Sarath de Alwis
“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the worldliness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.”
Karl Marx -Theses on Feuerbach 1845
Gotabaya Rajapaksa may or may not have read Karl Marx. But he is certainly proving that Marx is right about power and the reality of power.
He is in a quest for power. The people in general have a pretty good idea of how he would use power, if he gets it and when he gets it.
The Muslims gathered for an Iftar event at Beruwela, last week, encountered firsthand, what Karl Marx meant in stressing that Man must prove the truth- the worldliness of his thinking and practice –relating power to reality.
The Beruwela event demonstrates that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not only as clever as the devil but is twice as pretty. Just as he reached out to the merchant princes at the Shangri-La, he has now made a convincing overture to the Muslim middle class. The intent was to repair and restore his ties with the Muslim community, disastrously ruptured by his early open and later clandestine support for extreme groups such as, Bodu Bala Sena and Ravana Battalion.
The immediate goal was to allay any lingering Muslim apprehensions over his Presidential bid. Beruwela was a masterpiece of political ice-breaking.
If progress is getting nearer to the place you wish to be in, we must be unidealistic and hardheaded enough to concede that he is making progress. Knowing why he makes progress this fast and at this speed early enough may help us avert the catastrophe of a Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency. It looks as if his best allies are in the current Government.
A video recording of Presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa ushered to a grand ‘Iftar’ function at Beruwela has gone viral. Pundits who poo-poohed his candidacy on the premise of his ill-favoured repute among Muslims are thunderstruck and stupefied. The sight of a saintly Gotabaya daintily keeping step with white robed Mullahs chanting panegyric poems in praise of the Prophet was enough for the eyeballs of his detractors to pop out of their crevices. The pundits are still busy adjusting their dumbstruck eyeballs.
The Beruwela occasion has sent an unambiguous, perspicuous message to both Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena. Their parade is pattering to its presaged expiry. The Muslim minority is not to be taken for granted.
How did he manage the feat? The élan with which he pulled off the electrifying encounter attests to the man’s managerial nimbleness. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the ultimate repository and authority on conceptual power. He is the kind of man about whom Antonio Gramsci wrote profusely while incarcerated by Benito Mussolini. He is the master of the art of manufacturing coerced consent.
More than a billion Muslims of the world observe the blessed month of Ramadan. It is the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During daylight hours, it’s a month of fasting, no food and even water. It is a process of purification and the month devoted to reflection, both spiritual and material. After sunset the fast is broken.
This writer asked an eminent Muslim academic and an Islamic scholar to explain the meaning of Iftar. Is it a custom or a ritual? He responded “Iftar is neither a ritual nor a custom. You break the fast in the evening preferably with a couple of dates and porridge. Iftar is no more than an Arabic name for breaking fast.”
Today, Iftar has become a high profile social event for the Muslim middle class. This is not a study of the evolution of Muslim middle class social behaviour. This is an attempt to understand how the current Government in the short span of three years has admirably succeeded in alienating core omponents of the coalition that made January 8, 2015 change possible.
Beruwela is a place of ineradicable remembrances with excruciating echoes. To the hosts, they remain gut wrenching recalls. Their honoured guest made no direct reference to the traumatic past. He exuded the bonhomie of a Baron Munchausen.
“Muslims were grossly misled during the Rajapaksa Government. Many elements connived in creating distrust and doubt between Muslims and the Rajapaksas. Now they know better. Muslims have now realised that the rumours spread in the past were absolutely false. Muslims could live in peace and harmony under a future Rajapaksa-led Government.”
So, in the former Defence Secretary’s interpretation, it is the Muslims who have been misled. The Muslims have been the victims of mischief-makers who wished to drive a wedge between them and the Rajapsaksa-led Government.
There is no expression of remorse. Only a matter of making the record clear and erasing misconceptions. The Muslim middle class will buy his proposition because it is a proposition they cannot refuse.
In a velvet voice, he narrated his story. It was clever and imaginative. That it defied logic and common sense is not relevant. The audience was ready to listen. In human history, story-telling has always been a profound tool that allowed both the narrator and the listener to capture and live in illusions. The affair was arranged by a Muslim politician in the ‘Pohottuwa’ party. While the organiser had his own agenda, the participants were certainly in a mood for adjustments and reconciliation.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa argued in Beruwela that the Rajapaksa regime had always been committed to the safety and well being of the Muslim people. When he was handling urban development, he rendered untold assistance to them. Today, the Muslims have realised that they were misled by conspirators and schemers whose only purpose was to alienate them from the then ruling family.
He had a receptive audience. Violence unleashed by ethno religious prejudices in the Central and Eastern Provinces has severely dented minority confidence in the current administration. Indecisive governance usually provokes a yearning for non-democratic forms of authority. Amid the chaos in Kandy and Ampara, the Muslim middle classes in affluent Beruwela have found non-democratic authority not only tolerable but as a desirable alternative. Antonio Gramsci – the seminal Marxist thinker who focused on culture, while incarcerated by the fascist regime of Mussolini has beautifully described how we humans often unwittingly give our consent to be oppressed. When we perceive power as the capacity to instil fear, we become willing collaborators in the game of top down authority.
The Gramsci thesis can be echoed in terms of present day compulsions. People are not routinely forced to submit. Instead, powerful actors with the right resources can manufacture consent. Caught in their grip people forgo their right and forfeit their ability to question. Then they turn into willing collaborators of their own subordination.
That is the totality of the ‘Iftar’ spectacle at Beruwela.