The official visit of Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the JVP/NPP leadership team to India this week marks a significant departure from the party’s historical stance on Indo-Lanka relations. Originating in the Sixties with an ingrained anti-Indian rhetoric, the JVP’s recent responsiveness to India’s call suggests a pragmatic shift, signaling its readiness to engage with India should it assume power in Sri Lanka’s next government.
Amidst widespread frustration towards the Ranil- Rajapaksa regime, the current political climate in Sri Lanka presents opportunities for alternative political forces. The JVP, attuned to the discontent among ordinary citizens deprived of basic necessities and hope for a better future, appears poised to capitalize on this sentiment. While facing competition from Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, who enjoys significant support among the marginalized masses, the JVP’s evolving politics and strategic realignment make it a formidable contender.
In recent times, the JVP has undergone a substantial transformation in its political objectives. Shifting its focus from advocating socialism, the party now prioritizes the eradication of corruption and the establishment of law and order in the country. At every public address, the JVP/NPP leader vows to hold accountable those responsible for corruption and the misappropriation of public wealth – factors contributing to Sri Lanka’s unfortunate status as one of the poorest and most corrupt nations globally.
The JVP’s public display of anger and protest, particularly in the post-aragalaya/porattam context, has resonated well with the electorate, significantly expanding its voter base. Large numbers of men and women attending rallies across the country highlight the party’s growing influence. The JVP’s distinctive organizational model and its role within political alliances have solidified its position as a key player in Sri Lankan politics. Additionally, the party’s effective social media campaign has garnered popularity among the younger generation. However, the populist surge of the JVP may fall short of addressing the country’s enduring challenges unless it shows readiness to embrace democratic pragmatism in both local and external environments.
The invitation from India appears to be a test of JVP’s perceptivity towards the structural power constituted by the Indo-US relationship. Notably, discussions with India aim to review the party’s policy towards these powers, challenging its anti-imperialist and anti-India rhetoric that has traditionally galvanized support from university crowds and left-nationalist elements. These elements, often full-time activists, have historically sought to save Sri Lanka from what they perceive as agonizing capitalism and hegemonic politics.
The roots of the JVP trace back to its early connections with the Chinese Communist Party, shaping a unique political journey. Aligned with Marxist-Leninism and adopting a Bolshevik and Leninist stance, the party emerged in 1971 as a rebellion against traditional and left-right political elites. The shift in focus to nationalism in 1989, using the Dravidian issue and Indian intervention as rallying points, contributed to the rise of anti-Indian sentiments among the Sinhalese population.
The JVP’s resurgence after 1994 saw strategic collaborations with Chandrika Bandaranaike, granting it significant influence within the government. Despite its engagement in parliamentary politics, the party maintained its ideological stance, particularly regarding the Tamil issue and India. However, the JVP’s withdrawal from the governmental power began after its opposition to the Post-Tsunami Operation Mechanism (PTOM) in 2004, formed in collaboration with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The JVP’s involvement in key power shifts, including the presidential election between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe, showcased its ability to influence political outcomes. The party actively pursued constitutional reforms, advocating for a reduction in the powers of the executive presidential system. Recent leadership changes, though, have led to shifts in its stance.
Central to the JVP’s historical ideology is its anti-India approach, rooted in concerns about India’s influence on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The party consistently criticizes India’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s affairs, fearing a potential loss of independence. This anti-India stance has been a constant thread in the JVP’s foreign policy discussions since the 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Treaty.
As the JVP continues to evolve, the complexities of its historical journey and the necessity for a nuanced stance on critical issues underscore the intricate landscape of Sri Lankan politics. The party’s willingness to engage with India while maintaining its commitment to eradicating corruption and establishing law and order marks a departure from its earlier idealism of anti-Indianism to a more modest phase of pragmatism.
Further, political predictions may abound, but the true challenge lies in consolidating, improving, and preserving power once it is secured, particularly in the face of regional geopolitical complexities, domestic economic collapse, and urgent public frustrations that require swift solutions. Immediate hope becomes essential in navigating these challenges.