By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“An eleven-member Consultation Task Force will enforce provisions of the US-backed resolution…The 11-member Committee named by the Government comprises Manouri Muttetuwegama (Chairperson), Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuthu (Secretary), Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Chitralekha Maunaguru, Visakha Dharmadasa, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Shantha Abhimanasingham PC, Mirak Raheem, Prof. Daya Somasunderam and Gameela Samarasinghe…The Task Force…will report to a Steering Committee on Reconciliation and the Prime Ministerial Action Group (PMAG)…” – The Sunday Times
Is Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s UNP Government going its usual route, bringing the usual consequences in its wake? While I appreciate the social liberalization, the opening up and relaxation – grandly and mistakenly called “freedom”—that has accompanied and always accompanies the electoral fall of an entrenched regime, the UNP has once again misread or forgotten the necessary prerequisites for the preservation of that opening.
DS Senanayake understood three truths: (a) that it was in the interests of the Sinhalese not to stamp the new order too obviously with their religio-cultural and linguistic dominance; (b) it was also in the interests of the minorities that the state does not stray too far from the consensus within the majority and that the more assertive minority slogans should not be acceded to; and (c) that India should not be allowed to extend patronage to the ethnic minorities and threaten either the interests of the majority or the sovereignty of the island.
With the conspicuous exception of Ranasinghe Premadasa, his UNP successors failed to realize the island’s social realities and therefore invariable triggered a majoritarian backlash. It is not surprising in the least that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s recent list of the ‘Four Revolutions’—DS, SWRD, JRJ and Jan 8th—strikingly fails to mention the closest to a real social revolution under the UNP, namely that of Premadasa.
Ranasinghe Premadasa zealously warded off incursions into national sovereignty from the West and India, balancing the gargantuan neighbor through a close relationship with the other SAARC nations. He delinked the Israeli connection, dispatched Ranjan Wijeratne to Iraq and Libya and titled heavily towards the Palestinian cause. He had excellent relations with China which provided the free textiles for his Free School Uniforms program. What is more, in response to President Premadasa’s typically unorthodox invitation, the Chinese Communist Party sent the most prominent foreign delegation for the ruling UNP’s Convention.
The pre-1956 comprador UNP that SWRD displaced has survived, staged a comeback, and wedded the caricature (exemplified by Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mangala Samaraweera) of the sophisticated urban stratum of ’56. It has been ideologically corrupted and corroded by the virus of Chandrika Chinthana of ‘Package’-PTOMS vintage.
The leading element of 1956 was a liberal, moderate nationalist elite. It is no more. There is no liberal nationalism because the liberals are anti-nationalists and the nationalists are illiberal.
In cultural terms, Bandaranaike’s daughters, Mangala Samaraweera and their circle represent some degree of continuity with the cosmopolitan sophistication of the urban wing of ’56, but not so in the vital ideological-political core. Here they have undergone what Chandrika’s onetime ideological hero and teacher Prof. Charles Bettelheim would call “compradorefication” and are in symbiosis with the UNP’s Ranilist Right.
1956 and 1970 had an urban intelligentsia as well as the legendary rural base, and the Bandaranaikes’ foreign policy gave voice to that urban and urbane nationalism. Sadly, in Mahinda’s second term, despite the educational sophistication of its Ministerial voice, the SLFP foreign policy projected the peasant consciousness of the ’56 base, rather than the open-minded modern nationalism of its enlightened urban vanguard.
What was the crucial difference between the urban intelligentsia and elite of SWRD’s ’56 coalition and Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s 1970 coalition on the one hand, and its rival the UNP’s urban elite on the other? The former was a jealous and zealous guardian of national sovereignty while it reached out horizontally across the globe while the UNP’s urban elite, by contrast, privileged the vertical relationship of patron and client with the West. What lay beneath this crucial difference were two characteristic qualities of the sophisticated urban wing of the SLFP: (i) its reflexive, almost testy stance of national dignity, which reacted against any kind of patronizing on the part of the West and (ii) an acute sensitivity to the sentiments of the vast majority of the underprivileged people of island, chiefly the rural Sinhala Buddhists.
Today that social sensitivity is gone. If it existed, this government and its supportive classes could not be setting themselves up for permanent domicile under siege, in enclaves and echo chambers, by an externally driven invasive procedure on the contemporary collective memory of a terrible war and a shining victory achieved through the heroism of a nation’s sons.
What is radically absent today is the vital intermediate strata, the globalized Third Worldist modernity of the intellectual and cultural elite uncorked by 1956. In politics, Lakshman Kadirgamar– whose sharp disagreements with CBK over the PTOMS and Martti Ahtisaari weren’t incidental or accidental– was the last of that kind. Justice CG Weeramantry is the most prominent survivor of the species of culturally and intellectually universalist (‘Westernized’) defenders of national sovereignty and independence.
Zeid al Hussein’s patronizing puffery and soporific spin notwithstanding, among the defining issues of the historical period we have entered are those of Constitutional federalization and the implementation of, or resistance to and renegotiation of the Geneva Resolution which falsely rewrites the narrative of the war.
The Geneva resolution is the touchstone and catalyst. It is also much more. Implementing the Geneva resolution is a recipe for the social suicide of an urban elite.
Our tragedy is at least in part, that of an absent or lost national elite. Thus it comes to be that we may no longer have a cosmopolitan constituency in Colombo which also scorns the vocation of being spear-carriers of Zeid Al Hussein’s human rights colonialism. That is also why we hardly have anyone in the opposing nationalist camp who eschews the hysterical hate speech against the rendition of the National Anthem in Tamil and the operatic rendition of ‘Danno Budunge’, while rightly opposing the Task Force of the Inglorious Eleven, hardcore NGO-istas, who never having faced violent death in the face, stand ready to act as scouts and informers for foreigners, on our patriotic armed forces who fought a historic liberation war to save us from terrorism.
The SLFP represented a progressive, moderate nationalism but today most moderates and progressives are not nationalists, and most nationalists are neither moderate nor progressive. President Sirisena’s official SLFP has yet to de-Chandrikaize party ideology, dislodge Ranil-Mangala capitulationism on Geneva and restore a nonaligned foreign policy. President Sirisena has not yet projected a moderate nationalist alternative to the UNP as SWRD did, carving a space between the Right and the militant, radical opposition of the day.