Don’t saw off the branch you are sitting on!
by Rohana R. Wasala
Two stalwarts of the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) alliance, Dr Harini Amarasuriya MP and Mr Tilvin Silva, JVP General Secretary, as reported in the media early February 2023, have made more or less clear the alliance’s stand on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (suggested by the president): the NPP is broadly for it. But both Amarasuriya and Silva are not convinced of president Ranil Wickremasinghe’s actual commitment to his decision to fully implement the controversial amendment. They both express misgivings about president Wickremasinghe’s real intentions in bringing up the issue at this critical juncture.
Amarasuriya says he didn’t do it when he had ‘opportunities’ to do it in the past. Well, actually, to be fair by Wickremasinghe, he didn’t have any opportunity to make the decisive move. He neither became executive president nor got sufficient parliamentary power to do so before he ultimately got kicked out of parliament altogether for pursuing policies that tended towards the full implementation of 13A. But for the Rajapaksas’ perfidious betrayal of the nearly seven million patriotic Sri Lankans who voted in Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president and 140+ MPs on the SLPP ticket to defeat the yahapalanaya that he had controlled under Sirisena’s lame executive presidency, he won’t have entered parliament even as an ordinary MP, let alone be executive president. (The Rajapaksas’ treachery is a different matter.)
Tilvin Silva sees the main parties (presumably, the UNP and SLFP rumps and their utterly disoriented new manifestations) as arousing communal passions through the debate on 13A. Those that he calls ‘diehard racists…’ (who, according to him, had been hiding these few months) are coming out of the woodwork. Who are these so-called ‘racists’? They are, of course, those who are opposed to 13A, the patriots who are opposed to the division of the country into nine virtually independent units, resulting in the disintegration of the unitary state.
Tilvin Silva said that what people in the North and the South are asking for are food, fuel and medicine and so on; but the Northerners have problems. “We do not think that any other party except a government of the JVP-led NPP can give real solutions to the problems of people in the North. We would form an NPP government and bring in a new constitution with a mechanism to solve the problems of Tamil people. We get it passed with people’s approval and provide solutions for the problems of the Northerner. Until such times, provincial councils will have their existence,” Silva said, as reported in one national English daily.
It is not clear how the NPP is going to deal with the 13A issue. But if it is hoping to wangle the support of the Sinhala Buddhist masses, who are always at the receiving end, while horse-trading with the federalists, Anura’s chances of becoming president will evaporate soon. As he has already apparently indicated that his prime minister will be Sumanthiran (I am not sure of the authenticity of this piece of information, though) in case he becomes president, the voters in the South will be even more sceptical about voting for him. Sumanthiran is the exact opposite of Lakshman Kadirgamar, whom the Sinhalese universally loved and honoured above all other politicians, but whom the LTTE assassinated as a traitor to the separatist cause.
The truth is that the majority of ordinary Tamils in Jaffna do not want to live in a separate state. They want to live in peace with the other communities of the country. According to Arun Siddharthan, the convener of the Jaffna Civil Society Centre, the proposed full implementation of 13A is a conspiracy of the casteist TNA. People in the North actually suffer from casteism, not from any political discrimination or human rights violations by the Sinhalese majority. Tamils deemed to belong to low castes like himself (but he doesn’t accept casteism; he is a much more honourable man than his racist, casteist opponents) have no human rights. He says he is not allowed to have a press conference in Jaffna. Hence he holds his news briefings in Colombo. At this briefing, Arun Siddharthan refers to the non-implementation in Jaffna of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act No. 21 of 1957 adopted by the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike government of the day amidst opposition from casteist Tamil MPs. Arun Siddharthan warns that if the government tries to implement 13A, there will be a communal uprising against it in Jaffna, which, though, in my opinion will be counterproductive. It might provide an opportunity for India to intervene militarily, and make matters worse.
Leaders of the NPP, please stop being misled by your ‘friends’, certain Colombo-based crafty Tamil lawyers and moribund political counsellors who, unlike you, are out and out misanthropic, racists. Trust young Tamil leaders like Arun to befriend the Tamil polity in the North as well as in the South. To increase your appeal among the Sinhalese, please enlist the support of JVP founder Rohana Wijeweera’s son Uvindu wherever he is and young grassroots level nationalist activists like Amith Weerasinghe, who is already doing much to relieve the suffering of the poor of all communities around Kandy in central Sri Lanka (hence disliked by traditional politicians as a threat to their political existence).
What is the point of your insisting on the holding of local government elections? There is no meaning in having elections at this time. Even if they are held, you will not stand to win. You hardly won any seats at the last local government election in 2018, don’t you remember? You will not do better this time if you stick to your purblind policy of cozying up to the casteist elite of the Tamil society in the North, while ignoring the populace suffering at their hands, and while taking the support of the Sinhalese majority for granted. As it is clear to the intelligent voters that you have swallowed the TNA cajolery hook, line, and sinker, people will not trust you enough to vote for you. What you can do instead is to use the next two years to educate the young people of today about the JVP’s heroic past, with a genuine analysis of its costly errors (Uvindu has an idea about that) and organise the multiethnic electorate (dominated by the lower middle and working classes) across the country for a resounding victory at the next presidential and parliamentary elections. Until then, try to help prevent Ranil Wickremasinghe from doing anything really detrimental to the country that is irreversible.
As I wrote in my previous writeup “Is 13A PANACEA? Cynical irony of……….” (Sri Lanka Guardian/February 2, 2023) “We need statesmen/women, not mere politicians. People are fed up with the latter. Anura is not likely to turn out to be a real statesman, even if he gets the chance to do so one day, if he pursues his proven hypocrisy. However, compared to the leading buffoons of the two traditional parties (the UNP and the SLFP/or their ghostly modern reincarnations), Anura Dissanayake would be someone that the people can look towards as an alternative leader, provided he does not forfeit the trust of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in his attempt to win the loyalty of the traditional minority leaders, who will never ever change their spots, though they may change their hunting grounds”.
Let me end this piece with the last paragraph of an essay I wrote four years ago (‘JVP at a crossroads’/The Island/March 5, 2018):
“The JVP must take a good hard look at its wasteful past and subject itself to serious reform as a party. It must get rid of its outdated ideologies and outmoded leaders. It must not condemn the voters as idiots for not voting for them. Most important, the JVP’ers must find political allies with whom they can coexist and serve the nation.”