Pied Pipers in red calling the tune

Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Prof. Gamini Samaranayake has lambasted the university student unions and sought to ridicule their leaders by saying those who couldn’t get through their first year university examinations are trying to teach the UGC and the university authorities how to run the seats of higher learning. He has also faulted ultra radical political forces for using students as a cat’s paw to further their sinister interests.

One cannot but agree with Prof. Samaranayake. It is not the voice of the ordinary students that we hear through the student unions. We hear the voice of a bunch of anarchists masquerading as the greatest democrats to have ever inhabited this planet. They have hijacked the genuine grievances of the students to gain some legitimacy for their political project.

Yesterday, a group of undergrads from the Sabaragamuwa University led by the JVP student union staged a ‘sathyagraha’ in Colombo in defiance of a court order. The police swooped on them and arrested some.

The main demand of the protesting undergrads is that the Applied Science Faculty of that university currently located at Buttala be shifted to the main campus at Belihuloya. The UGC insists that it has nothing to do with that matter, which, it says, should be handled by the university itself. The Sabaragamuwa University says the buildings for that faculty are under construction and it will take some time to complete them. The translocation cannot take place overnight, the university authorities point out, as there are not enough laboratory facilities on the main campus. But, the student unions, true to form, demand that their wish be granted forthwith.

Ironically, those who want their faculty shifted in a hurry have not attended to their studies since last August, when they launched a boycott of lectures over the suspension of a student allegedly involved in ragging. The Sabaragamuwa University is notorious for inhuman ragging. There have been allegations of even sexual abuse during the so-called rag season. The victims have been frightened into silence but it behoves the law enforcement authorities to investigate such allegations and bring the perverts to book. The only way to deal with brutal ragging from which the sick minded sophomores derive sadistic pleasure is to kick brutes out of universities. Should others rise in defence of the culprits, they, too, must be shown the door. There is no other way out. Half hearted measures have manifestly failed to be effective enough to remove the scourge. The anarchists encourage torture that passes for campus ragging, as that helps psychologically condition students to blindly follow orders. The JVP makes a grand show of its opposition to terrorism but has it ever condemned campus ragging which is nothing but a form of terror against the weak?

That the real objective of the warring JVP student unionists is not the translocation of the Applied Science Faculty is only too obvious. They are using undergrads as a battering ram to beat the government. What the JVP does to the government, which opted for a political marriage of convenience with the outfit is not our concern. If you sleep with dogs, it is popularly said in this country, you must be prepared to get up with ticks. The government is paying for the blunder it made, blinded by the lust for power. Our concern is about the future of the country’s university system which the anarchists are destroying from within and that of the students who are being led by a group of revolutionary Pied Pipers.

The JVP is all out to make governance impossible for its erstwhile Romeo (President Rajapaksa), who has turned his executive back on it. Piqued, they are trying to take him down a peg or two by defeating his budget in Parliament while its mercenaries in the garb of undergraduates are running riot outside. A student leader involved in the on-going protest recently vowed to take trade unions out if the government didn’t give in. He may have unwittingly divulged the JVP’s battle plan—the mobilisation of students and workers against the government.

The JVP has reached the so-called glass ceiling in democratic politics. On the other hand, it is losing ground in the democratic mainstream and cracks have appeared in its parliamentary group. It is evidently moving in the same direction as the traditional leftists who have become a bunch of political hitchhikers at the mercy of the SLFP. Over the question of the forthcoming budget vote, the JVP parliamentary group is said to be pulling in two opposite directions, swayed by President Rajapaksa and his bete noire Mangala. Perhaps, they may manage to put up a united front on Dec. 14, but that won’t mean their problems are over.

A revolutionary movement in the democratic mainstream is like a freshwater fish dumped in the sea—it becomes a victim of its new environment. The last Local Government polls demonstrated once again that the chances of a third force emerging as a threat to either of the two main parties were very remote. Should the Proportional Representation system go, the JVP wouldn’t have a single seat in Parliament. In any case, it is going to lose over 30 seats or more at a future election, unless it coalesces with the SLFP again, which is highly unlikely. So, for its survival, it has to regain its former revolutionary self through agitations such as student protests and strikes.

The JVP is not getting enough publicity these days. It has also failed to grab the credit for military successes. That may be one of the reasons why it is threatening to shoot down the President’s war budget so that his war effort will crash-land. By voting against the budget, it has forfeited its moral right to advocate war, from which it used to gain some mileage. Thus, today, it is without a cause to champion. Its desperation for creating some media events to give the government the jitters and eclipse the UNP and the JHU, which is cocking a snook at it, is natural. Widespread protests and strikes which push the government to suppressive action will help the JVP achieve these objectives at the expense of poor workers and the pugnacious undergraduates who are braving water cannon and tear gas and, most of all, wasting their youth.

Those misguided workers and students deserve our sympathy.


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