By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“…the despot is a madman, and an enemy to himself.”
Baron d’Holbach (Good Sense)
Rajapaksas obsessively intent on getting the Divi Neguma Bill through?
Why is the regime orchestrating a campaign against the 13th Amendment?
Why were principals of 23 leading schools made to undergo a week’s ‘Leadership Training’ and made brevet colonels?
Why have the police failed to catch the assailants of JSC Secretary and High Court Judge Manjula Tilakeratne?
Why does the government spend on buying/maintaining a satellite the money unavailable to install rail-gates at 950 unsafe rail-crossings?
Why do they politically promote their kin while imposing strict kinship-restrictions on other SLFPers?
Why are lesser Tiger suspects being incarcerated, often under inhumane conditions, while the highest surviving Tiger leader lives the good life, at public expense?
Why is there no provincial council in the North, to approve/disapprove the Divi Neguma Bill?
Power Grab Began with Small Steps
Post-war, there are certain aims the government pursues, with no consideration for cost or consequence. Winning elections for example; the replacement of the democratising 17th Amendment with the 18th Amendment (which enhanced presidential powers and removed presidential term-limits, enabling the President to contest again and again); the Leadership Training Programme, the Lotus Tower, the Commonwealth Games…..
The commonest of the common denominator in these seemingly disparate projects is their capacity to increase Rajapaksa power and enhance its’ glory, further its’ interests, satisfy its’ whims and realise the fancies. Therein can be gleaned a fundamental law of this rule. They always pursue their interests and their desires; they fight for themselves. Supporting them, helping them, obeying them is good; hindering them, questioning them is bad.
As a group of ordinary Tamil detainees pointed out, they rot in jail, without even being charged, while “Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s top ally, and the prime arms supplier to the outfit for years, is allowed to function freely, with all privileges like a state guest” (Ceylon Today – 24.10.2012). KP has considerable use-value for them and he is willing to serve them as assiduously as he served the Tiger chieftain. Thus he is elevated above the law, while ordinary Tamil detainees, who have no such use-value, are deprived of even a sliver of justice.
Avalanches start with tiny snowballs; that is when precautions must be taken. For instance, though the government says it will not tax wells used by ordinary people, once the groundwater tax is enforced, expanding it to include private consumers would be just a matter of interpretation.
As Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardane warned, “This is the first step in privatising drinking water” (The Island – 24.10.2012). And if this most heinous tax is allowed to pass, will not the regime come up with other outrageous taxes, to fund its expressways, tall towers and space programmes?
Like the avalanche, the power-grab began with small steps. The new President appointed Gotabhaya as his Defence Secretary. Basil Rajapakse was made a Senior Presidential Advisor and sent to parliament on the national list. Nephew Shashindra started as a Presidential Secretary and ended as the Uva Chief Minister. Son Namal was given parliamentary nominations …. Just seven years later, they permeate the state and the siblings enjoy near-absolute power, aided by an impotent cabinet and blessed by a fractious opposition. To discourage opposition and defeat dissent, the siblings use an extremely effective concoction of threats and blandishments, spiced, with violence. Even as the state becomes a family concern, the siblings try to enhance their own holdings within it. Contrary to the unctuous claims by government propagandists, the Divi Neguma Bill will render Minister Basil über-powerful.
The Bill will create several layers of unelected organisations, from Grama Niladari level upwards, and endow these unrepresentative entities with many powers hitherto enjoyed by elected provincial councils. At the apex of this power-pyramid will be the Divi Neguma National Council, controlled by Minister Basil (he will appoint 6 out of 11 council members). Minister Basil will also control the Divi Neguma Banks, Banking Divi Neguma Development Fund. The secrecy clause will give Minister Basil a carte blanche. The Divi Neguma Department will be allocated Rs.80 billion and Minister Basil will have more money to play development-poker with than allocated for either education or higher education for 2013.
Divi Neguma Bill will be a bad law, of the sort defined by Diderot as “based on whim, which owe their force only to blindness or local necessity” (Rameau’s Nephew); familial necessity, in this particular case. Fortunately for Sri Lanka and inconveniently for them, the 13th Amendment and the judiciary stand in the way. Over the years they have become accustomed to total, unquestioning obedience. Take, for instance, those 23 principals who agreed, sheep-like, to undergo “thorough cadet and leadership training conducted by the National Cadet Corps”.
One cannot imagine any previous administration imposing such a humiliating labour on leading educators. And most of the predecessors of these principals – such as Visakha’s Mrs. Jayasinghe, Mrs. Motwani and Mrs. Pulimood – would never have consented to undergo ‘cadet and leadership training’ in an army camp, don a uniform and accept the rank of a brevet colonel. They would never have demeaned themselves and their august positions so; nor did they need a colonel’s certificate to run their schools to perfection. That offensive order and its abject acceptance symbolise the demeaning future which awaits every Lankan under this rule.
Furious at being thwarted, the Siblings are acting like the Erymanthian Boar out of the Cretan Bull. Thus the attempt to terrorise/browbeat the judiciary into submission; thus the plan to replace the 13th Amendment with a 19th Amendment. They want to get rid of the 13th Amendment because it circumscribes they’re power.
As Minister Basil Rajapaksa admitted, in a rare moment of candour, “The LTTE had at one time strongly opposed the 13th Amendment”(Colombo Gazette – 24.10.2012). In fact, the LTTE strongly opposed the 13th Amendment at all times, because 13A impeded separatism, by demonstrating the possibility of a political solution to the ethnic problem within an undivided Sri Lanka.
Extremism is visceral to despotism. The Divi Neguma saga indicates that they do not hesitate to sacrifice not just popular or national interests but their own enlightened self-interests to gratify their whims/fancies, in politics as in economics. The campaign against the 13th Amendment would be unintelligent at any time; it is nothing less than self-mutilating when attempted just before Sri Lanka’s human rights record is to be examined by a UNHRC panel headed by India.
The 13th Amendment is not just the sole really existing attempt at responding to minority grievances; it is the only positive result India has to show for its Lankan policy. Repeal that via a referendum or replace it with a 19th Amendment, and they will antagonise not just Tamils andMuslims, but also India, and the West, with one blow.