Dr. K. Veeramani
In 2009, Mahinda Rajapaksa the President of Sri Lanka, accomplished genocide, that was committed in a massive manner with military means on their own citizens; culturally distinctive group viz. Eelam Tamils.
When the genocide was over, Mahinda was on a foreign tour. When the news of accomplishment of the genocide reached him, he cancelled rest of his tour programme and returned to Sri Lanka. Stepping down from the aircraft, Mahinda Rajapaksa prostrated and kissed the earth, exhibiting his so called ‘patriotic fervour’. People did not understand then the dictatorial mindset of Rajapaksa.
The war crimes during the genocide was alarming and horrible incidents were carried out by the Sri Lankan army against its own subjects were unheard of. The Defence Minister of Sri Lanka during the genocide was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, younger brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Human Rights Organisations exposed the atrocities and unprecedented inhuman war crimes of the Rajapaksas. Demand for the follow up proceedings on the war crimes is still pending at the International Human Rights Commission of the United Nations Organisation.
Uprise of Autocrats
History proves dictators assumed power not directly as dictator. They chose democratic means of facing people, seeking the mandate of the electorate. Afterwards, the inherent autocratic mindset in them used to come out and make them act with the ruling power vested in them. More than the public priority in governance, the private and personal preference both in thought and action would dominate. As the trend advances, the misruling would result in economic decline. At this stage only, people would see the real colour of their rulers.
The delayed understanding of the country’s people about their rulers and the counter action of the rulers against them annoyed the people. This has been causing agitation in most of the cases.
This is the sequence of political events that took place towards dictatorship in the case of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Since their dictatorial rule tried to intrude outside their country, they had to face the global attack and ultimately resulted in their end.
The essence of democratic rule is the eternal vigilance on the part of the ruled citizens on their rule. It should not be superficial but be with periodical and critical understanding of the consequences of the rule in their countries.
In the name of liberalisation, instead of inviting more foreign investments, Sri Lanka’s rulers were borrowing from other countries as well as from international organisations. Besides, foreign super powers were invited under the guise of infrastructure development. The agenda and attention of super powers are establishing military base in Sri Lanka dictating terms of its relationship with other countries including India.
The renowned political and economic analysts of Sri Lanka have observed in the leading ‘Economic and Political Weekly’ thus:
The underlying cause for this historic uprising (of people) has been the devastating impact of the economic crisis. People were left to fend for themselves during the pandemic-led lockdowns. They were offered little relief while the situation has continued to deteriorate. In fact, the last four months have been gruelling as the central bank, the finance ministry, and, more recently, Prime Minister had implemented the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to seal an elusive agreement. Those austerity measures have led to the collapse of the economy, resulting in enormous increases in the cost of living, falling income streams, and disrupted livelihoods. Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product could contract by a tenth as the economic depression is further aggravated by austerity policies meant to provide confidence to the IMF and international creditors.
People began seeing the real face of Rajapaksa. Strong opposition to the Mahinda Rajapaksa rule emerged. But the general election became due. The presidentship of the country was shifted from elder brother to the younger brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa was made prime minister with the majority of their party’s representation in Parliament.
With this ruling compromise within the Rajapaksas, the rulers went ahead in a dictatorial manner. Unable to tolerate the rulers’ atrocities, people’s outrage turned out as a peaceful mass demonstration. At the beginning The autocratic rulers did not respect the democratic way in which the people expressed their sufferings. To suppress the peaceful agitation, the rulers used hooligans in various places where the people had gathered for demonstration. It resulted in great havoc and uproar.
The autocratic action forced the agitating people throng the official residence of the rulers. The prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had to step down from power, and at one stage was unable to manage the agitating masses. He had to resign the post of prime minister and leave his residence to hide himself along with his family members, in an unrevealed location. Thus, the autocratic rule was smartly disguised as democratic.
The President expected the turmoil to subside. The people who elected the rulers had to agitate violently by barging into the President’s residence. The President had to leave the country due to people’s outrage.
Buddhist monks’ outrage
In Sri Lanka Buddhist monks have got command over the rulers and have their influence on the vital political events in the country. The Buddhist monks were always with the rulers at the time of mass killing and genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils. But the same monks are on the agitation path against the present rulers.
The autocratic rulers, who are unmindful of democratic means have earned the displeasure of all the sections of the Sri Lankan society. The same people who had elected the Rajapaksa family are now opposing them because of their autocratic rule.
Autocracy in Sri Lanka
The same mode of rising to helm of affairs through democratic means by many historical dictators have been adopted by Rajapaksa’s family. When the shift towards autocratic rule was understood and after having experienced the ill effects and sufferings, the public en masse revolted against the rulers and they had to step down and flee from the country.
However, the present rulers are with the support of the political party that has not delinked from the Rajapaksa family. We have to wait and see how the present rulers would run the government with suitable policy formulation. If they follow the footsteps of the former ruler, they have to witness the same way out. The people’s unrest has not subsided after the change of the rulers. The dissatisfaction persists.
The lesson learnt is not only applicable to Sri Lanka, but also the rulers of all other countries who secure the mandate to rule through democratic means. Let vigilance prevail on the part of every citizen of the country who is being ruled.