Managing a democracy in normal times is bad enough. Managing it in times of crises can be a horripilating nightmare. Choices have to be made between confronting imperatives demanding urgent and unpalatable decisions and the popular will that will invariably opt for the comfortable and the least painful way out. The choices available for the drivers steering the wheel of state are risky either way. To begin with, no one likes the changing of gears which disturbs the settled position in the seat at a time when you are cruising smoothly on the surface of a flat road. Besides, it tends to build a kind of resentment against the driver who is doing his best to navigate his way forward through the bends and over the bumps. The driver who is at the wheel of the state is always trapped in this predicament. In reality he doesn’t have much of a choice. The choice available in trying to lie down at the end of the day is between a bed of thorns and porcupines.
President Gotabaya Rajapakse is the current driver in the seat. He has been driving the state since November 19, 2019. To arrive at his destination, he has decided to go down Dharmapala Mawatha. That is the meaning of November 19, 2019 – a date which is going to be as meaningful as “1956”. At no time in the post-independent period has the Sinhala-Buddhists decided to act collectively as a united political force as on November 19, 2019. There is, of course, “1956”. That was different. It was the year in which the colonial dam burst. The natural flow of history was dammed for nearly five hundred years and the accumulated forces were rearing to break loose in 1956. It could not be contained any longer behind any wall. The increasing pressures of the critical mass of historical forces waiting to breakthrough was too overbearing for any obsolete colonial dam to hold back.
Besides, by “1956” the tsunamic waves of anti-colonialism had swept across Afro-Asian nations overthrowing Western institutions and values. On the surface there was the change of guard. On the surface the Brown sahib replaced the White sahib. But beneath that political façade were the grassroot forces sweeping away the cultural remnants of colonialism.
The waves were just not political. Overthrowing the alien cultural dominance that came with Western imperialism proved to be more difficult than just sending home the Western masters. At independence Sri Lanka was ruled by 6% of the English-speaking elite. Of this, the English-speaking Vellalas held a disproportionate share of jobs and power in the British bureaucracy. More than the class division it was the cultural division – the English-speaking kultur elite versus the Sinhala-speaking yakkos – that separated and alienated the people from the state.
So, by “1956” the trends had developed and strengthened at all levels for the people to reclaim the nation they lost to the West. It was a historical inevitability. It was the momentous year in which the historical imbalances caused by alien rule were readjusted and restored to their legitimate place. It was the first flowering of the grassroot forces that were suppressed for nearly five hundred years of colonialism. It was the dawning of a new era for the people who understood it their way and expressed it in the very simple slogan: “Api-ta tha-na dun-na!” (We were given our due place!) They were referring to the place their ancestors lost five hundred years ago.
I was there when the over-joyed masses swarmed into Parliament and occupied the well of the House. The feeling in the air of having regained the precious heritage that was lost for centuries was infectious. Overwhelmed, some even shed tears of joy. It was a moment to remember for the rest of the living days.
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who came from Oxford had the foresight to identify and go along with the irresistible and overwhelming forces of history and win. He was chosen by history to lead “1956”. Stephen Spender’s splendid lines in ”I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great” describe his stature most aptly:
“Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”
He didn’t die when he was assassinated. Like all great historical figures, he was reborn in the memory of the people whom he served. To this day he lives as a determining force in the memory of the people who define and pursue their own destiny.
Gotabaya Rajapakse’s victory on November 19, 2019 is a return to “1956” but with new characteristics. If “1956” was a clear rejection of colonialism – a movement that was defined, refined and led by self-sacrificing activists like Anagarika Dharmapala — , “2019” was an unequivocal rejection of fascist minoritarian politics threatening the majoritarian way of life inherited from the first steps taken by the nation-building pioneers who put their roots down firmly, unlike the other itinerant migrants, and opened up the virgin land to make this “island a fit dwelling-place for men” (Mahavamsa) – one of the finest political ideals of all mankind.
In 2019 the minoritarianists were all out to rewrite the pages of history by devaluing and denigrating the very forces that opened the doors of the land and welcomed them when they too landed as migrants and had nowhere to go. But by 2019 they had grown to a point where they could take to aggressive politics challenging the very foundations on which they thrived. After they found their feet — with the help of the majority, of course — they decided to dislodge the majority and take over as king-makers, hiding behind various imported theories and rights.
Minoritarian power, which included anti-Sinhala-Buddhist NGOs, had reached its peak. By 2019 they were ensconced in a position to dictate terms to the Yahapalanaya regime. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s 19th Amendment was the noose that was tightening round the neck of the majority. As if that is not enough, he sent his emissaries to UNHRC to promise his buddies in the West that he is prepared to do their bidding, even if it means sacrificing the heroic soldiers who saved the nation. Together with the arrogant minorities and his NGO partners he was lustily ringing the death knell of the Sinhala-Buddhists.
The desperate Sinhala-Buddhist majority had no one to stand up for them. No saviour, no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel. The helpless majority knew that Ranil Wickremesinghe and his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist gang had to be stopped. But who was going to do it? It was in these frightening circumstances that Gotabaya Rajapakse emerged as the tried and tested man. He has proved his worth by leading the longest and the biggest military campaign from a commanding height. He was the power behind the forces that crushed the deadliest enemy – the invincible enemy — of the nation with the bullet.
On November 19, 2019 he went to battle with the ballot in hand to fight the new enemy at home. His victory shocked the pundits by winning the unwinnable electoral battle. Conventional wisdom had concluded that no one can win without the minority votes. Gota proved that he can win unwinnable battles both with the bullet and ballot. Besides, earlier Field Marshall Fonseka failed to win with the ballot despite collecting the votes of the minority and the majority. Gotabaya won only with the votes of the majority. Gota has rewritten the political textbooks by proving that it is possible to win without the minority votes – a force that was considered indispensable for any electoral victory
This should convey a new message to the minority which is in total disarray, particularly with their UNP patron with two heads not knowing which head to follow. The Tamil minority played their last card at Vadukoddai by declaring war against the majority and they failed. Failed miserably! They tried international pressure but that didn’t take them to the goals they aspired. They tried regional pressure but that boomeranged on them. Or to change the metaphor, they killed the goose that was expected to lay the golden egg for them. With the killing of Rajiv Gandhi Tamils have proved to be better experts than the Japanese in committing harakiri. Their last hope was in the ballot. After the failure of the Vadukoddai bullet it was considered to be their most indispensable weapon. They relied on their myth that the Sinhalese cannot win any electoral battle without their vote. But Gotabaya won this unwinnable battle too with the votes of only the Sinhala-Buddhists. This victory is as stunning as the victory at Nandikadal.
His victory has pushed the minorities to a dead-end. It means that the minority can push the majority only sometimes and that too only up to a point at all times, unless they get another Ranil Wickremesinghe to do their bidding. As usual he was self-sabotaging himself with his incalculable missteps. But why should the nation pay for his stupidity? He had to be stopped.
On November 19, 2019, Gotabaya Rajapakse did just that. The majority that backed him to the hilt signalled that enough is enough. On November 19, 2019 the majority declared in bold headlines that there are limits to minoritarianism. They went quietly to the polls and without throwing hand grenades told the minorities that the future is in peaceful coexistence, as they had done for centuries before, and not in identitarian violence that destroys them more than the majority. It was not a move by the majority to put the knee to the neck of the minorities and choke them. It was a predictable reaction to the minorities stepping over the limit with an unwarranted arrogance.
Another proven fact in the last election is that the majority is willing to place their trust in the Rajapakses leadership. It is partly because there is none in the horizon to give an alternative leadership. But more importantly, it is the trust placed in the quality of the leadership to take the nation forward. Our politically bankrupt pundits, as usual, are blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists
The total bankruptcy of the thinking of this gang is in the inane statement of Prof Quadri Ismail who wrote: “There cannot be peace in Sri Lanka until the Sinhalese come to terms with their bloody history, and disavow majoritarianism.” — A critique of (Tamil) Self-determination. (10/7/2013 – Groundview, Centre for Policy Alernative). This is typical of the minority blaming the majority. In any case, why should only the majority “come to terms with their bloody history, and disavow majoritarianism”, eh Professori? Shouldn’t the minority too come to terms with their bloody history of persecuting and oppressing their own people for centuries and their crimes against humanity in the Vadukkoddai War and disavow minoritarianism? This racist tactic of blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists has been going on since G. G. Ponnambalam denigrated the Sinhala-Buddhists in 1939 which caused the first racial riots. Where has it taken them? And for how long can they go on repeating the same anti-Sinhala-Buddhist mantra that has led them only to Nandikadal? Since all minoritarian gambits, including violence and international pressures, have failed should not the minorities seriously consider their next move on a rational basis with the aim of securing the good of all concerned?
Isn’t it time for them to revisit their failed past and consider how they can rephrase their rhetoric and their agenda to achieve peaceful co-existence as there is no space for disproportionate power and territory in the future?