By Kumar David –
Now patience, preparation and determined mobilisation; From Nandikadal to impeachment and beyond
This is the time to take a long view of history, understand how we got here, and take measure how to meet the challenges of the coming years. To proclaim that the regime is moving to dictatorship with implacable determination is repetitive waste of newsprint, it is the best known fact of the current political conjuncture. Newspapers are saturated with furious articles, grave statements and editorials bewailing the loathsome deed; thank you, all excellent in preparation for the next step. But what is the next step? How did we get here? What is the balance of forces at this time? This is what must occupy our attention now; but there is little said on this score.
The journey that brought us here started four years ago on the shores of the Nandikadal. Sure Prabaharan was a brute; sure LTTE terrorism was no better than state terrorism; sure by subordinating politics to an outlandish military project, Prabaharan and the LTTE sealed their own fate and are a party to the traumatisation of the Tamils. None of this is in question. However, a tangential aspect is where the collapse of Lanka’s politico-constitutional order originates. (Make no mistake; the post-independence liberal-democratic project has collapsed). When the Sinhalese people cheered-on their military and their government to make race-war, they also loaded the guns that would one day be turned against them. The brutalisation of Tamil civilians and the trampling underfoot of human rights, to which they acquiesced by silence or cheered-on drunk on majoritarianism, are the chickens now coming home to roost. The power and the glory that tramples on judiciary, decency and constitution, was fashioned on the anvil of race-war.
How much I warned the Sinhalese people in this column that they were sowing the wind and would reap the world wind, but few took notice; it’s like that in race things. The impeachment is only a scene in a bigger unfolding where the Rajapakses are preparing to entrench a Corporatist State, a certain type of dictatorship, in Lanka. The ink and hot air decrying the brutish regime does little good unless it grasps this larger dynamic and mobilises to counter this momentous threat. It is we the people, or those of us who cheered militarisation, that created a lacuna in public consciousness allowing goons to patrol the streets of Colombo unchecked, and an opportunist lapdog turned traitor blurt out: “We have told the judiciary to go to hell!” This was so obnoxious, even DEW and Tissa had to distance themselves; they could not bear the stench any longer.
Welcome, wakeup; this is the new Lanka under the sway of the Rajapakses, their goons, and their toadies. Dictatorship has arrived and the Sinhala-Buddhist petty bourgeois, generically as a class, raised not a murmur in protest! Who is to blame, the dictator, or the nation that lies prone, like a bitch, to welcome a mount by the dictator? Every people gets the government it deserves; and in Lanka, as the people sleepwalk into servitude, they have nobody but themselves to blame.
The balance of forces
I have attempted to briefly map the road which brought us to where we are; not because it gives me great joy to say “I told you so” (it does, but only a little), nor because it is gratifying (it is not) to say that the many are mistaken much of the time; rather because it facilitates the drawing up of a balance sheet of the correlation of forces. The regime is strong, not because of hirelings, stooges and assorted murderers and drug peddlers, the regime is strong because it retains the support of a majority of the Sinhala-Buddhist semi-urban petty-bourgeoisie (the classes in the informal economy) and the Sinhala-Buddhist rural population. I have said Sinhala-Buddhist twice in one sentence because the Sinhala Catholics and Christians have deserted it, and the Tamils of course always despised it. The Muslims do not support the Rajapakses per se, but they will for the time being, follow the Muslim Congress like Mary’s little lamb.
Is the government’s Sinhala-Buddhist base beginning to erode, are there signs of large sections peeling off? No, I don’t think so, not yet. There are no short-cuts in the tasks facing the political opposition in year 2013. The JVP, unlike the UNP, is showing fire in its eye and passion in its belly, but I believe it is positioned to make headway for another reason too. The 2010-2011 specious economic short-boom is over; the bust part of the cycle commenced in early 2012 and will persist this year.
I will have to reserve discussion of short-term economic prospects for another essay, but I do believe that in year 2013, the disappointment of 2012 will persist; there is no reason why it should not. I see no way the trade deficit or the fiscal deficit can be reversed, I don’t see how inflation can be held to substantially below 10%, I don’t see how the government can go on borrowing to pay interest and living from hand to mouth. But Ranil and the UNP have lost the plot; it’s the JVP’s game to play. It has shown shrewdness and tactical agility in recent months; I hope it can sustain this momentum while holding in abeyance the anti-Tamil chauvinism that it is congenitally prone to.
Two more comments on the balance of forces and I am ready to move on. The Rajapakse regime has lost the educated middle classes, the professionals (lawyers, university teachers etc) and the capitalist class. I think it has lost these classes in perpetuity. It never had the Tamils or commanded Muslim loyalty directly. In a nutshell, the UPFA and its stooge parties are weaker now than they were at the time of the provincial elections last year. This hypothesis will be put to the test in upcoming local elections this year. The reason why the government is attempting to do away with the next parliamentary election and extend the term of parliament till 2023 is because, obviously, it senses weakness.
There were sound economic grounds why the petty-bourgeoisie stayed loyal in the last three years. The country expanded from seven provinces to nine; produce flowed in from the North and East. Economic activity expanded; after the war farmers all over were secure and extended cultivation to previously shunned marginal lands. Small and informal businesses (food vans, small trade, small contractors, transport services, etc) expanded. There was in fact a post-war economic dividend that benefited the petty-bourgeoisie, but big capital, smacking its lips in expectation foreign investment, joint ventures and export growth, withered, except in hotels and tourism. This short false-boom has ended and the government is desperate to climb out of the 2012 downturn but as I said before I do not see the fundamentals to support it. The end of the false-boom has not hurt the petty-bourgeoisie yet, but steep price increases have commenced, menacing the regimes support base.
The second comment is about the International Community (IC). Though patience with the government has run out the absence of a credible alternative government holds back the IC. It is the local scenario that is decisive though export and import trade, finance, banking, and the accoutrements of material and cultural life are West-dependent, and tightening this lifeline will drive the regime to crisis. Instead the IC expresses grave concern, wrings its hands and sighs!
The regime shrewdly counts that the IC is all piss and wind and no action. It is not concerned about the UNHRC sessions in Genevain March or cancellation of the Commonwealth Heads Conference later this year. It is confident that after a few hearty bursts of flatulence the IC will quieten down and impose no sanctions or penalties on the regime or its leaders. So long as the IC allows Colombo to thumb its nose at the community of nations, there is nothing it can do to restore democracy and human rights in the country. The fight for democracy in Sri Lanka will be a lonely one in this fateful year
Preparation and mobilisation
The most important qualities at this time are patience and determination. The masses will not wake up to the appalling transgressions of this regime overnight. The regime has to expose its own criminality by its own deeds as Mervyn has done in Kalaniya. Cannibalism will become more frequent and ever more rats will jump from the sinking ship; DEW, Tissa and Rajiva Wijesingha have started walking the plank. Among my friends, yesterday’s Rajapakse apologists are today introverted. It is beginning, but only just, and such folk are ever ready to walk back.
I have been pushing hard for political education and mobilisation and the Marx School that a few of us conduct is for this purpose. The misuse of state and private TV (all outright stooges) is responsible for the shocking ignorance of the petty-bourgeois. Nevertheless this challenge must be taken on board by the opposition and defeated. A quote from an e-mail I received makes the point from another direction.
“The CJ and the judiciary have gone as far as they can. The task of impeding the regime from violating the Supreme Court ruling belongs to us, those elements of political and civil society who have not succumbed to the Rajapaksas”.
Appealing to the good sense of the Rajapakses is a waste of time. NGOs, business chambers and professional bodies should stop wasting their time and turn to the urgently needed tasks of building public awareness and well planned mobilization of the public at large. They have to coordinate and plan over a medium time-period. Issuing statements and writing appeals to the President is all stuff and nonsense. Those who want to intervene in practical ways must do it in Sinhala. Is it not incredible that there is not one Sinhala daily – Ravaya is a weekly – to educate the public about the regime’s appalling activities?