By Vishwamithra –
I never ever imagined, even in my wildest dreams that I would write what I am writing today. But as I have continuously and consistently penned, in politics, context has been, is and will be everything. Things don’t happen in a vacuum; they materialize in a context; the surrounding social and economic conditions provide an atmosphere and reasons for them to happen, even over and over again. That is why history is replete with similar events, incidents and great human dramas. The context shapes and sometimes defines the resultant event. Whether it was the great October Revolution in Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century or the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in ancient times, the context, an awfully brutal Czarist regime in Russia or the corrupt, perverse and avaricious Nero and Caligula in Rome and all were the great events and persona that we study in world history and a skilled historian, before embarking upon presenting the facts and figures, first launches into painting a conceivable and handsome picture of the pertinent context.
That element of context produced Dudley Senanayake; what was the context: the untimely death of D S Senanayake after a stroke; why did Dudley have to resign in 1953: the context was the notorious rice issue and J R’s Budget that proposed withdrawal of free rice and the Hartal that followed. Then S W R D Bandaranaike, whose ambition was to succeed D S Senanayake as Prime Minister created his own context, being a very crafty public speaker polarized the country along divisive racial lines. I can go on and on, but the reader now surely should be understanding the long and short of context within which great or small events and incidents occur.
Let us now discuss the current conditions in Sri Lanka. After seventy three years of Independence from the colonial powers, where is Ceylon today? When we get down to the business of separating the good from the bad, the long-term from the short-term, the intelligent from the stupid, the honorable from the dishonorable, the last two decades stand out as the most crucial and divisive era during which our society has plunged itself to self-destruction. Yet the destruction is still in the waiting; its arrival, which undoubtedly will happen, is being hurried, not only by the Covid-19 crisis, but also being sped up by some maniacal and thoroughly inscrutable, econo-political decisions the ruling Family deliberately made.
An utterly convoluted context of mis-governance by the Maithripala-Ranil combo and a Bond-scam that surely spelt the demise of the short and forgettable Yahapalanaya era was the context that prevailed immediately prior to the election of the current President. Gotabaya Rajapaksa stormed into power and went on to further stabilize, by way of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, his stronghold of the Executive power which a Sri Lankan President enjoys almost without any reasonable boundaries.
To what political measures and tactics did Gotabaya resort in order to become entrenched in his own Presidential powers? He did not have to read books and attend high-flown conferences to learn about these tactics and measures. His elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa had already shown the world as to how to entrench oneself in power. By facilitating his henchmen and women to obtain lucrative jobs, awarding money-spinning tenders to his kith and kin, and when the going gets tough, resorting to the age-old mantra of patriotism and nationalism, paying regular visits to the ancient religious sites in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, were all part of this dishonest enterprise of politicking. And the younger brother has learnt well from his elder.
In the meantime, the country’s coffers are becoming empty and the rising cost of living is causing unspeakable hardships to the masses. The Rajapaksas have turned a totally un-empathetic persona to the increasing suffering of the people. A doggedly imbecilic posture adopted by the President and his gang on the fertilizer issue, price controls and lack of price controls, treatment of an approach to the International Monitory Fund (IMF) as an unmitigated no-no, printing of local currency to overcome the deficits in the national cash-flow are a few of these senseless and idiotic policy positions the current leaders have chosen to embrace without shame. To cap it all, these ridiculous deportments, corruption on the part of the Rajapaksa family and their close relatives and henchmen, has taken the country to a position from which there does not seem to be any return possible.
That is the context within which the country is contemplating hard on a man or woman in whose hand the switch of power is secure for the people and progressive for the underprivileged masses. That context contains within itself a gradual and alarming rejection of the United National Party (UNP) and its latest illegitimate child Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and their respective leaders, Ranil Wickremasinghe and Sajith Premadasa. When there is irrefutable evidence that the ruling clan is incorrigibly corrupt and unambiguously dishonest, galvanizing the masses and unleashing an irreversible public outcry against such a political dynamic is part and parcel of a clever politician, not merely to attain power but create a positive awareness of the hardships and adversities that one has to endure. The irony is that the birth of such awareness does not have to happen now; it should have been created by a clever and crafty and honorable politician from day one of the emergence of the first signals of a coming disaster. It is where the Premadasas and Wickremasinghes have failed so miserably.
Whether such opposition should have been articulated in public or inside the well of the House of Parliament, does not matter. And it is in the context of this particular backdrop that Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD), the current leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) stands out like a giant. Although comparatively small in physical stature, AKD is a true giant. As a public speaker he is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best of all; mastery of the vernacular and allegiance to facts and figures coupled with a coherent delivery so sharp and every now and then stunning, Anura Kumara has hitherto exhibited an uncanny ability to shape and define the current issues that are irksome to a great majority of our people.
His parliamentary speeches might not be telecast over national television; but the unlimited way they are being listened to by the millions who have access to the social media is remarkable. However, AKD enjoys an advantage which both Ranil and Sajith do not- baggage on the issue of corruption and dishonesty. And AKD apparently is fully aware of that. His attack on the current ruling family is almost one hundred percent based on the lingering corruption and dishonesty and unbearable cost of living. He has correctly identified the most crucial issues that matter to the great majority. Rising cost of living and rampant corruption of the ruling Family and his analyses of the various issues and relating them to the common men and women has separated him from the rest. His repertoire in parliamentary speeches could be compared with the best shown in past by Dr. N M Perera, J R Jayewardene, Dudley Senanayake, Felix Dias and even the best of all, S W R D Bandaranaike.
At the same time, AKD has one serious disadvantage- his own Party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. The First Insurrection in 1971 may have faded into oblivion now, yet the brutal and mindless killings and macabre torture that took place during the Second Revolution in 1987-1989 period are still fresh in the minds of most of our people. Neither Anura Kumara Dissanayake nor any of the other JVP leaders has denounced these atrocities; that failure to condemn the untold misery brought upon Sri Lankan rural masses may not be ignored by the majority of Sinhalese Buddhists and nor should it be.
Nevertheless, the current context suits AKD and his JVP ideally; but AKD and the JVP cannot stand alone. They have not yet grown into a broad-based, nationally recognized political force representing each and every district in Sri Lanka. What AKD and the JVP should sacrifice first is their stubbornness when coming to an agreement on a coalition. Asking the accepted political entities to come to terms with their fundamental demands is ludicrous and foolhardy. A show of flexibility should not be treated by them as a weakness; on the contrary, it should be their strength. They must remember that the context is not only dire and demanding, it is also democratic. Belief in Dialectical Materialism and Dictatorship of the Proletariat is an anachronism today. That is also part of the context.
AKD, if you want to lead Sri Lanka and her people in the future, near of afar, you must first learn to perceive the context in its right light and right content.
*Writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org