“Nemesis, the goddess of measure and not of revenge, keeps watch. All those who overstep the limits are pitilessly punished by her”.
Albert Camus (Helen’s Exile)
One of the most incisive analyses about Rajapaksa modus operandi was made not by a Sri Lankan but by an American Ambassador Robert Blake. Mr. Blake’s observations about how the Siblings operate have a particular resonance as the Rajapaksas plan to neutralise the last remaining structural obstacle to their power-grab: the 13th Amendment.
“The President is often reluctant to make decisions and will stall for time, particularly on important issues. Sometimes he avoids decision making altogether by delegating many responsibilities to Gothabaya or Basil, allowing him to avoid blame for unpopular decisions…. the President’s brothers play an important and influential role in shaping GSL security and political policy.
Moreover, one of their biggest roles is to provide political cover to the President. The President often has Gothabaya and Basil take credit for decisions so he can appear less involved in actions that earn the GSL criticism at home and abroad”.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is friendly and, by most accounts, likeable; Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is brash to the point of uncouthness; Basil Rajapaksa is smarmy, even oleaginous. These varying styles, and the amazingly effective division of labour they have perfected, often create the impression that the Siblings do not possess a singleness of purpose, and that they pursue divergent (even contradictory) policy objectives.
These different personality traits also give rise to myths and rumours, periodically: ‘Mahinda the Moderate and Gotabhaya the Hardliner’, ‘Mahinda fell out with Basil/Gotabhaya’, ‘Mahinda is a prisoner of Gotabhaya/ Basil’ etc.
Like all siblings, the Rajapaksas would have their personal differences. They also share a political agenda. All three want to concentrate every ounce of power in their collective hands; all three want to destroy every other centre of power/influence (their concerted assault on the judiciary is a classic case in point); all three want to safeguard familial rule and ensure dynastic succession.
Sans the 18th Amendment, there could have been major opinion differences amongst them about who should don the Presidential mantle when Mahinda Rajapaksa retires at the end of his second term. Those differences may have evolved into serious schisms, providing Sri Lanka (and the SLFP) with an opportunity to escape the Rajapaksa-stranglehold. But once the term-limit provision was removed, that positive potential vanished; now the brothers can work in unison to empower themselves and disempower everyone else.
Rendering the 13th Amendment ineffectual is a key component of that power-drive.
The 13th Amendment still exists because the Rajapaksas have some concerns about Indian/Western reactions to its abrogation.
The Rajapaksa political project is inherently centripetal. The Siblings’ antipathy to power-sharing is visceral and total. That is why they moved with such ruthless velocity against the judiciary when the Supreme Court refused to make a blatantly anti-constitutional ruling. The Siblings will be equally opposed to the idea of a provincial council which is outside their control.
This was a non-issue so long as the Siblings were able to evade the holding of Northern provincial council elections. That changed when the regime was compelled to accept a quid-pro-quo of Indian provenance: Delhi’s backing for the Hambantota Commonwealth in return for the holding of NPC poll in September.
Given the anti-democratic and anti-devolutionary nature of their political project, the Rajapaksas have two choices: hold elections on time to a disempowered provincial council; or use the threat of an imminent disembowelling of the 13th Amendment to win Indian consent to another postponement. (Incidentally, if the TNA boycotts the NPC poll, in protest against the downgrading of the 13th Amendment, the Rajapaksas might even be able to win the NPC.)
Will India fall for this latest ruse, as she fell for all the previous ones? Or will she insist on the Siblings honouring the original agreement?
Will Delhi have the guts to use the Hambantota Commonwealth as a hostage?
A Retrogressive Project
In the dawn hours of June 6th 2007, police teams descended on several Colombo lodges. The residents (including the very old and the very sick) were herded into waiting buses to be transported to their North-Eastern villages. The first load was already on its way before the Supreme Court intervened to stop the expulsions.
The decision to expel Tamil lodgers (on the basis that some Black Tigers are lodge-dwellers) was taken at the highest level. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa defended this anti-constitutional and racist move stridently; Mahinda Rajapaksa did so, less abrasively.
Such an ethno-centric atrocity was unimaginable in post-Accord Sri Lanka, until the advent of the Rajapaksas.
By the time Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidency (thanks to the boycott imposed by his LTTE counterpart), most Lankans adhered to a point of view which can be termed non/post chauvinist. A majority accepted the need for a generous political solution to the ethnic problem. For instance, according to an opinion survey conducted by the Marga Institute in June/July 2006, 66% of the respondents consented to a political solution which exceeded the unitary-state model. This public mood was in tandem with the positions of the UNP and the SLFP; both supported a quasi-federal or federal arrangement.
The retrogressive change which took place in the thinking of the Sinhala South did not happen spontaneously, but as a result of Rajapaksa rule. The Siblings made clear their non-belief in the existence of an ethnic problem, early on. They also interpreted the Fourth Eelam War as the main axis of a restorationist project aimed at giving back to the Sinhala-Buddhists the place of dominance they enjoyed since 1956 and lost in 1987, due to external intervention.
In order to create a support base for their political project, the Siblings needed to create an axiomatic link between themselves and the majority of the populace via Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism. They also needed a racist-wedge to prevent any future Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity on the basis of common economic woes. Since the 13 th Amendment impeded their power-grab, they needed a patriotic cover to justify its eventual negation.
To achieve these purposes they had to appeal not to the best, the more intelligent and humane part of the Sinhala-psyche, but to the worst, the more inane and merciless part, the part which enabled the ‘Sinhala Only’ and the Black July, and regarded neither as a mistake.
If the North-Eastern issue was merely a terrorist problem, then the matter became resolved the moment the LTTE was defeated. If there is no ethnic problem, then a political solution based on devolution becomes not just unnecessary but also undesirable as dangerous as administering chemotherapy to a healthy man.
In this context, peace-building becomes a law-and-order exercise, with some development thrown in as relish. Peace can be guaranteed not by devolution but by erecting more military camps, buying more military-hardware and imposing stricter laws and regulations, the whole somewhat leavened by physical infrastructure projects and occasional handouts.
This Rajapaksa thinking renders inevitable the current assault on the 13th Amendment.
Disembowelling the 13th Amendment will be the new ‘Sinhala Only’. It will jeopardise peace and reconciliation, push even moderate Tamils into alienated despair, revitalise the separatist-slogan and transform Vellupillai Pirapaharan from failed leader into misunderstood prophet.