By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“You follow a halter, being enthralled by a picture of authority” — Adelard of Bath (Quoted in The House Of Wisdom: How The Arabs Transformed Western Civilization’ — Jonathan Lyons)
A new volume is to be added to the Mahavamsa covering the period of 1978-2010. According to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs three of its chapters will be dedicated to the four years of Rajapaksa-rule (his predecessors will get two chapters or less) because the President’s “achievement in ending the island’s 30-year separatist war has no parallels in the chronicle” (PTI – 6.4.2011).
The state-sponsored Rajapaksa-panegyric ‘Jaya Jayawe’ contained a ‘lullaby of the 22nd Century’ which depicted the Eelam War as the ‘heroic saga’ of ‘King Mihindu’ and his ‘Chief General Gotabaya’ who defeated the ‘demons’ threatening the motherland. Since Rajapaksa-veneration is de rigueur, the new volume cannot but be littered with paeans of praise to ‘Vishva Keerthi Three-Sinhaladipathi’ (who may even be placed above the warrior-kings Dutugemunu, Vijayabahu I and Rajasinghe I). There would be no mention of Gen. Sarath Fonseka, or of the ethnic problem; the ‘Sinhala Only’ would be hailed as an achievement and the Black July dismissed in a few dismissive paragraphs.
The purpose of the new volume will be to write a Sinhala-supremacist, Rajapaksa-supremacist version of the history of contemporary Sri Lanka. This racist-hagiography can then be included in the history syllabus, and the habits of racism and Rajapaksa-veneration inculcated in the young via the school system.
Despots need laws and guns; they also need populaces complicit in their own subjugation. People must be willing to accept their unfreedom as normal and necessary, and regard their rulers as their betters and not equals.
Despotism breeds rich rulers and poor people; powerful rulers and powerless people. Despots need to make their people feel good about their circumstances, even when these circumstances are far from good. Such illusions help keep the populace in politico-psychological suspended animation, unable and unwilling to face reality (let alone try to change it). Illusory sense of wellbeing and false hopes of future prosperity coupled with real fears about the consequences of dissent would suffice to keep a populace paralysed for decades.
As Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif said, “We look like people who’ve woken up from a spell, a nightmare” (The Guardian – 4.2.1011).
The Rajapaksas would like us to internalise their worldview, so that we regard their long-term rule as inevitable (even desirable), the natural-destiny of Sri Lanka and the sole-bulwark against chaos.
The Rajapaksas are adept at using an amalgam of sticks and carrots to retain disgruntled allies and co-opt or silence opponents/critics. But this policy cannot be used vis-à-vis the populace at large. The regime lacks the financial wherewithal necessary to sustain economic give-aways and the time is not yet apposite for generalised repression (in the South; the North knows it well).
So the regime is spewing lies and playing with facts and figures, to make people disbelieve the evidence of their own experiences, suppress their innate sense of justice, kindness and decency and ignore the promptings of their consciences. A state of being in the world identical to the one advocated in Brian’s song on the Monty Python show:
“Some things in life are bad.
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you are chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle…..
Always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the light side of life”
The manipulative manner in which the Rajapaksas made use of the populace’s eager absorption in the Cricket World Cup finals to increase the prices of several essential commodities demonstrates that they regard the public as an unintelligent, unthinking, gullible mass which can be won with false promises, placated by lies and led by the nose.
Selective acts of persecution are an important component of the Rajapaksa modus operandi, well-targeted attacks aimed at incapacitating the intended victim and creating a ripple-effect of dread. The fate of the victim is a warning to society about the prohibitive-cost of dissent. Thus one act of persecution can neutralise not just the intended victim but many others of the same profession/mindset.
If the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and the arrest of Gen. Fonseka demonstrated that no one is big enough to be immune from Rajapaksa-wrath, the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and the attacks on LankaeNews website demonstrate that nothing is too small to escape the Rajapaksa-radar. Big or small, the Rajapaksas will come for us all; the only question is when (and how).
The end result is the creation of a dichotomous-world which is a nightmare for a small minority of dissenters but permits the majority of non-dissenters to dream their dreams.
This will give rise to two types of responses: denial (‘the Rajapaksas are no better or worse than their predecessors’) and resignation (‘what can we do?’).
As Rajapaksa rule progresses, the mood of resignation will spread across society because it is the sole refuge available to those who abhor the Ruling-Family but see no point in banging their heads against the Rajapaksa-leviathan. Especially given the absence of a viable opposition and considering the fates of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Gen. Sarath Fonseka; the recent jailing of senior journalist Bennett Rupesinghe, the 68 year old news editor of LankaeNews, would strengthen this tendency.
Political resignation (not actively opposing or publicly critiquing the Rajapaksas) need not mean succumbing to their lies and deceptions. Political resignation can coexist with psychological resistance i.e. rejecting the Rajapaksa worldview and endeavouring to penetrate their multiple-layers of illusion into the reality beyond.
For instance, instead of accepting the Rajapaksa-worldview which equates opposition to the Emergency/PTA with anti-patriotism, should we not question why these repressive laws are being retained two years after the war? After all, the Tiger is dead, as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Gen. Shavendra Silva maintained: “Had the LTTE retained at least one per cent of its military capability, it would have certainly staged an attack …. The bottom line was that the LTTE military machine had been wiped …….” (The Island - 5.4.2011).
The Rajapaksas are master-dissimulators. They want us to accept as democratic the de-empowering of elected provincial and local authorities (and vesting their powers in unelected Jana Sabhas/Colombo Metropolitan Corporation under Rajapaksa-control).
They want us to regard as patriotic necessities astronomical defence spending, continued military occupation of Northern schools and the perpetuation of draconian security measures targeting Tamils. They want us to back the Hambantota bid for 2018 Commonwealth Games, without questioning the wisdom of spending billions of dollars on a sports-circus or of displacing humans and elephants by using forest and farm lands to build sports facilities.
So long as the Rajapaksas can maintain their psychological-yoke on us, we will not be able to look at the world with our own eyes and comprehend it with our own minds. Retaining our capacity to think independently and judge for ourselves are necessary antidotes to the Rajapaksa-malaise. Such individual acts of psychological-resistance are possible and viable, the seedlings which will enable a harvest of political-resistance, someday.