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The Minority Conundrum

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“In other countries who (sic) are successful, they were successful because immediately one person he takes the decisions. In Sri Lanka, the main problem is that that is not there, more decisions have to be centralized”
- Basil Rajapaksa (Sydney Morning Herald – 19.11.2012)

( September 8., 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In his review of Hannah K, Costa Gavras’s movie on the human consequences of Palestinian dispossession, Edward Said points out that the American mass-culture has accepted “the notion that whereas there may be a Palestine question and even Palestinians, neither has much positive human value attached to it”1. In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, the existence of a Tamil community is accepted, as an unavoidable statistic, but the validity of a Tamil problem, at a political or a human level, is totally negated.

The ‘commonsense’ of the Rajapaksa era reduced the Northern crisis to a terrorist problem which ‘ended’ with the annihilation of the LTTE. The Tamils may share some economic and social woes with other Lankans, but even these non-political problems are rapidly evaporating thanks to the regime’s accelerated ‘development-drive’. The only potential snake in this happy Eden is the possibility of a Tiger resurgence, for which the military is ready, in situ.

In this context, any reference to a Tamil problem from a political or a human angle becomes axiomatically equated with Tigerism, terrorism and separatism. This renders objectionable not just a political solution to the ethnic problem but also such normal human impulses as mourning the death of a loved one. Thus the near hysterical reaction to Navi Pillay’s request to pay a floral tribute to all the dead of the Eelam War (the only war-dead considered ‘worthy’ of being commemorated are the members of the military, Sinhala civilians, and some anti-Tiger Tamils).

Thus also the venomous reaction to the prospect of a TNA-led Northern PC (with a Chief Minister of Justice Wigneswaran’s calibre).

At the 2013 Defence Seminar, Prof. Rohan Gunaratne castigated the TNA ‘as an Avatar of the LTTE’ and the ‘latest reincarnation of the LTTE’ and opined that its new manifesto indicates that the TNA is ‘moving towards a separatist ideology’, again2. He followed this with a far deadlier diatribe, in an interview with a local TV channel: “The TNA’s extremist phase has begun; its manifesto is just like the TULF’s Vaddukkodai resolution. But then Amirtalingam’s wife said that they can have a comfortable sleep only after they have consumed Sinhalese flesh. Today the TNA says that they are sons of Prabhakaran. Statements made by TNA will once again create issues in the country”. He concluded this ‘analysis’ by proposing that “the government should enact a law banning all Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese racial political parties”3.

The TNA’s manifesto can be faulted on a number of counts, such as its pusillanimous dealing with the ‘Muslim issue’, or its ignoring of caste, class and gender problems faced by Tamils. But to equate the 2013 TNA Manifesto with the Vadukkodai resolution is pure nonsense. (Prof. Gunaratne’s repetition of a calumnious ‘accusation’, which was a key component of the Sinhala-racist repertoire in the deadly 1980’s, is indicative of his own racism rather than of the Tamil/TNA condition).

Prof. Gunaratne’s comments could have been ignored as intemperate gibberish of no political moment, had it not been for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s equally objectionable remarks about Tamil and Muslim extremism and Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rant that he will never permit separatism: “What Prabhakaran could not do none of today’s ones will ever be able to do”4.

Are these mere seasonal outpourings, aimed at hoodwinking the Sinhala electorate? Or do they indicate a far more insidious plan, to criminalise Tamil and Muslim politics in the name of anti-racism?

Racism is Anti-racism

The Rajapaksas have a ‘minority problem’.

The minorities have a record of voting against the Rajapaksas, starting with the Presidential Election of 2005. Since Tamils and Muslims are less susceptible to the ‘Rajapaksa-magic’, they are more likely to resist various aspects of Rajapaksa rule - which can become a national-catalyst, advertently or inadvertently.

De-empowering Tamils and Muslims, politically and electorally seems to be the Rajapaksa way of handling their minority conundrum.

In his formal address to the Parliament to announce the end of the war, President Rajapaksa decreed the de-existence of minorities: “We have removed the word ‘minorities’ from our vocabulary three years ago. No longer are there Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays or any other minorities. There are only two peoples in this country. One is the people that love this country. The other comprises the small groups that have no love for the land of their birth.” This Orwellian assertion was accompanied by an attempt to ban political parties with a racial/religious identity. The Rajapaksas planned to enact a law empowering the Elections Commissioner to “de-recognise” political parties that bear the “name of a religion or race”, if these parties do not re-register themselves under a different name within a year. The law was to be presented to parliament in September 2009.

Had that discriminatory piece of legislation been adopted, all independent political activity by the minorities would have been rendered illegal. Most Sinhala-Buddhist extremist parties would have been unaffected by this law as these parties have names which do not directly refer to an ethnic/religious group. There is no need to for them to do so; the axiomatic identification of country, nation and people with the majority community, which is a basic premise of Sinhala-Buddhist Supremacism, enables these parties to use innocuous euphemisms to cover their real ethno-religious agendae. Unlike the minorities they can advocate Sinhala-Buddhist interests under guise of promoting Lankan patriotism

Is the regime planning a similar shenanigan, as a way to legally undermine a TNA-led Northern PC?

Rajapaksa rule is characterised by extreme accumulation of power by a single family. The Ruling Siblings desire to see the end of the 13th Amendment for the very reason they did away with the 17th Amendment and launched an Impeachment travesty.

Separation of powers is dead. The only remaining legal/constitutional obstacle to the Rajapaksa juggernaut is devolution. The Rajapaksas would prefer to combat devolution on the nationalist-terrain. Once the 13th Amendment – or parts of it – is equated with separatism, the regime will be able to garb its battle against devolution in anti-separatism and anti-(Tamil) racism. Such a disguise can prevent the Sinhalese from realising that the 13th Amendment is the last remaining obstacle in the Rajapaksa road to dynastic-despotism.

Take for example the issue of land. If land-powers are taken away from the provincial councils, the regime will be able to confiscate private lands at will. The minorities need land power to stymie the regime’s plan to change the demographics of the North and the East (a la Israel) and to ensure some sort of basic security for themselves.

But keeping land powers out of Rajapaksa hands is important for the Sinhalese as well. The Rajapaksas failed to pass the ‘Sacred Areas Act’, which would have given them absolute control over every inch of private land everywhere in Sri Lanka5, because of the 13th Amendment.

Reducing the political space permitted to the minorities in the name of anti-separatism and promoting sectarianism under the guise of anti-racism is the Rajapaksa way.

1 (italics in the original) http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/articles/article0111206.html. The full movie is available on the You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ulx0CbiwLeI
2 http://www.hirunews.lk/66570
3 http://www.hirunews.lk/66654
4 http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/will-not-allow-separation-of-lanka-rajapaksa-113090600896_1.html
5 The Clause 4 of the Act empowered the Minister of Buddha Sasana to takeover ‘any area of land’ in ‘any municipal area, an urban development area or any trunk road development area’ defined as a ‘Protection area’, a ‘Conservation area’, an ‘Architectural’ area or a ‘Historic Area’. Clause 5 empowered the Minister to define any land as a ‘Sacred Area’ and take it over. In November 2011, in response to a petition by the CPA, a Supreme Court bench headed by CJ Shirani Bandaranayake ruled that as land is a devolved subject, the Act needs the approval of all provincial councils. And the Eastern PC refused to approve it, prompting the Rajapaksas to withdraw it.

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