By Tisaranee Gunasekara
"….night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution." - Constantine Cavafy (Waiting for the Barbarians)
The war is won, has been won for one a half years. The Tiger is dead, and has been dead for one and a half years.
Why do the Rajapaksas resist accepting this reality?
Why do they talk and act as if the Tiger is only hibernating, not dead, and the war is still on at some indefinable, invisible, intangible level? Why do they want to keep the Sinhala South entrapped in a universe of fear, seeing in every passing Tamil, the shadow of the Tiger?
The obsessive refusal to develop a post-Tiger vision suited to a post-Tiger era is one of the many characteristics the Rajapaksas have in common with the ‘arch-enemy’, the Tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora. Every few weeks some member of the government - the President or the Defence Secretary, the Prime Minister or a minister - evokes the Tiger Bogey, telling the Sinhala South, over and over again, that the Tigers are not really dead; they are still lurking around, waiting for an opportunity to make an explosive come back.
The occasion on which this story is told most often gives us an indication as to its provenance – the monthly Emergency Debate in parliament. Almost every time the renewal of the Emergency is debated, some senior member of the government reminds the Southern populace of the need to keep its collective guard up and its collective fears intact, because the Tigers are not really dead.
Naturally. How can the extension of the Emergency in peacetime be justified, without the Tiger Bogey?
How can the spending of stupendous sums of money on ‘defence’, post-war, be explained, except in terms of an extant Tiger threat?
How can the continued implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and a plethora of other repressive laws make sense, post-victory, if the Tiger is not lurking in some dark corner, waiting for our moment of weakness to pounce?
The Rajapaksas, having decimated the Tiger physically, are keeping the Tiger alive spiritually, because without the Tiger, the raison d’être for Rajapaksa rule will evaporate.
The Rajapaksas need the Tiger Bogey, to ensure the success of their own dynastic project. Without the Tiger Bogey, the Rajapaksas will not be able continue their hegemony in the South.
Without the Tiger Bogey the Rajapaksas will have to resort increasingly to naked repression to keep the South quiescent. It is the Tiger Bogey which is enabling the Rajapaksas to retain their hegemony and legitimacy in the South, despite escalating economic woes.
Without the Tiger Bogey, the Rajapaksa regime will not collapse, but its capacity to hegemonise will become reduced, rendering its legitimacy threadbare.
Vellupillai Pirapaharan enabled Mahinda Rajapaksas to win the presidential election in 2005 with his ill-considered boycott campaign. Today, the pro-Tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora are continuing with Mr. Pirapaharan’s good work! They have mummified the Tiger and are trying to hoist it on the collective back of Lankan Tamils. And in doing so, they are presenting to the Rajapaksa regime on a platter, the Tiger Bogey it so desperately craves for.
At one level, extremists of all sorts speak the same language. This commonality enables them to bridge seeming chasms and feed-on and nurture each other.
The Rajapaksas and the pro-Tiger remnants in the Tamil Diaspora are alike in their need to keep the ghost of the Tiger alive, in order to justify their refusal to adapt to peaceful conditions. It is in the interests of both these entities to prevent the Sinhalese and the Tamils from moving beyond the LTTE and developing a mature and moderate political vision apposite to the post-Tiger reality.
The Rajapaksas want the pro-Tiger elements of the Tamil Diaspora to be irrational and extreme, to refuse to acknowledge post-war realities, to keep on talking about separate states and trans-national governments, to wave Tiger flags and act like Tiger clones.
That way, the Ruling Family can use the Tiger Bogey to keep the Sinhala South in a state of mindless fear, and justify every sin of omission and commission, from the absence of normalcy in the North and the East to the absence of a peace dividend in the South.
What if the Tamil Diaspora liberates itself politically from the Tiger remnants and psychologically from the pro-Tiger mindset?
What if the Diaspora distances itself from Tiger errors and atrocities, abandons maximalism, develops a democratic political agenda, and based on it, reaches out to oppositional forces in the South and to Delhi?
What if the Tamil Diaspora apologises for the killing of Rajiv Gandhi and Appapillai Amirthalingam, condemns suicide killings and child conscription, expresses fidelity to pluralist democracy, eschews the idea of a separate state and puts forward a set of proposals ranging from the withdrawal of the bulk of the Lankan Forces from the North and the East to a political solution to the ethnic problem within a united Sri Lanka (based perhaps on the neo-federal Oslo Accord repudiated by the Tigers and happily forgotten by Colombo)?
Such a radical change will enable the Tamils to get rid of the aura of non-respectability which the Tigers’ penchant for violent extremism has saddled them with. It will enable the Tamils to build bridges to Delhi and to democratic forces in the South. True, the idea of making such concessions unilaterally would be unpalatable, especially given the magnitude of the defeat the Sinhala supremacists – empowered by the LTTE - imposed on Lankan Tamils.
The crass triumphalism of the Rajapaksas and their ungenerous and inhumane treatment of the Lankan Tamils, post-war, would have made the idea of any compromise (however reasonable, logical or desirable) seem like capitulation. After all, unrealistic, impractical extremism, masquerading as idealism or fidelity to principle, is often the sole psychological refuge of the defeated. But this attitude, though understandable, will not help the Tamil cause.
It will prevent the Tamils from rebuilding themselves politically, based on a programme which can be taken seriously by Washington or London, Delhi or the Lankan opposition. It will prevent the Tamils from rebuilding their damaged relationship with Delhi, the only force still capable of rendering them some real assistance. It will also strengthen the Rajapaksas, by enabling them to justify their crimes and misdeeds, inabilities and errors through the invocation of the Tiger Bogey.
Currently the pro-Tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora, with their insistence on carrying the Tiger carcass, are helping the Rajapaksas, albeit inadvertently, to hide their Familial Rule and Dynastic Project behind a patriotic façade. What if, for instance, the London protests against President Rajapaksa’s Oxford Union speech took place minus the Tiger flags?
The Rajapaksas would have been left with nothing to say and their defeat would have been total. It was the presence of the red-and-gold Tiger flag which enabled the Rajapaksas to re-don the somewhat tattered anti-Tiger cloak and scream about threats to national security.
So long as the Diaspora keeps on flaunting the dead Tiger, the Rajapaksas will have all the excuses they need to keep Lankan Tamils living in Sri Lanka under bondage, to keep North East under de facto military occupation, to implement colonisation schemes, to prevent the politico-economic regeneration of Tamils. Without the Tiger Bogey the Rajapaksas will not abandon their Sinhala supremacism, but they will run out of excuses to justify it, even in the South.
The Ruling Family needs the Tiger Bogey to stay in power, without having to resort to generalised repression. And so long as the Rajapaksas are in power, the Tamils in Sri Lanka will not be able to win even their minimal political demands.
The inability of the pro-Tiger elements of the Tamil Diaspora to give up Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s ghost is regrettable. Such an obsession does not help the Tamil cause, or the Lankan Tamils, especially the Tamils of Wanni and Killinochchi, who bore the brunt of the war and are eking meagre and precarious existences in peacetime. The Tamil Diaspora once failed the Lankan Tamils by kowtowing to the Tigers, by rendering the Tigers unconditional support, even when Tiger extremism was manifestly endangering the Tamil cause and hurting the Tamil people. They must not fail the Lankan Tamils again by engaging in political necromancy, in the company of the Rajapaksas. Unless they emerge from under the Tiger carcass, they will be a liability and not an asset to the Tamil cause.
The South needs to ask itself what the Rajapaksas are really doing, even as they prance about in patriotic garb.
According to media reports, the Defence Ministry has a five-year plan for the Navy which includes the setting up a ‘naval air station’ with the help the Air Force, acquiring ‘four Israeli-built vessels to strengthen the FAC squadrons’ and a ‘Chinese-built YLC radar system to counter a possible air threat’ and setting up new ‘naval ground infrastructure facilities’ (The Island – 20.12.2010). All these would be extremely costly and we need to ask ourselves whether such huge military outlays are necessary in peacetime, whether they are apposite for a country caught in a financial crunch.
According to another media report, 60 ruling party members have sold their vehicle permits at Rs.13.17 million each. Such acts of blatant criminality would not be possible without the tacit blessing of the Ruling Family. This demonstrates that the Rajapaksas are not serious about combating waste and corruption.
The LTTE was the most successful, the most efficient of the armed Tamil groups in the 1980’s.
The Tigers were the Tamil Prussians, and their successes engendered the belief that only Vellupillai Pirapahran and his men can liberate the Tamils from the oppressive Sinhala state and take them to the Promised Land. It was their many victories against the Lankan Forces which enabled the Tigers to impose and sustain an anti-liberationist regimen at home, which was both abusive and corrupt.
A similar psychological process is underway in the South currently. The Rajapaksas are using their victory over the Tigers and the Tiger Bogey to justify the illegal, the inane and the immoral. For the Sinhalese it is important to take a stand and do it now because it is all too easy to go the way the Tamils went with the LTTE. And the South will not be able to come to its collective senses so long as it fails to see the Tiger Bogey for what it is – a ruse to fool the Sinhala masses.