I should begin by thanking Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka for his prompt response in the form of the piece “NPP Revisited: JVP-NPP Equation: Response to Dr Kalugampitiya” (January 18, 2022). It is a pleasure to be in conversation with Dr. Jayatilleka. I don’t want this to become yet another cyber-battle, but I would be failing in my responsibility if I did not address some of the points that he raises in his response.
Dr. Jayatilleka talks about front organizations and avatars. Front organizations and avatars are nothing new in politics. They are everywhere. Some have argued that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in the United States themselves are front organizations of something bigger that is behind the scene. And also, the idea of a façade/avatar is not limited to politics. As Dr. Jayatilleka would agree, there is a sense in which even institutions as fundamental as religion and the education system could be considered façades or avatars of something bigger and more fundamental (with apologies to Althusser). The point is front organizations and avatars are part of society. The JVP is not the only political party that has used front organizations/avatars. I grant that the JVP has used such organizations in a notable way, but they are certainly not the only group to have done that. Two things about front organizations: Firstly, the front organizations/avatars need to be understood in their proper context. The ones that Dr. Jayatilleka has named all came into existence in a specific sociopolitical context, and to read them out of that context can lead to serious misconceptualizations. (This is not at all to justify everything that is attributed to such organizations/avatars, but to point out that such organizations/avatars need to be read in their proper context, against the grain.) Secondly, and most importantly, I don’t subscribe to the view that all front organizations are simply ones that dance to the tune played from behind the scene. I would argue that there is a dialectic relationship between the front organization and what is or what is perceived to be behind it (with apologies to Hegel). It’s always possible that one part will eventually overpower the other, but the beauty of the dialectic relationship is that the victor and the vanquished won’t be the same as what they were before. This is why the whole JVP-NPP thing is important. Even if, as Dr. Jayatilleka implies, it is the JVP that calls the shots, the NPP will have an impact, and an important one at that, on the JVP.
The point that Dr. Jayatilleka is trying to make with his reference to Indika Gunawardena, Sunila Abeysekara, and Kelly Senanayake is not quite clear to me. I will not pretend to know what exactly happened with them, but I wish to point out that the JVP that he is talking about there is pre-1994. I am not at all suggesting that the pre-1994 JVP and the post-1994 JVP are two completely different organizations or realities, but the differences between the two are way too fundamental to be ignored. And, while on names, Dr. Jayatilleka refers to Rajini Thiranagama and Nirmala Nithiyanandan as “first-rate intellectuals, who enthusiastically joined the LTTE and of only one survived.” Anyone with the faintest understanding of recent Sri Lankan history would agree that the perceived comparison that Dr. Jayatilleka is drawing between the LTTE, particularly of the late 80’s and the early 90’s, and the JVP of 2021 is a bit of a stretch. Dr. Jayatilleka’s claim reflects the general tendency among certain segments in society to discredit anything and everything that the JVP is part of in the present context, on the basis of the pre-1994 life of the party.
Dr. Jayatilleka says, “I have to say though that I am far from opposed to, and would in fact be broadly supportive of and in solidarity with, a campaign of mass agitation which leads via a general strike to a political general strike and a hartal.” While I share the same sentiment, I wish to say that this is exactly why one should not take seriously the anti-government protests that took place in Colombo in November last year.
As for the two suggestions that Dr. Jayatilleka has for the NPP, I agree that university ragging should be abolished. As someone who stood firmly against the barbaric practice of ragging during his undergraduate days and as someone who had to face serious consequences as a student due to that stance, I want to see university ragging abolished. There is no question about it. Not only the NPP but all the political parties should denounce university ragging. What I fail to understand is why the NPP in particular? Will that change anything in the universities, which both Dr. Jayatilleka and I are part of? I believe Dr. Jayatilleka knows why I am asking this question.
Dr. Jayatilleka’s second suggestion is as follows: “[I]t [NPP] should strive to really represent a progressive civic alternative by incorporating respected radical personalities such as Pubudu Jayagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa who belong to the FSP. The NPP should become the platform on which the JVP and FSP can come together.” I agree that Pubudu Jayagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa are respected radical personalities. I also agree that the JVP and the FSP should be on the same platform. I sincerely hope that the NPP will take this suggestion seriously. The question I have though is if Dr. Jayatilleka would have described Pubudu Jayagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa with the same adjectives had the JVP-FSP split had not occurred.
In my view, any assessment of the role of the JVP in both the NPP and the broader political scene should factor in the turn that the party took in 1994.