By Vishwamithra –
“The most critical time in any battle is not when I’m fatigued, it’s when I no longer care.” ~ Craig D. Lounsbrough
The IMF intervention, at least in the very short run, seems to have altered the political trajectory in Sri Lanka. At the moment, Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to be in seventh heaven. Trying to portray himself as the savior of the nation after obtaining the approval from the International Monetary Board, President Wickremesinghe will resort to any and all means to cushion his position in power with the cunning and wide experience he has gained over the last forty years. It’s not going to be easy for him. The unexpected rise of the National People’s Power (NPP) has taken many by surprise, including the breakaway group from the United National Party (UNP), namely Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).
The path that Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) chose to travel, at least in the public domain, seems to be morally right and strategically and tactically shrewd, but the interim popularity he and his Party are enjoying today will be tested only at the polls. Whether it’s in the local government, Parliamentary or Presidential, the main opposition seems to have been Sajith Premadasa and his SJB. Yet the short term outcome may be a clash of opinion and policies between the elite-ridden UNP and the anti-elite NPP. A system change, which is popularly acknowledged as the only way out for our nation, can be trusted only in the hands of the NPP and Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
Today’s crisis is not merely an economic one; nor are its boundaries confined within a sociopolitical fence. Trust, reliability on the leaders and their pledges made on the political platforms, authenticity with which they were articulated and empathetic disposition of the speakers, their personal conduct and their simple but clean garb- all these are essential ingredients- are integral components of the whole. A people who have been hoodwinked for nearly three quarters of a century, the antiquated demeanor of those politicos, their spoken language and their own despicable behavior when in power and their arrogance when wielding that power have fatigued an already tired electorate. Aragalaya made it possible for the masses to open their eyes and behold the truth in its stark and raw form. Such truths cannot be sugarcoated; nor could it be denied when expressed in polished Sinhala vernacular.
Rohana Wijeweera, when he started the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1966, did not travel in luxury V8 jeeps. His mode of transport was, by courtesy of the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB), commoner’s bus. He walked ten fifteen miles where no buses went. He trekked those miles and addressed ten, fifteen or twenty men and women of the young generation. The context was different; conveniences were archaic, yet their determination and commitment was unwavering. It was a romanticist attachment the youth had towards, not only their leader but more so towards their Utopian dreams and aspirations. Such commitment did not know any boundaries; that allegiance did not recognize any religion or race, although they were mainly Sinhalese Buddhists.
The downtrodden were coached and brainwashed on the lines of dialectical materialism, interpreted in his own unique way by Wijeweera and his close ‘pundits’, the five-class program adopted by Wijeweera managed to convince these youth that a ‘system change’ could be attained only through an armed revolution. The novelty of the idea and the miraculous change that was portrayed as practical and exclusive outcome in a sense of being indispensable, attracted the rural youth who were in the age of university entrance or were real undergraduates. The borderlines were getting clearly defined. Differences between the privileged and the underprivileged were being explicitly verbalized by Wijeweera and aroused even the youth who were educated in the so-called big schools in Colombo, resorted to classroom debates.
In the same vein, the massive poster campaign launched by the JVP with unbelievable regularity and precision attracted many an unbiased mind; they awakened the intellectual curiosity in such minds. But driving them towards a violent and armed revolution was another alternative altogether. The sheer exhibitionistic approach Wijeweera adopted throughout his political journey was devastatingly disadvantageous to him and the JVP. Lionel Bopage, once Wijeweera’s second-in-command, very artfully articulated this propensity on the part of his leader in his final letter- the letter of resignation- from the JVP.
But Anura Kumara Dissanayake and his National People’s Power (NPP) are different, not only in their strategic approach to power politics but more so in their substance of their policies. It would have been unthinkable for their substance to be different. The fundamental JVP thinking is founded on the textbook teachings of dialectical materialism and state ownership of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy. To deviate from that elementary ‘communist’ platform is hard; being bred in that philosophy and later subscribe to a quasi-capitalism or social democracy is a huge leap. AKD and the rest of his NPP seem to have taken that leap. Nevertheless, that leap could be easily ascribed to the current context of the global and local socioeconomic, cultural and political environment. If that is the case, one must applaud AKD and his new NPP. On the other hand, if AKD is being insincere regarding his party’s principles and policies in order to gain short-term popularity and mass-acceptance, he should be rejected before it’s too late.
Let’s give AKD and the NPP the benefit of the doubt. As at now, the core of AKD’s argument rests in ‘trust, anti-corruption and anti-fraud’ governing principles. The main appeal of the Aragalaya too was that ‘tripod’ upon which good governance stands – ‘trust, anti corruption and anti-fraud’.
Seventy five years, that is the number today’s voter is being reminded of each and every day. While the present government run by Ranil Wickremesinghe, his Pohottuwa clique and the rest of the politicians (ironically Tamils are not grouped in this lot) including the Samagi Jana Balavegaya led by Sajith Premadasa are being combined together in this same cabal; Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the NPP have most successfully managed to differentiate themselves from the ‘seventy five year- scourge’. The people are being offered a binary choice. The moment the country’ politicians are branded into two distinct groupings, it becomes much easier for the voter to decide. That could be a double-edged knife. As much as it is more convenient for Ranil & Company to secure a victory at the next elections in the event there are more than two choices for the people, the same becomes true for the NPP too. However, when the electorate is confronted with a choice between Ranil Wickremesinghe and AKD and when ‘trust’ is the issue, there is no competition between the two. Not only Ranil, not a single sitting politician in the traditional stream of politics would hold a candle to AKD and the NPP. Aragalaya has made it impossible for the electorate to trust anyone but the NPP.
Having been subjected to a series of corrupt governments, especially during the last two decades, establishment of an incorrupt government (‘aduushitha aanduwak’) is the clarion call of the day. The masses are enduring the most unbearable economic hardships as far back as one can remember; the people seem to have have already made up their minds about a change of government. But whether it’s going to be formed as part of a system change, I would not know. The grapevine is full of gossip and speculation with stories of some crossovers from the SJB to the current corrupt setup led by Ranil Wickremesinghe. One cannot confirm nor deny these stories. Such stories are immensely advantageous to the NPP and their leaders. Ranil Wickremesinghe is not Mr. Clean anymore. Former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran and his infamous Bond-scam took care of that. Ranil’s uncleanliness is further soiled by the closeness with which Ranil is associating himself with Rajapaksas and retaining the same old corrupt Ministers in his Cabinet. On the corruption issue too, AKD and the NPP are a way ahead of Ranil and his cohorts.
Both these issues, namely anti-corruption and anti-fraud are more or less the same. The frauds that have been crowding the Rajapaksa-regimes are still there in the Cabinet of Ministers. IMF monitoring or not, there is no way these frauds would become saints overnight. Ranil Wickremesinghe does not have the desire nor the aptitude to run a disciplined outfit. Whereas AKD does seem to possess both the desire and discipline to drive his men and women towards a given set of goals with utter ruthlessness, the rest of parliamentarians outside the walls of the National People’s Power are too greedy and ambitious to apply themselves to the cause of the nation. Seventy five years of history is testimony to such a tragic status quo.
When all the chips are down and the last card is dealt, if only two are standing, and if they happen to be Ranil Wickremesinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Ranil will blink first, period. However, AKD must remember one thing: after Dudley Senanayake’s death, JR took over the United National Party and converted it to a vibrant political organism. He launched his famous Satyagraha campaign and did not stop it until the general elections were called and nominations handed over. The preparation took four full years. The results were unprecedented. AKD need not adopt J R’s program and policies; but if he forgets J R’s sense of commitment and stoicism, he will do it at his own peril.
*The writer can be contacted at email@example.com