by Dayan Jayatilleka
Here’s the way the current political discourse seems to me. In a swimming competition, a swimmer lagging behind accuses the one in front of taking steroids, while ignoring the fact that he is swimming with a weight attached by none other than himself, to his leg.
The swimmer who is accused of just having taken steroids (in the form of the 18th amendment) is the incumbent. The match referee (the Supreme Court) has cleared him, but doubts remain. Fair enough-- but it is stupid of the swimmer who is drowning, to complain about possible steroid abuse as a reason for failing in the competition, without removing the deadweight that is dragging him to the bottom of the pool! The drowning swimmer is the UNP-led opposition and the deadweight is the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
When I point that out, I am not merely trying to be fair by the lead swimmer but also to save the drowning one and thereby the entire competition.
The Opposition accuses Mahinda Rajapakse of attempting to prolong his incumbency. While this may or may not be true—and it usually is of incumbents, unless you are a George Washington or Nelson Mandela – the glaring irony is that there is one person who has prolonged his incumbency without even having been elected or having performed a huge national service by winning a great victory. That person is the leader of the very party and the larger parliamentary Opposition that accuses Mahinda Rajapakse of manoeuvring to remain in office! Rajapakse has been (elected, successful) leader of the country and the SLFP for only a third of the time that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been the (unelected, unsuccessful) leader of the UNP. Many of those who criticise Mahinda Rajapakse on the score of entrenchment, and seek regime change, do not criticise Wickremesinghe and seek regime change in the UNP. I find that in equal parts hypocritical and hilarious.
The UNP’s leadership survives because it is propped up by an inherited fortune and foreign patronage. Successive governments may love him as an opponent, but it is only Ranil’s leadership and his civil society solidarity committee that provide the anti-Sri Lankan external elements with a Southern partnership.
9/11 and the Great Terror
Few could have missed the worldwide television coverage of the emotional memorial ceremonies nine years after 9/11. How many 9/11s did we experience? The Central Bank bombing was only one. And our Thirty Years War ended only a year back. We have experienced but a year without the Great Terror visited upon us by the Tigers.
Some, like the admirably eloquent Mr Sumanthiran of the TNA, have yet to make as full length and full–on a critique of Prabhakaran and the Tigers as he did in parliament of Mahinda Rajapakse and the 18th amendment. Ok, forget ‘full-on’, couldn’t he mention the LTTE and its leader even once, in his passionate denunciation of the “nailing of the coffin of democracy”?
It is true that the regime’s ideologues play the anti-Tiger patriotic card to justify the 18th amendment, but that linkage is made not only by pro-18A but also anti-18A personalities. The Opposition which is hobbled by association with the LTTE (TNA) or appeasement of it (Ranil’s UNP), finds itself virtually impaled on the stake of un-patriotism by those like Prof Kumar David who draw a direct line of causation between the military victory and support for it on the one hand, and opposing both the military victory and the 18th amendment on the other. He writes:
“Such is the gravity of September 2010, an inexorable consequence of May 2009...I take no particular delight in rubbing it into my Sinhalese compatriots that, as surely as night follows day, when state power raises itself above society through victory in a racist civil war, its subsequent transformation into an instrument for the repression of its own people is a lesson that history has demonstrated many times. The psychological setting and balances of power fashioned by the overwhelming victory of the state over the LTTE is the backdrop to today’s march to dictatorship... "(‘Treachery what is Left of thy name’, Sunday Island Sept 12, 2010)
Well, if that’s the package, if that’s the retrospective identification and nexus, then Kumar David and his “Sinhala compatriots” are of one mind-- and whose arguments do you think the masses will go along with; which choice will they make?
Unlike the UNP, the TNA and their supportive intelligentsia, the JVP did stand against the Tigers, though they have yet to settle accounts with their own unrestrainedly savage attacks on democracy and democrats in 1986-89
The Post-18A Debate
Marx once said of Jeremy Bentham that “the incredible flatness of present day bourgeois society is best evidenced by the heights of its greatest intellects”. Luckily he never made the acquaintance of Sri Lankan intelligentsia based at home and in the Diaspora.
It is unsurprising that the commentariat which echoes Colombo’s chattering classes have so little resonance in the rest of the citizenry, its friends in the Diaspora and its international allies get Sri Lanka so wrong, and the Opposition is so pathetically weak ( thereby leaving incumbent administration has greater political hegemony than its quite considerable popularity warrants). Part of the reason is that they are so blinkered.
How else could my intervention in the 18th amendment debate be considered a defence of the 18th amendment? I could be reasonably accused of mounting a defence – though not uncritical – of the Sri Lankan state or/and the Mahinda Rajapakse presidency, but a defence of the amendment? C’mon folks, that’s as smart as accusing a medical specialist who provides a dissenting diagnosis and prognosis of a symptom or a malady, of defending the symptom or the malady!