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Ruling family's determination to have a "Rajapaksa security state" is costing Sri Lanka dear

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

To take the wrong road is to arrive at snow” — Federico Garcia Lorca (Little Infinite Poem)

They had to stand in a sweltering-queue, in the baking-hot April sun, for hours, they who, ensconced in their public-funded air-conditioned offices and mansions, rarely experience the gruelling tropical heat. They were body-searched, they who zoom through traffic and life, pausing not for laws or norms. And they had no choice but to submit to these humiliations, they who humiliate their fellow citizens as a matter of course.

In a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, a discontented princess is compelled to experience the bitterness of poverty and powerlessness, when she is magically transposed into a life of servitude. Similarly, several Lankan ministers experienced a pinch of the powerlessness, indignity and injustice that is the daily fare of ordinary Lankans (especially Tamils) when they went to Mumbai to watch the Cricket World Cup. According to an outraged Sports Minister, his colleagues were forced to “buy their own tickets…and stand in queues for nearly two hours in the scorching sun and be subjected to body searches by Indian security personnel” (The Sunday Times – 10.4.2011).

The Sports Minister is equally ‘displeased’ at the treatment accorded to President Rajapaksa by Indian authorities. The President was given just 10 free tickets and not the 30 (or 40) he asked for (a large fawning entourage is a must for any Rajapaksa-sojourn abroad). He was not ceremoniously introduced to the two teams nor accorded a role in the award ceremony.

The President (and his advisors) should have expected a somewhat arctic reception in India for three very obvious reasons. Firstly, President Rajapaksa was not invited by the Indian government but by cricketing authorities. Since he was not a state visitor, he should not have expected to be honoured as one. (This was analogous to the situation he found himself in, when he made an unofficial visit to the UK to address the Oxford Union).

Secondly, Indo-Lanka relations are not in a very happy state currently. Thirdly, with Tamil Nadu elections in the offing, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh cannot afford to be seen hobnobbing with President Rajapaksa; the plight of Lankan Tamils is a major election issue in the state.

In five years, the Rajapaksas have managed to manoeuvre India into a position of relative optionlessness vis-à-vis Sri Lanka. While the war raged, the fear of another Indian intervention (though remote) coloured Colombo’s perceptions and compelled the Rajapaksas to treat India with kid-gloves. But this fear-factor evaporated, with the victorious end of the war; today India is ‘up a creek without a paddle’ vis-à-vis Sri Lanka. Delhi is suspicious of Colombo’s closeness to Beijing and Islamabad, but avoids stridency for fear of driving the Rajapaksas even more into the Sino-Pak embrace.

Sonia Gandhi may wax eloquent about ensuring justice for Lankan Tamils; but this is just election-rhetoric. In reality Delhi has failed to get the Rajapaksas to honour their (repeated) promises to implement a political solution to the ethnic problem. Lacking the capacity to influence Sri Lanka strategically, India would grab any opportunity to administer a discreet slap-on-the-wrist to the Rajapaksas. When the officially uninvited President Rajapaksa arrived in India with an unwieldy delegation and demanded head-of-state treatment, he gave Delhi a superb opportunity to assuage its irritation by delivering him a well-targeted snub.

President Rajapaksa has excellent relations with China, Iran, Burma and Pakistan; therefore he can expect every honour and indulgence when he visits Beijing, Tehran, Rangoon or Islamabad. His relations with the West and India are chillier and raddled with problems; thus he cannot expect to be treated as a welcome guest, when he invites himself to these countries to watch matches or deliver lectures. When we go, uninvited, to houses of people with whom we have ‘issues’, we invite snubs and cold-shoulders; had President Rajapaksa remembered this rule of thumb, he could have avoided the Oxford Fiasco and the Mumbai Fiasco.

Every action has a reaction; some are instantaneous while others have shorter or longer gestation periods. The Rajapaksas may think they are immune from this universal reality because they have got away with so much, but it is an illusory impunity. The illusion will last longer nationally (years, perhaps decades) but internationally, Sri Lanka is already paying for the misdeeds of her rulers.

According to media reports, the OECD has refused to amend the low-ranking accorded to Sri Lanka, despite persistent lobbying by the Sri Lanka Central Bank. In consequence, “European businesses will have to pay higher risk premiums in obtaining credit insurance if they are to trade with Sri Lanka” (ibid). Rajapaksa loyalists may argue that the OECD is punishing us. Perhaps; if so, by maintaining the Emergency, the PTA and other repressive laws, almost two years after the war, the Rajapaksas have presented the EU with a clincher to justify its punitive policy.

During the April Emergency Debate, PM Jayaratne invoked the Tiger bogey, predictably, saying that some former Tigers are lapsing into Tigerism! The Rajapaksas are maintaining repressive laws as a protective-shield not for Sri Lanka but for themselves. But by invoking the Tiger bogey to justify the prolongation of the Emergency, they are damning Sri Lanka internationally, as an unstable and a not-very-safe place. After all, when the Lankan Prime Minister repeatedly warns the Lankan Parliament that the Tigers are still alive, the world cannot be faulted for regarding Sri Lanka as a risky prospect for trade and investment. The regime needs to understand that it cannot keep on invoking the Tiger bogey, maintain repressive laws, tolerate human rights violations (disappearances are continuing in Jaffna, reportedly) and expect the world to see Sri Lanka as a stable democracy.

The Ruling Family’s determination to create a ‘Rajapaksa Security State’, by maintaining repressive laws and high levels of military spending, post-war, is costing Sri Lanka dear, not just in international goodwill, trade and investment but also in national development and popular advancement. According to the Minister of Education, “budgetary allocations for the upgrading of schools that lacked libraries, laboratory facilities and even common facilities like water and sanitation, were insufficient” (The Island – 3.3.2011). As US President Dwight Eisenhower warned, with great prescience, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed” (Speech to American Society of Newspaper Editors – 16.4.1953).

When Sri Lanka maintains defence costs at astronomical levels, she is wasting on Rajapaksa-security, the resources she should have spent on education, health and in assisting the war-affected, Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims, civilians and soldiers. If the regime removes the Emergency (and the PTA), it can, with one stroke, confound its critics and counter a possible adverse report by the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel.

In Stendhal’s The Charterhouse Of Parma, despotic-prince, Ranuccio-Ernesto IV, would get his security chief look under his bed, nightly, for enemies. A despot’s universe is coloured by fear. The Rajapaksas will maintain repressive laws and military spending, at enormous cost, for that future-day they lose their popularity and need protection from the wrath of their people.


Another "spin" to crate a "rift" between India and Srilanka.

Went to the Airport .all the way from Galle. Not even one check point.Last time three stops with everyone out except the white skinned.

Departure lounge was full of ordinary Srilankans including hundreds of Tamil speaking people.

Airline announcement in Tamil and Sinhala . which I have never seen in Malaysia and Singapore.So much for the better treatments of Tamil brothers in those countries.

Colombo was bustling with New Year shoppers.

Traffic flowing smoothly along streets which are unbelievably clean.

FX reserves last month topped US 7 Billion.

I am not sure where this "costing dearly" factor is coming from.

Coastal land along the Southern beaches are selling at Rs 10 lakhs a Perch.

Diaspora Tamils who This writer seem to represent besides the bankrupt SL Opposition should rush and reserve good coastal land on both East and West coast before it is too late.

There are no Coastal land left in the South which the locals can afford

They are all in the hands of the Germans and the Poms.

The same scenario won't be too far away for the East & the West.

Posted by: Kalu Albert | April 16, 2011 10:19 PM

Our Ministers need to stand in the sweltering sun and be body searched to understand what the ordinary people are going through. All this ado in the name of cricket which is from the West whom they constantly condemn and ridicule.

Posted by: SriLankan | April 17, 2011 12:58 AM

Tisaranee Gunasekara is a tireless Human Rights activist and a very good human being!!

Thanks for a great article, which such a joy to read and hope for a real reconciliation !!

Posted by: Thamizh Thikathi | April 17, 2011 03:31 AM

Ha! ha!
Quoting Ike at the end is rich !!!
Despite all those flowery words and high sentiments, when push came to shove, the US did not and has never hesitated to throw those same sentiments out the window in the cause of self-interest...

Even now ..

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2011 06:14 PM

India is wary of interfering in the internal politics of Sri Lanka despite Sonia Gandhi’s electioneering promises to her audience in Tamil Nadu. The routing of the IPKF by the LTTE and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi should serve as warnings. Sri Lanka is an independent country and any patronage from India should be viewed in the same manner as in Homer’s Iliad – ‘Beware of the Greeks bearing gifts!!’

After the resounding of the victory of the Eleam wars and Sri Lanka’s membership of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and its friendship with China and Russia India will find Sri Lanka not so compliant as before. Add to that India’s separatist movements in Kashmir and Assam and India would be biting off more than she can chew.

The fact remains India needs Sri Lankan friendship in sustaining a trouble free Indian Ocean and the security of its southern flank more than Sri Lanka needs India and hence in treating the President and his retinue with disdain is in the long run counterproductive to India’s interest. Already we have seen the retaliation regarding the IPL where the Sri Lankan authorities are recalling the Sri Lankan cricketers early thus effecting the IPL. This is only a minor issue and Sri Lanka can make it difficult for India and especially the Gandhi dynasty and Congress in election year.

India has to realise that Sri Lanka is no push over and judging by the way the President has so adroitly played International politics so far especially during the Eleam wars and since then despite the International pressure from the Western powers including the loss of GSP is a paradigm that many would find admirable the author of the article being the exception.

Posted by: Merlin Van Tweest | April 17, 2011 07:02 PM

Now that the war is over President Rajapaksa must create a civil state devoid of a "fear phychosis". Too many "Rakapaksas" cooking the in the kitchen will not help Sri Lanka as a country. The ruling faamily must remember Sri Lanka belongs to all its people not to a few who happened to be connected to its president. What goes up, comes down! All must remember this.

Posted by: Random Thoughts | April 17, 2011 08:14 PM

Everybody knows that ruling family is gathering wealth every posible way.They will do anything to be in power for ever.Some peapol turn a blind eye and prais them to get favours from them.

Posted by: tishan | April 17, 2011 10:04 PM

Tisaranne, for a moment, please read what you write or get it critiqued by someone in the know.

China has outwitted the US and very soon it will be the Europeans. Does Sri Lanka have to seel directly to the US? No need, there are enough back door entries. What about those companies wanting to do business in Sri Lanka? Forget it, they can get their Chinese/Singaporean office to do that.

OK, lets' say that the whole of West decides to place an embargo on Sri Lanka. It is better to become a manufacturing base for China targeting African and South American nations.

Having courted the US from my teens and studied there too, the US is a goner on the world stage. They are well done, by China. I place my betsw on China and I am going to learn Manadarin. Why don't you too?

Posted by: Max Headroom | April 20, 2011 07:14 AM

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