14 August, 2022


Addressing Challenges Democracy Will Encounter In Coming Years

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Addressing challenges democracy will encounter in coming years: A Fragmented Left is a Jinx

“We will never surrender: Never! Never!!”

The field of debris scattered on the left is not a pleasant sight. Nevertheless, the validity of Marx’s method remains firm, like Churchill’s spunk after the surrender of France or Greek resolve between Thermopylae and Salamis. On the darkest of nights and in the wettest of forests the monkey does not lose its grip. History is an unkind matron replete with setbacks to be digested. Though in themselves they prove little, they encourage theoretical renewal and strategic redesign. A resurgence of nativism does not compel us to retreat but to renew our determination to combat it. Before any of this, however, we need to survey the debris field. Hard-nosed honesty is the mother of future progress.

There are three species making up the Left menagerie. We know of the dimly visible phantoms bearing Mahinda Rajapaksa’s spittoon and trailing in his shadow. Next are small fragments – the ULF (is it one or two?), NSSP (certainly two), peratugami, kurutugami fleas shed off JVP hide, post-Shan Maoist assemblages with some influence in the North, Siritunga’s outpost of a UK outfit, and oh dear sects and sects whose membership can comfortably fit in a minivan. Though I speak in denigrating tones I do take cognisance of their existence. Worldwide experience from as far back as 1917 is that when a mass left accretion torrents forward all are sucked into the mainstream, the few relicts that aren’t, drown. 

Thirdly there’s the JVP’s whose elephantine proportion in left-space makes it critical. It is the only entity in this collection that can win even one seat in parliament on its own; that is without hitching itself to a SLPP-SLPP or UNP list. Its cadres are youthful enough to look well ahead and it has remade itself after setbacks in 1971, 1983, 1989 and its 2004-5 sojourn in Chandrika’s government where it held ministerial portfolios. But its presidential election profile has been consistently disappointing: 4.2% in 1982 (Wijeweera) and 4.1% in 1999 (Nandana Gunathilake), both better than Anura’s 3.2% in 2019. One hopes, hopes for the umpteenth time, that the JVP has learnt the lesson that it cannot go it alone and must integrate into a large democratic-left matrix. (National People’s Power which fielded Anura comprised 29 groups but only one, the ULF in which I was an insignificant potato, was a political party).

Readers will not dissent if I pass over Rajapaksa spittoon-carriers LSSP, CP and DLF quickly. They have been slotted in their star-crossed roles for two decades, but achieved what? What’s the purpose of their existence? If the LSSP, CP and DLF cease to be, if they dissolve like dew into the SLPP, what difference? Will it make an iota of difference in GR/MR policy and action? There is nothing left of the Left in the Rajapaksa pocket. This is not 1970-75 when NM made budgets, Colvin drafted constitutions and ran plantations and Pieter excelled in housing, all of which, like it or not, coloured the timbre of the then government. 

The wee fragments I mentioned in my second para could make themselves useful if they play honest broker in gelling a bigger left-democratic alliance with the JVP as core. One faction of the ULF tried in the run up to the presidential election. But absent a creditable showing by Anura as a base from which to culture a third-option opposed to the venal and wretched two-party oligopoly, the initiative has suffered a setback. We now need to examine and digest why AKD polled only four lakhs, not seven as expected, or more as hoped. The answer to this will help us inch closer to truths about domestic relations of political power and to gauge Lanka’s dependence on international winds. 

Let’s make a common sense inventory of Anura’s ‘missing votes’; that is the three or four lakhs that went elsewhere. Obviously part went to Sajith; some people feared that ‘first-preference-for-Anura second-for-Sajith’ tactical voting was risky. Many, who wished my third-option concept well, funked to risk it. These bimbos were both short-sighted and foolish but this is not the occasion to grouse. But this cannot and does not account for all the ‘missing votes’; maybe half – for want of a better measure. 

The other half is less easy to pin but more complex and interesting. The 400,000 that the JVP polled is its hard-core, shorn of the aforesaid well-wishers and minus something else. What’s that? In truth the JVP is a Sinhalese party but wrapped around its intuitional self is a progressive petty bourgeois mantle; radical, subaltern, left inclined and not in awe of UNP or Rajapaksa. Its sentiments are voiced in phrases like “ung horu nemei” and “ung ta chance-ekak dheela balamu”. The mantle evaporated; it went to Gota. We must not underestimate the significance of this fact; this slippage of the JVP’s peripheral vote is one measure of the surge of Sinhala-Buddhist (SB) sentiment. I have repeatedly asked that this emotion not be underestimated; 72% is a never before SB landslide. We must not fool ourselves about the nativist-racist upsurge that needs to be surmounted if Lanka is to rescue itself from itself.

Gota will himself be a prisoner of the forces that this genie will release. Why is the SB mass so incensed with the UNP and the minorities and loth even to extend its usual marginal support to the JVP? We have to grasp the why of this if we want to conjecture what will come next. This upwelling of SB anger has been ripening since the end of the war; the Gota phenomenon is a manifestation. There is resentment that the rewards of war victory “have been fritted away”; Tamil elites and businessmen strut in Colombo as though their side did not lose the war, the TNA lords it in parliament, Sampanthan had the temerity to claim Leadership of the Opposition, and Tamil buggers still talk about devolution; how dare they! To make it worse the Moors are getting richer and multiplying faster. (My suggestion that their men are more virile and women more comely nearly cost me Sinhalese friends!). 

The coup de grace coup was the human rights commission in Geneva. It is incomprehensible to the Sinhalese mind that its state is accused of human rights violations when all it did, in their eyes, was stamp out evil terrorism. The military is indicted of bombing and shelling civilians, and horror of horrors, “great warriors, brave war heroes” are exposed to possible trial before war-crimes tribunals. It is this decoction of fritted away ‘opportunities to fix the Tamils after victory’ and conspiracy against war heroes, that fermented a SB landslide like never before. If you don’t buy my reasoning come up with a better one to explain such a huge and partisan change.

Now to “what next”. I want to make a point first. The upsurge of Sinhalese nativism, and the electoral gush to the Rajapaksas, are not the same thing; they are related but not identical. The former, frighteningly, is a psycho-political phenomenon, an ideological rapture of durable influence, the latter could ebb and flow with time and events. It is the fickleness of the rush to Gota compared to the durability of the ideological remoulding that will be the chink in Rajapaksa armour. The bolts and arrows will be fired by international actors. India has given notice about 13A; Sri Lanka cannot shelve human rights trial promises made in Geneva without courting mild sanction in the West; UK parties have gone out on an anti-Colombo limb, and no one knows what idiosyncratic impeached-Trump will do from one day to the next. Hoever, the biggest fuse in the tinder box may be the Islamic world. There is a point beyond which one cannot hound the Muslims of Lanka. The Gota regime will have no option but to appease the minorities, and do so to a degree which will be unpalatable to its nativist-extremist base. 

How does any of this influence opportunities for refurbishing left-democratic space? First there is the recommendation that I was leading up to a earlier that the left and the JVP is an environment  hostile to democracy and therefore seek broad, repeat broad, defensive alliances till the danger of Gota despotism is past. The left midgets can be of service in aiding this. 

But what of the international side? The tricky part is navigating between foreign influence which will be hated by the Sinhala mass and the authoritarian dispositions of the Rajapaksa clan. But not so tricky if you think clearly. Lanka is not an island separate unto itself. No big domestic conflict in the world especially if it has democratic or human rights implications lacks international involvement. Women’s outrage in Pakistan at Qandeel Baloch’s murder in the name of despicable honour killing, Modi stripping Kashmir of its long cherished autonomous status, near uprisings in Venezuela, Chile and Bolivia and widespread rioting in the guise of campaigning for democracy in Hong Kong, have all gone international. Value judgments a matter apart, nothing big is domestic anymore. And I think that’s damned good! The world must not fear to condemn dictators and bullies and when necessary kick them. World opinion is armour against dictators.

I am not predicting that Gota’s regime will without doubt degenerate into autocracy, but if it does, a defensive alliance at home, while opposing it, must also welcome international empathy. Why I make special mention of this is because the JVP suffers from a nativist inward looking ethos, it has rejected international human rights initiatives consistently and stoutly opposed investigation of war-crimes. If it is to be a core unit in defending democracy in the next period, it will have to shed this outlook. ‘People of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains and a world to win’. The JVP must learn that in today’s world, borders are evaporating ever faster.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Sri Lanka had a choice between Gota and Sajith. Both of them had a model and a dream of doing things. But the environment is such that a good amount of such dreams would not be realized and there are a good amount of sycophants especially from the Administrative Service. Now in the face of non-achievement and the hidden effront to authority, mistrust grows. You become the solo-decision maker or autocrat. That is where an apparatus is set up to enforce one’s will. Dissent or a different point of view would be most inappropriate. The temptation is there to enforce one’s authority through fear. It is only the enlightened who can get over this, take everyone on board to achieve one’s dream. Judging from past records and even inherited behaviour, both of them don’t fall into the category of the enlightened. So Prof. Kum! what is inevitable is inevitable.

  • 3

    Dear prof,
    Interesting to read your articles but your opinions and arguments are many times proven to be dead wrong! Your prediction about JVP’s political fortunes went awry. And now you have another set of explanations and opinions with a postmortem about what happened to the JVP.
    Cubans who fled Cuba and are living along the eastern coast of the US hated Cuban leader Fidel Castro but they kept listening to FC’s eloquent speeches over Cuban radio. Likewise people may read your critical articles but I don’t think they approve what you preach!

  • 0

    The main achievement of Marxist crooks is killing entrepreneurship in this country.
    One of their slogans was ‘Dhanapathin Sun Karaw’. They wanted to keep all the people poor.

  • 1

    7 Million SBs united together for the First Time and used their fundamental Democratic Right , the Universal Franchise
    I think that is the best form of Democracy which you wouldn’t find that often even in those so called first world countries….

    This remarkable effort of the 7 Million not only saved the Nation from Separation.
    But it also saved the tens of thousands of the Liberators who fought separation going to Jail.

    From now on those 7 Million SBs do not have to watch in horror, while the Elitists, Anglicans, Wahabiis , and the Separatists chipping away at their Influence in their own country..

    Also they do not have to worry about the UNP Ministers and their friends looting the National Wealth in every which way …

    Will the JVP give Dr Kumar a Happy Ending in Politics ?
    I have my doubts..

    Rohana Wijeweera the real deal Revolutionary was in fact a Patabandige, Don Rohana Wijeweera.

    But he never acted Like a Don in comparison to the present JVP Leader . in Kotte.

    Don Juan Dharamapala in Kotte was well known for betraying the SBs to the Portugese.

    The current JVP Boss in fact has become a real Don Juan character by his his unwavering support to Dr Ranil over the last 5 years ..

    It is funny that my Elders say Dr Ranil in fact is some what Don Juan like character ,who is hell bent on serving the White Foreigners..

  • 4

    Mr. David, interesting times are ahead. Apparently Nishantha had handed over thousands of documents to Human Rights, pertaining to political killings, violence and kidnapping . Since 2015 -16 periodically documents have been send . Remember as soon Nishantha went absconding the very next day , GR told press he has gone to Geneva. So he knew the where about right away, hence the Swiss Embassy saga. Govt suspects Nishantha is not alone in this, hence the whole CID had to be put on watch list. Possession of these documents have been unofficially confirmed by ex and current staff of UN human rights. Govt can accuse the kidnapped staff with what ever charges , but framing her will not get the documents or Nishantha back. More over it will further prove our routine Modus Operandi. The documents are from Pararajasingam MP,s murder to the recent ones including Thaj, Lasantha, Trinco and many others. Our Govt has started a “lie campaign” keeping in mind to continuing with the same when the documents are released by UN. Will it work in International Arena ???? UN has also collected documents related to war crimes from deserters. But these extra judicial killings have more value in proving individual,s crime. (war crimes are of collective accountability. where as these are of an individual)

  • 1

    I fear that as more and more information floods in from all sides, the average individual retreats into an area where he wants to know much less, and hold on to certain prejudices that have been acquired. So, with more knowledge than ever before being available, most of us who are reading articles of this sort, try desperately to have an over-view of the situation.
    The vast majority (who include all those whose work keeps society ticking) just don’t care to know anything about what is going on around them. This is the impression that I have after making the effort to persuade people to think about Preferential Voting. Professor Kumar David made strenuous efforts to educate, and may not have realised that “Sinhala_Man” was following up by countering the misunderstandings of what he was saying tha I saw in the comments by readers. I fear that we both failed.
    I haven’t had sufficient experience of societies other than Sri Lankan to make pronouncements that this is going to be the lot of those in the “Brave New World” dominated by technology for all humans everywhere in the future.
    These are not comforting thoughts.

  • 1

    Professor Kumar David, I agree with you on the need for a coalition of democratic forces to offset an authoritarian regime. However, I think your views on JVP’s potential leadership role in an opposition movement is delusional. How can a party without even half a million votes be a core to an anti-authoritarian movement? Comatose or not, it is the UNP/Premadasa who commanded a respectable 5.5 million votes, despite their appalling performance in government. The JVP needs to eat humble pie and become a junior partner in an opposition movement, all the while working on how they need to transform their party to increase their trust among citizens. If the JVP wants to become a New Left party concerned about participatory democracy, environmental sustainability, women’s and minority rights, they need to walk their talk. If all of its politbureau of six are Sinhalese (presumably Buddhist) men, and of their 29 central committee members, only three appear to be women (some names are not clearly male or female) and one is Tamil, no Muslims. Seriously Professor, I wonder how you take them seriously! Plus, as a left party with a violent past, they hardly have adequate democratic credentials to take on an authoritarian regime, when all the old lefties (Vasudeva, Dinesh, Tissa), as you rightly point out, are comfortably entrenched within an authoritarian governing structure.

  • 3

    The need of the hour is that the Sri Lanka Pavul Pakshaya does not get a two thirds majority at the general election. All hands must be on deck for that. Ranil Wicremasinghe has zero credibility following the bond scam with the majority of UNP voters, as well as all other voters. He is now chasing Buddhist monks in the name of regaining Sinhalese Buddhist votes (which are already with the SLPP) and is well on the way to lead the UNP to an inglorious defeat. As a Sinhalese Buddhist voter, I want Buddhist monks to offer spiritual guidance (if they still have the ability to so do) for us to lead a virtuous life by following the Middle Path, but I do not expect monks to engage in politics, advise political leaders, or protect the motherland from external/internal enemies. With the SLPP, SLPF and the old Left leading the majority of Sinhalese Buddhist voters into a rightwing populist direction, the liberal and social democratic constituency has been left in the lurch. We badly need a reformed UNP with younger, more enlightened faces, committed to a social democratic vision/policies to keep the liberal UNP constituency, as well as to fill the gap left by the SLFP abandoning a good part of its traditional left-of-centre, democratic-minded constituency. All the UNP is doing is doing right now is fiddling like Nero, while Rome is burning, when they needed to have sprung into action at least by the end of November. The JVP meanwhile, has to take stock of its potential, and play a constructive and supportive role to galvanise a democratic movement- sooner rather than later. Time is of essence here.

  • 0

    As usual KD always pick the wrong end of the stick……….KD or anyone of his cohorts cannot combat or defeat nativism in SL especially a one with very strong cultural roots spanning over thousands of years. They are battle hardened. Their DNA comprise of elements of resistance against all those foreign forces who tried to subjugate them over many centuries. This applies to Marxism too as long as it tries to hoist a foreign model in SL. The left elements within the nationalist camp have correctly recognised it and are working towards keeping nativist policies people/mass friendly.

  • 1

    KD says: “One hopes, hopes for the umpteenth time, that the JVP has learnt the lesson that it cannot go it alone and must integrate into a large democratic-left matrix. “
    Kumar, one hopes, hopes for the umpteenth time that you stop daydreaming about the JVP.
    It is not easy— really impossible —for a party immersed in chauvinist filth for five decades and plunged into opportunist politics at the first sign of electoral gain to integrate itself into anything democratic. Every accusation the the late JVP boss made about NM, Colvin & co. in 1970 applies to the present JVP leaders even more strongly.
    Some of those whom you, like a school kid, ridicule by nickname have made an effort to take a healthier view of the national question, although they have someway to go.

  • 0

    Gotha lied to Modi when he was India he said Hambantota deal with China was a mistake and he want to review. When he returned he changed his mind and told he will not change. Now India knows how they play games with Tamils.

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