The government has hit the Frontline Socialist Party right in the middle of its head. By exposing the double identity of Kumar Mahattaya and by labeling on him the stickers of “fraudster”, “impostor” and “expired VISA holder”, the government has managed to slap and draw blood from the left wing movement right in its infancy.
The government has already pulled out its next card that will find it a footing among the less reflective, under-critical masses —- that the state cannot be held responsible for accusations of “disappearances”, since “disappeared” persons resurface in far off lands with a “dual identity”. In the Doramadalawa episode of Monday the 9th April, where the secretary of defense revealed to all the world the whereabouts of the thereunto abducted leader of the Frontline Socialist Party, Kumar Guneratnam, this point was stressed and deliberated on.
To the uncritical and under-achieving eye, Mr. Rajapakshe’s point will be sufficient clay to mould a case on behalf of the government’s defense. Here, in Kumar Mahattaya, there is a fellow who had come from Australia, who had overstayed his VISA under an alias, had been abducted by thin air and had, then, abruptly turned up at the Dematagoda Police station in a discreet hour, requesting Police escort to the airport. Rajpakshe makes the point that the government could never have been expected to find a Kumar Guneratnam, cos the man, in that sense, had never been to the country: who entered the country was a Noel Mudalige.
By extension, the point can be stressed that this kind of duplicity is what really happens to people who are claimed to have been made to “disappear” by the government: that they resurface in a first world country with a whole new profile, under a different name. Hence, their abandoned “previous” identity will rot unaccounted for in an oblivious “missing” list.
There are two points which we should not overlook or miss in the mist of the defense secretary’s Archemedian grin. The first is, that Kumar Gunaratnam’s breach of VISA procedures or his usage of an alias cannot be used as weights to compromise allegations of human rights breaches, of which the state machinery has been made the defendant. There are probably many reasons that govern and dictate Gunaratnam’s courses of action — circumstances which make an “underground activist” resort to an alias; and which prevents him from renewing an expired VISA — which should be debated on separately. Gunaratnam’s own version is that he was being hunted and hounded since his arrival in Sri Lanka, which prevented him from following the standard VISA renewal process. Whether Gunaratnam had an intention of renewing his licence is another matter; but, accusations of breaching the norms and mores of movement under “ordinary” circumstances should be a topic set apart.
Secondly, Rajapakshe does not address the issue of “abduction”: the most chief of accusations leveled against the government at the time. In subsequent developments — and this was highlighted by Gunaratnam himself in his interview to the media via skype — the Police nor any other division of the security took any procedure to ensure an investigation into the claim of abduction. For two days, the man had been missing and the international and national media and rights activists had been put on alert, but a hasty departure and deportation of the “recovered fellow”, and a lame excuse along diplomatic lines — that the government’s priority of the hour was to cater to the diplomatic relations between Australia — were all that followed through.
To say that “disappeared” persons resurface under aliases and with new identities in far away pastures is as irresponsible as a rationalization can get. As a generalization and feel good statement it lacks both imagination or originality. Nor is it diplomatically permissible in the aftermath of Geneva 2012, where the human rights structure of the country — in recent years, carefully fashioned after the Tower of Pisa — is under high scrutiny, in its run on borrowed time. Gunaratnam’s detention and his hurried deportation does not by any means dismiss the fact that an extra-legal arrest had taken place. Whether the man is on an expired VISA or otherwise, there are standard procedures that have been bypassed — such passages have been expertly taken, too: more out of practice and assurance.
Another loop in the defense establishment’s case can be seen in its drawing a parallel between the Gunaratnam case (where he uses an alias as “Noel Mudalige”) and that of “disappeared” persons who allegedly “take” a “new identity”. Why would one, to begin with, take an alternative identity? One cause for such alternative usage is — for better or for worse — one’s being unable to function freely or efficiently under an existing, established identity. Underground movements and de-establishmentarian forces, given the strength of their establishmentarian opposition who preys on their vitality, often resort to fluctuating identities.
For instance, from the day the Peoples’ Struggle Movement (Janarala Vyaparaya) was assembled, in the run up to the formation of the Frontline Socialist Party the membership of this political wave were always already under threat and intimidation by the state and its proxies. The attacks have been both physical and psychological. Part of the state arm was already hounding the progressive impetus of the new found forum. One such instance is the “disappearance” of Lalith Kumar and Kugan —- who, as the FSP insists, were abducted and made to vanish by state-known instruments.
The want of democratic space and the threat posed to non-regimental forces justify the usage of aliases or dual identities. Politics that aim at refining and reshaping social crises — specially, as the membership of those forces are continually under threat — cannot move freely with their parent-given baptisms. This would be well attested to by some of the government’s own bigwigs today, who, at a different time, would have had to resort to aliases and self-propounded disguises. Top ministers in the caliber of Wimal Weerawansa, Champika Ranawaka and Vasudeva Nanayakkara (not very top, at the moment) have enough revolutionary connections in their kit bag of yore, so as not to see a crucible in an alias of a sort.
However, the government — in a Machiavellian bid, or in an unassuming coincidental maneuver — has hit the Frontline Socialist Party right in the middle of its head. By exposing the double identity of Kumar Mahattaya and by labeling on him the stickers of “fraudster”, “impostor” and “expired VISA holder”, the government has managed to slap and draw blood from the left wing movement right in its infancy. Banking on the feudalistic and pre-modern instincts of our uncritical masses and the absence of political literacy the state has managed to pull out a life line (at least locally) that may ensure survival against allegations of abductions and extra-judicial detentions.