By Kumar David –
It’s time to move on. Maybe the 8 January victory has delivered all it can, with one exception and this is of utmost importance, the constitution. Last week I dealt with this and expressed my hopes and my fears. In human affairs, more so than even weather forecasting, uncertainty is built into the fabric of reality. I have reproduced a diagram, released on 1 Sept by the US National Hurricane Centre, of the 20 most likely paths of hurricane Irma (strongest ever Atlantic hurricane; 200 mph wind gusts; Category 5 classification much of its life). The NHC said on 1 Sept that three of its models favoured a northward track but the UKMet model favoured a southerly path which in the event proved more correct.
On 1 Sept the NHC was looking just 9 days ahead and using sophisticated algorithms running on the world’s most powerful computer networks. See how difficult it was to forecast ‘known-unknowns’ such a short time ahead (nearer landfall uncertainty was less). This is the analogy I am setting up. Looking a year or two ahead in politics entails a heady world-wind of known-knowns, known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns. But look again, you will notice the forecasts are bunched; they pass over the northern Caribbean and possibly make landfall in the eastern or south-eastern United States. This is the probable, the extent covered by known-knowns, and corresponds to what in politics we can expect, with a reasonable degree of certainty, from R&S, UNP-SLFP (Sirisena) and followers camp, or from the Joint Opposition and Paksa pack. My penchant for abbreviations drives me to call them RS&C – C for cabinet of Ministers and government parliamentarians – and MaRaJo, respectively.
Next notice the outliers; Irma may swing into Florida and work its way as far as the Great Lakes or veer right and dissipate in the Atlantic, east of the US mainland. I will liken these to the latitude arising out of known-unknowns. That is the extent to which the two political formations denoted above may vary their behaviour; things that are less likely but possible. I will not today touch on unknown-unknowns in politics or hurricane forecasting. To repeat, what I am taking pains to say is that there are expectations that carry a degree of certainty, and there are other less likely possibilities that cannot be ruled out. Though politics, like the weather, involves high risk estimating, one must nevertheless judge because one must act. But one must also retain intelligent flexibility in this changing world; “Theories grow grey my friend, but the tree of life is ever green” – Goethe.
The art of the possible
From whose point of view am I setting out this narrative? It is easier to say whose perspective I do not represent, RS&C and MaRaJo. The third option that I am edging towards may need relationships with the other formations; because of known-unknowns it needs to be flexible. But the point is that this third option is not one of the other two, it is separate, it is another, it has its own identity. Who potentially belongs here; who can participate in an alternative that can emerge with an identity of its own?
First, I have in mind the civil society organisations who participated in the January 8 Movement (J8M for short) to defeat and eject Mahinda Rajapaksa from the presidency but now think that this game has nearly run its course and it is time to move on. A few that spring to mind are the late Sobitha’s Just Society Movement and 48 associates, Purawai Balawegaya and Rights Now, and are others – too many to name. Second come the political parties, some now connected to the government – ULF (LSSP Majority Group) and the NSSP – and of course the JVP, who played an important role in defeating Rajapaksa. Third, there are the anti-Mahinda leftist sects and fragments, now lost and in search of shelter who could be enticed into a new home.
Apart from J8M participants there are others who will find a place in the third alternative. I refer to those who may have supported Rajapaksa in the presidential election but do not see any useful purpose in his return to power, like the Communist Party which has broken ranks with MaRaJo on the constitution issue. Many, originally not in J8M, now realise that to hanker for a Rajapaksa as the next president is a doomed exercise. There will be “fire and fury” confrontation before a Paksa is allowed to assume the presidency again. Could revulsion overstep bounds of democracy on Colombo’s streets? Will an armed or unarmed Eelam demand surface in the north and east if faced with a Paksa option? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but these are raw choices. The return of a Paksa is akin to the return of Hitler in Germany; millions may say “Over my dead body!” The Paksas are dead-meat, perish the thought of the return of Godzilla or Gota.
The CP is intelligent enough to see that hankering after Gota is a non-starter. Pity that vacillating spineless SLFP MPs don’t understand that there is no future for their scum-bag ambitions on that road. SLFPers who, in the light of scandals close to Ranil or the UNP look to a return of their party to power must start by jettisoning all and every vestige of Paksa flavour and aroma. This is sine qua non to defuse perceptions of peril in the eyes of all Lanka’s non-SLFPers; it is unconditional, or it is political war.
The scene today is (a) growing space and need for a political alternative to RS&C and MaRaJo; (b) visible political trends, but like in hurricane forecasting, degrees of certainty and uncertainty; (c) the imperative need for a new constitution; and (d) the next hurdle, economic concerns. Next I describe an attempt to respond to this scenario, to make realistic judgements about the art of the possible, and to remain principled. Phew, it’s tough to reconcile all three objectives!
Vame Kathikava (Left Discourse)
I have been bawling my head off that a “left, progressive and social democratic” alliance is imperative. The United Left Front (former LSSP Majority Group now a recognised party) has been the first to respond and will host a Left Discourse on Saturday 23 September. Party Secretary Attorney-at-Law Lal Wijenayake in a Media Release expressed “concern about the breakdown of democracy” and added “although it was possible to arrest the trend to an extent by the people’s victory of 8 January, roadblocks have been encountered. Apart from resistance offered by backward and defeated political forces, there has also been resistance from within the government against reform of the State structure”.
And he goes on, “In order to counter such resistance and ensure the reform of the State structure, including the abolition of the executive presidency and the realization of social justice, we recognise the need to build a broad coalition based on short and long-term economic and social programmes. Therefore we wish to broaden the United Left Front by involving comrades with leftist, progressive and social democratic inclinations” who would like to participate in a Vame Kathikava (Left Discourse) for the purpose of evolving such a programme”. Wijenayake has invited those wishing to participate to contact the ULF by phone/fax on 011-2885 394, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five discussion documents have been prepared; I have had sight of four. The approach is not to discuss organisational unification, which is tricky, but to seek issue based consensus by optimising agreement on topics represented by these documents. Two are on topics I have flogged to death in this column (economy and constitution) so no more. The two on Health & Education and on the Working Class are new and worth summarising. What I like is that they cut loose from the stereotyped jargon that one has got accustomed to in unimaginative left propaganda. They examine circumstances as they are, and address ‘what should we do’ questions imaginatively. There is a realistic appraisal of the changing nature of the working class due to the changing nature of the economy (services and design, computers, communication tools, disappearance of old jobs) and whether previous objections to collective decision making with management in the private sector still hold.
The document on Health & Education raises several issues that have not been frankly discussed by the left previously. I can only give a flavour of the content here. “Education to instil knowledge in literate citizens to improve their lives and society has been jettisoned to provide skills for business and industry”. Education should be re-aligned to correct this defect while creating resourceful individuals conversant with technology and able to do well in diverse environments. Insufficient resources are committed to rural and estate areas; the district quota system must be replaced by a school-based system with lower cut-off for less privileged schools; private, not-for-profit and international institutions and private tuition are among the issues flagged for discussion.
“The need for pro-active commitment to preventive care cannot be over-emphasized” the document says echoing a now universally recognised concern. Lanka has an efficient vaccination and communicable disease reporting programme but needs to deal with non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cardiac aliments. The document throws open a broad challenge of the need for “vector control programmes involving both medical and environmental initiatives and research on recently emerged diseases to identify and eliminate their causative agents”.
Exploration along new lines relevant to Lanka’s Twenty-first Century challenges is a welcome advance on slogan filled old fashioned left discourses. This is a first step in preparing to deal with known-knowns and known-unknowns and in building resilience to measure up to future unknown-unknowns as they surface. However, I forecast that the organisers will not get through the material in all four (five?) documents in a half-day session if the discussions are robust and ample. I make an easy forecast; fixing the date for continuing the kathikava will be the last item on the agenda.