Colombo Telegraph

Which Choice, Which Future For Sri Lanka? 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

There are times in history when one can remain above the fray and there are other times when one has to pick a side, make a choice. There are times when one can content oneself by diagnosing the problem and there are other times when one has also to indicate a solution. If one is serious about what one says and does, the solution has to be viable.

I do not believe that any society can tackle all its major problems at once. Nor do I believe that any society can fulfil its full potential in one leap. I hold with those who say that societies move through stages. Each stage has a defining task or cluster of tasks. Not all major tasks can be fulfilled in a single stage of social evolution.

I strongly feel that Sri Lanka has many tasks and challenges which have to be tackled in different stages and that these stages can be arranged in this or that sequence, though these tasks and stages may overlap, and are not always neatly separable.

Hafeel Farisz confuses, intentionally or otherwise, what I’ve said about Gotabaya and Gunaratnam, both of who are the most interesting figures I find in the Sri Lankan public arena today, because they come from two different streams of our contemporary history and have new ideas.

At no point did I say that I wish for Gunaratnam’s ideas to triumph. What I see is that is a three dimensional vision—Sri Lanka’s present crisis and possible solutions (b) Sri Lanka’s potential as a country and (c) Sri Lanka’s distant future potential as a society. But I shall return to that in a moment.

Since Farisz seems unable to get my point, I shall simplify. He tries to impose a choice on me between Gotabaya and Gunaratnam. That is not a choice for the present. In fact I don’t see it a choice at all. I see it as a sequence of different stages of socio-historical evolution. In the sequence A, B, C, it would be stupid to insist that ‘B” and ‘C’ are choices.

The choice facing Sri Lanka today, by which I mean in the current situation, from now up to the election of 2019-202, is obviously not between Gotabaya and Gunaratnam. It is a choice between President Sirisena on the one hand and Ranil-CBK-Mangala on the other. The issues are a new constitution, the Geneva Resolutions and the massive economic sellout.

In the short term, there are two possible scenarios/outcomes. In one, the choice is between President Sirisena and a coalition which may be dominated by the SLFP, or a UNP minus the Wickremesinghe faction and CBK, but inducts the JO or has the JO as the parliamentary Opposition.

In the second, a combination of the defeat of the Government at a Referendum—scheduled, says The Economist (London) within the year and at its end– combined with a strike wave generalizing itself and a reaction to Special Courts against the military, lead to a crisis of governability and the replacement from below or above, of the Government. This is the Hartal August 1953 scenario.

With or without either scenario, I am fairly confident that the UNP government will lose the next election. That’s when the choice comes in, and it isn’t Gotabhaya vs. Gunaratnam. Nor I might add, am I advocating Gotabhaya with Gunaratnam. That latter formula was attempted once by a well-intentioned President Premadasa, who released 1300 JVP detainees, declared a unilateral ceasefire and invited the JVP to join him in cabinet. He hoped that with their support and energies he could build a socially just society. The JVP, which included Gunaratnam, spurned the offer and returned to war, which they lost. Premadasa regarded the JVP, as he did the LTTE as a potential ally; the JVP regarded Premadasa, as it does Mahinda Rajapaksa as a competitor and the LTTE regarded him as an enemy. So that fusion project did not work out well.

That’s not what I am arguing for. Imagine this island. Imagine a 3D holographic projection of this island. What if four teams, (a) Ranil-CBK-Mangala, (b) Gotabaya-Mahinda (I say it in that sequence because Mahinda cannot contest for the presidency) (c) the JVP and (d) the FSP were invited to present their visions as holographic projections, and we had to vote on them, knowing that we were voting for the kind of Sri Lanka we want now and in the foreseeable future. I for one would vote for the Gotabaya–Mahinda presentation on the modernization-developmental front. I think Team A is a dangerous disaster and should be replaced “by any means necessary as Malcolm said. I DO NOT believe that either the FSP (Gunaratnam) or the JVP are currently capable of taking over the responsibility of developing this country, but I believe they may have the capacity to mature to that point after 15-20 years.

To put it more simply, I think this country needs to be built up to its fullest potential. I think that would mean an East Asian/Chinese paradigm of development and modernity. Given our non-Confucian culture, I do not think we can fully achieve that, or rather, I think we can achieve the (Mahathirian) Malaysian model of/within this East Asian paradigm. That is our future task and only a Gotabaya led or driven administration, which means an administration in which he is President or pillar of a Sirisena-Gota-Mahinda troika.

Where does Gunaratnam come in? We need a magnificent new home that can last for generations, even centuries, and Gotabaya is the only one who can clear the ground, lay the foundation, design and build it, but I do envisage a possible and necessary renovation down the road for a future generation of occupants, and that renovation needs, to my mind, the consciousness of a combination of the FSP and JVP, especially in the domain and dimension of South-North brotherhood. This is not a Gotabhaya vs. Gunaratnam choice, nor a Gotabhya plus Gunaratnam combination, but a Gotabhaya-Gunaratnam sequence.

Both Gotabaya and Gunaratnam have blood on their hands. They both fought in our civil wars. Neither has made a self-criticism of the excesses and crimes of those times. However, as Jean Paul Sartre said, one cannot make history without “Dirty Hands” (the title of one of his plays), and both have evolved since then. Of course one cannot compare the two, since gotabahaya fought in a war of national reunification and later helped save his country and restore peace. Gunaratnam fought in a war in which his party murdered many left activists including the most humane, enlightened progressive we ever produced—Vijaya Kumaratunga! But both Gotabaya and Gunaratnam can contribute positively, though greatly unequally, to the future of this country, in the proper sequence.

Premadasa was responsible for rescuing his country from the JVP’s barbarism and that did mean a lot of blood. But I regard him as one of our greatest leaders. Even more so Mahinda who presided over the war effort. Deng Hsiao Peng was responsible for the events at Tien An Mien square but he was one of the finest leaders China and indeed Asia ever produced; uplifting his country from poverty in record time for any country in the world, and without the benefit of colonialism. Putin has blood on his hands because he saved his country from Chechen terrorism and is helping Assad save his country from Al Qaeda and ISIS. Putin is a great leader. Lenin, Mao and Stalin were responsible for a great many deaths but they were great historical figures. Lee Kuan Yew was a ruthless figure but a great statesman who was the architect of the Singaporean miracle. Gotabaya as President or a Gotabaya-Mahinda-Sirisena triangle, is our best bet for a modern Sri Lankan developmental miracle.

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