| by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“A historic victory can wreak as much havoc as a historic defeat”
– Tony Judt (Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten 20th Century)
(January 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has spoken: the dead Tiger might arise.
If the Tiger does rise from the ashes of an annihilating defeat, a lion-share of the credit for that near-miraculous resurrection would belong to the Rajapaksas.
Can the re-emergence of the LTTE – or some approximation of it – be forestalled by ringing the North with tri-forces camps? By delaying a political solution indefinitely while hollowing out the 13th Amendment? By violating the fundamental rights and ignoring the basic needs of the Tamils?
By keeping the North quiescent at gun-point?
Mr. Rajapaksa is critical of those who criticise the post-war military build-up: “Unfortunately, there are some parties…that question why the Defence establishment continues to be so large and why so much money is allocated in the national budget for the Defence Ministry. These parties seem to have forgotten the lessons of the recent past. We all know how the LTTE sprang up from being a small group of armed militants into one of the world’s largest and deadliest terrorist organisations within a short number of years” (Public Lecture at the SLFI).
The Tiger was born because successive administrations instituted discriminatory measures against Tamils and failed to address their politico-economic-security fallouts. The Tigers’ first great leap forward was enabled by Black July. Without that carnage, the Four-Four Bravo operation may have become the LTTE’s swan song. Even after Black July, had the Jayewardene administration apologised to the Tamils, offered them compensation and a political solution, the long war could have been avoided. But that regime took refuge in lies and denial, in Sinhala supremacism and repression – actions tailor-made for the advancement of the LTTE.
This history is absent in Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s long peroration. Naturally; the Rajapaksas reject the existence of an ethnic problem. According to their worldview, the Tamils did not face any discrimination or injustice; the war could have been avoided had previous administrations adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards Tamil nationalism and beefed-up the military. Devolution may have made some sense to the Rajapaksas as a sop to the LTTE; that need vanished with the elimination of the Tigers. In the Rajapaksa book, the way to prevent a Tiger-resurgence is through enhanced militarization: keep them in line by keeping them down.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa correctly accuses Diaspora groups of attempting to turn international opinion against Sri Lanka. What Mr. Rajapaksa fails to understand is that he and his Siblings are aiding and abetting these efforts, substantially. Had they shifted to a ‘soft power’ strategy, post-war, the pro-Tiger Diaspora groups would have found themselves with no political feathers to fly with. The Rajapaksas did the opposite. They refused to acknowledge the reality of civilian casualties and rights violations (thus giving the pro-Tiger elements a life-saving injection). They incarcerated 300,000+ civilian Tamils in camps. They turned the North into a de facto occupied territory. Instead of making political concessions they heaped gratuitous insults on Tamils such as the reintroduction of the Sinhala Only National Anthem.
According to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (and his Siblings), the North is speeding towards unprecedented development and prosperity. The reality is otherwise. The Rajapaksas’ strategy prioritises the building of army camps, cantonments and grandiose infrastructure projects which have little relevance to a populace struggling to survive: “They are talking of development. Right along the main A9 road, nice buildings are coming up. Who wants a stadium? Who wants a mansion for the government agent to live in? …. Palaces, they are building palaces! The army is spending lavishly on guest houses…for their own use. Houses are built for the army alone, not for civilians… There are no housing schemes, except from some NGOs…” (Lakbima News – 8.1.2012). That damning assessment carries conviction because it comes not from a Tiger supporter but from the very anti-Tiger V. Anandasangaree.
After the 1958 anti-Tamil riots, Tarzie Vittachi asked, “What are we left with? A nation in ruins, some grim lessons which we cannot afford to forget and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and Tamils reached the parting of ways?” (quoted in ‘Tigers of Sri Lanka’ – M. R. Narayan Swami). His prophetic words fell on deaf ears, then. More than half a century, innumerable deaths and immeasurable destruction later, that inability to comprehend reality, let alone find solutions, remains unchanged. With each Sinhala supremacist or repressive act, the Rajapaksas present the pro-Tiger Diaspora elements ammunition to be used against Sri Lanka.
Devolution Charade and India
The Rajapaksas want to keep all power in Rajapaksa hands; they oppose devolution primarily because they do not want to share power with any non-relation.
Sinhala supremacism is the politico-ideological plinth on which the Rajapaksas have mounted their anti-devolution policy. They embrace Sinhala supremacism out of conviction and as the way to defeat devolution and centralise all power in their hands. The Siblings labour hard to maintain the myth of an anti-devolution South, even though opinion surveys indicate a different reality. The Rajapaksas need the image of Sinhalese foaming-at-the mouth against devolution as an excuse to delay a political solution indefinitely.
The anti-Accord riots were not spontaneous; they were engineered by the JVP and the SLFP. Mahinda Rajapaksa was at the forefront of those efforts to ignite the country, in the name of patriotism. President Rajapaksa continues to use similar methods to evade Indian/Western pressure to resolve the ethnic issue. He used his Sinhala-hardline acolytes to discredit the Majority Report of the Expert Panel and to negate the APRC recommendations. Once the LLRC Report has served its purpose (deflecting international pressure/buying time) it too will be interred using identical tactics.
Indian leaders would have to be remarkably dense not to realise that the Rajapaksas will not share power. But starting a fight with Colombo on behalf of Lankan Tamils is not on Delhi’s agenda. India’s main concern is keeping China’s footprint in Sri Lanka from growing any bigger. Delhi’s pressure for a political solution is sourced primarily in its own electoral needs. Indian pressure ebbs and flows, according to the electoral almanac.
Knowing this, the Rajapaksas have become quite adept at producing sops, whenever politico-electoral pressure compels India to ratchet up the rhetoric. It is a smoke-and-mirrors show both parties engage in knowingly.
A pillar of the Rajapaksa economic model is selling/leasing land. The proposed amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act was aimed at giving the regime absolute power to grab any land it wanted, any time it wanted. The Supreme Court refused to countenance that draconian law because land is a devolved subject thanks to the 13th Amendment. That is why the Rajapaksas will move to dilute the 13th Amendment, by shifting land and police powers from the devolved list to the concurrent list.
The Siblings will present this anti-democratic dilution as a development necessity and as a precaution against a Tiger-resurgence. Will the South see beyond these patriotic shibboleths and realise that this measure will be as inimical to Sinhalese and Muslims as it is to Tamils? Will Southern and Northern opposition join hands to defeat a measure which will empower the Rajapaksas by disempowering all Lankans?