By Vishwamithra –
“If my ship sails from sight, it doesn’t mean my journey ends; it simply means the river bends.” ~ Enoch Powel
A few days after the 1971 April Insurrection, the then Prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike asked her comrades-in-arms to address the nation on radio. Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was the main source of news for Ceylon at the time. There was no television, no social media. T B Ilangaratne of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Minister of Internal and External Trade, Dr. N M Perera of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Minister of Finance and Peter Keuneman of the Communist Party (CP), Minister of Housing and Construction representing the three main partners of the coalition government talked to a stunned nation whose very foundation of democracy was violently shaken by a youthful multifarious army of the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
While Ilangaratne, N M and Sirimavo spoke in Sinhala, Keuneman chose to speak in English. Peter Keuneman, who hailed from a Burgher ancestry, asked a very pertinent question. ‘We know what you are against; but what are you for’? The JVP then and the National People’s Power (NPP) now is confronted with the same question by many an inquisitive mind. And the answer is still not to the satisfaction of many a doubting Thomas. And unless and until a very satisfactory answer is given, power from the reach of the NPP will be as elusive as it has been up to now.
Political platforms of the other main two political camps, one led by the UNP mindset and the other led by the SLFP mindset, have already been defined and their policies and programs, though having successively failed the country, are known to the country at large. The NPP political manifesto has not been released as yet, at least its nuts and bolts, its specific programs and policies as to how the country’s economic ills could be overcome, how the governance structure is going to be organized, by what caliber of men and women it’s going to be run etc. are not yet known to the voting public.
When they are challenged by ideological adversaries, the supporters of the NPP would need a document, a filmlet, a piece of a pamphlet that they can refer to and show their challengers that they possess something tangible in black and white, that spells out a framework within which the country’s issues and problems could be resolved. The challenge before the NPP leadership today is chiefly bordering along this line of uncertainty and suspicion.
On the other hand, if AKD and the rest of the NPP leadership believe that addressing mass meetings and expressing their disgust and anger with the government in power inside parliament would be sufficient to win the hearts and minds of the voters, then they are very sadly mistaken. Such naiveté will lead them to sure defeat at the elections. A well-organized campaign, substance that is precise and succinctly spelt out, names and faces of their members of their prospective Cabinet, their academic credentials, their age groupings, all such details will be sought out by the voters. Furthermore, one of the most crucial issues that the NPP would have to tackle is the Tamil Question. What solutions, what concessions, if any, what parameters within which the Central Government would operate in order to bring about real reconciliation between the two communities, what threshold the NPP would not cross in planning and executing measures and policies to make our Tamil brethren feel equal and to the majority, what measures would they implement to bring about eradication of suspicion between the two communities; they all need to be addressed and answered. No more than twelve months lie between elections and today. Although it might look adequate, when planning and execution gets under way, one would realize it’s hardly enough, if not already late.
Most of all, AKD and the NPP must be as clear as crystal in the difference between the old JVP and the new NPP and their respective approaches to solving the burning issues that confront the country today. Spell out how the old JVP was perceived to solve an issue and how the new NPP would approach the same issue and enunciate the stark difference. The political and philosophical concepts may remain unchanged, yet the approach and resolution of the same issues may vary diametrically.
Is AKD ready for this? Is the NPP leadership along with its hardcore support structure willing to sacrifice the old for the sake of the new? The voter of today is no more susceptible to the vagaries of election briberies. The young and the educated may not be too fragile as our past generations were during the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties and successive decades. The current generation is not only well armed in knowledge and education, they are much sharper and more empathetic in their understanding of the prevailing objective and subjective conditions.
Carl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto to suit the conditions in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; all those who took part in the 1917 Russian revolution would never have read the Communist Manifesto; yet the very framework of an organized communist society, the basic architecture of a socialist community was imparted into a revolutionary-minded fraternity through the diverse media-instruments available at the time. Narration of a failed system such as Socialism/Communism might not be all that relevant nor will it be appropriate in the twenty first century, yet the validity of the fundamental necessities in the organizational structure cannot be disregarded.
What J R Jayewardene attempted to do quite successfully in the late nineteen seventies, by awakening the then United National Party (UNP) and bringing it to a victorious summit in the ’77 General Election was the only comparable operation of that kind in our 75 year-post Independence history. Here again, I am not trying to compare the two schools of political thought and policy; I am merely attempting to highlight the mind and effort that go into a successful accomplishment of any event.
What lies ahead for AKD and NPP?
- Document a broad framework of the NPP policies and programs
- Introduction of his full team (shadow Cabinet)
- Differentiation of the then JVP and the now NPP
- Identify and pronounce the threshold the NPP will not cross
- Clear policy for the Tamil Question
- Clear-cut policy as to how to curb and eradicate corruption from our society
- Hold a public forum where the new NPP policy/program would be discussed and ideas exchanged
- Never neglect the grassroots organization in educating and informing them of the latest world and national events issues
I sincerely hope this would be a broad roadmap for the success of the NPP as a dynamic political entity that is eager and serious to capture power at the next election, be it Presidential, General, Provincial or Local Government. The NPP and its leadership comprising of AKD, Handunhetti and Wijitha Herath have exclusive advantage that other leaders in the field today do not have. The leadership of the NPP is the only entity that is trusted by the large masses of Lanka. Their style of politics, their articulations in the vernacular, their simple attire, their rejection of luxuries offered to other parliamentarians, their demeanor, both public and private, their collective authenticity and empathy and their palpable competency in understanding the suffering and hardship undergone by the masses is all a bundle of advantages that other political parties simply cannot boast about. It’s their time, it seems.
I once met the late Gamini Dissanayake and asked what had been vexing me for some time. I asked him as to what he understood as politics. He replied: ‘politics is pursuit of power within the context of bringing peace, prosperity and happiness to the people.’ His enunciation of ‘pursuit of power’ did not evade me. AKD and the NPP leadership must understand: they cannot implement any of their lofty programs unless and until they capture power. Firstly, map out a scheme to attain that goal. The rest shall follow.
*The writer can be contacted at email@example.com