By Kumar David –
The JVP is a Sinhalese party; that is its composition and the makeup of its leading committees. There is no denying that it is also leftist and strives as best as it dare to take a progressive attitude to minority (Ceylon Tamil and Muslim) issues. Historically though this is not true, especially during Wijeweera’s period in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Rohana was not progressive in his thinking on the national question and hostile to plantation Tamils. The passage of time, the stark example of JR-UNP racism and internal influences such as Lionel Bopage mellowed this roughness and today’s JVP is by no means a chauvinist or racist party. I feel confident and comfortable in saying this both as an assessment of its current ideology and public stance, and from some familiarity with individuals.
But there’s still a problem. What’s that? This is what I want to try and get across today. My first point is that the JVP is afraid of the Sinhala voter. No that doesn’t sound quite correct. Let me try again: The JVP sees the Sinhala petty-bourgeois and the Sinhala working-class as its target voters and fears alienating this constituency. That’s better but still incomplete. There’s more to say. Taking a fair/principled/progressive (choose what adjective you like) stance on the national question would be electoral suicide the JVP thinks. Is this valid? Well yes and no as I will explain but before that let me say that every Sinhalese party and leader (UNP, SLPP, SLFP and the in-the-GR-MR pocket dead-left LSSP, CP and DLF) is of the same opinion and functions in the same way. I don’t think Ranil, Sajith, DEW, Tissa and Vasudeva are racists, but they are without integrity on the national question for fear of the Sinhala electorate. When Gota says he can’t accede to devolution because the majority oppose it, does he mean that he himself is not opposed? If so he could set himself a one year target to educate the people and overcome the problem. If he is sincere, why not? I am not sure whether GR and MR are racists in character, but it is certain that they have placed themselves at the service of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism as an election winning strategy.
And the strategy has paid off! There was a Sinhala-Buddhist (SB) landslide in the November election and it went to Gota exclusively. I have estimated that 72% of SB and two-thirds of the non-Buddhist Sinhala vote plunged to Gota. Broadly we can say that only a quarter Sinhalese opted to take an anti-chauvinist stand in the Presidential election. Sad but true; we must face facts otherwise we will not be able to deal with the challenges the facts pose.
Since there was an SB landslide was the JVP right in avoiding an anti-chauvinist stance? Had it confronted chauvinism would it have failed to poll even the miserable 3.5% that it did? No! The JVP would have got not one vote less if it took a firm position and spoke against chauvinism. Not one SB voter who supported the JVP would have run away. The JVP pulled not one vote from the chauvinist camp by ducking! And the same is true for Sajith. He would have done equally well (badly sic!) even if he did not play the “national security state” sham sponsored by GR and even if he supported devolution of power in the N &E. This then is my bottom line: Chauvinists will never support the JVP because it is identified with leftism, socialism, Marxism, a radical programme etc. The future for the JVP lies in defeating bigotry and raising the consciousness of the masses; never in shielding its eyes from the real world. (Or it can give up trying to be a Left party, but it cannot combine the two).
The country is going through a SB backlash and the worst response is to shrivel up and cringe in the face of bigotry. If the JVP (and the UNP) refuse to capitulate to chauvinism, the stronger they will become as time goes by. The LSSP and CP gained in moral stature so long as they resisted racism; their fall belongs to a later era after they capitulated. Had they not yielded, they and the country would have been better off today. The JVP must denounce narrow-mindedness and campaign for devolution and the rights of national minorities. It will emerge stronger. It will not gain one chauvinist vote by playing peek-a-boo with the national question; it will only sully its integrity and loose its radical and revolutionary base. “One crowded hour of glorious fame is worth an age without a name”.