Monday, August 01, 2011

Gated communities slam down the gates: Polarization with a vengeance

By Dr.Kumar David | Lakbima News

There were a total of 23 Pradesiya Sabhas and Urban Councils in Tamil majority areas up for grabs on 23 July (Jaffna District 16, Killinochchi 3, Amparai 2, Mullaitivu 1 and Trinco just 1 Tamil majority UC). The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) or a TNA alliance won every single one; well not quite, three small island sabhas, which were locked down and rigged by a politico-military operation, went to the UPFA in its Douglas avatar. Typical of the emotions of the Tamil man would be Nallur, rightly you will say hidebound Nallur if the discussion was about social matters, where the vote divided 81% to the TNA and 17% to Rajapaksa’s UPFA. This for better or worse is the fact of the matter; Tamils en masse rejected Rajapakse’s regime and reposed their confidence in a nationalist alliance.

The other side of the story is equally dramatic. Every council or sabha in the rest of the country (Sinhalese majority) was won by the UPFA usually with 60 to 65% share and in a few cases above 70%. The UNP was locked down to its core 30% - that is, it failed to win any floating votes - and the JVP was stuck at about 4%. All this has been commented on profusely and I will not repeat any of it. I have a different take on what lies at the root of the two communities raising barriers, locking gates and turning their backs on each other. Let me place it before you.

Post-war sentiment

It would be natural to expect sentiments to freeze and mutual communal aversion to harden as a consequence of the events of the final months of the ethnic civil war. But this is not quite what I am saying. The nuance I am driving at is that in the two years after May 2009 mutual aversion between the communities has deteriorated further; this is my point. There are several reasons on each side so let me lay them out systematically.

The Tamils along with the International Community (and two add my two cents worth, yours faithfully too) are firmly convinced that, broadly, the Darusman Report is factual and the Channel 4 videos are not fakes. The Tamils, obviously, hold that war crimes were committed since the people then trapped in the Vanni have now returned and mingled, carrying their tales with them. When the President makes preposterous claims (missionaries of old who came with Bible in one hand and sword in the other, likewise “our brave soldiers advanced, Human Rights Charter on their lips and rifle slung gently over shoulder”, or “not one civilian” was slaughtered), prospects of trust and respect breaks down irreparably. The Rajapaksas, the UPFA (three grovelling left parties included) and hangers-on like Douglas, are finished so far as the Sri Lankan Tamils are concerned, not only because of the war, not only because of the final stages of the war, but now also because of the Gobblesian proportions of their lies.

The second reason for hardening on the Tamil side is the military and political status in the north and the east. The overwhelming anti-government Tamil vote was, in fact, an endorsement of TNA leader Rajavarothiyam Sampanthan’s (RS) statement in Parliament on July 7 and the eight page document that TNA-MP Sumanthiran tabled in the House a few days later. The Tamils clearly said: “Yes that’s right, that’s exactly what’s being done to us and that’s how we feel about it”.

Readers with an interest in politics need to apprise themselves of these statements since they mark something of a watershed. RS used a tongue in cheek rhetorical device, quoting from Rajapaksa to prove that Rajapaksa is doing nothing of what he promised re a political settlement to the ethnic conflict. I say rhetorical because I guess RS, like I, has no faith in the President. The second part of his statement was more interesting. RS declared that he would step out and lead civil disobedience if the oppression of his people does not end. It seems that foxy old RS was able to read the leaves about the outcome of the local government elections. The repression is the subject of Sumanthiran’s piece deals with militarisation, land-grabs, military assisted settlements, denial of livelihood opportunities, military occupation of churches, beatings and break-up of lawful meetings and more. Over a hundred examples were reported.

The South rallied behind Rajapakse

Nor did the hardening of the Sinhalese behind Rajapaksa, the military and the regime come as a surprise for parallel reasons. International pressure for war crimes investigation is mounting, the government is boxed in and cornered like a feral animal, its erstwhile patron and mentor, Delhi has abandoned it. Tamil Nadu is turning on the heat relentlessly, buddies on the sidelines, Beijing and Moscow are not cheering as loud as they used to, and the West is getting tough and rough. These are times when communities feeling the threat, knit closer and rally round the leader. Whether leaders are criminals or otherwise is not important, protecting the identity and emotions of the community is what matters. This is not the exception but the rule when emotions of social pathology are aroused.

Recently we have seen this happen several times in former Yugoslavia when war criminals faced deportation to The Hague. In the cases of Milosovic, Kardzic, Mladic, Valahovljak, Rajkic, Karagicm and many others, whether of Serb, Croatian or Bosnian origin, the natives rallied round their man and swore support. Ariel Sharon, the butcher of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refuges camps, was hailed as a hero and later elected Prime Minister of Israel. The Japanese worship at shrines of mass murderers of millions of civilians in the 1937-38 invasion of China and World War II convicted war criminals.

Identity consciousness is not a rational emotion, it is a deeply buried psychosis, not particularly Sinhalese, Tamil, Turk or Tunisian - not everyone is mentally equipped to be Marxist or rationalist. Lanka has got a bad attack and that portends no good. Rajapaksa will concede bu__er-all to the Tamils, who in turn will reciprocate their revulsion. I guess we are in for a few more tough years.

© Lakbima News

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