Isn’t it a wonderful thing to have a Tamil as our President?

Better to have even a Tamil president? What’s wrong with that Rev. Dr. Abeytissa?

Daily FT

A report appeared in a national newspaper recently that Revd. Dr. Medagoda Abeytissa of the Sunethradevi Pirivena has declared that “it is better for the country to have even a Tamil as President than to be divided.”

He said this while addressing the media at the National Library and Documentation Centre. Well, Revd. Dr. Abeytissa, whatever is wrong with having a Tamil as President? The word “even” in your assertion suggests that to pick a Tamil is not quite right and may only be an unfortunate last resort. Why?

Hasn’t anyone told you about the pivotal role played by our Tamil and Muslim brethren in the struggle for independence from our colonial masters? Men like Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, T.B. Jayah, M.C Siddi Lebbe and others who fought along with Sinhalese leaders to convince the British that our island could be governed as one entity.

For hundreds of years these people have been living together with Sinhalese sharing, caring and contributing toward the island. Contrary to your prejudice, isn’t it a wonderful thing to have a Tamil as our President, a great and wise move that heals? Remember how Pandit Nehru went up to Ali Jinnah and beckoned the latter to be India’s first Prime Minister? Nehru made this gesture when Jinnah was planning to break away from India and form Pakistan.

Is this kind of move beyond your political understanding? Or is it that you really think our minorities are inferior specimens? In the name of Buddhism – leave alone common sense – please educate us? Buddhist teachings are unfaltering about man’s equal biology and equal human rights.

Have you heard of the four Brahma Viharas that the Buddha urged his followers not merely to practise but to build into their lives? Metta (sincere friendliness) is the first of them and Karuna (compassion) follows Metta. You don’t seem to follow either. Second, your historical memory of how our country got independence obliterates the pivotal role of Tamil and Muslim leaders in that struggle.

Phobia creation

The ‘Bring Back Rajapaksa Campaign’ commenced upon the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Rajapaksa family and its cohorts of various ranks and levels who enjoyed a decade of financial benefits from the franchise of corruption throughout the island banded together as they had to smell the impending danger. Evidently, and rather surprisingly, the Government has been in no hurry to make them meet their ‘dittadhammavedaneeya karma’. These Rajapaksians on the other hand had more political savvy than the Government and they thought it best to keep the heat up. A new device of serially constructed phobias followed.

Bogeymen were created but they have all flopped with the passing of time when events belied the false charges. The security question came first with ‘Our country’s security is in serious danger’ being the slogan. We now know it is not. Then came the ‘selling the country bogeyman’. That could not be sustained as people have been made to realise that no selling really has taken place – certainly not to the level of the previous regime.

The Government managed to get the upper hand in countering the move. A rare toughness was demonstrated there. Next came the bogeyman about the protection clauses for Buddhism being taken out of the proposed Constitution. That too fizzled out. Now it is the heightened campaign that the island is to be divided, devolved and delivered to the Tamils and Muslims on a platter!

Déjà vu

This last bogeyman harks back in a sinister way to the pre-LTTE Sinhala communal campaigns. It gives me a feeling of déjà vu which I am sometimes frightened about because if that communal fire is reignited then what we have gained after a 30-year-long war will go down the drain and Sri Lanka will be doomed forever. In that event one can be sure India and the global powers will back secession.

Today’s demographic reality is such that the Sinhala people, despite their majority status, cannot sustain themselves without the free cooperation of the Tamil and Muslim people. Either we go it together or we go bust.

On the contrary, what leaders like Abeytissa Thero and other Sinhala rightwing extremists seem to be telling the minorities is: “You join us, but remember we are in charge.”

Campaign isn’t penetrating

My fear is awakened as the campaign could have a visceral and gut-wrenching impact for those among the public at large who may be drawn to it. The question is will the masses be drawn to it this time? Will mass emotion hijack mass common sense?

Strangely, certain middle class elements have joined the bandwagon. These are segments of the population that typically are educated. Observing the Diaspora emails I get, it is not hard to find professionals and educated people lining up to fan the smouldering coal, to keep the fires going. I get foul emails from these guys.

The positive signs are that the campaign isn’t penetrating the broad masses like last time. It is better articulated and more organised. It employs the devices of digital media and it is active in social media. It is all these because moneyed and skilled professionals are behind the campaign, yet it is failing to spread.

This is clearly evident and this is the fault line that Government must exploit. The absence of a charismatic leader is also a weak spot in their armour. MR looks more tired than inspired and he does not appear convincing. People are listening less and less to him. The daily exposures of his and his clan’s misdemeanours while in office are eroding the once mythical popular faith in the Rajapaksas. For a brief moment people asked: ‘How about Gota?’ But the latter’s future is in the balance as one needs to know whether that future will be (Athule) inside or outside.

New Jaathyalaya

Be that as it may, we see before us the new version of the ‘nation saving campaign’. Here ‘nation’ of course means the Sinhalese – with the manaapaya for Sinhala Buddhists. The monks of Mahinda are out as the monks of SWRD came out in 1956.

The Bodu Bala Senawa Commander-in-Chief did his job trying to stir anti-Muslim feeling and he is remaining low-key now. Law enforcement is onto him. It was real drama watching this man behave raucously. The Buddha would have identified him as part of the Maara Senawa, as were many of the younger yellow robes he had got together.

Two holy blokes were arrested for invading a safe house where Rohingya refugees were kept. What Buddhist compassion they displayed toward a most vulnerable and helpless lot of people! Well, that is the Buddhism of racism or Jaathyaalaya. One man in robes was found to be a paid layperson!

Now we have a new monk-star emerging. He is Revd. Dr. Medagoda Sumanatissa. Like Revd. Uduwe, who is accused of illegally keeping elephants, this guy is handsome. I wonder if he goes for facials as Revd. Uduwe is supposed to have done?

Abeytissa Thero has, luckily for us, identified himself already and we know on which side of the narrative he is on. He is a founding member of Gota’s Viyathmaga. Later, he added to his pro-Gota portfolio another organisation called Eliya. All evidence shows that Abeytissa Thero runs behind Gota or it may be the other way around or both are running behind each other. With Gota not yet cleared of charges of major fraud and of having Gestapo-style hit squads under him during his mighty days, this association raises eyebrows. For our purposes, however, this information is welcome as we are able to identify the monk’s agenda.

No factual basis

The official line adopted by these elements is that the proposed devolution would be on an ethnic basis. I haven’t seen the proposals yet for the simple reason that they have not yet been finalised. However, these protagonists of Rajapaksa have telepathic powers and they seem to know beforehand.

If devolution is proposed it is impossible to do that along ethnic lines. How could you? Tamils and Muslims are scattered all over the island. I don’t think the Government would be willing to pick them up from where they are and place them in separate territories.

What about devolution of powers to the North and East, one may ask. That does not constitute ethnic devolution by any stretch of the imagination. There may be predominantly Tamil populations in the North and the East maybe predominantly Muslim. On the other hand, there are Sinhalese and Muslims in both territories and there is no proposal to restrict the devolved territories to specific ethnic groups; it isn’t practical to do mad things like that. The demographic inflow and outflow will continue naturally. Sinhalese who are the majority islandwide will be temporary minorities in these devolved regions. However, island-wide they are an overwhelming majority. So what?

Besides, the key questions relate to the depth of devolved powers and not the territory. This has not been discussed yet nor is Abeytissa Thero able to forecast that. Another moot point is that the devolved territories will have to depend on the Central Government for funds. This has happened to the prevailing devolved territories. Dependence on the centre means control by the centre and surveillance by the centre. Doesn’t the learned Dr. Monk know about this simple practicality?

They are in business

These considerations demonstrate that there is no factual or rational reason for this orchestrated push against Constitution reforms. The Government had received a mandate from over 62 lakhs of voters to change the Constitution. It must carry out its promise in the name of democracy. This is the people’s sovereignty. This is what we want. The sovereignty that rests with the people cannot be grabbed by the Mahanayakes, Revd. Dr. Abeytissa, the Bellanwila Chief priest or any others.

The monks all know this. They know the facts. Yet they are in the campaign. It is just that they have another script for a game of their own. Knowingly, they sing another song. The naked reality of the campaign is clear. It is a resumption of the ‘Bring Back Rajapaksa’ movement.

Viyathmaga, Eliya or whatever follows in that vein are all the same. Bigwigs under threat of soon facing court are hell-bent on sabotaging the trials and returning to their perks. Officials who once hung around them for handsome remuneration are working. Many of them are to face court. As we know from past experience, there is a lot of money in this Jaathyalaya business.

When in power, they feathered their nest in an incredible manner. They squandered state money, stole and murdered. Where there is money, backers gather. Sri Lanka has a new political class derived from commercial patriotism, a patriotism which changes and is bought and sold in the marketplace of evil-minded men.

(The writer can be reached at sjturaus@optusnet.com.au)

Advertisements