by Kumar David
Yes I was a National List candidate for the NPP (National People’s Power) in the August 2020 election along with others of strong or not so strong association with the Left, as well as a few liberal-democratic candidates. Since then I have been a sort of post box for suggestions, discussions and criticisms though I have no sway in the Party. The discourse is worthy of follow-up and public comment and the JVP would be wise to take note of it. I will use abbreviated snippets from two emails I received in the last fortnight. The fist from a pretty young PhD, Ms SB (MSB) with whose doctoral thesis I had a minor association, the other an old codger – Engineering Faculty my vintage, later a professor and Dean, Prof. H. Sriyananda (Eich hereafter).
The compelling point that MSB makes is that “There is a view of the JVP among locals that they are always against better-off people because their Satan Pata (warcry) is “Peeditha Panthiya”. But this class is diminishing in numbers and in any case many people don’t like to be called peeditha. Moreover, most JVP grass-roots members are not from the middle-class, but from poorer families. Hence they lack family ties with a majority of rural people and are not well positioned to penetrate the entire village”. This is true and has been much commented on since 1971. The leadership of the JVP is educationally, socially and intellectually far different from the “giants” of the old-left (NM-Colvin-Pieter-SA Wicks, Bernard), nor is it schooled in the Marxist classics nor English educated. This fact has been held up by analysts as proof that it is more authentic and closer to the people. The membership too is less cosmopolitan; the JVP cadre is more rural, more caste specific and largely from poor strata in the village. The membership of the old left parties spanned the urban working-class, the GCSU-CMU white collar classes and the intelligent and radicalised portion of the urban elite. The old left was ethnically pluralist; the JVP has no Dorics, Pieters, Karlos, Shans, Poky Kandiahs, Panudevans or Annamalais.
MSB has hit the nail on the head! Because of the social, class and intellectual composition of both membership and leadership, the JVP faces an obstacle in breaking into social layers other than its own provenance. To a large measure this explains why despite being the most sincere, incorrupt and dedicated outfit of recent times it has difficulty in breaking through the 5% total-vote ceiling when it goes-it-alone at general or presidential elections. MSB has, perhaps unwittingly, shown great insight: The JVP can’t win an election all on its own; it must form alliances with parties that represent other social layers and classes – urban and rural middle and working classes, the minorities and civil-society entities. A JVP-inclusive government will always be a coalition of some form. I don’t want to go down the road of speculating on suitable working-class, middleclass and liberal democratic coalition or united front allies, that’s a nitty gritty and obviously an ephemeral detail. Though the NPP is a step in the right direction; there is much further to go.
There is a second valuable point in MSB’s letter to me and it’s a corollary to the previous argument. It is that the JVP has been inconsistent and haphazard in the alliances that it has formed in the last thirty years – CBK (1994), Mahinda (2005), SF (2015) and RW-MS (2015). I am of the view that except for the line-up with Mahinda in 2005 the other alliances had a degree of merit to them, especially 2015. But MSB’s irritation is justified because the Party has given the impression that it is short-sighted and unanchored and hence it has lost some credibility. The problem is that the JVP has not formulated and enunciated a clear-cut theoretical policy-position on what alliances it will form, and why, and how. This is the conclusion that I was moving towards in the previous paragraph.
An adumbration of the class and social make up of rural, urban and minority-community Sri Lanka is readily available from scholarly and statistical sources. Next the JVP must take stock of its own class composition and radical ideology. Then it will be in business and it can construct a strategic assessment of what kind of political alliance it needs. These linkages will change as circumstances evolve but if the way of thinking is outlined to the people they will appreciate that the evolution of tactics with changing circumstances is not ad hoc but strategic. It must set its mind seriously to formulating a theory of alliances because by its class nature and radical-revolutionary agenda it can form a government not all on its own but through democratic electoral strategies built around principled alliances.
H. Sriyananda (known as Eich among close friends because of the way he pronounces his initial) discusses two matters. I will dispose of one quickly as it is straightforward (not unimportant). He argues that the NPP-JVP needs to develop a programme or manifesto encompassing the following important topics and it must take the manifesto to the people without awaiting announcement of elections:
* Governance (Democracy, bribery & corruption, judiciary, public service.
*Education (end rote learning, encourage thinking, knowledge of Sinhala, Tamil, the role of English, equitable education in a society that is diverse in many dimensions, university, vocational, community role, teaching different belief systems).
*Environment and Development (What is development? Conservation, sensitivity among the people, role of education, impact on health)
*Food and Agriculture (Organic agriculture and target dates, food security of marginalised communities, land reform, water resources and irrigation. Industry; Trade and Commerce; Finance, Transport & Communications – balancing public and private).
*Health – Preventive vs. curative health, allopathic and indigenous systems
*Power and Energy – Sustainability, renewables, time targets
*Absolute and comparative poverty – Target Gini Index (say 25, suggestion by Sriyananda), time targets, strategies, monitoring mechanisms
*Defence and External affairs
Obviously a huge task list which to be done systematically will need expertise beyond the Left, but that will be generously on offer if subject experts are convinced the matter is being addressed seriously.
The more important critique made by Eich is his other main point and I quote verbatim.
Quote: “The formation of the NPP is a step in the correct direction but it is not enough – a new left should not be immediately identified as the old JVP under a new name. My suggestion is that the NPP be rebranded as a political party with the JVP as an influential faction within it. Activities in the future should be conducted in the name of the new entity. A concerted effort should be made to make the party a national party, representing all communities. I pointed out earlier that no objections were raised by the JVP when Sunil Ratnayake was released last year, and that the series of public consultations that were conducted in different parts of the country on environmental destruction should have covered the Northern Province as well, especially as there it also involved human rights violations. It is not possible to win the country based only on the Sinhala-Buddhist faction, a faction that is largely anti-Buddhist in attitude”. End Quote.
Eich also gives me a punch in the solar-plexus in his mail: “It is totally unrealistic to expect the JVP to apologise to the people for what happened in 1989, and it is unnecessary to keep reminding them of it. Everyone makes mistakes, and these things happened long ago, and only a few who participated then are active now”. Of course he is cross because I harp on the JVP for not living up to the Leninist obligation that a revolutionary party must thoroughly analyse and openly correct its errors. Ok Eich, out of the window go old-fashioned Leninist norms of party building. I will hereafter stop picking on the JVP for 1971 and 1989.
The JVP is the single most important political entity in the country today. Its leaders and cadres are free of sleaze and they are genuine, it is serious minded about its duties and obligations in Parliament and in Councils where it is represented, it is dedicated and diligent. Anura is frequently rated the best MP by ‘manthri.lk’ an independent monthly web ranking site and Sunil Handunneththii was an outstanding COPE Chairman. His defeat at the 2020 election teaches us two lessons, first it proves that the Sri Lankan voter is a buffalo, second it confirms my previous song and dance about the JVP needing to go to the polls in alliances.
I know that the leadership and membership will take little note nor long remember what I say in this column; they are unlikely to pause even to give me the time of day. So why do I write it? Because what I have said here is indisputably true, so other people will pick it up, explore it and expand upon it. In this way the discourse will seep into the party; there is no other way out, or road ahead for the JVP.
The battle against KNDU: Renewing our contract with the people
By Sivamohan Sumathy
The KNDU Bill is designed to single-handedly change the face of education in Sri Lanka. Since the ‘90s, successive governments have tried to roll back the gains of the Free Education Poliicy of 1945. The history of free education is not linear, nor is it without contradictions. It is implicated in the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender and the multiple vectors of violence of state and civil society. Despite and because of these very contradictions Free Education has come to represent and symbolise the often contradictory but powerful assemblage of social aspirations and social desires of the general body of citizenry, particularly the vast majority situated on the margins or near margins of society. Free education does not serve everybody equally, but over the years and across decades, it has come to represent the hope of a vast majority for a better place in society. For a populace that is increasingly disempowered, it opens up opportunities toward social mobility, limited as they are; and as or more importantly, becomes the ideological and political weapon of the vast majority in the struggle for justice, social justice and bid for a democratic pact with the state.
Privatisation, Corporatisation, Militarisation
The State university system is an integral part of the state apparatus. Successive governments, have attempted and, to some degree, succeeded in undermining its integrity from within, creating parallel systems of higher education that would be on par with it. Privatisation of higher education follows a two pronged plan; the creation of fee levying centres and bodies of education and the degradation of state universities through under funding and sub-standardization. The fortnightly Kuppi Talk column in The Island has consistently foregrounded the pressures exerted upon the state university compelling it to carry out multiple reforms that compromise on standards and force it to privatise itself. From the ‘90s onwards (if not before), spending on university education has steadily deteriorated and in the post war years spending on education has stayed under 2% of the GDP (Niyanthini Kadirgamar, “Funding Fallacies,” https://island.lk/funding-fallacies-in-education/). The Humanities and Social Sciences are the most affected as highlighted in the various contributions of the Kuppi Talk column. It is no accident that the most recent move toward privatisation from within and without takes place by fiat and through militarisation. Much has been written about the principles of militarised authority that the KNDU bill enshrines. I do not have to reinvent the wheel here, but want to note that by rolling back the gains of free education and its potential to empower people, the KNDU bill points toward a future of repressive technocratic governance and repressive exclusions of those who most desire education as the path to mobility.
While the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a few stuttering steps toward privatisation of education, at the turn of the new millennium one is witness to the onset of an aggressive campaign toward the the dismantling of the long cherished free education apparatus as we know it. I trace this historical trajectory in “SAITM: Continuities and Discontinuities” looking at the different impetuses behind the establishment of NCMC and SAITM, the ideological similarities notwithstanding (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=161915
Certain forms of privatised tertiary education have existed for a long time and have expanded in recent years, but to this day, the establishment of a fully-fledged private university has run into problems. Popular will stood in its way. But it is also a fact that the country simply does not have the infrastructural, intellectual and investment-capacity for a viable private university to take off. Private sector in fact is weak in Sri Lanka. In the post war years, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, with S. B. Dissanayake as Minister of Higher Education spear headed a move to formalise private universities through an umbrella organization that would act as an accreditation council, bringing private and state universities on par and under the same purview and placing this purview within the ambit of corporate interests. In their eyes, Sri Lanka is to become an education hub, attracting foreign investment (“Education and its discontents,” ). The Yahapalana government is no better and blindly follows through on the privatisation plans of the previous regime with its Private Public Partnership policies, SAITM, and the degrading of Arts Education to some vague notion of soft skills development. The KNDU Bill was gazetted in April 2018 and was opposed by the academic communities and members of civil society. As with most corruption ridden neo liberal moves that render all aspects of life commodified, in this instance too, the state becomes an investor in privatised education. We hear that Bank of Ceylon and NSB have been ordered to pledge 36.54 billion rupees to KDU. (https://www.sundaytimes.lk/210725/business-times/kotelawala-uni-gets-over-rs-36-bn-from-boc-nsb-449828.html) If the rationale for privatising education is to ease the burden on the state, why does the state continue to subsidize these institutions? The logic boggles the mind.
The Democracy Call
From 2011-2012 the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) launched the greatest challenge that the teachers had ever made to an incumbent government and in the post war era brought together diverse disgruntled forces under its slogan of Save State Education and the 6% GDP campaign. It brought together different groups and a wide range of actors together to formulate a response to the neo liberal forces that were riding rough shod over the needs of an anxious working and professional class. Its call for action was framed by the call to save democracy. However, in the Yahapalana years and after, the struggle for education lost its momentum. FUTA itself was riven from within, preoccupied by its members’ narrower preoccupations, diverse aspirations, and loyalties. Other disparate groups took up the mantle to fight against privatisation, some of which may not have developed in desirable directions.
Today, the bill threatens to become a dangerous reality. It is not just Universities that are threatened by the KNDU. School teachers led by their unions have jumped into the fray. Beaten by the crippling conditions of COVID 19, teachers and students are facing the dire consequences of years of underfunding in education. FUTA is joining the protest as a key player, a mighty powerful player, but not as the only player. As Shamala Kumar eloquently put it at a press conference called against the KNDU bill on 24 July, 2021, the struggle against the authoritarian bill is a struggle against the PTA, a struggle for working people’s rights, guaranteeing safety of working conditions in the informal sector, particularly women, and a struggle for democracy within the university, including raising one’s voice against ragging. University teachers, rallying forces under FUTA, are once again on the cusp of a decisive moment of the history of education in the country. Let’s defeat the KNDU bill together!
Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the Univ. of Peradeniya
Condolences, warnings and admonition never to forget
Two great Sri Lankans have died and we as a country are much the poorer, and mourn their deaths. Manouri de Silva Muttetuwegama has vacated her long held position as a wise, consistent, fearless combatant for women and particularly those underprivileged, discriminated against, and helpless against forces of war and ethnicity that caused them suffering. Another noteworthy trait of the woman and characteristic of her work-ethic was quiet efficiency in going about her remedying, healing work with no fanfare and never seeking of publicity and praise. She was a lovely friendly person, always with a sincere smile lighting her face. Manouri served the country well and her daughter carries the torch.
Business magnate and media moghul R Rajamahendran, who used his money, influence and power to help the country is mourned, more so as he could have served his company Capital Maharaja Organisation and Sri Lankan media longer. The appreciation of him by Rex Clementine in The Island, Monday July 26, detailed the great good he did for Sri Lankan cricket. Teaming up with Gamini Dissanayake he literally fought for test status for our country, amply justified by teams of yore, one of which won the World Cup and another nearly did.
(Note: Cass uses the verb ‘died’ and the noun ‘death’ in preference to the softer, gentler ‘passing’, ‘passing away’ et al as she prefers the more real though stark word to euphemisms. Death is death.)
Never forget crimes committed
This is the thought that came to mind when coincidentally Cassandra, on 22 July watched the movie 22 July, almost a documentary on the 32 year old Anders Behring Breivik, who parked his bomb-laden van outside the PM’s office in Oslo; it killed eight people and caused utter damage, and then crossed to a summer camp on an island where he shot, point blank, the manager who welcomed him as a police officer but then wanted to see his ID, and a woman in authority. He embarked on a killing spree, which left 69 Youth League workers dead and many more injured. When the police arrived he tamely surrendered. At his trial he said he wanted to save Norway and Europe itself from multiculturalism, particularly naming Muslims, and that the killing of innocents was a wakeup call. His defence attorney attempted pleading schizophrenia but on hearing the awfully heartrending testimony of some of the young campers who escaped death but were injured grievously, he was found guilty on all counts and jailed in solitary confinement for more than two decades.
We, most fortunately have had no single mass murderer like Breivik and American school killers but murder most foul continues and may surface any time.
Cass’ thought was never forget terrible crimes committed on persons who were innocent or who were doing their duty. Yes, we as a nation must never forget these grievous crimes. The death of Richard de Zoysa stands out stark, but the police person who took him away from his home and his mother ‘for questioning’, tortured and killed him and dropped him far out at sea died gruesomely along with Prez Premadasa on May 1. Richard’s body washed ashore though weighted and dropped far out at sea. The person who probably ordered his demise too was killed by the same LTTE bomb. Thus, they paid for their heinous crime.
Others who murdered or ordered murders seem to live on powerfully and mightily. The gruesome murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is kept alive by his daughter, but to no avail. Never to be forgotten or forgiven is the killing of the young, harmless ruggerite whose only ‘crime’ was cocking a snook at those who thought they were superior. What the telling vine conveyed was that the rugger captaincy almost going to him had him tortured and killed. Again a coincidence or overconfidence brought to light the crime: Thajudeen’s body was placed next to the driving seat and his car pushed against a wall to fake an accident. It was all covered up. But people remember this murder, though no one shouts for justice for Thajudeen’s grieving parents.
When you question how come murderers and torturers seem to thrive, the answer is karma, Cass supposes. Maybe, the perpetrators suffer in the midst of utter luxury and in power. Maybe, even slightly, they are overcome with shivers of fright, but never remorse, we surmise.
Unanimously, we are all triumphant that the 15 year old Tamil girl’s death by immolation after prolonged rape in an ex-Minister’s home is being investigated. We hope it will move to correct, just conclusion.
Notes on news items
Highly commended is the article ‘Whither the Sangha and Buddha Sasana?’ by S M Sumanadasa in The Island of July 26. If you have not read it, and are a Buddhist, please retrieve the article and read it. It is spot on though gently written, very timely with so many protests going on, most headed by yellow robes. He starts by saying “As a keen observer …, I feel confident and justified in what I say…” Perfectly justified and every point made is valid. The majority of our Sangha strictly follow the 200 odd vinaya rules and render invaluable service to Buddhist lay people, to Buddhism, and the country, but the yellow robed bad eggs are truly rotten. The Sangha may only advise leaders and from a back seat. Sumanadasa queries why the Buddha Sasana Ministry and the Nayaka Theros do not stem the growing tide of indiscipline and reprehensible behaviour of men in Sangha robes. We ask the same. He states a truth that the death of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is really caused by the Buddhists themselves and some members of the Sangha.
An agreeing opinion by Piyasena Athukorale is in The Island, Wednesday July 29.
Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits by Dr L M K Tillekeratne appears in the same newspaper. Cassandra retorts: Oh goodness! Enough universities! What benefit when sane advice by university dons and experts in agriculture and related subjects have been completely ignored by the President, the PM, the Cabinet and others in power. They have still not rescinded or withdrawn the overnight ban on import and use of inorganic fertilisers. When famine stares us in the face after the demise of the farmer (the country’s so called backbone) through suicide or utter disgusted exasperation and loss of livelihood, we Ordinaries will have to suffer hunger pangs and malnourishment while those who ordered the very ill-advised and too sudden ban, will live on happily. Maybe, exotic food from around the world will be helicoptered to them!
Professor Channa Jayasumana, I was told, has said that the long awaited and longed for Astra Zeneca vaccine was delayed in transport to our land by the Olympic Games. Cass really did not know that these Games blocked air routes or interfered with air travel. Maybe, the Prof meant that the vaccine gifted (we seem never able to buy this absolute requisite) by Japan was stymied by the Games in Tokyo. He should know as he is a professor.
Why Cass mentioned this tale is because thanks to Professor Jayasumana, she increased her life span by ten years, rolling around choking with laughter (bitter though) at the explanation of why the A-Z Vaccine is so delayed.
Enough is absolutely enough
Please, whoever the authority is, stop that telephone message that comes in the three languages exhorting us to act with care during this period. I have forgotten the terms used in
Sinhala and English as I don’t listen when the message comes through, but they are synonyms of urgencies, calamities, crises; which last short spells of time, not months and months as the telephone message has been. This is parallel to the Sri Lankan habit of hanging bunting, posting posters but never bothering to remove them.
It is better the government just calls up protesters for meetings (even though it intends doing nothing) so that spreader of the C19 will cease or at least decrease. We stay home – telephoners – so why have we to suffer a double whammy – eternal message and risk contracting C19. We completely disapprove of teachers protesting en masse all over the country for salary hikes. Not done, not done at all during a country’s economic crisis.
Will we ever learn to put the country’s good and people’s wellbeing before our acts of self-seeking and selfishness?
Doing the right thing the wrong way
By Jayasri Priyalal
Nurturing nature is the right thing to do when mother nature is struggling to adjust to the manufactured damages taking their toll and challenging the mutual cohabitation of all living beings on earth. Feeding seven billion people with depleted natural resources and a degraded environment is a mammoth task for humanity. During the past ten millennia, homo sapiens have evolved to adjust and move ahead with their advanced cognitive abilities. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is ample evidence and warning signs to suggest that human beings have crossed the line in harming nature. Maintaining balanced biodiversity is advised by experts to mitigate natural disasters triggered by climate change.
Research in 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – was moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and is therefore exposed to ‘nature loss’, including tropical forests.
This article was prompted by the presentation delivered by Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, Department of the Crop Science, University of Peradeniya, yesterday (24 July 2021). My special thanks go to the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association [PEFAA] for organising the timely event.
The learned Professor presented his arguments with facts and figures from authentic sources and clarified many myths about synthetic fertiliser and pesticides use in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankans are truly indebted to all these professionals dedicated to improving our agricultural productivity in a scientifically sound manner, causing minimum impact on biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the use of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, and emergence above our competitors in the region on maintaining food security was an alarming highlight of the lecture.
The discussion heightened the public awareness of the proposed move by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to ban the import of synthetic fertiliser and agrochemicals and switch to organic fertiliser. Professor Marambe dealt with points and forewarned the dangers of these short sighted policy directives that appear to have been formulated without sufficient consultations with experts dealing with agriculture, instead relying on ill-advised opinion makers, based on assumptions instead of scientific facts.
Recent developments in the country, mainly various draft bills, attempting to militarise higher education, attempting to dispose of the country’s iconic properties to attract investment, indicate the quality of advisors to the President. Those who teamed up with him as Viyath Maga experts appear to have misled President Rajapaksa.
At the webinar, Prof. Marambe revealed that he and other agricultural experts had been appealing for an audience with the President to explain the dangers of this policy directive, which entails long-term adverse repercussions to an agricultural economy. President Rajapaksa has come out with strong convictions on the benefits of using organic fertiliser and sadly lacks scientific evidence to back the perceived benefits and advantages of the proposed policy directive.
I am making a humble appeal to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his team of advisors to seek expertise from the experts and decide on the policy directives instead of counting on assumptions.
Fareed Zakaria devotes a chapter on why people should listen to experts and experts should listen to people, in his book ‘Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World’. He refers to President Donald Trump being questioned about experts he consults, during the 2016 Republican nomination campaign. Trump responded, “I am speaking with myself, number one because I have an excellent brain; my primary consultant is myself.” His idea to inject a cleaning solution to treat COVID-19 patients could have surfaced through this process of self-consultation. Trump ridiculed the experts in 2016 thus: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” The rest is history; the mess he created during his tenure as the US President. These are useful lessons for many other political leaders.
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