Groundviews

Is the Government afraid of “Sinhala” racists or is it racist too?

President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe together, flanked by Foreign, Media and Justice Ministers told media bosses and editors on18 Sept., the OISL (OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka) Report is a hard earned achievement by their government since January 08 and would not have been possible, if the previous regime continued.

“If there was no change on 8 January followed by good governance, political reforms and reconciliation measures enabling the international community to have a positive outlook, Sri Lanka would have been marginalised internationally by now.” President Sirisena has said.

PM Wickremesinghe followed by saying, “We haven’t sold our sovereignty or integrity. We have saved not only Sri Lanka’s future but also political VVIPs of the previous regime.”

This time round, there is no heat against the OISL Report from within Sinhala politics. By now, there were only the expected statements made by Mahinda Rajapaksa former President reduced to an ordinary MP and his backers in parliament, Dinesh Gunawardne, Weerawansa and Gammanpila. Thereafter the JVP did same. All denounced a “Hybrid” probe into war related crimes recommended in the OISL Report. Not very different to how PM Wickremesinghe rejected the “hybrid” mechanism telling AFP (22 September) “Media says hybrid, but it is not hybrid” adding “there’s nothing to be got from abroad”. No call has yet gone out openly from Opposition Sinhala ranks for the “patriots” to oppose it and there is no attempt to lead protests on the streets to use the Report against the MS_RW government.

In 2002 when patriotism was drummed up on Colombo streets against the CFA (Cease Fire Agreement) with the LTTE and against Norwegian facilitation, formation of the government “technically” was the same. The first time UNF was elected to office in December 2001 with Wickremesinghe as PM heading the government, Chandrika Kumaratunge was President with executive powers from the SLFP. Other smaller parties and groups allied with the SLFP as the UPFA. It is the “political alignment” that’s different this time. The government now in office is a political “hybrid”. Though Wickremesinghe is the PM this time too, his government is not just a plain UNF government as in 2002. It is in coalition with the SLFP sharing collective cabinet responsibility with President Sirisena also being part of the government unlike Chandrika Kumaratunge in 2002. Those in the present UPFA who are opposed to this hybrid UNF-SLFP arrangement have no leadership that can challenge their own President who is also their UPFA leader. Rajapaksa who led the UPFA parliamentary elections over a month ago and did quite well collecting 95 seats despite President Sirisena throwing in spanners no end, is seen retreating to a silent corner post 17 August for reasons that can only be sniffed but not barked at. The vociferous Sinhala extremist group the JHU has no credibility having lived with the Rajapaksa regime they now run down as wholly corrupt and nepotistic. Splintered now, their two loud leaders Champika and Rathana Thero are entrenched within the UNF under Wickremesinghe’s premiership. The JVP that in 2002 was walking with the SLFP against the CFA and was seen frequenting the “India House” despite being genetically “anti-Indian” is now a reduced force, weak on their own.

All this has taken the sting out of the urban Sinhala rabble-rousers who in 2002 decided politics. They were able to pull down Wickremesinghe and his government in 27 months on a purely Sinhala patriotic campaign. Yet, that was with the SLFP leadership openly supporting protests. Sinhala extremism has never been on their own. They had always depended on the SLFP to provide them with a mass appeal. Today that SLFP prop is no more. Their next option could have been to have Rajapaksa lead them as the “saviour of the Sinhala nation”. But he too has not come out strong appealing to the Sinhala constituency. Instead MR is appealing to the MS-RW government to reject the “hybrid” proposal.

SL has thus hit a good patch without thorny birds in its recent politics. Though democratically a freaky deformity, present MS-RW “hybrid” has left the Sinhala rabble-rousers at bay for now. If the government is as serious as Samaraweera sounded in Geneva, it can exploit this collapse of urban Sinhala extremism. Will it, is the question.

As I’ve argued in my previous articles, beliefs are there to stay for generations. So is it with the UNP leadership too. Most in the UNP could only play the Sinhala flute no different to other Sinhala tunes. This government therefore is in no mind to leave its Sinhala phobia aside. President Sirisena despite his public statements does not want to override the headless urban Sinhala extremists. He is obviously a mediocre product of the SLFP’s introvert Sinhala ideology. It is for all these reasons this hybrid rule carries with it, “old buoys” from Rajapaksa time. They cannot think differently from what they were made to think and act under Rajapaksa’s weight. In fact they don’t have to. There is no fundamental difference between this government and Rajapaksa, except the fancy wrapper the “Yahapalanaya” is parcelled in.

Proving it firm is the fact, this government’s stand on a “domestic” inquiry is no different to what Rajapaksa consistently maintained. Thus Sri Lankan envoys who were strong allies of the Rajapaksa diplomacy sit tight on the draft US Resolution, representing Colombo’s position. That is to have 14 out of 26 operational paragraphs omitted from the US initiated draft resolution now being canvassed for consensus. Five other clauses calling for action on accountability and reconciliation by the SL Government they say have to be changed to suit the language the Colombo government speaks. Deletions, amendments and dilutions include all serious issues that have to be probed seriously and include witness protection, land return, demilitarisation, investigations on attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, attacks on places of worship, extra-judicial killings, sexual violence and torture. The necessity in working out devolution of power and engagement with UN special rapporteurs will have to be out of the resolution too. This in plain language means the MS-RW government would not go beyond Rajapaksa’s Sinhala project in solving issues of its own people.

The markedly changed “tenor of the Government’s engagement with OHCHR” the High Commissioner Zeid was happy with in his report, in fact is no change from Rajapaksa’s tenor. We thus come back to where Rajapaksa left, no matter what the concerned urban middle class expected in January from change of regime.

Mind sets moulded through decades of Sinhala supremacist ideology are so strong, the political leadership in the Sinhala Southern constituency cannot now think rationally and argue for the benefit of a future Sri Lanka. There is mediocrity and stubbornness in convictions that does not allow facts their due recognition. Thus no political leadership in the South wants to accept every racist outburst, from street protests in January 1968 against the Dudley-Chelva Agreement through 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord to JVP insurgency against the presence of IPKF/PC during 88-90 to the 2002-2003 CFA, Sinhala extremism lived on the tacit support of the SLFP. That project has been brought to an end for want of market expansion for the corporate sector investment. The SLFP living through 30 years and more in a free market economy is now very much influenced by the new rich who cannot live outside global capital anymore. That in a way explains the logic behind this MS-RW hybrid rule. That also explains why the traditional urban Sinhala extremism that lived on local trader community has died down. The small urban Sinhala business community cannot anymore sustain the ideological thrust for Sinhala supremacy in a global investor context. The era of Nalin de Silva’s and Amarasekera’s who provided ideological succor to this urban trader based Sinhala extremism is now nearing its logical end.

Yet, social convictions don’t die that fast as said before. Thus the reason this government cannot and does not read through this political change. Nor does the Sinhala State groomed since 1956 change that fast in its thinking. This hybrid rule of MS_RW will therefore continue to adopt Rajapaksa politics and stand firm on what was left by the Rajapaksa regime. We would thus fail to exploit the space there is in pushing through a radical programme to bring an end to what has to be politically concluded post war. That would therefore leave the hardliners in Tamil politics to question the wisdom of the TNA leadership in backing this government and the more concerned citizens in the Sinhala South to say, they were abandoned after the much fought for “change”.  In short, it leaves us in the South to demand serious constitutional reforms, despite what happens there in Geneva by the end of the month.