25 October, 2021


The Pohottuwa: Where It Is & Where It Should Be

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Back in 2015 when Syriza won more than 70 seats in the Greek Parliament and with it the mandate to govern (with its leader Alexis Tsipras as the president), socialists the world over celebrated the coming of the Global Left. But as Stathis Kouvelakis notes in “Syriza’s Rise and Fall” (in the New Left Review), Syriza erred by moving from a militant party of the left (“with a strong culture of internal debate, heterogeneity, involvement in social movements and mobilizations”) to a party containing a passive membership and a more active and aggressive leadership.

The result was a mess of a vanguard party system, with the membership playing a pathetic second fiddle to the leadership. The consequences of this were seen soon enough, with no less a figure than Tsipras kowtowing to popular pressure from the European Union and caving into its demands. So much for the Global Left.

Gomin Dayasiri, at the launch of Manohara de Silva’s “Bedumwaadinge upayamarga saha vivastha sanshodana” held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, began his speech by comparing the movement for a more nationalist political party (back then the concept of a third party was only palely being tossed here and there) to the rise of rightwing movements throughout the West: Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen. Implicit in his contention was that if the West was seeing a return to “traditional values” (which was what the rightwing fringe leaders were harping about), there was nothing wrong in aiming at a restoration of the old order in Sri Lanka. Dayasiri made this speech more than a year ago, well before Le Pen and Farage went down and Trump’s popularity began to wane.

Image by Kavindu Hasaranga

My point is this: if we conflate the fringe movements of the West with the rise and empowerment of what is now the Pohottuwa, we’re as mistaken as those pundits who contend that the Rajapaksas should be ignored and cast aside. Where is Trump now? Where is Le Pen? Where is Farage and where is Johnson? More importantly, what was it that led them to clinch power and then quickly lose it?

The rise of the extreme right (and even left) in Europe and the United States was the consequence of a cosmopolitan and lotus-eating world order that eschewed national concerns for a mad rush and drive towards globalisation. Centuries ago, Diogenes, the madman who slept in a bathtub on the streets of Greece, proclaimed that he was a citizen of the world. From mercantilism to free trade to globalisation, the madman eventually became a prophet.

But this prophet, though a darling of world leaders and CEOs of global companies (or, as the Avocado Collective so aptly puts it, “sellers of overpriced industrial goods”), wasn’t taken kindly to by the people, many of whom vented out their fury and feelings of inadequacy by voting for people who not only rebelled against the “liberalism” of their opponents, but also against the rabid conservatism of their own party. The late John McCain is reported to have criticised Trump for straying away from the old and dear principles of bipartisan compromise which made up American Conservatism. It is this rift, between what is perceived to be “good sense” in mainstream politics and the populist thrust of the fringe movements, which brought to power, and then displaced, the likes of Trump and Le Pen. They were the inevitable consequence of an electorate that was getting tired of globalisation and multinational finance.

The Pohottuwa is not the product of this global trend (which is now waning). It is the product of discontent on the cultural plane. Not the economic plane. And the reason for that is simple enough: in Sri Lanka, the economic has almost always been taken over by the cultural.

The truth is that the leaders of this government are seen to be flirting with political movements which were displaced by Trump, Farage, and Le Pen, among others: the Democrats in the United States and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Britain. Those images of our finance and foreign ministers shaking hands of the likes of Nisha Biswal soon turned sour, and the racist epithets which supporters of the present administration hurled against China soon soured when a) we had to go back to China, and b) America began undergoing a radial trans-valuation of its economic and cultural landscape after Trump’s election.

Still, it is hard to resist the urge to compare the Rajapaksas and their imminent return to power, whether at the fringe or the centre, with what’s happening out there in the West. And yet, the imperatives governing both these political trends are different and vastly so. Mahinda Rajapaksa is not Donald Trump and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, despite what commentators like Tisaranee Gunasekara might suggest, is not Adolf Hitler. Added to this is another reason, more subtle and consequently easier to miss.

Political writers and columnists, particularly in the English press, are not a little obsessed with seeing a political context through the lens of Western history. Why else are the Rajapaksas being compared to Caligula and Hitler and, by implicit suggestion, the president and prime minister being compared to Obama and self-righteous liberal world leaders? The problem here, however, is that it is not just the supporters of the present administration who are making such grandiloquent claims by comparing the one with the other; it is also the supporters of the Pohottuwa, who have seen the rise of Trump and other extreme right movements in the West as a sign of the second coming of the Rajapaksas. Unfortunately for them, tragically, all they see is the rise of those movements, and not their subsequent fall.

If the Pohottuwa, or the Podu Jana Peramuna, is to forge ahead, it will therefore have to change its propaganda substantially. I am not suggesting that, as per Dr Dayan Jayatilleka’s suggestion, it moves on and embraces his version of internationalism (“Smart Patriotism”). In a country with a numerical and ethnic majority that is clearly opposed to such internationalism, not even Fidel Castro’s anti-Americanism can spur the people and their leaders to affirm globalism from a leftist standpoint. This is not my opinion; whatever my feelings on the matter, the truth is that the people are tired of globalists, whether from the left or right, and that they want a strong leader to make up for the weak government we have at present. You can argue that it is racist, anti-feminist, and anti-everything that liberals hold dear. Whatever argument you make, however, the truth will remain: the people are tired, of concepts and promises.

But then the people are making a mistake. Having repudiated globalism, they eagerly seize on the (perceived) rise of the Global Right as a sign of their return. This is a dangerous myth to indulge in, not least because fringe movements are exactly that: fringe, and therefore doomed perpetually to be in the sidelines. The shift from fringe to centre is a hard shift to make, but if the Pohottuwa is to make a proper, cohesive, comprehensive comeback, it must let go of both those myths: globalism and rabid anti-globalism. The reason is easy enough to guess: we are not the West. We are Sri Lanka. And in “being” Sri Lanka, we have our own economic, social, and cultural imperatives that defines what the political moment is, or at least should be. The more the Pohottuwa subscribes to this fallacious worldview, the more doomed it will be to remain as a fringe party.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    Pohottuwa is in pieces now. Like a velichha wattakka.
    It shows there are around 40000-50000 unemployed morons on the 5th of Sept at Lake house round about.

  • 7

    OMG this dude is such a Tosh artist!
    What is the basis of such rubbish?!
    “The Pohottuwa is not the product of this global trend (which is now waning). It is the product of discontent on the cultural plane. Not the economic plane. And the reason for that is simple enough: in Sri Lanka, the economic has almost always been taken over by the cultural.”
    Economic Rights and justice are back on the global and local agenda again, but “culture” as religion has been weaponized by external parties, particularly, US citizen Gota Jarapassa who weaponized Buddhism against Islam to Divide, distract and push agenda of Trumpland>

  • 3

    Uditha, the most part of the post independent Lankan political history has revolved around religion and nothing else.Regardless of Senanayakas, Bandaranayakas ,JR/RW (neo UNP) or Rajapaksas , it is nothing but religion (with that comes race/language) which has played the vital role in history. Though this may apply to other Asian countries still there are periods where policies, political beliefs, influence of like minded countries or a school of thoughts have had some role to play. If you take India the independence struggle not only lead to freedom but nurtured in forming Congress/nationalistic/federal movements. Though with time the original values got lost the country never strayed into only religion politics. The evidence of which is seen when a Sikh is a PM, Muslim is a President and Foreign born christian is the leader of a major political party. Even today there are strong policies in place to uplift the lower cast and minorities. Lanka never had any value or policy based political party. Except for the Left who soon lost all there values to join the rest. JR again for a short period had a economy/west influenced policy which again was wiped out by religion. Lankan political history is all about religion, discrimination and inequality wrapped in pseudo nationalism,nepotism,corruption and abuse of power.Another Zimbabwe or Venezuela.

    • 3

      You are right Srilanka’s politics is based on Religion. Prior to 1948, Srilanka was ruled by foreginers for nearly five centuries, most of the periods with various kingdoms and various kings where most of the kings had some connections with India. For many centuries Tamils & Muslims (Tamil speaking) lived in the north east part of the region and Sinhala speaking Sinhalese lived in the rest of the island. With the independence, the population distribution remained the same but the administration came in the hands of Sinhalese who benefitted from the West (Education, Religion, Wealth). When India got independence, Pakistan separated based on religion and then regional governments were formed to maintain the unity of the country. Unfortunately, our politicians did not bother about the country and focused on using the religion as a weapon to win elections. The result was India developed with the large population but Srilanka went on opposite direction with continuos bloodbaths.

  • 1

    No one except the English speaking coffee shop liberals of Colombo equate Pohottuwa to a conservative or right wing movement. It may be a Nationalistic movement (the other bad word next to Patriotism in the minds of the neo liberals). Mahinda’s vision had never abandoned the poor and the vulnerable and Gota under Mahinda’s leadership cannot do that either. What is right wing extremism bordering on a fascist state? It is not holding elections, defaulting elections to referendums, killing thousands and thousands using para military forces (no I am talking about the 3 people that facebook liberals lament over, I am talking about thousands of poor young men and women), the party responsible for all that is not Pohottuwa, it is the one in power.

  • 3

    It is very distressing and discomforting to observe why and how the “Experts” (Pandithayas & Purohithayas) on “Politics” try to “PAINT” and “DECORATE” this “POHOTTUWA” – “Private Enterprise” as a Main Stream Political party in Sri Lanka. It is nothing more than a “CONGLOMERATE” of all the “THIEVES and CRIMINALS” who robbed the National wealth of the country, most of whom are accused and charged and yet others who are roaming free but fearing action any time , formed for the SOLE PURPOSE of capturing power to ESCAPE FREE. Isn’t this “ESCAPE FREE” mission not clear to anyone who willingly or unwillingly goes at length in discussing “The Pohottuwa: Where It Is & Where It Should Be”? Please do not let this “VISION” & “MISSION” of the “Pohottuwa” be dragged out of the Public Domain. Don’t you observe and understand all these so called “Political” protest show offs are mainly to DISTRACT the attention of the Public from the ongoing investigations and court cases. This “Pohottuwa” movement has so far achieved that at local levels and will spread it and keep it alive with more vigor at all levels of the public domain in coming months. So what must be discussed is:” Pohottuwa: Why It Is & Where It Is” . Please don’t give it a “Human Face”.

  • 2

    If historians or other academics are trying to come up with so called political history of any substance other than religion in Lanka, they are just fooling them selves.There is nothing to research or analyze but there is awful lot to learn from our misery. Hope at least this may help in preventing other nations from following the same. All this political studies, research, analysis, round table conferences and political jargon will not make it up for a bankrupt political history of a failed nation. There was a Left years ago (not anymore) other than UNP/SLFP. Nothing else.When SLFP tried to isolate, MR outsmarted by forming SLPP. So the SLPP is the new SLFP. (With the next election SLFP will be history). Lankan history is like an onion you keep peeling it turns smelly,teary and burns the eyes but empty and hollow at the end.

  • 1

    Pohottuwa ia a movement ?????? sure if Ganasaras gang bang can be called one.. I did an extensive research on Lankan political history during my life time (thinking of writing a book) but the whole findings dosent even fill a page. Here are my conclusion.1) We got independence- where people were not even aware of until they were told so(perhaps the only country with minimal or no resistance). 2)The following 30 or so years the politicians worked hard with the help of the majority in CAUSING a civil war. 3)Another 30 years was actually spend in fighting the war. 4)And the last 10 years (post war) The politicians again with help of so called movements are working hard to CAUSE another civil war. PERIOD. How is that for a extensive research???? Now people can try to explain this crap in so many different ways (sugar coated) by way of research,study and political jargon. Irony is the retarded public is still under influence of politicians debating about the history prior to independence -Who was living??who came after?? who need to go? who need to stay? JEYAWEWA.

  • 4

    You can reject neo-liberalism and the concomitant globalism, but can you really break free and function independently of the global economy? All this talk, about protecting culture, resources and sovereignty from globalization supposedly working in the interests of western capitalists and their local agents, is only until the polling day. If the “left-wing pinkos” who profess this doctrine win the elections, the very next day they consult the World Bank, European Union, Washington, London and Tokyo in order to revamp the sluggish economy. So my young friend Uditha, I don’t see any clear-cut left/right, national/global, liberal/conservative divisions or categories anymore. Do you see them? You mention America “undergoing a radical trans-valuation of its economic and cultural landscape after Trump’s election.” I think this trans-valuation is now, ironically, a global process. That is why we are able to talk about Pohottuwa in terms of “extreme right” and “fringe” and so on. It is quite clear that Pohottuwa has broken off from the SLFP ideologically, not merely organizationally. But, unfortunately it is not a fringe party in my view. But rather a growing hard line Sinhala-Buddhist populist party. If they do win, they will integrate the country even more tightly with the global economy, than the present government, in order to consolidate their authoritarian rule at home. Exactly how the BJP turned out in India.

  • 0

    What was the economic size of srilanka before 2005, just only a 20 billion USD , percapital 1000 USD ,foreign direct invest ment less than 200 million USD this was a figures since independence to 2005. Among this 20 billion small economy of srilanka can srimavo,Jr ,premadasa or chandrika do any thing or is their any possibility to form a business class, can do a capitalist government,on those days the pettah traders are the favourite business class of unp. Unp proudly talled this business people are their supporters other than pettah traders among this economy any business class can be formed nothig unp or slfp government before 2005 are not capitalist governments they are doing mixed economy system along with janasaviya or samurdi. This situation was totally changed after 2005 ,the first time in srilankan history a wright wing and capitalist busibess government was formed by slfp under Mahinda.they convert this economy in to 80 billion ,percapital in to 3800 USD , foreign direct investment in to 1600 USD only with in 10 years, this government was the only power full business government formed after independence, they are the people totaly change country, high class infrastructure development , urban development, they formed top business class, middle class was expanded ,middle class life style was rich etc. Because of this all top business class and upper middle class and middle class became the block votes of Mahinda. They can do any thing for Mahinda. This middle class people knows only the slfp of Mahinda governments can make them rich and they hate poor parties like JVP or unp , the bluechip business class also the same they only like slfp of Mahinda the only wright wing formed in srilanka.we all see this business class in viyathmaga. So the when poor parties like unp cannot do any thing in this country when comparing with slfp of Mahinda they are so powerful.

  • 1

    “Mahinda Rajapaksa is not Donald Trump and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, despite what commentators like Tisaranee Gunasekara might suggest, is not Adolf Hitler.”
    Fascism, racism and chauvinism are not about personalities.
    But the conduct of political leaders, rightly or wrongly, brings to one’s mind certain personalities.
    If the author wants names other than tyrants in European history, there is an impressive list from elsewhere: Genghis Khan, General Tojo, Idi Amin Dada, ‘Emperor’ Bokassa and so on.
    The real danger lies in the politics that the individuals are identified with in the process of seizing power and not the individuals themselves.
    The politics that they represent often runs its course until it destroys itself and with it much of society.
    Our greatest tragedy is neither JRJ nor Mahinda Rajapaksa (or for that matter VP), but what made them possible.

  • 1

    Ajith just a few comments pretty much reflects the emptiness of Lankan political history. Was there ever a true manifesto, vision, mission or foresight. NOT AT ALL. It is all about religion /race/language. Retarded public is cleverly manipulated by the crooked politicians under the pretext of pseudo nationalism. The truth is they are just there for money and power. A true tragedy. How religion can blind sight rationality is beyond comprehension.It is obvious majority are self centered,self serving, jealous and greedy. The discussions are always about who stole more? who is the worse?? Who killed more? who can get ride of the minority?

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