A Common Perspectival Framework For A Center-Left Re-Groupment & Revival
By Dayan Jayatilleka –
1. The last time the Sri Lankan citizenry suffered materially in a manner remotely similar to the current suffering was in 1970-1977. The leader of the day never led the nation again. It took 17 years and her rebellious daughter, who was not associated with the suffering of the past and who professed drastically different economic policies, to get the party re-elected.
2. Today’s Pohottuwa will never be re-elected while under Rajapaksa dominance and any Rajapaksa will take decades – while the memories of generations fade, together with the narrative–to be elected to the country’s top spot (as in the case of ‘Bongbong’ Marcos).
3. This leaves a simple choice for SLPP members: (a) dump the Rajapaksas and free the SLPP (b) denounce the Rajapaksas and flee the Rajapaksa camp immediately, or (c) go down with the ship at the next election and every election after that for decades.
4. SWRD Bandaranaike and his Silent Revolution of 1956-1959 were dualistic, but was primarily progressive and secondarily reactionary. It was progressive in its social, economic and foreign policy aspects and reactionary in its linguistic aspect. SWRD strove to reverse that reactionary aspect with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact but he was blocked from doing so. (Had he been an elected President he could have seen it through).
5. What remains valid in SWRD policies are the progressive aspect of 1956, fused with the B-C Pact of 1957, but with an honest and total rejection of Sinhala Only and the majoritarian, exclusivist or hegemonistic ethno-nationalism that gave rise to it.
6. There cannot be a return to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike economic model or its celebration. That model caused semi-malnutrition. People were rooting in garbage cans for papaw skins. The SLFP and its Left partners were swept away for 1 ½ years (and the Left partners, for far longer) because of the suffering associated with the statist-closed economy model. The UNP coasted for years by rekindling that mass memory of suffering.
7. Vijaya Kumaratunga’s SLMP project, breaking away from the SLFP, was the kind of Left the country needed and still needs—free, open, tolerant, democratic, pluralist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist—and Vijaya himself was a precursor of the Aragalaya consciousness.
8. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was correct to break with the Sirimavo-NM Perera economic model but was wrong to go well beyond the progressive thinking of her economic advisor Dr Lal Jayawardena and turn to the right, exemplified by, but not restricted to, privatizing and foreignizing the ownership of the plantations (in contradistinction to President Ranasinghe Premadasa who chose to award renewable five-year management contracts, not ownership, to Sri Lankan, but not foreign private companies).
9. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was horribly wrong not to prosecute the war to a finish and resort instead to a Norwegian peace-keeping exercise, the failure of which was underscored by the LTTE attack on the Katunayake airbase and crowned with the assassination in Colombo of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. In the matter of negotiations and the PTOMS, Chandrika went against the advice of Kadirgamar just as she went beyond the policy parameters of Lal Jayawardena in economics.
10. That the war could have been won with the same army and the same General Staff was proceed by the victory under the political leadership of her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka whom CBK had transferred from Jaffna to the Volunteer Corps in Colombo, despite his sterling performance in saving Jaffna from the LTTE advance in 2000 after the fall of Elephant Pass, by blocking the Tigers at Kilaly.
11. Had Chandrika fought Prabhakaran with the resoluteness her mother would indubitably have brought to bear, she would have won it, and been well-positioned to successfully reintroduce her August 2000 draft Constitution, thereby resolving the Tamil National Question. It is her irresponsible failure in not doing so that opened the road for the rule of the Rajapaksa Clan and the prolonged spike in Sinhala Buddhist militarist-chauvinism.
12. Given Ranil Wickremesinghe’s track record of appeasement and capitulation vis-à-vis the LTTE, it was by far the correct decision to opt for Mahinda Rajapaksa over him as President in 2005, though CBK clearly preferred a different outcome.
13. The first term of Mahinda Rajapaksa was historically a triumph, winning a decisive victory over the LTTE in a war that many previous leaders had fought and dismally failed to win.
14. The beginning of the decline of the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency and that of the collective Rajapaksa project, and the transition from the positive as the major aspect to the negative as the major aspect, began with the dismissal, dismantling and dispersal of the teams that won the ground war and the diplomatic war (in Geneva)—most dramatically and disastrously manifested in the unjust jailing of war-winning General Sarath Fonseka.
15. The second term of Mahinda Rajapaksa was comparatively progressive, chiefly because the alternative remained Ranil Wickremesinghe. There was considerable economic growth and buoyancy, partly due to the legitimate recourse to Chinese loans but partly to the little noticed yet massive and imprudent recourse to private international borrowings. Beneath the comparatively progressive achievement the putrefaction had set in. Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa had carved out their respective spheres of influence.
16. The shooting of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra caused the first fissure in the SLFP, just as the incarceration of General Fonseka had fissured the support bloc early in 2010. The Chilaw, Katunayake, Rathupaswela and Welikada shootings, which as in the case of Bharatha Lakshman, were traceable to one camp—the securocrat camp–within the Government, ensured electoral defeat in 2015.
17. The Central Bank bond scam, neoliberal economic program, “foreign judges” sellout Geneva resolution of 2015, and attempt to introduce a non-unitary Constitution by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warranted and justified a fightback by the Joint Opposition (JO) in favour of a Mahinda Rajapaksa comeback.
18. It also justified the detachment of the bulk of the SLFP from the then SLFP leadership which was in coalition with Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the founding of a new party, the SLPP.
19. The limiting of its membership to the SLFP, rather than structuring the SLPP as a party that would invite and absorb the Joint Opposition (JO) as a whole, facilitated the entrenched dominance of the Rajapaksa Clan within the SLPP.
20. The prevention by the 19th amendment of Mahinda Rajapaksa running for even a non-consecutive third term, opened the road for the Gotabaya Rajapaksa succession project which dated back at least to the hyping -up of his wartime role in the book Gota’s War published within the second Mahinda Rajapaksa term (2012).
21 The Gotabaya Rajapaksa project reflected and reinforced the acknowledged dualism of Gotabaya’s personality. The largely rational-managerial side predominated in 2016-2017, perhaps up to mid-2018. The Sinhala supremacist, militarist and irrational side kicked-in from mid-2018, dramatically expressed in Gotabaya’s needless defense of the senior cleric who called on him to “be a Hitler” during the sermon delivered on his birthday that year.
22. The most prudent and progressive decision for Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLPP at the time would have been to opt for Dinesh Gunawardena or Chamal Rajapaksa as candidate. Instead, the need to tilt the longer-term succession in favour of Namal Rajapaksa, probably tilted the candidacy in Gotabaya’s favour.
23. The Easter Sunday massacre which was possible due to the mysterious behavior of high-ranking intelligence personnel who did not pass the Indian intelligence warnings to their institutional and political superiors, and the resultant wave of Islamophobic militancy—which had commenced as far back as 2012 with the BBS, itself commended by Secretary/Defence Rajapaksa—sealed the Gotabaya Rajapaksa candidacy, and did so as a Sinhala religio-racist, militarist, proto-fascist project, rather than the earlier rational-technocratic one (2016-to-mid-2018). The overnight ban on synthetic fertilizer-pesticide-weedicide was the most emblematic manifestation of this irrational mindset. It was possible because of the hyper-centralization of power in Gotabaya and the Presidency through the autocratic 20th amendment.
24. After a massive popular uprising deposed Gotabaya rule, the SLPP had the options of voting for Dullas Alahapperuma, or nominating Prof GL Peiris or Dinesh Gunawardena for the Presidency, in the parliamentary ‘electoral college’ process. Instead, it chose to enthrone its traditional adversary Ranil Wickremesinghe in a presidency he had always been kept away from by the citizenry. This represented the ultimate degeneration, the Ground Zero, of the SLPP and the Rajapaksa Clan’s political trajectory. From a progressive phenomenon on balance, the Rajapaksas and the party they run, has turned into a reactionary rightwing bloc, which props up a leader who has no popular mandate even as a parliamentarian.
25. The only hope for the traditional center-left is without and against the Rajapaksas. It is the path of the de-Rajapaksafication and indeed the de-familization or de-cartelization of the center-left political space. If the center-left owes allegiance to an oligarchy, it cannot be described as center-left or progressive.
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