By Kumar David –
Only down to earth real-politick can stop a Rajapaksa reflux: What to do and what not to do next
Lanka won a respite which will last but weeks if there is a shortfall in performance by Ranil Wickremesinghe and his government and that will be a precursor to a reflux of a Rajapaksa wave with renewed energy in grassroots electoral encounters scheduled for 2019 and 2020. I have zero faith in reincarnation but RW’s amazing rebirth has shaken by scepticism; but then it could not have occurred if Aappaya and Mahindahaya (to borrow my verbal diarrhoea infected 3-wheeler driver’s incorrigible vocabulary) had not locked arms and jumped off a cliff. But I run ahead of my script; first a broad summary of the state of play right now.
* The determination of parliament not to be bullied by President and the Rajapaksa mob, the mobilisation of middle-class democratic activists (twenty-two-day satyagraha at Victoria Park, crowds firming up RW’s spine at Temple Trees, a huge campaign in press and rallies) and the unwavering opposition of TNA and JVP to Sirisena’s illegal power grab has transformed the national political scene.
* The Supreme Court no doubt was only too conscience of the mood sweeping across the country; which is not to take away from the impeccability of its landmark judgement. (In passing, my comrades and friends who drafted 19A are sleeping well at night again!)
* Of greatest institutional significance is that the supremacy of Parliament over the Presidency in all respects stipulated in the Constitution and especially in 19A has been firmly asserted. (NM’s ghost worried sick about madmen at the helm is perhaps a little appeased).
May I suggest that these are the big picture-defining changes, the upshot, of the wrenching mill the country has been put through in the last six weeks while Aappaya was suffering his chronic mental collapse. But don’t say all’s well that ends well because we are nowhere near the finale. Intelligence is the art of peering a little bit ahead and reflecting on the counter strategies that the down, but far from out Rajapaksa movement (its proto-fascist pretensions temporarily pushed aside) will adopt in the coming months. In my wanderings around pro-MR types (the obvious segment is 3-whleer walahas) I have certainly seen disappointment at the setback, rage with Sirisena and some despondency but the base has by no means broken up or scattered. The MR base though dejected remains intact (like the Trump base); peripheral support of course has eroded.
At this moment I foresee three significant thrusts that the Mahinda Rajapaksa forces (MRf) are likely to adopt; disruption of orderly functioning of the government, second political interventions and third but most dangerous inciting communal violence. Disruption will take many forms such as trade union orchestrated disturbances; it’s the more reactionary middle-class trade unions like GMOA that have a fixated anti-government political agenda. The once progressive CEB Engineers Union did nothing to prevent the disconnection of power supply the Temple Trees when Sirisena was running berserk and there seem to be some rumblings among Railway Engine Drivers. Once things get started MRf agents provocateurs will step in and fan the flames.
Political interventions are still under study by MRf strategists and the options include incessant harassment by numerous court filings, a campaign for a referendum demanding parliamentary elections and whatever else MR’s bag of promised iniquities to bring down the government as soon as possible contains.
MR gave clear notice of what his key strategy is going to be if he fails to bring down Ranil et al. within about three months. His resignation statement was a denouncement of those who were seeking to reverse the war victory in collision with anti-Lankan foreign powers. He was not shy about naming the local parties to the alleged separatist plot, the UNP, TNA and the Muslims, but did not yet name the foreign partners. His bête noire of course are the EU, UK the US and Norway; India of course is included in the list by default. I was at a ‘Party’ (ULF) Central Committee meeting last Sunday and was taken aback by the agitation with which many spoke about the very real possibility of communal unrest that MR himself and the MRf (especially MPs and fake-Ministers who are likely to be taken before the courts and locked up for a good long time for corruption and reams of other nefarious crimes) are preparing. The groundwork for for anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim pogroms is being laid. Resolute political and police intervention can hopefully nip it.
A no holds barred political counterattack
There are two bottom-line strategic thrusts that the government must employ if it is to defeat this attack on its very survival; (a) a resolute counteroffensive on the political front and (b) an election winning populist economic strategy.
Let not RW and his cohorts forget that the mobilisation that saved their skins and threw back Aappaya and the concerted campaign of MRf power was once again (as in 8 January 2015) enthusiasm of the radical middle-class determined to protect democratic rights. The TNA, JVP, Chamipka, Mano Ganesan and Muslim Congress combined to form a wall that the proto-fascist rogue-regime could not breach. The bottom line in class terms was the energised and enraged radicalised middle-class; make no mistake about that. Numerically smaller than the rural people and the working class, politically it punches far above its weight. Maybe it numbers no more than 10% or 15% of the population but in its impassioned political wake it influences up to three times as many. If Ranil and his cohorts once gain betray the trust and break the moral compact with this part of the population, the UNP deserves to be pushed over the precipice lock stock and barrel and I will be happy to help.
And how is one to keep this trust and retain the compact with this angry radicalised segment of the population? What has to be done is straightforward; whether RW and his bandwagon have guts and acumen to carry it through remains to be seen. Hundreds of corruption and criminal (including murder) cases pending for ever and ever must the expedited and punishment must be meted out. No more procrastination; the country is fed up! Who cares if Namal, or Gota or Basil or a dozen ex-Ministers or for that matter MR himself are found guilty? If so they must be locked up as would anyone other guilty person. What’s the use of six special courts if they have been doing bugger all for months? If Aappaya makes himself an obstruction, oppose him publicly; confrontation must be brought into the open. The ministers in charge of prosecutions and media must be selected by the government; inference must not be tolerated. Ranil’s interminable history of pussy-footing and refusing to take a stand on power politics must end. People call him a woman! Rubbish, Mrs B was ten times stronger.
The GMOA has threatened strike action if Rajitha is appointed Health Minister. This kind of political interference by the doctor’s trade union is intolerable. Rajitha must be appointed and if the GMOA attempts to hold the people and their health services hostage it must be smashed; I can’t think up an English equivalent to convey the same flavour as aandu kadane unne. A full range of emergency steps, including the hiring of retired overseas Sri Lankan doctors on one – and two – year contract are necessary stop gap measures. The fight against proto-fascism is a fight to the death; make no mistake.
An election winning populist budget
Paski, Charitha, Eran and Harsha should be granted 18 months furlough and tickets for a nice long trip. I know the latter two and can vouch that they are nice chaps and went to good schools and all that but in these times, they are best suited to a salubrious vacation in Alaska or Botswana. Their economic thinking if allowed to dictate the next period is a sure-fire election loser. This is not the time for long-term liberal or conservative bourgeois free market, capitalist investor oriented economic daydreaming. Nothing of such an approach (even if it were wise which I reject, but that’s another matter) will produce tangible results within months or ameliorate anger at government’s economic failure of the last three years. This policy framework has been a failure both as a growth and export strategy and as a way of winning mass support. Mahinda, a cunning populist, immediately on assuming the reigns of office introduced a slew of populist measures. Why? Because he has a better understanding of how to win elections. Ranil (yawn!) hopes to deliver capitalist growth but he will be contemplating it from the benches of the opposition after 2019/2010. His economic team is a champion at losing both battles and wars. Still, the bloody nose the government suffered may have shaken it up a wee bit; anything is possible in these times. If Sajith, Mangala, Champika and others with grassroots experience were allowed more say in economic policy it would help. May be RW now sees the point, or maybe he’s still deaf and blind.
In closing I need to make clear the distance between the left, including parties in government and JVP, and the UNP and its ideological allies. The priority is to put out the fire that is burning down the house. The two teams of firefighters have entirely different views on how the house needs to be rebuilt thereafter. The differences are that the left does not have illusions that this reconstituted government will do much to redress Tamil grievances and secondly not for a moment does it imagine that the UNP will digress from its inherited economic orientation. The former the TNA too well understands but like the left it sees that the priority is putting out the fire and locking up the arsonists.
The second matter is medium-term and the left needs a united-front and thankfully the JVP has recently been making less sectarian noises than in the past. It knows that it can get nowhere locked up in a cocoon of its own weaving. Left unity is a topic for a separate essay (again!) at some other time.