By Dayan Jayatilleka –
This is a note on an aspect of the election. The Sri Lankan intelligentsia belongs to roughly two categories. One is the camp which regards itself as the “jathika” or nationalist intelligentsia, is more exactly defined as the Sinhala nationalist intelligentsia and is probably most precisely defined as the Sinhala-Buddhist ultranationalist intelligentsia.
The other camp is broadly definable as the pluralist democratic intelligentsia, which includes the liberal-cosmopolitan intelligentsia and the left-liberal intelligentsia.
The election result is a total victory for the “Jathika” or Sinhala ultranationalist intelligentsia.
It is also a humiliating defeat for the liberal democratic intelligentsia.
This latter intelligentsia supported either the UNP or the JVP/NPP and sometimes converged or overlapped. Few, very few, deigned to support the SJB.
The result shows that the UNP has been wiped out. The answer to the question “what happened to the UNP?’ is very simple: Ranil. Ranil happened to the UNP. For a quarter century.
The point is, how come the intelligentsia went along with him? How come the relatively more educated and sophisticated could not see what a disaster he was?
The JVP/NPP has edged the UNP into fourth place and claimed the number three spot. That would be a significant achievement if the bar had not been so abysmally low, with the UNP having committed hara-kiri. The JVP has managed to clear the 5% cutoff in very few places, and will consequently have very few seats. Bearing in mind that it was far more handsomely represented in parliament in the first decade of the 21st century, the current election results are hardly an impressive improvement. They are a steep drop.
In short, the UNP has been wiped out and the JVP has been almost wiped out in terms of seats. Thus, the two parties supported by the overwhelming percentage of the pluralist-democratic intelligentsia have proved a conspicuous failure.
That tells you something about this camp of the intelligentsia.
Meanwhile the party that the liberal intelligentsia turned up its nose at, led by the man it shunned, has established a near monopoly of the Oppositional space, barring the ITAK.
That tells you something more about the neoliberal and left-liberal currents of the cosmopolitan intelligentsia.
Perhaps the most striking datum is that in Colombo city (not the district), the metropolis with the most advanced consciousness and pluralist composition, neither the UNP nor the JVP survived, but the SJB swept through, defeating the mighty Pohottuwa.
This means that it is not merely a question of the ‘backward’ provinces rejecting the choices of the liberal intelligentsia. It is that the advanced city, in which such an intelligentsia usually is most at home, utterly rejected its choices and reciprocally, the intelligentsia not only failed to feel the pulse of the country at large, but even the cosmopolitan city.
That leaves five choices.
The liberal intelligentsia can defect to the ultranationalist camp.
Or it can dream about a revival of the dead UNP.
Or it can hang around the JVP which at this moment may not even get into double digits in terms of seats, or even improve on its tally in the last parliament.
Or it can join Mangala’s new forum, which will be a prolongation and compounding of its errors, because Mangala’s neoliberal ideology from the CBK days (‘Sudu Nelum’) through the Ranil years (Geneva 2015, an over-emphasis and overly high profile for the LGBTIQ cause) mightily contributed to the Sinhala-Buddhist backlash which has now swept the hustings.
The fifth option is a collective self-examination and rectification of its stance.
It must ask itself how it pushed the policies over the past quarter century– CBK’s package, the Norwegian exercise (which John Hume publicly predicted was doomed to fail), the CFA, the non-unitary new constitution—contributed to the Sinhala backlash and how the intelligentsia brushed aside this manifest danger.
Self-examination should also involve an assimilation of the lessons of the US Democrats, who have junked Hillary Clintonian neoliberalism while also choosing not to repeat the experience of UK Labor by opting for the Left and has instead settled on a progressive democratic center.
The fifth option also crucially involves recognition and embrace by the intelligentsia of the SJB as the only democratic resistance with a mass base of any significant sort—and Sajith Premadasa as the only viable leadership alternative.
To shift to a more conceptual note, the intelligentsia must recognize that only a social-democratic reformist program can save Sri Lanka, and in the global South, the only feasible form of social democracy is a progressive, pluralist populism fused with a moderate nationalism.
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