By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“There is no sense in my becoming President if I am to surrender the independence of my motherland or if I am to allow it to be divided into pieces. For the sake of remaining as President or for the sake of personal gain, I shall not betray my motherland. I have not inherited such qualities. I have no intention of passing down such a shameful reputation to my descendants either.” ~ UNP Presidential candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa, Oct 6th 1988, Sugathadasa Stadium
“However far, however close, or however powerful any nation may be, it has no right to aspire to control other nations. It has no right to dictate our policies or maintain an unwelcome presence on our soil. The blood of Sri Lankans, past and present, has not been shed to subordinate our country.” ~ President Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sept 22, 1989
Sri Lanka has to wage a national liberation struggle and is in the throes of one whether or not we are aware of it. The upcoming election is part of that national liberation struggle. Sadly the Left is not leading it. The JVP and the FSP have not studied the success of the Nepali left. Corruption is the sole issue for the JVP, and it is not explaining the neoliberal model that the UNP is trying to implement with its ghastly consequences of socioeconomic genocide. As for the FSP, it seems shy of politics, while it sees no distinction between capitalism as such and the model of neoliberalism. Neither the JVP not FSP have any time or place anymore for a project of national liberation which must embed social liberation, just as social liberation must be encased in national liberation.
Whatever one may think it is, the real importance of the upcoming local authorities election is that of a nationwide referendum on the model that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is implementing and seeking to entrench. What is that model? Generically it is that of neoliberal globalism, but what is it specifically and concretely? What we need to do is to envisage a model of Sri Lanka as it would be if the UNP wins and fully, speedily implements its stated policies, , the policies it has agreed to with the only ones who matter to the current UNP leadership—their international partners and interlocutors.
Going by the statements of the UNP-driven government’s leaders and the leading economic policy personalities, the model includes the oil tank farm in Trincomalee to India, the Trincomalee port to India, the Mannar-Trinco and Mannar-Kilinochchi highways to India, the Mattala airport in the Deep South to India, power over land to the Provincial Councils, large tracts of land sold to foreign corporations, a wide ranging opening up of the economy to India (ETCA), peasant agriculture reduced to 13% of the national economy, Indian manufacturing relocated to Sri Lanka and penetrating the Lankan market, bottom trawling for fish in our waters.
The implementation of the UNP leadership’s ‘neoliberal Indianist’–model will mean the destruction of Sri Lanka’s industrial-manufacturing capitalist class and base itself. It will mean the de-industrialization of Sri Lanka. It will mean the de-peasantization of Sri Lanka, a new ‘enclosure movement’ such as that caused by the colonial Waste Lands Ordinance, and resulting in a flood of pauperized and dispossessed peasants who will girdle the towns and cities in slums. It will also mean the destruction of the Sri Lankan fisheries industry and the fishing communities of all ethnicities.
The model will mean a re-colonization without the construction that colonialism effected, but with the loss of sovereignty. In our history, the Western colonialists deprived us of our sovereignty but built the roads, railroads and schools. In our current history, Mahinda Rajapaksa (supported by his brothers) restored our territorial unity and sovereignty and built the infrastructure, while the UNP has conceded our sovereignty, is not building anything and is selling the infrastructure.
It is in effect a Great Counter-Reformation, wiping out the economic, developmental and social achievements of a century if not more of Sri Lankan /Ceylonese upward mobility. The complete opening up and subjugation of all sectors of the economy to foreign capital and to market forces will deprive the Sinhalese of their lands and drive the majority of the country into poverty, ensuring that the Sinhala lower middle and working classes can never aspire to upward mobility for their children, since education too will be open to predatory market forces and foreign penetration.
Why do I say Sinhalese? Because the Sinhalese do not have rich ethnic/ethno-religious kin across the waters who will buy up the land in their provinces, nor do they have the option of relatively easy immigration to the West.
If fully implemented, the UNP’s neoliberal Indianization model will result in the social genocide of the Sinhala lower-middle, middle and entrepreneurial classes, as well as the Southern two thirds of the island (barring Colombo) throwing them back to the subaltern status of the colonial centuries.
If the UNP wins the election and implements the promises that the PM made to India in April 2017, this island will not only become an economic neo-colony of India it will once again be an occupied territory with no-go areas for locals. Already, after the onset of Yahapalanaya, an official team was disallowed into an area of the Trinco tank farm by LIOC personnel. What will the situation be when most of the oil tank farm, parts of the Trincomalee harbor and the highways are in Indian hands or have an entrenched Indian presence? Furthermore, won’t Mattala become an Indian enclave in the Ruhuna, and a no-go area for the Southerners?
The combination of (a) economic Indianism (b) strategic Indo-Americanism and (c) North East quasi-federalism will cumulatively mean a tectonic shift in resources and power away from the majority to the economic and social minorities, and a geopolitical shift of the island’s center of gravity, from the Southern two thirds to the North-eastern one third, thereby reversing the effects of democracy and universal franchise which we obtained in 1927.
The UNP is driving forward to implement this model. If it wins the election it will move swiftly on the new Constitution, weakening the center by federalizing the state and abolishing the executive presidency, transferring that power to the PM and Chief Ministers.
It cannot but generate majoritarianism and anti-Indianism. I have always stood for the most cordial and constructive relations with our neighbor, which is one reason why I have been a staunch supporter of the 13th amendment. However, one cannot have good relations with a neighbor who is trying to grab your ancestral property, which is of modest size to start with, and pauperize your children—and that is the difference between the India of the Congress and that of the BJP.
Neoliberal globalization develops unevenly and affects various sectors unequally. Neoliberal globalization benefits, or least damages, the pre-existing globally located, networked and integrated i.e. established globalized elite communities and elite Diasporas. This is more so because the West has large, electorally influential diaspora communities—some of which support separatist projects–and tend to be biased towards them. Conversely, the greater the orientation towards the Chinese model of (state-led) alternative modernity and multipolar globalization (China, Russia, BRICS, emergent/pivotal powers such as Turkey, Indonesia etc.) the more level the playing field it is for the majority of citizens of the world and this island.
In Sri Lanka, the UNP’s elitist neoliberal globalization will hit the Sinhala majority hardest and marginalize it the most, just as colonialism did! Therefore, and in the absence of a unified Left vanguard as in Nepal, the backlash will take a predominantly Sinhala majoritarian, even ethno-lingual/ethno-religious fundamentalist character.
At the highest peak of Indian civilizational prestige, that of Emperor Ashoka, India converted to Buddhism. It was no coincidence that the zenith of Indian power and prestige overlapped with the adoption of the doctrine of the greatest son of the Indian subcontinent, Gautama, the Buddha. Together with the Greeks of classical antiquity, Buddhism was one of the two greatest philosophical products of the Axial Age.
Perhaps more importantly, Buddhism was socially far more progressive than Hinduism/Brahminism with its backward, rigid caste system. When the Hindu Counter-reformation reclaimed India, Buddhism survived in the island of Lanka to its south, which is what gave our country, and especially its southern two-thirds, a more progressive society that that of India. This is why agrarian laborers are hacked to death on selfie videos in India, and a bounty is publicly offered for the death of Deepika Padukone, South Asia’s Audrey Hepburn, without a word of remonstrance from the PM whose party stalwart made the threat. Such social atrocities do not happen in Sri Lanka. This is also why China, having experienced a revolution which swept away feudal backwardness, is doing far better than India both economically and socioeconomically.
Prof Samuel Huntington identified one of his famous civilizational ‘fault-lines’ as running through Sri Lanka: that between the Indic/Hindu and Buddhist civilizational systems. Indeed he went so far as to name Sri Lanka’s war as a “fault-line war”. If he was right, Mahinda Rajapaksa won the fault-line war for one side but Sri Lanka is about to lose the fault line war under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe by conceding a walkover and effecting a handover.
In 2001, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe proposed a land and underwater bridge which would link northern Sri Lanka with Tamil Nadu. He recycled the idea in 2015 and it was picked up by the BJP government’s Minister of Roadways, Nitin Gadkari. This means the recreation of the geographic link which, in the Ramayana, facilitated Rama’s invasion and victory over Lanka’s Ravana. It would have also linked this island with Tamil Nadu from which emanated numerous invasions and occupations which finally ruined the amazing civilizations of the Anuradhapura-Polonnaruwa period and drove our capitals ever southwards. Now with the planned give away of Mattala airport to India, which means direct power-projection and airlift capacity into our deep South, even the Ruhunu rearguard, the base area/liberated zone from which, historically, there always arose national resistance, will no longer be safe.
If Chief Minister Wigneswaran, a Hindu fundamentalist can spout the racist nonsense he does about the Tamils being the original inhabitants of this island (which falls flat when one wonders why they didn’t make for the rivers and the arable land, occupy and settle in it, as pioneers have done throughout human history), one can well imagine how he and the North will behave if and when there is a much larger Indian footprint here and we are integrated with BJP India, as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe openly envisages and committed himself to in writing in April-May 2017 in Delhi.
The implementation of neoliberal Indianism will be the ultimate existential betrayal of the island of Lanka, its option for the Buddhist civilization and its loyalty to its Buddhist heritage, when India had turned its back on it and Dharmashoka, and returned to casteist Hinduism. Lanka embraced Buddhism directly from Dharmashoka via his son Mahinda. A few decades after a Ranilist victory and we shall have been absorbed by India which is overwhelmingly Hindu. This is why those who remain allied with or vote for the elitist UNP with its neoliberal Indianism, will be guilty of and complicit in this great civilizational crime.
If we the citizens wish for or do not mind the disappearance of Sri Lanka as an single independent political entity and existential identity, not just a geographic location on a corporate map, let us by all means vote for the UNP. If not, whatever our sympathies, we have no choice but to vote massively and inflict a savage defeat on the ‘structural evil’ that is the UNP elite’s agenda.