By Lynn Ockersz
‘The Invisible Hand’ of classical economics,
That intriguing symbol of demand and supply,
Is having the people in a throttling grip,
And pushing rice and curry beyond their reach,
Now that clamps on the prices of essentials are off,
Thanks to the acute minds deciding the future of the isle,
But could the head ignore the stomach’s growls for long?
This was the poser that in times past stirred angry revolts,
And brought bottom-up change to a substantial measure,
But it left some Writing on the Wall, which goes thus:
‘Hungry people do not suffer self-serving, power elites gladly;
Guns cannot prevail against the need for Bread indefinitely.’
How Quad strategy to contain China affects Sri Lanka
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Japanese Embassy in Colombo on the afternoon of January 19 organised a joint media briefing at Sasakawa Hall with the participation of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris to announce plans for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Among those who addressed the media, in addition to twice Foreign Minister Prof. Peiris, were Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage and Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Mizukoshi Hideaki.
Prof. Peiris served as the External Affairs Minister (2010-2015) and was re-appointed in August 2021.
The current status of Sri Lanka-Japan relations cannot be discussed without taking into consideration the alignment or, more appropriately, the ganging up of certain Western powers and their allies against the People’s Republic of China whose relationship with Sri Lanka has irked the US-led grouping. Let me, briefly mention three other recent events/developments, namely visits undertaken here by the UK Minister of State for South Asia, the United Nations and the Commonwealth Lord Tariq Ahmad and the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, Park Byeong-Seug and a sudden shocking Canadian Travel Advisory primarily targeting Sri Lanka’s efforts to revive tourism, before examination of Sri Lanka-Japan diplomatic relations.
Japan, Korea, the UK and Canada are part of the US-led coalition against China. There is absolutely no ambiguity in their stand. In line with their overall strategic objectives, they pursue an agenda inimical to war-winning Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Unfortunately overwhelmed by their well-rehearsed chorus, backed by their International NGO hacks, Sri Lanka lacked political will at least to set the record straight. Over 12 years after the successful conclusion of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) despite all odds arraigned against us, Sri Lanka remains entangled in a well-coordinated so-called accountability process meant to undermine the country. Continuing humiliation of the war-winning armed forces is part of their overall strategy.
Three years after the war (March 2012), a resolution targeting Sri Lanka was adopted at the UNHRC. Twenty four countries voted against Sri Lanka, 15 for the country, whereas eight abstained. India voted against Sri Lanka. The UK, Japan and Korea didn’t represent the UNHRC at that time. Sri Lanka’s current Ambassador in Washington Mahinda Samarasinghe led the government delegation.
The UNHRC membership is based on equitable geographical distribution. Seats are distributed as follows: African States 13 seats, Asia-Pacific States 13 seats, Latin American and Caribbean States eight seats, Western European and other States seven seats and Eastern European States six seats.
At the March 2014 session, the UNHRC adopted a resolution that paved the way for the HRC Chief, who is obviously a part of the conspiracy against countries like Sri Lanka targeted by the self-appointed international community of the West, to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes ostensibly against both parties in Sri Lanka. But in actual fact it is only Colombo that they are targeting! While the Tiger military/terror machine was vanquished on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in May 2009 by the security forces, those like the TNA that backed the LTTE terror machine to the hilt, until the very end, continue to be the darlings of the West. The resolution was adopted thanks to the Western clout with 23 countries in favour, 12 against and 12 abstentions. Korea and the UK voted in favour, whereas India and Japan abstained.
Korea and the UK again voted in favour of the anti-Sri Lanka resolution at the March 2021 session whereas Japan and India abstained. Korea and the UK were among 22 countries which denounced Sri Lanka. Eleven countries opposed the resolution while the rest abstained. Those who skipped the vote included New Delhi and Tokyo. The March 2021 resolution empowered the HRC Chief to collect and store information that could lead to international criminal proceedings.
Moving beyond Comprehensive Partnership
In between the second (March 2014) and third resolutions (March 2021), Sri Lanka co-sponsored a resolution (Oct 2015) against her own armed forces. Within a week after the Geneva betrayal, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe entered into a Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (CPA) with Japan. The signing took place in Tokyo on Oct 6, 2015. The then Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe signed on behalf of Japan. The CPA has to be considered against the backdrop of Tokyo being part of ‘Quad’ (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) comprising the US, India, Australia and Japan arrayed against China.
Ambassador Hideaki’s predecessor Akira Sugiyama last November called for further expansion of Japan – Sri Lanka ties beyond the CPA between the two countries on the eve of his departure from Colombo having concluded his term.
At his farewell meet with Prof. Peiris Ambassador Sugiyama has said that 70th anniversary celebrations would be a fitting occasion to enhance existing CPA to a further height.
In spite of tremendous pressure, South Korea has refrained from joining Quad as Seoul obviously does not want to antagonise China, its major trading partner. In the context of North and South Korean relations, Seoul cannot under any circumstances take a hostile stand against China, though South Korea being home to a strong US military presence. However, tiny Sri Lanka is not so lucky. Therefore, Sri Lanka shouldn’t expect South Korean support at the UNHRC. Seoul contributed to Sri Lanka’s humiliation both at the 2014 and 2021 sessions. In case, the US-UK alliance pushed for further action against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC this year, would South Korea be able at least to abstain in view of the 45th anniversary of formalising diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka.
Would South Korea ultimately end-up in Quad? The US led alliance is keen to bring Sri Lanka under its domain though China, too, appears to be well positioned here to enhance its influence. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi‘s recent whistle-stop visit to Colombo underscored how serious the Chinese took their project here. Sri Lanka should carefully examine the Quad approach as well as how individual countries responded to Colombo’s relationship with Beijing. Having allowed Chinese flagship project here, the Colombo Port City from the reclaimed sea, Sri Lanka cannot envisage an environment free of a string of Chinese presence here. In spite of pressure exerted by Western powers and India, Sri Lanka cannot adopt policies at the expense of China, an all-weather friend like Pakistan.
Sri Lanka faces a daunting challenge in balancing its relations with China and the US-led alliance that included India. Economically weak Sri Lanka can be exploited by both camps. The current dispensation as well as the Opposition should be mindful of their designs. Regardless of political differences, political parties represented in Parliament should seek consensus on foreign policy and related matters. A few corrupt politicians and officials shouldn’t be allowed to make personal gains at the expense of national interest. That is the stark and ugly truth.
Following Lord Tariq Ahmad’s meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, the PMD (Presidential Media Division) issued a statement titled ‘Sri Lanka’s progress over human rights highly commendable….’ That statement quoted Ahmad as having declared at the meeting attended by Prof. Peiris and British High Commissioner in Colombo Sarah Hulton that Sri Lanka’s programme to empower human rights was making great strides. The PMD quoted him further that Sri Lanka would be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach to strengthen it. The PMD quoted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as having requested Lord Ahmad to provide an opportunity for discussions with the UK-based Diaspora. According to the PMD statement the President has assured the UK that his government aimed to solve all issues faced by Sri Lankans and create an environment where all Sri Lankans could live as one people.
However, Lord Ahmad in a short video issued at the end of his visit which he described as incredible three days certainly did not give any indication to support the PMD declaration as regards Sri Lanka’s progress on human rights.
First of all, the government should keep in mind that the UK, a member of the current UNHRC and the leader of the Sri Lanka Core Group at Geneva, wouldn’t do anything to ease pressure on Sri Lanka, especially ahead of the forthcoming Geneva session. Having succeeded the US as Sri Lanka Core Group leader, the UK relentlessly pursued Sri Lanka on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. In spite of repeated calls by Lord Naseby to consider wartime (January-May 2009) UK High Commission dispatches from Colombo as part of the overall efforts to ascertain the truth, the UK has refused to do so.
We have to recall the fact that the UK became a great power not through sheer hard work the way the modern China has done. In fact it was one of the first narco-states dealing in opium, which brought China to its knees. It always plundered much of the world by a policy of divide and rule of its subjects as in Sri Lanka. And the problems here are without doubt the result of that policy, which favoured especially the minority Tamils over others. The same problems can be seen even in places like Burma to this day, where insurgencies are still engineered/financed mainly by the West. We will not go into India because the servile Premier Modi having got a seat at the head table of the Western camp and blinded by its glitter obviously often can’t see beyond his nose. Indians often forget how they were treated like lepers by the West till the collapse of the Soviet Union and how everything possible was done to undermine it and even to break it up.
Lord Naseby following over a two-year legal battle with his government in Oct 2017 disclosed a section of the dispatches from Colombo. The rest of the dispatches hadn’t been released on the basis their disclosure would undermine UK’s relations with Sri Lanka. During Dinesh Gunawardene’s tenure as the Foreign Minister, the UK turned down Sri Lanka’s request to submit the relevant documents to the UNHRC. President Rajapaksa brought in Prof. Peiris as his Foreign Minister last August.
Obviously the UK suppressed diplomatic cables sent by its wartime Defence Attaché Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash from the British High Commission, Colombo, because they ran counter to the claims made by the western bloc as regards Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.
Having visited Jaffna and Trincomalee, in addition to his meetings in Colombo, Lord Ahmad, in his video message made reference to human rights defenders and civil society representatives. The UK Human Rights Minister declared while he discussed a broad range of issues, including education, environment, investment opportunities as well as economy with government leaders, human rights defenders and members of the civil society shared with him the challenges faced by them.
It would be pertinent to ask whether any of those categorised as human rights defenders and civil society at least privately requested the British High Commission intervention in the wake of the LTTE using civilian human shield on the Vanni (east) front in 2009. The TNA leader R. Sampanthan, MP, who declared the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people way back in 2001 was among those who met Lord Ahmad. Lawmaker Sampanthan never ever bothered to speak on behalf of those who had been trapped on the Vanni East front though he raised accountability issues at the end of the war.
The British, too, never sought at least an explanation from those who cooperated with the LTTE’s agenda. If the British are keen for reconciliation and justice for what had happened in the past as stressed by Lord Ahmad in his video message, the UK cannot ignore its own role in the once India-run separatist project.
The UK allowed the LTTE absolute freedom of movement in its territory where millions of Sterling Pounds were raised to procure weapons. The LTTE had its so-called International Secretariat in London at the time it assassinated former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, over a year after New Delhi ended its military mission in Sri Lanka. One-time British High Commission employee Anton Stanislaus Balasingham, in spite of being the theoretician of a murderous organisation, enjoyed the status as a British citizen until his demise in Dec 2006. The UK had no issue with Balasingham’s British citizenship even after the assassination of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005. The terrorist was allowed to operate freely. The late Balasingham’s wife, Adele, in spite of having promoted the LTTE’s despicable cause and even privy to the assassination of Gandhi by a female suicide bomber still lives there. When Lord Ahmad talked of the past, obviously he was only referring to alleged atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan military.
UK pursuing hostile strategy
The recent BBC reportage on Sri Lanka underscores continuing British hostility towards Sri Lanka. In spite of China being one of the major trading partners of the British, the latter in line with overall US-fashioned policy takes a hostile view of Sri Lanka’s relationship with China. The UK spearheaded efforts to set up a special investigation targeting Sri Lanka following the March 2021 Geneva session. Lord Ahmad’s recent visit and his promise to come back here again very soon wouldn’t change a thing. The British would continue to undermine Sri Lanka essentially for two reasons (i) Sri Lanka-China relationship and influential Tamil Diaspora relationship with all British political parties.
Regardless of Sri Lanka’s Opposition, Western powers ensured the setting up of high profile special investigation (Sept 2021 to Sept 2022) against the country to complete the encirclement of Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. The investigation is now underway. Did Sri Lanka at least raise the issue during Lord Ahmad’s recently concluded visit here? Sri Lanka shouldn’t expect fair play under any circumstances. The special investigation, too, will justify previous unsubstantiated accusations. Hope, the current dispensation, particularly the Foreign Ministry hadn’t conveniently forgotten how the yahapalana government co-sponsored a resolution against the war-winning armed forces on the basis of accusations that weren’t examined in a court of law. What really intrigued the public is the UN declaration that the identity of those who made accusations would be covered by confidentiality clauses for a 20-year period. As the declaration has been made in March 2011, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have an opportunity to know its accusers or at least whether they existed till 2031. Even then they have left a provision to extend that confidential clause for a further period. Where is the rule of law in all that, though always mouthed by the West of its virtues like a parrot?
Let me get back to the investigation led by a Senior Level Advisor in terms of the UNHRC dictate. Declaring that the UNHRC expected the Senior Legal Advisor to have (verbatim) experience in international criminal justice and/or criminal investigations and prosecutions to coordinate the team and oversee an information and evidence collection strategy; the development of a central repository to consolidate, preserve and analyse information and evidence; coordinate the processes of reviewing and sharing of information with national authorities for universal jurisdiction and extraterritorial jurisdiction cases and other accountability purposes in line with relevant United Nations guidelines; develop accountability strategies and engage with accountability mechanisms including specialised investigators, prosecutors, judges, and other legal practitioners both for information sharing purposes, to promote accountability and advise on the development of accountability strategies; and liaise with other parts of OHCHR, other independent mechanisms and the UN system to ensure a coordinated approach”
It is not too difficult to understand where we are heading. It would be the responsibility of the current dispensation to set the record straight in Geneva and New York without further delay. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) participated in an abortive political project to elect war-winning Army Commander the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka as the President at the 2010 presidential poll should be officially made known in Geneva and New York. The fact that Fonseka comfortably won electoral districts with Tamil speaking majority, too, should be part of Sri Lanka’s defence. Shouldn’t Sri Lanka ask those shedding crocodile tears for war victims why the Tamil speaking people, including those living in the Vanni who suffered dearly voted for the man whose Army was accused of killing over 40,000 Tamils?
The 1962 coup: Political background
SWRD: Jungle, if only you were a Buddhist, then I could make you IGP
By Jayantha Somasundaram
On 28 January, 1962, Sri Lanka awoke to the startling news that a coup d’état by key police and military officers had been foiled. In retrospect, the coup was a crucial turning point in Sri Lanka’s contemporary history. There was a new two-year-old family-centred government viewed by many as inept. Political commentator K. K. S. Perera’s description of January 1962 (The Nation 4/11/12) was that “strikes had crippled the economy; it was going downhill, resulting in increasing cost of living and unemployment.”
Sri Lanka experienced one of the longest unbroken periods of colonial control. When dominion status was granted in 1948, the maritime areas had undergone 450 years of European rule and influence. One consequence was the emergence, in Colombo, of a Westernised, English-speaking non-sectarian elite – largely low-country Sinhalese, peninsular Tamil and Dutch Burgher. A dominant class that was welded into a cohesive group through education and socialisation in public schools, they also shared a modern secular liberal outlook, regardless of racial or religious background. “A select English-educated elitist group … conceives of national integration in terms of a political ideal of constitutional government and unity in diversity ….” explains Prof Jeyaratnam Wilson in Politics of Sri Lanka. “But it has failed to penetrate the layers beneath – the fragmented competitive sub-societies of the real Sri Lanka in the countryside, with its rural elites and peasant economy … associated with mass mobilisation of pre-commercial, pre-industrial peasant people … who emphasise the crucial and critical stigmata of nationalism – the language, culture, traditions and heroes of the dominant nationality – the Sinhala Buddhists.”
In all European colonies, there emerged an elite that adopted the culture, values and lifestyle of the coloniser. In British India Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were steeped in British ways and mores. But the high caste aristocratic Indian elite did not change their religion; they retained their religious identity, at most only going as far as to become secular Hindu or Muslim. But in Sri Lanka a significant segment of the Sinhala Goigama elite like the Bandaranaike- Obeyesekere-de Saram families converted to Christianity, as did some of the Tamil Vellalar elite.
Donald L. Horowitz points out in Coup Theories and Officers’ Motives that there was “a great gap between English-educated Ceylonese who were able to pursue careers in the bureaucracy, professions and commercial houses, and Sinhala- or Tamil-educated Ceylonese whose social opportunities and cultural associations were more limited. The gulf was perhaps the greatest in the Sinhalese community. Unlike the Tamils, the Sinhalese were served by a number of elite schools that taught entirely in English. English thus became the language of the home of a significant number of Sinhalese in elite positions. This was not the case with very many Tamils, for the schools in the North were more successful in blending education in English with education in Tamil.
Accordingly, the Sinhala community harboured a certain resentment toward those Sinhalese who had abandoned their language, culture and in many cases, religion for those of the colonisers, and who had reaped the resulting rewards. In a sample of students entering the University of Ceylon in 1950, one-fourth of all students indicated that English was the language of their home.” For example, when at the age of 26, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike returned from Oxford in 1925, he could not speak Sinhala.
“After independence,” continues Horowitz, “there was a movement among Buddhists to gain state patronage for Buddhism, to secure symbolic recognition of the ‘rightful place’ of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and to end the advantages enjoyed by Christian denominational schools. In 1961, nearly all the denominational schools were nationalised by the SLFP government, over the bitter protests of the Christian communities.”
The electoral victory of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (the Peoples’ United Front) in 1956 under the leadership of Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was seen as a social revolution heralding the dethroning of the Westernised elite and their replacement by a Sinhala-speaking leadership. Although the new government in 1956 could make Sinhala the official language overnight, its benefits for the broader Sinhala Buddhist community were going to take time to manifest themselves. This was because English-language elite Christian public schools had a century’s head start on the Buddhist schools, which would now have to provide the senior civil servants, professionals, military officers and mercantile executives for the new dispensation.
To the incumbent liberal Ceylonese establishment practically every step post-1956 seemed to undermine the stability of the world they knew; and this process seemed to accentuate with Mrs. Bandaranaike’s election as Prime Minister in July 1960. This was evident in the growing Sinhala-Buddhist militancy and the political role of monks. The Westernised middle class feared the eclipse of a plural multi-racial state and the emergence of a Buddhist theocracy in its place.
Three critical events
Against this political background, three critical events triggered a section of the military to plan and attempt a coup.
First, anti-Tamil violence. Bandaranaike’s electoral success in 1956 by championing the cause of the Sinhala Buddhists was not lost on other parties. He however had stood for Sinhala as the official language tempered by the reasonable use of Tamil and upon taking office entered into an agreement with the Federal Party (the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact) to accommodate Tamil concerns. The United National Party (UNP) under Dudley Senanayake and J.R. Jayewardene responded with a policy of Sinhala Only and opposed the BC Pact.
In the south, only the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party took a principled stand for parity of status: that is Sinhala and Tamil as official languages.
Thwarted by the clerical right wing of the SLFP led by Health Minister Vimala Wijewardene, Bandaranaike was however compelled to unilaterally tear up the BC Pact in May 1958. This was immediately followed by Tamils becoming the target of organised mobs. Howard Wriggins recorded the events in Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation.
“The outbreak of violence began when a train, presumably carrying Tamil delegates (to the Federal Party Convention in Vavuniya) was derailed and its passengers beaten up by ruffians … Arson and beatings spread to Colombo … Tamils were attacked, humiliated and beaten. Many were subjected to torture and some killed outright.”
Now, a prisoner of its right wing, the Bandaranaike government did nothing.
Finally, the Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke declared a State of Emergency and called out the armed forces. Tarzie Vittachi records in Emergency ’58 how Lieutenant Colonel F.C. ‘Derek’ de Saram had to deal with CTB gangs in Ratmalana while Major M.O. Gooneratne had to fight off Irrigation Department employees and colonists at Padaviya. In Polonnaruwa Government Agent Derrick Aluwihare had to shelter Tamils fleeing from colonists and was finally compelled to authorise the Army to open fire. For days mobs roamed, challenging people and attacking them if they were Tamil. Vittachi recounts how in Kurunegala a young man was stopped and asked to recite Buddhist gathas to prove he was a Sinhalese. Mendis, a Methodist, was unable to comply; the mob thereupon killed him.
The GA Colombo reported that “passing vehicles were stopped and their occupants mercilessly assaulted. Moving trains were halted at several places and the passengers ruthlessly attacked. There were many instances of arson and such brutal scenes as men being burned alive. Looting was rampant.”
Wriggins concludes: “The toll during the days of disorder included an estimated 300-400 killed: over 2,000 incidents of arson, looting and assault and 12,000 Ceylonese transformed into homeless refugees. The violence spread to the plantation areas where Tamils of Indian origin were attacked resulting in the Indian High Commissioner journeying upcountry to ascertain their welfare.”
Separation of State and Church
After interviewing the coup participants, Donald Horowitz reported that “a number of officers traced their first thoughts of a coup to the anti-Tamil riots of 1958 … a sign as one officer said, that things were falling apart … (they blamed) Bandaranaike’s yielding to crude communal feeling … one officer had arrived fifteen minutes too late to prevent the burning alive of two Hindu priests by a gang of Sinhalese at Panadura.” The incident convinced him that “sooner or later something would have to be done ….” Another officer recalled how they had been cautioned about handling Buddhist monks leading such mobs. His response was that there should be separation of church and state!
Sixteen months later Bandaranaike would be assassinated in a conspiracy led by the SLFP monk-Vice President Mapitigama Buddharakkitha.
The anti-Tamil riots were the first indication of the gap that was emerging between the uniformed officers and a partisan regime. Bandaranaike himself acknowledged this when he turned to the ranking Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) C. C. (‘Jungle’) Dissanayake MVO and said: Oh Jungle Jungle, if only you were a Buddhist, then I could make you IGP. The people want a Sinhalese Goyigama Buddhist for IGP.
To be continued tomorrow
How the left could get it right: A left and democratic front
By DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA
If the JVP-NPP sincerely wishes to present itself as a serious alternative, it should model its strategy on that of the Communist party of India (Marxist) in Kerala. Kerala is governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF), more formally the Left and Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and consisting of seven parties, not all of which are leftist.
The bedrock of the LDF is the alliance of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, i.e., the CPI-M and the CPI.
My formation having been what is described in the USA as the “Old New Left”, I perceive the main failure of the Lankan Left for the past 73 years as being—and having been–in its relationships, i.e., its relationships within the left (with other left parties and groupings), and the relationship with parties not of the left, broadly of the centre.
Put it differently, the abiding weakness has been in the intra-left relationships and inter-party relationships.
If one wishes to use more theoretical terminology, one can identify the historical-structural failure of the Lankan left in the domain of alliances, partnership, united fronts and blocs.
In their anxiety to avoid one mistake of the old Left, the contemporary Left is making many mistakes which the Old Left made; mistakes of commission and omission. It is also refraining from doing the correct things that the old Left did, but did not sustain.
In 1947, the left parties, especially the LSSP, did very well at the general election. So well, that the disenfranchisement of the hill-country Tamils was largely because they had voted for left or left-oriented candidates.
The Left had an option in 1947 which could have given Ceylon a Left-led government at independence itself. A discussion was famously held at ‘Yamuna’ the residence of Sri Nissanka, which brought together the three Left parties and non-left progressive-leaning independents, including SWRD Bandaranaike.
Dr Colvin R de Silva famously rejected a coalition of the left parties and the independents, denouncing it as a “three-headed donkey”.
The same Dr Colvin R de Silva was sacked by Sirimavo Bandaranaike 30 years later.
In 1953, on the eve of the Hartal, the Left invited SWRD Bandaranaike, head of the newly formed SLFP, to chair the Hartal launching rally at Galle Face Green. The SLFP did not participate in but supported the Hartal. The Left was correct to invite SWRD to chair, rather than reject the idea because he had been a prominent member of DS Senanayake’s UNP Cabinet!
In 1953, the Left prematurely called off the Hartal, limiting it to two days. There was no reason for it to do so, without exploring the limits of the possible.
In 1956, the Left had a tenuous electoral arrangement in some areas with SWRD, but did not enter a coalition with him. Had it done so, it could almost certainly have prevented the adoption of Sinhala Only as an election slogan by SWRD, and forestalled Ceylon’s slide into catastrophe.
Having failed to enter a coalition with the more progressive SWRD Bandaranaike, the Left later entered one with the far less progressive Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
The two best moves made by the Left since Independence were the August 1953 Hartal (which it was wrong to hit the brakes on so soon) and the formation of the United Left Front in 1963, with its accompaniment the Joint Council of Trade Unions Organisations (JCTUO) which adopted a programme of 28 common demands. The ULF candidate won the 1963 Borella by-election.
In 1964, the LSSP promptly broke the ULF and betrayed the JCTUO’s 13 demands, and entered a coalition government with the SLFP led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
It was joined by the CPSL in 1968 and both Left parties entered a Coalition Government with the same Mrs B’s SLFP in 1970. Having made that error, it compounded it by not quitting the government when the Communist Party’s respected pioneer and elder statesman DR S.A. Wickremesinghe went into the Opposition together with its most loved MP, Sarath Muttettuwegama.
As for the JVP, at its very inception it turned its face away from its leftwing generational counterparts in the Tamil areas. It entered an actively hostile relationship with the other Southern left radical/revolutionary groupings in the South, in the run-up to 1971. It violently purged its own leftwing dissenters within the jails. It was antagonistic to other radical leftists in the 1980s. It entered into and then broke a five-party left front in 1979-1980. It was lethally hostile to other left parties and groupings in the mid-late 1980s.
Classifiable in a different category, it spurned the space offered by the newly-elected populist President Premadasa in 1989.
All of this cost the JVP heavily. Three years after it smashed in the head of rival leftist student leader Daya Pathirana and cut his throat (1986), two years after it murdered Nandana Marasinghe (1987), one- and-a half years after it shot Vijaya Kumaratunga in the chest and face (1988) and the very year in which it spurned Premadasa’s hand of friendship and returned to civil war (1989), the JVP was militarily decimated and its decapitated. The price of political paranoia and sectarianism is the highest.
What if all those it assassinated and sought to assassinate had instead been drawn into alliances, fronts, blocs and other forms of partnerships?
What if it had a policy of unity and struggle with the United Front coalition of 1970s, which it had helped elect, cultivating an equation with its more radical tendencies within the Communist Party and the LSSP? What if it accepted the respite and political space offered by the Premadasa presidency of 1989 which viewed it with sympathy?
Today, the JVP-NPP has four possible moves to make, which are not contrary to each other. Any permutation and combination are possible, and accepting all of these options, though recommended, is not mandatory.
1. A Left United Front consisting of the JVP and FSP
2. A Broad Left United Front consisting of the JVP, FSP and the Left parties such as the CPSL, LSSP et al. (which recently attended the commemoration of the Cuban revolution).
3. A Left and Democratic Front, which is actually a Left and Centre Front, consisting of the JVP, FSP, other left parties, the SJB (an emergent, mass-based centrist formation which is still a work in progress) and the SLFP (which is a slimmed-down entity).
Today, we have neither a Left Front nor a Left and Democratic Front. We need both, first one and then the other, in short order.
What would be truly dangerous is to continue the go-it alone strategy of the JVP-NPP, which is the JVP and its “petty bourgeois shadow” (to borrow a phrase from Trotsky), and head into a stage of frontal confrontation with the regime, which is by no means the old Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, but which has been heavily militarised and recomposed to contain a junta-in-waiting.
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