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Dambulla demonstrators regard minorities as invaders threatening Sinhala Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka

Tisaranee Gunasekara
“The sleep of reason produces monsters” – Francisco Goya(The title of 43rd painting in the Los Caprichos series)
The mini-war in Kelaniya displays, in microcosmic form, the future that is in store for Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa Rule.

 A Sri Lankan Muslim man holds a placard during a protest after Friday prayers outside a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, April 27, 2012-pic by Eranga Jayawardena-courtesy of: AP

The conflict between Minister Mervyn Silva, the Ruling Siblings’ hand-picked organiser for the Kelaniya electorate, and the SLFP members of the Kelaniya Pradesheeya Sabha (PS) reached a new and a violent high last week.

The house of the Deputy Chairman of the PS was attacked on Friday morning, allegedly by supporters of Minister Silva. Though a complaint has been lodged, no arrests have been made so far.

Just 24 hours previously, the Chairman of the PS (another SLFPer) had expressed fears about the safety of those SLFP councillors who are opposing Minister Silva’s arbitrary rule in Kelaniya. “‘Mervyn Silva has given police powers to the thugs in the area,’ he said. He observed that the lives of 16 Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha members including his were at risk.

He added that eight individuals had visited the Pradeshiya Sabha premises on Tuesday night and harassed those who were there. He also alleged that officers of the Kiribathgoda Police were acting according to Silva’s directives” (Colombo Page – 26.4.2012; emphasis mine).

A politician, with a law unto himself, using his goons to attack his political opponents, with the full backing of the police: it is a picture familiar to many a Lankan. Except that, in this instance, the victims are not members of the opposition or ordinary citizens, but card-carrying SLFPers.

Minister Mervyn Silva, who began by assaulting political opponents and public officials, is now imposing his violent attentions on fellow SLFPers and their families, with undiminished impunity. And the SLFPers of Kelaniya seem to be as powerless as any ordinary Lankan in protecting themselves from these abusive acts by a Rajapaksa acolyte.
 When the door to accountability is closed, a broad avenue to impunity opens.

The micro-war in Kelaniya needs to be seen in the context of the Ruling Family’s macro-plan to impose its will on the SLFP. In order to ensure the success of their dynastic project, the Rajapaksas need to remake the SLFP in their own image; mindless loyalists like Minister Silva are indispensable in this endeavour.

The SLFP, no less than the country, must be taught a lesson in obedience; the party needs to accept Rajapaksa Rule as much as Sri Lanka does. The SLFP is now the fief of the Rajapaksas and its members must learn to obey the Siblings and their loyalists.

Those who refuse will be perceived as troublemakers and treated as such.

Mervyn Silva has no power of his own; he is powerful because he has Rajapaksa backing. So long as he remains a useful tool, he will enjoy total impunity and not even the SLFP Central Committee, which is conducting a disciplinary inquiry against him, will be able to touch him.

This was what Presidential Sibling and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa intimated last week, as he declared open Minister Silva’s party office. Minister Rajapaksa said that “the SLFP Central Committee….cannot remove Mervyn Silva from the post of electoral organiser and only the President can remove him” (Colombo Page – 23.4.2012).

The message the Presidential Sibling sought to convey to the party, from top to bottom, was simple: the SLFP is a monotheistic party; there is no god but God and that God is the Rajapaksa Family. The SLFP Central Committee, irrespective of its findings, cannot touch Mervyn Silva. Only the President can, if he wants to. And he will protect Minister Silva, as he is protecting Parliamentarian Duminda Silva, for as long as he thinks necessary. The SLFP Central Committee and the courts are as powerless as any ordinary Lankan when pitted against a Rajapaksa favourite.

Little wonder the Rajapaksas are so opposed to devolution. For the Ruling Siblings sharing power with anyone, including fellow Sinhala Buddhist SLFPers, is a psychological anathema and a political error. Thus the events in Kelaniya hold a lesson for Delhi as well: the Rajapaksas will never devolve power, never implement the 13th Amendment, whatever they may promise various visiting Indians

Indians Hoodwinked, Again

The script is unvarying.

Indians arrive asking for a political solution to the ethnic problem based on the 13th Amendment. The President agrees, probably sounding rather willing, earnest and sincere. The Indians announce their ‘breakthrough’ to the world at a media conference and depart believing in a ‘mission accomplished’.

One more diplomatic triumph for Mother India!

A few days later a Lankan paper insists that the President never ever gave such an undertaking to any Indian. Soon ministers too get into the act, declaring that the President never promised to implement the 13th Amendment in full, let alone go beyond it. It’s all a story; end of story.

What happened to Indian Opposition Leader last week is identical to what happened to Indian External Affairs Minister just a few months ago (they should compare notes). Like Mr. Krishna, Ms. Swaraj too was promised the 13th – and perhaps even 13+; then, within days, the very existence of that promise was denied by Colombo. As Agrarian Services Minister SM Chandrasena stated, “Indian delegates are saying various things to the media. But our President has not made any commitment” (Ceylon Today – 27.4.2012)

Going by her confident assertions Ms. Swaraj was obviously certain that she had cut the Gordian knot; it does not seem to have occurred to her that the Rajapaksas would hoodwink her in the same way they did Mr. Krishna. The other members of the delegation seemed to have shared Ms. Swaraj’s monumental misconception. For instance, according to media reports, a Congress parliamentarian termed the talks with the President ‘fruitful’ and declared that “the team had taken up various issues with the Lankan President including devolution of powers to Tamil-speaking areas” (PTI – 21.4..2012).

So in the end the Tamil Nadu politicians who boycotted the visit deeming it an exercise in futility were correct. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha who called the visit a ‘mere eye-wash’ and DMK leader M Karunanidhi who declared that ‘such visits had served no purpose in the past’ (ibid) were proven right – by the Rajapaksas. As Hannah Arendt said, antithetical extremes have a way of succouring each other!

Does Delhi genuinely believe that the Rajapaksas can be pushed into implementing the 13th Amendment?

Or is the Centre enacting its own little masquerade to hoodwink Tamil Nadu?

The refusal of the two main regional parties to take part in the visit to Sri Lanka is the clearest possible indication that Tamil Nadu is not deceived. So what will Delhi do next?

Pretend that the entire sorry charade did not happen?

Cling to the myth that the Rajapaksas want to devolve power but cannot do so, right now, because they fear the reaction of Sinhala supremacists?

Does Delhi really believe that improbable story or is it a charade-in-a-charade, which is India’s way of saving face?

The Rajapaksas will not implement the 13th Amendment or 13+ or the LLRC, any more than they will allow Duminda Silva to be arrested or Mervyn Silva to be punished.

Devolution, like peace, reconciliation and the rule of law will be sacrificed at the monstrous altar of Rajapaksa power.

From Ethnic Problem to Religious Problem?

Imagine a Sri Lanka in the throes of a religious conflict in which Buddhists are pitted against Muslims/Hindus/Christians.

Imagine a world in which Sri Lanka has to contend with the animosity of not just the West but also of Arab and Islamic countries.

Today these extreme scenarios seem as inconceivable as a three decade war would have looked in 1956.

With their Sinhala supremacist response to the Dambulla fracas, the Rajapaksa administration took a small but critical step towards that warring Sri Lanka and that inimical world.

Why and how did the ‘mosque-issue’ erupt, rather like Athena did out of the head of Zeus, as a fully-grown mass demonstration with clear Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist overtones?

Why did the regime give into the divisive and maximalist demands of the demonstrators?

What is a normally loquacious president maintaining a resounding silence on this issue?

The decision to remove the mosque and the kovil was taken by a conclave which did not consist of a single Muslim or Hindu representative. That absence is a clear indication of the absolute powerlessness of the minorities in a Rajapaksa Sri Lanka.

In commenting on the Arab Spring and its offshoots across the world, Eamon Kircher-Allen points out that the demand for dignity was a key motive factor propelling these upheavals:

“Fundamentally these movements are trying to open up a new discursive space where a voice is not defined by the number of goons it has enforcing it, or how much money it has to spend…. this global outcry is an historic rejection of life lived according to the whims of a few” (Guernica – 15.3.2012).

In other words, people demanding to be treated as citizens with equal rights, rather than as subjects with little or no rights; a cry which began on the day the Bastille fell and continues to reverberate across the world still.

The Rajapaksas, like all Sinhala supremacists are revanchists; they are inspired by an imaginary past of gracious but absolutist rulers and happy but right-less subjects. They look back, longingly at this ancient utopia, a sort of a politico-psychological Atlantis, and dream of creating a future based on it. This retrogressive vision has not only turned ethnic-reconciliation into an onerous, almost Sisyphean task; it is also paving the way for a new faith-based conflict.

The Dambulla demonstrators are the Breviks of Sri Lanka. Brevik is currently arguing that he engaged in his murderous spree to save Norway from ‘multiculturalism’ and restore her to her original ‘white Christian purity’.

Similarly the Dambulla demonstrators regard the minorities as invaders who are threatening the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ identity of Sri Lanka, as is clearly indicated by the invitation to the anti-mosque/kovil demonstration: “If you are a great Sinhala Buddhist, if you are a Helaya who thinks of the country and the nation, for the sake of the future generation you cannot keep your eyes and ears close. Save Rangiri-Dambulu sacred area. The time has come to end the silence. Let’s rise against the Mussalman invasion against Rangiri Dambulu sacred area” (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rangiri-Sri-Lanka-Radio/153805651346702)

If there is the equivalent of a ‘standard candle’ in the politics of a pluralist country it will be the ability and the willingness of the state to treat all its multifarious citizens with a basic degree of fairness.

The Dambulla demonstrators, like fanatics of all religions, oppose such even-handedness, and such, have no place in a modern democracy.

A regime which succumbs to their extremist demands is sowing the seeds of future conflicts.


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