Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2555

The Southern Scene

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

It is a time that distinguishes itself with new things but no new thoughts.
Elias Canetti (The Human Province)

If the latest publicity poster for the para-JVP broadsheet Lanka is anything to by, the JVP is very, very angry. The poster is of two cartoon figures representing Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremesinghe in a close embrace, and above that the legend ‘The New Love’. It is an indication of the fury and bitterness felt by the JVP about Mr. Rajapakse’s latest political marriage. The JVP’s own prima donnish conduct was probably one of the factors which compelled Mr. Rajapakse to look for less demanding and less exacting allies. However it is not reasonable to expect the JVP to figure that out. Criticism has ever been the JVP’s forte; self-criticism never its way.

Perhaps the JVP may have become a little more introspective if Lankan society compelled it to confront its own past mistakes. But there was no societal compulsion for the JVP to take a critical look at itself. The JVP was never queried about its violence against unarmed political opponents and ordinary people during its Second Insurgency. The JVP never had to explain why it killed voters and election officials who defied its election boycott order. The JVP never had to state why it murdered men with such impeccable Marxist and anti-UNP credentials as Nandana Marasinghe and Daya Pathirana. The JVP never had to answer for the killing of Vijaya Kumaratunga (incidentally Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appointed a special commission to whitewash the JVP of this crime and blame it on the UNP with Justice Sarath N Silva as its Chairman).

The JVP was never held accountable and therefore never felt it was accountable. Lankan society may not really believe the JVP’s version of what happened during the Second Insurgency but what matters is that the JVP does. It believes because it was not given a reason by anyone to doubt its belief.

The Moral Slide

If the Tamil society held the LTTE accountable for its wrongful acts during the First Eelam War, it may not have developed into the kind of monster it is today. But the Tamil society, by and large, did not, because of its justifiable anger at the Lankan state and the South over Black July. This uncritical acceptance probably made a contribution to the inculcation of a sense of impunity, of a belief of infallibility in the LTTE.

Viktor Frankel, eminent psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, in his extensive writings describe the imitative brutality with which some liberated concentration camp inmates treated their former jailors: “During this psychological phase one observed that people with natures of a primitive kind could not escape the influence of the brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed. They became instigators, not objects, of wilful force and injustice. They justified their behaviour by their own terrible experience…” (Man’s Search for Meaning).

The LTTE’s own trajectory and the fate of the Tamil people demonstrate how self-defeating this ‘moral deformity’ is. This is a lesson that the anti-Tiger Tamils can learn to their own advantage. Already there are ominous signs of the anti-Tiger Tamils emulating the LTTE in its anti-democratic and anti-civilisational conduct. Particularly disturbing are the charges that Col. Karuna’s TMVP is engaging in child conscription and newspaper burning in certain parts of the East. If true, this bodes ill not only for Sri Lanka and the Tamil community but also for the TMVP itself.

Surely the TMVP possesses enough intelligence to understand that child conscription and the use of child soldiers and workers (even if they are willing recruits) will provide the LTTE with an ideal propaganda weapon to use against its main rival? Surely the TMVP has sense enough to comprehend that such conduct will make it unpopular among Eastern Tamils and prevent it from gaining international legitimacy? Surely the TMVP has adequate foresight to figure out that those Sinhala supremacists who now cheer and defend its anti-popular conduct will use that very same conduct to brand it ‘the new terrorists’, once ‘the Karuna factor’ had run out of its uses?

The anti-Tiger component of the Tamil Diaspora should try to play a ‘sentinel’ role vis-à-vis the anti-Tiger Tamil parties. Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Tamils need democratic politicians and not mini-Sun Gods. As yet, the disease is in its very early stage and therefore can be arrested. But if anti-Tiger Tamils (especially in the Diaspora) adopt the ‘anything goes’ attitude in their justifiable, understandable and necessary desire to defeat the Tigers, then the future will become as calamitous as the present and the past. And in the end it will boomerang on the doer and the cause he espouses, as is happening in the case of the LTTE and Tiger Eelam.

The case is the same with the JVP; if it was held accountable for its many past errors, the danger of those errors being repeated could have been minimised. As the JVP was never held accountable, the possibility of some of those errors being repeated cannot be ruled out. Chickens do have a tendency to come home to roost.

Back yo The Past?

The JVP says that in future it is going to refer to the Rajapakse administration as the ‘UNP-SLFP Alliance Government’. Many JVP leaders described the Supreme Court verdict against the merger as an outcome of the party’s earlier struggle against the Indo-Lanka Accord. The JVP and its allies have recently brought back their old concept of a contestation between ‘national forces’ and ‘foreign forces’ (jathika balawega vs. vijathika balawega). This was the justification on which the JVP based its Second Insurgency and every horror it committed in the course of that insurgency. This old slogan is now becoming ubiquitous in the propaganda of the JVP and its allies, denoting a revival of that 1980’s phobia of an inimical, invasive foreign force which will defeat national forces and divide the country. The following remarks by Wimal Weerawansa at the Colombo District Convention of the Patriotic National Movement (PNM) on the 26th of October (published in a JVP run website) is demonstrative of this mindset:

"If this country moves according to the agenda of western imperialists, before long foreign forces will land in this country says Mr. Wimal Weerawansa. ‘The world map today is too heavy for the USA. Hence, they try to contract the existing national states. We don’t know whether Sri Lanka has been made into two countries in the map of Asia compiled by the USA. We don’t know how many countries India has been divided to. The USA is in the process of ‘finding’ new countries,’ continued Mr. Weerawansa." (Lanka Truth – 27.10.2006)

Addressing the same gathering Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara further underscored this ‘old-new polarisation’: "Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera addressing the gathering said the amalgamation of the SLFP and the UNP is not a mere combination of two political parties. It is an amalgamation created by foreigners to occupy this country" (ibid).

The JVP has revived its rejection of any sort of devolution on the basis that there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka only a terrorist problem. Talking in his PNM capacity Wimal Weerawansa recently said that there is no point in ‘discussing devolution’ when ‘the LTTE is loosing the war’. Whether the LTTE is actually loosing the war is debatable; what is significant is the implication that there is no necessity for devolution except as a sop for the Tigers. This is a regression from the JVP’s stand of the last several years, during its moderate interlude, and a return to its ‘A Solution to the Tamil Eelam Struggle’ phase.

The political marriage between the SLFP and the UNP is unlikely to last very long; in fact it may be recorded in history not so much as a marriage but as a fling. It is an open secret that Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to it because he needed to prevent a schism within his party. Given his unwillingness to resign from party leadership, the only way the much defeated Mr. Wickremesinghe can prevent further defections from the UNP is by discouraging President Rajapakse from taking these defectors in. If Mr. Wickremesinghe cannot get a firm commitment from the President against crossovers, he may not want to continue with the alliance.

The most sensible course of action open to the JVP therefore is to sit it out, and wait until the alliance implodes from its own inner, un-resolvable contradictions.

The question is will the JVP overreact? Will there be a return to maximalism, another old trait which it shares with the LTTE (this was in semi-abeyance in the last several years)? In any case the JVP is on the constant lookout for betrayals and therefore tends to see betrayals in many places, in many things and in many people.

The disadvantage of the de-induction of Nandana Gunatilake from the JVP is that the party is now bereft of a moderate voice within its inner council. Given the history of the JVP it is clear that the resignation of Mr. Gunatilake will not result in any appreciable weakening of the party. Others have left before, and that did not change a thing.

Mahinda Rajapakse is obviously not unaware of the dangers ahead. After all Mr. Rajapakse has an intimate knowledge of the JVP, having worked with it during its most barbaric phase – from their joint anti-Accord riots in 1987 till the JVP double-crossed the SLFP at the 1988 Presidential election. He is doing his best to continue with his juggling, to ally with the UNP while keeping the JVP and the JHU happy. According to a report in last Sunday’s Nation Mr. Rajapakse personally removed the term ‘ethnic problem’ from the MoU, as a concession to the JVP. In his speech at the signing ceremony he went out of his way to mention the JVP and the JHU and the role they played in furthering his Presidential victory. In any case at the next parliamentary election the SLFP will naturally be contending with the UNP. If the present electoral system is still in existence the SLFP will need an alliance with the JVP in order to become the largest single ‘collated party’ in parliament. This fact, apart from the damage the JVP can do if it feels betrayed or isolated (and whatever natural sympathies he may have for the JVP), would make the President act with extreme caution.

So in the coming weeks we may witness a lot of conflicting signals and ambiguous statements. If Geneva talks break down Ranil Wickremesinghe may very well move himself out of the MoU or allow it to lapse (a similar fate befell the Liam Fox Agreement between Mr. Wickremesinghe and the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga). But if the peace process continues, the concessions which will have to be made to the Tigers to persuade them to stay on course would antagonise the JVP still further. (Incidentally neither outcome would further democratic devolution; and when the regime says it is considering the Indian system, what it means is the Panchayat Raj!) This is the bind that the President is caught in. How he will extricate himself from it – and whether he can do so, despite his juggling capacity, remains to be seen.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this


.