Why nobody buys the spurious ‘militarization’ story | Sunday Observer

Why nobody buys the spurious ‘militarization’ story

24 May, 2020

Sri Lanka’s Covid 19 response has been better than that of New Zealand, at least so far, but many people are loathe to acknowledge it. This is a peculiar country in which the Elections Commissioner says that the 5,000 rupee cash grant that was given to the poorest as a buffer against the coronavirus ravages, should not be granted any longer as it’s a violation of election law!

We have a long hard climb upward to recover from the economic and other repercussions of the virus, but certainly the worse may be behind us. If that’s the case, why is the Opposition insisting on behaving as if the Government has to be vilified, and not congratulated?

The UNP or its twin the Samagi Jana Balavegaya is not doing itself any favours. The pathetic attitude of denigrating the war victory made the current Sri Lankan Opposition a generally despised lot among the majority Sinhalese in the country. Now, history repeats itself.

By belittling the largely so far successful Covid-19 battle, the Opposition is on a confrontation course with the key components of Sinhala majoritarian mindset. For one the military is being ignored and belittled, and that’s not a mistake the majority community is bound to forgive.

Far from being congratulatory about the military contribution towards the Covid-19 battle, the Opposition has been doubling down through its various ideologues, on the ‘militarization’ narrative. This view generally springs from the TNA and other minority parties’ line against the military that’s just a reflex against anything and everything the military does.

Leaving Covid-19 alone, there has been a buildup of a narrative that the militarization of the Sri Lankan State apparatus has been complete since the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency got under way.

The President of course has relied a great deal on ex-military personnel in particular to fill some key government positions, and the most recent of these appointments was of a former military physician as the Secretary to the Ministry of Health.

Do any of these appointments mean that the military has made inroads into civilian administration of the country?

No, and to assume such a thing would be to adduce a farcical argument. Ex military men in key civilian positions do not a military government make, and that should be achingly obvious.

On the other hand, the military per se has been in the frontline of the battle against Covid-19. The fact that there were mounting Naval-forces Covid-19 patients in the past few weeks, and almost no civilian casualties, underscores the fact that the Sri Lankan military has again cast itself as the saviours of the nation by taking the brunt of it …


This fact may go unnoticed by the Colombo elite and the urban salaryman, but it’s certainly not going unnoticed in the rural heartland. So is it surprising that the UNP Samagi Jana Balavega mindset is against the so called militarization that has been seen during the successful tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Some may say that they are not against military involvement in the anti pandemic effort but that excuse doesn’t cut. The NGOs have been slamming what is being called the securitization of the country due to the Covid-19 contagion. The UNP, which is generally joined at the hip with the NGOs, has not condemned any of these NGO statements.

So it’s clear where their sympathies fall. Their general tack is against military involvement in the anti-Covid-19 drive. But the people of the country, certainly the overwhelming majority of the majority community has been extremely supportive of the military effort, and that’s understating it.

When the military along with some ex forces persons at the helm of some key state sectors are doing a good job, and the people appreciate this fact, by what stretch could this be called militarization of the nation?

The essential civilian characteristic of the State machinery is all completely intact, so where is the problem? The vast majority of State sector positions are still filled by civilian administrators. However, the Army Commander heads the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of Covid-19.

This appointment has not militarized the country but on the contrary made the military a more civilian styled institution that can rise to particularly civilian-oriented challenges. The ordinary people of the country understand this fact.

What they don’t understand is the ‘independent’ civilian administration that seems to be at odds with their struggle to survive in the time of Covid-19. For instance , they don’t understand the need for the civilian so called independent Commissioner of Elections to stop the Government’s effort to keep ordinary citizens fed during the time of crisis, by extending the deserving a monthly grant of 5,000 rupees.

With this kind of civilian ‘input’, the people would rather have the very amiable, people friendly military at the helm of affairs such as the Covid-19 containment drive, in contrast to indifferent civilians.


The people also have a fundamentally different view of the military than the educated elite so called, of the liberal persuasion. They know that the Sri Lankan military is essentially benign, and has no political design. This is no Pakistan. The Sri Lankan military high command will reject political power at the centre if it’s given to them on a platter.

The only attempted military coup in the history of the country occurred when a rump group of Christian — not majority Sinhala-Buddhist — officers of the high command carried out an abortive putsch for power in the early sixties.

This type of past does not make for a public mentality of paranoia against the Sri Lankan forces. So, there is no point in the liberal commentariat getting all wound up with a ‘militarization’ that exists in their minds just because the military is deployed in some essentially civilian tasks, and because some ex-military men occupy key government positions. There is no militarization or securitization there. Anybody who seriously believes in such creeping ‘militarization’ is just being afraid of a bunch of uniforms.

The other element the liberal elite and the local Opposition generally forgets, is the fact that the Sri Lankan military is seen as largely efficient and incorruptible, in contrast to say the majority of the country’s politicians. So anyone who asks the Sri Lankan people to encourage less military input in civilian life and more civilian involvement, will get laughed at.


If they have their ears to the ground, the critics will know that the overwhelming civilian sentiment after five years of tragi-comic chaos culminating in the Easter Sunday attacks, was to have a ‘military style administration’ to replace corrupt parliamentarians.

That does not mean that the people seriously want a military government with no Parliament, even though some social media memes jokingly allude to that idea. But the people do want a military role.

That’s not militarization. You could say it’s the peopolisation of the military — at least of sorts. When the country is essentially bereft of heroes, and when even the cricketing gods are these days mostly cardboard, the military is held in incredibly high esteem, particularly in the rural heartland.

Of course the President is an ex military man, and his confidants are mostly from the military, but essentially that’s that. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s confidants were mostly from Royal College. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s are mostly from the army and the tri forces, and a few are from Ananda College where he schooled.

So if Wickremesinghe could have had an inner circle so could President Rajapaksa, and that is all there is to it. Anyone who sees a military bogey in all of this probably heard too many renditions of the Colonel Bogey March.

By and large, also, the military has been unobtrusive the way it has gone about tackling the Covid-19 menace, for instance. Other than the fact that it’s known that the military is involved in contact tracing and quarantine efforts, the forces have not been carrying a heavy bayonet on the streets, or clicking their boots marching down alleyways.

But that’s an image that the liberal-disgruntled want to create. They want some complaint against a so far largely successful civilian administration led by the President, and in the military they think they have an instrument to create a successful scare-mongering campaign to frighten the masses. But whipping up a military bogey is like telling the people to turn against their own family — it just won’t happen; not in this country.