Will Sri Lanka now get on with the job?: Kusal Perera

Guest post by KUSAL PERERA

Its now post-Geneva in Sri Lanka. Prime Minister of neighbouring Bharat Ganarajya, the Republic of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh thus wrote to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka on 24 March, to say, “Your Excellency would be aware that we spared no effort and were successful in introducing an element of balance in the language of the resolution”  and the Indian delegation to the UNHRC had been advised to keep close contact with its Sri Lanka counterparts “in an attempt to find a positive way forward”. The implied message is that New Delhi played its role to hook Sri Lanka to a US sponsored resolution in Geneva, over post war reconciliation and rehabilitation and on accountability during war.

The resolution in short, requires the SL government to,

(1)   ensure the full implementation of its own LLRC Recommendations with additional steps necessary to fulfil its relevant legal obligations

(2)   present a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps it has taken and will take in implementing the recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law and then,

(3)   encourages the office of the UNHRC and relevant special mandate holders to provide advice and technical assistance to implement the above, in consultation with the GoSL and for the office of the HR Commissioner to provide a report to the 22 Session of the UNHRC on the provision of such assistance.

This includes implementing recommendations like “rapid demilitarising – independent police and public service commissions – disarming and disbanding illegal armed groups – effective power devolution” etc., all that contradicts the very Sinhala politics of the regime. The question now is, “can this Rajapaksa regime play accordingly”?

This regime lives on Sinhala Buddhist sentiments and that remains its political power base. This needs to be remembered in understanding how this regime reacts to any issue that’s related to war and Tamil aspirations. Its on that political rhetoric the people are brought out onto the streets against this US sponsored resolution. The regime once again hyped “Sinhala patriotism” to allow protests in front of embassies and high commissions and blared programmes that mercilessly slandered human rights activists.

Post Geneva, this is a regime which immediately allowed a ministerial Secretary who is only a public officer to blast the resolution that was passed in Geneva, as “non binding” and therefore would not be heeded and also that no outsider would be allowed to interfere in any capacity “in our work” as he put it. Media calling him “the powerful defence secretary” he does make political statements, both as the brother of President Rajapaksa and as Secretary Defence and Urban Development. Lately, he has usurped an authority to decide politics for the regime, an indication that this regime will not and can not avoid considering the military factor, in politics. Although “The Hindu” tried to water down presidential rhetoric by saying President Rajapaksa’s statements on the resolution though played to the “gallery” was carefully balanced not to engage the sponsors of the resolution, he was clear and straight in voicing his brother as defence secretary. No outsiders here !

Post Geneva, this government allowed the use of State owned media, for continued slander of HR activists and allowed its PR minister to openly threaten all journalists and activists who went to Geneva to campaign against violations, with bodily harm and still remain a minister. Henchmen of the regime still come out with calls to boycott both US and Indian products and one more minister said, India may have a bad fate, if it has to face a similar resolution on Kashmir.

A leading Sinhala broadsheet quite well known for “news planting” by the regime, carried a front page headline this Sunday (25 March) that was fascinating though stupid. It said, post Geneva, the SL government has decided on a radical change in its diplomatic posturing and is to withdraw all embassies in Europe, leaving only those in Britain, France, Germany and Brussels. But would open other diplomatic offices in countries that are friendly and would co-operate with Sri Lanka. Sensational, but the thinking within the regime is clear. That essentially is post Geneva, in Sri Lanka.

Why this big bark

What’s all this big barking for ? Two years plus 10 months after the war against its own citizens, the government has failed in its basic or primary responsibility in governing the country as a constitutionally elected government, maintaining law and order. And for its own reasons too.

A regime that believes its only reason to be in power, is for looting and plundering the economy of the country, would not have clear economic policy both at macro and micro level to deliver on its promises. In every government tender and project, there are cronies planted. Nothing goes anywhere without the “Rajapaksa” designer brand stuck on it. The economy is in tatters, with two dubious characters, both with high powered corruption tagged to them, running the Central Bank of SL and the Treasury cum Finance ministry. With this regime, no other would feel qualified to hold those positions. Waste and inefficiency adds on.

Sri Lanka is that and for that there is a price to pay. The past 07 to 08 months, working labour was demanding their rightful share for living in a crumbling economy. Wage hikes were unavoidable, but unpalatable for the regime. Though the President delivering the annual budget speech last November, pompously rejected any wage hike beyond 05 percent, trade union agitations forced him to accept 25 percent wage increases, not just for one sector but for two, by now. While his government’s agitations were on high gear during the HRC Sessions in Geneva, the state owned public transport service employees struck work demanding a wage hike and after 03 days, the government buckled under that pressure and succumbed. The transport workers got their wage hike demands. Within 09 months 02 brutal deaths were recorded and many more seriously injured, due to police firing on trade union and mass protests. In a fracturing economy, protests were going viral and the Rajapaksa popularity on the Sinhala platform, was being questioned.

Can such a regime govern a country, maintaining law and order ? Its obvious they have to take the law and the judiciary too, into their own hands. In turn, they have to install their own power outside the norms of democratic governance. Yet, unlike in a country that had never tasted the flavour of democracy, of living with “Rights”, in Sri Lanka, such subaltern political power can not be simply imposed on society. It needs justification. It needs to be fashioned as a social psyche that can be depended upon, for trampling all dissent and protests. That explains the ascendency of militarised politics and the “powerful defence secretary” in post war Sri Lanka. That also explains, why this Rajapaksa regime keeps the “LTTE as a rump and imperialist conspiracy” bogey, alive and kicking all the time.

Imperialism & Expansionism

For this Rajapaksa regime, the US sponsoring the UNHRC resolution therefore fitted well with its Sinhala politics. Sinhala politics was essentially a very nationalistic interpretation, that defined Western powers as reactionary and imperialistic and Indians as “expansionist” from at least late 1960’s, when the JVP brought it out as a regional political issue. With the Tamil Diaspora also banded with the West, the equation comes complete as “a conspiracy of the West and the LTTE”, with India supporting the conspiracy.

A marauding regime, it now consolidates its power base locally, backed by a Sinhala State that dismantles and deforms democratic structures and human rights institutes, being militarised on the same Sinhala “patriotism”. That leaves much less space now than before in “post Geneva” Sri Lankan politics for any honourable retreat or compromise for this regime, to honour the resolution adopted at the 19 Session of the HRC. The LLRC recommendations any way were not to be implemented and all “positive efforts” the Indian MEA, Krishna was telling the Rajya Sabha while the HRC session was on, had no relevance to the Sri Lankan regime. What the Rajapaksa regime then announced was only  dummy ammunition for its rhetoric at the sessions in Geneva. Now, they will only be left as spent out, as promises made on devolution to the Delhi leaders. What other government would promise the same offer 06 times over to deny making such promise, at the level of the head of State ?

The whole issue of rehabilitation and reconciliation is back in square one and this time with much harder Sinhala sentiments and a weaker regime to back it up. A regime that can not let go its grip on tough anti imperialist, anti Indian talk, while promoting the threat of the LTTE. A regime that’s losing its credibility with political stooges and political party rankers getting exposed with alleged rape, murder, drug pedalling and underworld thuggery. A regime under pressure from a declining economy, that would compel lower layers of the society to dump Sinhala patriotism and demand answers for their own day to day problems. A crisis that has no Opposition political formation to take advantage of. A crisis that keeps the urban, elite civil society activists pinning their hope on international pressure.

Delhi and Chennai tussle

Within that, what can New Delhi policy makers achieve for Tamil Nadu politicians ? The whole US sponsored resolution seems a New Delhi ploy. The shift from direct war crimes and accountability allegations to LLRC Recommendations does not seem a US template in approaching the issue. Perhaps the last phrase in the second clause, mention of alleged violations of international law and the third clause was the US creation in tying up war crimes and accountability to the Indian resolution. Perhaps also, it was the Tamil Nadu pressure that made New Delhi to compromise at that level, leaving space for future deliberations on alleged violations of international law, within the UNHRC.

As for now, the UPA leadership has dug itself in, enough to keep the DMK in partnership. But, for how long ? DMK needs to regain its lost image and credibility and therefore would compete with Jayalalitha on the Tamil platform. Jayalalitha is in no hurry and is not adventurous as the DMK, wanting the Koodankulam issue settled to solve the power crisis in her State. Yet she can not allow the DMK leadership to take total control of the Tamil issue either. With all its other local issues also playing politics, the Sri Lankan Tamil conflict had remained an emotionally strong rallying point in TN politics from MGR’s time. Therefore, every delay in getting the Geneva resolution effective, would hold Delhi accountable too for its implementation. A task, this UPA leadership to date has proved incompetent in handling, with the Sinhala Rajapaksas heading a Sinhala militarised regime.

(Kusal Perera is a journalist based in Colombo.)

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