By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Nov 16th 2021 was the current Opposition’s equivalent of the Feb 18th 2015 Nugegoda rally of the pro-Mahinda JO forces, but Nov 16th 2021 was more impressive and significant.
Feb 18th 2015 was most striking because of its unprecedentedly rapid turnaround time after the January 2015 defeat.
Though it took far longer due to Covid-19, the SJB demonstration of November 16th 2021 was a more crucial turning point.
It is the day the democratic Opposition went on the offensive. It is the day that hope was reborn in the ranks of society as a whole. The same was true of Feb 18th 2015 in its time and I wrote as much, but the first factor that makes things radically different today is the depth and extent of the national crisis, economic and social.
Thus, the significance and potential of the SJB manifestation is qualitatively greater. It can be the spark that ignites the process culminating, through many intermediate, even dangerous phases, in a democratic transition if not transformation.
There is a second factor that makes Nov 16th 2021 more important. It is the size and extent of the protest, counting the significant numbers that were prevented by the state from coming to Colombo.
The third factor that makes it more significant than even Feb 18th 2015, is the sheer scale of blocking by the regime, which was not the case in 2015.
The SJB’s ‘smart’ demonstration of November 16 in Colombo, the unplanned local protests at every venue that the prospective marchers were stopped by the Police (500 roadblocks, reported The Island), the sizzling speech by Sajith at the edge of Galle Face proved that this was the indispensable formation in the democratic Opposition; the indispensable leading force and main force of the Opposition.
At the political level the competition is now indubitably between the SLPP and the SJB. The SLPP regards its main challenger for power as the SJB, or more accurately, Sajith’s SJB.
The Nov 16th events set an example of resistance to the general public, the entire country. Sajith’s Galle Face speech had a simple message: “Enough of this curse…we are committed to forming a government of the people (‘podujana aanduwak’)”.
It constituted a declaration, echoed in parliament the next day by SJB general-secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, that the SJB was determined to evict the government through people’s power direct action and elections.
What does Nov 16th mean further afield? For the JVP it means that either a broad bloc is necessary with the SJB or competition must be stepped up in the struggle to change the administration.
The JVP, though far more powerful in the mobilization of social forces, especially the unionized of town and country, is far more vulnerable on its own than is the SJB which has political real estate.
It seems to be solely the pathological sectarianism of the JVP’s leader that forestalls, possibly forecloses, a united front with the SJB.
The SLFP will have to decide whether it can go it on its own, or stay within the government and survive electorally, or join the SJB as a junior partner of a centrist convergence.
The SLFP surely has to abandon any hope of overtaking the SJB.
What is true of the SLFP is truer still of the smaller parties of the ruling coalition. Can they stay in government and avoid the fate of the LSSP-CPSL in 1977? Can they move out and survive at the next election? Can they enter a bloc with the JVP?
Or, would it not be most prudent for the smaller allies of the SLPP to form a united front with the SLFP under the latter’s leadership and then enter negotiations with Sajith and the SJB?
The United National Party (UNP) has been totally replaced and superseded by the SJB. It
has no realistic option but to dump its eternal leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, pick someone willing to work with Sajith and under his leadership, and either join the SJB or enter a united front with it as a (very) junior partner.
The civil society intelligentsia must realize that none of its formulae so far, which do not recognize the central role of the SJB and the leadership of Sajith Premadasa, are relevant. Re-thinking is on the agenda.
Left-oriented civil society intellectuals must learn that if they truly stand for a progressive outcome they must constructively engage with the SJB and nudge it leftwards, strengthening, inter alia, the populist centrism of Sajith Premadasa.
Liberal-cosmopolitan civil society must realize that its values can only be realized by acknowledging that the dominant discourse will always be that of Sajith Premadasa as expressed at Galle Face on November 16th: a ‘Podujana Aanduwa’; a government of the common people, the masses.