By H.L. Seneviratne -
I admire Professor Kumar David’s principled stand in general on the issues confronting us as a nation, or what could have been one. I would like to offer the following observations on the single issue idea he has proposed that deserves the attention it has been receiving.
My first concern about Professor David’s idea of a single issue candidate, of which he is aware, is the assumption that the candidate, in this case the Venerable Sobhita, will conform, after election, to the requirement of singularity, and indeed whether he can, considering the pressures that would inevitably be exerted on him, especially by the Jatika Cintanaya and other components of the lunatic fringe. It is my understanding, although I am not certain, that the Venerable Sobhita is or was a member or sympathiser of the Cintana Parishad, the ideological and organizational command centre of the Jatika Cintanaya. This is obviously related to Nimalka Fernando’s question as to whether a Buddhist monk can be secular and non Sinhala. “Of course he can” says Professor David, but I am not so sure. Professor David is of course right in theory, because, though rare, socially and politically sensible monks do exist. But I doubt very much whether there is any such who would also be a winning candidate. The very thought of identifying the Venerable Sobhita as a possible candidate is based on his existing religio-political stature, which is an admission that a complete stranger to the political scene would not be an effective candidate; and I would be very skeptical that any monk with the semblance of such a religio-political stature, and thus would be an effective candidate among the Sinhala Buddhist voter, would be free of the conception of the glorified and idealized Sinhala Buddhist State the establishment of which started in 1956 replacing, insidiously as we can see with hindsight, the secular and multi ethnic state founded at independence.
I think Professor David also is too quick to dismiss Nimalka’s point about the possibility of the present president preempting the whole exercise by abolishing the Executive Presidency (EP) himself. He inquires, “What’s wrong with that?” and proposes immediate action: “pump up the mobilisation and dump down the EP”. This again is excellent on paper, but underestimates a wiliness that can teach a few lessons to Machiavelli and Kautilya.
Further, in my view, given the alternatives, a single issue approach is as much the easiest way out as it is the least likely to succeed. Even if the single issue election is won, the multi issue election still needs to be fought, which means we are at square one, and on the arduous path, yet the most likely to succeed. That’s where the real “pump up mobilisation” is, the hard work of putting together a rainbow coalition of as many colours of the spectrum as possible, obviously minus the blue. This should include all persuadable political parties, prominently including the UNP, JVP, TNA, and the Muslim parties, the Clergy, NGOs, Trade Unions especially the FUTA, Civil Society and Student organizations. It should be a pragmatic inclusivism that covers even the pathetic “traditional left”, however despicable its bootlicking collusion with tyranny is.