by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“What sheer unfeeling idiocy”. Rolf Hochhuth (The Deputy)
In Sri Lanka ‘War Hero’ reigns supreme; he is feted and honoured, loved and respected, invoked and venerated. In the abstract!
In the concrete, flesh and blood war heroes plant grass and pull weeds, sweep sidewalks and carry garbage, build and maintain exercise tracks for the wealthy to sweat off their gargantuan meals
‘War Hero’ is a paragon of virtue; he is untouchable, above criticism, a super being who can be faulted only by the unpatriotic and attacked only by Tiger-lovers. In the abstract!
In the concrete, a flesh and blood war hero has to kowtow not only to politicians in power but also to their kith and kin. He must be willing to be not just a guard and a labourer but also a punching bag. And any political brat with the right connections can attack a war hero and get away with it, with the full backing of the Rajapaksa regime.
Malaka Silva, the infamous son of an even more infamous father, backed ably by his entourage (maintained indubitably at public expense), reportedly attacked a major of the Sri Lankan Army. The injured Major had to obtain treatment from the National Hospital.
According to the theory of the ‘War Hero’, young Silva should have been arrested and remanded instantly, pending a free and fair trial; and his alleged misdeed should have been roundly condemned by the patriotic regime, starting with the President and the Defence Secretary.
Instead, young Silva is still at large. Two police teams are supposedly looking for him. That has not deterred Malaka Silva from moving freely in public, including making an extremely high profile visit to the Kapilawastu-Relic exposition at the Kelaniya Temple in the company of his father.
Minister Mervyn Silva says his son is not in hiding and that certainly is true. Why should young Silva bother with hiding when he knows full well that no policeman will arrest him, unless there is an order to the effect from the President or the Defence Secretary?
Why should he lose any sleep when he knows full well that the arm of the law becomes phenomenally short when the suspect is a Rajapaksa acolyte?
Why should he worry when he knows that he is as safe as Mervyn Silva or Duminda Silva?
Malaka Silva assaulted an army officer because he knew that he could get away with it. And the Rajapaksas gave him that certitude. The crimes and misdeeds of the Duminda Silvas, Mervyn Silvas and Malaka Silvas happen in an enabling environment created by the Rajapaksas Siblings. These miscreants can act with impunity because the Rajapaksa Siblings have given them that impunity.
The Mervyns, Dumindas and Malakas of Sri Lanka are just the symptoms of a plague called Rajapaksa Rule.
The unfinished saga of the war hero and the political brat is a Rajapaksa morality tale, an exposition of the way Familial Rule works, in reality.
The romanticisation of the military was a product of the long Eelam War. The process commenced with the war and gathered momentum during the Rajapaksa years. Under Rajapaksa Rule, the military was sanctified with an aura of sinlessness and of infallibility.
Criticising the military was turned into a supremely unpatriotic act. Unquestioning support for the military was enshrined as a foundational pillar of Rajapaksa patriotism.
‘War Hero’ thus became a being who could not be doubted or questioned or criticised.
The reality was far otherwise. General Parakrama Pannipitiya led the Lankan Forces during the victorious offensive on the Eastern front. He reportedly fell out with Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, who at that time was riding high as a venerated member of the triumvirate which included Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. General Pannipitya was arrested on a cooked up charge of treasure hunting and thrown out of the army.
Gen. Janaka Perera, a ‘war hero’ of yesteryear joined the UNP in retirement and became the party chief ministerial candidate for the North Central Province at the 2008 provincial council election. The government refused to provide Gen. Perera with security despite the obvious threat to his life from the LTTE. Gen. Perera, like Gen. Pannipitiya, sought judicial intervention to obtain some protection but was killed by a Tiger suicide bomber before the court could intervene. The government even clamped down on his funeral procession.
The war ended in victory and Gen. Fonseka, who had outlived his uses, fell out of favour. He was arrested on charges of financial misdemeanour, convicted by a military tribunal and jailed.
The fates of the three Generals demonstrate beyond any doubt that any war hero who falls foul of the Rajapaksas or the favourite acolytes will be treated like a criminal or a traitor.
War heroes remain ‘War Heroes’ only if they support the Rajapaksas unquestioningly and do not fall foul of the Ruling Siblings or their favoured acolytes.
In a characteristic move the patriotic Rajapaksas are planning to throw the assaulted major under the bus to save the political brat. The first step had been taken by none other than that self-appointed God Father of the ‘War Hero’, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. “Sensitive information regarding the clash between the posse of Malaka Silva and an army intelligence officer, in which the latter was assaulted and his weapon stolen, has been revealed said Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. They have shed new light into the actions of both parties he said.
He added that the intelligence officer was engaged in an activity, acting as a personal bodyguard of an individual, which is beyond his duties. Rajapaksa said that an army officer couldn’t engage in other employment while he is serving in the uniform. Police and the army are conducting separate investigations on the matter” (Sri Lanka News – 14.9.2012).
The pronouncements of the Defence Secretary lend credence to the charge made by Gen. Sarath Fonseka: “We have information to say that when the Army Major who was injured was admitted to the hospital the Director of the National Hospital had tried his utmost to discharge the Major without treatment but the doctors had refused to do so” (Daily Mirror – 14.9.2012).
The former Army Commander also accused the army top brass of trying to shift the blame from the perpetrator of the attack to the victim in order to aide the regime’s efforts to save the political brat from the consequences of his alleged misdemeanour.
The incident of the war hero and the political brat demonstrates yet again that ultimately Rajapaksa patriotism is all about Rajapaksa Rule; anything or anyone furthering Rajapaksa Rule is patriotic; anything or anyone hindering Rajapaksa Rule is treacherous.
So Malaka Silva is the patriot while the major allegedly assaulted by him is the traitor, especially if the victim refuses to play the role assigned to him and chooses to fight back.
Rajapaksa power is the be all and end all of Rajapaksa politics.
When the Rajapaksas spend a good portion of national wealth on defence, on maintaining a huge army, on garrisoning the country, on buying sophisticated military hardware, their real intent is not the protection of the people but the protection of the regime.
Sinhala supremacism is only a secondary reason for the devolution-anathema of the Rajapaksas. The Rajapaksas oppose devolution primarily because they are viscerally opposed to sharing power with outsiders (i.e. non-relations).
The Rajapaksas do not want to share power with Tamils and Muslims; but they do not want to share power with Sinhalese either. They want to keep all power in Rajapaksa hands.
Sinhala supremacism is primarily a cover for Rajapaksa supremacism. The Rajapaksas use Sinhala supremacism to bolster their own dynastic project, just as they use every other politico-ideological device. In the end they have one aim: to ensure the success of their dynastic project.
Ancient Greeks understood that even good violence sans limits can turn into bad violence, and that the demarcating line between the two can be so fragile that it can vanish in a moment. And heroes must be handled with care and used with discretion, because they can destroy what they had saved.
The Tamil nation’s collective love affair with Mr. Pirapaharan, sustained via a combination of persuasion and coercion, propaganda and battlefield victories, ended in an unmitigated tragedy for the LTTE and for Tamils.
From a Tamil point of view, in the early years there was no overwhelming reason not to regard Mr. Pirapaharan in a heroic light. Mr. Pirapaharan, in his Thambi phase, did not engage in many of the anti-civilisational activities for which he gained notoriety subsequently, in his Annai and Surya Devan phases, such as child conscription and mass suicide bombings.
The early Tigers did kill their some of their opponents but not as much as Uma Maheswaran and his PLOTE allegedly did. And though the Tigers were responsible for the Anuradhapura massacre, the LTTE denied any involvement and signed off on the ENLF statement which condemned it.
Even after the less salubrious side of the Tiger leader became evident, even after he graduated into full barbarism, many a Tamil, especially in the relative safety of Colombo or some foreign land, rendered Vellupillai Pirapaharan uncritical support, and indeed, reverence.
Such support was particularly easy for Diaspora Tamils who did not experience his criminal rule directly, whose children were safe from his murderous reach and whose future lay in some democratic and peaceful haven across the ocean.
In the end Vellupillai Pirapaharan whose personal bravery was not doubted even by his critics, who had fought and won so many battles, died an inglorious death in murky circumstances. There was no heroic last stand to be mythicised; no final story of selfless courage and willing sacrifice to be turned into legends. And he died leaving his people in a worse predicament than they had been in their modern history, more beaten, more friendless and more despairing.
Someday the Rajapaksas will go. It may take years or decades, but this tyranny too shall pass. That is not the issue. The issue is the shape and the nature of Sri Lanka they will leave behind.