Revolts in the northern Africa-Middle East regions against their military despots and strongmen are resulting in ideological debates in Sri Lanka about the applicability of these uprisings to Sri Lanka.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and his loyal supporter Lakshman Kiriella immediately saw parallels in what was happening in the Maghreb and Middle East with the dictatorial trends in Sri Lanka and so did JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and some of his spokesmen.
Any such fatalistic predictions about the collapse of the temple of the Rajapaksa faith are bound to irk loyalists and their duty is to defend it.
Establishment revolutionary and diplomat
Last week we witnessed Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka sending missives from Paris to the state media and privately owned pro- Rajapaksa media establishments, pooh-poohing all wishful ignorant Sri Lankans who say that the revolts in North Africa and the Middle East would have a bearing on the Rajapaksa regime here. (All those whom he disagrees with are ignoramuses, according to him). Jayatilleka undoubtedly is a Sri Lankan authority on revolutions around the world, old Trotskyites and Commies having departed to other and nether worlds and those left behind are doddering. Some would say Jayatilleka is a revolutionary himself, having been the first accused in a case involving a plot to overthrow the government of President J.R. Jayewardene.
Having watched Jayatilleka’s revolutionary evolution from his formative days — We were a golaya of his father, the late Mervyn de Silva — it could be said that Jayatilleka has traversed the beaten track of many a revolutionary — from a hardcore Stalinist school to an establishment representative. Commencing from the revolutionary Stalinist school and Fr. Tissa Balasuriya’s Mariakadde school of revolutionary thinking, he went through the murky Eelamist politics becoming a minister of Vartharaja Perumal’s provincial government, landed himself as an ideologue in the Premadasa Sucharita school and now is an ambassador to Mahinda Rajapaksa carrying the flag of Mahinda Chintanaya.
His lengthy analysis of the possible contagion of revolutions touches upon those of Mao, the Vietnamese, Cuban, Nicaraguan, break up of the Soviet Union to the uni-polar world after the Cold War. An omission of most commentators of the Afro-Mid-East revolutions, including Jayatilleka, appears to be the Hungarian revolt and the Prague Spring of Alexander Dubcek against the Soviet Union. Why?
Jayatilleka’s basic task appears not so much to demonstrate the non-fallout of political revolutions around the world but to dispel any subversive thinking that what happened to Mubarak, Ben Ali and Muammar Gaddafi would have a fall out on this happy isle of the Rajapaksas.
Hopes for Arab democracies
There are of course the loyalist Arab supporters in Lanka who are not concerned about the fallout of events on us but who see their Arab brothers having suffered under the jackboot of American neo- colonialism after the last World War now attempting to establish democracy in the desert sands. Some of their anti-American theories do seem bizarre in that the current uprisings are said to be American — CIA of course — inspired to throw out their own loyal dictators! Some of these Arab loyalists are even indulging in wishful thinking such as Arab democracies.
Prophets who can’t prophesy
The common feature among prophets, political and otherwise, is that they find it hard to prophesy the events, certainly political revolutions. Who ever thought that strongmen like Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali and Col. Gaddafi who were ruling merrily for decades would have uprisings against them breaking out from nowhere. All the experts who are now holding forth on revolts in Africa and the Middle East did not predict them even a few weeks before the outbreaks. Of course like most present day prophets they are wise after the event.
Now the pundits are telling us why it happened, the causes underlying the events and the inevitability of it all.
As an aside let’s consider astrologers who are prophets of a kind. But they can’t predict their own future. The answer that has been provided to us is that the ‘science of astrology’ deems it impossible to predict one’s own fate. We once had the hilarious experience at a former newspaper office we worked in where the paper’s official astrologer — the poor fellow, being given only a meager allowance — in desperation asked loud and clear: When is pay day? It drew a cynical comment: You can’t predict your own pay day but you are predicting about events round the world and for all of us.
News rooms are the cruelest of places on Earth.
We stand to be corrected but cannot recall accurate prediction of revolutions or major political events before a reasonable period of time until events begin moving in a definite direction that makes even simpletons predict correctly. In recent times: who predicted the return of Deng Xiao Peng after he was paraded in a dunce’s cap by the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution? Who predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall? Who predicted the revolutions that swept through the former Soviet republics after the crack-up of the former Soviet Union? And now the events in North Africa and the Middle East?
Sri Lankan prophets
There was an accurate prediction made by J.R. Jayewardene in 1977. He predicted that in the same way the ‘cow and the calf’ were defeated in India, we would do the same in Sri Lanka. But J.R. today is not popular enough to be proclaimed a political prophet.
The greatest of political embarrassments for our political prophets came in 1971 when Rohana Wijeweera attempted to stage a revolution to overthrow the United Front government led by Sirima Bandaranaike. It was one year after the glorious electoral victory of the United Front which was supported by the fledgling JVP. It was a victory that had over two thirds of the seats in parliament. All were trying to be better socialists than the other. But when the JVP struck on the night of April 5 calling the government reactionary and capitalist and curfew and emergency were imposed, the leading lights of the government were dumbfounded.
The front benches of government had the strongest Marxist intellectual brigade in history: NM, Pieter, Colvin, Leslie and Bernard. Some of them held doctorates and even double doctorates from the best of British universities. But they could not find a credible answer for the JVP revolution. All the learned Dr. N.M. Perera could mutter was: It’s a CIA operation. Prophesying political events are indeed formidable challenges.
Philosophers and Marxists
It may be relevant to hark back to a thought of Karl Marx: Philosophers have only interpreted the world; the Marxists change it. Marxists of today having failed to change the world, perhaps have taken a way out by becoming philosophers and attempting to prophesy events.
However we will go along with Dayan Jayatilleke’s analysis that current events in the Maghreb and the Middle East are not likely to impact on Sri Lanka. The only possibility of an impact will be if the price of oil escalates to impossible levels and the ayah market in the Middle East dries up.