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25-point common framework for a re-founding of the center-left

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BY DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

1. The last time the Sri Lankan citizenry suffered materially in a manner remotely similar to the current suffering was in 1970-1977. The leader of the day never led the nation again. It took 17 years and her rebellious daughter, who was not associated with the suffering of the past and who professed drastically different economic policies, to get the party re-elected.

2. Today’s Pohottuwa will never be re-elected while under Rajapaksa dominance and any Rajapaksa will take decades – while the memories of generations fade, together with the narrative–to be elected to the country’s top spot (as in the case of ‘Bongbong’ Marcos).

3. This leaves a simple choice for SLPP members: (a) dump the Rajapaksas and free the SLPP (b) denounce the Rajapaksas and flee the Rajapaksa camp immediately, or (c) go down with the ship at the next election and every election after that for decades.

4. SWRD Bandaranaike and his Silent Revolution of 1956-1959 were dualistic, but was primarily progressive and secondarily reactionary. It was progressive in its social, economic and foreign policy aspects and reactionary in its linguistic aspect. SWRD strove to reverse that reactionary aspect with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact but he was blocked from doing so. (Had he been an elected President he could have seen it through).

5. What remains valid in SWRD policies are the progressive aspect of 1956, fused with the B-C Pact of 1957, but with an honest and total rejection of Sinhala Only and the majoritarian, exclusivist or hegemonistic ethno-nationalism that gave rise to it.

6. There cannot be a return to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike economic model or its celebration. That model caused semi-malnutrition. People were rooting in garbage cans for papaw skins. The SLFP and its Left partners were swept away for 1 ½ years (and the Left partners, for far longer) because of the suffering associated with the statist-closed economy model. The UNP coasted for years by rekindling that mass memory of suffering.

7. Vijaya Kumaratunga’s SLMP project, breaking away from the SLFP, was the kind of Left the country needed and still needs—free, open, tolerant, democratic, pluralist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist—and Vijaya himself was a precursor of the Aragalaya consciousness.

8. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was correct to break with the Sirimavo-NM Perera economic model but was wrong to go well beyond the progressive thinking of her economic advisor Dr Lal Jayawardena and turn to the right, exemplified by, but not restricted to, privatising and foreignising the ownership of the plantations (in contradistinction to President Ranasinghe Premadasa who chose to award renewable five-year management contracts, not ownership, to Sri Lankan, but not foreign private companies).

9. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was horribly wrong not to prosecute the war to a finish and resort instead to a Norwegian peace-keeping exercise, the failure of which was underscored by the LTTE attack on the Katunayake airbase and crowned with the assassination in Colombo of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. In the matter of negotiations and the PTOMS, Chandrika went against the advice of Kadirgamar just as she went beyond the policy parameters of Lal Jayawardena in economics.

10. That the war could have been won with the same army and the same General Staff was proceed by the victory under the political leadership of her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka whom CBK had transferred from Jaffna to the Volunteer Corps in Colombo, despite his sterling performance in saving Jaffna from the LTTE advance in 2000 after the fall of Elephant Pass, by blocking the Tigers at Kilaly.

11. Had Chandrika fought Prabhakaran with the resoluteness her mother would indubitably have brought to bear, she would have won it, and been well-positioned to successfully reintroduce her August 2000 draft Constitution, thereby resolving the Tamil National Question. It is her irresponsible failure in not doing so that opened the road for the rule of the Rajapaksa Clan and the prolonged spike in Sinhala Buddhist militarist-chauvinism.

12. Given Ranil Wickremesinghe’s track record of appeasement and capitulation vis-à-vis the LTTE, it was by far the correct decision to opt for Mahinda Rajapaksa over him as President in 2005, though CBK clearly preferred a different outcome.

13. The first term of Mahinda Rajapaksa was historically a triumph, winning a decisive victory over the LTTE in a war that many previous leaders had fought and dismally failed to win.

14. The beginning of the decline of the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency and that of the collective Rajapaksa project, and the transition from the positive as the major aspect to the negative as the major aspect, began with the dismissal, dismantling and dispersal of the teams that won the ground war and the diplomatic war (in Geneva)—most dramatically and disastrously manifested in the unjust jailing of war-winning General Sarath Fonseka.

15. The second term of Mahinda Rajapaksa was comparatively progressive, chiefly because the alternative remained Ranil Wickremesinghe. There was considerable economic growth and buoyancy, partly due to the legitimate recourse to Chinese loans but partly to the little noticed yet massive and imprudent recourse to private international borrowings. Beneath the comparatively progressive achievement the putrefaction had set in. Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa had carved out their respective spheres of influence.

16. The shooting of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra caused the first fissure in the SLFP, just as the incarceration of General Fonseka had fissured the support bloc early in 2010. The Chilaw, Katunayaka, Rathupaswela and Welikada shootings, which as in the case of Bharatha Lakshman, were traceable to one camp—the securocrat camp–within the Government, ensured electoral defeat in 2015.

17. The Central Bank bond scam, neoliberal economic program, “foreign judges” sellout Geneva resolution of 2015, and attempt to introduce a non-unitary Constitution by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warranted and justified a fightback by the Joint Opposition (JO) in favour of a Mahinda Rajapaksa comeback.

18. It also justified the detachment of the bulk of the SLFP from the then SLFP leadership which was in coalition with Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the founding of a new party, the SLPP.

19. The limiting of its membership to the SLFP, rather than structuring the SLPP as a party that would invite and absorb the Joint Opposition (JO) as a whole, facilitated the entrenched dominance of the Rajapaksa Clan within the SLPP.

20. The prevention by the 19th amendment of Mahinda Rajapaksa running for even a non-consecutive third term, opened the road for the Gotabaya Rajapaksa succession project which dated back at least to the hyping -up of his wartime role in the book Gota’s War published within the second Mahinda Rajapaksa term (2012).

21. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa project reflected and reinforced the acknowledged dualism of Gotabaya’s personality. The largely rational-managerial side predominated in 2016-2017, perhaps up to mid-2018. The Sinhala supremacist, militarist and irrational side kicked-in from mid-2018, dramatically expressed in Gotabaya’s needless defence of the senior cleric who called on him to “be a Hitler” during the sermon delivered on his birthday that year.

22. The most prudent and progressive decision for Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLPP at the time would have been to opt for Dinesh Gunawardena or Chamal Rajapaksa as candidate. Instead, the need to tilt the longer-term succession in favour of Namal Rajapaksa, probably tilted the candidacy in Gotabaya’s favour.

23. The Easter Sunday massacre which was possible due to the mysterious behaviour of high-ranking intelligence personnel who did not pass the Indian intelligence warnings to their institutional and political superiors, and the resultant wave of Islamophobic militancy—which had commenced as far back as 2012 with the BBS, itself commended by Secretary/Defence Rajapaksa—sealed the Gotabaya Rajapaksa candidacy, and did so as a Sinhala religio-racist, militarist, proto-fascist project, rather than the earlier rational-technocratic one (2016-to-mid-2018). The overnight ban on synthetic fertiliser-pesticide-weedicide was the most emblematic manifestation of this irrational mindset. It was possible because of the hyper-centralisation of power in Gotabaya and the Presidency through the autocratic 20th amendment.

24. After a massive popular uprising deposed Gotabaya rule, the SLPP had the options of voting for Dullas Alahapperuma, or nominating Prof GL Peiris or Dinesh Gunawardena for the Presidency, in the parliamentary ‘electoral college’ process. Instead, it chose to enthrone its traditional adversary Ranil Wickremesinghe in a presidency he had always been kept away from by the citizenry. This represented the ultimate degeneration, the Ground Zero, of the SLPP and the Rajapaksa Clan’s political trajectory. From a progressive phenomenon on balance, the Rajapaksas and the party they run, has turned into a reactionary rightwing bloc, which props up a leader who has no popular mandate even as a parliamentarian.

25. The only hope for the traditional center-left is without and against the Rajapaksas. It is the path of the de-Rajapaksafication and indeed the de-familisation or de-cartelisation of the center-left political space. If the center-left owes allegiance to an oligarchy, it cannot be described as center-left or progressive.



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Opinion

The faithful Lankan matriarch from Negombo

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(UCAN) Every day around 7pm, octogenarian Sembuwalage Mary Hariyat faithfully recites the rosary and litany from her old prayer book with lightly frayed edges and irregular-shaped pages.She is never alone as she settles before the statues of Mother Mary and the saints at home. Among those around her are some of her growing brood of 24 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, not to mention her eight children.

“My prayer book and rosary are my weapons in times of joy and sorrow,” says the 82-year-old from the tourist village of Negombo, known as the “little Rome” of Sri Lanka because of its predominantly Catholic population.

The majority of some 150,000 Catholics in Negombo depend on fishing, just like many other coastal communities in the island nation. Despite a life hit hard by poverty, thousands of Catholic mothers like Hariyat are considered important in building up the local Church.

Hariyat never forgets to neatly arrange a small dish of raw white flowers and light an oil lamp before her prayers at home. On some days, she will burn incense sticks according to traditions passed down from generation to generation.But above all, Hariyat loves to teach the kids prayer rhythms and styles.

Her son Liyanage Samantha said: “It is our mother who taught us rhythms of all prayers. We learned every prayer from her. Now she is teaching our children and their children too,” he said. Her sons, daughters and their families credit her for teaching them how to live their Catholic faith.

“All my eight children and their children and grandchildren are devout Roman Catholics,” Hariyat proclaims with pride.

“I stay with one child for a week. That’s how I divide my time among all my eight children, week after week. If a family member is sick, I stay longer to help and serve in that house,” she says.Every word she utters hints at how grateful she is to God for everything she’s got.

“God has abundantly blessed me and all the members of my large family,” she saiys.

In February 2021, Hariyat suffered a severe heart attack and had to be hospitalized.  She says God and Mother Mary “stayed close to her during the terrible time” and if not for their blessings she would have been long gone. Like a true Sri Lankan Catholic, whenever she or a member of the family faces a problem, Hariyat takes a vow to visit national shrines on a special pilgrimage.

Most of the time it is Our Lady of Madhu, a Marian shrine located in a dense forest in Mannar district, some 220 kilometers from Negombo. The shrine is considered the holiest Catholic site on the island.Hariyat has been attending the August festival at the shrine since she was 20 years old. She even visited during the height of the Sri Lankan civil war, when the shrine was surrounded by refugee camps and shelled many times.After recovering from the heart attack, Hariyat accompanied by the family of one of her sons visited Our Lady of Madhu last June.

Her son too had recovered from a major illness even though the doctors had said he could not be cured. He could not stand or do any work and suffered unbearable pain that prevented him sleeping. Doctors said some tissue lining his spine was torn and could not be rectified.Hariyat recalled praying to Mother Mary for months to heal him. She believes that Mother Mary intervened at her request.

“My son had a major operation and the doctors wanted about 600,000 rupees (US$ 1,715) to carry out the operation. His children decided to hold a lottery to find the necessary amount,” she said. “I continued to pray to God, Mother Mary to heal him and vowed to bring my son” to Madhu and Kattara churches in Mannar diocese.

Hariyat said no operation was required and even the doctors were surprised with her son’s miraculous recovery.

“For more than fifty years, I have been going to Madhu and Kattara churches with my children. I have experienced many miracles in my life,” Hariyat said.

She remains as enthusiastic as ever about the pilgrimage to Hiniduma Calvary shrine and joins other Catholic faithful in walking around the small hill on which the shrine stands overlooking St. Anne’s Church and the Gin River quietly flowing beside it.Hariyat’s house is located in a beautiful village called Pitipana nestled between the sea and a lagoon. It is a village of fishers and except for a few families, everyone else is Catholic.

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Opinion

Evening with Julia Cameron

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We were treated to a Sri Lankan cultural feast on Sept. 9. It included old photographs, old paintings, glimpses of the old sculptures, temple paintings – together a cultural heritage most of our countrymen are ignorant or have little knowledge of. However prevalent Buddhist fervor has given some knowledge to the average Buddhist about the temple paintings that are a part of this heritage. Fortunately, the audience present at the film that evening comprised people familiar with what was on offer and continue their quest for more knowledge.

The evening was an ode to the life and times of Julia Cameron, who was born in India in 1815, but chose to make Sri Lanka her home. She lived for some time in the Isle of Wight in high society making friends with many famous persons like Lord Carlyle, Lord Tennyson and Sir John Herschel, the British astronomer, among them.

Julia, from a young age was interested in photography but it was rather late in life that she took to it seriously. Apparently encouraged by her friend Sir John (Herchel), she in her late forties went on to become one of the most famous photographers of the 19th century, best known for her soft focus photography. She is today considered one of the greatest photographers of all time. The short film screened on Sept. 9 was indeed a treat and revelation.

This was followed by another short film on the 43 Group. That included Lionel Wendt, well known to most Lankans. I don’t think he had the same international reputation that Julia Cameron did but enjoyed seeing his work again. Then came a series of pictures of paintings by our best known artists: Keyt , Ivan PIeris, Daraniyagala and Manjusri to name a few. The 43 Group had a great reputation at that time but are almost forgotten now. Its last member, June Somasunderam died a few years ago. Seeing these pictures was a pleasure, like seeing old friends. They are hardly seen today and maybe many are in private hands here and abroad.

There was also a short clip on a dance form making you aware of the many dance forms Sri Lanka has: up country, low country, ritual dances including one to drive away the devils and one to intervene between God and the supplicant in time of illness or bad times. Few people are familiar with these rituals, but they are not that many. Thanks to the Kandy Perahara, most people are familiar with the Kandyan dance form.

The creator of this lovely film didn’t forget the lowly kite which rose in splendor to the sky at the end of the film.We owe this pleasurable evening to two people whose intrepid research and study documented our cultural heritage for posterity. Thank you Ismeth Raheem and Martin Pieris.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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Opinion

PEOPLE’S FRIENDLY POLICE

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The Sri Lanka Police has come a long way from where it started having celebrated 155 years of its existence this year. I thought of adding my perception of how the police have changed from being people’s friendly force to one that has gone down in many ways.

Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) having been a colony under the British gained independent status in 1948 as a Dominion. We adopted the Westminster system of government and all other good things that the British were used to at that time. Even the police force was similar to the British counterpart in that they acted impartially without interference from the politicians. The officers in charge of police stations and their subordinates would carry out their duties without fear or favour. They never curried favour with the politicians and the politicians did not interfere in their duties.

However, all these changed after 1977 and the rot set in. Thereafter, the bootlicking started. Now most of the transfers and promotions began to take place according to the whims and fancies of the political leaders. Even when it came to the appointment of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), on many an occasion, it was a person who curried favour with the political leaders who got the position.

Sometimes the persons so appointed had got the promotion over more deserving and honest officers senior to them, who refrained from stooping to low levels. While the honest police officers did a job of work according to their conscience, there were the others who stooped low to get their promotions and perks.

For a long time as I remember there were nine Superintendents of Police (SPs), one in each province, and four Deputy Inspectors Generals (DIGs). Each province had a few gazette officers – One SP and a few ASPs. I believe it was President DB Wijetunga who got the cadre of senior officers increased with a view to accommodating more favorites.

It has come to a stage now where a Senior DIG is subjected to manhandling by the people for the wrong things he had done. This has never happened earlier. This happened because the people were frustrated and angry that the police who are supposed to look after the safety of the people turned a blind eye when political goons attacked peaceful protestors.

I wonder whether we will ever get senior police officers like Mr. WB Rajaguru. When he was a DIG, he used to go to the fish market which was at Saunders Place then, in a pair of shorts to buy the requirements for his home. Usually this is a task entrusted to a police constable by such senior officers, as in the Army where the batman must attend to these matters.

I have read a few memoirs of senior police officers (who never stooped to low levels to seek promotion) after their retirement and some articles in the daily newspapers where they have indicated how the standards of the Sri Lanka police have deteriorated so badly that they seemed to be ashamed to state they were officers in the police force at one time.

At least after celebrating the 155th anniversary, we hope that there will be change in the attitudes of the police in carrying out their duties. Of course, this will depend on the political leaders who must change their ways first.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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