Can the fringe decisively influence presidential poll? Is JVP a trustworthy ‘democratic’ party?

Daily Mirror


“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.’’ – George Orwell 

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has a storied past. Its romanticist appeal enthralled the masses; in 1971, the now-infamous insurrection, though based fundamentally on violent 

overthrow of a democratically-elected government drew the attention and an enigmatic attraction from the youth of the day, especially undergraduates, has been written into our history as a groundbreaking political event. Its failure as a part of revolutionary warfare arose many a suspicion and the ultimate disillusionment amongst its own second-tier leaders such as Loku Athula, Podi Athula, Sunanda Deshapriya and Jayadeva Uyangoda, and isolation of its sole first-tier leader Rohana Wijeweera became a logical consequence of the failed revolution. 

Despite the unmatchable oratorical skills of Wijeweera, his modus operandi in tackling personnel issues within JVP became a sore point among those who rebelled against the leader. Infighting developed within the walls of the prison in which all JVP leaders were incarcerated; some intellectual conversation among themselves gave rise to personal development of forward-thinking men in the movement; in turn, the movement began a process of, at least among those who were behind bars, dissolving itself and the fundamental premise of the movement faded into the background and a power struggle in terms of the modern day political dynamics emerged. This power struggle however, albeit Wijeweera was isolated from the rest of the ’71 insurrection leadership, drove him to continue his political journey with a brand of new set of second-tier leaders who accepted him as the undisputed leader of the group.

Suppression of any up-and-coming comrades and eliminating them for good, as Stalinism preached as a fundamental principle of political reality, is not limited to dictatorial systems only; leadership, if it’s threatened in any social context, the leader always makes more than an ostensible attempt to buttress his status at the expense of his antagonists. It’s an unpretentious human condition. Wijeweera in that context was no exception; but the methods and means he used to silence his opponents was not only ruthless, it was unyielding and unforgiving, totally in consonance with brutal dictators of yesteryear such as Pol Pot of Cambodia, Mao Zedong of China and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, all in the so-called Socialist-Communist bloc. 

As in all authoritarian political entities, unleashing of violence and killings were mistakenly called, identified and defined as part of revolutionary dynamics. So were the killings and mayhem created by the JVP in ’87-’89 era called, identified and defined by their executioners. It took the country by storm and in a very historic sense, was the next logical development of this process. No revolutionary leader, whether it’s Rohana Wijeweera, Pol Pot or Ho Chi Minh, could contain his frenzied followers after calling them to arms. But what set the JVP of the ’87 – ’89 era from its failed insurrection in ’71 was the brutal killings it executed on unarmed civilians whom it identified as UNPers and capitalist cohorts. Thousands of innocent villagers met their untimely death during this period and it was indeed very sad and gloomy and dark stain on the story of our nation. JVP can never acquit itself of this vicious and unforgivable crime. 

Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD), Sunil Handunnetti and Vijitha Herath (all parliamentarians), the current crop of the JVP politburo, are now being accepted by a majority of Sri Lankan voters as the faces of the ‘democratic’ JVP. Their collective voice has been, at least up to the present time, one of good governance, eradication of corruption, total freedom for all including the mass media and government of full productivity and efficiency. On a theoretical level, all these commitments sound totally credible. Their oratorical skills have proven to be unmatched by any other politician in the country. Their oratory seems not only sound in diction and delivery, but the latent concepts and flowing logicality of their arguments seem absolutely relevant and even practical. 

However, in the context of the forthcoming presidential poll and the stance the JVP asserted during the last presidential election, it becomes completely irreverent to distance oneself from the arguments put forward by the JVP. The youth of the country would automatically be fascinated and engrossed in the focal argument of the JVP in that, the possibility of eradication of corruption appears to be not only necessary but, in an inscrutable sense, very real and tangible. Therein lies the magic of its message. A totally virtuous and righteous concept articulated in magical diction and delivery becomes extremely powerful in the developing mind of the youth. Yet, its appeal somehow or the other has eluded a more mature and experienced mindset of a people whose adherence to laidback thinking and even a lazier intra-social conduct looks unwavering. Such an oxymoron does exist amongst our elders and its beneficial effects are beyond measure. 

Yet, the exhibitionistic approach to local politics, a modus operandi Rohana Wijeweera adopted during his hay days, does not seem to have been discarded by the current leaders of the party. The Galle Face Gala aka massive mass rally the JVP organised to introduce the next presidential candidate reflected that tendency beyond any doubt. While Wijeweera became an obvious victim of his own exhibitionism, I wonder whether Anura Kumara and his partners have decided to willingly fall into this same old trap. 

The Galle Face mass rally organised by the JVP was, in every sense of the word, massive. Undoubtedly, it was the largest crowd that ever gathered in Colombo for a political meeting. Despite the vast gathering and ideal audience Anura Kumara Dissanayake had that day, his performance lacked the usual vim and vigor we are accustomed to; he looked a bit tensed and the normal relaxed delivery lacked the punch and knockout blows he used to brandish against corruption and its practitioners. He was nowhere near Wijeweera in the flow of words and the spiritual commitment. Only AKD can answer why. 

AKD’s performance aside, the crowds that jammed Galle Face Green that day were charged and ready, for their leader is now ready for the running for Sri  Lanka’s highest post. The next question one must ask is: whom did they vote for at the 2015 presidential election? Although AKD and his comrades-in-arms did not appear on Maithripala Sirisena’s platform, the JVP did campaign, going around the country, asking the voters to refrain from voting for Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was more than sufficient and one could assume that the JVP-voting bloc amounting close to 6 to 7 million would have been cast to Sirisena. That is the context within which one must look at the possibilities of the next presidential election forecast. 

When they have their own candidate, why on earth should they cast their precious ballot to someone else who would be representing the so-called ‘Capitalist’ class? Then we come to the following dilemma: What happens to the vote-bloc Maithripala Sirisena received in the last presidential election? What were the components of that coalition bloc? UNP, TNA, SLMC, SLFP Maithripala loyalists (SLFP-M), voters influenced by the Civil Societies (CS) and JVP constituted that coalition voter-bloc. 

Equations:

2015
Maithripala Sirisena Votes = UNP+TNA+SLMC+SLFP-M+CS+JVP
2020
Next UNP Candidate Votes = UNP+TNA+SLMC-(SLFP-M+CS+JVP) 

If the component that’s made up of (SLFP-M + CS + JVP) reaches more than 800,000 to one million, the UNP candidate loses the majority which the coalition candidate had in 2015. 
Consequently, in order to secure a majority reaching 50%+, he or she needs to eat into the Sinhalese Buddhist vote. 

Who could do that? That is the 64 million dollar question. Or is there a candidate in the UNP who could potentially negotiate with the JVP and SLFP-M to secure those two decisive blocs? And how many votes are we exactly looking at? It is fair to assume the JVP bloc around 600,000 to 700,000. But what is the SLFP-M bloc? For any indication of this, we have to study the last Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) elections. The so-called anti-Rajapaksa vote in the former SLFP bloc that participated in PS elections voted either as SLFP or UPFA. UPFA bloc was around 900,000. Where will that vote go? Especially in presidential election, how would the average voter vote? This is where the personality of the candidate matters. In that scenario, ‘trustworthiness’ is the main characteristic the voter will be looking for. 

If one finds credible answers to the aforementioned questions, one could easily forecast the outcome of the next presidential election. 

The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com