12 November, 2019

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Contest For State Power: JVP’s Coming Of Age & Its Challenge

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

During the present contest for power in terms of the Presidential election, an interesting question is whether the JVP led alliance i.e. National People Power movement (NPP) will become the third force in Sri Lankan politics? Some may argue that it is already the third force. In the absence of other credible alternatives with mass appeal, it is yet to be seen whether the JVP led alliance will become so in terms of the votes gained on November 16th ? Whatever the case, evolution of the JVP from its smaller beginnings in the late 60s as a petty bourgeoisie, mostly rural grassroots party- critical of the mainstream politics, party and governance system, capitalist economy, as well as the behaviour of elitist ruling class – cannot be ignored when considering the political history and even the future of the country. The political and policy platform being prosecuted by the leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD)at this time bears testimony to the maturity that the JVP and its alliance partners have achieved during the JVP’s rebirth as a parliamentary political party after the decimation of Rohana Wijeweera and the top leadership during late 80s. 

1971 insurrection and the 1988/89-armed struggle against the then UNP regime formed important landmarks in the JVP’s turbulent political journey. It is obvious that the party has learned bitter lessons from these violent episodes where the party was not able to capture state power as expected. In fact, after violent struggles quite the opposite happened i.e. strengthening of state power. When the 1971 insurrection took place, I was a 3rd year undergraduate at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. In the preceding months and years, the university campus, in particular its residential halls were a hotbed of clandestine cadre activity.  Political discourse of the JVP via public meetings and the five indiscrete classes was taking root in campus politics. Several student leaders of the insurrection based at Peradeniya Campus were arrested and subsequently served prison sentences. They have since been rehabilitated and co-opted by the mainstream political and governance process to the extent of some holding important positions during the Rajapaksa regime. 

During the 1988/89 period I was away from Peradeniya University on leave studying for my PhD in Melbourne, Australia. The nature of violence unleashed by the JVP as well as the clandestine forces affiliated to the government security establishment was reported by the local and foreign media making an impact on the Australian government authorities to grant a blanket temporary visa extension to Sri Lankans (and Yugoslavians) in Australia at the time. People may have forgotten the nature and level of barbarity displayed during this period due to the subsequent war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) and its impact on the collective conscience. It is the latter episode that is still in the minds of many voters and being even exploited by some politicians to their advantage during this election campaign. However, we need to be mindful that the Muslim extremism is also a key factor after the suicide bombings in Colombo this year and its human toll. Though the JVP was not involved in these violent episodes, it has to deal with their consequences one way or another in terms of policy and political discourse.

Since it became a parliamentary party and engaged in parliamentary politics, the JVP experienced the negative consequences of neoliberal economic policies (so-called open economy in JR’s terminology) as well as the executive Presidency. It has also experienced the downside of Provincial Council system, unhindered corruption by politicians and the corrupt political cum beaureacratic culture, and the plight of the disempowered majority trying to make ends meet. Among these are farmers, workers in various sectors, professionals such as teachers, clerks, officers engaged in rural level service delivery, urban workers such as those in the Free Trade Zones. Through the experience in parliamentary practice, the JVP has gained much valuable insights and experience that can be useful in articulating existing problems facing the nation and developing policies to solve them. It seems that this time around, JVP has come up with more policy than ideology.

During the period of JVP’s emergence, evolution or transformation, not only the economy in the country transformed to be a globally linked entity serving the interests of global capital hand in hand with the local capital and their owners but the polity itself underwent remarkable changes for the worse. National economy moved away from its indigenous footings including agriculture, crafts and manufacturing. It became one that relies heavily on foreign loans, investments and more alarmingly imports of even essential products. There is more than anecdotal evidence that political representatives and their families are closely involved in various enterprises associated with this so called new or to use a more appropriate term newly indebted economy. In the absence of an effective corruption investigation mechanism, the vested interests carry on regardless. Voices against corruption have become mere voices. 

In the political front, the very meaning of ‘representative democracy’ has changed to mean that elected representatives are not there for public service but for accumulation of wealth and power as well as self-advancement. Disenfranchised masses who live in poverty are provided with minimal material aid by those in power.  Instead they are categorised into communal blocks based on their ethnicity, language, location, and nature of work. Parties that are organised enterprises campaigning to win over their consent at elections provide the masses with various ideologically coloured speeches and propaganda in stages where the performativity of politicians of all sorts who use the tools in the vernacular are tested. Advanced forms of oral and visual communication as well as entertainment methods are being used to attract the minds of the masses away from their real circumstances and place them in an imaginary future full of prospects – though unrealistic to the core. Families, friends and associates of major coalitions are active in this game of wills to transform the minds of voters one way or another by local reasoning, accusations and praise of their own while waiting in the wings to reap the results of power once secured. 

The JVP and its alliance partners led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake are proceeding with a disciplined campaign supported by a suit of policies to their credit. However, the question is whether the deployment of the tools of language on their part and tamasha style performativity will be able to surpass that of the major coalitions led by Sajith and Gotabhaya? After all, electoral politics has become a language and mind game more so than a contest of ideas or policies.

One advantage that the JVP has had during the last 4 and half years is that it was able to operate in a context where there was a semblance of democratic government –though skewed toward executive power exercised by the President rather than an authoritarian one. What this meant was that it was able to criticise the government and the Presidient when it was required and also strengthen the party machinery across the nation. Through its critique and actions, the JVP was able to establish some credibility –though this was tarnished somewhat by its association with the Yahapalana government at various junctures. Since there is the possibility of returning to an authoritarian government with curtailed freedoms led by the deep state, the same space may not exist for it to exercise its democratic rights as a parliamentary party. This scenario must be looming large in the thinking of JVP leadership and its alliance partners.  

Social reform (including economic, political and social) as stipulated by the NPP policy agenda is never easy in any country without mass support because the upper echelons of society entrenched in power are not easy to dislodge. Their tentacles can be found in every corner of society not only monitoring the activities of progressives but also attempting to thwart the initiatives taken to correct the system.  In a context where the institutions that are supposed to protect public and national interest have become inefficient, politicised, or corrupt, such a task is even unimaginable without a social revolution, meaning mass support against the deep state. The existing patron-client relations advantaging those in power or in opposition (not much difference these days as the ruling class embodies elements from the both) contribute to such entrenchment of power and privilege. Those at the bottom end of such patron-client relations derive some recognition, closeness, and material benefits from such relations.  Party loyalty is one way to maintain such relations. The JVP finds itself in a dilemma in this regard because it cannot provide material benefits and a share of power to others who are seeking the same from various sectors –be they farmers, professionals, businessmen and women, monks, academics, provincial councillors or the average citizen.

Nonetheless, having a progressive, social reformist agenda in order to address the existential problems faced by the nation and its varied communities is the need of the hour. Surprisingly, to match the NPP movement’s political and policy agenda, two major coalitions have also come up with appealing initiatives –though one can wonder about their credibility especially in terms of implementation. As an example, we may remember initiatives like Mathata Thitha included in the Mahinda Chinthanaya and what happened to it when in government. Election manifestos are not worth the paper they are written in a constituency where the large majority of voters do not have civic power to seek accountability after the elections. The outcome of failing to fulfil election promises are that the voters can look to an alternative party at the next election. But the parties are good at twisting the stories and discourses at election times so that the average voter get deceived one way or another. Election propaganda tends to camouflage the true status in the economy, budget, foreign debt, service to the people etc. big time.

Social justice agenda of the JVP is also impressive. It not only wants to create a level playing field for the citizens from all walks of life but also to create equality before the law.  It wants to open up university and vocational education to a larger number of students while creating a better health service and care for the elderly and disabled. It plans to make government departments and agencies more efficient and answerable to the public. Major inequalities in the system is to be rectified by way of legislative and constitutional changes as well.

Unilike others, JVP has the advantage of a new generation of leaders also (Sajith is an exception). They are attuned to the global and diasporic developments, global politics and economics, and the predicament of the country as a whole. Their ability to be pragmatic in their efforts rather than ideology comes through clearly. However, what inroads have they made in towns and villages in terms of winning over the grass roots elements is a critical question? If their political strategy has been based primarily on the election campaign to move votes in their favour, it is not a sound strategy though it may yield some favourable results in the short term. Party political work during the intervening periods is the key to link up with masses.

A third force in Sri Lankan politics is a must not only to create balance in the political and economic system but also to address critical issues facing the nation with credibility by garnering mass support for a social reform agenda. The JVP has made a start at this election campaign in this direction. Whether they succeed or not, it has mapped out a strategy for reformist governance in the future.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Can someone please explain how the JVP is going to curb the exodus of students going to Western /Eastern countries, /Russia, China etc. with the same A level results and yet thrive in those countries. Also, how they will stop the many politically instigated strikes in universities.

    • 0
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      Dear Dilkie,
      .
      Yes, that is a very serious problem, and I guess that the chaos induced by the JVP and FSP in the Universities and the exodus are connected.
      .
      Migration to Australia (in particular) has become a fashion, even with those who know cannot construct a single correct English sentence.
      .
      I don’t know what the solution should be. I wish somebody like you would work on an article on the subject.

      • 0
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        S-Man,
        The answer to the “brain-drain” is simple: Make SL like Australia or similar developed country. However, it is the JVP and its splinter groups currently chasing away students from SL unis. About the general issue of the brain-drain, JBVP or any other Marxist regime can solve this problem. Rather, they would make it worse. Just listen carefully to AKD’s speeches these days. The underpinning is nothing but the same old Marxist rhetoric.

        For example, I heard him saying that this election has defined the “progressive (JVP) & the regressive (others)” camps unlike never before. This is nothing but an attempt to explain SL politics from their outdated concept of dialectics. If he is correct, why racism, not class plays huge role in election? Also, why UNP & the SLPP have become the leading rivals while JVP is at distant third?

        The only way to stop brain-drain is to create a demand locally. That mean, increased investments in high-paying industries. The fastest way to achieve this goal is encouraging foreign investment b’cos they already have a market for their products. This is exactly what JVP & the nationalist are against.

    • 0
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      Lankan students thrive in only Western countries. This is because Western countries have “ancestral wealth” from the former colonial stranglehold on nations such as ours. This “ancestral wealth” has been rolled into their constant war industry on especially oil-rich nations. Most Lankan students who go to other Eastern countries and Russia and China, usually come back, or are sent back.

      Dr. Sri Gamage mentions Party loyalty. This Party Loyalty to Capitalistic parties for “scholarship” and other benefits will be no more with the JVP. Next he mentions JVP creating a level playing field for all. And also equality before the law. See the 11th paragraph of the article:

      *SOCIAL JUSTICE

      *LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

      *EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW.

      *OPEN UP UNIVERSITY AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION TO A LARGER NUMBER OF STUDENTS

      *HEALTH SERVICE AND CARE FOR THE ELDERLY AND DISABLED.

      *GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES MORE EFFICIENT AND ANSWERABLE TO THE PUBLIC.

      *MAJOR INEQUALITIES IN THE SYSTEM IS TO BE RECTIFIED BY WAY OF LEGISLATIVE AND CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

      Main thing is that the party loyalty to Capitalistic entities will be no more. Therefore everything listed above will be far easier to implement.

      (NB. Party Loyalty to a Marxist party is at an entirely different, and far lower monetary scale)

    • 0
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      Authorities have to develop 1)ways to stop ragging(read my article in Social Affairs journal), 2) provide more university places for those who qualify to enter, 3) reform university education and decolonise curriculum and teaching(chapter is coming up in a felicitation book soon), 4) give more autonomy to universities to decide their courses, teaching methods, student intakes etc. Ending the colonial mentality where it is thought education provided by suddas is better than that by kalu suddas is another step. But this is a bigger project that requires fundamental social reform covering many fields. This is the biggest problem in terms lof brain drain also. I have not read JVP’s education policy yet but I see some comments here by others on it.

  • 1
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    Dear Siri,
    .
    You have been careful to say, ” National People Power movement (NPP)“. I still carelessly say, JVP.
    .
    Tomorrow (I mean Saturday, the 2nd) I’ve volunteered to go round with the JVP guys, house to house, in my area of the Uva Province. My role will be to explain the “Preference System”, which I think that I know pretty well by now.
    .
    At the Preparatory Meeting this afternoon (I mean Friday, the 1st), I was particularly impressed by the intelligence and the humility of the guy who presided and is our “group leader”. He was scrupulous in wanting it known that at this election AKD is not a JVP candidate, but represents the National People Power movement (NPP). They all want to play fair; as you say, this “bears testimony to the maturity that the JVP and its alliance partners have achieved.”
    .
    To me, it looks possible for the JVP to even win, but since we depend now on Preferences we may confuse the voters and many of our “Alternative” may get declared invalid. The Rajapaksas, who don’t pretend to be sophisticated, are at an advantage here with their simple prescription of the “kathire”.
    .
    However, that is also what exposes how medieval the Rajapaksas are in outlook. Is this what they mean by progress – coupled, of course with rape (see the story of the Chinese girl that appeared yesterday on CT) and murder. .

    • 0
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      S_Man,
      If the intention is to explain the meaning of preferential voting, then it is OK. There is an important fact only a few knows and appreciate about JVP embracing parliamentary democracy: Silent encouragement by Ranil!

  • 0
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    Hope our Lankans who have suffered (are suffering) especially in the Middle East are able to have the cognizance to grasp what this author is telling them. After all, it is THEIR money that the Lankan elites use to remain elite at their expense. Don’t the Masses want some dignity in their everyday existence?

    Main points of the article:

    *Advanced forms of oral and visual communication as well as entertainment methods are being used to attract the minds of the masses away from their *real circumstances* and place them in an *IMAGINARY FUTURE full of prospects – though UNREALISTIC TO THE CORE.*

    *After all, ELECTORAL POLITICS has become a LANGUAGE AND MIND GAME more so THAN A CONTEST OF IDEAS AND POLITICS.

    *Election manifestos are not worth the paper they are written in a constituency where THE LARGEST MAJORITY OF VOTERS DO NOT HAVE CIVIC POWER TO SEEK ACCOUNTABILITY AFTER THE ELECTIONS.

  • 0
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    Silkier

    Please read NPPs education policy.

  • 0
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    That Srilankan Gallop Poll , conducted in Kottawa by a U TUbe Media Channel in Colombo gave Anura Kumara’s JVP lead new Civil Rights and disillusioned UNP Alliance 8 votes out the100 polled.

    And the UNP ex General’s Party got 3 votes.

    Based on this Dr Siri is right on the money .
    And the disillusioned UNP Cadres may swell it to even 10%. after the Election.

    If may translate into JVP ‘s New Neo Capitalist ,Alliance getting few more MPs into Kotte at the expense of the sitting UNP Members..

    Anyway there are more interesting developments coming out of this Election with our Raja Guru Dr Malcolm Ranjith demanding that Dr Ranil abandon his Meleniumm Pact with the US which his Finance Minister tried to sneak in through Parliament before the 16th.

    Normally placid Catholic Church to come out with this strong demand must have a good reason to believe this UNP American Pact to give 12.000 Sq Miles of our Land to the US to be used as a US Territory without the US living Standards, must be pretty bad for the great majority of our poor Inhabitants who make up not only the Buddhist Sector of Lankawe but also the Srilankan Catholic Sector..

    In contrast to our patroitic Raja Guru Dr Malcolm, the One time Guardian of the Buddhist Sector the Jathika Hela Urumaya Boss says this Milenium UNP US Pact was first thought out by King Parakaramabahu .
    The JHU Boss says his new mate and boss Dr Ranil resurrected it.
    And the JHU Leader is ever grateful ior it ..

    The JHU Boss goes even further to tell the suckers that Ranil is the new Parakkramabahu of the 21 Century.
    What a shame this UNP Parakkramabahu is not contesting this Election..

    BTW , Wonder what this Dr new Parakramabahu’s other Sinhala Buddhist Party mate JVP AKD has to say about this UNP US Mileneum Pact.?…

    • 0
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      Kottawa? That’s just one village close to where all the Colomboites dwell. We can discount Kottawa.

  • 0
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    No doubt JVP is good party. but Sinhalese do not vote for it. why?

    • 0
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      lankan,

      JVP was never given the chance before. Sinhala JVP has been hanging on the coattails of the capitalistic parties after capitalistic parties tortured and killed them. Then were only given to university students to vent their pent up sufferings on, whilst Marxist hierarchy was appeased by sending them to White-people country (both capitalistic and communist) on scholarships….and some ambassadorships thrown in for the highest of them. Blame the Marxist hierarchy for not carrying on the bitter fight and for being so easily bought.

  • 0
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    It was Ranil who singlehandedly nurtured and groomed this man, Sajith. Now he is going to back stab Ranil, not giving PM post. Do we want such a leader?

  • 0
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    in this election the jvp is acting like a spoiler
    asking people o vote for them is a wasted vote as their support in the country is less than the slpp,unp ,and slfp they do not have support even in the rural areas where poverty is greatest
    let them start with pradeshiya sabha elections and gradually move up to parliamentary elections
    instead of jumping the gun

  • 0
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    In parliamentary democracies far left parties poll around 5%.. Most even less while ‘ Communist’ parties have totally disappeared. I cannot forgive our JVP over this total lack of understanding of the society. One who has only 30% may be forgiven for believing that he has 51%. But believing in 51% while you have only 5% is absolutele lunacy. And mind you launching bloody revolutions , not once but twice with only 5% of the people behind is definitely unpardonable. Run for your life.

    Soma

  • 1
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    Dilkie & Sinhala_Man: Your query : Why the students with A Level leaving to Western, Eastern countries? Yes it is happening under the present system. I need not explain that “Present System”. You know it. Simply, out of those who qualify at A Level only a “Fraction” could be accommodated in Universities. What happens to the rest? This has to be addressed. How? The NPP Policy Plan announced has it all. (1) Direct the “Education System” to connect with the “Economic Plan” (2) Divert the “Student Population” to “Skill Development” strategies giving “Honor”, “Pride of Place” and “Income Generation” and make that “Skilled Human Resource” the main “Wheel” of the economy. To do this, there need to be a big change in the society’s “Value System”. That in short: The “Value” of a “Degree” mentality must be “Equalized” to OR placed above to an “Accreditation” of a “Skill Achievement”. This had been very well presented by AKD of NPP, in his speeches, by referring to the two types of “Marriage Proposals” that appear in Sunday Papers viz. that of a “Farmer” or “Carpenter” and a son/daughter who posses a “Degree”.
    Next, “Chaos induced by JVP and FSB”. I would categorically say , it is not JVP, but by “Anthare” a wing of the “Peratugami”. In some respects, JVP is blamed for it, because they do not openly “condemn” that “Chaos”. However, at a TV discussion, (aired few months back) this subject was taken up. The JVP wing representative explained how they do try to defuse unrest among students by way of introducing various “Student Interaction” programmes. Unfortunately this has not been communicated to the public. The other reason is, the public perception of JVP and “Anthare” are the same. There is no “difference” between the two. Why? JVP does not want to “Distance” much from “Anthare” of “Peratugami”. This is a very brief reply to two of you. I intend to come back to the main article later.

    • 0
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      Thanks, Douglas.
      .
      You are an itelligent and a well-informed man.

  • 0
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    In the present context of the political situation of Sri Lanka, I do not agree with this “Terminology” of a “Third Force”. There is no “Third Force”; but only “Two Forces”. Why one would ask. My reasoning is: During the last decade (from 2009 to 2109), we have experienced the Governing “System” and “Plans” executed by both the “MR’s Regime” and “Yahapalanaya” of “MY3 & Ranil W”. Were there any difference? My answer: NO. The present Presidential Election has shown us once again that, those two “Camps”, although in two different platforms, are nothing but “ONE:. The only difference is, all the “ROUGES” and those “Responsible and Accountable” for the “MESS” created have “Camped” under two “Leaders” (Gota & Sajith) which go to prove that they are all “ONE AND THE SAME, with the sole purpose of an “EXCHANGE” of power to administer. The only force that has come up against these “TWO in ONE” is the NPP. So, NPP is the only “ALTERNATIVE”. So the very simple and “COMMON” thinking that must be communicated and installed in the thinking process of the people must be to “GO” for the ONLY alternative – the NPP. The next, “SLOGAN” that has been planted by “Pseudo” “Intellectuals” “Professionals” “Businesses’ and “Media Moguls” is the “WINNABLE” and “UNWINNABLE”. This has been done with a “PURPOSE” to create a “PSYCHO ” among the voter to vote for the “Winnable” named by these “Pseudo” community leaders whose sole purpose is to achieve their personal agenda. This has to be confronted by the NPP and it is no easy task. This is where all who seek a “CHANGE” have to meet in “UNITY” and put up a struggle to talk of an “ALTERNATIVE” that is “WINNABLE”.

  • 3
    1

    Of all the leadership contenders in the latest horse race, the only voice of sanity, balance and analytical superiority is that of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, a man I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago at the Rotunda theatre at Monash. However, the voting public in SL (largely either rural or generally uninformed about how to distinguish between flowery rhetoric and concise, direct and accurate facts) will yet again support one of the two main jockeys. People’s anticipation, emotion and lifelong hopes have yet again assumed the thrill of a big match, although ironically it is indeed a big match for power played by the richest scoundrels in a poor country.

  • 0
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    JVP is still synonymous with the insurrection, destruction, protests (university related) and archaic policies. It will take another generation or two for a change of perception..

    The reality is that only either SP or NGR will be elected President. The imminent danger is that a fascist and dictator will win. ALL who cherish Democracy should unite to prevent this from occurring.

    It is the sovereign right to be able to vote for any candidate one wishes . There are acceptable reasons for one not to vote for any one of the mainstream candidates (SP / NGR). If you are one of them, please vote for your choice of candidate as the 1st preference (although it’s certain that candidate will not win). But please ensure you also select a 2nd / 3rd preference as well with atleast one of those preferences being to one of the two leading candidates (SP if you wish for Democracy and a change of guard; NGR if you wish for a hackneyed fascist / dictator and a return to the pre 2015 era). Your vote will not then be a waste but will be counted in determining the ultimate winner and your next Executive President of this Nation. The need of the moment is to defeat a fascist and a dictator. There is no need to be reminded of what occurred during 2010 – 2014. That rule was sent packing in January 2015. But they don’t seem to have got the message. So let’s reinforce that message again.

    A 70 year old ailing foreign citizen who is also an alleged criminal and psychotic barbarian is totally undesirable, unfit and unsuitable to lead this Nation.

    Voters, please use your franchise wisely and judiciously, if you have any love for this country.

  • 0
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    Siri,
    As long as you entrenched outdated concepts like colonialism and that all our ills are product of “Suddas” rule, you never will find solutions to the education crisis. The error lies not in the education system British created; Rather it is the failure of the post independent Gvt leaders to tie SL economy with Global market and plan the education system to go along with changing demand (see my respond to Laksiri’s Oct 30th essay on Human Right to Quality Education).

    Until independence, SL education system – including pr-British caste based feudal system – met existing socio-economic demand. British introduced some changes by formalizing it but the idea was to develop an administrative staff locally. The crisis began after higher education was expanded along with Sinhala only education thereby producing more than what is needed for bureaucracy. Politicians blinded by Marxist/anti-imperialist influence kept pushing for nationalism while chasing away foreign investment. Unfortunately, the same wrong nationalistic ideas are still trying very hard block to progressive market oriented economic plans.

    Most so-called SL specialists tend to forget the meaning & function of education when they propose remedies by looking at meaningless political concepts such as colonialism, neo-colonialism, neo-liberalism, etc. In most Basic sense, education means learning skills for survival. Therefore, education always must follow the winds of the technical base of the economy. They go hand in hand. Therefore, even if each existing SL universities can produce one Einstein each year, it won’t do any good unless there are Bill Gates and Elon Musk s to invest. This is the most simplest nature of SL education crisis.

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