20 September, 2021

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United Action Design Or Alternative-Government Manifesto?

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

This column will argue today that the opposition to the current regime – political parties, trade unions, religious institutions and non-governmental organisations – should collaborate in a unified action plan to stall, pushback and defeat the authoritarian project, and it will dispute efforts to foster or formulate common-programmes for an alternative (future) government, yet. Let’s focus on the first and eschew the latter; that’s my refrain. Before getting my teeth into this I wish to suggest that the regime seems to have retreated a little. There has been some mobilisation; not formally but on the trade union side and on the streets. Protest movements are more numerous than the formal media cares to report. Be it farmers’ fertiliser anguish, protests against the Kotelawala Academy Bill, piloerection at elevation of prodigal Duminda into the stratosphere, nurses’ defiance, anger of the Catholic Church and petitions against the persecution of Muslims by the state, these manifestations of public ire have thrown the would-be Palace Junta on the back foot. Or so it seems to me. And the big ones are yet to come – widespread mass unrest about shortages and prices and the final showdown, a General Strike. The expression of outrage by all opposition entities (except pissu-Sira’s SLFP) against authoritarianism and abuse of power has been a big help to protesters. That’s the good news for now; I need to go on.

There are indeed powwows among the likeminded – the Left, Sajith-Champika-Ranil-TNA like Liberals, NPP (including the JVP) arranged discussions, trade unions and reformist confessional bodies. These are either limited pandemic-restricted gatherings or by Zoom. There is however a disjuncture between the objectives of the different gatherings, or within them. If you strip to the core, the disjuncture is in three categories: Are we talking of (a) a programme/manifesto for the next or a future government, or (b) planning to pull together in common actions for defending democracy. And (c), in either case what are the terms on which we do (a) or (b), as the case may be. I will argue that (a) is counterproductive and will obstruct progress when the right opportunity arrives; (b) even on a limited scale has shown results and we must persist with it. So the more fruitful discussion is what are the does-and-don’ts, what are the (c)s, in respect of (b). Sectarian attacks against each other or within any of the aforementioned groupings at this time is stupid; let us focus on the common enemy.

Infeasible Alternative-Government Manifesto

Let me explain why doing (a) now will be a flop. Every one of us has been privy to one or other discussion or media report about some demand, suggestion, video or Zoom meeting. Consider what we have seen and also read between the lines. Some leaders, Champika and Sajith for example, are actually advancing the case why they should be the Next Great Leader. They are quite entitled to put forward their CVs, that’s their right; but let’s face it, nobody else is going to climb down and accept another’s CV right now. What is emerging in some forums about objective (a) is plain shadow boxing. Each one says this or that but the hidden agenda is “Anoint me! Anoint me!” This renders ostensible programmatic discussions numinous. People talk through each other but the real show is in the corridors where back-biting flourishes. A stark recent example is Champika’s demand in an interview with Kelum Bandara that “The JVP should give up its ideology and team up with us”. Meaning bugger your philosophy and identity, back me for the top-job. I take this opportunity to say: “Ranawaka why not you discard your hard-earned racist credentials and team up with the NPP to advocate devolution and power sharing with Muslims and Tamils?” Strategy (a) will make no progress at this time since Champika, Sajith, even emasculated Ranil and voiceless SF will not lie down and play dead. All of them daydream. This is opposite to the serendipitous conjuncture in the 1970 United Front where it was incontestable that in the event of victory Sirima would be PM. The same was true of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in India’s 2019 election.

The more serious obstacle to (a) is not the greed of putative starry-eyed leaders/presidents. It is that the systemic obstacles to a joint Manifesto are insuperable. Yesterday I tuned into a Zoom presentation on Tik Tok on HiruNews. Sumanthiran held forth: “I have the backing of all Tamil parties to say that while we stand with the opposition against contraventions of democracy, the opposition when it comes to office cheats us. We have been cheated repeatedly. Unless you make a clear articulation of your position on the Tamil question and you tell it openly to the Sinhala people, we cannot travel far with you. Our people are willing to come on the streets for democratic rights and face the consequences, but unless you tell the country ‘This is our solution to the National Question’, count us out as long-term partners”. Will Champika, Sajith, Ranil or SF ever come before the Sinhala Buddhist masses and say “Devolution”? The sun will rise in the West before that day dawns. A common opposition governmental manifesto-programme is a chimera. Forget it for now. Maybe later, after restructuring the institutions of state power it can happen.

The National Question is not the only insuperable obstacle to a Common Manifesto. Another big one is the Executive Presidency (EP) and with it the writing of a new or substantially amended constitution. Neither Champika nor Sajith can subdue their greed for securing an all-powerful EP. Notwithstanding proclamations of fealty to Buddhism they are slaves to thanha. That’s OK, as someone who disregards religion I don’t really care. My point lies elsewhere, it is that abolishing EP is another point on which agreement will not be possible until someone is chosen as leader; then all the rejected sour-grapes cases will come on board!

I have so far not mentioned the most intractable stumbling block, the socio-economic content of a presumed common programme. There are those who desire socialism but will compromise at social-democracy, there are the champions of free-market capitalism, entrepreneurial export-oriented enterprises and labour-market reforms (that is putting the working classes in their place) and there are dreamers hankering after an idyllic society akin to the long-gone village. How do you persuade Karl, Adam and Friedrich Hayek to sit round the same table and decide on a menu? Come on get real! Let’s pull together to do what can feasibly be done together, and that too is just what urgently needs to be done.

The intelligence to focus on what can be done

Citizens have the right to resist attempts to nullify the

Constitution when other remedies to do so are infeasible

(Article 20 of the German Constitution – A rough translation)

The common minimal plan that I believe the whole opposition (and a goodly part of government supporters and parliamentarians when the government splits) can agree on, consists of a few basics. Let me have a go at enumerating them. The dimension that will weld every decent activist into a united force is the need to constrain the Powers of the State. That is to resist excesses that reach beyond the rule of law. Closely allied to this is the protection of Fundamental Rights from infringement by the Paksa regime and by the police and armed forces. Maintenance of Order and Security are vital, but this is a two-edged sword. It is in the name of order and security that the state and the establishment carry out the most egregious violations of human and democratic rights. Hence vigilance and intelligence must be exercised in monitoring the state.

Action must ensure that the next election cycle is held on schedule. I am not in a hurry to advance it for the somewhat perverse reason that that the Paksas are so adept at hanging themselves that I would like to give them rope and time to finish the job. The worry of course is that the integrity of future elections may be corrupted. A comment that I frequently encounter is that the regime will fix future elections and that fraud, bureaucratic, physical or digital will be rampant. The Elections Commission is already embroiled in controversial transfers. The danger is most real but it can be overcome; best done by sharpening public vigilance right from now and paying closer attention to domestic and international monitoring mechanisms. I guess this falls between Regulatory Enforcement and Civil Justice. The other major item for an action plan to concern itself with is the judiciary; preserving judicial independence in respect of Criminal Justice and Civil Justice.

I will not ask for more, I am a realist. So long as the Rajapaksa-clan regime stays in office I am not asking for the moon. Eliminating Corruption, winning transparency and Openness in Government and creating traditions of Informal Justice, that is a fair society, is too much to hope for in these times.  No one can guarantee that the next government will be a bunch of angels, but right now the urgency is to stop repression. We cannot wait till a perfect option arrives to take steps to avert looming disaster. This is the minimal, if nothing else that January 2015 achieved. When a house is on fire, pull the entrapped children out first!

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Latest comments

  • 14
    0

    Happy Birthday, Kumar! What a life you have led.
    *
    May you continue to inspire us with your writings for many more years to come.

  • 4
    10

    “…but right now the urgency is to stop repression.”
    —-
    So that monkeys and donkeys can play hell as it happened from the day Sinhalayo gained Independence.
    The iron rule of LKY and Chinese domination is the secret behind the success in Singapore. LKY did not worship Democrazy introduced by British as our ‘Kalu Suddas’ did. There were no Marxist buffoons who told workers to resort to strike action or to say ‘Weda Adu Karaw, Padi Wedi Karaw’ (Less work, more money); ‘Dhanapatheen Sunkaraw’ (Anihilate rich people).

    • 3
      1

      Eagle,
      “So that monkeys and donkeys can play hell as it happened from the day Sinhalayo gained Independence”
      So who are the donkeys? Are they the ones who comment from Canada?

  • 5
    8

    Kumar: This article is written as if Sri Lanka is an island unto itself, but the Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil Diasporas have been Weaponized. Today US citizens Rajapaksa brothers make policy in this country to suit US interest, using the Covid-19 mask, as Covid-19 has enabled hyper-digitalization, and surveillance and capture of all national policy making institutions, particularly, the Health, Education, Legal, Energy, transport, land and marine sectors. Today meeting on Zoom and Skpye are surveilled, monitored by external actors. This is the purpose of the Covid-19 Plandemic – the capture of National institutions and policy making by external actors and their Diaspora Agents to make policy that benefit them rather than the citizens of Sri Lanka. SO what is to be done?
    Your analysis is useless without factoring this external Global dimension, especailly as strategic in the cross hairs of big power rivallry with politicians of all parties being visited and lectured on a daily basis by US, EU, Japan, China and other ambassadors in Colombo! Criminal politicians implicated in the CIA-ISIS staged Easter Sunday operation 2019 like Bathudeen and M.L.M Hizbullar who are corrupt criminals on a number of fronts are protected by US and Saudi embassy in Sri Lanka.
    This analysis needs the wider Geopolitical backdrop, because the local is Global today and the global local!

    • 6
      0

      Moreover,where are the people in all this? Do we treat people as empty shells that will drink any ideology,program put forward by the political class -right or left? This is the major mistake in Sri Lankan politics. I think it is far better to formulate a People’s manifesto first as a broad vision and mission to gain power and deliberate for the common good. Then develop a strategy including a communication strategy with the people in the districts. A ground up initiative is the most critical. 1)Understand what people want?(rather than we the educated and enlightened want) through grass roots dialogue,discussion and observation 2. Identify key issues affecting each Pradesheeya sabha/electorate/district. 3) develop a policy approach to help those living in districts etc. taking into consideration the current economic predicament,regional politics, and what is possible? 4) identify like minded political colleagues/groups/parties who are willing to come to a common front and work collaboratively 5) market the ideas and proposals by various means including social media,word of mouth,local small groups/kin and friend networks. 5. Implement the plan jointly. Though important do not put the national question as the main issue.You will destract the Sinhala speaking electorate and Buddhist monks. Put to the front main issues identified through local/district and electorate level dialogue/discussions(a bottom up process).

      • 3
        0

        Perhaps Dr.KD should have stayed inside the LSSP and changed its ways.
        But, then, the only reason that the LSSP got such massive number of seats in 1970 was its pact with the SLFP, like the JVP much later. Our voters aren’t very interested in being offered hard work now and paradise later. They want paradise up front.

  • 7
    0

    Many Happy Returns of the Day, July 29th.SIR.

    Even at 80 the logic and reasoning of a situation, political or otherwise is crystal clear.,all the more so for a very very moderate soul like me.
    Son of BGS David onetime Chief Magistrate Colombo in the 60s when the Judiciary was a respected institution Prof; Kumar David was no political Chameleon.

    I first saw him at College, Cherubic and with his shirt buttoned even at the neck. He was in the Coll forms much senior. Sartorial elegance in dress in much the same way of his many essays on these pages.

    But the Million Dollar Question is what keeps his Batteries charged? Surely, it cant be a Samsung Charger!; A Trotsky Charger?

  • 4
    0

    Clear and practical proposal and call for action, the need of the hour.

    All power to a United Action Design unequivocally putting democracy and the sovereignty of the citizenry ahead of gaining political mileage.

  • 2
    3

    My God….if it’s going to be so divisive, we’d better keep the Rajapaksas on. All they have to do is stop borrowing money from China for their super debt-ridden projects that do nothing for the Lankan people or Lankan coffers, other than make the country look more high-speed and glossy. Then bring in the IMF.

    Tamils will spoil it by taking their chance to demand for devolution and federalization; Champika will ruin it by reveling in Sinhala hegemony. AKD and Sajith will do best, but their base is low. Country will be worse off in the end and might erupt into violence with all these different factions. It will be like the Ranil-Sirisena time, but worse. Get it together, I say, and do the portfolios now! Choose a leader!

  • 3
    0

    What will happen to this programme if Rajapakse regime agree with Tamils and Muslim politics for a reasonable solution similar to that was developed under the previous government?

    • 0
      2

      Ajith,

      They’d put walls round their countries so refugees from Sinhala-land won’t come tumbling into them to escape their debt-ridden poverty.

  • 0
    0

    Who is Champika?

    Soma

    • 3
      0

      soman

      “Who is Champika?”

      What an insult.
      Have you forgotten him?

      He is the one who is responsible for extraordinary claims about the origin of Sinhala/Buddhists, discoverers of ZERO, ………………….
      He believes the first ape spoke Sinhala language and practiced Sinhala/Buddhism.

      He jumps ships at opportune times.

  • 0
    2

    While congratulatiing for his mental capacity at 80 and wishing him good health I must remind the readers that this Professor predicted +50% for JVP at the last election which demonstrates his abysmal understanding of Sri Lankan society.
    He is now promoting toppling the government which now demonstrates his abysmal understanding of our parliamentary system.
    Come what may our greedy sycophants at parliament will secure far above 50% for the Rajapaksas in the House.
    And topple the government at street level
    How much blood he is ready to spill?.
    .
    THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO FERMENT SOCIAL UNREST.
    .
    And look who he is promoting?

    Soma

  • 2
    0

    Any manifesto has to include Education reform including decolonisation as a core issue. There has not been a review of higher education in the country for as long as I can remember but keep adding more universities,campuses etc.? Knowledge diseeminated through universities is imported largely from the west-with no regrd to Eastern knowloedge or that is from South Asia. Education has been made into a commodity bought and sold in the market(otehr than those who get entry to public univedities).Irt is possible to imagine a different kind of education and higher education with a long term vision-a decolonial education and higher education that draws ideas,philosophies, epistemologies, methodologies,pedagogies from the Eastern wisdom. We are still a dependent nation when it comes to education and higher education.We offer translated western knowledge to our students via various disciplines. Do not produce our own knowledge? or even make an effort to find our what mwere our intellectual/scholarly traditions?

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