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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Oppressed North; Lawless South

Tisaranee Gunasekara 
If they harm me, it is the country they harm,” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa – (Daily Mirror – Hard Talk)
A despot sees himself not as the First Citizen in a country of peers but as the Patriarch of an infantile-nation. He thereby arrogates unto himself the triple-roles of traditional-fatherhood, becoming, at least in his self-besotted eyes, the wise-guide, the caring-provider and the dauntless-protector of his people.

 In Sri Lanka’s one-family state, these triple despotic-roles have been appropriated by the Rajapaksa-troika: Mahinda Rajapaksa the sage-guide; Basil Rajapaksa the bountiful-provider and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa the vigilant-guardian.

The Nazis made out of Silent Night a children’s song hailing Hitler as the unsleeping-protector of the German nation: “…Only the Chancellor stays on guard; Germany’s future to watch and to ward; Guiding our nation aright” (Berlin at War – Roger Moorhouse). In a recent interview, (made quite revelatory by Shakuntala Perera’s searching questions) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa depicts himself as the sleepless-guardian of a feckless nation: “My primary concern is the security of this country. Maybe for the public and the politicians the concerns ended with the end of war but not for me. Day and night I work to prevent the LTTE from coming back… I work for the country – no one knows the work I do” (Daily Mirror – Hard Talk).

Officially, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is just a senior bureaucrat. But, as his comments reveal, he is his brother’s de facto Defence Chief: “I have a huge task in re-orienting the war time military machinery to suit the peace times. I have to keep the forces active… I have immense pressure from the international community to reduce military presence in the NE….” (ibid). I, I, I; not even ‘The President and I’, but just I, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the sole-protector of his family’s state.

Permissiveness and impunity are two key-ingredients of the Rajapaksa defence-doctrine. The consequent transformation of law-enforcement officers into vigilante-killers and Family-acolytes into criminal power-abusers is plunging the South into a state of lawlessness, as L’affaire Kolonnawa demonstrates.  Rajapaksa maintains that Duminda Silva was not the monitoring MP of the Defence Ministry: “Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa….said that no Parliamentarian was appointed to monitor the activities of the Defence Ministry… Duminda Silva was entrusted with…supervising the…programme to build housing schemes…” (Daily News – 26.10.2011).  The record shows otherwise: “President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed three Monitoring Members of Parliament. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena has been appointed as the Monitoring MP to the External Affairs Ministry while parliamentarians R. Duminda Silva and Uditha Sanjaya Lokubandara were appointed as Monitoring MPs to the Defence Ministry” (Ada Derana – 13.12.2010). The state-owned Daily News repeated the story, the next day. Incidentally this sensitive appointment was made while Duminda Silva was facing a charge of child rape!

According to Rajapaksa, Duminda Silva had “only 12 Ministerial Security Division personnel” (Daily News – 26.10.2011). His security-personnel “were given only two T56 weapons” (with which one of them reportedly shot Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra). So a junior parliamentarian with pronounced criminal tendencies was given ‘only’ 12 security-personnel and two T56 rifles! Are all junior parliamentarians treated so? How much security does a non-Rajapaksa minister get? Unknowingly, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has bared the blatant favouritism which is a Rajapaksa-hallmark.

Reinventing the Vicious Circle

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa says he is eternally vigilant to prevent a Tiger-resurgence: “Although immediately after the war the morale of the LTTE died, over these past two years they started their funding and regrouping… If you sit doing nothing there is a huge threat. We are working very hard to counter this…” (ibid).

The LTTE did not come into being or grow into a world-class terror outfit in a vacuum. Without the Sinhala Only, the Tiger may have remained unborn. Without the Black July, the Tiger may not have grown exponentially. If the B-C Pact and the D-C Pact did not miscarry (thanks to the midwifery of Sinhala extremism), the LTTE, even if it was born, would have remained a fringe group.

The Tiger was born out of Tamil discontent and alienation; it fed on Tamil fear and anger. A policy of preventing a Tiger-resurgence needs to take this history into account. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa may be labouring day and night to prevent a Tiger-resurgence. But the militaristic approach and Sinhala supremacist policies of the Family cannot but fan those old-embers of Tamil fear and ire into new-life.

When a sober, anti-Tiger Tamil leader like V. Anandasangaree says the current plight of Tamils makes him question the purpose of his living, it is an omen of a calamity-in-the-making. The particular event which caused this despairing outburst was the expropriation by the Air Force of “an 8,000 acre area between Pudukudurippu and Nandikadal in Mullaitivu…” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 19.10.2011). This is not an isolated incident. In the North/East, civilian lands are being appropriated to build new bases for the forces and cantonments for their families. According to parliamentarian M. A. Sumathiran, “…Tamil people inhabited 18,880 sq km of land in the North and East, but after May 2009, the defence forces have occupied more than 7,000 sq km of land owned by Tamil people” (Transcurrents – 23.10.2011). The new Bill which empowers the state to expropriate assets it deems ‘underperforming and underutilised’ can exacerbate this situation.

The omnipotent and omnipresent military intrudes into every aspect of Tamil-life. Not only must the army be informed about visitors. “Any family gathering to celebrate the birth or naming of a child, attainment of puberty of a girl, a wedding or even a death, requires prior permission… The army must be informed even of community activities such as sports meets. In a recent incident in Chavakachcheri, youth participating in a football match were brutally assaulted by the army as they had played on a field without the permission of the army… It is common to see the presence of soldiers in all civilian activities including village, temple or church meetings” (ibid).What if a Sinhala village is forced to obtain permission from a predominantly Tamil army for most acts of daily life? Would not such humiliation cause fury and rebellion?   The Rajapaksas are using targeted-attacks to prevent Tamils from protesting against the insults and oppression which are their daily fare. The recent assaults on two student-activists of the Jaffna University follow the brutal attack on the news editor of Uthayan. Sustaining this military-domination would require the defence budget to remain at stratospheric-levels, despite escalating financial difficulties.

 The Rajapaksa’s Northern policy combines ubiquitous military presence with demographic re-engineering. Military cantonments represent a novel form of state-managed colonisation of traditional Tamil areas. These enclaves would need support services, enabling the military to further encroach into civilian-areas, such as education. The children of military-families will need Sinhala schools and who better to run them than the military?

As relatively privileged and empowered oases, these Sinhala enclaves will be the locus of Tamil resentment. This seems a replication of the Israel strategy of breaking the contiguity of Palestinian-presence through the creation of Jewish-settlements. That policy is obstructing a sustainable-peace, compelling Palestinians and Israelis to languish in a state of fear and insecurity. This may be the destination the Rajapaksas want for Sri Lanka. Frightened people are more likely to barter liberty for security and that is a state made for despotism.


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