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A JUNTA MAY BE TRIGGERED BY THE JVP

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by Dr. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

The Army calendar for 2022 carries a photograph of Gen Shavendra Silva with a quote from him underneath it in block letters. It reads: “THE SRI LANKA ARMY IS CAPABLE OF DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING A PROSPEROUS AND SUSTAINABLE NATION.”

In a democracy the task of “developing and maintaining a prosperous and sustainable nation” is not the task of the Army. This is also true of systems that are not liberal democracies. In China and Russia, the Army would dare not assert that it is “capable of developing and maintaining a prosperous and sustainable nation”. That is the task respectively of the Communist Party of China and the elected President of Russia and his government. In all these systems the task of the army is DEFENDING AND PROTECTING the nation.

It is only in a military dictatorship that the army would lay claim that it “is capable of developing and maintaining a prosperous and sustainable nation”. Sri Lanka has been a democracy since 1931 and never in the history of the Sri Lankan Army has its ever made this claim, because as an institution it was steeped in the democratic ethos.

Does this claim, appearing now, indicate a bid to step into the role played in all political systems except military juntas, by civilian authorities?

Is it a signal that in 2022 we shall be in transition from democracy to something else?

Meanwhile the Army Diary 2022 has many quotes from the Army Chief, General Shavendra Silva, interspersed with quotes from Charles Dickens, Martin Luther King etc.

‘One Country, 1 Corps’

Is it One Country, 1 Corps? On Dec 29, the evening newscast showed Army chief, Gen. Shavendra Silva addressing the newly established elite reserve strike force, the 1 Corps, headquartered in Kilinochchi. He told them that the Army has been tasked by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to drive the ‘green agriculture’ project, educating the peasantry on it.

Why should the Army Commander address 1 Corps, of all the units of the Sri Lankan army, on this, of all subjects—or include this subject in his address to 1 Corps?

Unless one were to assume that the Sri Lankan army’s equivalent of America’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), is going to be bogged down in teaching and implementing organic cultivation, then this is an indication of what’s going to happen next year, with the most reliable, freshly-minted formation of the Sri Lankan military, headed by a hard-bitten former Special Forces commander of wartime vintage, being deployed in the rural theater, facing down the restive peasantry.

If you feel that Ven Galagodaatte Gnanasara’s statement to the Sunday Virakesari of Dec 26 2021 that state power and authority should be handed over to the military for an interim period so that the economic crisis can be managed, is merely the well-known monk shooting his mouth off, then please don’t waste your time reading this article.

Similarly, if you feel that the President’s ‘gala’ in-gathering of 1,090 senior military men, serving and retired was simply a typically sociable, benign gesture of a year-end party, then please don’t waste your time reading this.

But on any or all of these counts, you get a queasy feeling, then you’d better read this.

United Fronts

Contemporary world history shows that the only successful formula for resistance to dictatorship whether of the military sort or a frankly fascist sort has been the united front, and this has been pioneered and sustained by the Left.

Furthermore, the Left has been most successful when it has been part of a united front, whether as the leader or the most dynamic element and driving force. This is not a “united front from below” with the rank and file of other parties, but precisely a “united front from above” at the political leadership level.

This is also precisely that which has been ruled out by the JVP, the leadership of which either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the theory of the united front was adopted by the Comintern (Communist International) a century back, in 1921, when it was steered by Lenin and the undivided Bolshevik leadership.

The JVP’s icily rude response to Dayasiri Jayasekara’s gushing and untimely endorsement of the idea of an SLFP-JVP rapprochement was an illustration of the JVP’s abiding sectarianism.

The JVP’s ‘principled’ aversion to those mainstream parties who have held office in earlier administrations would have had more credibility had it entered a united front with the leaders of the Frontline Socialist Party and thus created a United Left, which would not merely have added to, but multiplied the strength of the movements in which they are the driving forces.

The smart JVP personality Dr Nalinda Jayatissa said in a recent TV interview that Wimal Weerawansa and Kumar Gunaratnam were welcome as members of the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) provided they agreed and adhered to the JJB’s conditions. This was especially revealing in the case of Kumar Gunaratnam, the leader of the FSP.

Between the JVP’s failed first insurrection and its failed second insurrection, the JVP’s founder-leader Rohana Wijeweera established a structure which had a visible penumbra and a recessed core. The penumbra was called the “seenuwe pakshaya”, the party of the Bell, which was the JVP’s electoral symbol. That was the ‘open’ structure of the party. The recessed core was called the “noothana Bolshevik pakshaya”, the “modern Bolshevik party”, and was the real vanguard.

Kumar Gunaratnam’s elder brother Ranjithan (apprehended and executed in custody) belonged to the latter as did Kumar Gunaratnam himself. Having survived the repression and being released from detention, Kumar Gunaratnam rebuilt the foundations of the party we see today, starting 1994.

So, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa who was not member of the inner core of the party during the hard times, or perhaps even of the party itself, was offering a conditional entry to Kumar Gunaratnam, to the front organization of fellow-travelers of the JVP, the JJB – which is not even the equivalent of the ‘party of the Bell’– and not to the JVP itself.

One cannot entirely and exclusively blame Dr Jayatissa, though. Years ago, Anura Kumara Dissanayake said on TV that the JVP never had a member named Kumar Gunaratnam. What Dr Jayatissa revealed is that the JVP’s sectarian arrogance abides and runs-through the leadership (with the probable exception of the long-standing leader of the JVP’s proletarian front, KD Lal Kantha).

Throughout its history the JVP had strategic options which it rejected. In 1971, when the Police cracked down as home-made hand-bombs accidentally exploded at Peradeniya, the JVP need not have hurled itself into armed action. It had a great deal of political capital accumulated by its role in the campaign against the UNP government in the 1970 General Election. It could have explained that the weapons had been stockpiled to protect against an Indonesian type coup from the UNP’s Right. It could have entered a bloc with the leftwing of the Communist Party. Instead it chose frontal confrontation.

The result was a strengthening of the authoritarian tendency of the United Front Coalition which ruled under Emergency, extended its term of office, dissolved local authorities and excessively used the Essential services regulations.

That was the first time around. The second time around was in 1979. The JVP had briefly entered a 5-party bloc with the LSSP, CPSL, NSSP and Bala Tampoe’s RMP. It broke the bloc between 1979 and 1980. If that bloc had lasted, the JVP would not have been so easily isolated and suppressed in the 1980s. If this seems a stretch, the reader must know that Uruguay’s urban guerrillas, the MLN-Tupamaros entered a multi-party united front in 1970-1971, named the Frente Amplio (which, significantly, means ‘Broad Front’). It remained in that front through the long night of repression (over a decade) and through recovery as a democratic formation. When the Tupamaros came to power it was with the Tabare Vasquez Presidency, as Frente Amplio.

When he was succeeded by the iconic Mujica, a historic leader of the Tupamaros, second in importance only to the founder, Raul Sendic, it was as the Frente Amplio candidate.

The JVP’s third chance was when President Premadasa released over 1,000 JVP prisoners, declared a unilateral ceasefire, offered to dissolve parliament, hold elections and invited the JVP to take three cabinet portfolios. He also invited them to an all-parties Roundtable conference, which even the LTTE’s short-lived political front, the PFLT, attended. The JVP scornfully refused – most conspicuously at a Nugegoda rally which lasted into the night–and returned to civil war. It was militarily crushed within the year.

Fatal Unreason

It is crucial to grasp the sheer irrationality of today’s JVP-NPP strategy. It is a political go-it-alone project with no other political parties of any mass significance involved. In that sense it is a stance of political self-isolation. This is the very opposite of the logic of a United Front, in which the main enemy is isolated by a broad political encirclement.

The JVP seems to have no idea what or who its main enemy is and what, who and from which direction the main threat comes. Any rational reading would clearly reveal that the most dangerously reactionary force is the main threat and enemy, and in Sri Lanka today, that is the threat to democracy from the bloc of those who actually consider Hitler as a legitimate role-model, i.e., the bloc of militarists and ultra-chauvinists congealed around the Gotabaya presidency and which include that specific presidency.

The JVP-NPP’s irrationality goes beyond this interpretation which is subject to debate. What is not subject to debate is the fact that the JVP’s present project is of getting from 3% of the vote and 3 seats in parliament, to the assumption of state power and the leadership of the country, in one go, through mass struggle, without an intervening period of transition which involves intermediate stages and political alliances. Anura Kumara Dissanayake once suggested in parliament that the opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa should ‘get his head examined” for indicating that he and his party the SJB were ready and able to assume the leadership of the country. If given the SJB’s current strength, that ambitious assertion warrants getting one’s head examined, how much more valid would that advice be for a leader who makes the same claim with 3% and 3 seats?

Of course, the current dynamics are that the JVP-NPP has grown rapidly, but it would requite exponential growth and a quantum leap to get from where they were in 2020 to where they aspire to be soon. Only Lenin and the Bolsheviks did anything like it, and Lenin, Trotsky and Gramsci emphasized that the same thing was not possible in a very different social and political formations such as those which existed in Western Europe where the citizenry enjoyed political rights unlike in Tzarist Russia. Gramsci’s distinctive work could be said to have pivoted on that qualitative difference.

In 1970 or 1971, sometime before the insurrection, the JVP’s main rival, G.I.D “Castro” Dharmasekara wrote a pamphlet critical of the JVP, predicting that “on one moonless night, the JVP will lead the youth of this country to the executioner’s block”. Years later, addressing an audience at Peradeniya University, Dharmasekara (who had shifted from Castro to Mao) told us that there was only a single error his prophecy of pre- April 1971. “It was a full moon” he said with a sad half-smile, referring to the foredoomed JVP uprising of April 5th 1971.

The political sectarianism of the AKD-Tilvin Silva duumvirate may well march a third generation of Sri Lankan youth into the waiting guns of the State’s repressive apparatuses, with power being wielded for the first time by hardnosed military veterans of the Southern civil war. Remember Matale, anyone?



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Politics

President’s Dinner for his Old Comrades

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The President and Commander in Chief HE Gotabaya Rajapakse invited 186 of his old military comrades and their ladies for dinner at President’s House on Dec. 22, 2021. For a media that lives on gossip, this was manna.

A Sunday paper (not the Island) on 26 Dec reported the invitees numbered 1,050.The figure was specific. Many readers were, as expected, duped to believe it. Added on was that ‘drinks’ too were served as though that was news. No detailed description of the menu was given as has happened before for reasons that will be a revelation. Was it to show profligacy which was news? The Sunday Island of Dec. 2, 2021 had a news item by Dayan Jayatilleka that went one better. He increased the figure to a smarter 1,090. Those made a lie look like the truth. It was meant to be so. No questions were asked as to sources.

The Dec. 26 Sunday paper also had a dig at the organizers. Apparently a few had turned down the invitation. That was curious as the invitations were sent only to those who confirmed verbal enquiries as to their attendance. It may have been that after accepting the invitation a few old sweats, officers and gentlemen it is said they had been, were churlish enough to avoid attendance at the C in C’s dinner. Were they the same fellows, who being absent from the scene, did the counting of heads too?

Jayatilleka went further. He thought there was something odd if not sinister in the exercise. He believed 1,090 ‘senior military men, serving and retired’ attended. He asked readers not to continue reading if they did not believe that the invitations had been sent with some ulterior motive. The suggestion was that the dinner was not a ‘sociable, benign gesture of a year-end party’. It obviously worried him that good and normal men in SL would have thought differently and questioned the assumption.

To begin with his facts were absolutely cock eyed. The cooked figures he had been served (1,090) by someone who was possibly not at the dinner, clearly supported his fertile imagination. He probably thought a mere 186 officers at dinner would not be enough to invent a rollicking fairy tale.

The only serving officers present were the tri services commanders. With their spouses a round figure of 400 invitees could have been closer to the truth. All the others were veterans aged 70 years and above, some disabled. A few were 90 years old and were in wheel chairs.

Now what did Jayatilleka a former minister in the EPRLF that was a IPKF stooge that made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the late1990s, think the doddering old and but still bold 186 could have been up to? It certainly helped to propel his latest onslaughts on the fanciful ‘militarization’ of the nation. Was it also to mark up points with the West, just in case?

So how did the ‘gala’ dinner go? First of all male guests in smart casual (tie), and their ladies in sarees, arrived well in time as is the norm among servicemen. They were given antigen tests by a team of medics before gathering in the manicured garden where the military bands played some lively music.

Old comrades reminisced with their friends, many after decades and two years of Covid. Everyone was refreshingly relaxed. Many recalled long forgotten incidents, hilarious mishaps mostly, and extraordinary characters they served with. Many heroes were present but stories of daring and battle were not recounted here. The missing was not forgotten.

As at any military social function, not a word of politics was heard. No one pulled rank. When the C in C came and graciously mixed with his guests, all older than him, no one in the best of service traditions and etiquette forgot who he, the C in C, was. He knew and called all of them by their first names. He seemed as happy as his guests were, to meet simply as old comrades, exchange greetings and enjoy themselves. There were no speeches.

A splendid buffet dinner followed.

Here was the first old soldier who had become the elected President and C in C of SL. He was now among old friends. They all thanked and wished him and his lady the very best in the challenging year to come.

People who will never know what military comradeship is should not waste their time trying to question the motives of a C in C in inviting his old comrades to dinner. It was the first ever in SL history. There was nothing ‘gala’ either, as anyone who was inveigled by his ‘informant’ may have believed. Such people should try not to judge others by their standards, be mean and gullible and should not to circulate worn out tales or have recurring nightmares about ‘militarization’.

Old soldiers never die; they only fade away, even from the President’s House. God only knows what happens to mercenaries and tale carriers.

Dinner guest

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Politics

DE-CODING THE AKD-JVP-NPP RELATIONSHIP

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DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

The JVP-NPP is prominent in the struggle against the presidential system–while permitting speculation that Anura Kumara Dissanayake will be the presidential candidate—and in the vanguard in the struggle against corruption.

Whether it realizes it or not, it is being hypocritical—not because of that duality–and so too are those who support them on those grounds.

The reason is simple and self-evident. Whether one is against the presidential system as such, or whether one is against the 20th amendment while being for the Presidential system, the reason is the same: the critique of over-centralization. To spell it out, the objection is too much power and too many functions in the hands of a single person and the remedy is seen as the separation of powers, which makes for check and balances.

In its practice, the JVP-NPP runs completely against that principle.

The next ‘signature issue’ is corruption. There too, the principle is the same: if one person holds more than one post and there is a possible conflict of interest, that is the potential source of corruption. Here too, the crux of the matter is that one person should not head several institutional or organization spaces. Interlocking directorates are the conduit of corruption. I am not accusing the JVP-NPP of corruption, but of violating the principle of safeguards or guardrails against overlapping and over-concentration.

The NPP was not founded by non-party activists or those of many political parties. Still less was it formed by academics. It was founded by Anura Kumara Dissanayake in 2015.

The NPP is not led by a non-party personality. It is led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake who founded it.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake is the leader of the JVP. He was the leader of the JVP when he established the NPP, and remains the leader of the JVP.

It is reasonable to assume that as the JVP’s leader, rather than merely a JVP member or second-level leader, Mr. Dissanayake would have founded the NPP as part of the JVP’s strategic vision.

Insofar as the NPP is the creation of the JVP’s leader, the NPP is the child of the JVP.

Latin American Left

The JVP has almost always had phases in which it had personalities and mass organization to which it gave a long leash. Indika Gunawardena and Sunila Abeysekara are two examples but not the only ones. Perhaps a more important one is HN Fernando the politically highly literate leader of the Ceylon Teachers Union which he had built up into a 30,000 strong organization. All of them were purged from the party when views that dissented from the changing party line, were voiced. (HN Fernando, who was Wijeweera’s brother-in-law was physically assaulted).

These seem to me the earlier prototypes of what is now manifested as the NPP. The NPP seems to me to be a new model of the same old template: a front organization of fellow-travelers.

If the NPP were to be an autonomous civic or mass organization or more ambitiously the formation which should be recognized as a contender to lead the country, the Latin American Left provides the architecture.

Uruguay’s Tupamaros and its Communist Party founded the Frente Amplio, the Broad Front, which lasted from the early 1970s through the decades of military dictatorship, to this day. The first leader of the Frente Amplio who remained so for many years, was General Liber Seregni, not the MLN-Tupamaro leader Raul Sendic nor the Uruguayan CP’s leader Rodney Arismendi.

In El Salvador, the revolutionary vanguard unified as the FMLN, with its politico-diplomatic partner being the Frente Democratico Revolutionario, the FDR. None of the FMLN’s leaders headed the FDR.

That is the model by which the autonomy of the civic front is ensured. In the case of the NPP, it is headed, not even by a JVP personality like Nalinda Jayatissa or Bimal Ratnayake, still less a respected progressive activist, intellectual or cultural-artistic figure but precisely by the top leader of the JVP.

As a disciplined leader who is committed to the strategy and decisions of the JVP, there is hardly a structural possibility of genuine autonomy for and on the part of the NPP.

Political Culture: Falsification & Opacity

A great many of us watched as Anura Kumara Dissanayake repeatedly emphasized on national TV that Kumara Gunaratnam was never a member of the JVP. Quiet apart from the insult to the memory of Ranjithan Gunaratnam, a real hero and martyr of the JVP leadership, it was a plain lie because it was widely known that Kumara Gunaratnam played the major role in rebuilding the JVP clandestinely after the repression was over.

The post 1994 JVP was built upon the foundation laid by Kumara Gunaratnam whom Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the nation was never a member of the party.

A few years ago, after Kumara Gunaratnam had been ‘disappeared’ and tortured in 2011, and was released only due to external lobbying and the intervention of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa made a throw-away public remark in response to Anura Kumara’s criticism of him on an entirely different matter, that the crackdown on Gunaratnam and his emerging new outfit (it wasn’t called Peratugamee at the time) was made on an alert from the same quarter that was now criticizing him. There was no answer from AKD.

If anything, a left alternative must occupy the moral high ground, and not only in its own eyes. The historical truth is the only path to the moral high ground.

None of this is meant as an indictment of or attack on Anura Kumara as a person. It speaks to the discourse, the political culture of the JVP and its opacity. The denial of Kumara Gunaratnam, his removal from the annals of the JVP, the sheer falsification of history, tells us what the JVP still is. This travesty is not something that has occurred, would occur or could occur in any other political party in Sri Lanka. The JVP was and is a party which is the most opaque in Sri Lanka.

It is the same Anura Kumara who leads the same JVP who also founded and leads the NPP.

Therefore, any influence that the NPP has on the JVP will be secondary, episodic and tactical, while the JVP’s influence over the NPP will be strategic and structural. The tail won’t be wagging the dog.

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Politics

Foreign exchange, foreign policy, and economic roundtables

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by Uditha Devapriya

Sri Lanka’s Central Bank will be settling a USD 500 million bond the day after tomorrow. Earlier this month, Ajith Nivard Cabraal tweeted that the Bank had set aside the required amount from its foreign reserves, reiterating the country’s commitment to honouring its debt obligations. Perhaps in response to this development, bondholders appear to have regained confidence about our prospects: latest figures show that bond market prices are converging with face value, though this may well be a temporary gain.

The January 18 settlement is the first of two that will have to be made to our International Sovereign Bond (ISB) holders this year. The second, amounting to USD one billion, is due on July 25. The Central Bank’s strategy is one of doubling down on these debt obligations while renegotiating loans from other governments. This strategy isn’t as muddled up as it is made to be by its critics: unlike governments, ISB holders don’t negotiate, and if they are asked to, it’s usually on the eve of a default or severe economic crisis.

In strategising a way out, then, the Central Bank has identified its priorities: it will pay up on its ISB commitments and devote foreign exchange to little else.

It’s difficult to predict how that will affect our foreign relations in the longer term. The country is presently governed by a party that promised never to sell or lease out its assets. Yet, today, officials are travelling everywhere, negotiating with this government and that, hoping for more lifelines. We have clearly exhausted other options: we can’t raise anything from bond auctions, and we are rejecting the IMF line. Since governments are easier to talk with, we are hence talking with as many of them as possible. It’s doubtful whether this is the only option available, but it’s probably the best shot we can give.

In giving that shot, however, are we exposing ourselves to the pressures of regional and extra-regional power pressures? Consider the countries we have gone to so far: Oman, China, and India. Negotiations with India have been successful, with Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar stating that Delhi is ready to stand with Sri Lanka. Though his government has remained quiet over requests for credit lines, these may well come our way.

On the other hand, Beijing has responded to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s call to Foreign Minister Wang Yi to restructure its debts, with Cabraal declaring that a new loan is on the blocks. As for Oman, though negotiations have stalled over requests to explore the Mannar Oil Basin in return for interest-free credit, this too is a window that remains open.

These developments are, all things considered, intriguing. In the face of the worst global health crisis in over a century, our foreign policy has taken a massive beating. The fertiliser imbroglio with China and the withdrawal of Chinese projects from the North over alleged Indian pressure, as well as the visit of the Chinese Ambassador to the North, are cases in point here. All these point to an increasingly complicated foreign policy front. The question is, will the country’s foreign exchange problems complicate it even more?

Perhaps more so than the 1970s, when it faced a severe balance of payments crisis, Sri Lanka is gradually giving way to a foreign policy dictated by depleting foreign reserves. The administration’s dismissal of W. D. Lakshman and appointment of Cabraal, in that regard, accompanied a shift of focus, during the fourth quarter of last year, to the country’s foreign exchange situation. This has spilled over to our external relations.

Here the Central Bank has had to reckon with a contradiction: between its insistence on not going to the IMF and its assurances about meeting ISB obligations. Though it’s debatable whether the Bank has addressed, let alone resolved, that contradiction, it’s clearly making use of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy to pay bondholders their due.

For their part, economic experts have shifted in their response to what the government is doing. While earlier they warned about impending defaults, now many of them have turned to questioning the current policy of repaying bondholders no matter what.

Nishan de Mel of Verité Research, for instance, points out correctly that defaulting is not the same thing as declaring bankruptcy. Suggesting that the former is preferable, he contends that the government should do what it can to renegotiate its debts. On the other hand, as Dushni Weerakoon of the IPS rightly observes, restructuring debt may be easy for a country with a reputation for defaults, like Ecuador, but it is unviable, lengthy, and costly, at least in the short and medium term, for a country like Sri Lanka.

What of the IMF line? It’s obvious that Sri Lanka can no longer negotiate for more breathing space from the IMF without conditionalities being imposed on it. The only way it can obtain such space, in other words, is by succumbing to those conditionalities.

Now, defenders of the IMF line may argue, justifiably, that there’s no give without take, and that if we go to that body we will have to eat humble pie, gratefully. But the question to ask here is, who are we asking to take on these burdens? Who are we asking to endure more of the same? Have IMF advocates considered these problems?

The IMF is not a charity: it has provided financial assistance to almost 90 countries on condition that fiscal discipline be enforced in the long term. If we go down that road, we will need to give back something, like public sector retrenchment and fuel price formulas. These have generated enough backlashes elsewhere. Are we ready to risk them here?

So long as the government fears an uprising from the people, it will not choose the IMF line. To say this is not to defend the powers that be. They have contributed to the mess we are in. But to admit to that is not to deny that, whatever that mess may be, to opt for structural adjustment, when social pressures are peaking, would be politically inadvisable.

That is why Basil Rajapaksa’s billion rupee economic relief package, tabled earlier this month despite much criticism, is intriguing: among other things, it promises a LKR 5,000 allowance to 1.5 million government workers, pensioners, and disabled soldiers. Its underlying thrust is not less money, but more: not spending cuts, but spending hikes.

The urban and suburban middle-classes have responded to the package with characteristic ambivalence. While demanding for relief from the government, they are also questioning the efficacy of printing money. What they have failed to realise is that that printing money is the only resort the government has to grant the kind of relief being demanded. It’s a classic either/or scenario: you get the relief with printed money, or you don’t.

Though economists don’t spell it out exactly in these terms, they do observe that printing money can only lead to greater inflation, implying that the only alternative is to stop doing so. But what are the socio-political costs of such measures? What are the knock-on effects they will have on economic relief for the masses? To ask these questions is not to split hairs, but to raise valid concerns that have not been addressed by the other side.

That is not to say that the government’s measures have been farsighted. They have not. Though Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) policies, which the regime is advocating, may get us space in the short term, it is not the type of reform we should be enacting in the longer term. The policies we need require radical reform and radical action. However viable it may be, printing money should not be considered a substitute for such reform.

To suggest one option, one of Sri Lanka’s most brilliant economists, Howard Nicholas, has advised that we industrialise, noting that the historical record has been better for countries which opted to do so. The example of Vietnam shows how even a sector like textiles can be used to propel industrialisation. That is an example Sri Lanka under Ranasinghe Premadasa followed, at least according to Dr Nicholas, but it is one we have since abandoned, in favour of orthodox prescriptions of fiscal consolidation and untrammelled privatisation.

Sri Lanka needs to consider these options without caving into stopgap measures and orthodox alternatives. How do we do that? As Dayan Jayatilleka suggested some time ago, we should convene an economic roundtable. Such a roundtable will likely prevent economic discussions from becoming a monopoly of elites, thereby helping the government, and the opposition, to align the interests of the economy with the interests of the masses.

This has been a long time coming. Both the government and the opposition have tended to view economic priorities as distinct from other socio-political concerns. Yet the two remain very much interlinked. In that sense, caving into economic orthodoxy while ignoring social reality would be detrimental to the future of the country and the plight of its people. To this end, we need to think of alternatives, and fast. But have we, and are we?

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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