Coming of the New Age | Sunday Observer

Coming of the New Age

When in two successive silent revolutions the Sinhala-Buddhist voters confirmed, with pencilled crosses, their commitment to regain their lost hopes and heritage and usher in a new age, the stunned political scientists and other assorted pundits, mainly in the media, did not know what hit them. What threw them off balance, in the first place, was the sheer magnitude and the force of the Sinhala-Buddhist wave that swept the nation.

Second, the two silent revolutions debunked their fictitious theories about the power of the minorities to sit in the middle and dictate terms to both major parties. Third, they were aghast at the sudden collapse of the cardboard edifice they constructed under the Yahapalana regime with the minorities and NGOs. Fourth, the Right-wingers allied to the minorities and NGOs were all swept aside and thrown into a black hole from which no light emerged to guide them out of it.

The fifth also stands out as a key factor: the violence and the arrogance of the minorities, particularly the burst of Muslim terrorism combined with Wahabist extremism and Middle-Eastern money, threw the Christian Sinhalese into the arms of the Buddhist Sinhalese. Together they formed a formidable monolith for the first time. Here ethnicity overtook religion. To a great extent the arrogance and the violence of the aggressive minorities galvanised the majority to form a defensive coalition against them.

The minorities dug their own grave with their overblown identitarian politics. Sixth, the West-oriented NGOs, undermining the traditional roots with imported neo-Liberalism, threatened the security of the majority who reacted decisively by cutting them down to size. Decades of investments in anti-Sinhala-Buddhist campaigns – billions in rupees -- went down the drain. These unelected interventionists were playing a key role as self-appointed stakeholders and leading the Yahapalanaya away from the promised Ven. Sobitha-way into betrayals in Geneva.

Last but not the least, the political theorists and pundits have no theory to explain or counter the new phenomenon empowered by the people to dismantle the anti-national structures, including the debilitating provisions in the Constitution, and find constructive ways to a new age.

Multiple forces

Whacked by these multiple forces the disoriented political scientists fell off their theoretical perch. Their paralytic reaction has been two-fold. First is to demean the historic victory with abuse. For instance, the best that Dayan Jayatilleka, who never fails to remind that he is a political scientist, could do was to declare that “armed Anagarika Dharmapala” has returned to power. Not many moons ago he was there with the ‘Armed Dharmapalas’ reading their messages that fanned the ‘Mahinda sulanga’ at Nugegoda. He backed the ‘Eliya’ to the hilt to bring the ‘Armed Dharmapalas’ to power.

In fact, he discarded his favourite Gramsci, Althusser, Marx and Lenin for the ‘Dharmapalas’. He was one of the leading hurrah-boys of the ‘Dharmapalas’. But after he sold his soul for a diplomatic post he did his usual somersault and turned against the ‘Dharmapalas’ accusing them of being ‘armed’ villains organised to destroy democracy. So, don’t be surprised if he now comes up with his next cock-and-bull theory that Mao came into power either through Buddhist meditations or ‘Armed Dharmapala-ism’!

The new and the promising

Then there is Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu who used his Ground View, to attack the elected President. Defeated ‘Paki’ is now uttering obscenities as political alternatives for good governance from his Centre for Policy Alternatives. The new political phenomenon has sent him and his ‘catchers’ reeling not knowing how to respond to it. We are in a period of adjustment transiting from the decadent and the antiquated to the new and the promising. And the clueless Quadripeds are struggling to figure out why all their theories, structures, and strategies have left them in the middle of nowhere. Unable to come to terms with the new realities their response so far has been to throw abusive filth at it.

The second response is fear-mongering. The anti-Sinhala-Buddhists are screaming their heads off saying that there is a dictator waiting in the corner somewhere to take over the state and destroy democracy. These are the phantasmagorial fears of infantile nincompoops in NGOs crying about a ‘goni billa’ stalking them to gobble them up in time. Ever since J. R. Jayewardene (JR) changed the Westminster model into a de Gaullist Presidential system the fear-mongers in the Left – e.g., Dr. N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva etc., --have been crying from rooftops about a dictator waiting to come out of JR’s Constitution like a genie locked inside a corked bottle. But it has been like waiting for Godot – there is a great deal of talk with no one sighting this ghost.

Nevertheless, it is worth pausing to consider whether the lurking fears have some grounds to worry about. Yes, there is on the surface. To understand their fears let’s imagine the following scenario:

One fine day, in November 2019, a retired Lt. Colonel sweeps into power in an island called See Long. Overnight the Lt. Colonel becomes the Commander-in-Chief. He is in total command. He has no parliament to check his powers. So, he has no need to restrain himself in any way. It’s open sesame for him. He has no Prime Minster to snipe at him and push him around demanding, for instance, more powers to import from Singapore a foreign banker when there are absolutely competent and distinguished bankers in See Long to do the job.

He has no Cabinet either to curtail his power either in framing policies or in implementing them. In fact, he has no rival political force to oppose him with any formidable clout. There is no Left, no Right, nor is the usually aggressive North there to take on the dynamic Centre that is command. He is the Lord of all he surveys. He even appoints his trusted lieutenants in the Army to key positions.

They have been disciplined and trained to carry out his orders to the last letter and spirit of the law dictated by him. There are no checks and balances. He is the unwritten Constitution making the laws as he goes along to meet the needs of the battles he needs to fight. He fights the biggest threat of our time, Covid-19, with a fine-tuned military force behind him. He runs the administration with military precision. He goes right down to the basement to examine the root causes for corrective action. And he delivers. He and his military loyalists are marching into the New Age in civvies.

The Executive

Without any Parliament he is, indeed, immune from the restraints of the Constitution. All key institutions are at his beck and call. The Executive is way above the Legislature which, in reality, is non-existent. The wings of the civil society are clipped and kept out of governing structures. He doesn’t have to violate the principle of the separation of powers because he combines in his person all the powers he needs to act. The decision-making powers are concentrated in his hands with no one having the wherewithal to object or oppose.

According to the principles of classical political science these are all hallmarks of a pure and simple military junta the likes of which are found in plenty in S. America. But if we come down from our imaginary See Long to reality the reader would have concluded, quite correctly, that I was describing no other place but Sri Lanka. I was portraying the rise of Lt. Col. Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be the Commander-in-Chief and his subsequent consolidation of political power.

But the features I have highlighted are all surface features. There is no military junta beneath it running a dictatorship. To this day no one has called it a military dictatorship, nor an authoritarian regime. Not the American Ambassador. Not the British High Commissioner. Not the New York Times. Not the London Times. In fact, ex-Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda another political scientist with a Ph.D. says he will not call it a dictatorship. If he could he would have been the first to damn the Rajapaksa regime. All what he can say is that if their favoured 19 A is amended it would lead to an authoritarian regime.

According to all signifiers we should be living under a military junta with jackboots throttling our throats. All the classical features of a military junta are operative and yet it has not turned the state into a dictatorship. I cannot think of another viable political entity like that of the Rajapaksas which is functioning successfully within the defined domains of democracy though it is armed to the teeth with all the powers to turn into a military junta. Faced with this new phenomenon the baffled political scientists with Ph. Ds (Phoney Doctorates) have resorted to fear-mongering. They are crying their heads off about a bogeyman rising in the shape of 20 A to hijack democracy.

With Mahinda Rajapaksa winning 145 seats the two brothers have gathered unfettered powers in their hands. With power concentrated on an unprecedented scale in their hands the Rajapaksa brothers are in a position to make or break the nation. And yet they have acted so far with great restraint and only within the limits of the prevailing democratic norms. They are seasoned enough to know that the power given to them is a responsibility and not a licence to violate the will of the people. They have witnessed the horrendous follies of our time to know the disastrous consequences of Ranil Wickremesinghe signing the CFA with Vellupillai Prabhakaran without the consent of the President, Parliament, party or the people. If this isn’t a dictatorial act what is?

They also know what happened to Mangala Samaraweera who pushed through 30/1 in Geneva selling the nation without telling his Prime Minister, the Parliament, the Party or the people. These are blunt and naked acts of dictators and not those of elected representatives of the people fulfilling the democratic will. Both are dictatorial acts under any definition. In abusing the hallowed precedents and practices of the Westminster system Ranil has demonstrated that it is possible to use democratic procedures and powers to act dictatorially dismissing all recognised checks and balances. Ranil’s unpardonable act was to legalise and reinforce the fascist dictatorship in the North, though it was done in the name of peace which never happened. His signing the CFA with Prabhakaran was not only dictatorial but also treacherous. Fortunately, the invisible hand that guides this nation shot it to pieces.

Democracy used to kill democracy

The cry now is that democracy is being used to kill democracy. They fear that the Rajapaksas have the numbers to re-do 19A – one of the failed experiments of the Sirisena-Ranil regime – and introduce 20A with adequate powers to serve the impending challenges facing the new age. If the Courts clear the path and dismiss the objections it will be merely a matter of time for it to go through.

The nation is faced with issues far greater than 20A. It is, for instance, the challenging economic issues in the post-Covid-19 period that makes 20A a vital necessity. Tough times need tough responses and 20A will be a necessary aid to clear the way through obstacles until the nation arrives at a steady state. It is clear that 19A did not raise the nation to new heights. It brought down the nation to rock bottom. An alternative is necessary and 20A should be considered as a viable alternative.

What is objectionable, however, is not so much the exploitation of circumstances for political gain but the hypocritical role of those who have lined up as the saviours of constitutional propriety.

Take the case of ex-Prof. Jayadeva. He is crying that 20A “could spell the end of democracy in Sri Lanka.” He added: “There should be a limit to political power. 20A seems to have followed the model of the colonial state we had in Sri Lanka before 1931.”

Velupillai Prabhakaran

Here’s a cracker from him: “This is a Government by a single leader or small group who have absolute power. I don’t know whether people have really understood what this means to them. Unfortunately, they will realise it after a couple of years, when they suffer the consequences of such a political change. It would be a very costly learning process,” he warned. (Daily Mirror – 18/9/2020).

Now let’s get back to the time when Velupillai Prabhakaran gave him an audience in the Vanni. He went on this pilgrimage with Bishop Kennneth Fernando and Charlie Abeysekera, another NGO activist whose sympathies were with the Tamil fascist state. The three of them returned, glowing with pride, as if they had been at the Second Coming of Jesus.

They ate a few biscuits and drank the orange barley given to them by the cruellest and the biggest killer of Tamils and held a joint press conference in Colombo parading as the privileged and chosen Three Kings of the Orient at the crib in Bethlehem on the first day of Christmas. They white-washed the ‘Surya Devan’s’ image and painted him as the living Prince of Peace. Tamil fascism had fascinated them. They took upon themselves the mission of polishing Prabhakaran’s image and they gave him a clean certificate as a man committed to serve peace and not war.

This ex-Professori, who is now so deeply involved in constitutional issues and preaching high morality to the Sinhala state. He is worried that the Government is run by ‘a single leader’. How many leaders did Prabhakaran have in his government? He is also worried that “there should be a limit to political power”. He argues that “20A seems to have followed the model of the colonial state we had in Sri Lanka before 1931.” By any chance, did he advise Prabhakaran that he should limit his political power as too much power can lead to a colonial state like the one we had in Sri Lanka before 1931?

And, OMG, did he warn Prabhakaran that his powers “could spell the end of democracy” in the North and the East? Besides, he is sharp enough as a political scientist to ask some relevant questions. Did he raise one single constitutional issue with Prabhakaran? or ask him why he abducts Tamil children to fill his depleted cadres? Or whether his brutal violence can pave the path to his Evil-lam? No. Not at all. They were there at the press conference to give a gloss to Tamil fascism. They were willing to go along with Prabhakaran and back him to the hilt in his demand for more devolved power without any constitutional guarantees.

Daily Mirror (DM) asked him “if national security concerns had given rise to 20A, Prof. Uyangoda said both internal and external security was important to a country. It is not that 19A compromised national security. It is the people who headed the government who failed when the Easter Sunday attacks occurred,” he opined.” Compare this to his condemnation of Sinhala-Buddhism and praising S. J. Tambiah’s book Buddhism Betrayed? Why didn’t he use the same logic and condemn Tambiah and say that it is not Buddhism that failed but the people who headed it?

He was joined in the DM by “Paki” Saravanamuttu, a vexatious litigant who goes to Court against the ‘Sinhala state’, posing on the steps of the Hulftsdorp either taking his dark glasses out or putting them on. But he never once took Prabhakaran to court for crimes against humanity and war crimes. After all Prabhakaran had courts and he could have at least fought on behalf of the Tamil children abducted by the Tamil oppressor in the courts in Vanni. He wouldn’t do that.

To save the Tamils

Instead he went jumping from one Western capital to another trying his level best to save Prabhakaran from impeding death in the last days of the battle against terrorism. He was bent on making the world believe that his intention was to save the Tamils trapped inside the war zone. But he knew jolly well that his main motive was to save Prabhakaran and make him live to fight another day. Stopping the advance of the Sri Lankan Security Forces was the only way to save Prabhakaran. He failed and when the ‘Sinhala state triumphed’ he accused them of ‘triumphalism’. He blamed the ‘Sinhala state’ for saving democracy and peace.

Both examples prove that our partisan intellectuals are, at best, mediocre pygmies who will not be able to see the wider horizons even if they are made to stand on ladders. Their opposition to 20A is predictable. Their prediction that 20A will lead to dictatorship is as remote as Ranil’s chances of becoming the next President. However, it may strengthen the hands of the Rajapaksas to guide the nation out of the economic tsunamis that are likely to hit the nation sooner or later.

The post-Covid-19 crisis is waiting to happen, according to informed market sources. If the crisis comes the best of strategies will need power to steer the nation out of it. The doom-and-gloom criers predicting the end of the world will exploit 20A for political gain. That is inevitable.

On the brighter side, Sri Lanka has come out of many crises without deviating from parliamentary democracy. The chances of democracy crumbling under the weight of 20A is a far-fetched bogey. If Sri Lankan could come out of Prabhakaran’s Tamil fascism, riding it like a roller-coaster, then there is all the reason to believe that we can overcome the next economic crisis waiting to happen. Crises never ceased to lash the nation. But the power to overcome has always been greater.

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