While incitement to violence must be dealt with as a matter of law and order, oftentimes it is not dealt with because there is tacit and explicit support in government circles for the politics provoking the incitement. It is possible to draw neat lines in theory between political chauvinism and political violence, but the lines are invariably blurred in the real world.
by Rajan Philips-Jun 25, 2017
( June 25, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In politics, all may not be well even when things seem to end well. The vicars of gods in Jaffna and diplomats in Colombo may have helped avert the spectacle of a No Confidence motion in the Northern Provincial Council. But Jaffna’s political circus is by no means over. The TNA’s relief will not last longer than the effect of its last migraine pill. There are media reports implicating the Chief Minister and his adviser from down under about funds received from expatriate Tamils and apparently gone unaccounted so far. And the Chief Minister is now reportedly targeting for dismissal the Chairman of the Council, CVK Sivagnanam, for lead-signing the petition to the Governor to remove the Chief Minister. The circus continues. The Northern Provincial Council came into being with quite an electoral bang, but its performance in office has been nothing more than a whimper. It has done nothing worth mentioning except passing high voltage resolutions on explosive topics. Having run out of resolution topics, the Council is now stuck between corruption scandals and procedural chicaneries.
Lost in the to-and-fro over the No Confidence motion are issues of corruption and Council procedures. The TNA leadership and the Chief Minister must address the quite serious allegations of corruption levelled against ministers by the Chief Minister and his supporters, and against the Chief Minister by many Councillors and even expatriate Tamils. As NPC elections are still a few years away, to clean up the mess by letting the people throw out the whole rotten lot, the rotten mangoes must now be dealt with, and dealt with according to procedures that are applicable to elected bodies and elected officials.
It seems odd that that elected Councillors could be investigated by an outside group of notables appointed by the Chief Minister. I am not intimately familiar with parliamentary conventions or the provisions of the Provincial Council legislation, but those who are must point out if what the Chief Minister in Jaffna has been doing is proper process. In fact, as a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Mr. Vigneswaran owes it to the public to explain and confirm that the investigative process he has been following conforms with parliamentary conventions and the Provincial Council law. It should not be that because he was a Supreme Court Judge, the Chief Minister could hire and fire a minister the way – say Donald Trump does.
Aiders and Abetters of BBS
In the south, just as in the North, the debate and disagreement are not over anything positive or productive, but about who are and who are not among the benefactors and beneficiaries of Bodu Bala Sena. Whose enfant terrible is it? There is no one owning this bothersome baby of southern politics. Many are denying paternity while being accused of providing BBS protection at the highest levels of government. What began as a nuisance on the political fringes is now a menace at the centre of politics. No one will openly support it now, as Champika Ranawaka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa allegedly did in the past. And no one will disavow or condemn it either, including the Prime Minister and the President. Not only should the two leaders openly and unequivocally condemn BBS, they should also make it clear to every minister and government parliamentarian that anyone having anything to do with BBS will be expelled from cabinet or the ‘unity’ government.
Let there be no illusion; the PM or the President will do nothing of the kind. But let us not stop insisting that they do so if only to expose the cynical duplicity of mainstream political leaders in dealing with organizations like the BBS. Most political leaders are ambivalent towards the BBS to avoid the risk of antagonizing the more extreme sections of the voting population. Unlike in the old parliamentary voting system, the preferential and presidential ‘electorates’ have given undue electoral weights to a plethora of disaggregated voting blocs defined by loyalties ranging from caste and kinship to ethno-religious extremism, bigotry and chauvinism. Short of changing the electoral framework, there is no other way to deal with this phenomenon except by pressurizing ‘mainstream’ political leaders, the Wickremasinghes, the Sirisenas and the Rajapaksas (Chandrika Kumaratunga will have no hesitation in doing this), to take an uncompromising stand against organizations like the BBS and call out their electoral bluff.
Apart from cynicism, there is also common ground between many mainstream political figures and the agenda of the BBS and its brotherhoods. Aspiring politicians were on BBS platforms earlier but are now allegedly extending support from within the cabinet or from the opposition outside. To the extent the Prime Minister and the President do not isolate and expose the hidden benefactors of BBS, they are only aiding and abetting its political lunacy and they too deserved to be condemned as cynical beneficiaries of BBS politics. Remember, they too are guilty who only stand and wait! Indeed, the present government has been sitting on its law-and-order hands for over two years and allowed the BBS to find its footing after losing it in the January 2015 presidential election, and re-establish its presence even more menacingly than it was in 2014.
While incitement to violence must be dealt with as a matter of law and order, oftentimes it is not dealt with because there is tacit and explicit support in government circles for the politics provoking the incitement. It is possible to draw neat lines in theory between political chauvinism and political violence, but the lines are invariably blurred in the real world. This is not to suggest that all chauvinists must be put in jail, but to warn that governments and mainstream political leaders who do not honestly and openly oppose political chauvinism will not have the stomach to firmly deal with those chauvinists who incite violence. When a government is silent in the face of virulent chauvinism, the law and order agencies will be confused about their role in dealing with inciters and executors of violence. This has been the political story so far of the genesis and growth of the BBS.
There are also the moral and social dimensions. From a moral standpoint, it is a copout to suggest that intolerant extremism can be tolerated so long as it is not inciting violence. That is to condone verbal violence while assuring that no physical violence will be tolerated. It doesn’t work that way. Verbal violence invariably motivates the more truculent elements in society to resort to physical violence against ‘others’ who are ethno-religiously different. These wing-nut elements do not need organization or coordination to attack those who are different and helpless. On the other hand, almost all of the violence perpetrated against Muslims and Christians has been well orchestrated and well organized.
What is the earthly reason for turning on Muslims and Christians? Which aspect of Sinhalese nationalism in its current manifestation is under threat from either of these groups? There was background to the political antagonism between the Sinhalese and the Tamils after independence, and the battles and wars that came out of it. What have the Christians and Muslims done after the LTTE was defeated to become the targets for the violent putt shots of the Bodu Bala Sena? The concern over Christian conversion is a false concern to justify native bigotry that has nothing to do with enlightened Buddhism. Equally, the apparent local reaction to international radical Islam is again the contrived handiwork of local busybodies. Islamist (NOT Islamic) terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere is no reason to attack Muslims in Sri Lanka. It is not the Muslims who need to be told to ‘behave’, but it is the government that must tell the BBS to behave – befitting the ethos of Buddhism and abiding by the norms and values of a civilized society.
The contradictions of chauvinism can be hilarious if only they are not pregnant with violent consequences. The established opponents of the present government are virulently anti-Indian and passionately anti-Modi. Yet, many of them find common cause with Modi’s preposterous ban of cow-slaughter in India just to stick it to the Muslims in Sri Lanka. Even among Sri Lankan parliamentarians, there are those who will campaign on platforms against cow slaughter, but insist on eating pork in parliament to pamper their taste buds not caring that they are riling the sensibilities of Muslim MPs. Other mixed societies after long periods of open and subtle intolerance have developed ways of positively tolerating and appreciating the cultural differences among different peoples. The question is whether Sri Lanka that has experienced tolerance and appreciation of different religions at the social and folk levels for centuries, should now suffer the eruptions of religious intolerance because a few hundreds of miscreants cannot be put in their place by a spineless government?