By Kumar David –
When we wish to laugh at ourselves, we say “Sixty-nine lakhs of us voted for Gota three years ago, now ninety-six lakhs of us are chanting Go Gota Go!” The President, his goofy Viyathmaga advisors and his cabal of ex-military hangers-on have in three short years scored more own-goals than Muralitharan took wickets in his whole career. Still Gotabaya hangs on by his bleeding fingernails while the country erupts and rots. Another confusing thing is why did the JVP declare its innings closed even before batting?
Mahinda’s broadcast of 11 April confirms a decision has been made to fight to the finish. No resignation of Presidents or Prime Ministers, no talk of restructuring, no mention of quick elections, but chilling reminders of the heroic deeds of the military. He all but said: The Rajapaksas are Lanka’s symbol of power; we shall rule! The references to the military were chilling. Do protest leaders remember the White Flag Incident? Is this what awaits them? Have thousands of chanting youth forgotten the 60,000 who perished in 1989-90 and the LTTE “boys”? Either protests and “Gota Go!”, now extended to “Mahinda also Go!”, spreads to every town and corner the country, or this regime will repeat all this. The rumour mill is running overtime: Galle Face will be cleared by force (or ignored till the protesters quit, overcome by fatigue); rabble rousers and yellow-robed rascals will descend upon the protesters; provocateurs will dig deep, etc.
The Rajapaksa Clan is power-hungry to a degree that no previous ruling circle has been. But it is also said that Gota is fed up, knows he is despised, knows that an attempt at a military putsch will engender a mass backlash and that petrol-stations in sunny California beckon! From time to time there have been signals that he was inclined to throw in the towel and call it quits. Is it the choice between greed for power and peace of mind that he is unable to make? Does he fear that if unseated, he will be brought to book in domestic and international courts for mismanagement, abuse of power and crimes against humanity?
I think neither. Me thinks the problem lies elsewhere. If Gota falls, the Clan will cry out “Oh what a fall that is dear Clansmen, brother-officers, assorted crooks, friends and bungling imports from California. You and I and all us will fall”. (Mark Anthony won’t mind poetic licence in the service of this island nation). Yes, that’s the truth, too many crooks and knaves have been appointed as ambassadors, corporate chairmen, board members and asinine Central Bank bosses; too many Ministers and government MPs are ready-marinated for roasting in the bribery courts. That’s my reading; Gota cannot cut and run though it is as stark, staring clear as the noonday sun that he is despised and the people want him to “Go Gota Go!”
Where will this end? The end result will be that Gota is forced out this way or that; all he can do is prolong the misery and wound the country by delaying the inevitable. There is speculation that $1.5 billion in an Indian line of credit, repayment deferrals of Chinese debt and IMF mediated restructuring in international capital markets after the default will buy time to sooth the body politic and put up a show for the next election. SLPP, forget the next election! Even pacifying mass unrest is impossible. Forecasting elections is a fire that has singed everyone’s fingers but some edifices are too high to scale. Whether the Rajapaksa-rump plus SLPP will garner five, fifteen, or twenty-five parliamentary seats I will not speculate, but that this corrupt, financially bust, default-tainted Administration will be routed at the election is beyond doubt.
Thanks to India I can foresee diesel, petrol and cooking-gas shortages easing, I can see imported onions and dhal reappearing in grocery stores, but even a best-case scenario is inadequate to sooth the nerves of infuriated masses. Call our people foolish voters, but exasperated fools can’t be soothed. I can’t see the ‘Go Gota Go!’ chant subsiding till it achieves its ends. I can’t see how Gota can hang-on, bleeding finger nails and torn pyjamas as hungry crocodiles look up from the bottom of the cliff – do crocodiles smack their lips? Come on Mr President, do yourself a favour; cut and run before the night turns inky black. Unlike brother Bacillus you are not accused of personal corruption or 10% kickbacks. Only the Clan, Ministers and MPs are so accused, so why not hook it before your name too gets tarnished in this inky black?
Then there’s this conundrum about presidential elections. Ideally the Executive Presidency (EP) should be abolished without trace but what are the stages? That is the question. Sajith hankers for the presidency but it seems he will settle for the residual offerings of the 19-th Amendment – that is repeal of the authoritarian 20-th Amendment only. It is premature to predict how balances of power are likely to pan out after Gota bolts, but it sure is the best time to set in motion constitutional processes to bring about an irreversible repeal of EP.
There is little I have said so far that you have not worked out for yourself already though I have I hope emitted less words than writers prone to verbal obesity and column-inch inflation. Nevertheless, none has explored the curious behaviour of the JVP-NPP. Non-political friends make comments like “Curious”, “Difficult to understand”, “They don’t want to participate in anything not organised and led by them”, “Sectarians” and worse. First and most important, this outburst took the JVP 110% by surprise. The comrades were sound asleep when someone woke them and said ‘look out of the window, thousands are on the street marching against the government’. The comrades awoke, rubbed their eyes and exclaimed: “Vipleve patang araganathe? Aiyo aparade; ai kowruth upata kiuve nathe?” Ok, ok, I’m having a little fun as otherwise this piece is as heavy as a leaden cannon.
To be fair there are reasons why JVP-NPP banners and flags are not seen in the demonstrations. These events are organised via social-media networks and party logos are unwelcome. Still several NPP artists, students and academics participated. The organisers, for reasons best known to themselves, wish events to be non-party, not multi-party. The JVP-NPP has started organising events at town centres almost every day and will hold a three-day Pada Yatra from Kalutara to Kandy from 17th-19th. Indeed, there will soon be many groups protesting; they need to be cooperative not confrontational. Best and most productive is all-sector, all-party mobilisation and a general strike; but this idea is too complex for the JVP and unfortunately even some in the NPP to grasp just yet. Actually, I am aghast at NPP-JVP standoffishness; it is critiqued by many as sabotage (kadaa-kappal vada) but neither do the middleclass organisers of the protests have adequate contacts and skills to draw in all political parties, all social complexions, trade unions and farmers? Lanka is battling for democracy; everyone must be there. The People’s Movement has to spread to every class and corner of the country to become ever more broad-based.
The JVP is confused because this People’s Movement is not a Mass-Movement of the type the left is familiar with. It is multi class, ethnic and religious. Artists, sportsmen, singers and writers have thrown in their weight. It is led by energised intellectuals, the liberal middle-class and ‘new’ youth – not militant workers, peasants and radical parties – and the objective is change of government not transformation of the state. These two videos illustrate its broad people-oriented rather than left-oriented nature.
This brings me to a crucial issue that the JVP needs to fret over. The reason it was astonished by the spontaneous people’s march was that initiative and leadership was and remains in the hands of the middle-class. Fine, no problem, whoever makes a start and gets things going, hats off to them. What I am attempting to say however is something else. The JVP has inadequate roots in the local middle classes and none among global left elites. It is a representative of the peeditha-panthiya alone. I have had bitter feedback from students, sons and daughters of small shop-keepers in the South, school teachers all over and of course Colombo intellectuals: “These JVP people have no use for us, we don’t know a single leader personally!” This is utterly different from the LSSP and CP of years gone by. Maybe the JVP scoffs at this snotty intelligentsia but it will never win a national election or administer the country unless it reaches into, wins over and establishes itself in the modern middleclass and among twenty-first century intellectuals. It does not have one single NM, Colvin, Peiter, polished and prefect Bernard, Doric or Hector. Look guys, if you are serious about governing, you’d better understand your lacunae and fill the gaps.
I have grumbled ever so often that the JVP needs to accommodate modern intellectuals in its leadership structure which is now dominated by its peeditha-panthiya bread and butter core. My pleas have fallen on deaf ears; it’s not going to happen. This means we have to go about it another way. The NPP has to become the hub that sets the line and the JVP an associated partner. If Mohamed is incapable of climbing any mountain then the mountain had better put Mohamed in second place. I have often said that chaps like Prof Vijaya Kumar, Dr Harini Amarasuriya, Mr Lal Wijenayake, Dr Michael Fernando and many such others should play a decision-making role. Outside and inside the NPP the country is studded with plenty of twenty-first century left-intellectual talent. Let the JVP do its job and bring up the shock-troops, but let strategic and economic thinking be broader based. I am aware that I have not included social-democrat economists in this name list, but such gaps are easy to fill. Blah! Engineers, economists, agronomists, medicos are but useful sounding boards.
The point is this. In fast approaching post-Gotabaya Sri Lanka only two political entities stand out, NPP-JVP and Sajith-SJB. The rest is barren wilderness; Ranil and Pissu Sira will hitch themselves to some star and the SLPP-Rajapaksa rump cannot win an election. The strength of the SJB is that it has liberals, neo-liberal Thatcherites (Thatcher was a man!), Royal-Thomian types and posh English speakers. You can sneer at this lot of second-rate intellectuals but in the corridors of power at home and abroad you have to match them and wipe the floor with them. The peeditha-panthiya is grassroots; ok, but the NPP-JVP also needs its Colvins and its Bernards. The comrades may not get the point yet, but no worry, they will, they will.