By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Why do I call it the JVP-NPP rather than the NPP-JVP or simply the NPP?
Let’s start with the fact that the NPP was founded and is led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake who is the leader of the JVP. Talk of interlocking directorates! Dr Kalugampitiya accuses me of virtually ignoring the NPP and focusing on the JVP. As someone who is on the left of the Realist school, perhaps I do prefer to focus on the organ-grinder rather than the monkey.
Any comprehensive account of the JVP’s history would show that its political playbook contains important tools of front organizations or avatars – there is a distinction–usually named “Deshapremi” or “Deshahithaishee”.
This goes way back, beyond even the notorious “Deshapremi Janatha Vyaaparaya” (DJV) which was virtually a pseudonym, to the early years of the party.
All Dr Kalugampitiya has to do is to walk down the corridor and ask Prof Gamini Samaranayake, a veteran of the original JVP.
The NPP is a new-generation model, but the template is the same. Certainly, the NPP has more life, more visibility and more autonomy than its predecessors. But the precedents must not be forgotten.
In its post-1978 democratic phase, the JVP attracted a few notable personalities of the upper-middle class, most notably Indika Gunawardena and Sri Lanka’s potential equivalent of Joan Baez, Sunila Abeysekara. The entire group was evicted together with Sunila’s spouse Kelly Senanayake.
The JVP also had even at the worst of times, quasi-endorsement for some of its slogans, from very eminent civil society personalities. When in the late 1980s it insisted that parliament be dissolved and power to conduct election handed over to a committee chaired by the Chief Justice, a supportive petition was signed –perhaps not entirely voluntarily but that’s not my point– by some of Colombo’s most respected personalities. But this was of purely tactical significance.
Sri Lanka’s contemporary history also has the examples of the sisters Rajani Tiranagama and Nirmala Nithiyanandan, first-rate intellectuals, who enthusiastically joined the LTTE and of only one survived.
The NPP’s fate will not be that of its predecessors, I’m sure, but I have no doubt as to who calls the shots—and that is the founder and leader of the NPP who is also the leader of the JVP.
This is where the NPP model can be distinguished from the Latin American model in which the Broad Front or the Democratic or Civic Front affiliated to the radical-left/revolutionary political party is NOT led by the party leader. That guarantees the autonomy of the broad democratic or civic front. An important example is El Salvador’s FMLN-FDR, where the FMLN and the FDR were led by two different leaderships.
Now to the question of strategy. I derive my understanding what that might be by the speeches on a solemn occasion, the anniversary of the second uprising, by Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Tilvin Silva. There is a remarkable consistency in the speeches of last year and this year. When the leader and the general secretary of the JVP make authoritative speeches and the JVP leader also leads the NPP, I think that’s fair procedure on my part.
The JVP’s strategy may not be the NPPs but as long as there is a concentration of offices at the apex, in one person – the JVP leader being the NPP’s leader and founder, the NPP will not be able to have a strategy that is not complementary to or a subset of the JVP’s strategy.
I have to say though that I am far from opposed to, and would in fact be broadly supportive of and in solidarity with, a campaign of mass agitation which leads via a general strike to a political general strike and a hartal. The problem I have is the same that Prof Kumar David— someone I have hardly ever agreed with since the 1980s– also does, namely the blind eye turned to the ominous military build-up, and the savage dialectic that can be unleashed, especially if the mass movement has not been alerted to the danger.
As for the NPP’s economic alternative, Dr Kalugampitiya should take on board or be taking on the important critiques by Devaka Gunawardena, Kusum Wijetilleke and Uditha Devapriya; critiques which, inter alia, take exception to the overwhelming focus on corruption.
My own critique of the NPP’s economic program has been its start-line, the denunciation of the Open Economy of 1977 as pretty much the root cause of all our present evils. I find myself in broad agreement with Kusum Wijetilleke and therefore shall not repeat it.
My basic political disagreement is that the NPP document stands for the abolition of the executive presidency while retaining the system of Provincial Councils. I am glad of the latter, having been a supporter of PCs even before their establishment in Sri Lanka, but I am firmly of the view that abolishing the Executive Presidency while retaining the PCs is dangerously centrifugal given the axiomatic geopolitics of our situation. Sri Lanka cannot afford a Scotland or Catalonia given the proximity of ethnic kin in the closely neighboring subcontinent. This is a fundamental issue.
May I venture to make two constructive suggestions to the NPP?
Firstly, it should take a strong stand against university ragging and pledge to abolish it.
Secondly, it should strive to really represent a progressive civic alternative by incorporating respected radical personalities such as Pubudu Jayagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa who belong to the FSP. The NPP should become the platform on which the JVP and FSP can come together. That would also be a test of its autonomy.
In conclusion, I think the NPP is a positive phenomenon and provides a valuable public pedagogic function. It has considerable potential if it guards against turning into a (better-read) ‘red Viyathmaga’.