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The Post-War Wars

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“ The war will stop only after all the enemies who acted to the detriment of their motherland were brought to book irrespective of whether they were local or international”.
- Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (Indian Express – 11.8.2009).

( September 12, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) If the LTTE wanted what the TNA is asking for, the Eelam War would have ended long before 2009, in a negotiated solution.

Vellupillai Pirapaharan did not want federalism or even confederation. He wanted Tiger Eelam, a state wholly owned by and totally subservient to him. His maximum programme was his only programme. Had he wanted anything less than Eelam, he would have accepted either the Oslo Declaration (federalism in a single country, supported by the SLFP and the UNP1) or the quasi-separationist ISGA. He rejected both as betrayals. Eventually he engineered the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa, because he wanted to escape peace and re-embrace war.

Anyone who equates the TNA’s 2013 Manifesto and the Tiger agenda is either an inveterate ignoramus or a diabolical liar.

The current ‘LTTE = TNA’ cavalcade is being led by the President himself. According to him, the TNA is “taking forward the propaganda of slain LTTE Leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran…. there is no difference between what the TNA is saying today and what Prabhakaran said back then.”2 Brother Basil follows suit: “The election manifesto presented by the TNA is aimed…to create a conflict between the public in North and the South. The TNA tries to arouse racial feelings of the southern people and create a terror situation in the country again… (TNA Manifesto) is a representation of the opinion of Prabhakaran3.

Whither the Rajapaksas lead, the minions follow. Minister Dulles Alahapperuma proclaims that the TNA manifesto is a ‘cyanide capsule’, a document “prepared to ignite the fires in the South of the country”.4

Lost in this inane-racist cacophony is the fact that the TNA and its Chief Ministerial candidate are equally unpalatable to the pro-Tiger Tamils of Tamil Nadu and the Diaspora. The Student Movement of Tamil Nadu is accusing Justice Wigneswaran of “joining the Sri Lankan government to set up a united Sri Lanka”5 and fears that the TNA will try to ‘unite Sri Lanka’ if it wins the PC poll.

This shared Tiger-centrism is no accident. The Rajapaksas are the legally-begotten children of 1956 while the Tigers/pro-Tiger Tamils are the illegal offspring of that abomination. For both sides even a drop of moderation, an ounce of compromise is toxic. As children of maximalism, they need division and conflict. In peace, they will become irrelevant.

The Tigers rejected the Oslo Declaration because a North-South-International consensus on a federal solution would have presented them with two equally unappetising choices: changing radically or becoming superfluous. The Rajapaksas cannot allow ethno-religious reconciliation/solidarity for the same reason – survival and power. Sans a Tamil/Muslim/Christian bogey the Sinhalese will be free to focus on real-life issues. And if living conditions and living costs dominate the politico-electoral agenda, the Rajapaksas will find themselves bereft of slogans, arguments and a growing chunk of voters.

So permanent threats and omnipresent enemies constitute a Rajapaksa-lifeline. Their propaganda campaign against the TNA is aimed at refurbishing the image of the ‘Tamil Enemy’, for Sinhala consumption. The Muslim enemy and the Christian enemy are never far away.

The Sinhalese are not safe either, from this Rajapaksa voracity for enemies. For instance, the Weliweiya protests are being linked to a Grand Conspiracy, by Rajapaksa Spies and Rajapaksa Media: “The intelligence units have revealed that the Rathupaswala incident was the beginning of a conspiracy to shutdown factories in the country. It has become the objective of non-governmental organisations giving leadership to this conspiracy to create a crisis in the country by shutting down factories. The intelligence units reveal that another objective of these conspirators is to project that there is a labour crisis in the country. Their next step is to instigate the people in the villages against the operation of factories. The intelligence units state that the Rathupaswala incident was only the beginning of this conspiracy. They have said that these NGOs have planned to indirectly antagonise the people against the factories using environmental and moral issues.”6

Thus the Rajapaksa-logic!

Enabling Anti-Minority Violence

This September 11th marked the 40th anniversary of the coup against the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. That anti-democratic venture was enabled by the US, as newly declassified documents prove, again: In a discussion days after the coup, the then National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger tells President Nixon, “We didn’t do it…. I mean we helped them….created the conditions as great as possible”7.

The Rajapaksas too are playing a similar enabling role in igniting ethno-religious conflicts. The anti-minority attacks continue, because the perpetrators are confident of Rajapaksa support and protection.

This situation is rather analogous to what happened in the North and the East in the early days of Rajapaksa Presidency. Throughout the final peace process, the LTTE tried to provoke the Lankan military into attacking civilian Tamils, unsuccessfully. But one and a half months into Rajapaksa presidency the military commenced ‘retaliatory-strikes’ against Tamil civlians. On December 23rd 2005, a Naval-bus came under a landmine attack in Pesalai, killing more than a dozen naval personnel. The Navy responded by attacking civilian Tamil residents8. The state took no legal measures against the uniformed-culprits; more portentously, the incident was ignored by most of the Southern media.

Thus a new ethos, characterised by criminal-permissiveness and blanket-impunity, was born. It remains dominant post-war, creating an enabling environment for attacks on minorities and on dissenting Sinhalese (in Weliweriya, the army claimed that it fired a few shots into the air, after protestors threw homemade-bombs and shot a T56).

A core-belief of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism is the myth that Sinhala-Buddhists are never extremists per se; that they lapse into extremism, occasionally, only in reaction to minority crimes/misdemeanours. The burden of maintaining societal harmony thereby falls not on the majority but on the minorities. If the minorities do not want to be targeted, they must take care not to offend/frighten the majority.

And anything can anger the majority. It need not be a separate state. The Muslims/Christians never asked for a separate state, and the Tamils were not asking for one until the Vaddukkodai Resolution. Absolutely anything can provoke Sinhala-Buddhist anger/suspicion/fear – academic achievements/professional excellence on the part of the minorities, the way they dress, what they eat and how they live, their language or religion.

Every difference is suspect and can lead to violence.

The Rajapaksas have adopted this worldview, out of ideological conviction and political necessity.

If the Rajapaksa hate-campaign against the TNA results in an anti-Tamil explosion, they will blame and punish the TNA, in the name of racial-harmony.

A divided people in an undivided land – that is the Rajapaksa goal. Their peace is/will be characterised by a permanent cold-war between the communities, interspersed with outbursts of violence, which will be blamed on the minority-victims.

In his Nobel Lecture, Seamus Heaney referred to ‘wounded spots on the face of earth’. Sri Lanka is such a place. But while the Rajapaksas remain in power, Sri Lanka cannot heal, because they will persist in worsening old wounds and creating new ones.

1 Even the JVP publicly expressed willingness to support negotiations based on the Oslo Declaration, as distinct from the ISGA

2 http://colombogazette.com/2013/09/11/mr-accuses-the-tna/

3 http://www.slbc.lk/index.php/component/content/article/1-latest-news/16133-minister-basil-rajapakse-says-the-election-manifesto-presented-by-the-tna-is-aimed-at-creating-conflicts-

4 http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=local/cyanide-capsule-courtesy-tna-dullas

5 Ceylon Today – 11.9.2013

6 http://www.slbc.lk/index.php?start=126

7 http://www.democracynow.org/2013/9/9/was_us_journalist_charles_horman_killed

8 “All residents were….lined up on the road in the scorching sun and were attacked with gun butts not sparing the women and children. Men were made to stand with their heads in a hole in the ground and were humiliated and kicked from behind…. Remains of a mother and her four year old son have been recovered from a house that was burnt by the Navy. Another parent and child are among those missing. Attacks on civilians reportedly continued into the following day. Naval personnel robbed a large quantity of gold from the residents. There was no attempt on the part of the Government to intervene promptly and reassure the civilians, leave alone acknowledge what happened. Among those admitted to hospital is a 5 year old boy with a broken skull. A naval man had rammed his gun barrel into the back of the boy's head and penetrated it” (UTHR - Briefing No. 5 – 27.12.2005). The UTHR pointed out that if the regime took timely disciplinary action against SP Kapila Jayasekere for his role in the killing of five students in Trincomalee, the subsequent killing of aid workers in Mutur could have been avoided. Instead he was promoted to SSP, sending a clear signal to the police and the military. But perhaps the ‘original sin’ goes further; the Trinco killing may not have happened had the regime acted lawfully after the Navy’s attack on the residents of 100 Houses Housing Scheme in Mannar, in December 2005.