Colombo Telegraph

The Need To Do “The Right Thing” Vs “Political Reality”

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

By the time you read this, minds will have been made up and all we’ll have to look forward to is, by all indications and for the first time since the Rajapaksas took over the political process, an election without the threat and violence which had, unfortunately, become the prime feature of the electoral process in this country, at every level, the difference being that the UPFA candidates at local and provincial level didn’t have as much of the machinery of violence at their command as those running for the country’s national legislature!

An interesting development, as this campaign has progressed has been the increasing respect for the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) from a quarter from which its traditional support never came: the English-educated and/or politically-sophisticated middle class. The lack of a fluency I once had in Sinhala precludes me from assessing what the Sinhala-only middle class feels in this respect, as reported in the Sinhala media and, in the case of the Tamil media, I have to admit to total ignorance except for hear-say information.

While the greater majority of Sri Lankans who suffered through the second JVP insurrection, appear to continue not to forgive them for their acts of wanton cruelty, that party, for inexplicable reasons, given its otherwise smart assessment of the national mood, persists in resurrecting the memory of those dark days with its beret-clad depiction of Rohana Wijeweera, like a second-rate Che Guevara. In fact he has, in their minds at least, reached a state where canonization or the revolutionary equivalent thereof is imminent! This is truly one of the things I find inexplicable given the intelligent manner in which the spokesmen (they all appear to belong to the male of the species!) of the JVP have projected their organization’s aims and objectives against an otherwise neutral and dignified background.

When I think of the story that a retired Grama Niladhari friend told me, one of many being told and retold in the village adjacent to where I live, it makes that piece of the publicity campaign of the party led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake most puzzling, to say the least.

This man told me that his father-in-law, for the “crime” of being a long-retired police constable, was decapitated and his head put on display on the doorstep of his house. His son-in-law did the only sensible thing to do in those dark days: he went into hiding, away from his own village for a significant length of time. The need for doing this was reinforced by the fact that a colleague of his was also brutally killed for the “crime” of being a Grama Sevaka.

That incident was in stark contrast to what I remember and had personal experience of during the first (1971) JVP insurrection, where I saw, at first hand, the disciplined and, in one case, truly noble (and I do not use the term lightly) behaviour of JVP cadres on the run, knowing that their revolt had failed and they were doomed. One of the prime characters in one of the incidents from that time is still alive and his story is truly unbelievable but will have to wait for another time and another (larger) space!

The irrationality of insisting on invoking the image of a man who, to a very large extent in this country, is viewed as an opportunist living in luxury while those he led into the abyss were perishing in the most horrible ways possible is inexplicable. There is no other term for it. A friend, a JVP village leader of that time, to whom I’ve made passing reference in the previous paragraph has the same opinion of Rohana Wijeweera. A part of Wijeweera’s rehabilitation might be owed to the alleged manner of his demise. What I have heard from many sources and read about, did not bring credit to a government that was claiming to defend law, order and justice from the likes of the JVP. And that’s putting it mildly!

To return to more recent times. The first politician I encountered on my return to Sri Lanka the February after the tsunami was Mahinda Rajapaksa and this was on the occasion of the foundation stone being laid for the new town of Hambantota after the Tsunami had destroyed the original.

The friend who took me on my first trip down south in years, claimed a very cordial and close relationship with Chandrika Kumaratunga who was President at the time, as well as a seemingly good one with Mahinda Rajapaksa to whom he introduced me at one of the meetings held adjacent to the proposed town site.

I have to admit that, despite many years of political activity which did endow me with a healthy streak of skepticism, I was impressed by Mr. Rajapaksa’s demeanour and the impression he gave of being a genuine “man of action.” Did the scales fall from my eyes since that dim distant day on the site of what was intended to be the new town of Hambantota or did Mahinda Rajapaksa change very substantially since that time?

I suppose, given the benefit of perspective today, it was a bit of both.

What I hadn’t also taken cognizance of was the fact that my friend had and, presumably still does have, a foot in both camps despite the divergent paths that Mahinda and Chandrika have taken since. After all, isn’t that what the “realpolitik” of Sri Lanka is all about: not merely surviving but doing so very comfortably at all times?

While an old-fashioned belief in principle, morality, ethics and other “airy fairy” beliefs would date me somewhat and might even place me in a category that modern Sri Lankans consider akin to that which once awaited the Dodo, I don’t think one has a choice. People of my vintage – literally, a dying breed – might recall that old “Autograph Album” chestnut, “Unto thine own self be true” which used to be a safe staple of those with limited imagination when faced with the daunting task of applying some words of wisdom in a journal that was presumed to last for eternity!

In my many years with the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, the eternal debate appeared to be whether the NDP should form some form of alliance with the Liberals which, even in the days of Progressive Conservatism, were to the “left” of the Tories and closer to the social democrats in the matter of policies and principles. That temptation was avoided and, lo and behold, the NDP has won majority government this year in the province of Alberta which has long epitomized right wing, redneck politics. The Progressive Conservatives were defeated after 43 years of unbroken majority government, preceded by the (Christian Fundamentalist) Social Credit party for three decades before! The Alberta NDP’s success was the closest thing to a miracle in Canada’s political history!

Perhaps, considering that the most seats the NDP ever held in the provincial legislature of Alberta was sixteen, every one of which they lost in 1993, what happened in 2015 was truly a political resurrection and the polls subsequent to the Federal Conservatives calling a national election show the national NDP, traditionally a third-place party, leading both the Tories and the Liberals, with the distinct possibility of forming government later this year!

Is there a lesson in this somewhere for us in little Sri Lanka? Perhaps there is, in the choices facing us in order to keep the Rajapaksa wolf from continuing to indulge its ravenous appetite if it gets in the door of government again. Many of us are certainly on the horns of a dilemma in wanting to ensure the most violent, undemocratic and corrupt government Sri Lanka has ever had stays away from the seats of power and continues to languish in the political wilderness, on one hand, and, on the other having to choose between two alternatives. One of these has not, particularly by its recent conduct, convinced me that it will completely abjure conduct reminiscent of Mr. Rajapaksa’s cabal while the other, the JVP, while it has displayed cohesion, discipline, clear direction and a seeming commitment to principle, seems to lack the capacity to generate the numbers to take power by themselves. The matter of a possible working arrangement between the UNP coalition and the JVP to govern this country appears to be a moot point at the moment. They have one area of fundamental agreement: Rajapaksa and his familial cabal must not be permitted to return to power. However, there appears to be no clear indication on the part of either the UNFGG or the JVP of how they propose to deal with a situation where neither of them has a majority but together they could.

For myself, for the first time in my life, I think I’m going to hold my nose and vote strategically for a coalition that contains the likes of the racist Champika Ranawaka and the “insurance buyers” from the United National Party to whom I’ve made reference several times before. I hope to salve my conscience by vowing to hold their feet to the fire no matter how maliciously they try to “get me” for exposing their duplicity! I closed my last column by quoting an ancient Chinese proverb. This time let me stand a Sinhala village saying on its head and say, “If you lose, you lose and if you win you lose, as well.” That aphorism loses a lot in translation and the closest to it in the English language might be that, “Sometimes, there’s no winning for losing!”

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