1 December, 2021

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In Defence Of The JVP

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

One of the most fascinating things about politics is how a common enemy unites groups that otherwise hold diametrically opposed views. I am not suggesting that the JVP is such an enemy, nor am I implying that their dislike of it has united the SJB and the SLPP. But reading between the tweets, Facebook posts, and even political commentaries, I can only conclude that the resurgence of the JVP has generated a mutual aversion to its policies, personalities, and aspirations. This is intriguing, but by no means inexplicable.

While both sides consider the JVP as sectarian, this aversion materialises in different forms and takes on a different character: thus whereas the SJB accuses it of acting as a third-party spoiler against the Opposition, the SLPP accuses it of challenging its policies.

What are we to make of such perceptions? Insofar as the JVP’s attempts to deconstruct the government’s policies are concerned, the SLPP is correct in viewing the party as a challenge. That does not justify the mud supporters of the regime sling at Anura Kumara Dissanayake, but it does provide a rationale, however slight, for such mudslinging.

It’s a different story with the SJB and, to a much lesser extent, the UNP. The gist of their argument, as far as I can make it out, is that the JVP can’t make it on its own at an election. Since this debars it from contending alone, accordingly, it should join a coalition led by the mainstream Opposition. If it does not choose that line, it will split the anti-government vote and enable the SLPP to win again. Thus, the more it dabbles with the idea of going solo, the more counterproductive its campaigns will be for the Opposition.

While this line of reasoning has always surfaced vis-à-vis the JVP whenever a government becomes unpopular, in recent weeks it has generated a horde of negative comments against the party. No doubt its resurgence online has contributed to such critiques.

Reading between these comments, one wonders whether SJB supporters are worried about the JVP: one such supporter goes as far as to warn that if the latter becomes more sectarian than it is, “there will be a boycott.” The government, of course, faces no such problem: its promoters do not have to contend with the JVP for votes from its traditional bases, though one wonders whether the Rajapaksas will have to fight for support from those fronts in the long term, given their alienation from the SLFP’s peasant and working class roots.

To be fair by the SJB, the argument that the JVP can spoil prospects for a united resistance against the government is partly true. The SJB’s predecessor, the UNP, benefitted not a little from the JVP’s campaign against Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1988. This is certainly not to deny the popularity that Ranasinghe Premadasa enjoyed in the run-up to the elections that year. But if the JVP’s tactic of smearing the Opposition is anything to go by, these campaigns have ended up benefitting the status quo more than the resistance.

By no means was this the exception in 1988. Writing to The Island on Christmas Day that year, the columnist Kautilya argued that the benefactor of JVP-instigated violence “was the narrowly winning victor.” I confess this simplifies what was a rather complex situation, since there were, as one analyst contended in Economic and Political Weekly, “reasons to believe that local-level SLFP sympathisers sometimes joined the JVP.” But the underlying conclusion cannot be denied: the JVP’s violence helped tilt the scales against the SLFP, just as the JVP’s rhetoric bolstered the UNP’s prospects a decade earlier.

The situation under yahapalanaya was different. There the JVP had been recognised as part of the official Opposition: its leader happened to be the Chief Opposition Whip. Deprived of any proper standing in parliament, the Mahinda Rajapaksa led Joint Opposition found itself unable to cut ice there; it had to find its base outside the legislature. That paid dividends in 2019 when the slogan of the hour became Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s claim of being a maverick and a newcomer: a claim the JVP could not make.

Krishantha Cooray is only half-correct in his assertion that the UNP’s mistake was “to allow the so-called ‘joint opposition’ to dominate the public discourse on policy matters” – half- correct, because it conveniently lays aside the UNP’s complicity in the Bond Scam and other unpopular measures, a complicity that the present head of the SJB never shared – but he is right in the sense that in ejecting the Joint Opposition and allowing it to gain steam outside, the UNP enabled it to ride over the official Opposition, the TNA.

Identified unfairly with the UNP, the JVP did much to pinpoint and publicise the flaws of the regime. Sunil Handunhetti’s chairmanship of COPE enabled the Bond Scam to come out into the public; while several MPs, some of them later migrating to the SJB, succeeded clumsily in inserting footnotes in the COPE Report, Sunil opposed them and made his stance on the matter very clear. The JVP lambasted the UNP’s policies as much as the Joint Opposition did, standing with students protesting against SAITM and with unions protesting against the Port City deal. Yet these moments belonged to the Joint Opposition; despite its laudable critiques of the UNP, the JVP thus had to give way to a more nationalist-populist front.

Neither supporters of this government nor advocates of yahapalanism will admit the role played by the JVP in tarnishing the yahapalana regime’s prospects. That says as much about the popularity of the Rajapaksas as it does about the myopia of those who think that regime was the best we got, and argue as much in column after column. In both instances, the JVP remains forgotten, marginalised, and tragically underappreciated.

My point here is that if the ability to mobilise vast swathes of the population against the government is the litmus test of any opposition party, the JVP has failed to match its policy rhetoric with election results. Since 2005, it has registered an almost terminal decline at the polls, hardly commensurate with the popularity it enjoys among the youth.

The view that an “honest” opposition does not need to win elections – a view supporters of the JVP subscribe to – does not bode well for a party identifying itself with a disenchanted electorate. In politics, numbers matter. Without numbers, any attempt at acting “holier than thou” – a tactic the JVP resorts to so frequently it has become a trademark today – not only fails to generate votes, but also denies counterparts elsewhere crucial support. Perhaps it is this high-strung idealism, bordering on arrogance, that alienates SJB activists. Unfortunately for the JVP, it has not tried to extricate itself from such perceptions, as Anura Dissanayake’s outburst at Sajith Premadasa over the latter’s call for snap elections shows.

Having said that, the assumption that the JVP’s rhetoric impairs the SJB’s prospects as the country’s main Opposition is flawed and, to me, smacks of partisanship. It is no small irony that political activists trying their best to bring down the government can, in the same vein, denigrate the decisions and stances of a party that, for all the disenchantment the people had with this regime in the wake of the first wave last year, received only three percent of the vote at the general election. To denigrate such a party even subtly indicates, in the first instance, a fear of that party – hardly becoming of an Opposition attempting to pose as an alternative to the regime – and, in the second, a confidence in the main Opposition’s ability to unify disgruntled sections of the population against this regime.

To consider the SJB as somehow being more unified than the JVP is of course to overlook the reality. The SJB is presently suffering from a twin paradox: between its modest size and the scale of the divisions raging in it on the one hand, and between its break from the UNP and its response to the UNP’s return to parliament on the other.

The height of its confused relations with the UNP surfaced the other day, on Twitter, when certain SJB MPs alleged, then quickly withdrew the allegation, that UNP officials connived to delay investigations by the previous regime into the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder. Such confusions to me reflect a deeper problem: the SJB is yet to evolve an identity that can help it stand out and apart. Indeed, while publicly rejecting its UNP heritage, not a few of its MPs tout policies no different to the neoliberal prescriptions of the mother party.

That this remains the case despite Sajith Premadasa’s attempts to reach out to communities alienated by the policies of the previous regime, despite a shift among some SJB MPs from adherence to orthodox theory to calls for populist measures, and despite a debate that has sprung up over economic policy within SJB circles (a debate in which Dayan Jayatilleka and Kusum Wijetilleke, among others, have made commendable interventions), should inform us that while there are many terms one can use to describe the SJB, “unified” is not among them. The end-result has been dismally clear: people no longer distinguish between the old party and the new; nor, indeed, between the government and the opposition.

It is this, primarily, that has bolstered support for the JVP. While I remain sceptical over whether its resurgence can translate into actual votes, it is clear that disenchantment with the government’s policies has made a third option – which is what the JVP has historically been – preferable to a mainstream Opposition. Instead from attacking the JVP’s insularity, hence, SJB activists should find out why anger against the regime has turned its critics, not to a mainstream party as is typically the case, but to a party whose identity remains to the left and decidedly to the left of mainstream Opposition MPs.

There are many valid critiques that can be made about the JVP. I have made them, in this column and elsewhere, again and again. But to bemoan its decision to play the game alone, without finding out why the SJB has been unable to summon as much firepower, even after all these months, is to me unfair, unjust, and counterproductive. The way out for the SJB lies neither in demeaning the JVP nor in returning to the UNP, but rather in charting an ideology that squares with the interests of the country and the aspirations of its people.

*The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    “if the ability to mobilise vast swathes of the population against the government is the litmus test of any opposition party, the JVP has failed to match its policy rhetoric with election results. Since 2005, it has registered an almost terminal decline at the polls, hardly commensurate with the popularity it enjoys among the youth”. Very valied observation. Why is JVP not making a breakthrough in the minds of voters? Why is it not attractive to the voter? Has someone done any research about this? it should be a wonderful topic for political science students(Sorry Pol science students are worried about Western pol. science theory from the beginning to the end.). In my view, the JVP shuld identify small target strategy rather than trying to capture state power on its own in Presidential elections. i.e. identify 30 odd marginal seats where they can give a good competetion to SJB or SLPP. and devote most of its resources to win them. If at least it can win 20 seats at next elections, it will give them a good spring bord to negotiate with whoever comes to power. Secondly, it should identify local issues that matter to people in each electorate thus identified, closely work with activists who advance such causes/issues, and try to give them a hand at grassroots leve.

  • 5
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    When one is a witness to the violence of the 1988, especially dead bodies strewn on the roads, the entire image of the party is lost in his or her mind. The members of the party, has done good public service now, especially as whistle blowers. The role played by Sunil Handunnetti is appreciated even by his political adversaries.. Nevertheless some allege that “So and so has a house in Wales”. If one were to contend with the query “where is the proof?”, the same question can be raised with others too. Still some have the trepidation that whether they would practice “fundamentalism” should they get elected to govern the country.

    • 2
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      The JVP is pretty good at being in opposition. When it did get into Chandrika’s government, it wasn’t all that great.
      It is good that the JVP fearlessly exposes corruption in the government. But what exactly does it stand for? We know it is more secular than the other southern parties, which is good. But are the lower ranks as secular as the leaders? Will they change once in government? What about economics? Do they want a neither-here-nor-there “price control economy” like the Pohottuwa? It is hard to imagine the JVP preferring anything but a statist economy. Will it plump for the Chinese model?
      In foreign affairs probably the JVP , since it has no great affection for the Ranaviruwos, could take the bull by the horns and settle matters at the UNHRC.

      • 2
        0

        Dear old codger,
        .
        I think that you’re quite right when you say that the JVP hasn’t got the sort of support that they ought to have among the peasants. For most villagers the only sort of voting that makes sense is that associated with patronage politics. Also, I fear that in the case of younger voters Sepal Amerasinghe’s cynicism is common; abstention from voting or voting according to family diktat is what I see.
        .
        Most of the village votes came from slightly older voters, but I strongly assert this: if by “secular” you mean that they are non-racist, yes they tend to be that – much more so than in the case of those voting for the larger parties.
        .
        People like us are new converts to the NPP. I get the feeling that you are undecided, but I feel that now, in my twilight years, I must strongly support them. If we, who want them to succeed in building a meritocracy, are beset by doubts and are half-hearted in supporting them, is it any wonder that they can’t pick up votes?

      • 1
        0

        PART TWO
        .
        I try hard to get the message across that the NPP is not the same as the murderous JVP of the past. In AKD, they have a wonderful Parliamentarian, and the same is true of Harini Amarasuriya. Vijitha Herath represents Gampaha but he’s from Haldummulla, and had been in Grade Eight of Bandarawela MMV when I made my much belated entry to the University. We’ve had a few phone chats and I have forwarded a few links to him via email, but I know that I mustn’t waste their time.
        .
        The man whom they sorely miss is Handunetti. The problem for him was that entering from a District that has only a handful of representatives is difficult – squeezed out by the votes going to the larger parties. Even in my case, for the Parliamentary Election, I hesitated before voting for them. On the other hand, if it was First Past the Post they would have had nobody in. Isn’t it significant that this time they have representatives from the two Districts having the largest quota of Parliamentarians, and one from the National List? Any other Party would have presented some arithmetic and sent Handunetti in.

  • 1
    0

    The JVP OF 1971.
    The JVP OF 1988.

    Memories still linger………..
    But for now the JVP is the Conscience of the Nation. They have effectively [To some extent ] exposed the Corrupt extended family rule of the Rajapakses. A personality like JRJ, IF[A BIG IF ] was around he would have by now rallied the forces and Rajapakses would have met their Waterloo.

    Being Conscience of the Nation alone would be insufficient to form an alternative Govt.
    My take is that the JVP is in no mood to abandon their unique identity by merging with other opposition groups to challenge the Rajapakses. Perhaps,they fear what happened to the Leftists [LSSP, CP ] by throwing in their lot with the Sirmavo led UF govt:could lead to their extinction as well………….

    • 3
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      I think not those insurgencies but the langauge JVPrs are used to the rural folks is not comprehensible to them. Those numbers and facts would not be welcome by them. It is like greek to them.
      .
      It should well be filled with blatant lies wrapped around by towels of ” western invasion, anti NGO rhetorics and ” placing sinhalaya above the sky”… in order to get attracted to the stupid masses across the country. Then only, JVPrs would earn some respect among them…..

      Shortly before the last election, I had a F2F discussion with retired teachers, graduates from CMBO uni and various level of senior professionals from few companies in Hemasdrugs.
      They went on disagreeing me because they thought GOTA would walk the talk.. and him being apolitical…. etc… , at the time, I was making every effort to prove them that nobody else, Rajapakshes are the most abusive leaders since indenpence, they thought, I may be working for a NGO…

      • 2
        0

        Dear leelagemalli, you probably have a vote only in Germany, but your comments clearly show you to be sincerely concerned with Lanka, and like the NPP so much that you want to show them how to come into office.
        .
        Harishchandra,
        you clearly have more respect (like me) for the NPP than for other parties. I’m old and I’m thinking of what would be good for my progeny.
        .
        None of us is a professional politician; let us leave it to the leaders of the party to work out tactics, and even strategies. So long as they appear to be broadly sound, let’s support them. If they also appear to be crooks, let’s first opt out, and then attack them.
        .
        There’s much else that we can fruitfully discuss, but let’s assure this party of our steady support irrespective of whether they accept certain details that we suggest. Let those suggestions never be accompanied by a threat that we will withdraw our support. Those leaders also are human; if we threaten they may get a bit stubborn – even if they don’t end up being as mulish and doltish as Gota.

        • 2
          0

          I’m sorry; determined as I was to stick to the word limit I didn’t realise that I had inadvertently duplicated my comment.
          .
          Panini Edirisinhe aka Sinhala_Man

        • 2
          0

          As always thanks Mr Iskolemahathya, let s get together and promote NPP.😐😐😐✌✌✌✌

  • 3
    0

    So long as this country has a politically illiterate electorate that is predominantly racist, it would remain a dream for the JVP to wrest control of the governance of this pathetic country. When the Yahapaalana govt: wanted to hand over the Hambantota Port it was only the 6 mpp of the JVP and one other who voted against handing it over.

    • 2
      0

      Continuing
      .

      I’m not asking you to compromise on fundamental principles; if they betray us on those, we certainly must stop supporting them. I’m asking you to grow up and recognise what our role is. Now I hope that my saying that is not going to result in your going beyond sulking to attacking both me, and finally this political party which at age 55, or whatever, is striving to re-define itself. I will say more elewhere; now that I have written all this, I can see that this is mainly pertinent to LM. Please explore other options, but can’t you see that (apart, may be from a few good SJB guys, and some Marxist dreamers), there’s almost nobody else in Lankan politics whom we can even respect. It is great that you’re monitoring what snakes in the grass like Sepal Amerasinghe are doing, but please don’t expect us to waste our time on all this reprehensible Lankan politics.
      .
      Let’s learn to be loyal supporters who make suggestions for improvement.

    • 1
      0

      Another apology! I fear that I’ve got into a muddle with bold lettering.
      .
      Mea culpa (I didn’t bother to correct Dr Ameer Ali!

  • 4
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    A fair analysis and beneficial for JVP to read it. The Decade beginning in 2020 is very critical for Sri Lanka and its People. That “Situation” (critical) must be viewed shifting away from “Traditional” understanding and carving out “Policy and Action” plans. In that perspective where do our “Opposition” (those not affiliations) to the Government stands? (1) “SJB” led by Sajith is “No Hope” (2) UNP -led by Ranil W is a “Write Off” (3) The “TNA” – Not “National” but “Sectoral” (4) “NPP” – Backed by JVP -a “Hope”.
    That in No. 4 – NPP (Backed by JVP) must completely “Overhaul” and “Redesign” their “Policies”, “Action Plans” and “Strategies” if they are to “WIN” the hearts and minds of the People. The People do not want any more “Narrations” on “Corruption”, “Mismanagement”, “Nepotism” and “Condemnation” of personalities. They are well aware of all that and not any more sweet “Nectar”. What is “NEEDED” is “SOLUTIONS” to take them out of the “MISERY” they are in. They are not going to rely anymore on “PROMISES” because they had enough and no one has “FULFILLED” those. What the People want to “Hear” and “Know” is: YES, WE WILL DO, mind you not “Promise”. Don’t say the word “Promise” anymore. So “NPP” must “Change” the vocabulary and SELL the “Policies” and “Action Plans”. Who are their “CUSTOMERS”?

  • 0
    5

    My take is this : The JVP needs to do a lot more with coming clean with 88/89 & Tamils.
    They need to openly address the mistakes they made & assure to the people who mostly distrust them that they will not repeat them. Supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa & getting on the Anti-Tamil bandwagon was the beginning of their downfall after 88/89. They just need to accept it & make amends in order to gain trust of the people who lived through them.

    • 4
      0

      Samitha,
      .
      Do you want to humiliate them, make them grovel on the floor?
      .
      They say that they have made mistakes in the past – the violence of 1971 and 1988. That suffices for me.
      .
      By saying what you do, you make self-fulfilling predictions about their future failure at the polls.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

  • 1
    0

    I avert getting into JVP politics. The past of JVP makes it a spoilt contestant for political authority.
    But, I participate for reasons that this comment is all about.
    .
    In today’s context JVP has become a necessity. UNP/SJB and SLFP/SLPP are both in politics for the fruits of being in politics. No social consciousness. JVP is uniquely different.
    .
    To say that yahapalana regime’s prospects were tarnished by JVP is perhaps out of a personal dislike for JVP. Yahapalana regime’s prospects were tarnished by a single man, Maithripala.
    .
    If JVP could demonstrate that it has given up its racial bias I’d not hesitate to carry its flag. It will not. It can do it only at the risk of losing support from a populace that indulges in racism.

  • 3
    0

    PART 1 of 3
    .
    It is now dawn on Monday, the 18th. I read this article at least 30 hours ago, and decided to comment later. I have looked at a number of the links, but I just can’t take all that into account, and will try to say what I originally wanted to.
    .
    There are 9 comments now, but only Simon has so far corrected the most basic error in the main article written by the learned Uditha Devapriya. In this article he has criticised the JVP without taking account of the fact that they contested neither the 2019 Presidential Election, nor the 2020 Parliamentary Election. They were contested by the NPP (National People’s Power or JJB in Sinhala). I attended one of the NPP pocket meetings in Bandarawela before the Presidential Elections and urged them to go canvass for the First Preference for their candidate, AKD, instead of displaying a “kathire”. That is, I wanted them to educate the electorate, so that individuals like me would cast strategic votes. No success with the locals, or at National Level.

  • 3
    0

    PART 2 of 3
    .

    With little chance of the NPP winning a Parliamentary seat in the Badulla District I very nearly voted for the SJB, but changed my mind on polling day, and i haven’t regretted it.
    .
    My vote contributed somewhat towards the NPP obtaining one National List seat, and that seat was awarded by them to Dr Harini Amarasuriya who is definitely not a member of the JVP. The NPP consists of 28 Parties. One can appreciate the need for humour to stomach the fact that the other 27 Parties are so insignificant that we don’t know their names. I’ve downloaded their National List Parliamentary Candidates; some well-known names. I don’t know what their parties are called, but none appears to have deserted the NPP.
    .
    Not so in 2015. That was when they had suicide-bomber Zaharan’s father, and Chrishmal Warnasuriya (whom I know) who contested the Colombo District from Ranil’s UNP, and whose name I’ve seen in connection with the Pandora Papers (in just one place).

  • 3
    0

    PART 3 of 3
    .
    Yes, I know that the NPP are struggling to establish their identity; my duty is to keep supporting them, although I don’t think that their “strictly sectarian” parties may deny me a Membership Card even if I asked for it.
    .
    I know that they haven’t made headway for two reasons. Their violent past (1971 and 1988-89) and the Lankan voters habit of casting their votes only for a party that will give them the occasional gift at “government expense.” Certainly, I will not consider voting for the Frontline Socialist Party or the Social Equality Party because they are so small, and don’t care about that, either. Those also are Marxist Parties. I’m not qualified to call myself a Marxist, but I don’t regard them as evil. I’m happy that something like my liberal non-racist views are heard in Parliament through them, and now, sleepless, I have listened to more than an hour of AKD:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaehbYmE6sA
    .
    I’m likely to be a steady supporter of the NPP (and the JVP, I guess) for a long time to come.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Uditha,
    .
    I’m too old to look at tweets and Facebooks.
    .
    However, I see no evidence of “aversion” towards the NPP in political commentaries. The country is a crazy mess owing to what the SLPP has been doing. What I consider to be the better sections of the SJB are rightly focussing on countering the evils of the government.
    .

    Ranil’s UNP can now be written off.
    .
    You find these things “fascinating” – I’m sorry, that’s how you start this article about the horrors and tragedies that have befallen our benighted country. We had a real choice at the October 2020 Presidential Elections, despite Mahinda Deshapriya being upto tricks which deprived the earnest Nagananda Kodituwakku from contesting. Not that he could have come anything better than fourth. A Rajapakse was going to win. Should Gota have been allowed to contest at all? I ask you, and readers whose attention span is more than four days, to look at this:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/was-the-presidential-election-free-and-fair-when-colombo-returning-officer-called-sajith-premadasa-the-son-of-a-donkey-asks-prof-hoole/
    .
    Is it not clear that Elections Commissioner, Professor Jeevan Hoole, was convinced that Gota did not satisfy the citizenship criterion? Had the question been raised, Chamal would have been the candidate, and now the President.

  • 2
    0

    Continuing
    .
    That was a post-mortem. What could we have done? Nobody need proclaim how they cast their secret ballots. However, I’m disturbed by the fact that you don’t commit yourself to supporting anybody.
    .
    We were given 35 candidates and some idiots were saying it was “Hobson’s Choice”! We could have voted for any three candidates. Did you try to educate the voters on this aspect of voting? One man who did (like mad on CT!) was Professor Kumar David. He was asking that people vote number 1 for AKD and number 3 for Sajith, but he was saying it in such a way that all readers were made aware of the possibilities of strategic voting. Had you thrown your weight behind it, and persuaded others writing in Sinhala also to do so, I feel that Gota would have won only on a count of the Preferential Votes, and been a less arrogant President.
    .
    Imposing the initial COVID lock-down until the Green forces submitted two lists of candidates was more dishonesty – and we are paying for it now. The SLPP supported by fewer than 20% of the people, now wants to impose a new constitution on us. Fascinating!

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