By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Hafeel Farisz has written a double-barreled critique of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and me, though as he says, I am the primary target because of the intellectual dimension or pretensions that I bring to bear. It is quite tempting for me to respond at the level of theory, but that would be a diversion. That is not what this entire matter is about. In the theoretical or intellectual realm I shall therefore limit myself to referring my critic and readers to my quite recent essay (March 2, 2017) in Vol. 10 Issue 14 of the e-publication of the Center for 21st Century Global Dynamics of the University of California, Santa Barbara, entitled “The Great Gramsci: Imagining an Alt-Left Project” (http://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e/march-2017/great-gramsci-imagining-alt-left-project). It is soon to be republished in an extended version in Paris, with accompanying critiques by Dominique Follet and Jean-Pierre Page, in La Pensee Libre.
My formula of Gota as President and Mahinda as PM was the development of an idea that came up in an extended interview that DBS Jeyaraj conducted with me on the occasion of my 60th birthday last December, in which I noted that Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa are the closest Sri Lanka come to a Fidel and Raul Castro combination. To make explicit what this implies, is that it is perfectly fine to think of a combination of the two brothers. I have recently framed it as “Gota as President, Mahinda as PM” for three reasons.
Firstly, Mahinda cannot run for President as per the 19th amendment.
Secondly, the Presidential election is due before the parliamentary election so there is no question of Mahinda being elected PM and then reversing the 19th amendment (even if that were desirable, which I am not sure it is).
Thirdly, the formula “Gota as President and Mahinda as PM” provide the same winning combination of change and continuity that Chandrika as Presidential candidate and Madam Bandaranaike as PM provided the SLFP-led UPFA in 1994.
Farisz’ critique takes place in a certain context. One aspect of that context is my formula that Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be the Presidential candidate and Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Opposition at the national elections scheduled for end-2019/2020. But there is a broader context, and that is the ideological, or more crudely, propaganda battle that has now commenced. That battle swirls around three interconnected projects, namely the new Constitution, the new Geneva resolution and the new economic policy direction.
My advocacy of a Gotabaya Presidential run and a “Gota plus Mahinda ticket” comes in the context of, and is proposed as an answer to, a serious and deepening crisis. That crisis is multifaceted. There is a push for a new Constitution which will remove the executive Presidency—a factor for stability and economic growth, introduced for that purpose by JR Jayewardene—further empower the Prime Minister whose role in the massive bond scam has yet to be clarified, and transfer more power to the provinces including the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Northern Province has only recently passed a resolution calling for re-merger and “self-determination”. Its Chief Minister’s political behavior is borderline subversive of the constitution. A new Constitution which shifts power to these entities is an exercise in dangerous lunacy.
What is still more dangerous is that a Referendum would give the restive North and East the same opportunity that the British provided Jinnah, and Mustafa Barzani is just about to exercise in Iraqi Kurdistan—a Referendum in those particular areas, after which it can be proclaimed to the world that the Tamil people of the North and East have rejected the idea of living within a unitary state and constitution and therefore have a right to exercise self-determination!
In the meanwhile this government seeks to sell off national assets and the national space, also permitting the economic annexation of Sri Lanka by the Behemoth next door. Free trade agreements are its only doctrine and free trade is best described in Che Guevara’s words as “a free fox among free chickens!”
Thus we in Sri Lanka today face an existential crisis. Our country is being robbed from us. Our vote has been robbed from us and we have a 16 member pseudo-opposition while a 51 member Opposition formation is unrecognized as the parliamentary Opposition.
We, the vast majority of Sri Lanka’s citizens, need to take Sri Lanka back and put it back on track; on an upward trajectory to be the best place we can be. And we need the best possible team to do it. That’s where Gotabaya and Mahinda come in. I would have said Mahinda and Gotabaya except for the realities of the 19th amendment. This time round, Mahinda has to be the booster rocket.
What then of my earlier critique of Gotabaya? I was the only one to criticize Gotabaya publicly at the time, and certainly the only one to do so from within the Mahinda camp. That tells the story. My criticism of Gota was that he was taking an excessively hard, hyper-securitized line, as distinct from Mahinda’s instinctively pragmatic balancing. So it was a preference at the time, of Mahinda’s line over Gota’s. Today the choice is not one that takes place within a patriotic MR government, between MR’s and GR’s line.
Today when it is a choice of MR plus GR, vs. Ranil plus CBK, GR’s and indeed MR’s past errors pale into insignificance.
Today we are back to 2005, where MR, GR, BR, NR and the JO have to fight together to save the country from the Ranil-Chandrika partnership which seeks to dismantle the state and sell out the country, rolling back the gains of the war of liberation and reunification waged by our armed forces. The only difference between today and 2005 is that due to changed Constitutional and social realities, GR will have to be the vanguard element—rather like the role of the elite Special Forces–while MR is the leading force and the JO the main force.
Gota has demonstrated his developmental vision and capacities beyond any reasonable doubt. He is not only a decorated warrior who knows how to defend his country even at the risk of his life, but he is also a man with a constructive, modernizing vision and capacity. That is a combination of qualities—fighter and builder—that this country, and indeed any country, needs and should be proud to have.
I brought in Kumara Gunaratnam for a simple, symbolic reason. I don’t believe a society can tackle all its major tasks at the same time, nor do I believe that any leader or political option can do so either. I am convinced that a Gotabaya Presidency based on a Mahinda Prime Ministership can take Sri Lanka to the same place that an earlier leader I worked closely with, President Premadasa, wanted to take it: Mahathir Mohamed’s Malaysia. I am convinced that no leader/President but Gotabaya can do so.
However, in my lifetime, I would like to see Sri Lanka eventually evolving beyond that, to an unlikely synthesis of Cuba and Singapore; a society with a Singaporean “brain” and a Cuban “spirit”, a Cuban “heart and soul”; a fair and just society in which ethnic and religious factors can be transcended in a new fusion, a new identity. Of those I see around me, a combination of Kumara Gunaratnam and his FSP comrades Pubudu Jagoda and Duminda Navagamuwa, and a JVP led by Sunil Handunetti and Bimal Ratnayake (minus its pro-Ranil rightwing) seem to have the necessary consciousness. That is the task for the next generation; not ours (those generations that fought and won the war in its several dimensions: politico-military-diplomatic).
However, for that to be possible, the country needs to reach a level of economic and educational advancement; of urbanization and scientific development—all of which will be within a globally competitive national capitalist framework, not a socialist-oriented one.
This historical task of building the modern material foundation of a future social democracy or democratic socialism under a ‘next generation’ democratic left government, can only be fulfilled today and tomorrow under the strong, patriotic, modernizing leadership of Gotabaya, backed by Mahinda.