Colombo Telegraph

A Dividing Society, A Divided Self

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Not only is the government increasingly divided, I am too.

It was almost the end of 2016 and at the society wedding of the year attended by the incumbent President, the Prime Minister and two former Presidents (of wildly unequal popularity even in an elite setting), that a very senior retired civil servant posed the following question to me in the buffet queue: “Dayan, have you ever seen a government that was quite as stupid as this one?” My prompt answer was “nope”.

The inter-party, intra-regime contradictions proliferate over quite fundamental policy issues, cracks show in the coalition and the government fissures before our eyes. That said, I have a confession to make. As the Yahapalana enters its third year, I find I am a divided self. One part of me urges that the government stops the nonsense it is embarked upon and changes course– and that part of me publicly recommends viable alternatives. The other part of my divided self hopes the government will continue its nonsense and inevitably ignite the firestorm that will consume it and its supportive strata. These two sides of me are the Realist reformist vs. the Romantic (ex)revolutionary; the policy analyst vs. the political intellectual and ideologist.

The Realist in me is appalled at the anarchy that is manifesting itself in government and the reckless courses of action that it is pursuing. One the other hand the Romantic rebel recalls Chairman Mao’s delighted exclamation that “there is great disorder under heavens; the situation is excellent!”

Consider the Constitutional cock-up. The constituent parties of the misnamed Unity Government are unclear as to whether the objective is a new constitution or the modest reform and renovation of the existing one. The UNP insists that the executive presidency be abolished as allegedly promised while the official SLFP says that no such mandate was obtained and that the executive presidency should remain while devolution should be on the basis of the 13th amendment– thereby avoiding the requirement of a referendum.

That poses a problem within me. I am in agreement with the SLFP’s evolving position because I think it is the best for the country. JR Jayewardene rightly regarded the executive presidency as a sine qua non for economic takeoff and sustainable high growth in Sri Lanka. However the other side of me hopes that the UNP and its TNA partner will do something stupid and overreach – and be forced to go for a referendum which it is likely to lose, with uncontainable consequences to itself. The abolition of the executive Presidency would automatically mean a power shift to the PM and the Chief Ministers, to wit, Ranil Wickremesinghe and CV Wigneswaran. Would that pleasing prospect get a majority YES vote at a referendum? The rebel in me says, says “go ahead, make my day”.

What is quite crazy is that the UNP is openly critical of its coalition partner and its decision to retain the executive presidency while limiting the scope of devolution, even though it is precisely the SLFP’s moderate stance that will save the UNP by stopping short of the referendum requirement. And yet the UNP is openly exacerbating the contradiction within the government by trashing the SLFP’s pragmatic position and thereby undermining regime stability.

The SLFP’s Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has also contradicted the moderate SLFP front-rankers on the issue of the executive presidency and the Presidential election of 2020 (actually December 2019).

The report of the Consultative Task Force (CTF) on Reconciliation is a new source of political friction and fissure. CBK has come out swinging in support while swinging her handbag at critics. The Reconciliation Task Force recommendations have been applauded also by the TNA and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which brings to light the new reality that the TNA is as much the local wing of the GTF/BTF as the old Communist parties were the local chapters of Moscow based Soviet communism. As Chief Minister Wigneswaran has recently stressed in Ontario, the project is “to coordinate the Tamil identity globally.”

The Reconciliation Task Force report has been praised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, all of which have urged the implementation of its recommendation of hybrid Special Courts and a Special Prosecutor’s office.

Connect the dots: CBK- CTF-TNA-GTF-OHCHR-HRW-AI. The network is revealed, the agenda transparent. Proceeding along this network’s anti-national line is electorally suicidal. Therefore the official SLFP will either lose its vote base to the JO or resist and eventually get out from under, with or without President Sirisena.

On the Reconciliation Report too, my attitude is dualistic. One side of me will work with anyone including “the devil’s grandmother” as Trotsky once put it, to block its implementation. The other side of me is aware that such measures were never taken in most countries because they would blow up in the face of anyone who tried to target a victorious patriotic military and threaten the glory of the historic victory. That side of me hopes that the stupid exhortations of the liberal human rights and Tamil lobbies will be heeded by the government, which will then have to face the music.

An axiomatic fact of our existence is that Sri Lanka is a small island in the Indian Ocean, a mere 18 miles away from a historically hostile populace of 80 million. Our location makes everyone want a foothold in this place while our size means that we can’t afford to give them such a foothold. What we primarily lack is not capital (‘investment’) but sheer physical space.

That is what we cannot afford to give any outsider, for any significant period of time. We fought a war to restore our territorial integrity but now the ruling UNP elite is giving away our territorial space. It is about to give away large chunks for long periods as spheres of influence to outside powers, from all over this island creating a situation defined as “semi-colonialism” by Mao, in which a single external power does not dominate a country (“colonialism”) but several external powers are “granted concessions” i.e. ceded areas of a country, as was China’s situation as the 20th century dawned.

The UNP elite’s willingness to cede vast tracts of land to foreigners, grant more power over control of land to the Northern and Eastern provinces abutting Tamil Nadu, and the PM’s vision of “combining” and “integrating” Sri Lanka’s economy with that of Tamil Nadu and other South Indian states, when taken together, poses such a fundamental threat to the nation’s existence that it has sundered the very basis of the communitarian Social Contract on this island.

This existential threat must be defeated “by any means necessary” (Malcolm X), and that task presents itself to us with “the fierce urgency of now” (ML King).

Until now, however great the crisis, the leaders of this country’s Establishment were always too flexible and pragmatic, and the system itself far too much of a moving target with its competitive two-party dynamics and electoral safety valves, to permit a national liberation struggle fused with a people’s revolution. But with the arrogant, socially insensitive, dogmatic and quite out of date economic neoliberal Mr. Wickremesinghe at the helm, partnered by the no less rootless cosmopolitans Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mangala Samaraweera, and the shutting out and locking up of the numerically significant Joint Opposition, the situation is so polarized, the policy agenda so delegitimized, the safety valves so tightly shut, that the fusion of a nationalist backlash and socioeconomic frustration could actually ignite a people’s national–democratic revolution.

Everybody except for those seated on top of it know that there is a volcano, can hear the rumblings, and are aware that it will erupt sooner rather than later.

Back to Home page