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A disease, a vaccine, a ‘cure’ and the resurrection of burials

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by Malinda Seneviratne

The third reading of the Budget 2021 was passed in parliament with amendments on Thursday with a majority of 97 votes with 151 voting in favor while 54 voted against it. It was in a sense a reaffirming of the two-thirds majority that the ruling party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), acquired to get the 20th Amendment passed. It wasn’t unexpected.

The news of the week was however dominated by issues related to Covid-19. First let’s consider the sober part of things (numbers and measures) before we get to the circus activities.

Two months have passed since the Covid-19 ‘Second Wave’ started. A total of 3,482 cases were reported in the first wave with 13 deaths and as of Thursday December 10, we have 26,592 cases with 131 deaths in the second wave. The numbers keep growing. What of the rates of infections identified against the numbers tested and the overall fatality rate?

As of Thursday, 12,800 of the 30,075 infected overall have recovered. There are 8,131 active cases. The death count stands at 144 (0.48% death rate, i.e. approximately one fatality of every 200 infected).

The daily case load has shown a spike over the past few days, but the major contribution has been from what are not referred to as sub clusters, in particular the prisons, Atalugama and Akkaraipattu. There’s no ‘Minuwangoda Cluster’ to speak of. Brandix is ready to become fully operational.

Prisons and Atalugama pose location-specific problems, isolation in the former being impractical while it is being resisted in Atalugama! This is a peculiar case. Villagers have had issues with the Police on several occasions and there’s a clear aversion to testing. Many who were tested positive absconded thereafter, refusing to be moved to treatment facilities. The result is that 495 cases have been identified over the past two weeks. Four have died.

According to information obtained from various sources including the Epidemiology Unit, hospitals, Police and security forces, infections continue to be reported from the Colombo Municipal areas with rates declining in flats while slum areas remain vulnerable due to congestion. The virus, which seemed to have concentrated in Colombo North appears to be moving South, i.e. from Modara, Mattakkuliya to Maligawatte, Maradana, Dematagoda and now towards Narahenpita, Kirulapone and Wellawatte. Many areas in Colombo North have now been under isolation for almost 50 days.

Testing has focused on vulnerable groups and communities with 643,550 tests conducted since the advent of the second wave, at an average of 13,000 per day. The tests to positive identification ratio has remained stable around 4%.

Globally, the big news was a vaccine that’s currently being administered in the UK. Allergic reactions have been reported, but it is still too early to pass judgment on efficacy. It is not clear when the vaccines (there’s more than one) will be available here. We don’t know if it is affordable either.

Locally, the ‘cure news’ was the announcement by ayurvedic practitioner Dhammika Bandara that he had discovered a concoction that can combat Covid-19. It has been pointed out that trials that satisfy accepted testing protocols had not been conducted. However, an endorsement by the Minister of Health probably contributed to crowds converging on Kegalle to buy the ‘peniya’ (syrup). Basic protection guidelines were flouted. Relevant authorities either turned a blind eye or lacked the skill to enforce safety measures.

The entire operation has since been brought to a halt.

Miracle cures are not the preserve of ‘native practitioners’. The entire pharmaceutical industry is all about profit, not about improving the health of the sick. There are thousands of physicians who prescribe branded drugs who are essentially agents of the industry.

There are no real alternatives to being pro-active and responsible. Protection protocols need to be strictly observed. There was a serious lapse in this regard when it was claimed that a native remedy had been discovered. People rushing to grab ‘the cure’ abandoned all caution. The authorities didn’t move fast enough to bring things under control. Anyone can claim he/she has found a cure. And if anyone believes this (people believe a lot of crazy things, let us not forget) that’s their business. People can rush to buy anything, magic formulas included. They have to follow safety guidelines though!

To be fair, the syrup that drew crowds to Kegalle was made of ingredients that have curative properties. Still, the basic fact that needs to be understood is that 99.50% of the infected recover. Someone can say ‘gotukola kaenda is a cure, it is guaranteed that if 200 people who are infected have a glass every morning, 199 of them will recover fully in 14 days.’ He/she would be proven correct. Replace ‘gotukola kaenda’ with ‘ice cream’ or ‘a fizzy drink’ or ‘meditating on impermanence’ or ‘holding a rosary and praying’ and you’ll get the same result.

And while you remind yourself that it’s best to wear masks (following guidelines), wash hands, keep social distance, etc., if you are infected and end up in a medical facility, the ‘treatment’ you receive is most likely to be steam inhalation (dun aelleema) and coriander (koththamalli) with ginger (inguru)!

So let’s not go overboard with ‘science’ and ‘cures’ (miracle or otherwise). The simple fact that everyone seems to have missed is that 99.50% of the infected recover. The only way to find out in a statistically significant manner that any ‘cure’ works is to test it on a large number of infected persons. If, for example, 10,000 infected persons are given the particular medicine and say less than 25 die, then it means that the recovery rate is bettered by it.

Now if someone said king coconut can defeat Covid-19, 1,000 infected persons take it in the prescribed dosage and 3-5 of them die, it can be claimed that there’s a high recovery rate, but it what’s been proven is that the recovery rate without treatment has not been bettered. Someone else can say ‘try coca cola’ or goto-kola kaenda!

Here’s a fact that one could note: those tested positive and have been moved to various treatment facilities, apart from being treated for fever, cough and so on with medicines usually prescribed for such ailments, are given coriander and subjected to steam inhalation.

Also, those who pooh-pooh anything and everything ‘native’ say nothing about faith-healing, holy water and other kinds of stuff which, if it was practiced by Sinhalese or Buddhists, they quickly dub ‘mumbo-jumbo.’ There’s politics in selectivity.

That said, it was absolutely irresponsible of the health authorities to create hype over this ‘miracle cure’ whose miraculous properties remain untested. It was irresponsible of the state media to sensationalize it. It was irresponsible of the vedamahattaya to offer the medicine without ensuring that the would-be consumers would observe safety guidelines. It was irresponsible of the purchasers to disregard the same. It was irresponsible of the authorities mandate to enforce these guidelines to let things go out of control. Let’s hope that a ‘syrup-cluster’ will not result!

Primary Health Care, Epidemics and Covid-19 Disease Control State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle offering a sober voice urged the public not to panic and requested them not to queue up seeking the concoction, until research is concluded. She stated that the Health Ministry was currently in the process of carrying out scientific research on the indigenous medicine.

An interesting side-effect, so to speak, of the syrup bubble is the fact that the Government’s most vociferous opponents have almost completely forgotten what happened the previous week — the Mahara Prison riots that left 11 persons dead and over a 100 wounded.

The report was tabled in Parliament by Justice Minister Ali Sabry. Apparently, some inmates had attempted an escape, ostensibly ‘to escape from getting infected from COVID-19.’ Certain underworld gangs are said to have used the opportunity to turn on rival gangs. Sabry said that things had became tense as they sought speedy redress for issues including congestion.

Much damage was caused by the rioters. Important documents and buildings were set on fire. It is not yet clear on how the 11 prisoners died. Perhaps we will know when the full report is made public, hopefully sooner rather than later.

The other Covid-19 related issue is that of disposing the remains of those who died. The controversy has been over cremating Muslims who succumbed to the virus. As at December 8, 2020, of the 129 deaths, 44 have been Muslims. The percentage is higher than that of the national population slice of that community. Much has been made of this ‘disproportionate Muslim death.’ However, it has to be remembered that most of the deaths are from Colombo and in particular Colombo North where there is a high concentration of Muslims and moreover in congested settings making for a higher infection rate.

A recent article in ‘The Guardian’ by Hannah Ellis-Peterson, their South Asia correspondent, titled ‘Muslims in Sri Lanka “denied justice” over forced cremations of Covid victims’ talks of the travails of that community. Mischievously, one might add. The reference is to a Supreme Court determination that dismissed an application by families who cited ‘religious law.’ ‘Throws out’ is the wording the correspondent used. Neat trick.

However, customary law cannot override the main corpus of a country’s law. Court obviously deferred to the opinion of medical professionals. The problem is that the science pertaining to Covid-19 is a ‘work in progress.’ It is best to err on the side of caution. However, it is significant that over 180 countries have approved burial of Covid victims.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has called on health authorities to ‘find an immediate solution to the burial issue.’ In other words, he’s said ‘revisit the matter.’

Meanwhile, Rauff Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress has issued a veiled threat: ‘civic resistance if burial of Muslims not allowed.’ As things stand, burial of Covid victims would amount to contempt of court, one might argue. He’s essentially accused the court of sanctioning ‘draconian procedures.’ Perhaps he’s thinking ‘votes.’ ‘At the cost of the overall security and safety of the entire country,’ it could be argued.

Hakeem’s words would sound sweet to extremists in his community. If the government permits burial, then it runs the risk of being accused of ‘pandering to Muslim extremism.’ The truth is hardly relevant to such forces. Perception is what counts and that’s a commodity that can easily be manufactured.

In the end, and in the long run, logic should prevail over emotion. Perhaps the way to alleviate Muslim anxieties is to permit burial but in a manner that has not even the slightest chance of causing anxiety to other communities. The Prime Minister has talked of finding places appropriate for burial, for example.

On the other hand, there’s palpable unease in the Catholic community, the main target of the Easter Sunday attacks by Islamic extremists. It goes like this: ‘Muslims believe that if they are cremated they cannot go to heaven. If burial of Covid patients is permitted, then this matter is sorted out as far as they are concerned. What is to stop infected extremists of roaming around Christian communities? They would be fulfilling, in their minds, the will of Allah!’

Is this why the Cardinal is not saying anything on the matter? Perhaps the opinion of that particular religious community should also be sought and made public. They are all part of the nation, after all. Please one community at the cost of hurting another cannot be healthy.

Extremists are seldom placated. If it is not burial it would be something else. Governments cannot allow such a situation to immobilize them. There is a parliament. There are courts. There are the medical professionals. There’s science out there. There’s science being updated.

These are not decisions that require years of deliberation. Decisions should be firm, logical and clearly communicated.

Covid-19 took control of the week, with twists that made things even entertaining as well as worrisome. Let’s hope that sobriety will have its turn.

 

malindasenevi@gmail.com

. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.



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Politics

The British will not learn English, let’s not kid ourselves

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The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come. In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.

by Malinda Seneviratne

The United Kingdom, it is reported, has rejected Sri Lanka’s request for the disclosure of wartime dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo. Sri Lanka had made the request during the 46th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva a few weeks ago.

The dispatches from the then British Defence Advisor, Lt Col Anthony Gash were never referred to in any of the many ‘studies’ on Sri Lanka’s bloody struggle against terrorism. Indeed no one would have known of them or what they contained if not for Lord Naseby invoking the UK’s right to information laws to obtain them.

Gash’s dispatches clearly prove that there were no war crimes committed by Sri Lankan security forces, certainly not the kind that the terrorist lobby (strangely or perhaps not so strangely bed-fellowing with rogue states such as the UK and USA) and indeed these bed-fellows claim have been perpetrated.

British authorities pretended for years that there was no such information available. Now they can’t deny these dispatches exist. And therefore they’ve come up with an interesting disclaimer. The UK now faults Gash for not obtaining independent confirmation of reports he had sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Key word: ‘now.’ This was NOT the position originally taken by the FCO.

Alright, let’s take the CURRENT position at face value. Couldn’t the UK table the dispatches in all relevant forums with such caveats/disclaimers? That’s just one issue. There’s another. Yes, the business of ‘independent confirmation.’ What’s independent and what’s confirmation?

The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come.

In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.

It seems to me that the authorities in the UK don’t know whether they are coming or going. Well, maybe they do know that they are severely challenged in logic, in intellect, in moral standing etc., but believe that the world someone does not notice. A third possibility: they just don’t care.

The United Kingdom, with respect to the UNHRC resolution and all matters relevant to it, then, hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory, but what of that considering that shamelessness is the blood-stained batch on its coat of arms, so to speak?

Let’s humor them, though. There’s a lady called Sarah Hulton. Let’s assume she knows English. Let’s assume she has some skills in language comprehension. Let’s not assume she values truth, justice and being honorable for we shouldn’t kid ourselves too much. Nevertheless, we can ask some questions.What’s the value of hearsay? Do we discard ‘word’ and if so which words? If we pick some words and junk others, what criteria should we employ? The Darusman Report, for example, is ALL ABOUT HEARSAY. We have to assume that until we know who said what, for only then can we talk of reliability of source.

We have reports that toss out random numbers without a shred of substantiation. Is that OK, Ms Hulton? If Gash is unreliable, how can any report based on some other report that is based on hearsay be okay?

Let’s not kid ourselves. This is not about truth and reconciliation. The United Kingdom values lie over truth, injustice over justice, violation of all basic tenets of humanity over their protection, theft over property rights, plunder over protection. The British are yet to reconcile themselves regarding the many crimes against humanity they have perpetrated or, at least, benefited from. Seeking justice and truth from such people is silly. Seeking honor from the dishonorable is silly.

And yet, in Geneva and in other places where bucks and bombs count more than truth and justice, countries like the United Kingdom will prevail. For now. For now, we must add, for we know that nothing is permanent. For now, the reports of idiots and/or the politically compromised will be valued over those of impartial, dispassionate individuals such as Gash.

Let’s get this right. The British are not just bullies. They are cowards. Intellect is not their strong point or even if they are sophomoric at best, they are bullish enough to push aside the truth. It’s about ‘by any means necessary’ but obviously not in an emancipatory sense of that phrase, as used by Malcolm X. So when they talk of truth and justice, reconciliation and peace and other such lovely things, let’s keep in mind that it’s all balderdash. When they talk of ‘victims’ it is nonsense because without ‘wrongdoing’ that’s established, there can be no ‘victims’. Mr Hulton is not sleeping ladies and gentlemen. The United Kingdom is not sleeping. The Foreign and Commenwealth Office in that country is not sleeping. They are pretend-sleepers. They cannot be woken up.

One is reminded of a song from ‘My fair lady,’ the musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’. Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? That’s the title of the song. When the English learn English — now that would be the day! Right now they speak some garbled language devoid of any logic or reason. It works for them.

Colonial-speak is a possible name for that language. It is an excellent communications device in all things antithetical to the high ideals, the furtherance of which was the reason for the establishment of the UNHRC. Indeed that has become the lingua franca of Geneva. The British know this French, pardon the irony! Ms Hulton knows it, as do her bosses in London as did their ancestors whose crimes against humanity are left out from the history books.

We are not talking of the past though. It’s the present. It’s ugly. As ugly as the past, only it’s come wearing other clothes. Nice ones. Not everyone is fooled though.

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

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Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew at Anuradhapura

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One day President JRJ telephoned me from Nuwara Eliya. He was wont to occasionally telephone me direct in the past. He informed me that PM Lee Kuan Yew would be arriving in Anuradhapura two days later, with Minister Gamini Dissanayake in attendance. I was to give the PM of Singapore the ancient city treatment for 40 minutes, and to remember to show him where Fa Hien the Chinese pilgrim cried, during his sojourn at the Abhayagiri monastery.

So I arrived at the appointed meeting place, the Tissawewa rest house where the Singapore PM and his party were having refreshments. I saw Murthy of the Overseas Service, who told me that I was expected, and that both the Singaporean PM and his wife were “top lawyers” who were educated at Cambridge. I was to expect searching questions. 

I went upstairs to see a long table replete with refreshments, Lee Kuan Yew seated at the centre and Gamini D. standing by. I addressed him in Sinhalese, identified myself as Raja de Silva and said that I had come to guide the visitors around Auradhapura. At this point the following conversation took place:

Minister Gamini to Lee Kuan Yew: This is Raja de Silva of the Archaeological Department who will be acting as our guide.  

LKY to RHdeS:

Are you in charge of this station?

RHdeS:

It comes under my archaeological control, Sir.  

LKY:

Are you in charge of this district? 

RHdeS:

The district comes under my archaeological control, Sir. 

LKY:

Are you in charge of this Province?

RHdeS :

This Province and the whole country comes under my archaeological control, Sir. 

LKY (looking satisfied):

Where did you learn your stuff?

RHdeS:

In an old university in England.

LKY:

Where was that?

RHdeS:

In Oxford, Sir. 

LKY:

Whatever reason did you go there for? 

RHdeS:

Sir, for the same reason you went to Cambridge. 

LKY (all smiles, turning to his wife):

Did you hear that? He has gone to Oxford. 

From then on the PM of Singapore spent much time at certain spots and my 40 minute time limit was ignored. At one point in the Abhayagiri area, at the splendid remains of an image house, the following dialogue took place. 

RHdeS:

It was here that Fa Hien,  the Chinese pilgrim, saw a donatory. Chinese silk flag and his eyes were brimful of tears. 

LKY:

Your President told me about that. 

It was altogether an enjoyable outing. 

 

Raja de Silva

Retired Commissioner of Archaeology

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The New Old Left turns 50

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by Malinda Seneviratne

Revolutionaries, self-styled or otherwise, are hard to imagine as old people, the exception of course being Fidel Castro. Castro grew old with a Cuban Revolution that has demonstrated surprising resilience. Che Guevara was effectively stilled, literally and metaphorically when he was just 39, ensuring iconic longevity — and the wild haired image with a star pinned on a beret is a symbol of resistance and, as is often the case, used to endorse and inspire things and processes that would have horrified the man.

Daniel Ortega at 75 was a revolutionary leader who reinvented himself a few decades after the Sandinistas’ exit was effectively orchestrated by the USA in April 1990. He’s changed and so has the Sandinistas. Revolutionary is not an appropriate descriptive for either.

Rohana Wijeweera is seen as a rebel by some, naturally those who are associated with the party he led for 25 years, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), widely referred to by its Sinhala acronym, JVP. He led two insurrections and was incarcerated alive on November 13, 1989 in the Borella Cemetery during the UNP regime that held stewardship during the bloodiest period in post-Independence Sri Lanka.

If he was alive today, he would be almost 78-years old. Imagination following the ‘ifs’ probably will not inspire comparison with Castro or Che. Not even Ortega, for the Nicaraguan actually helped overthrow a despotic regime and, as mentioned, succeeded in recapturing power, this time through an election.

Wijeweera did contest elections, but he is not remembered as a democrat. Neither he nor his party showed any success at elections during his leadership. In any event, as the leaders of what was called the ‘Old Left’ as well as people who are seen as ‘Left Intellectuals’ have pointed out, the 1971 insurrection was an adventure against a newly elected government whose policy prerogatives were antithetical to the world’s ‘Right.’ As such, although the JVP had the color and the word right, moment and act squarely placed it as a tool of the capitalist camp, it can be argued.

As for the second insurrection, the JVP targeted leaders and members of trade unions and political parties who, although they may have lost left credentials or rather revolutionary credentials, were by no means in the political right. That such individuals and groups, in the face of the JVP onslaught, ended up fighting alongside the ‘right’ is a different matter.

Anyway, this Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the first insurrection launched by the Wijeweera-led JVP. Of course that ‘moment’ was preceded by preparation and planning that was good enough to catch the United Front government led by the SLFP by surprise, but the entire adventure needs to be examined by the longer history that came before.

Wijeweera belonged to what was called the Peking Wing of the Communist Party, formed after the USSR and China parted political/ideological ways. When Wijeweera broke away from the Peking Wing he was barely out of his teens. What he and others dubbed as the ‘Old Left’ were at the time seen as having lost much of its previous revolutionary zeal. Entering into pacts with the ‘centrist’ SLFP gave credence to this perception. There was, then, a palpable void in the left half of the political spectrum. Wijeweera and the JVP sought to fill it.

It’s easy to play referee after the fact. April 4, 1971 was inauspicious one could argue. The entire strategy of capturing police stations, kidnapping/assassinating the Prime Minister, securing control of the state radio station etc., describe a coup-attempt rather than a revolution. There was no mass movement to speak of. There wasn’t even anti-government sentiment of any significance.

Nevertheless, it was an important moment. As Prof Gamini Samaranayake in his book on the JVP pointed out, the adventure revealed important things: a) the state was weak or rather the security apparatus of the state was weak, and b) armed struggle was now an option for those who aspired to political power. Indeed these two ‘revelations’ may have given some ideas to those Tamil ‘nationalists’ who would end up launching an armed struggle against the state and would so believe that victory was possible that they would try their luck for 30 long years!

Had April 4 not happened, would we have ever had an armed insurrection? If we did, would it have been different from April 1971 and 1988/89? That’s for those who enjoy speculation. Maybe some creative individual with an interest in politics and thinks of producing fiction based on alternative realities might try his/her hand at it. It would probably make entertaining reading.

The April 4 adventure ended in an inglorious defeat. Wijeweera himself was captured or, as some might claim, planned to be captured (a better option than being killed, as hundreds of his followers were). The captors did not know who he was until he himself confessed. He spilled the beans, so to speak, without being urged to do so.

The JVP, thereafter, abandoned the infantile strategy adopted in April 1971. The party dabbled in electoral politics for a while after J.R. Jayewardene’s UNP offered a general pardon that set Wijeweera free. Wijeweera and the JVP would focus mostly on attacking the SLFP thereafter. Others who were arrested opted go their individual ways. Some went back to books and ended up as academics (Jayadeva Uyangoda or ‘Oo Mahaththaya’, Gamini Keerawella and Gamini Samaranayake for example).

Others took up journalism (Victor Ivan alias Podi Athula and Sunanda Deshapriya). A few joined mainstream political parties (e.g. Loku Athula). Many would end up in the NGO sector (Wasantha Dissanayake, Patrick Fernando and Sarath Fernando). Their political trajectories, then, have been varied.

The JVP is still around. For the record, the ‘Old Left’ is still around too, although not as visible as the JVP. We still have the CP (Moscow Wing) and LSSP, as well as their off-shoots. Individuals who wished to be politically active, either joined the SLFP or the UNP or else were politically associated with such parties, even if they didn’t actually contest elections.

The JVP still talks of Wijeweera but this has been infrequent. It’s nothing more than tokenism, even then. The party has politically aligned itself with the SLFP and the UNP at different times and as of now seems to have been captured by the gravitational forces of the latter to a point that it cannot extricate itself or rather, finds itself in a situation where extrication allows for political crumbs and nothing more. The Marxist rhetoric is gone. Red has been replaced by pink. There’s no talk of revolution.

The high point in the post-Wijeweera era was returning some 40 members to parliament at the 2004 elections in a coalition with the SLFP. However, the decision to leave the coalition (UPFA) seems to have been the beginning of a serious decline in political fortunes. It demonstrated, one can argue, the important role that Wimal Weerawansa played in the party’s resurgence after the annihilation of the late eighties. In more recent times, the party suffered a more serious split which had a significant impact on its revolutionary credentials. The party’s radicals broke ranks and formed the Frontline Socialist Party, led by Kumar Gunaratnam, younger brother of the much-loved student leader Ranjithan (captured, tortured and assassinated sometime in late 1989).

The JVP, led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake, has done better than the FSP in elections thereafter, but the split also saw the former losing considerable ground in the universities, the traditional homelands of recruitment if you will. The spark went out as well. There’s palpable blandness in the affairs of the party. At the last general election the JVP could secure just 3% of the vote.

The JVP is old. Too old to call itself the ‘New Left’ (by comparing itself with the LSSP and CP). The FSP is ‘new’ but it poses as the ‘real JVP’ and as such is as old. There’s nothing fresh in their politics or the ideological positions they’ve taken. In fact one might even argue that now there’s no left in the country. It doesn’t mean everyone is in the right either. There’s ideological confusion or, as some might argue, ideology is no longer a factor in Sri Lankan politics. It’s just about power for the sake of power. That’s not new either, but in the past ideological pretension was apparent whereas now politics is more or less ideology-free. Of course this means that a largely exploitative system and those in advantageous positions within it are the default beneficiaries.

Can the JVP reinvent itself? I would say, unlikely. There’s a name. It’s a brand. It’s off-color. It is politically resolved to align with this or that party as dictated by the personal/political needs of the party’s leadership. Wijeweera’s son Uvindu is planning to jump-start the party with a new political formation, but adding ‘Nava’ (new) doesn’t make for the shaving off of decades. Neither does it erase history. Its potential though remains to be assessed. Maybe a decade or two from now.

So, after 50 years, are we to say ‘we had our first taste of revolution or rather pretend-revolution and that’s it’? The future can unfold in many ways. A half a century is nothing in the history of the world. It’s still nothing in the history of humankind. Systems collapse. Individuals and parties seemingly indestructible, self-destruct or are shoved aside by forces they unwittingly unleash or in accordance with the evolution of all relevant political, economic, social, cultural and ecological factors.
People make their history, but not always in the circumstances of their choice. The JVP is part of history. They were in part creatures of circumstances and in part they altered circumstances. Left a mark but not exactly something that makes for heroic ballads. Time has passed. Economic factors have changed. Politics is different. This is a different century and a different country from ‘Ceylon’ and the JVP of 1971.

The JVP is not a Marxist party and some may argue it never was, but Marx would say that a penchant for drawing inspiration from the past is not the way to go. One tends to borrow slogan and not substance that way. April 4, 1971. It came to pass. It was followed by April 5. The year was followed by 1972. Forty nine years have passed. A lot of water has flowed under the political bridge. Good to talk about on anniversary days so to speak. That’s about it though.

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

 

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

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