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Sunday, May 28, 2006

From The Sunday Leader

From The Sunday Leader, Colombo. 28 May 2006.

Rajapakse is being circumscribed due to his dependency on the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika Hela Urumaya it is said. There are also other external pressure groups like the Patriotic National Movement. Like SWRD Bandaranaike 50 years ago Mahinda too is unable to do the right thing by the Tamils due to JVP, JHU and PNM constraints it is argued.
This argument could have been true of SWRDB. He was a Westernised Liberal Democrat who donned the national dress and promoted Sinhala and Buddhism to capture votes. The real Solomon wanted to be just by the Tamils after he had opened the floodgates. He could not as the torrents he had released engulfed him. Literally and metaphorically he was destroyed by the very same forces he unleashed to achieve power.

In Mahinda Rajapakse's case it is different. He is not play acting when he takes flower baskets and trays to the pansala. The only time he is play acting is when he sits with foreigners talking about serious political reform. The crucial difference between SWRD and Mahinda is that the latter unlike the former really and truly believes in what may be called the Sinhala Buddhist supremacist ideology. Mahinda is of the same mindset as the JVP, JHU and PNM. He is not their unwilling captive. If that ideology is indeed restrictive then it is a state which Mahinda has willingly chosen and will not come out of.

Buddhists sole heirs
Rajapakse was born in 1946 but he is in reality the politically quintessential child of 1956 (Panashaye Daruwo). Mahinda believes that the Sinhala Buddhists are the rightful and sole heirs to this island. The Sinhala Buddhists who have a divine right to this Dhammadeepa have no where else to go. The Sinhala Buddhists being a generous people have allowed other minority communities also to share this land. But they must know their place and behave accordingly. The Sinhala Buddhists are way on top of the pecking order.

The privileged position of the Sinhala people depends on a united and undivided Sri Lanka. For this a strong, centralised state under a unitary constitution is essential. Some minorities may be concentrated in certain regions. This does not mean that they have special rights or that power needs to be devolved to the periphery. There can be no federalism. There can be no recognition of any region as a historic habitat of the minorities. There cannot be even real devolution. Only some decentralisation for the sake of administrative convenience could be possible.
This is not a case of Rajapakse being flexible and the Sinhala hardliners being rigid. Mahinda and the mahajanaya are of the same opinion. He is truly a man of his people in this.
Total breakdown
Against this backdrop Rajapakse realises that whatever the time frame of any potential discussions with the LTTE the final outcome can only be a total breakdown. The impasse will surely lead to total war. Mahinda sees himself as the divine instrument that would lead the rightful owners of this island to complete victory over the enemy threatening country, race and religion (Lanka, Sinhala and Buddhism). There was much talk of the great liberator "Diyasena" in 1956. Mahinda is Diyasena delayed perhaps by 50 years.
It is well - known that Mahinda is a strong southern regionalist. Such Ruhunu consciousness has its own baggage. There is the Dutu Gemunu syndrome where many sons of the south think they are latter-day incarnations of Rohana. They have to protect the country and liberate it from its enemies.
Let it not be forgotten that Mahinda never associated himself with any major effort to resolve the national question through federalism under Chandrika Kumaratunga. The excuse is that Kumaratunga ignored him. True! But then this was what Rajapakse wanted. Had Rajapakse really wanted to associate with those efforts I am sure he could have bulldozed his way in. After all when he wanted to be premier he cut Lakshman Kadirgamar's throat neatly. When he wanted presidential nomination he circumvented the Bandaranaikes , did he not?
Mahinda's consistency
What has been apparent in the past is Mahinda's consistency in identifying himself with the forces of Sinhala racism opposing even meagre concessions to the Tamils. There he was at the Buddhist demonstration opposing the devolution bill in 2000. There he was visiting fasting Omalpe Sobhitha Thero at Dalada Maligawa. Who was the man behind the JVP action against the P- TOMS.
Compounding matters further is the treatment meted out to Mahinda in Jaffna in the aftermath of the tsunami by Tiger instigated mobs. Of course Rajapakse can say he has no grudges against Tamils and prove it by saying "my best friend is a Tamil. It’s Douglas Devananda."
Rajapakse has very correctly gauged the LTTE to be the primary and effective obstacle to his political aims. He has devised a policy therefore of containing and undermining the LTTE in the short run. In the long run he hopes to launch an all out war to annihilate the Tigers. Another important consideration is the IC. The active support of the IC is required to bankroll the economy while war is conducted. These are the defining parameters of Mahinda Rajapakse's current policy towards the resolution of the national question.
Satisfying or hoodwinking the IC is of crucial importance. The idea is to pay lip- service to certain words , phrases and statements that are music to the IC's ear. Its like chanting manthras in a pooja. The current key words as far as the IC is concerned is peace, talks and peace process. Other manthras of importance are negotiated settlement, democracy, pluralism, human rights, devolution, minority rights, inclusivity etc.
Impressing the IC
The important thing to remember is that only paying lip-service is required. Keep mumbling the jargon and go through the motions of peace process participation. In order to impress the IC Rajapakse would always appear to be reasonable and flexible. Take the Geneva talks for instance. Mahinda instructs his team to accept the accord. "Porunthuvelaa enda. Passay balamu" (Promise and come. Lets see later).
So the Geneva agreement is signed. But within 24 hours all sorts of new interpretations are given. A fresh stance is articulated. This negates the essence of what was agreed upon in Geneva. The LTTE is humiliated at the airport. Helicopters are not provided for internal transport thereby causing an unnecessary crisis. Making promises on the one hand in Geneva and defaulting in performance on the other in Sri Lanka is the stand adopted.
In a sense Mahinda is not being very original in this approach. The tragic history of Sinhala - Tamil relations in this country is replete with such instances. The first Sinhala film (produced by a Tamil S. M. Nayagam) to be made was 'Kadawuna Poronthuwa' or Broken Promise. The breakdown in ethnic relations is characterised by a trail of broken political promises. That history continues.
So this component of the strategy is quite simple. Appear to be reasonable and flexible and above all amenable to the IC requests. Talking to the Tigers? Yes of course! Strengthen the ceasefire? Yes certainly!! But act entirely the opposite in practice. Thus we witness the spectacle of refusing to dismantle the high security zones, we see assassinations of Tamil activists and the blatantly transparent support extended to alternate armed Tamil groups.
While impressing the IC in this manner attempts are made to diplomatically weaken and isolate the LTTE. The most convenient label is terrorist. The LTTE is essentially a freedom movement but some of the methods it uses are 'terroristic.' It is easy therefore for Colombo to get the LTTE proscribed internationally in a post - 9/11 world. Even here the GOSL is smart. It requests international proscription of the LTTE only for two reasons. One is to pressurise the Tigers into participating more actively in the peace process. The other is to protect Tamil expatriates from Tiger extortionists.
Isolation of LTTE
What is underway carefully and systematically is a slow process through which the LTTE is being driven away into the cold. The Tigers are being put in the international dog house. The purpose is long term. The isolation of the LTTE from the mainstream International Community would be of immense help to Colombo when all out war starts. A concerted transnational effort short of deploying actual personnel on ground could very much be on the cards.
Unfortunately the LTTE seems unable or unwilling to transform itself even as a tactic to prevent this phenomenon. It makes all the wrong noises and emits all the wrong signals thereby expediting its downfall. It appears utterly helpless in preventing or even forestalling the impending calamity. Some policies practised by the Tigers in Sri Lanka and abroad have proved counterproductive. It is now experiencing the consequences of such conduct.
Preparing for war
Meanwhile Rajapakse is preparing for total war. Shopping lists are being sent out. Diplomatic missions are undertaken to solicit support. Not so subtle efforts are being made to exploit differences among rival nations to stimulate competition in helping Lanka's war effort most. Plans are afoot for conscription. A war emergency declaration suppressing press freedom and concentrating power in Rajapakse's hands is very likely. Those who think Mahinda with the beatific grin is incapable of dictatorial tendencies are in for a nasty surprise. A Bonapartist is in the making.
If preparatory efforts are on for a total war there is overt and covert warfare of a limited nature going on at present. This is another important aspect of Rajapakse's regime. Overtly it is described as retaliatory and confined to specific objectives. Covertly it is an undeclared, shadow war, that is both provocative and retaliatory at times.
Whenever the LTTE crosses the line too much like the suicide bomber attack on army headquarters or the marine assault on a naval convoy retaliatory strikes are openly announced and implemented. Thus we had the air, sea and land assault on Muttur. Aerial bombardment, artillery firing from army camps and shelling from naval gunboats was done incessantly. The second time saw Muttur getting only artillery firing and naval gunboat shelling. Nothing from the air. But Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts experienced aerial bombardment.
The amazing thing about this is that Rajapakse has been able to get away with it. No international opprobrium at a policy which deliberately targets a segment of civilian population as collective punishment. Vicarious responsibility is being imposed upon a people for no fault of their own. The IC through its silence is being perceived as supportive of this. Again Rajapakse has been clever in responding this way only after a grave violation by the LTTE.
Violating the ceasefire
Thus the IC sees these acts as a consequence of LTTE behaviour. Both the GOSL and LTTE are guilty of violating the ceasefire and basic human rights. But the culpability of the GOSL is even higher but in a post - Iraq scenario the global policeman acts dumb.
On the other hand there is the covert warfare. On one level it is retaliatory and reactive. Those responsible are Tamil groups like the EPDP and TEMVP (Karuna faction). The security personnel provide logistical support. So if and when a soldier is targetted by the LTTE or pro-Tiger militia the alternative armed groups go ahead and bump off civilians suspected of having Tiger links. The GOSL propaganda machinery puts the blame on the LTTE or it is attributed to internecine intra-Tamil strife. The IC praises the "Commendable restraint" of the armed forces and the 'Buddhist' patience of Rajapakse.
There is also proactive and even provocative violence unleashed by the state. These are of different types and serve different goals. One result of the ceasefire has been the growing influence of the LTTE in GOSL controlled areas. This has created a potential fifth column in these areas. By targetting those supporters of the LTTE and those suspected of being connected to the Tigers the people are being driven through fear into Tiger controlled areas. Thus a potential fifth colum threat when open war erupts is being diminished.
There is also the deliberate provocative violence which targets the LTTE or Tiger supporters. The deep penetration squads are actively infiltrating LTTE areas and exploding landmines. Civilian supporter Vigneswaran is shot dead in Trincomalee. LTTE senior leader Ramanan is killed in Batticaloa. Muslim groups are being armed and instigated into targetting Tamil civilian supporters of the LTTE in Muttur. Sinhala home guards and criminal elements are being encouraged to engage in anti - Tamil violence with armed forces aiding and abetting.
Violence by armed forces
There are also acts of violence against civilians by armed forces. The Puthur, Nelliaddy, Allaipiddy killings, Manthuvil disappearances etc. are some of these. There are specific acts against LTTE supporters like businessmen, auto rickshaw drivers and barbers by Tamil paramilitary outfits like the EPDP. It is interesting to note that EPDP Chief Douglas Devananda is a minister in this cabinet. The trail of responsibility goes right up to ministerial level. Not even one person has been penalised so far for any act of violence against Tamil civilians.
All these acts are not individual or random acts of violence. There is method in this mayhem. A clear design is visible. The climate of impunity afforded by the Rajapakse regime and its active encouragement is very much conducive to the violence. What is going on now is calculated state terror. Colombo newspapers spoke of a 'Dog response' or 'Lion response' when it came to responding to LTTE violence. Naturally the regime headed by the Ruhunu lion chose the lion response. The state terror being unleashed is the lion response.
LTTE blamed
This does not mean that the LTTE is blameless. Of course it has to bear much blame. But there are three points to consider. Firstly Tiger violence is duly recognised and roundly condemned nationally and internationally whereas the state-inspired violence is neither identified correctly nor condemned deservedly. Secondly not all state violence is provoked by the LTTE. Much of it is initiated by state agencies. Thirdly the LTTE is after all a 'terrorist' outfit being proscribed by the IC. The GOSL is a democratically elected entity that has a greater responsibility to refrain from state terror.
These then are parameters of Rajapakse's policies towards the Tigers and by extension the Tamils. Against this backdrop is the slow build up of a Sinhala consensus for war. The farce that is an all party conference passes resolutions supportive of peace and negotiations for international consumption. Outside the conference the JVP and JHU and PNM carry on relentless campaigning for war against the LTTE which in practice would be against the Tamils.
It cannot be denied that Mahinda Rajapakse's task has been made much easier by the LTTE. The Tigers by their conduct and posturing have alienated much of international opinion. Erik Solheim rescued them several times and delayed the inevitable international backlash. The LTTE however keeps on blundering diplomatically again and again. Instead of being able to expose Mahinda Rajapakse for what he is the LTTE has succeeded in the impossible. They have managed to make even Mahinda look good in international eyes and get praised for his restraint.
Align with UNP
If Mahinda was really keen to free himself of JVP and JHU shackles the easiest course would be to align with the UNP. But he does not do that. Instead he travels along with them. Apart from being ideologically similiar Mahinda needs them to make him look moderate. Also they are building up the climate for hate and war. I think a national government comprising the JVP , JHU and hawks among the UNP will be a reality when open war breaks out. To a man of Mahinda's Chinthana war will be the best option to garner, consolidate and retain power.
Will Mahinda Rajapakse be able to achieve his objectives and usher in war? If he does so will he succeed in defeating the LTTE and re-structuring the Sri Lankan state under majoritarian hegemony? The answer to the first question rests primarily on the Sinhala people and the international community. The answer to the second lies in the LTTE.
Unless the Sinhala people and the international community recognise the true colours of Rajapakse total war would be inevitable. In such an eventuality the Tamil people will be forced to support or a least not oppose the LTTE. The war that will erupt would be a terrible, horrible one. Whichever side wins the ultimate losers will be Sri Lanka and her people.

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