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The road ahead for the Left

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The government has given the Left a chance to reorganise. I don’t mean the Left of the LSSP, the Communist Party, the JVP, the FSP, or even the Socialist Equality Party. I mean the Left of the Left, cutting across affiliations and antecedent: the Left there on the streets, the Left of students and their teachers, of unions and their leaders.

Three years ago, Wasantha Samarasinghe threatening to get employees to withdraw from the public sector would have been met with anger. Now, hardly anyone’s complaining. Having antagonised the people, the regime has hence revived the Left.

The recent wave of demonstrations was significant not because they took place despite the spread of the most dangerous COVID-19 strain so far, but because people cared little for the virus and its implications for the protests. Perhaps rashly, every critique of the strikes was dismissed as pro-regime, a simplification as crass as the anti-protest rhetoric of pro-regimists. Yet neither medical concerns nor fears of state reprisals kept these strikers back.

That they came in such large numbers made two points clear: one, the potential for a democratic resistance in the country, and two, a shift in anti-regime opinion to the Left. The prospects for a socialist resistance have clearly never been better.

The obvious question here is what strategy socialists should adopt. There’s the Left Populist option, but as the Bring Back Mahinda campaign and its hijacking by the Gotabaya chapter reminds us, it bears the seeds of its own antithesis.

The experience in Mexico and Peru shows how Left Populism can be mobilised against neo-liberals and neoconservatives, but short of a cohesive engagement with material issues and an appraisal of the weaknesses of similar past interventions, no Left Populist line will prevail in the battle of ideas; I have outlined these points and their relevance to what we are seeing in not just Mexico and Peru, but also Brazil, in a previous column.

To recapitulate, the failure of the Latin American Pink Tide had to do with a lack of working class and peasant participation in the electoral revolutions that pushed the Right out of power. Populist and socialist though they may have been, many of the governments that replaced the Right allowed themselves to be penetrated by the bourgeoisie.

The rise of Left Populism in these countries was pegged to two factors: the massive growth of China, and the equally massive recession in the West. Once the magnitude of these two factors had dissipated somewhat – with China’s growth slowing down and parts of the West recovering after 2011 – the bourgeoisie asserted its influence to the exclusion of more progressive elements in these governments. This gave some space for the comprador Right to co-opt the nationalist bourgeoisie (who are more bourgeois than nationalist) and pre-empt any progressive measures proposed by the government. As the recent return to power of Marxists in Peru and Left Populists in Mexico show, it would appear that these countries have learnt the lessons of their failures well. The question is, have we?

The Bring Back Mahinda campaign showed how trade unions could be mobilised against neo-liberal policies aimed at the reduction of the State, yet it also revealed how a movement opposing neoliberalism could easily be taken over by a neoconservative monolith. This is why the recent spate of protests is significant: because it points at the waning influence of the Rajapaksa-allied unions and the emergence of an FSP-JVP-IUSF bloc. The implications of this conjuncture should not be lost on anyone, least of all on the protestors themselves. If a viable Left movement is to emerge at all, it must therefore resolve two questions: what issues it must engage the public in, and what opposition it must ally with.

Sri Lanka’s Left student movement has not infrequently been accused of peddling issues to suit their interests. This is, of course, a hilarious accusation to make, but it bears scrutiny for two reasons. First, as the demonstrations against the KNDU Bill show, the IUSF can attract middle-class opposition to the government’s actions. Second, the middle-class can be counted on to sustain a potential Left programme against neo-liberal reform.

However, the suburban-urban middle-class’s support of the IUSF must be taken with a pinch of salt. They oppose the government, yes, but does that mean they support the IUSF’s wider aims of opposing the idea of privatising education? Probably not.

In fact, far from supporting these movements, middle-class youth are more likely to reject the IUSF’s stances on education, outside the KNDU demonstrations. This is why it is important to distinguish between those opposing the militarisation and those opposing the privatisation of education, and point out that these two issues are not mutually non-exclusive.

Already middle-class youth circles have drawn the line between their support for student bodies in the fight against the KNDU Bill and their opposition to these bodies with respect to their other stances. Some among these circles have gone further: while supporting the spirit of the protests, they deny the role played by the IUSF in those protests.

This is strange, but not inexplicable. As slogans of protest, both the threat of the militarisation of education and teachers’ salary anomalies seem valid concerns to middle-class youth. Yet, conditioned by a bourgeois, upward aspiring worldview, this youth does not seem to focus much attention on other IUSF concerns, prime among them being, of course, the privatisation of education. As far as their political ideals go, letting public education and healthcare be penetrated by private interests is not as problematic as, say, militarising higher education. The latter is more symptomatic of the regime’s failures, while the former presents no problems at all, since the middle-class youth generally accepts the idea of privatisation.

This explains why SJB MPs, even nominal supporters of the JVP, can get so riled up when Mr Bimal Ratnayake tweets on the shocking disparities between private and public healthcare systems in the country and argue that they illustrate what he calls the “disaster of capitalism.” Middle-class youth may look up to the JVP and the FSP for their honesty, but the trust they repose on Marxist outfits does not go as far as a critique of the private sector.

The truth is that this youth is too invested in capitalism even to care that they are living through the most acute crisis of capitalism the world has seen in perhaps half a century. In a country where think-tanks dish out the virtues of privatisation and right wing economic ideas discarded even by the West are presented, of course, this is nothing to be surprised at.

The lesson that the Left can pick up from these observations is that it does not do any good to the Left or the future of Left outfits to rely on middle-class youth support. Their goal must be, not to play to the gallery, but to convert it to their philosophy. However, this requires an intelligence and imagination that is sorely lacking among many MPs.

Yes, the JVP has the potential to convert voters, but does it have the MPs who can make that happen without pandering to middle-class voters? As the results of last year’s elections show, it is these middle-class voters, overwhelmingly young, who celebrated the virtues of the JVP, touted it as the party of the honest and the competent, and then voted for, among other outfits, the SJB, on the pretext that “Marxist parties” were an unrealistic choice. The FSP is better in this regard because it has managed to avoid the pitfalls of relying on middle-class protest slogans. Yet even that party doesn’t seem to have matured enough.

Which brings us to the question of which opposition the Left must ally itself with. Anura Kumara Dissanayake has gone on record suggesting that he is ready to take up the leadership of the opposition. Mr Dissanayake forgets that there is already a democratically elected, or should I say democratically appointed, opposition leader. Mr Premadasa may or may not be the weakest man in that post that we have had in years, but he is, as the Left should realise, more pragmatic than his less than illustrious predecessor from the UNP. This does not mean the Left should absolve him or his party of everything.

As Marxist critics of the SJB will readily concede, there are comprador elements in the SJB that look up to the West, ask us to go the IMF, demonise China (among other non-Western allies), and idealise a conception of rights that sidesteps the issue of sovereignty. The task of the Left is to ensure that the SJB remains free of these elements. Indeed, that exchange on Twitter between Mr Ratnayake and the SJB makes it clear that engagements with the SJB from the Left are not only possible, but desirable. Desirable, because this is the last chance socialist opponents of the regime have to convert the Opposition from its neo-liberal past into a more progressive movement. The Marxist Left needs a radical revaluation within its circles before it can try converting us. From such revaluations flows the tide of all future revolutions. Its task here is thus eminently clear: it must radicalise the mainstream.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Champika Ranawaka accuses ‘political underworld’ of thriving on narcotics

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Patali Champika Ranawaka

Lurking danger from trained soldiers in want

by Saman Indrajith

United Republican Front leader, Patali Champika Ranawaka, MP, says that Sri Lanka faces the danger of becoming a ‘narco-state’ if immediate action is not taken to stop the growth of what he describes as the ‘political underworld.’

“There is a political underworld operating in this country in addition to the goon-run social underworld we are all aware of. This political underworld thrives on its nexus with drug cartels. It must be eliminated without further delay; otherwise, we will all suffer under a narco-state,” Ranawaka said during an interview with the Sunday Island on Thursday.

He said that there were around 100,000 ex-servicemen with arms training now in society facing financial problems. “There are also 10,000 to 15,000 ex-LTTE cadres. They could be lured easily into criminal activity because of their financial problems.

“On the other side, owing to the uncertainty and social unrest caused by the economic crisis, the youth are frustrated. They are easy prey for narcotic dealers, and this could be seen in the proliferation of synthetic drugs such as ICE among young people.

“Our geographical location between Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle of Cambodia-Thailand is ideal for this country to become a drug trading hub. With this conducive situation, we are facing the danger of becoming a narco-state soon. After that, to get rid of the grip of narco-lords will not be easy because with their drug money, they could buy political space, media space, religious space, and almost everything. We must get rid of the political underworld handled by a few new rich who have politicians in their p0ckets. Otherwise, we will all suffer in the clutches of drug lords,” Ranawaka said.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: What are your comment on the present debates and concerns about holding an election this year? Some parties have already commenced their campaigns while others suggest a postponement. Certain political leaders claim that the president has the authority to delay elections. Do you think he has such powers?

A:No, that can’t be done. There are varied arguments. Due to various amendments introduced to the Constitution, some articles state that a president’s term is six years, while others say that if a president were to continue without an election, it must be approved by the people at a referendum. Many have taken bits and pieces of of these articles and interpreting them to suit themselves.

We must keep in mind that the Constitution is not interpreted solely based on the wording of articles but also according to judicial decisions that have already interpreted them regarding the term of a president. The intention of the amendment introduced during Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure was to reduce the term of a president from six to five years. There was a supreme court decision on the presidential when Chandrika Kumaratunga argued that she had six years in office until 2006 because she took oaths in 2000.

Article three of the constitution vests sovereign power in the people. We have two SC decisions on the presidential term – when Sirisena reduced the term of office from six to five years and when Kumaratunga tried to extend her term from 2005 to 2006 arguing that she had six years. The substance of these two decisions was that sovereignty of the people would be affected if any action deprived them of their right to elections. On such occasions, the government in power could remedy this by holding a referendum.

Drawing on these precedents, some argue that if Sirisena could change the term from six to five years by using a two-thirds majority in parliament, the same two-thirds could be used to extend the term of the incumbent president.

However, when we consider the judicial determinations and the people’s sovereignty article, the president cannot continue even one day beyond Oct 17 without obtaining the approval of the people in a referendum. There are no loopholes in these provisions. This matter can be referred to the SC to get a fresh interpretation.

If someone tries to continue without elections, it will result in a crisis. We saw the backlash of opposition and anger from people when UNP General Secretary Range Bandara opined that we should continue without elections. People need an election. The president and the government elected in 2019 and 2020 lost the confidence of the people in 2022 and were forced to step down.

That was not the result of a democratic election but a public uprising, direct action. It could be considered an occasion where people exercised their right to recall. So, we must accept that people need their democratic right to elect their rulers. That should not be obstructed because it would certainly lead to another uprising of the people.

Q: There is much talk of reforming the prevailing political culture. You have also made similar statements in and out of parliament. Everyone abhors the political culture that has prevailed over the past few decades. All parties have spoken of reforms. However, it seems that the very same politicians are preparing to continue under different party names and alliances. Where do you stand on this?

A:This is easier said than done. My party believes that the practical aspects of these reforms are not easy. You cannot bring about such changes overnight. Firstly, we are living in a bankrupt country. There is no magic wand to change this. At the same time, if we are pushed back to a situation of 14-hour power cuts, miles long petrol and gas queues, people will not tolerate it. They might put up with such a situation for a day or two, or at most a week, but they will not wait for months. They also have the experience of direct public action, where a president had to flee for his life. Therefore, we need a practical program to address this.

An argument is presented that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has resolved the crisis. If we look at it from one angle, it is true because we no longer see queues for gas or fuel, there are no power cuts, we have medicine in hospitals, and farmers have fertilizers. So, on the surface, there are no visible problems.

However, there have been price hikes – the price of a single unit of electricity has shot up from Rs 12 to 46, food prices have tripled, medicine prices have increased four to five times, fertilizer prices have gone up by seven to eight times, and the price of a kilo of rice has increased from Rs 80 to Rs 250.

When we consider this, it is evident that the weight of the economic crisis has been shifted to the shoulders of the people who have done nothing to create this crisis other than voting for the incumbent rulers.

The weight is not on the capitalist class but on the labor class.

You see the same thing in the economic restructuring process. The weight is not shifted to private investors who invested in banks but to the people. The burden of treasury bills and bonds was placed on the Central Bank – that means it’s on the people. Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe is not going to absorb that weight; it will be transferred to the people.

This manifests as an increase in taxes. As a result of reliefs and tax amnesties given by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the country’s tax revenue dropped by seven to eight percent. The plan now is to increase this up to 15 percent. It is the people who are going to shoulder this burden.

VAT is imposed on all essential items, petrol, diesel, electricity, coal, sugar, flour, dhal etc., but at the same time, tax reliefs are given to businessmen. These reliefs amount to Rs 978 billion, according to the finance ministry’s tax expenditure statements.

BOI investors have been given reliefs in income tax, turnover tax, VAT, and customs duties. In the meantime, we have not collected taxes amounting to Rs 1,200 billion. Without collecting due tax revenue, the government imposes taxes on essential items such as sugar.

When a country faces a situation like this, economic solutions are proffered. It is like drinking kottamalli or swallowing Panadol when we get a common cold. For example, when there is an increase in commodity prices, meaning an increase in inflation, it means there is more money than goods and services available.

Economists will advise collecting the excess money through taxes and to stop printing money. These solutions are not magical. Argentina had a crisis more serious than ours. Their inflation was around 300 to 400 percent. Javier Milei, who is an economist, became the president and brought down that inflation to 15 percent within 100 days. That change could be identified as the smart work of Milei. Could we say the same regarding the situation here? Is this owing to some sort of talent of Ranil Wickremesinghe? His party men would say so.

The IMF offers formulae to countries to recover from crises. Such a formula helped Milei become the President in Argentina, Shahbaz Sharif to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Ranil Wickremesinghe to become President of Sri Lanka. The IMF has now directed streamlining tax collection and to stop giving tax reliefs.

They also want to introduce professional administration to public institutions such as People’s Bank, Bank of Ceylon, National Savings Bank, Ceylon Electricity Board, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, and the Water Board. Some countries do not follow the IMF prescriptions in toto but only do what they need to do.

We must not be hypocrites and must admit that Ranil Wickremesinghe has brought stability to the country and some industries. For example, the Petroleum Corporation that had been run down by Gotabaya, Cabraal, Gammanpila and Basil Rajapaksa. If they had acted wisely, they too could have brought about that stability.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the help of Sarath Amunugama handled the situation in 2008 while we were fighting a war. Ranil Wickremesinghe understands this crisis. He faced similar situations in 2002 and 2016. So, he acted with his experience. Other than that, there is no magic in this recovery. This very same stability could have been achieved by other means too.

Q: Are there alternatives to bring about stability without imposing taxes on people?

A:Yes. For example, look at what Shahbaz Sharif did in Pakistan. He froze the bank accounts of tax defaulters and their properties. He even went as far as suspending their SIM cards. We could have done the same and begun the cleaning process with tax defaulters in the cabinet. We could have taken similar action against liquor producers.

We have been repeatedly asking for the names of those who defaulted on their loans and taxes, but it has not been provided. We also called for the names of those who benefited from tax reliefs, but that also has not been given. We also called for the digitization of the tax process so that everyone can see where taxes are collected and where exemptions are given.

Q: You’re talking about digitizing reforms that are needed to streamline administration. But we live in a country where we can’t even pay a traffic fine using our debit cards. What’s holding us back from these reforms?

A:The first of these is opposition from institutions against change. The Customs is the prime example. Consider a scenario where an individual is caught smuggling a prohibited item. According to the general rule, the perpetrator should be fined three times the value of the items brought in. However, a recent audit report revealed that only six percent of such fines have been collected. Out of this six percent, four percent is allocated to Customs as rewards. This negligence has resulted in the loss of billions of rupees for the country.

This could be resolved. We could enable the police to charge fines using a QR code. Didn’t we use QR codes to purchase fuel several months ago? It’s feasible. All we need is political will. Unfortunately, that’s something we lack even in the face of such crises. Our leaders worry about winning or losing votes whenever they implement reforms. We should learn from India. When Modi became Prime Minister, he implemented demonetization without worrying about potential electoral losses. When people realized the benefits, they re-elected him.

In Sri Lanka, what we often see is blame-shifting, with accusations of theft against one another. However, these accusations are merely aimed at appeasing the public. Corruption has pervaded society like a giant octopus, and we’ve all become victims. It operates in a vicious cycle, with many opposing efforts to eradicate it.

We need political will for change. Mere speeches and promises to capture thieves and recover stolen money won’t suffice. What we need is a practical plan and reforms. Under the existing system, it takes around two years to file a case and another 10-15 for the hearing. Justice cannot be expected from such a system.

Q: Last week, there were reports indicating that you met with Basil Rajapaksa to discuss a political alliance. Could you elaborate?

A: There was no such occurrence. Those reports were false. There will be no alliance with them. On February 14 this year, when we unveiled our manifesto, ‘A United Step for the Country,’ we clearly stated that anyone willing to accept it could join us, while categorically asserting that we would not align ourselves with those who bankrupted this country.

However, we refuse to form alliances with anyone responsible for ruining our nation. We have not engaged in any political discussions with those who have bankrupted our country. These reports are part of a campaign aimed at targeting me. They are perturbed by our recent progress; hence, they deploy their social media to spread such falsehoods. Another reason for the spread of these lies against me was my standing up against the VFS Global visa scam.

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HOW NOT TO RUN AN ELECTION (1956)

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SWRD Bandaranaike speaking during an election campaign

(Excerpted from Falling Leaves, autobiography of LC Arulpragasam)


As a Returning Officer, I played only second fiddle to the Government Agent, who was actually in charge of the Parliamentary Elections at the district level. However I was given definite duties: first, for staffing the polling booths with government staff officers; second, for supervising the actual process of elections in the polling booths; and third, for counting the ballots once the voting was done.

My first job was difficult because many Sinhalese officers in those days were reluctant to come so far to a Tamil-speaking district. This was long before the Tigers became the major political or military force in those districts. I was able to overcome this difficulty because some of my Sinhalese friends shared my interest in jungles and lagoons, and they were eager to come as polling officers to the Eastern Province. I had to officially get them to staff the polling booths; but unofficially, I had also to look after them and provide social activities for them.

On Election Day, I went to monitor the polling places. On one of these monitoring missions, I visited Kattankudi, a Muslim town just south of Batticaloa. I was actually able to see an act of impersonation there – for the first time. But this case was so outrageous that I will remember it till my dying day. A pregnant Muslim woman with a sari pulled over her face, with only her eyes showing, was challenged. Imagine my utter surprise, when ‘she’ was unveiled to reveal a man with a mustache and beard – and a pillow around his waist, pretending to be pregnant! I use this example to get to know the many tricks that are possible in all elections.

I still had to cast my own ballot for the Batticaloa seat. Fortunately or unfortunately, I knew all the candidates for that seat. When I came to the polling station, each of the candidates bowed and smiled, wanting to shake my hand, each of them expecting me to vote for them. I was an LSSP supporter at that time and since there was no LSSP horse in that race, I did not know whom to vote for.

I went into the polling booth and impulsively drew a caricature/cartoon of each of the three candidates against their names. I remember drawing a fez cap on the Muslim candidate’s head, and drawing hair on the ears for another candidate (which was his outstanding characteristic) and a moustache on the other candidate. Smiling guiltily, I emerged from the ballot booth to engage in small talk with the three candidates.

On that election night, there was a grand counting of all the votes cast in the Kachcheri. This was presided over by the Government Agent, but with me in actual charge of the counting. If there was a challenge to any ballot, I would give a ruling on the spot. If it was still contested, it would go to the Government Agent for his ruling. I was dreading that my ballot (with the cartoon of the candidates) would come up for my ruling. It did – and I was the first to shout, “spoilt ballot”. I heard one of the candidates muttering loudly “bloody fool” – aimed at the person who had cast that ballot! I hastened to agree! The case was reported to the Government Agent, who did not know that his own AGA was responsible for that ballot! I had acted irresponsibly as a presiding officer. On the other hand, it was my own ballot – and if I chose to spoil it, that was my own indisputable right!

The night after the election, I invited my friends from the various government departments in Colombo to gather for a social get-together at the Vakaneri Circuit Bungalow. This was about 22 miles north of Batticaloa and situated on a massive rock overlooking the Vakaneri reservoir. This had been one of my favourite haunts – to enjoy the silence and views of jungle and water.

I had got my friend Carl de Vos, from the private sector, to go up to the Vakaneri Irrigation bungalow on Election Day and decorate the place, inflate the balloons, etc. – so that it had a festive look even before we arrived. I played a piano accordion at that time – and thus provided the music for singing, dancing and baila sessions. There was much singing of old songs and much drinking of beer.

So much so, that the bungalow-keeper when measuring the rain-gauge the next morning (his daily duties in this Irrigation Circuit Bungalow) he found to his consternation that there had been so much rain on the previous night (beer converted to urine) that there was danger of flooding! He grumbled loudly (he was always nice to me), but this time he said, for me to hear: “It is impossible with this AGA!”

(The writer is among the last survivors of the old Ceylon Civil Service who later had a long career with the FAO, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization)

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On demeaning Anura Kumara Dissanayake

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Anura Kumara Dissanayake

By Uditha Devapriya

In Sri Lanka, Tamil politics took a dramatic turn this week when Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake visited members of the Tamil National Alliance. According to media reports, Premadasa has promised to implement the 13th Amendment, while Dissanayake has vowed to revisit issues like devolution and power sharing.

This is not as shocking a development as one may assume; far more shocking developments have taken place in Sri Lankan politics. Nor should it surprise anyone it is taking place months before a presidential election, arguably the most crucial in recent years, is to be held.

Both Premadasa and Dissanayake are veteran political stalwarts; both have been in active politics since the early 2000s. There is something cynical about the whole matter, but perhaps what is most cynical is that the TNA itself has accepted these visits and engaged with these delegations.

The TNA is testing the waters: recently it announced that it would consider fielding a Tamil presidential candidate. Yet its engagements with Sinhala parties suggests that it sees itself as what it always has been: a deal-clincher, if not king maker, for mainstream political platforms – including the SLPP.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe fired the first salvo last year when he extended an invitation to Tamil parties to discuss issues relevant to the Tamil community. While many saw this as a cynical move on his part – as Rathindra Kuruwita observed in a Diplomat piece at the time, the government’s loss of popularity within the Sinhala Buddhist community has made it more open to negotiations with minority groups – the TNA itself welcomed his overtures and accepted his invitation, though subsequently a split in the party made it less amenable to holding talks with the president and his government.

Of the two Opposition figures, Sajith Premadasa’s visit has caused much less consternation. As the UNP’s presidential candidate in 2019, he agreed with the TNA’s pleas to implement the 13th Amendment. It is wrong to say he has been capitulating here: it has been his stance for some time. Besides, the SJB itself is a breakaway faction of the UNP, and the UNP, going by President Wickremesinghe’s gambits, has been keen on accommodating minority votes to make up for its lack of popularity among the Sinhala Buddhist middle-class. This has become more crucial than ever in light of the economic crisis.

The government’s utterly toxic, all-stick-no-carrot mixture of welfare cuts and higher taxes has led to a steep fall in popularity among constituencies which used to vote for mainstream nationalist formations. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy fiascos, including his disastrous organic fertiliser experiment, led to a mass defection of these electorates. They have congealed into a floating vote bank since, up for grabs by the highest bidder. This is what the Opposition has been targeting. The Samagi Jana Balavegaya, in particular, has tried out one stratagem after another to shore up its appeal among these communities, including by taking in ex-army and political officials associated with successive Rajapaksa administrations.

Whether these strategies will work in the long term is anybody’s guess. If they don’t reveal the utter cynicism of politics in Sri Lanka – which is hardly less cynical than the alliances that have been forged by mainstream and “centrist” parties in Europe and the US – they certainly indicate how mainstream political formations keep resorting to the same old tactics when elections are nearby. Morally reprehensible though this may be to some, reaching out to the army, the police, and other defence outfits has become a sine qua non here.

Besides, mainstream parties have tried to square the circle, appealing to both majority and minority communities. This explains President Wickremesinghe’s overtures and the SJB’s and NPP’s recent moves. These can in turn be explained by the structure of Sri Lankan politics, its electoral system in particular, which has made minority parties indispensable partners for larger parties.

As a high-ranking official of the SJB put it months ago, elections will always bode well for parties that put together the broadest possible coalition. In that respect, it makes sense to have military officials and minority groups in the same room, or on the same platform. The SJB here has been no different to the UNP.

Perhaps a better way of understanding these alliances would be through a social class and economic lens. Fundamentally, the TNA is the party of the Tamil bourgeoisie, just as the UNP is the party of the Sinhala bourgeoisie. The SJB, given its past in the UNP, resonates deeply with the bourgeoisie of both communities, though it and the NPP have been reaching out to sections of the petty bourgeoisie. These ideological intersections explain why the UNP has been able to engage with mainstream Tamil parties, and why the SJB and NPP have strayed away from them and concentrated their activities elsewhere until recently.

Even here, there are important differences. The SJB and NPP have marshalled in army and police officials. But the SJB has shown a preference for higher ranking officials, while the NPP has been targeting disabled veterans. The NPP has also become heavy on anti-corruption, which explains its inclusion of figures like Shani Abeysekara. It has also become critical of the IMF’s activities in Sri Lanka. This has pushed the SJB, which is otherwise aligned with the UNP’s economic policies, to differentiate itself from both the UNP and NPP. As with the NPP, it has also compelled them to interact with other communities.

This is why analyses that put down the NPP over its recent meetings with the TNA seem, for the lack of a better word, disingenuous. The SJB has been receiving much less flak with regard to these meetings, perhaps because the establishment commentariat perceives its bigwigs as liberals on minority issues. According to these analysts, the NPP or JVP’s past stances, including on Indian intervention and the 13th Amendment, make their statements on provincial councils and Tamil political rights cynical at best and dishonest at worst. Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s recent declaration to the effect that we should concentrate on the future, rather than the past, has only reinforced these accusations.

It’s important to understand, when considering the JVP’s past positions, that certain issues cannot be isolated from the period in which they became “relevant.” Opposition to Indian intervention, for instance, was determined by fears of India exerting itself over the country. Opposition to the 13th Amendment, devolution, and even provincial councils was coloured by these perceptions. The same went for the JVP’s stance on the campaign to defeat the LTTE. There were important linkages between these issues, however morally non-negotiable they have become for liberals, including those allied with the UNP.

Those who frame the JVP as opportunist based on its stances here forget that in 2009 the JVP teamed up with the TNA in support of a common opposition candidate. In doing so, it signalled that it was not above teaming up with minority parties, and that it was willing to play an active role in electoral politics. One need only compare its shifts since the 2022 crisis with the FSP, which has become much more hardline and uncompromising in its stances. By contrast, the JVP has been reaching out to different constituencies, including the Colombo business crowd, right-wing think tanks, Western embassies, and professionals like engineers. It was only a matter of time before it would reach to minority groups.

How, then, can we reconcile these shifts with its position on the war? In hindsight, the JVP’s stance on the war, and the military campaign against the LTTE, was politically more astute than wrong. One cannot deny the need to investigate human rights violations, allegations of war crimes or even genocide. But the JVP’s response to the war was more complex than a simple conflation between its pandering to ex-military officials today and its support for a military solution to the conflict may suggest. Besides, the JVP distinguished between the imperative to defeat the LTTE and the equally crucial imperative not to let one family claim ownership of that defeat. It maintained this line from at least 2005.

Today, according to its critics, the NPP is going through an identity crisis. Thus, while veteran heavyweights spout the most “unacceptable”, illiberal rhetoric, its younger faces tout progressive ideals. In that scheme, it has ditched its hardline positions and is moving to the centre, becoming more doveish on minority issues.

There is a tendency to view the NPP’s engagements with Tamil parties through the lens of these shifts. From a political science perspective, this is not inaccurate. Parties change all the time. Yet, as 2009 shows clearly enough, the JVP’s engagements with Tamil parties did not begin yesterday, nor will it end tomorrow. There is a shift underlying these developments, but it should not come as a surprise: the JVP, and with it the NPP, has become as open to the hard-nosed world of coalition politics as any other party.

The SJB’s recent meeting with the TNA, therefore, is predictable. That does not make the NPP’s meeting any less predictable. Nor does it make the latter disingenuous. In a country where mainstream parties target the broadest coalitions with both majority and minority communities, it is unhelpful to demean one party for reaching out to political formations that other parties are reaching out to. The NPP has been in representative politics for some time. It is hardly a novice. Those who think otherwise, however, are.

Uditha Devapriya is a writer, researcher, and analyst based in Sri Lanka who contributes to a number of publications on topics such as history, art and culture, politics, and foreign policy. He can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com.

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