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Covid-19 & SL’s future

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by C.A. Chandraprema

 The emergence of yet another major Covid cluster in Divulapitiya is food for thought. While the entire world seemed to have lost control over the spread of Covid-19, Sri Lanka seemed to have brought it under control until this latest outbreak. Even this latest cluster though the largest by our standards, is nothing compared to what most other countries including highly developed countries with much smaller populations have been experiencing. There is little doubt that Sri Lanka will bring this cluster under control as it did the previous ones. There is no such thing as eradicating this disease which has no cure. All that one can do is to have a successful firefighting mechanism which is capable of containing any outbreaks. The Kandakadu cluster came as an unpleasant surprise just like the present one, but it was successfully contained.

At no point were we ever rid of Covid-19 completely. When the number of local patients declines, the repatriation of expatriate workers from overseas commences and every planeload brings new Covid-19 patients into the country. Hence the emergence of new clusters is something that has to be expected. Even countries like China and New Zealand which had established control over Covid-19 very early on, experienced the emergence of new clusters which they had to put a cap on. Before the emergence of the Divulapitiya cluster, people had begun relaxing to an extent that would seem to be inviting disaster. We seemed to be fiddling while the entire world burned all around us.

We were watching the news bulletins announcing new outbreaks throughout the western world and in parts of Asia which exceeded even the first wave experienced in those countries and yet going about our work as if nothing was wrong. The Divulapitiya cluster was perhaps a much needed reality check, to put the whole country on alert once again. One international personality who said, based on studies carried out, that this could be a three to four year pandemic, was Michael Moore the documentary film producer. Unless a vaccine is developed before that, this pandemic seems set to continue for quite some time more.

We are now nearing the first anniversary of the first outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan China and nowhere near developing a vaccine for the disease. One thing that can be said for certain is that the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be very different to previous outbreaks of viral dieseases like the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak of 2003, or even the AH1N1 pandemic of 2010. Of these SARS was just a blip on the radar which affected only a few countries. AH1N1 was far more widespread – perhaps as pervasive as Covid-19 but the number of fatalities it caused was negligible by Covid-19 standards. As a disease, Covid-19 is nowhere near as fearsome as was the Ebola hemorrhagic fever which was also a viral disease with a fatality rate that could be as high as 90%. Yet with the number of Covid-19 deaths worldwide topping over a million, it cannot be ignored as a case of the ‘sniffles’ either. In actual fact most people are still unclear as to extent to which they should be concerned. If this had been a disease like Ebola, what we would be living through would effectively be the end of the world and people would have been in a state of blind panic.

 

Wake up call

 

But what we see now happening with regard to Covid-19 is whole countries and populations alternating between concern and indifference. One thing that the entire world seems to have decided on is that there will be no more complete shut downs as was imposed in March and April this year during the early stages of this pandemic. Such shutdowns were impractical and in the circumstances, only helps to suppress the spread of the disease for a while and it resurfaces the moment the shut down is lifted. The only alternative appears what countries like Vietnam and Sri Lanka have been doing, isolation of cases, localized shutdowns where necessary, restrictions on gatherings, imposing face mask and hand washing regulations and contact tracing. If this cannot be done in a particular country, perhaps the only other alternative is to try to go about your day to day work and hope for the best as countries like the USA and Brazil seem to be doing.

 The approach being tried by the USA and Brazil was tried out in its classic purity by Sweden which never had shutdowns or mandatory face masks or total restrictions on gatherings. At one point, even the wearing of face masks was discouraged by Sweden on the grounds that it would cause unnecessary panic. Today, Sweden which has less than half the Sri Lankan population has over 95,000 recorded cases and nearly 6,000 deaths. Swedish levels of infection and mortality would have caused the government to fall in Sri Lanka but the Swedes seem to be taking it with stoic indifference. There was much criticism of President Trump for having left hospital without being completely cured of Covid-19 and taking his mask off to address the media, but perhaps in those countries, there’s no alternative but to put on a brave face and weather the storm as best as one can.

 Throughout the West there have been protests against any move to reimpose shutdowns. A phenomenon aptly termed ‘Covid-19 fatigue’ is setting in throughout the world. Indeed the same can be said about Sri Lanka. Despite the horrific stories that one hears about the rate of infections and fatalities in other countries, people are becoming less and less amenable to Covid-19 routines such as wearing face masks and washing hands. In most establishments in Sri Lanka, the sinks and soap have been replaced by hand sanitizers as most customers show little inclination to go through the hassle of washing one’s hands before entering an office or a shop. As of this moment, the entire world is actually veering in the direction of countries like Sweden, USA and Brazil except perhaps countries like Sri Lanka which have hit upon an alternative way of dealing with the problem.

 Finally we may well end up dealing with Covid-19 the way the world dealt with the Spanish flu over a century ago – by basically ignoring it and allowing those who die to die and hope for the best. As a result of that attitude, the economic impact of the Spanish flu was not as severe as one would think, even though that pandemic killed millions worldwide. The attitudes that we are seeing towards death in countries like Sweden, the USA and Brazil are very different to the attitudes that prevailed in the West just a decade or two ago. In the old days, if a 98-year old person died in a hospital, his relatives would file a medical negligence suit claiming that his dearly beloved great great grandpa would still have been alive if not for someone’s negligence. Things came to such a pass that in some countries insurance companies refused to insure medical professionals against medical negligence claims and governments had to consider laws limiting the maximum payout that can be obtained from a medical negligence suit. After the end of the cold war and the emergence of a unipolar Western dominated world, the West suffered a serious loss of commonsense.

 Damages could be claimed for the most ridiculous causes. This writer is aware of an instance in a western country where a man jumped out of a moving train just as it was coming to a stop at a station as we see so many passengers doing in Sri Lanka on a daily basis. One would think that if anyone is injured after jumping off a moving train without waiting a few seconds for it to come to a halt, one has to bear the consequences of one’s actions. But not in the West. In the instance mentioned, the passenger sued the railway company saying that he jumped out only because it was possible to do so. That was the West just a few years ago. In recent years this snowflake culture in the west developed to untenable levels with just a word being considered a threat and the victim needing counseling or medication to get over the stress of being called a name. But today people are dying like flies in the West and one would expect a flood of litigation bigger than the Asian tsunami of 2004, but we see nothing of the kind. The West is taking the damage from Covid-19 with third world levels of resignation. Perhaps this is nature’s way of correcting attitudes.

 

Face to face with reality

 

Covid-19 has brought home to the Western world the realities of life and how. It’s tempting to hope that this new found realization of practical limitations, of one’s own mortality and vulnerability of what is possible and impossible, will lead to a more realistic approach to the rest of the world. At one point some theorists in the West were advocating R2P (the right to protect), a doctrine formulated to enable the West to intervene even militarily in any country on the pretext of protecting its population or a part of its population from its own government. One Western leader who realized that this involvement in dozens of conflicts around the world with little or no understanding of what they were doing, was sapping the strength of the West was Donald Trump. He has been taking concrete steps to extricate the USA from interminable and unwinnable wars all around the world. The realization of limitations on the political and military front go together with a similar realization on the economic front.

 Indeed it could be said that the realization of these realities predated Covid-19 – the election of Donald Trump in 2016 symbolized that trend. Covid-19 only been a kind of coup d’ grace in this whole process. The changes in the world economy now taking place due to Covid-19 actually began before Covid-19 appeared on the scene. Unbridled economic globalization was proving to be untenable. In the US, companies selling goods in the American market would relocate overseas to cut costs and increase profits and import into the USA what once used to be produced within the USA. Its not that these companies were making losses when they were producing within the USA, but they could make greater profits when they relocated to other countries with cheaper labour costs and cheaper inputs. Thus we saw globalization being driven by an international kleptrocracy that had no loyalty to any nation or anybody except the profit motive. The Americans within this kelptocracy had no regard to the fact that relocating production facilities overseas were depriving Americans of their jobs.

 No regard was paid to the question as to how Americans were supposed to purchase the goods that were being imported if a good part of the population did not have an income to pay for those goods. After about two decades or more of unbridled globalization, countries like the USA were looking for a reset, which Trump provided in 2016. So even before Covid-19 appeared on the scene, a turning inwards was becoming apparent throughout the world, most conspicuously in the USA and Britain. Suddenly, ideas like Sovereignty, borders, national security, national economy had once again become fashionable. Now Covid-19 has made that trend a necessity. People have learned the hard way how disruptive over dependence on imports can be in certain situations.

 Even before Covid-19 hit SL, we had certain priorities dictated not so much by economic reasons as by political ones. There was a need to generate more job opportunities locally. There was a need to cut down on imports and to produce such goods locally whenever possible so as to conserve foreign exchange. There was a need to limit our dependence on certain overseas markets. All these have been made even more necessary by the pandemic. There will be restrictions on the number of Sri Lankans who can be employed abroad as the economies of all countries shrink and the volume of world trade contracts. Quite a number of those already employed are likely to lose their jobs and return to Sri Lanka which makes it imperative that job opportunities are created locally for these people.

 

Making room for a reset

 

The decline in foreign exchange earnings will have to be met by limiting imports which also works in favour of the above mentioned objective of creating more employment by producing such goods locally. Over the past four decades or so, both political parties have had policies trending in this direction to a greater or lesser extent. The UNP of J.R.Jayewardene despite its open economy orientation still gave priority to the local production of rice through projects like the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme. They also tried to get local sugar production going by earmarking the Moneragala district for sugar cane cultivation and setting up the Pelwatte Sugar factory. The sugar produced by this new factory was sold on the local market for slightly above the world market price with the then UNP government imposing a tax on imported sugar to make Pelwatte sugar viable on the local market. The UNP of J.R.Jayewardene was a development oriented party and in the 1980s, they were sneeringly called the ‘Sanwardhanas’ because of their emphasis on economic development.

 However, after the mid-1990s the UNP completely lost its development orientation and became a mouthpiece for NGOs. It came to such a pass that the UNP government stored paddy from a bumper harvest in the Mattala airport to make fun of the bumper harvest as well as the airport. It’s very unlikely that JRJ would have reacted to a bumper paddy harvest in that manner. During his time, he even participated in the traditional wap magula ceremonies, getting into the paddy field barebodied and in a sarong like the farmers. Now, due to Covid-19, and the economic and political changes that had been taking place in the world before Covid-19, we have once again come to an era where the prime need of the country is to promote local production, to create new avenues of income for the people and generate jobs locally for the youth entering the labour market every year.

 For Sri Lanka, the need for an economic reset that has been made necessary by Covid-19 is actually an opportunity to make a change of course that was becoming necessary due to political circumstances. Making such a change of course when things are normal both domestically and internationally is difficult because the disruption caused generates stresses and resentment. Now however with the entire world in turmoil, and the domestic economy also thrown into disarray due to circumstances beyond the control of the government, it’s easier to change course with minimal political fallout.  



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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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