By Laksiri Fernando –
According to Dayan Jayatilleka’s (DJ) imagination, the so-called Asgiriya statement is a watershed in Sri Lankan politics (‘Politics After Asgiriya,’ Colombo Telegraph, 23 June). What he is reading on the wall is his own wishes and imaginations, with the only exception that he would try his best to make them fulfilled. From here on wards, he would work, day and night, to prove that he was correct in his reading.
His Reading on the Wall
What is he reading on the wall? First, ‘we’ have reached a point similar to that of 1955! He must have, but not others. His thinking is quite backward and archaic. Therefore, he wants an enactment of 1956. Because there is Mara Yuddhaya where all the reactionary forces are marching against Buddhism. That is what he is depicting through republishing the famous cartoon. His comment that the present leadership is symbolized by Zou Zou Mohammed than Sir John is a bad joke, if not an ethnic vilification. The original cartoon was believed to be by G. S. Fernando, but the present interpretation is by DJ. When the cartoonist designed the flimsy dressed belly-dancer from the Middle East, there was no apparent Islamophobia. But now it is different. It does not matter to DJ, because the ‘issue is only incitement.’ He also has an exclamation mark after the name. He has already given his justification for xenophobic campaign, justifying even racism as legitimate means.
When a person disagrees with a public statement, it is usually criticised. In the case of DJ, he praises the Asgiriya statement. Quoting his own father, DJ believes that the history leading to 1956 is repeating. The missing element is a Hartal, that happened three years back in 1953. According to the calculation, it should come this year because ‘the 1956’ would be in 2020. But it does not matter to him, it can come in the form of 1915. If it does not happen, he would blame the “Left trade unions, the student unions and the JVP and FSP.” Then a ‘distorted ethno-religious form of 1915’ is justified.
In his historic or hysteric imagination, “the dominant ideology of the newly formed SLPP and perhaps increasingly the dominant ideological line of the JO seems to be the same as that of SWRD Bandaranaike.” This is a wishful imagination. Because, a good part of SWRD’s SLFP is against such a repetition. In his own admission, JO’s ideological line is still not the same as pre-1956 SLFP. Note his words, ‘perhaps,’ ‘increasingly’ and ‘seems’ in the above quotation.
His antipathy against the present government is very clear. Because the Rajapaksas were ousted. That is why, according to him “The present government is doomed.” This has nothing much to do with the Asririya statement, it is only a straw for the dying man. He is waiting either for a referendum on the constitution or the full implementation of the Geneva resolution to see the fall of the government. Those elements however were not there in 1956. Therefore, he is forced to admit the present realities and hope for the worst scenarios. He is gleefully waiting for “a unified Sangha-led nationalist social avalanche which will bury the Government.”
Bring Back Family!
He might claim that Laksiri is distorting his opinion; he is only interpreting the reality and predicting it. As far as I know him, he is not that type of an independent observer or an interpreter. He has always been active in politics. What he says is what he believes in and what he wants to achieve. It is only in his previous article that he proposed Gotabaya as the President and Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Now he is asking me, what I think about Cuba during the leadership of Fidel and Raul Castro and Nicaragua.
To admit frankly, I am not an expert on Latin America, but about Cuba, it was more than a mistake not to promote young/different leaders and allowing Raul to take over. That is part of their authoritarianism, which was far beyond in the case of the past regime in Sri Lanka. Therefore, proposing the same for the future, GR and MR as the key figures. is outrageous to say the least. The others would obviously follow.
In the Asgiriya article, he also tries to create some wedge within the present government, and more than that, expressing his personal aversion against some personalities. His whole political analysis is usually based on worshiping (Rajapaksas) and denouncing (RW-CBK now MS) personalities. He ‘prophecies’ that this government “can survive or reduce the margin of defeat (avoiding a landslide) if and only if the radioactive Ranil-Mangala-CBK crew is dumped not only by President Sirisena but by the UNP as a party.” His other alternative is for the SLFP to dump Ranil-CBK government and go to the opposition. If this government splits that is the ideal recipe for the ‘ethno-religious radical right’ to occupy the public space.
None of the above are new scenarios for the future and he has been advocating them in various ways in the past. Therefore, obviously there is nothing dramatic that has happened after the Asgiriya statement. To believe that Sri Lanka is still in the early fifties is completely a mistaken belief for anyone. In the latter parts of his article, he claims that if his advice is not taken then what might happen is 1956 or more like 1970 where he says that ‘violent post-election backlash against the UNP and collaborationist SLFP’ would happen. There are three more years for the elections. Therefore, this appears more of a wish or a blackmail than a prediction. I hope no one would take him serious in the present government, either in the UNP or the SLFP.
Of course, he has tried to pretend impartiality and also to patronise the minorities saying that they should have “had the prudence to hedge their bets by being shareholders of both the Government and the Opposition.” He is wishing and predicting a Rajapaksa come back and in his opinion, it would be a ‘majoritarian administration.’ He is even quoting Fidel Castro to drive his point and defend what he is proposing: to fight against neo-liberalism and independence of the state. Of course, many aspects of ‘neo-liberalism’ should be opposed and this has now become the realization even in many Western countries. There are no threats to the independence of the country, as at present, unless in one’s imagination or rhetoric for political expediency. Therefore, to say “Thus the primary struggle, the main aim of the struggle has to be to prevent our disappearance as independent states” is just rhetoric. Sri Lanka is not Cuba.
Is this the Alt-left?
The right-wing nationalist forces are usually mobilized or supported based on such rhetoric in this era. But he equates such a mobilization to a social revolution. DJ quotes Lenin out of context and equates what Lenin identified as the petty bourgeoisie to the right-wing and the xenophobic clerics. To me, Lenin and Trotsky are primarily out of context today. There is no point in quoting them for rhetorical reasons. It is like believing the whole world is governed by few formulas. Here in Sri Lanka, the questions today are about democracy, development, social justice, human rights, welfare of the people and good relations with all countries.
Of course, everyone has a right to have his or her ideological opinion. At the same time, they should also be able to tolerate criticism without abusing others. If one is confirmed that the task is an anti-colonial struggle as DJ has expressed, she or he might perhaps come to the same conclusion. But from a democratic point of view, all these are mere rhetoric to hoodwink the people and serve the political masters. DJ’s last two sentences are quite symptomatic in this respect and worth quoting fully.
“It is by that yardstick of dealing a blow to the pro-imperialist, anti-sovereignty government that the hierarchy of the Asgiriya Chapter is more progressive than the United National Party. It is also by that yardstick that the JO, the SLPP and the Rajapaksas –any and all the Rajapaksas– must be regarded as infinitely preferable to the present dispensation and supported in the struggle.”
Is it this what is called Alt-left? Let me just ignore the unintended contradiction in the first sentence – expecting the UNP to be ‘progressive’ in the ‘pro-imperialist and anti-sovereignty government.’ (Or perhaps he must be trying to engineer some people in the old UNP to go against the present government using his Premadasa credentials!). Has he not all the time supported authoritarian personalities and advocates?
In my reading of the present situation, it is not the Asgiriya Chapter which has come into politics, like Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya in 1956, but it is the Rajapaksa promoters (or may I say goons!) that drive them into politics. DJ wants them to play a progressive role against the ‘pro-imperialist and anti-sovereignty government.’ It is very clear from the above quoted statement. In the last article, DJ proposed Gotabaya as the President and Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. In this article, ‘any and all Rajapaksas are infinitely preferable to the present dispensation.’ How can he deny his proposal is not for a family rule! To him, this is like a genetically determined quality. It is a pity that a reputed political scientist, praised by world renowned academics, going behind political personalities, unashamedly.
According to his reading of the wall, a historical replay of 1956 or 1970 would happen in 2020, that ‘will bring into office a majoritarian administration.’ That is how he tries to blackmail the minorities. This will never happen under the PR system; the present or under a reformed one. What Karl Marx said might happen, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” If 1970 was a ‘repetition’ of 1956 as a ‘tragedy,’ what is left is a farce. Even if it happens, that farce would be extremely temporary given the national and international conditions. He can try his best to re-enact this farce and sustain it.