| by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“….for what may seem
Terrible or bizarre, when once our eyes
Have had time to acclimatise,
Becomes quite commonplace.”
La Fontaine (Selected Fables)
( July 2, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) For 12 years the semiotics of Nazi Germany shaped Victor Klemperer’s existence. As a German Jew, he witnessed how the Nazis turned the language of Goethe, Schiller and Heine into a tool; and experienced, at first hand, the diabolical results of the consequent transformation of German society and the German mind.
The Nazis would take a familiar word, give it a new meaning by implication, and use it intensely and extensively until it sank deep into the public mind and caused noxious changes in the public consciousness: “If someone replaces the words ‘heroic’ and ‘virtuous’ with ‘fanatical’ for long enough, he will come to believe that a fanatic really is a virtuous hero, and that no one can be a hero without fanaticism. The Third Reich did not invent the words ‘fanatic’ and ‘fanaticism’; it just changed their value….1”
An analogous process is at work in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka. It was evident in renaming the Fourth Eelam War a ‘Humanitarian Operation (with Zero Civilian Casualties), the giant internment camps ‘Welfare Villages’ and the Witch Trial of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike an impeachment. It is evident in the deliberate fanning of the flames of ethno-religious racism, in the whipping up of ant-devolution hysteria, in the transformation of Gen. Fonseka from Patriotic Hero to Arch Traitor.
The latest manifestation of this toxic process of psychological and moral transformation is the case of Dayasiri Jayasekara.
The defection of Dayasiri Jayasekara was an act of pure unadulterated opportunism. In making his jump, Mr. Jayasekara, until very recently a voluble critic of Rajapaksa Rule, was motivated by nothing more than naked self-interest. Like those other UNPers who took the same path, he did what he did because he wanted to be more than a leader in the opposition, because he wanted the illusion and the trappings of power
Opportunism is common to all politics. The problem is when it is transformed from a negative to a positive value, and depicted as an honourable act.
That Ranil Wickremesinghe is a gargantuan disaster as the leader of the UNP and of the Opposition is indubitable. But that proven fact does not in any way justify the defection of Dayasiri Jayasekara (or any other UNPer). Leaving the UNP in disgust and despair can be comprehended. But joining the government, he himself excoriated as family-centric, repressive and corrupt, cannot be justified.
Unless words such as opportunism, self-interest and betrayal are invested with their antithetical meanings.
Defection from opposition to the Rajapaksas is not just an act of political betrayal; it is also an act of self-betrayal. And when such behaviour is hailed as unavoidable or inevitable, let alone wise, good or patriotic, we unwittingly collude with the Rajapaksas in creating a new moral-ethical commonsense which sanctifies not just violent repression and corruption but also opportunism, cowardliness, self-debasement and shamelessness.
(Incidentally, if Ranil Wickremesinghe becomes the President tomorrow, every single UNP defector will return to the UNP, singing hosannas to President Wickremesinghe).
Recently, the Daily Mirror carried a picture of President Rajapaksa and Duminda Silva at a public function; the Monitoring MP of the Defence Ministry is worshipping the Minister of Defence, on bended knees with his hands on his head2.
Worshipfully obeying the Rajapaksa Siblings is the First Precept of the Rajapaksa Reich.
From Dayasiri Jayasekara to Duminda Silva, from GL Peiris to Keheliya Rambukwella, the message is simple: if you want to get ahead in politics, observe the First Precept and become a Rajapaksa-worshipper. Abandoning your party, letting down your voters, betraying your principles and shaming yourself are not political and social solecisms but smart career-moves.
In the Rajapaksa Reich, opportunism is wisdom, shamelessness honour and cowardice patriotism; a good man is a man bereft of decency and self-respect, a man who can consume his own words of just yesterday with relish, as if they are manna from heaven.
Politics in the Rajapaksa Reich
The Rajapaksas have a contradictory relationship with the military and the SLFP. Their power-project cannot succeed without these two entities. But their very dependence on the military and the SLFP renders them vulnerable to military coup and inner-party rebellion. The solution to these incipient dangers is to remake the military and the SLFP in the Rajapaksa image, to deprive them of their relative autonomy and to turn them into witless and servile instruments of Rajapaksa power.
In the necessary task of transforming the party of the Bandaranaikes into the party of Rajapaksas, defections have an important role to play. The newcomers do not have a base in the SLFP; therefore they do not have the limited authority/autonomy of a Maitripala Sirisena or a Nimal Siripala de Silva. They are totally dependent on the Rajapaksas for everything. As complete supplicants they will have no choice but to accept every Rajapaksa depredation, support every Rajapaksa crime and defend every Rajapaksa excess. They represent the SLFP that is being born, a Rajapaksa party with a Rajapaksa agenda.
It is no accident that UNP-defector Keheliya Rambukwella is the Government Spokesman.
The UPFA voter base is eroding – and the Rajapaksa magic is waning - as the results of the last round of PC polls demonstrated. Between the Local Government elections of 2011 and PC poll of 2012, the UPFA’s tally decreased by 58,908 votes in the North-Central Province and 60,454 votes in the Sabaragamuwa Province. Even if the decrease in Sabaragamua can be explained partially by the CWC’s decision to contest separately, a similar mitigating factor was not operative in the very Sinhala-Buddhist Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where the UPFA vote decreased by about 15% in just one year.
This was before the electricity hike!
If the erosion of the UPFA base continues at the current pace, in a few years marginally free and fair elections will become as impossible in the South as they are in the North. The only way out is to weaken and demoralise the opposition parties so that they perform even worse than the UPFA, enabling the regime to win by default.
Despite the disastrous leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the equally debilitating antics of Sajith Premadasa, the UNP actually did better at the last round of PC polls than was anticipated. It gained 50,670 votes in North-Central and lost only 9,090 votes in Sabaragamuwa.
Thus the timing of the Jayasekara-defection. Mr. Jayasekara wants a portfolio; the Rajapaksas want to demoralise the UNP and push ordinary UNPers into ever grater despair with high-profile defections. The Rajapaksas do not expect droves of ordinary UNPers to follow Mr. Jayasekara into the UPFA. The gain they expect from this defection is the demoralising of ordinary UNP activists and voters. If enough UNPers stay away from the polling booth in despair, the UPFA can ‘win’ big, despite its eroding support base.
Semiotic-shenanigans, media-suppression, Leadership Training and engineering defections all aim at creating a Sri Lanka inured to Rajapaksa Rule. An indifferent country, consisting of a rabid minority of Rajapaksa-supporters and an apathetic majority, which try to survive by emulating the Ostrich.
1 The Language of the Third Reich