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JVP or SJB in pole-position?

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by Kumar David

By all accounts the JVP’s star is rising; everybody says so. We have had similar scenarios before where it seemed the JVP was at peak but the outcome in the subsequent election was disappointing. Will it be the same again? No one can say till the results of local government (LG) or provincial council (PC) elections, due early and later this year, respectively, are known. The regime like a headless chicken is scampering to foil elections; it fears the JVP or SJB, or both will do well while pro-government entities will flop. But election forecasting is black-magic; let us watch. If the government does badly at LG or PC polls a new game begins. Or before that president and regime may scrap elections; this danger is real but I will not pursue that line of thought today though Burkina Faso became the latest domino to fall to the military on Sunday. Still, unbelievably all Sri Lankas’s entities, political and civilian are sleep walking into the abyss. The political and economic situation today is reminiscent of January 1962 at the time of the attempted coup .

Back to my topic. The SJB must sell to the people the conventional liberal-democratic, market-economy; the conventional capitalist development strategy. People are accustomed to it; this has both advantages and disadvantages. The big obstacle is that Sajith will not agree to dump the presidential system though a majority of people of all races and faiths are fed up with it. The JVP-NPP has a harder sell despite belief that a new broom will sweep cleaner. There are two things to do; one, better present the alternative state and economic strategy, the key word is alternative; second, convince people that the wild old ways are gone. The bad old days are heavy laden with two problems; a proclivity to foolhardy violence and an unsound position on the national question. I have said my part, for now, about how it can spruce up the alternative constitutional and economic outlook in my columns of 2, 9 and 16 January on the NPP manifesto, therefore will give that a slip today. I will comment on the “bad old days” conundrum in this column.

There is a reserve of voters who would like to vote JVP-NPP but remain reluctant because of recollections of 1971 and 1989; either personal recollections or they know all about it. This means that not only one-foot-in-the-grave old folk but younger voters too are put off by the gonibilla stories. How can the JVP change this? It’s not going to be easy; words, apologies and promises cut no ice in the cut and thrust of practical politics. But a point to note is that this stain has not rubbed off on the NPP which did not exist in those bad old days, and more important, now includes people who at risk to life and limb fought that madness. Were they to wield authority now, they will not permit anything of this sort to recur. Hence one adjustment that will help reassure voters is if the NPP wields significant power in the alliance with a degree of authority to veto decisions. Does this sound as if I am whistling for the tail to wag the dog? Maybe it does, but cross transfer of leading personnel will be reassuring. There will have to be an NPP presence in the leading bureaus and committees of the JVP. If the JVP says “No” it needs to explain how it intends to win public confidence that the ultra-left excesses of yesteryear will not be repeated.

My suggestion of cross-fertilisation of personnel will provoke dissent but the JVP leadership needs to face facts. Recently the JVP established a Consultative (or Advisory) Council of significant people; three of them of long Marxist political vintage I know well (Lal Wijenayake, Prof Vijaya Kumar and Dr Michael Fernando). I am sure there are others who are important. Such persons can serve a better purpose if they are not on peripheral advisory councils but in JVP ‘hard-core’ decision making bodies. I say this bearing in mind the future of the JVP not the NPP. The former not the latter is the crucial element in the relationship and balanced power sharing is needed for the benefit of the JVP. JVP leaders participate in NPP gatherings and no doubt report back to the party but this is not the same thing.

I had an email from an ex-LSSP comrade Jumpy who is in a sense an ally of the JVP-NPP alliance. He said “I read your piece on Sunil Handunetti in Colombo Telegraph with interest. The JVP has not changed and is using the NPP as a mask. I know you will not agree”. True, I do not agree with Jumpy but the perception of lurking post-election left-authoritarianism in the mind of the electorate and democratic leftists must be addressed. The JVP must take structural steps to change the perception. This is a more general need than simply promising not repeating 1971 and 1989 type ultra-left excesses. The examples of Nicolo Maduro and Daniel Ortega renew such fears in the public mind at every turn.

The SJB does not suffer from perceptions of internal power imbalances, although the ex-UNP wing is predominant. The role of other partners is clear and the Front is seamless to outsiders. The presence of influential leaders with clout who do not have the same organisational genesis as Sajith – Champika Ranawaka for example – establishes a more equitable power distribution. The JVP will not gladly accommodate my suggestions for changes in power relationships, but honestly, I don’t see a way forward for the NPP and more significantly for the JVP except by opting for a less-closed, less old-fashioned semi-Blanquist structure. I hope for constructive comments from others; there is time enough for reconsideration and discussion.

The relationship of the JVP to the national minorities is also tricky. It appeared from Anura Kumara’s statements that the JVP was reassessing its reactionary position on the national question and close to admitting that its association with state forces that brutalised Tamil civilians during the civil war was wrong. However, that apart from Anura no other JVP leader has said anything similar or attempted to mend fences with the Tamils, Ceylon or Upcountry. (Forgive me if I am ill informed). Sunil Handunetti’s interview with Sirimantha Ratnasekera, Sunday Island, 16 Jan seemed to confirm my fears. His topic was opposition to “India’s plan to capture the Trinco oil tank farm and to take forward its expansionist intentions”. This is not a matter on which I have views; I have not studied it. What startled me was his next comment.

“The government has been compelled to sign this agreement. It is Déjà vu of the Indo-Lanka agreement which was pushed down the throat of Lanka on July 29, 1987. India got the JR Jayewardene government to sign the agreement by coercion. They dropped ‘parippu’ here, violating our air space. They sent an army of 150,000 while Sri Lanka’s army had only 72,000 cadre strength. This time they have used economic means for coercion”.

Let’s take a long view. I think it is correct to say that this is the opinion of four in five of Sinhalese people. However, I am also certain that four in five of Tamils distrust and fear the military and are pleased with the ‘parippu’ drop. (Many, from unpleasant experience however, are livid with the IPKF). Now I am not asking which view is correct; that’s not my point at all. The crucial matter is that there is not one uniform consciousness or common stance of the two communities on an event as serious as this. There are two different consciousnesses! And this is so in respect of much else of the conversation about ethnicity. A left party needs to take the fullest cognisance of this.

This puts a certain onus on the left about how to navigate these waters. I think the LSSP from the inception up to about 1960, and the Vama Samasamaja movement from its inception and the NSSP in its early days (I have no idea what the NSSP stands for anymore) did navigate this issue with leftist, liberalist and Marxist common-sense. However, it is difficult to believe that a conversation of depth and seriousness has taken place within the JVP on the “national question”. This perhaps is why the views of different leaders is disjointed and at times discordant. The JVP would do itself a favour if it set aside a goodly period of time and commissioned a thoroughgoing discussion of what its theoretical stance on the Tamil minority question is. What the NPP’s manifesto says is perhaps adequate for electoral purposes but a serious-minded party must have a thoroughly worked-out understanding, not bitty comments by this leader or that. The JVP needs to evolve from a robust and radical political party and reach the stature of an alternative government.

In other countries, say in North and South America and India there is vigorous dialogue among thinkers and activists about race. In the United States it is framed in terms such as critical race theory, the legacy of slavery and reparations, “black lives matter”, the case made by white supremacists, the looming Trump-Republican threat to curtail voting rights for people of colour, poverty and race, and so on. There is no dialogue of even remotely comparable depth or sophistication in our country. The SJB is sterile and has nothing new or old to say on the matter. The JVP must perforce move forward from a formula position to lively, no-holds barred open internal dialogue; the more open and the more outsiders are invited to participate the more productive it will be.



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Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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