By Malinda Seneviratne –
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri has provided probably the best answer to various critics of the agitation campaign of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) of which he is the President. His interview in the Lankadeepa of October 2, 2012, Devasiri covers much ground and puts the record straight regarding FUTA’s alleged NGO-funds-dependency as well as claims that FUTA was the pawn of political groups with agenda that had little to do with the main thrust of demands.
He has claimed that FUTA, contrary to claims made by various Government spokespersons, has no interest in overthrowing the Government. Indeed, he was quoted in the ‘Rivira’ as being more interested in ‘changing the people’ or rather appointing ‘a new people’.
On the other hand, Devasiri is old enough, educated enough and has enough political savvy to understand that agitators don’t always control the script. True, various attempts by politicians of various parties to make (small) capital of the political moment were effectively stymied by FUTA organizers.
There is no getting around the fact that the front seats at the end-o-march rally were occupied by politicians of a political party that held ‘privatization’ as an article of faith. That should not take away too much gloss from what was clearly a very well organized event where political maturity prevailed over the general slip towards lumpenization that one has come to expect.
We are not talking here about demand-fairness, or the intellectual weight and moral worth of the same. We are talking specifically about a demonstration of political position and related objections. The claims about a ‘sinister hand’ amount to unadulterated rubbish, although one would not rule out people sniffing for possible takings of a kind more pernicious than the easily visible clinging-to-straw exercise of the UNP. If there were, they were excluded from script-writing. Even poor Comrade Bahu was unceremoniously hoofed out of the stage.
There was, however, a rather disconcerting ‘end note’ to the above interview. Devasiri, when questioned ‘what next?’, ominously said, ‘If the government decides on coercion, that would be a big step; if that happens they will be discredited (emphasis ours)’.
‘Big step’? For whom? The FUTA struggle? Devasiri follows that ‘conclusion’ with the equally ominous, ‘We do not know what could happen beyond that’. Devasiri is no baby. He lived through 88-89. His fascination with things political is well known. He is not only a historian but a keen student of politics as well. He has read not only Marx, but Antonio Gramsci too. He knows the old theories about the ideological state apparatus giving way to the coercive and under what kind of conditions. He cannot be ‘innocent’ and ‘not-knowing’ about ‘what could happen beyond that’.
Technically he is on safe ground. He could say ‘big’ means ‘important’ or ‘significant’, which is true. On the other hand, as a person who is not insensitive to nuance in statement and/or silent, Devasiri would have been quick to point out (if that statement was made by a political ‘other’, for example) that the ‘big thing’ is something anticipated or even desired.
It is not very different to the Inter University Student Federation and their kind of political engagement where a ‘death’ is desired in order to keep things moving. A couple of years ago, a key mover in that organization told me, privately, that it would be good if the government pushed them (the JVP – he made no secret of his party loyalties, although in public the IUSF vociferously claimed ‘independence’ from all political parties) into the jungle.
We would like to be generous to Devasiri, if not for anything, because it is hard under the circumstances to be generous to the Government, even if it’s certainly not an either-or situation. We would like to think that Devasiri, knowing well the inevitable outcome of such a ‘big step’; around 60,000 dead and the system (which, as much as politicians, denies) stronger by another round; would do his best not to push things towards that tragedy. He might even tell himself that in a way that is what can in the end keep the system going.
If we get that ‘big step’ and we get a replay of say 88-89 who gets discredited will only be of academic interest. Historians like Devasiri will no doubt write all about it. There will be a lot of discarded placards to clean up. Among them a problematic but certainly appealing one-numeral slogan cum crowd-puller: 6%.
The Nation Editorial