By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Ranil Wickremesinghe is a leader without any popular vote; a ruler without a mandate; a ruler without legitimacy. And yet he seeks to crush the citizens using military and police force. Aragalaya 3.0 must be born as the Resistance against Ranil’s rule and can only end with his political retrenchment.
Actions speak louder than words, as the old saying goes. The actions came from Ranil. Speech is also an action. He sounded belligerent for days. After he was elected by the Rajapaksa majority in Parliament as the leader of this country, and he stopped along the way to thank the military and Police, he was heard to say some thing disparaging about the Aragalaya. At the Hunupitiya Gangarama Temple, he needlessly criticized the Aragalaya. After he swore in yesterday, he went to the Ministry of Defense where he was greeted by Gota’s closest comrade in arms, (retd) General Kamal Gunaratna, the Secretary/Defense.
Purely coincidentally of course, hours after that meeting, the Army invaded GotaGoGama, and together with the Police, thrashed the few activists there, rounded up others. They did so despite the fact that the evening’s news had clearly shown the evacuation of the Presidential Secretariat precincts!
Every decent human being capable of moral outrage, in Sri Lanka, as well as Sri Lankans all over the world, and indeed every decent human being capable of moral outrage, must protest against what is happening and what is clearly coming.
Ranil’s Roots & Record
For my part, I am shocked but not surprised, because I had been warning about this in my recent articles. This is because I know Ranil and have been a critic for decades.
In order to understand what has just happened at GGG, what is going to happen and what must be done to resist it and roll it back, you just have to know where Ranil is coming from. His parents, Esmond and Nalini Wickremesinghe whose base was Lake House, were on the Far Right in the politics of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I know this up close because my late father Mervyn de Silva had running battles with them in Lake House, even when he was editor Daily News (in 1970) and Ranil’s mother was a still a director.
One of the issues in the sharp conflicts between Ranil’s father and mine, speaks directly to Ranil’s regime and the repression that has just been unleashed. It began in 1965 and went on for years. It was about dictatorship and military rule. The Indonesian military had just seized power in September 1965 and begun a repression that consumed over 1 ½ million people. The unarmed Communist Party was massacred. The Suharto dictatorship began. A harsh economic model was implemented. There was a well-known film about that dramatic period, called ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’. I was there with my parents.
Back in Sri Lanka, there was a huge rift in the ruling UNP between the liberal democratic Dudley Senanayake and the authoritarian JR Jayewardene-Esmond Wickremesinghe factions. Lake House was the cockpit of the ideological struggle. Esmond was often heard advocating the “Indonesia model” and his acolytes wrote articles in support in the newspapers.
My father Mervyn, my mother Lakshmi and I (an 8-year-old) were in Indonesia in the run-up to the coup. Mervyn and family had been personally invited by Dr Subandrio, the Foreign Minister, to speak at the Afro-Asia Journalists Association meeting in Bali to mark the 10th anniversary of the famous Bandung Summit of 1955. He was the last foreign journalist to interview DN Aidit the leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In the pages of the Lake House papers and indeed in the corridors of Lake House, Mervyn was the strongest opponent of Esmond Wickremesinghe’s “Indonesian model” for Ceylon.
This is the model that Ranil Wickremesinghe is trying to implement.
When the debate was erupting publicly in the newspapers and the UNP itself in the 1960s, Rohana Wijeweera took serious note. He warned the country that the JR-Esmond Wickremesinghe wing may depose Dudley Senanayake, scrap elections due for 1970 and install the Indonesian model. He decided that because the unarmed though massive Indonesian Communist party was massacred precisely it was unarmed unlike the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs, the JVP should be armed in self-defense.
Rohana Wijeweera was right in his alarm but wrong in his prognosis and prescription. What went wrong was that there was a powerful center-left opposition which ensured that elections were held in 1970. His coiled spring of a JVP then leapt into armed action in 1971 against a government it campaigned for, touched-off by arrests after old homemade hand-bombs accidentally exploded.
Ranil hates Young Rebels
Ranil always hated young leftists. In the 1970s, when everyone in the UNP, including its Youth and Student wings, were impacted by the April 1971 youth insurrection and had shifted to some extent to the left, Ranil was the sole prominent exception.
When he was elected to Parliament in 1977, Ranil’s goons were known to have abducted student activists from CTB buses, taken them to SriKotha and beaten them up. He justified in parliament, the stoning of the houses of judges by thugs after the Court ruled against the policemen who kicked the respected Vivienne Goonewardene on the floor of the Colpetty Police Station. Gonawela Sunil, sentenced to death for leading the gang rape of the 14-year-old daughter of Dr ATS Paul, on Galle face green, was released on a presidential pardon by JR Jayewardene, made a Justice of the Peace for the area that Ranil represented and through Ranil’s patronage. He was parked in and worked out of the Ministry of Education that Ranil headed.
When Vijaya Kumaratunga was shot at during the Mahara by-election campaign, his bodyguard jumped in front of the shotgun blast and died. It could have been Vijaya. The lights went out during counting at the Mahara by-election and when they came on, the UNP had won while Vijaya who had been ahead, had lost. Guess who the senior UNPer appointed as political head of the UNP side during the Mahara by-election just happened to be? Ranil Wickremesinghe.
It was Ranil whose polarizing, unilateralist White Paper on Education (1980) led to massive student protests and revived the JVP’s student movement, giving it the power, it would have for decades. Those are the type of ‘reforms’ he will implement during his Presidency.
Let’s not even talk about Batalanda. Apart from the Commission report, there was nationally televised testimony from victims’ families.
The military is now in love with Ranil. It seems to have collective – hopefully temporary—amnesia about the abject state it was pushed into by Ranil’s lopsided CFA with Prabhakaran. Worse still, Ranil, who has absolutely no qualms in deploying lethal fierce against Southern leftist youth, called-off an LRRP hit on Velupillai Prabhakaran on Dec 21st 2001, overruling the plea of the Army Commander Lionel Balagalle, that it would shorten the war and drive the LTTE to a negotiated settlement. This was detailed in the book by Paul Moorcraft, senior lecturer at Sandhurst.
How to Resist Ranil
There is only one way to stop the Ranil-Rajapaksa-military regime that is now shaping up; only one formula I know of that has been tried and tested in history the world over.
That is the Anti-Fascist United Front or the United Front for Anti-Fascist Resistance. In this case, the broadest United Front Against Repression & Dictatorship.
If the JVP and FSP do not unite, and they both do not unite with the SJB, and the latter does not unite with them; if they do not unite with the SLFP and the 10 smaller parties, if they do not draw out the dissident Dullas faction at this time, all of them will be ground into the dust by the Ranil-Rajapaksa civilian-military junta. As a start, let whoever who is willing to unite with whoever else, do so today, in clusters. Pick your political partners, but for God’s sake find one beyond your current circle.
Civic activists must bring pressure on the leaderships and the political parties to form a single bloc. Meanwhile implement it yourselves at the local level. In every workplace and neighborhood, all those of all social strata, who support these parties as well as all those who are independent of party politics, must form joint networks, and networks of networks.
Tomorrow must be different from yesterday, and you must be different today from what you were last night. Without unity at all levels, everyone will unite anyway, in prison or the graveyard (if they’re lucky) or some incinerator if they aren’t.