By Rajiva Wijesinha –
I used to find it most entertaining, I once told Bob Blake, that the main hopes of the West with regard to Sri Lanka rested on a Stalinist and a Trotskyist. This was in the days when some elements in the West were trying to stop us destroying the Tigers, while others, whilst appreciating our need to escape the threat that had bedeviled life here for so long, were anxious that we also moved towards greater pluralism. I used to place Blake in the latter category, and though it seems that he condoned the games that some Embassy staff such as Paul Carter played later on, I had no objection to his support of pluralism.
I was also glad that he appreciated DEW Gunasekara and what he had achieved in a couple of years for language policy, which no government had bothered about in the nigh twenty years previously after Tamil had been made an official language. This was because the foreigners who welcomed the measures DEW had introduced could not claim that these were done to keep them happy.
We know that there are elements in Sri Lanka, as represented most obviously by the egregious Dharisha Bastians, who nine months ago declared, in conformity with the views of her patrons in the Ministry of External Affairs, that Sri Lanka had finally decided who her real friends were, and would therefore obsequiously follow the West. That particular act of dancing on the graves of Tamara Kunanayagam and Dayan Jayatilleka and myself has since given way to virulent attacks on the government, with similar sanctimoniousness. These have become more shrill recently following the drama of the impeachment, and contribute to the view that everything has to be seen in black and white, with any opposition to the impeachment of the Chief Justice constituting an attack on the government.
This is why the approach DEW Gunasekara adopted, along with fellow party member Chandrasiri Gajadeera and former Trotskyist associate Tissa Vitarna is so refreshing. Coming from a standpoint that has never seen following Western predilections as desirable, their principled stand about the absence of due process is a refreshing reminder that dissent based on principles is acceptable, and not necessarily seen as threatening.
This is the more satisfying because it shows the universality of the principles to which the Liberal Party too tries to subscribe. We of course can be accused of following Western ideologies, though ‘Liberal Perspectives for South Asia’, which Cambridge University Press in India published a few years back, makes clear, in some seminal articles by Chanaka Amaratunga and Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, that Liberalism has roots also in Eastern thought and in some teachings of the Buddha. But our point is that these values are neither Eastern nor Western, they are simply human, and it is good that we find others, whose political ideas can be very different from ours in other respects, sharing these.
I recall something of the sort a quarter of a century ago when we were engaged in forming the Democratic People’s Alliance under which Mrs Bandaranaike was to contest the 1988 Presidential Election. The discussions were initiated by Dinesh Gunawardena and the MEP, which had a much more inclusive view of the way we should proceed than I had associated with that party previously.
I did not attend many meetings but Chanaka would keep me informed, and found that, though they argued over many matters, he got on well with the JVP Politbureau called Dhammika who represented the party. They alone supported Chanaka in his effort to make English also an official language, which surprised us given that the Inter-University Student Federation, which we had seen as a stalking horse for them, opposed this. But the JVP turned out to be much more cosmopolitan, and said they were all in favour of English, provided it were not confined to a few – which is why making it an official language made sense.
When the JVP left the alliance, they had told Chanaka that, though they had disagreed with him often, they appreciated the fact that he understood political principles, whereas they felt none of the other constituent parties was serious about these. I have often thought of that comment, in bewailing the fact that we are not likely now to ever prepare a new Constitution, which we so sorely need, on the basis of a coherent philosophy.
But it is good to see the old Stalinists and Trotskyists affirming similar principles to ours from a different perspective. And I hope that, when the dust settles, this approach will be appreciated, since it commands understanding and trust, with obviously no connection to the confrontational opposition of so many others.