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The SJB’s trust deficit and the JVP-NPP’s strategy

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By Uditha Devapriya

The aragalaya that lasted from February to somewhere in August showed two things: the people’s anger at the regime and the people’s rage against the system. The two are clean different. While a considerable section of the protesters wanted Gotabaya Rajapaksa out, a not inconsiderable second layer used these calls to campaign against the government: hence the interchangeable use of “regime change” and “system change.”

Given this, people should be forgiven for thinking the protests were confused, disjointed and unfocused, because they were exactly that. Laudable as their goals were, they soon deteriorated into a confused morass of rage, anger, and frustration.

The distinction between regime and State is one of the most profound in political science. Sri Lanka’s liberals and left-liberals, not to mention anarchists, tend to confuse and conflate the two. A State exists above, and beyond, a regime. A regime exists well below it, and is in fact subservient to it. If your call to displace a regime gets mixed up in calls to displace the State, then a regime, however unpopular, will find it very easy to make a comeback, on the pretext that protesters are seeking to overthrow an entire political system and with it the last vestiges of law and order. This is precisely what happened on July 13 and 14, when the FSP, followed by the JVP-NPP, asked people to walk into parliament. Their intention may or may not have been to overthrow the legislature, but people thought so.

This in turn activated the more liberal and conservative elements in the aragalaya. Almost immediately after the likes of Kumar Gunaratnam and Sunil Handunneti mobilised crowds at parliament, these groups sprang up on social media, urging people not to go and be hoodwinked by socialist parties. What these groups forgot, in their outcries, was that it had been these socialist elements – or those parading themselves as such – which had led and mobilised the protests since May. Prime among these groups, of course, was the FSP allied IUSF. The IUSF’s long march to Galle Face Green was cheered by a hitherto politically inert middle-class, in particular the youth. It is these same sections that are today castigating the IUSF and the FSP over allegations of ragging at universities.

In other words, the honeymoon is over, even if temporarily. The government has seen it fit to act against protesters and it sees the spate of arrests it has been unleashing since last month as a means of securing, if not the country, then at least Colombo. The same middle-class that hailed them as heroes are no longer bothered. This is natural, and it speaks more about the IUSF’s strategic error of relying on them than about the class preferences of these milieus. Related to this, I would say, is the IUSF’s, JVP-NPP’s, and of course FSP’s tendency to mix up State and regime, which has led these groups to commit two major blunders: to cast themselves as the only political choices in the country, and to alienate Opposition parties which can be made use of in a wider anti-government movement.

I think the November 2 protest showed these tendencies well. While the SJB, the de facto and de jure Opposition in the country, entered into an alliance of sorts with the FSP – and hence FSP allied groups – SJB MPs who entered the protests were not viewed favourably by many of the protesters themselves. Nuzly Hameem, who I believe is one of the more sincere protesters in that crowd, was blunt about Sajith Premadasa: “He simply ran away!” When an SJB official rose up to Premadasa’s defence – as he should – by arguing that Premadasa was afraid of the police attacking demonstrators, Hameem quickly countered: “Irony is such that Opposition leader run away leaving the protesters behind scared that oppression would take place where the main slogan of the protest is ‘Stop Oppression’.”

The protests caught much attention, here and abroad. The international media was much more sympathetic to their demands. The local media, by contrast, either ignored them or demonised them. One leading newspaper highlighted Premadasa’s desertion, in effect questioning his credibility. The protesters themselves, on social media, voiced their anger at Premadasa, more or less agreeing with the same media that marginalised their campaign. I think this shows the SJB’s trust deficit, a deficit compounded if not widened by Premadasa’s actions during the May 9 debacle, and his unwillingness – critiqued even by analysts like Dr Dayan Jayatilleka – to take on the premiership when it was offered to him.

At the same time, these developments have disenchanted sections of the Left opposition. What the FSP thought of Premadasa’s actions last Wednesday we may never know. But we know what the JVP-NPP thought. They refused to join the protests. Justifying his party’s line, MP Wasantha Samarasinghe contended that those taking part in them were more or less siding with the government. One of the demonstrators’ many calls was the abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). MP Samarasinghe point-blank observed that such calls diverted attention from other issues, and that those taking up cudgels against the PTA were following the government’s agenda. By making this case for his party’s decision not to take part, Samarasinghe thus effectively distanced it from the FSP and the SJB.

I think I understand the JVP-NPP’s argument, whataboutist as it may be. At a time of a deepening economic and social crisis, the government is using the PTA to crack down on dissent. MP Samarasinghe and the JVP-NPP may be thinking that if the campaign against the government focuses solely, or mainly, on the PTA, it will embolden the government, or the State, to portray protesters as terrorists and fellow travellers. Over the last few weeks the government has instituted legal action against several aragalistas and this has enabled it to depict the latter as extremists. Samarasinghe’s argument is that by focusing on the PTA, instead of the gross incompetence that continues to wreak havoc on the economy, these protests will make it easier for the government to suppress dissent.

This is the more complex explanation. The simpler explanation, of course, is that the JVP-NPP does not want to take part in any campaign organised by not one, but two, of its bete noires. It does not like the FSP and it has so far resisted any attempt at forging an alliance with that outfit. It does not like Sajith Premadasa, if at all for his sin of being his father’s son. Lately it has badmouthed his party, calling it no better than the SLPP – invoking, of course, the late Mangala Samaraweera’s “two sides, same coin” argument. The JVP-NPP sees itself as the superior of these two formations and for that reason it does not wish to enter into any alliance with them. Though Premadasa himself has tried to invite them, and has made many overtures to this end during the last two years, he has failed.

In politics, it is perfectly possible to be correct and wrong at the same time. The JVP-NPP is correct in its characterisation of the SJB. Not because the SJB hasn’t tried, but because it hasn’t tried hard enough. Sajith Premadasa’s speech against the recent Budget showed that the SJB wants to be seen as following a different economic paradigm. Yet the blowback against the party by centre-right, right-wing, and neoliberal outfits and think-tanks based in Colombo has pushed the party’s stalwarts, like Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne, to make statements at odds with Premadasa’s speech: one of them has come out in support of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s policies. These elements are deeply conservative and neoliberal in their outlook. The JVP-NPP cannot be faulted for calling them out on this.

The JVP-NPP is wrong, in my view, in where it wants to go with this diagnosis. Any sensible political formation pitted against an overbearing regime must value what Mao characterised as the broadest possible alliance. In no revolution have revolutionary elements all come together with a consensus on every issue and problem. Latin America is seeing a resurgence of the Pink Tide precisely because the left and centre-left have chosen not to walk it alone. This has won these parties some censure from the dogmatist Left: the editors of the World Socialist Web Site, for instance, have poured scorn on the Workers’ Party in Brazil and its mobilisation of leftist forces by calling the latter elements “pseudo-left.” The WSWS calls the JVP-NPP “pseudo-left” too: a charge the party may not agree with.

But I digress here. My point is that the JVP-NPP cannot isolate itself from the mainstream Opposition. At the same time, it cannot allow itself to be co-opted by the mainstream. The Latin American Pink Tide analogy loses ground when you consider that elements within the SJB, or what I’d like to call the Ranilist faction, are much more to the right than the centre-left and liberal elements which sided with Lula da Silva’s party in Brazil. The WSWS may be wrong in terming these formations, and their supporters, “pseudo-left”, but this is a label that can be applied to the SJB’s recent attempts at shifting to the left. The recent protests, in that sense, showed both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Left elements in the aragalaya. Unless they come up with an alliance with other parties, and unless those other parties free themselves from their neoliberal past, the only time we’ll see a vibrant protest movement here is when the country runs out of fuel, gas, and electricity.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



Features

Pernicious, ubiquitous strikes

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Railway strike

Local news on most TV channels is almost wholly about on-going strikes and preparations plus controversy on the to-be-held presidential election come October.

Political news is centered on this election. Chief protagonist, the present Prez, has said the election will be held at the correct time this year. UNP side-kicks and a maverick have countered this by saying it need not be held since at the present juncture it is best to postpone change by two years. The present incumbent has a further one year to serve according to the Constitution said the bright spark, who filed an application in the Supreme Court was roundly dismissed by it, with an implied but unsaid upbraiding for wasting the time of the Apex Court.

People surmised filing a case was with the approval of the Prez or his Secretariat if not actual promotion, but RW dismissed that suspicion; “I firmly believe that the President’s term is five years, and I support the Election Commission’s steps to hold the Presidential Election in 2024.”  So there! Three cheers! The Prez is on the side of the people who want an election. It is correct constitutionally too.

Political platforms are raucous with praise of their chosen candidates, with photographs of VIPs who have recently changed loyalties in the forefront, some giving shocks to viewers. They seem to have turned 180 degrees or even 360, now championing a candidate they tore into with sharp barbs of ridicule and criticism. To serve themselves to continue in the most lucrative job in the island, they will turn cartwheels and leapfrog from one party to another. Such are most visible in the meetings held to promote Ranil W, as our next president.

Karadara kara strikes

Strikes of varied nature and kinds are rampant so much so that half the time news is telecast we see crowds marching or standing around with police facing them. These strikers are three quarter responsible for the chaos the country is in at this juncture when all should be contributing their might to pull the country out of the morass it was pushed into by its leaders. Cass has so many epithets to express her revulsion at these spectacles that are a shame to the country at large. Don’t those sick note presenters, continuously striking non academics, utterly disgraceful and unethical, nay immoral, teachers know the country is still in the economic doldrums and unless everyone pulls his/her weight we will remain down in the sludge of bankruptcy, notwithstanding IMF assistance and nations having shown leniency in our debt restricting process.

The trade unions demand monthly increases of Rs 25,000 and even more. Don’t they have an iota of sensibility in them to know this is no time for strikes whose demands cannot be met and the strikes making worse the parlous state of the country with lost man hours? Many a striker deliberately loses man hours of work when  supposedly working in their jobs: teachers sit chatting in staff rooms, tea breaks are more than an hour long; leave is taken at their whim and fancy, never mind completion of syllabuses or school exams; least of all consideration of the students in their hands.

Cass heard of students who had completed their university degrees not being able to get their certificates due to the prolonged strike of non-academic staff. Thus, employment and even accepting scholarships from overseas universities have been thwarted.

Train strikes came unannounced. Wednesday morning Cass received a call from weekly domestic help: “No trains running and so I cannot come.” She was expecting very urgent financial help. She wakes up on these days of work at 4.00 am; cooks for her family; walks a mile; boards the train and is in my flat at 7.30 am sharp. Now she is never sure whether she will have to turn back with no trains running. When health sector workers strike, and even doctors of the recent past have resorted to this deplorable ruse, it is a matter of life or death to some. A person called Mudalige was seen smilingly distributing leaflets while protest marching, the cause of which Cass could not catch nor fathom. He thinks himself a saviour; he is a destroyer.

A silver lining appeared. Cass watched on TV news Prez Ranil chairing a meeting with financial secretaries. They expressed their opinion strongly and clearly that salary increases were impossible to give and money printing was now taboo with the IMF overseeing matters financially. And the Prez concluded that it was not possible to give in to strikers. That gladdened the heart immensely. We hope he will be of the same opinion regarding MPs’ demand for tax free luxury limos and life-long insurance for them and theirs in addition to the pensions they now receive after just five years of warming comfortable chairs in the Chamber.

The Editor of The Island of Wednesday July 10, has in his style of sharp and spot-on comment, criticism, blame laying and solutions to be taken dealt with this common bane of Sri Lankan existence. (We don’t ‘live’ now, the word connoting security, justified happiness and fairness to all; rather do we merely exist). He writes under the title Strikes, demand and harsh reality and points out the fact that there are about 1.5 million public employees, working out to about one state worker for every 14 citizens. Preposterous! Only possible in SL, a land like no other where politicians and their chits are to be mostly blamed for this imbalance. Culling or weaning of public servants should be started. Then strikers will not go by instigators of strikes who plan to destabilize the country, but cling to their paying jobs.

How the Iron Lady broke the back of strikes

Cass recollected how newly appointed Conservative PM, Margaret Thatcher, manoeuvered to stop strikes of coal miners and earned the hypocoristic of ‘Iron Lady’.

Cass surfed the Internet to refresh her memory. In 1884 –85, UK coal miners’ strike was a major industrial action in an attempt to stop closure of pits that the government deemed uneconomic; the coal industry having been nationalised in 1947. Arthur Scargill was a name remembered as instigator and leader of strike action. Some minors worked and so, starting in Yorkshire and Midland, the back of the year long strike was shaken and the Conservative government went to work and allowed closure of most British collieries.  Margaret Thatcher was credited with breaking up the ‘most bitter industrial dispute in British history.’ The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) strategy was to cause a severe energy shortage that had won victory in the 1972 strike. Thatcher’s strategy was to build ample stocks of coal; to retain as many minors as possible; and to get the police to break up strikes, which were ruled illegal in September 1984; they ended a year later. Miners suffered but the country gained.

It was heartening to hear that the railway has been made an essential service. Station masters said they would go on striking. Drastic measures have to be adopted to stop such anti-national activities.

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Why human capital development is essential for Sri Lanka

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by S. D. Gamini Jayasooriya
Wayamba University
gaminij2025@gmail.com


The development of human capital is of immense importance for the economic development of Sri Lanka. Thus, investing in education and skills training raises the overall productivity and effectiveness of personnel, spurring innovation and economic growth. Analysing the current situation in Sri Lanka, human capital development can be seen to be of particular importance for creating a competitive economy.

Levels of Human Capital Development

Human capital development in Sri Lanka can be categorised into three main levels: school-leaving level, higher education, and tertiary levels.

School Level: The primary and secondary level of education are indispensable at the basic level. Promoting quality education for children creates a pool of educated human capital in society. Special attention should be paid to raising the level of education, revising curricula, and integrating the use of new technologies in education processes.

Higher Education: In particular, specific skills and knowledge are cultivated at universities and colleges. Improving funding, research and industry linkages in higher education institutions help to produce ready-made graduates to suit the global market demand.

Tertiary Level: Vocational training and technical education are crucial in preparation of people for the job market with relevant skills. Thus, increasing and enhancing vocational training centers would provide solutions for skill deficiencies in different sectors, making the population fit for the actual needs of the economy.

Sri Lankan Labor Market Overview 2023

The Sri Lankan labor market in 2023 has strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. Currently, unemployment trends are still elevated, especially within the youth bracket, while skills supply does not match the skills demand in the market. There is a lack of qualified workers in a number of fields including the IT, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.

A major part of the population is engaged in the informal economy and most of them may be in the low wage employment. This state of affairs requires proper human capital development policies and the enhancement of skill and formalization of the labor market.

Importance of a Skilled Workforce in Economic Development

Skilled workforce is one of the prerequisites for developing the economy of a particular country. Employment of specialized personnel leads to increased output, creativity, and effectiveness in many sectors. They can respond better to innovations in technology and fluctuations in the market thus promoting more economic growth and competition.

Human capital is also an element that enriches the stream of foreign investment. They are likely to be established in places where human capital is readily available to them in terms of skills. This can lead to the generation of employment, technology distribution and enhancement of the economy on a whole.

Recommendations

To enhance human capital development in Sri Lanka, several strategies should be implemented:

1. Improve Educational Infrastructure: Make sure that there is infrastructure development in schools, adequate provision for the needy student, and teachers are in a position to teach.

2. Strengthen Higher Education: Encourage partnerships between universities and industries to ensure the delivered curricula align with the market needs. Contribute towards the improvement of research and development.

3. Expand Vocational Training: Increase the number of vocational training centers and adjust the offered programs to suit the current employment market. Promote the actualization of vocational education as a worthwhile career.

4. Promote Lifelong Learning: Encourage continued learning through offered adult education and online classes.

5. Government and Private Sector Collaboration: Encourage government and private sector to work together and identify the areas that require skills and come up with relevant training needs.

Conclusion

That is why human capital investment must become a priority in Sri Lanka. Investing in education and skills training of the people at all levels will enable the development of a competent and versatile human resource pool. This will help spur economic development, encourage foreign direct investment, and build a stronger and more competitive economy. It is for this reason that the management of human capital should be done strategically to foster the future growth and stability of Sri Lanka.

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Sixty-five years after entry to university of Ceylon, Peradeniya

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University of Peradeniya

by HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

It was sixty five years ago, and that is very long time ago, on 29 June 1959 that a batch of 378 students from all parts of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) entered the portals of the most beautiful university at that time, the University of Ceylon, situated in the salubrious surroundings in Peradeniya, just four miles from the historic city of Kandy, after having successfully passed the then University Entrance examination conducted by the university itself, to read for our varied degrees in Arts, Oriental Languages, Law, etc.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement and sometimes with dismal and gloomy feelings, varied feelings produced from a sense of uncertainty and new-found freedom. The drive through the campus from the Galaha Road junction through the picturesque setting, well maintained lawns and well-laid out flower beds (Sir Ivor Jennings and Mr. Shirley De Alwis together had done the selection of the trees and shrubs very meticulously to bring out the blending of colours), the imposing architectural marvels of Jayathilaka and Arunachalam Halls, the Arts Theatre, the Senate building, and Hilda Obeysekera Hall and the tree sheltered kissing bend and up the winding road to Marcus Fernando Hall( Mr. Shirley De Alwis had planned out the general scheme, landscaping which was his favourite and all other details), brought thoughts to one’s mind which were mixed with perplexity, bewilderment and abandonment. One was entering a make-believe land, very artificial but, at the same time, very fascinating.

There were two significant things in respect of our batch of 1959. Ours was the last all- English medium batch to enter the university. The second important thing is our batch was the first batch where all the students were admitted directly without a viva voce, as up to the previous batch the students were selected both directly and some after facing a viva voce.

Though sixty-five years have gone by, we have not forgotten the best experience we had during the three or four years we spent in the beautiful campus. It is sad that many of our batch mates are not with us now having left us and moved into another world and not being with us to reminisce the glorious time we spent as residential undergraduates.

To all those who entered the Peradeniya campus before us and to our batch, that university will remain in our minds as the one and only university in then Ceylon as the University of Ceylon, which had been established by the Ordinance No. 20 of 1942 and situated in Colombo. It was in the early nineteen fifties that the campus of the University of Ceylon was established in Peradeniya.

The single university continued until 1959. It was only in 1959 that two other universities were created, namely the Vidyodaya University (now known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura) and the Vidyalankara University (now known as the University of Kelaniya) which were established by the Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University Act No. 45 of 1958.These two universities were created by upgrading the two famous Pirivenas (Vidyodaya and Vidyalanakara) that were functioning at that time.

That period we spent at Peradeniya was one of the most unforgettable periods of our lives. The friendships that we cultivated while in Peradeniya remain and will not be erased from our minds.

It would be of interest to those who followed us much later to read for their degrees how the undergraduates were selected in our time. We sat the University Entrance examination conducted by the University of Ceylon in four centres, namely, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Galle with the Department of Examinations having nothing to do with it. Thank God! However, if any candidate wanted to obtain the Higher School Certificate (HSC) such candidate had to sit the extra paper at the same examination and if successful received the HSC certificate from the Department of Education.

The results of the examination were not sent either to the schools or the candidates’ homes. The results were published in the daily newspapers. As such, the results of our batch were published in the The Ceylon Daily News of Wednesday March 11, 1959. Thereafter, after a lapse of a certain period of time, the successful candidates received letters from the university informing of the date of commencement of sessions of the academic year, the Hall of residence allotted and the date to report at the allotted Hall.

There was also a document indicating what we had to take, such as a raincoat and cape, etc. and the things that should not be done in which there was one item which stated that ceiling walking was prohibited. This was a little puzzling to us, but we understood what it meant later when we were on the campus. All undergraduates who were privileged to be in Peradeniya at the commencement of the campus and may be about four batches after ours had the best of time in a university in Sri Lanka.

During that time all undergraduates resided in the halls of residence throughout their undergraduate carrier, even if a person’s residence was abutting the campus premises. All those who entered from schools in and around Kandy could have easily travelled from home. But the university rules and regulations did not permit us to do so. Anyway, when reminiscing, we think that it was good that all had to be resident within the campus as we would never have got that experience otherwise.

On the occasion of the EFC Ludowyke Centenary at Peradeniya in 2006, Prof. Yasmin Gooneratne, a distinguished alumnus stated thus:

“Of the terms most frequently heard in connection with the life that we experienced there, one is “A Golden Age”’ another is “Arcadia”. 2It was a magical time” says one classmate.” It was idyllic” says another. Our companions-some of them husbands, wives, or children who did not share the Peradeniya experience, and who now have to hear us talk about it ad infinitum, look skeptical. They don’t believe us.”

“Peradeniya? Three years in Paradise” a classmate said once. “And at the end of it, they even gave us a degree”

“It was as if all the intellectual brilliance in our country had been concentrated in one spot. If the university had been a stage, we students would have been witnesses to the performances of a stellar cast”

During our time in Peradeniya the halls of residence for males were Arunachalam, Jayathilaka, Marrs, Ramanathan and Marcus Fernando. The female undergraduates had as their halls, James Peiris, Sangamitta and Hilda Obeysekera (with Mrs. Cooke, Dr. (Mrs.) Ram Aluvihare and Miss Mathiaparanam as the respective Wardens). During our final year in 1961-62(third year in the case of those who had opted to do a special degree course), a new hall was opened, which had been named after D.R. Wijewardena close to the Kandy-Colombo railway line. With this building being opened, there was a change in respect of occupants of some halls. Ramanathan was converted into a women’s hall and James Peris was made a hall for male undergraduates. The newly opened Wijewardena Hall became a men’s hall. With this change, the male undergraduates who were in Ramanathan Hall were transferred to James Peiris and Wijewardena Halls. (To be continued)

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