Feb 05

The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) does not support or favour any political party or parties to the exclusion of any of the others. However, there is one related matter that has been raised repeatedly with us regarding the JVP on which we have been sorely tempted, from time to time, to offer an opinion. The query is: “Why is it that the JVP (People’s Liberation Front), which strives so hard, is unable to secure more than a small fraction of the votes cast at national elections?” Although Oscar Wilde quipped that the best way to deal with temptation is to give in to it, we have been reluctant to express our views because unsolicited advice is usually not welcome. But the situation has now changed. In an interview given by MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP leader, and reported in the FINANCIAL TIMES of 23 January 2015, he himself has queried: “Why are the people reluctant to give us power? We love this country and the people unconditionally. We have a sound mechanism to take this country forward. … We have a disciplined and well-planned political organisation. What are we lacking?” In a spirit of constructive criticism, we offer our analysis of the JVP dilemma and give an indication of certain steps that the JVP should take if it expects the public to take it seriously at election time.

There is general agreement that those who now represent the JVP are public-spirited, well-informed on what goes on in the corridors of power, self-sacrificing, courageous, outspoken and admirably organized in holding popular public meetings, rallies and processions. They have been exposing corruption at great risk to themselves but have been stymied by the blocking of their efforts by the autocratically-oriented and comprehensively unpatriotic 18th Amendment, which has created a powerless Parliament, a pitifully subservient public service and a captive judiciary. This unpardonable state of slavery will hopefully be rectified as soon as possible by the people of this country writing, adopting and conforming to a rationally-designed constitution. Until this is done, the JVP must concentrate on working out such corrective steps as are entirely within its power to take to improve its standing.

The greatest obstacle to the JVP being accepted as a reliable political party is the memory of the outrageous acts to which its leaders pushed its members in 1971 and 1987-89. The murders committed; the elimination of intellectuals and artistes; the destruction caused to infrastructure; the burning of buses; disruptions to the day-to-day life of the people and the fear instilled by the issue of threats written on little pieces of paper that were delivered to commercial establishments by young children (who had no idea of the implications of what they were being asked to do); gruesome decapitated heads stuck on gateposts; highly painful interference with the funeral rites of those they had killed; bank robberies; and so on are still vivid in the memories of our older citizens.

Merely expressing half-hearted regrets for this dreadful record and also taking a lead in fighting current corruption will not suffice to convince the public that the JVP has genuinely abandoned its belief in the ruthless imposition of its views and programmes on the people of this country. Hence, the top five or six spokesmen of the JVP (such as Dissanayake, Lalkantha, Tilvin Silva, Vijitha Herath, Sunil Handunetti etc) must honestly, firmly and unequivocally admit that the crimes committed during these two periods by its members were unquestionably wrong. They must also terminate their virtual deification of Rohana Wijeweera and concede that their veneration of him is no better than that of the rank and file of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in relation to Velupillai Pirabakaran. Whilst Wijeweera no doubt possessed some virtues, like all human beings, he could hardly be considered to have been infallible and to be followed uncritically. The JVP must painstakingly review Wijeweera’s ideas and techniques and tell the public which of these they still agree with and which they do not now accept. In particular, there has to be a formal repudiation of violence in the promotion of the JVP’s objectives. The JVP needs to repudiate totally the idea of a no-holds-barred bloody revolution to convert Sri Lanka to a socialist democracy.

There is little to be gained at present in the JVP saying that the “tyrannical” governments of the day compelled it to adopt unlawful methods to assert the rights of its members and the citizens who were caught up in the turbulence. It is not the whole truth to claim today that the Police, the three services and officially-sponsored para-military squads tortured and killed large numbers of JVP members, their friends and family members in retaliation. The JVP must accept the fact that the severity of the attacks against it increased exponentially mainly after it publicised its intention of targetting members of the armed services and their families. The JVP is obliged to admit that it was both incorrect and unwise to get into such a brash confrontation with the security services. If the JVP wishes the citizens of this country to forgive and forget all that it did, it would naturally be expected to forgive and forget the serious excesses which it was forced to undergo. This is asking for a lot but there is no way around it. The JVP is, of course, not required to abandon any strictly lawful recourse to the law now that there seems to be a better chance of getting a fair hearing.

Also requiring resolution is the significant anomaly between the JVP’s apparent posture as a socialist party of the common people, whom it says it will empower, as against its commitment to what it calls “democratic centralization”. We do not believe that it is possible to centralize power and, at the same time, pretend to share it by doling out odd scraps to citizens outside the centre. After all, what President Jayawardene gave Sri Lanka in his 1978/80 Constitution was supposed to be socialism, democracy and centralized executive power. Socialism, democracy, centralization and similar words mean different things to different people. What the JVP has to do to dispel scepticism on this count would be to set out in comprehensive detail the key articles of the constitution it would adopt to give life to these words. The public would then be able to decide whether the JVP really means what it says.

One specialized technique that the JVP adopts to help disseminate its views is the militaristic style of dressing its “troops” in uniforms and marching in a manner that reminds one of the way in which Hitler organized the youth of Germany to be indoctrinated with his views. Too many people recognize the similarity and are intimidated by it. On this one count alone, they may well decide not to vote for the JVP until such time as it changes its public image from that of a quasi-military organization to one that looks and feels more civilian-like.

Those in the middle and upper steps of the economic ladder are apprehensive that, if the JVP comes into power, it will take everything that the “haves” possess and try to make everybody “equal”. Everybody knows the vast majority of individuals, on their own, are not inclined to share the fruits of their labour with those who have been less hardworking or less enterprising, although they will generally accept a transparent and fair system of taxation. Many of them may voluntarily give away part of their wealth to those who are less fortunate in the belief that they will gain merit for their next birth, or progress towards “moksha”, or get to heaven or to paradise, as the case may be. On the other hand, whilst the JVP is right in trying to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, it must explain, at least in outline, how exactly it hopes to achieve greater equality and, more importantly, how it is going to overcome people’s strong reluctance to hand over the “hard-earned” fruits of their efforts to others less committed.

We believe that, with parliamentarians crossing back and forth, and with President Maitripala Sirisena having to run with the hares and the hounds at the same time, an independent, reconditioned JVP will be in the greater interests of Sri Lanka. Dissanayake’s cry from the heart is timely and CIMOGG hopes that its views will not be dismissed angrily but considered without preconceived prejudices getting in the way.