By Kumar David –
An apocryphal youth inquired from the President “why a referendum couldn’t be conducted to ascertain whether the electorate (would approve) extending his term by two years”, says the front page of the Island of Monday 10 January. Presidents don’t float kites like this unless they have intrigue up their sleeve. Soon you will hear a chorus of Ministers and government MPs cheering “Hallelujah! Gotabaya for ever, two years, five years whatever!” Those who decried JR’s referendum to postpone elections in 1982 loudest, will be the cheerleaders this time; I am itching to hear the phonies of the Dead-Left. The point is that this is no casual remark. Gotabaya and his cronies are testing the waters and unless society drowns it pronto, cronies will push the plans forward. A Presidential Media Division does not issue statements confirming the story and patting the mythical brat on the back with the remark that the President quipped “he should be appointed an advisor to the President” unless desperation is driving him to the brink.
Former president Sirisena has declared his support for SLFP ex General Secretary Susil Premjayanth who was unceremoniously fired from his State Ministership for calling a spade a spade (Ministers Bandula Gunawardane and Mahindananda Aluthgamage he said were incompetent nincompoops; this is not news). Ministers Vasudeva, Wimal Weerawansa and Gamanpila have gone to court against Cabinet decisions but shamelessly remain glued to their perks. State Minister Vidura Wickremanayake and MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe have castigated Cabinet and regime leaders as a bunch of crooks. A flustered GL Peiris in the meantime is trying his darndest to keep the sinking ship afloat. It is in these stormy seas that the Gotabaya presidency is fighting to stay afloat. I find it difficult to understand how the government keeps afloat, how it gets anything done and whether the “new constitution” is going to be dead before birth.
In the meantime there has been other comments about regime’s existential crisis. Why for example would a pro-Gota website distort an Anura Kumara (AKD) interview, or why is falsified economic data splashed by the Central Bank? APF Fact-Check reported a falsified posting on YouTube in a Sinhala pro-Gota channel with a large following which declared that JVP leader AKD had recommended that Sri Lanka produce Spiderman movies as a foreign exchange earner to overcome its disastrous foreign exchange crunch. “How the dollar problem is solved under Anura Kumara’s government”.
The report, a fabrication, is one of many such canards in circulation. A learned professor remarked in an email to me “Perhaps it is a sign that the NPP is such a danger to the regime that it has no option but to falsify”. The statement attributed to AKD is of course untrue. AKD’s interview in Sinhala is below:
Hitler issued the first anti-Jewish proclamation in April 1933 and stripped all non-Aryan academics of their posts; more than 100 physicists lost their jobs. The fear of fascism and anti-Semitism led to mass migration of physicists, mainly but not only Jews from Eastern, Central and Southern Europe from before 1930; Einstein (NL, German, J), Niels Bohr (NL, Dane), John von Neumann (Hungarian, J), Michael Polanyi (Pole, J), Enrico Fermi (Italian, J-wife), Edward Teller (Hungarian, J), Eugene Wigner (NL, Hungarian, J), Theodor von Karman (Hungarian, J) and Max Born (NL, German, J). [NL stands for Nobel Laureate, the nationality is at birth and J stands for Jewish or part Jewish]. It is arguable whether Hitler lost the war because he opened a second-front by invading the USSR in June 1941, or was it the loss of the finest of Europe’s physicists? There was no truly world class physics lab outside America by mid-1930s except New Zealander Ernst Rutherford’s Cavendish in Cambridge. When one of “Rutherford’s boys” John Chadwick isolated the neutron all hell broke loose since fission of the U235 nucleus by neutron bombardment became possible. The race for the Atom Bomb was on and Hitler lost despite Werner Heisenberg (NL), Otto Han, Walther Bothe and other brilliant theoreticians in Nazi Germany. Unlike the Manhattan Project the Germans could not get the theoretical and experimental sides to merge seamlessly, and organisation, industrial support and carte blanche political backing was inadequate.
There is a reason for this short diversion. This country has suffered from a terrible exodus of talent since 1983. The first deluge was Tamils but able Sinhalese intellectuals too saw and grasped the opportunity. It was not confined to science related disciplines; talented scholars in the humanities and sharp witted business and financial minds too moved because they had lost hope. This was followed by a second exodus, this time skilled craftsmen to the Middle-East, again not only because of greener pastures but also since a stagnant economy had little use for their talents. In the last two years we see the third wave. Tens of thousands of young people queuing for passports and emigrant visas because “the country is going to the dogs”. A simple change of government alone will not address the issue. A much deeper transformation of mind-set and economic direction is needed.
A fork in the road
The outside world didn’t realise that a volcano was smouldering in Kazakhstan. Long standing legitimate grievances were accumulating and a spark set off an explosion. To that extent the background is like Sri Lanka today. Prices have been rising for three years, the income gap had been widening and the population in poorer Eastern Kazakhstan was as badly-off as the majority here. Another similarity is that corruption was running out of control. The spark that ignites an inferno is always unforeseeable and in Kazakhstan it was in the oil rich western part of the country that an uprising broke out first. Large crowds then took over the centre of Almaty the country’s biggest city, occupied the airport and brought governance to a halt. The President, a dictatorial lout panicked, dismissed the Cabinet and sent out the troops.
The lower levels of the military did not mutiny though every soldier knew how worthless the government was (Anura Kumara please note); the army shot the people. Any Marxist worth his salt knows that the principal purpose of a military is to oppress the grassroots in the interests of ruling classes and corrupt regimes. Armies are trained, drilled and brainwashed over decades to obey orders like robots. It is rarely that an army mutinies and passes over to the side of the people as in October-November 1917. A lesson of today’s international conjuncture that the JVP needs to assimilate is the conduct of the military, including rank-and-file soldiers in Burma, Sudan, many African theatres in 2020-21, and now Kazakhstan. One would have thought the JVP would have learnt this lesson from its experiences in 1971 and 1989.
It is important to analyse events overseas and distil lessons for SL. Furthermore a critical issue in Sri Lanka is that the military is largely a creation of the Rajapaksa-Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist ethos. Its response to dissent against the GR Regime needs to be foreseen in that context.
But one still hears some JVPers remark “Isn’t the first principle of a defensive alliance that it is not set up in public?!!!” This is a throwback to the pre-1971 conspiratorial mind-set where the party acted in secrecy hidden from the masses in thoroughly un-Leninist fashion. The JVP it was said would accomplish the revolution and present the finished product to a grateful people!!
Kazakhstan proves that when conditions go beyond a tipping point a spark can set off widespread instability. Likewise with a rout staring him in the face moves by the beleaguered Sri Lankan President to postpone presidential elections, if attempted, could well be that spark. My big concern is that a power grab or coup should be PREVENTED BEFORE IT HAPPENS. For this an open, formidable and coordinated show of force by all opposition entities is essential. After a power grab turning back will take years of anarchy, conflict and even civil war; vide Burma, Sudan and Mali. This is a repeated lesson of history. I have driven myself hoarse repeating it, but it has fallen on stone-deaf ears. “None are so blind as those who have eyes but cannot see”.
A commentator responding to my mid-week Colombo Telegraph mini-column on Wednesday remarked “The summary of Prof Kum’s dissertation is. (1) Where there are shortages of essentials such as food, public unrest can occur. (2) When the military is called upon to quell unrest it will execute the task mercilessly. (3) Prof K expects Anura K & Co (JVP) to make note of (2) in Kazakhstan. The third point is interesting because there are stories afloat that the JVP will work with the military for a takeover and there was a newspaper articles saying this” – Good Sense.
This last observation is most alarming. Even those who cannot accept the rumour reported by Good Sense will have to concede that the JVP itself is to blame. When you, the party that is rocketing up in popularity, refuse to take the lead in mobilising the people against potential coups and election postponements you are sowing the seeds of doubt against yourself.