By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“How do we understand the Asgiriya Chapter’s statement—because the crucial challenge is to comprehend it, whether or not one agrees with it in whole or in part (and I for one, do not).” ~ Dayan Jayatilleka, ‘Politics after Asgiriya’, The Island, June 24th 2017
Flattering as it is to interpretatively debate ‘Dayan Jayatilleka Thought’ or ‘DJ Chinthana’, let’s not make this about that or let’s do so only tangentially. What is far more important is the political content of this debate as it relates to Sri Lanka and the world, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
What is amply clear are the dividing lines, the lines of demarcation, between Prof. Laksiri Fernando and myself. As do all progressives and leftists in Sri Lanka, I regard the outcomes of 1956 and 1970 as more positive than negative. Laksiri takes the opposite view, and indeed does not seem to see anything positive about either 1956 or 1970! Like many, but not all Sri Lankan progressives and leftists, I see the negative side of 1956 and 1970, as I do of 2005—but I regard the primary aspect of those three turning points in our political history as positive, not negative. In short, mine is a dialectical view.
Laksiri’s negative reading of 1956 and 1970 leaves him open to the obvious question: who in his view, should have won the elections of 1956 and 1970? If the center-left coalitions did not, it is the rightwing, pro-imperialist, comprador UNP that would have. So that is what Laksiri prefers. Even with the downsides of 1956 and 1970, the only available realistic choices were the comprador UNP or the SLFP-led center-left, nationalist coalitions. I prefer one outcome; Laksiri the opposite.
This is “not to do with the letters of the alphabet—UNP or SLFP”, as political columnist Surath Ambalangoda used to say. It is to do with the program and project of the government concerned. I am glad that Ranasinghe Premadasa beat Sirima Bandaranaike in 1988 because I considered him the more progressive (populist-patriotic) candidate though he represented the UNP. When I supported Premadasa, most of those who prefer Ranil’s UNP today opposed him (and reviled, even attempted to lynch me).
What I see today are all the signs of another 1956 and 1970, by which I mean both the positive and negative signs. 1956 and 1970 happened because of certain stimuli; certain national and social challenges. ’56 and ’70 (and 2005) were blowback; a backlash. Today those same causative factors abound and the same backlash has begun. That backlash has positive and negative aspects. I have suggested certain moves and measures to pre-empt, neutralize, or minimize those negative aspects of the “ethno religious radical right that has mobilized” as I called in ‘Politics After Asgiriya’: recomposing the government by ditching its pro-imperialist rightwing which is a magnet for an ultranationalist backlash; delinking the official SLFP from the UNP and sending it back into opposition so as to strengthen a moderate center in the oppositional space; conferring proper recognition on the moderate progressive Dinesh Gunawardena as Opposition leader and the 52 JO MPs as the legitimate Opposition, thereby de-radicalizing the coming wave.
However, I have also grasped the nettle and posed the question as to what the choices are if none of these measures are opted for. If so, and the obvious polarization sets in, I have explained why I would support the JO-SLPP Opposition bloc, even if, as is highly likely it will be supported by a “saffron wave”. I have supported my argument using Lenin, Stalin and Fidel Castro. If Laksiri has a problem with the perspective that the anti-imperialist, anti-neocolonial, anti-comprador, anti-neoliberal struggle is the main thing and that it is not checking the tick boxes of social progressivism that count so much as whether or not that social or political force objectively attacks/resists imperialism and its local puppets, then that’s not my problem, it is his.
Speaking quite plainly, I regard the battle ongoing in Syria as our equivalent of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and I am unhesitatingly and enthusiastically on the side of the Syrian Arab Army, President Bashar Assad, Putin’s Russia, Ayatollah Khameini’s Iran and Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah, all engaged in protecting a state’s sovereign right to protect itself from terrorist barbarism.
I support the re-convergence of Russia and China and their Eurasian strategy to ensure a more multipolar world; a world with a greater equilibrium and more space for countries such as ours.
Driving these choices of mine is the perspective, as Fidel enunciated, that after the fall of socialism, the most important thing for those of us in the global South is the struggle for national independence and the unity and sovereignty of our states. Russia and China are our objective allies in this struggle.
I try to be consistent in what I say and do. It is because my views are those stated above, that I support those political and social forces in Sri Lanka that stand for or approximate these positions and I stand against those who are on the other side of this divide. Thus, I stand with the JO and its leaders, even if they support and are supported by the Sangha whose ideological stance I do not support, identify with or endorse but whose objective role and stance against the regime, I regard as more positive than negative a strategic development. If Laksiri had read DC Wijewardena’s 700 page classic, “The Revolt in the Temple” (1953), he would recall how the Sangha factor fed into the 1956 outcome, and would see where the Asgiriya intervention, unprecedented in recent decades, fits in the unfolding scenario.
Laksiri thinks we are not heading for a 1956 or 1970. As someone who lives in Sydney, he cannot sense the anger in our society. I can and do, every day. Why does he think the JO is sweeping the multipurpose cooperative society (MPCS) elections in the most diverse areas, beating by a large margin the UNP and official SLFP even when their votes are put together? Why does he think the Yahapalana government is running scared of elections? We’ll be lucky if the polarization and backlash stop at a 1956, 1970 or 2005 endgame.
Let’s dispense with the Rajapaksa and family rule issue. Raul was Defence Minister throughout Fidel’s leadership of Cuba and that was not because of nepotism but because he was the best for the job. I think the JO is superbly led in parliament by Dinesh Gunawardena and has a really talented collection of progressive personalities, such as our closest equivalent to Jeremy Corbyn, Vasudeva Nanayakkara (a friend of Corbyn), Dullas Alahapperuma, Vidura Wickramanayaka, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga, Dilum Amunugama, Namal Rajapaksa et al.
Addressing together with Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dullas Alahapperuma and Wimal Weerawansa, the large Dehiwela conclave of Trade Union delegates of the ‘Center to Save Our National Assets’, I suggested that today’s ‘Pancha Maha Balavegaya’ should actually be an ‘Ashta Maha Balavegaya’ consisting of the Sangha-Guru-Veda-Govi-Kamkaru-Sisu-Sebala-Vurtheeyavedee!
I am of the firm view that given the national crisis we are mired in, and the nature of that crisis, we need the strongest, most experienced and successful personalities to lead us out of where we are, to the best we can realistically be given our sociocultural matrix—a (Mahathirian) Malaysia. Sri Lanka needs a new model of state: a developmentalist, modernizing and technocratic state of the East Asian model. And that translates into a leadership duo of Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Given the 19th amendment, this means Mahinda as PM and Gota as President.
For any task one has to select the best tools. We need a blowtorch and a Black and Decker power drill to get us out of this mess, and that means a new vanguard of MR+GR+the best of the former armed forces combat commanders.
From the time I made his acquaintance 40 years ago, Laksiri Fernando and I always had this recurrent problem of his Trotskyism, and decades later of his support for CBK’s “peace” (appeasement) moves, Sudu Nelum ideology and her Constitutional “package”. His latest polemic and his support for the wretched regime of Ranil Wickremesinghe, place him clearly in the pro-imperialist, Rightist and reactionary camp, against the patriotic forces. Those who feel the same way may wish to join him.
I have stated the issues and the choices as clearly as I can. This isn’t about me. The readers are free to think through the issues and decide which side they are on.