Last week saw the JVP, the JHU and Wimal Weerawansa’s JNP adopting similar positions with regard to the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India which is scheduled to be signed during the forthcoming SAARC summit. All these three parties have political roots in the anti-Indian agitation of the late eighties, and to a greater or lesser extent, even those who have broken away from the JVP have not been able to shake off their ideological heritage –a major component of which is a deep rooted suspicion of India. There has always been a subculture in Sri Lankan society, which expressed suspicions about our giant neighbour. Perhaps all small nations with large neighbours have political groups that live perpetually in suspicion of the large neighbour. In the 1940s, the anti Indian lobby was led by the scholar Munidasa Kumaratunga, and the trend has persisted.
When the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna politburo met last week, the main topic of discussion was the CEPA with India, the complaint being that there was a lack of transparency with regard to this agreement. The JNP’s grouse was that this was an agreement which had been negotiated between a handful of officials from the Indian and Sri Lankan sides and that this agreement had not been presented to either parliament or its advisory committee on finance. Weerawansa expressed the opinion that this agreement would result in a one way trade flow with goods from India flooding the Sri Lankan market. He also expressed his concern that by throwing open the Sri Lankan service sector to India, the health care and other sectors, will be taken over by Indian establishments who, in terms of the CEPA, will also be able to bring in their own employees, thus placing local employment in jeopardy.
Similar misgivings about CEPA were expressed by the JHU as well. The proposed agreement had been discussed extensively in the JHU central committee as well the supreme council of monks. The JHU’s cause for concern was that local producers could not compete with Indian manufactures in terms of cost. Minister Champika Ranawaka requested a meeting with Professor G.L.Peiris to discuss the proposed trade agreement. When the JVP politburo met last week, they too expressed concern about CEPA. When parliamentarians Bimal Ratnayake and Wasantha Samarasinghe had met Professor Peiris, to discuss CEPA, they had been assured that it would be put to parliament and the advisory committee on finance. Tilvin Silva said that the president was now preparing to sign CEPA, without consulting the legislature.
Another matter discussed at the JHU central committee meeting was whether they were going to participate in the APRC. The decision was taken to participate mainly in order to put forward the party point of view that the provincial councils should not be accorded police and land powers. Champika Ranawaka cautioned that Reginald Cooray, Rajitha Senaratne and Dilan Perera have all started agitating for the full implementation of the 13th amendment and they had even planned to set up a new organization for this. This refers to a meeting held the week before last between Senaratne, Douglas Devananda, Ranjith Navaratne, Reginald Cooray and others, to form a movement for the full implementation of the 13th amendment. The fledgling movement is to have their inaugural meeting on July 24 at the Mahaweli Centre auditorium and Vasudeva Nanayakkara is to be invited to be its national organizer. This new movement epitomizes the peculiarity of the Mahinda Rajapakse government. It has within its fold, most of the Sinhala hardliners as well as almost all the Sinhala liberals. Even D.E.W. Gunasekera who boasted last week at the 65th anniversary celebrations of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, that all other political parties have more or less fallen in line with the stand it took on the ethnic issue, is a committed member of the Rajapakse government. So is the LSSP, and prominent individuals like Rajitha Senaratne and Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Individuals who have been taking a hard line on the ethnic issue for decades, and those who have been advocating a political solution for decades, have found a common cause. The government may be ideologically split down the middle, but as a political entity, it is one. Minister Ranawaka of the JHU is adamant that police powers should not be given to the provincial councils under any circumstances but quite a few of his cabinet colleagues are agitating for exactly the opposite.
Last week Wimal Weerawansa received letters of demand from Somawansa Amarasinghe and Tilvin Silva, asking for millions in compensation for having stolen documents authored by them. These letters of demand are going to add to the authenticity of Weerawansabook. Weerawansa’s reaction to the letters of demand, when the matter came up at their politburo meeting was that they should go to courts where even juicier details will come to light!
Never say die!
The Communist Party of Sri Lanka celebrated their 65th anniversary last week. D.E.W.Gunasekera, the leader of the CP delivered a speech at a gathering held at the Maharagama Youth Centre to mark the occasion. The CP is now but a shadow of its former self. Verily, one might say, "How art the mighty fallen!" The fall of the Communist party was symbolized by the demise of Dr S.A.Wickremesinghe’s son, Suren, earlier this year. Only one family from Akuressa attended Suren Wickremesinghe’s funeral – that of the ‘Peni Kade Iskolay Mahattaya’ the late P.K.Wilson, who was the Chairman of the Akuressa Urban Council for many years until his death in 1973. It was this family that put up a banner in Akuressa town announcing the death of Suren Wickremesinghe. Until then nobody in the town had been aware that he had died. Indeed many were unaware that he was even alive. For all practical purposes, the Wickremesinghe mystique died in Akuressa with Dr S.A.Wickremesinghe, the founder of the Communist party.
DEW Gunasekera and K.P.Silva had attended the funeral, but the CPSL headquarters had not even displayed the customary white flag. It was Dr Wickremesinghe’s feudal base in Akuressa that made the Communist Party possible in Sri Lanka. Even the land in Borella where the Communist Party headquarters is situated was apparently donated by S.A.Wickremesinghe. Yet, after his death, having represented Akuressa on the Sri Lankan legislature for almost four decades, his son drifted away to a different life in the city. Suren’s funeral was attended mostly by the Colombo elite, including CBK, whom he associated with. The working class was nowhere in evidence. "This is what is going to happen to all of us!" lamented one politician’s wife after attending Suren W’s funeral. "If Dr Wickremesinghe’s forty years in politics can be forgotten in as many months once he was dead, then those of us who have been in politics for shorter periods will be forgotten even before we leave office".
Suren Wickremesinghe himself may have been disinterested in politics, and probably had no desire even to be remembered as the son of a politician. But for those watching from the sidelines, it does indeed seem sad that the son of a man who had been the face of Akuressa can die with the people of his father’s electorate being largely unaware. At the funeral, Suren’s son had been asking the lone group of representatives from Akuressa, "Uncle, ape nedeyoda?" He had assumed that the reason why this family from Akuressa had taken the trouble to come to Colombo for the funeral was because they were probably distantly related! It never crossed his mind that these may be old comrades in arms of his illustrious grandfather.
As the Wickremesinghe family faded out of history so has the Communist party. Speaking at the 65th anniversary gathering, D.E.W.Gunasekera looking back at the history of the party said that the party may have made mistakes, but that they are not guilty of having caused tragedies by which he obviously meant, bloodshed and the loss of life. And he claims that the party never resorted to terrorism. The JVP which does not share the same squeamishness with regard to the shedding of blood may well say that the CPSL also failed to do anything to usher in the revolution. They may even say that the CPSL all their 65 years, has been in thrall to bourgeois morality, which declared it a crime to shed blood for political purposes. In fact, on several occasions in the past, the present writer has been forced to admit that the JVP was the only truly revolutionary anti-systemic political party in the country, because they had made two abortive attempts at revolution. What they did in order to win political power may not be moral in the view of the people. But it accords with revolutionary morality. In fact, had the Communist Parties of Russia, China and Vietnam been as squeamish as the CPSL, there would have been no socialist bloc in the world.
The JVP is now at the same stage in their life cycle that the Communist Party was in the early 1980s. Like the old left, the JVP is also suffering a loss of popular appeal and now after the failed strike of July 10th, the JVP may well face a decline in their trade union section as well. The diminution of the CPSL trade unions came in a drastic manner with the breaking of the 1980 July strike by J.R.Jayawardene. The JVP did not suffer such a drastic reversal, largely due to the good sense of their own members, who went to work on July 10, despite a call by their party to stay away from work. In the course of his anniversary speech, Gunasekera states the obvious when he said that the left movement suffered a tremendous set back with the collapse of socialism in Europe in 1991. Then, comes the interesting part, where the thinking of the JVP and the CPSL dovetail. Having stated that the cause of the left movement suffered a set back with the collapse of socialism in Europe, Gunasekera expresses the view that the neo liberal revolution that swept the world in the 1990s, has run into an economic minefield and is experiencing financial earthquakes, and that the balance of forces is changing in the world once again, in favour of the left.
It has to be historically so says Gunasekera, arguing that policies that accelerated the process of globalization have run into crisis. In talking of a crisis of the capitalist system, he is at one with Tilvin Silva of the JVP, who, according to the internal documents of the JVP published by Wimal Weerawansa in his book ``Nettha wenuwata ettha" has argued quoting Marxist-Leninist authority, that the overall crisis of the capitalist system first manifests itself as an economic crisis which is then transformed into a political crisis and the objective conditions for the social revolution are created by such political crises.
Spectacular display of dogmatism
Tilvin even argues that for an unbroken period of five years now, Sri Lanka has been in the throes of a political crisis. This latter argument will send a chill down the spine of readers. If the JVP thinks that the objective conditions for social revolution have manifested themselves, that’s bad news! But in the same breath Silva also speaks of the left movement’s inability to topple capitalist rule while the capitalist class is itself in a conundrum, unable to form a strong government. But the point where Tilvin and DEW find common cause is where they both express a belief that their opportunity will come with the deepening capitalist crisis.
In the course of his anniversary speech, DEW argued that 65 years is a reasonable period of time in the life of a man, but not at all in the life of a movement like the CPSL which is pledged and committed to change society. One has to admire the staying power of these people. They continue to persevere in a situation where even the most resolute capitalist would have simply thrown in the towel and looked for better things to do. One can say the same with regard to the JVP as well. DEW says about the Communist Party, "Even at the cost of our political futures, we stood firmly and resolutely by our convictions and by our principled positions".
The CPSL outlived their usefulness some time ago. But the JVP, until just a couple of years ago, was an organization that was thriving. Today, even they have sacrificed their political futures for their convictions and principles. Its weird watching the JVP losing is popular votes and its most popular leaders in a quixotic attempt to stick to unadulterated Marxism-Leninism. If one admires idealistic fools, well, here’s the phenomenon to watch. Just two or three years ago, the JVP was able to command a good proportion of the popular vote and was the third largest party in parliament. But today, they have been reduced to a laughing stock, especially after the abortive July 10 strike.
And to think that they are going through all this stress and strain, because of an unshakable belief in a crisis of the capitalist system! They had a way forward, if only they were willing to shed not their principles, but their dogmatism. They could have joined the government and built themselves a base in the country by being exemplary politicians. Despite the availability of a ‘Raja Mawatha’, they chose instead the dirt track of a revolutionary. What made them do this? At least in the case of the Communist Party, they were carried along by circumstances which were often beyond their control and have ended up at 65-years with nothing. The JVP, however, had a choice. There were no circumstances beyond their control which prevented them from choosing to join the government, and furthering their political interests.
Success begets animosity
The week before last, The Economist had a feature article on Sri Lanka
entitled "The war president". The first impression created by the title is that Mahinda Rajapakse is an absolute hawk, committed to nothing but a military solution. Had he actually been that, the CPSL, the LSSP, and individuals like Vasudeva Nanayakkara could not be members of this government. These left leaning liberals who advocate a political solution to the ethnic issue, know, and Professor Tissa Vitarana of the LSSP has said in an interview with The Island, that this war was in fact thrust on President Rajapakse. After assuming power, Rajapakse did nothing to provoke war. When the LTTE started killing police and army personnel in twos and threes, all over the north and east, he instructed the forces to be ’. When the LTTE carried out suicide attacks against the army commander and the defense secretary too, he did nothing, except to carry out a token bombing raid on Kilinochchi. The war actually started only after the LTTE shut the Mawil Aru anicut depriving a large part of Seruwila electorate in the Trincomalee district of water. Mahinda Rajapakse went to war only after doing everything possible to avoid it. In fact, with him doing nothing against the LTTE, people were beginning to have doubts about his ability to govern until at last the LTTE did something that Rajapakse could not sidestep.
That is the way the war started. The reason why Rajapakse is now being labeled a ‘war president’ by The Economist is because he has been succeeding in what he set out to do. Had he gone to war and failed like the Chandrika Kumaratunga government, he would have been an ‘ordinary’ president but because he has met with a measure of success, he is a ‘war’ president. There are still many sections in the west that is uncomfortable with the idea of a government triumphing over the LTTE. Sometimes, the view of foreign journalists can be skewed, and out of step with the ground reality. Many years ago, the present writer was met by a young BBC correspondent who was doing a documentary on Sri Lanka, and from what I gathered from the conversation we had, he seemed to be under the impression that Sri Lanka was a theocratic state like Iran in the 1980s and was controlled by the bikkhus. I had to tell him that was far from the truth and that Sri Lanka was a very secular country and that politicians were making use of bhikkus, for their purposes and not the other way around!
That article in The Economist was obviously written by a foreign journalist and not by a Sri Lankan correspondent. The sub title says: "Sri Lanka’s Army chief says the government has won its 25 year war against the Tamil Tigers. This is not true." A lot of Sri Lankans will be completely nonplussed at reading this. No Sri Lankan has heard either the army chief or the president declaring victory over the LTTE. Quite on the contrary, what we keep hearing from the government side are appeals for the people to bear with the government just a little while longer until the LTTE is defeated.
Politically correct, but flawed
The writer has been careful not to get identified as a ‘koti’ journalist. While describing the war as brutal, he takes care to say that the LTTE is no less brutal. He also says that the LTTE has lost much of its foreign backing and that the FBI has dubbed them ‘the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world’. And he mentions Canadian bans on LTTE and Italian raids on LTTE fronts. This is the new sophisticated ‘politically correct’ approach, adopted by the likes of the former British High Commissioner Dominic Chillcott in the Dudley Senanayake memorial oration. All those who are against the government’s effort to defeat the LTTE take great care to criticize the LTTE as well, lest they get identified as terrorist sympathizers. Even though they criticize the LTTE, the gist of their argument, finally works to the LTTE’s advantage – the offensive against the LTTE should stop – that is the gist of their message, to which the LTTE itself will shout Hallelujah!
Like American Ambassador Blake, and most other westerners, the writer in the Economist also brings up the impossibility of winning over the LTTE. He says, that LTTE has repeatedly resisted conventional attack and that they even beat back the Indian Army, and that even if they were to lose the territory they control, they could sink back into the local population and launch attacks from there. This kind of reasoning is completely out of step with the ground reality. If the LTTE loses the territory it controls, their leaders like Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman will not be able to live incognito among the ordinary Tamil population the way Wijeweera and Gamanayake lived during the JVP insurrection in the late eighties. With even the Indian intelligence agencies looking for them, they cannot live without a territory exclusively held by them. As for the guerillas being able to live among the ordinary Tamil public to launch guerilla attacks, that era is long gone. This was the situation in the 1980s when the Tamil terrorist movements had public sympathy. But now that has dried up.
In the 1980s, forced conscription was virtually unheard of. The LTTE had no shortage of volunteers in those days. But now, Tamil youth have to be dragged kicking and screaming to join the LTTE. The conventional wisdom is that when children grow up in a constant cycle of violence, it ends up brutalizing the younger generation and the perpetuation of conflict. Well, this cycle has been broken. Youth are no longer attracted to political causes. The Sinhala youth are no longer attracted to the JVP and the Tamil youth are no longer attracted to the LTTE. The reason why the LTTE has been on the defensive is because the fighting spirit of forced recruits is not the same as inspired volunteers. So this talk of being able to melt back into the normal population and conduct urban guerilla war, is nonsense. The Tamil people are exhausted.
The article after talking about the impossibility of winning the war, talks about Sri Lanka’s economic problems, the inflation and the balance of payments. Then it talks about the international concerns about human rights violations and the abduction of LTTE suspects, and hints that these concerns may even lead to the withdrawal of the GSP+ tariff concession granted to Sri Lanka by the EU. The Economist even compares Sri Lanka with Sudan with regard to its human rights record. When you say that the war is un-winnable, and say that the country is in deep economic trouble and is gaining the status of Sudan because of its human rights record due to the war, what does that imply, except that the LTTE should be let off the hook? The Economist has sought to lay siege to those combating terrorism. The end result is that the terrorist’s cause is protected, and Sri Lanka’s agony protracted.