The recent ‘Friday Forum’ statement signed by distinguished scholars and retired civil servants, condemns “…a personal attack by retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara on Dr. Deepika Udagama, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL)…Weerasekara denounced Dr. Udagama as an LTTE supporter and a traitor to this country, with the battle cry ‘death to traitors’. …The recent denunciation of Dr. Udagama as an apologist for the LTTE, is symptomatic of this vicious culture of denigration.”
A similar statement signed by 54 university academics gives more detail:
“…It has been many months now since a certain group of individuals, led by ex-military personnel, had proclaimed before the media that individuals who were supportive of a new Constitution ought to be considered as ‘traitors’ acting against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Such individuals, it was further stated, ought to be held accountable for their ‘traitorous’ acts in a court of law and punished with death and that action will be taken against them at a future date when a new political leadership assumes power…”
A weekly Sinhala newspaper of June 29, 2018 carried a page 1 lead story with the headline “Traitors Should be Given the Death Penalty under a Patriotic Government”. The story, illustrated with photographs of two senior ex-military officers, opens as follows:
‘Under a patriotic government [he shall] call for those who engaged in all treacherous deeds to be given the death penalty, said Dr. Weerasekara. He was speaking yesterday, June 28, at a media briefing in Rajagiriya organized by the Federation of National Organizations. Sarath Weerasekara went on to add…“A woman called Deepika Udagama functions as the head of the Human Rights Commission. She is a person who gets together with NGOs and speaks on behalf of the Tigers.”
Sometime last year, on a private TV channel, Sarath Weerasekara threatened fellow panellist Jehan Perera with the death penalty for treason. At a Viyath Maga seminar in Gampaha, a senior ex-Army officer elaborated the death threat more widely, specifically recommending the JVP’s restricted funeral rites of the 80’s Terror.
Their preferred Presidential candidate had spoken on the occasion but had left when this was said. At the same venue, an entrepreneurial heiress called for “guns to be stuck in the mouths of traitors and discharged”. The Sinhala Alt-Right has abandoned all sense of civility.
The fascistization of language and manners, of discourse, reflects the fascistization of thought, and prefigures the fascistization of politics and governance. Already, the ethos of the Sinhala Right is that of fascism.
What do you call a situation in which the man who makes ‘legalistic’ death threats against the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, also organized nothing less than the foreign policy workshop of the ‘think-tank’ of a probable presidential candidate at the Shangri-La conference and is currently drafting a major foreign policy document for that ‘think-tank’?
What do you call a regime in which “officers and gentlemen” who make such threats hope to be law-makers or influential elements; a regime under which such threats will be sought to be made law by them?
If a senior ex-military officer can make death threats when he is still in Opposition, what will he and those like him not do when in power? And if he can threaten prominent national personalities with death sentences, what can a regime animated by this same spirit of angry resentment, not do to students, workers, and peasants engaging in protest or mere dissent, and to the media which reports such criticisms? And what may such a regime do to non-Sinhala Buddhists?
For the first time in our history, we stand on the brink of the assumption of state power by Fascism. Ideas and persons rightly relegated to the lunatic fringe in past decades have crawled out of the woodwork and from under rocks, and entered mainstream discourse, rendering it highly toxic, even rabid. These forces hope to capture state power at the next Presidential elections through a candidate they can identify most closely with. They hope to assume power initially by electoral methods, but install a barracks and temple model of politics; a fanatical Sinhala-Buddhist military rule.
The Alt-Right leadership and sundry ideologues have already legitimized Fascism by brushing away objections to the (nationally televised) use of the ‘H word’– Hitler. Thus, all universal norms, limits and parameters have been preemptively dispensed with in favour of narrowly nativist religio-cultural prescriptions which substitute hierarchical deference and inherited tradition for the universal principle of equality.
It has been 70 years of accumulated Sinhala-Buddhist ultra-nationalist resentment and rancor, since the debate over the character and definition of the Ceylonese/Lankan state and society was decided upon in an intelligent, realistic manner. An emblematic encounter was that of a Buddhist student delegation led by Prof. GP Malalasekara, who failed utterly to convince DS Senanayaka to declare independent Ceylon a Sinhala-Buddhist state. The strategically sagacious PM, a Sinhalese and Buddhist (and pioneering ‘Smart patriot’), countered that such an assertion would assist the minorities in counter-assertion, and in the South Asian region and the world, they vastly outnumbered the Sinhala-Buddhists (who were only six million at the time).
The Alt-Right fantasy is to move beyond the numerical preponderance and political advantage that the Sinhalese enjoy in a democracy. The fear is that the Sinhalese will be “divided” in the democratic game and that the minorities will thus “prevail”. The political Final Solution to the “problem” of competitive democracy is a permanent Sinhala-Buddhist dictatorship through (I) the Constitutional re-inscription of Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist state and (II) the installation of a Bhikkhu-dominated, patriarchal Sinhala-Buddhist military regime with an elected civilian façade/human shield.
The New Right ideology has no respect for elected democratic representatives of the people, the Democratic Political Movement, process and institutions. They have no respect for politics and the political. They regard political struggle as inferior to war, political experience to military experience, and political leaders to ex-military men. The Far Right regards the military ‘command-and-control’ model as superior to politics. This would come as a shock to Mao who declared “politics in command”, saying “the correctness or incorrectness of the political line decides everything”. If politics is so inferior a vocation, why then seek national political leadership?
In a Far Right dispensation the Cabinet will be dominated by hawkish ultra-nationalist ex-military officers who either receive nomination or are inducted through the National List. Civilian democratic politicians including Mahinda Rajapaksa will be reduced to figureheads and hostages.
Another project is to turn the clock back to before July 1987, the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment. Universal Human Rights and the UN will be junked in favor of self-referential cultural superiority and neo-isolationist unilateralism. It is a nightmarish narcissism, incubated for decades. The Sinhala Alt-Right isn’t similar to Vladimir Putin, but to Vladimir Zhirinovsky!
The fascist future cannot be avoided by entrenchment in a liberal ideological comfort zone, the status quo. A multi-pronged strategy is needed, shaping and channeling change. MR must either be released from the fetters that prevent him from running for President or motivated to make the right choice of a non-polarizing, progressive-populist proxy candidate. The UNP must be prevailed upon to choose as leader and candidate, the populist who can retrieve the party’s Sinhala vote-base.
The world community has a vested interest in deterring a confrontational, sharply polarizing outcome. China, above all, has no interest in being drawn into the trap of an ethno-religious quagmire on India’s doorstep.
Resistance to militarist ethno-fascism will devolve upon the university-educated, rational-secular, anti-racist radical, modernist-militant youth and students. The responsibility for the future will shift from The Children of ’56 (the original phrase was my father’s) to The Millennium’s Children.