, the East and the South can stand together is an important added bonus.
According to a PTI report, the Rajapaksas are planning to add a new volume to the Mahawamsa, covering the period from 1978 to 2010. In this, three chapters will be dedicated to Rajapaksa rule while two or less will cover all his predecessors.
The new volume is bound to attribute to the Rajapaksas all the qualities, characteristics and achievements they attribute to themselves and their fawning acolytes attribute to them. Every grandiose noun and flowery adjective in the Sinhala language will be used to the full and beyond, to denote and describe the Rajapaksas and their exploits. It will be one endless panegyric to the Vishwa-Keerthi Three-Sinhaladipathy and his Family (Universally Renowned Lord of the Three-Sinhala Lands).
The new volume will have some critical absences: the ethnic problem and Sarath Fonseka being the foremost. The history of contemporary Sri Lanka will be written from a Sinhala supremacist and Rajapaksa supremacist perspective.
Equating themselves with the nation is a key premise of the Rajapaksa worldview. The Ruling Family needs us to accept this dangerous fallacy, internalise it and make it our own. The new Mahawamsa volume will be a critically important instrument in the effort to psychologically engineer Sinhala perceptions and outlooks.
The new history will teach us to equate patriotism with supporting the Rajapaksas and treachery with opposing the Rajapaksas – the basis on which Gen. Sarath Fonseka is being incarcerated and Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP is being honoured.
The new history will inculcate in us the belief that the Rajapaksas always know and do the best, even when their deeds seem harmful or hypocritical or deceptive. We will be trained to disbelieve the evidence of our eyes and ears, submit our will and our intellect, our reason and our perception to theirs and allow the blinding, deafening and stupefying mantle of Rajapaksas Chinthanaya to protect us from reality.
These fallacious ideas, together with the common human fear of the unknown (which translates into a disinclination for change until the status quo becomes absolutely unbearable) would constitute a key politico-psychological weapon in the Rajapaksa arsenal, enabling the Rajapaksas to build and maintain Southern consent to their rule for many years to come.