By Lionel Bopage –
During the Presidential election in January 2010, I had my own personal experiences regarding the sneaky activities of certain JVP leaders that prevented my presence on the opposition candidate’s election platform in canvassing people against the previous regime. An incident similar to this, on 2 April 2015, appears to indicate that the JVP had been behind the influencing of the ITN not to telecast an interview conducted with Kumar. Why the current JVP leadership does not want any erstwhile leaders to appear on political platforms is only understandable in the context of the ongoing power struggle between the two factions, and the way the JVP has previously used falsification of history and personal slander as weapons against their political opponents.
I believe that the political culture of the JVP needs to change in order to embrace and welcome inclusiveness of diversity that exists even within the left movement. In the current environment, this acquires added significance because of the role the JVP plays in national politics, and its relationship with other political entities of the left. The JVP appears to be endeavouring to re-emerge as a significant political force by gaining people’s recognition and support. The people appears appreciative of the role the JVP plays in courageously exposing criminal and corrupt behaviour. Despite this, the JVP has not been able to establish itself as the alternative that people could rely on at least to elect it as the country’s parliamentary opposition.
In the early 1980s Mr. Prins Gunasekara, who currently lives in London used to say that the JVP was like a passenger bus, where people get in from the front door and get down from the back, and it never gets full. Recently what we have witnessed appears to be analogous to more people getting down from the JVP bus. Many wish that the JVP would take bold steps for leading people in a progressive and inclusive direction for building a better society. The JVP may need not only a socio-economic policy calculus to counter neo-liberalism, but also a structure that will value a better political culture, free of falsification of history, personal slander and use of physical violence. Political opposition can be challenged only by taking clear unambiguous positions on the issues of democracy and good governance that have now become controversial and debatable. The JVP does not need to make those who do not agree with its political positions antagonistic. In being honest about its political past, the JVP would be able to win over people’s trust to become the only viable left alternative.
In the repressive and manipulative environment that existed against political opponents of the previous regime under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, provisions of which had now been incorporated into Emergency Regulations, Kumar would have had to flee Sri Lanka under different names, and seek citizenship elsewhere. Under such circumstances, political organisations and personalities find myriad of non-conforming ways for carrying out their political activities. If democracy and good governance are to prevail, then political opposition should have the rights and freedoms to carry out their peaceful political, organisational and agitational activities without being subject to state repression or harassment.
Kumar has publicly acknowledged that he had to change his name to carry on his political activities. From the LSSP leaders in the pre-independence period to some JVP leaders in the 88-89 period, similar tactics have been used to escape state repression. Use of pseudonyms to conceal real identity had been well known, particularly in the left movement. Noms de guerre like Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Josip Broz, Ho Chi Minh, Michael (Yitzchak Shamir), and Rohana emanated from this tradition. These people would have preferred to use their real names though political reality required them not do so.
Besides, the regulation under which the Department of Immigration and Emigration sought Kumar’s arrest appears obsolete. This regulation prohibits political activities being carried out while being on a tourist visa. During the British colonial era, an attempt to deport Mark Bracegirdle, who had arrived in Ceylon on an Australian passport in 1936, on the grounds that he took part in left political activities in the plantations sector. The LSSP was able to get the Supreme Court to annul this deportation order. Furthermore, we need to be aware that the previous regime, which commenced applying this obsolete regulation against its political opponents, had shamelessly provided “democratic” passports under false names to their cohorts.
Despite my political differences with the FSP, I consider the current arrest of Kumar is a violation of his fundamental rights. Therefore, I support the demand for his unconditional release and recognise his right to engage in politics. Many political leaders including those of the JVP, NFP and JSP have opposed the arrest and detention of Kumar and noted that he is a Sri Lankan national and he should be permitted to engage in Sri Lankan politics. In November 2015, even Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had stated that the government was exploring the possibility of providing Kumar Gunaratnam with some legal relief, which is yet to materialise. At the end, it will not be a legal decision, but a political decision of the government.
Despite the retrogressive and controversial positions the JVP had taken in the past, it stood up in defence of the rights of certain communities when they were under attack recently. Many would like to see the JVP to be more inclusive and critically learn from diverse national and international experiences. The JVP still has a long way to go in encompassing inclusiveness within its political agenda. Achieving progress successfully will involve a political entity working with diverse social and political forces that represent the interests of the marginalised and the under-privileged, even though all these entities cannot be expected to move side by side along the same path of that political entity. The JVP’s political endeavour should be forged through political dialogue, discourse and debate that will move all political entities in the same direction for achieving a better society and a better future for the people of Sri Lanka. That will be similar to the strategy of Lenin, adopted during the Russian revolution.