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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Weerawansa Alerts JVP to Snared Threat to Divide Them

Sunday Discourse by Philip Fernando in LA for Asian Tribune

Wimal Weerawansa’s emotional speech in Parliament last week (now listened to by web surfers) spelled out a snared threat to divide the JVP, coming right on the heels of a similar warning of foreign intervention by Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle two days prior to his death. In all thirteen JVPers expressed fear of impending reprisals brought about by external forces. JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, who up till now had exuded a degree of transparency, got his work cut out. JVP had based their popularity so far, on a promise to give access to power to a majority of citizens in contrast to a privileged few. JVP member Wimal Weerawansa sensed his twenty-year stint at the party snuffed away in a jiffy. He spoke of divisive threats emanating from in and outside the party. Ideological differences had damaged the traditional left parties time and again will it mangle the JVP?

The current inexorable drift towards consensual politics in Sri Lanka is the result of a war to eliminate terrorism, which perhaps, dulled the multilateral approaches to problem solving, the Left was reputedly credited with. It is a far cry from the days when Sri Lanka’s left-leaning leaders arrived in the country in the thirties throbbing with egalitarian fervor. NM, Colvin, Edmond Sarmarakkody, Philip Gunawardene and many others were fighting British imperialism via the politicization of their ideology. That mobilizing effort never really exalted them to seats of power on their own volition. Either through failure of the motivational methods or through fiercely divisive factionalism, they have remained only an influential group, a minority coalescing partner. JVP was expected to take them all the way to power. That hope seemed bleak now.

The traditional Left’s ideological loyalties were aligned frequently to movements of foreign origin such as Bolshevik-Leninists, Trotskyites, Communist Party (Moscow and Beijing wings) and Che Guevarists etc. They assumed more glamorous and exotic exuberance with populous labels like “viplawakari, Mahajana, and Vimukthi”. The net result was ideological murkiness of nightmarish proportions as ideology tried to cohabit with rampant nationalism.

After having won the second highest number of votes in 1947 general election with Dr. N M Perera as the first Leader of the Opposition in the D S Senanayake era, the Left was were never able to even come closer to the percentage of electoral support ever after that. They coalesced with the SLFP or the UNP. They lost almost all seats except two by the time of JR’s hideous landslide of 1977.

JVP had to start from scratch trying to woo the people, first taking the hard and virtually impossible non-Parliamentary route shown by Rohana Wijeweera and then by sheer disciplined and focused approach succeeded in greatly dispelling the notion that the left was incapable of presenting a well-concerted and coherent platform to the masses. They reached their zenith with the 2005 elections when they won 39 seats in Parliament. Now factionalism is threatening the left again.

The Left’s apogee that class antagonisms would propel the empowerment of Sri Lankans offered the best hope for many. The gap between promise and performance slowed their march as awareness levels were in their embryonic state or were suppressed beyond repair by the ruling colonial powers and the subsequent UNP and SLFP right wing or center liberal coalitions. The gestation of aspirations reaching sizeable levels during the 1952 Hartal were put to good use by the S W R D Bandaranaike led MEP coalition. Apparently Philip Gunawardene injected a strong sense of nationalism to that effort. He had jumped the gun on the LSSP getting into the echelons of power first, perhaps rightly so.

Streams of social justice and linguistic nationalism that merged to create a strong base for the upsurge of politics in the mid-fifties marginalized the Left, while they hung on to the axiom that workers knew no motherland and hence would be the vanguard of a truly liberating movement. The coalition of the MEP actually united under a fivefold partnership, Sangha, physicians, farmers, teachers, and workers (Sangha, veda, guru, govi, comkaru), markedly different from a pure Left front. Philip Gunawardene abandoned that coalition and later joined the Dudley Senanayake coalition led by the UNP The LSSP coalesced with the SLFP for a brief period when Mrs. Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister in the seventies. It was reported then that NM jumped the gun on Philip. The governments of JR and Premadasa from 1977 to 1994 had virtually no truck with the left. Unadulterated right-wing politics reigned supreme. Chandrika Kumaratunga dilly dallied with the left and the right bereft of any marked ideological trappings worth talking about, except perhaps trying to open a dialogue with the elusive LTTE, initiated by her husband late Vijaya Kumaratunga.

That is a short history of the alignments that kept the left in the background for long. JVP’s strength was in its grass-root approach to politics and the lightening speed with which they galvanized the people on any given issue. They communicated with a vengeance through slogans on walls, now flatteringly imitated by the UNP leader recently, while calling for JVP’s head on a platter. In 2005, the JVP gave active support to the UPFA and kept the UNP at bay.

From the substantial media reports printed since the announcement of Wimal Weerawansa’s defection, and the reactions to it by the JVP Leader Somawansa Amerasinghe, the ideological rift seemed much less than previously felt, although, much murkier than expected. Things are still very volatile. As I write, Basil Rajapaksa, an influential SLFP member has hoped for the JVP to unite.

The war against the LTTE terrorists and not ideology is occupying center stage in Sri Lankan politics now. Slain UPFA Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle announced in the Asian Tribune, few days before his death that foreign forces are behind the LTTE’s resurgence. Some were named by Fernandopulle.

The emotionally charged speech of the JVP parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa outlining the rift in the party also mentioned that foreign forces were behind the Sri Lankan situation. In Parliament this week, the JVP frontline members like K. D. Lalkantha, Bimal Ratnayake and Anura Dissanayaka were seen listening with their heads lowered while Weerawansa went on to say that the JVP was a party that was built on the sacrifices of life and limb made by its members especially during the spate of violence in 1988-89,

His speech signified to a lack of sympathy by the leadership to what he had scarified. He said he had decided to join the JVP that stood up against the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 which he saw as an aggression by a foreign nation after the country regained independence. His decision to join the JVP was traumatic for both his father and mother he said. "I had cried for my country and am not ashamed to be emotional when it comes to a question of the people of my country but now there are certain foreign forces and their local agents who are trying to de-stabilize the country and divide it like in the case of Kosovo and I feel that such influences had made the party leadership decide to remove me but I cannot divorce myself from the party that I had committed myself to during the past two decades sacrificing my youth five years without enjoying what other young people had enjoyed", Weerawansa said

It is obvious that the he was hinting about some sinister attempt to thwart Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism. Shades of Gramscian prescription cited by some during the Cold War days! Are we in for some type of ideological and memetic subversion, prompting many to believe that the war about to be won in the Wanni is being sabotaged. Blighting the war efforts would sap up the national fervor and cause instability in an instant. Norwegians are showing a movie glorifying suicidalism and the talk of foreign interference in Sri Lanka is resonating with a vengeance. What we see is a worst case scenario of subversion, if we hear Weerawansa right.

The JVP group emphasized that their action was in the best interests of the party and shouldn’t be considered in anyway a move to divide the 37-member parliamentary group, the third largest group in Parliament. The group said an influential section of the party had been snared by the country’s right-wing forces and other interested parties hell-bent on dividing the country.

Most observers hope that this snafu is only a clash between the Head and the Heart of the JVP—Amarasinghe versus Weerawansa. JVP leader’s dilemma is real. He has to traverse a field beset with landmines as ideologically-driven political alignments are pitted against a war on terrorism. The insatiable appetite for governance often goes counter to the more vexing art of keeping everyone together.

- Asian Tribune -

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