Making it memorable… – The Island – The

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It’s, indeed, heart-warming to see various organisations getting involved in charity work, and, more so, during the festive period.
Yes, we all need to lend a helping hand, whenever possible, to those in need, or facing difficult times, hardships, etc.
The Negombo/Seeduwa Methodist Primary School came into the spotlight, last month, when a caring group of people decided to step in and make Christmas a memorable event for the students of this school – numbering about 100, of all faiths – studying in Grade 1 to Grade 5.
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The school also has 10 differently abled children, with special needs.
They were all there, in the limelight, at a Christmas carol event, organised for the very first time, and held on the 23rd of December, at the school premises, with support from popular actress Damayanthi Fonseka, who was the Chief Guest, and members of the MCG (Music Clubs & Gangs of the ‘80s/’90s)
Rev. Father Asiri Perera, Divisional Director, Seeduwa Methodist Church, and Ranjith Gunathilaka, Divisional Director of Education, Katana Division, also graced the occasion.
az mobile notaryThe Chief Guest and many well-wishers donated books to the school library, while the members of the MCG handed over a valuable sound system, with mics and mic stands, to the school principal Mr. H.A. Sirisena.
The MCG was represented by Manori Fonseka (main coordinator and member of the school staff), Mumtaz Kumail Hamidon, Umer Ashrof Sookoor and Shan Gunathilaka.
Contributions also came from MCG members, living here and abroad – Akram Abbas,, Sudara Ranaweerasingha, Romaine McCluskey, Suzan Vongunster, Rocky Ranjitha Rajapakse, Prabath Jayasooriya, Irfan Latiff, as well as Mumtaz, Umer and Shan Gunatillaka, who, incidentally, was the main sponsor for gift vouchers..
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The event generated plenty of excitement among the students, who also made their presence felt, on stage.
They sang Christmas carols, and did a drama, connected with the birth of Christ, while the differently abled students did a dance act, dressed up in Christmas gear.
The children, I’m told, were thrilled having to sing, for the very first time, in front of a microphone (mic).

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40th Death Anniversary of Justin Wijayawardhana: Reminiscences of a bygone socio-political milieu
Failure to Launch: Leninism and the NPP Manifesto

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Sorry folks, Cassandra will keep mum about local glories and glorious living in our country. If she cries her usual lamentation of “I see blood /mayhem/riots or whatever …” it won’t do you good; Cass neither. Consequently, she again casts her eye over the oceans to pass on snippets of news. Her cowardly restraint is due to a piece in The Island of Wednesday, January 12 the headline of which read: “Warning over public comments: Explanation sought from police.” It leads with the sentence: “The Human Rights Commission has asked police headquarters not to interfere with people’s freedom of expression.” Hosannas and kudos to the boss of the HRC, an intrepid woman! Praise be, but…
Cass’ situ is still gas-less, courageless, hopeless and helpless. A kind store owner from an outstation offered her a cylinder of gas. No thanks, Cass said. She waits till her usual gas vendor delivers a cylinder ‘pramithi anuwa’. Does Cass blame Litro gas or its boss who said that the proportion of the two gases that make up cooking gas has not been tampered with, even as cylinders exploded all over the island? Does Cass blame the az mobile notarygovernment? Not at all. Then whom does she blame? Herself for changing to gas usage to save electricity for the good of the country. She blames the cylinders, which though seemingly innocuous, get the devil into them and decide to bedevil their connecting tubes and regulator, so gas leaks and the cylinders turn to lethal bombs. People are injured. But never mind; the cheated, injured and dead were all simple folk, expendable and never mind their loss. As was said, no gas cylinder explosions occurred in Colombo.
Djokovic vs Australian Immigration Minister
The Australian Open Tennis tournament scheduled to start on January 17 was keenly awaited as a fillip to the spirits and a much needed distraction from current travails. And who was Cass cheering for? Novak Djokovic, undoubtedly. He is spectacular, having won the Australian Open nine times: 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021. So what were we waiting for? To see him win the tenth time, a record if ever there was one. He won the British tournament in Wimbledon six times starting in 2011 and ending in 2021; French Open in 2016 and 2021, and the US Open in 2011, 2015 and 2018.
It was reported that when applying for his visa to Melbourne, he was permitted an exemption from vaccination against COVID-19. He had caught the infection a month ago but mercifully mildly. On arrival in Melbourne he was detained and quarantined. His lawyers, cheered on by Australian fans and approbation worldwide, argued for his freedom with the judge, pronouncing his detention in quarantine be ended forthwith. Then up rises the Minister of Immigration who is determined to cancel his visa. It is yet to be seen whether Novak Djokovic will enthral his fans again in Melbourne.

Satire on impact of global warming

I watched Netflix’s second highest grossing film Don’t Look Up and without setting my mind on it, accepted it at face value. Astronomy research assistant, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discovers a huge object with its trajectile pointed earthwards. She alerts her boss Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) who co-opts a NASA veteran and they solicit an interview with the President of the United States. This time around the Prez is a woman, Janie Orlean, with long golden hair and a couple of fools around her, played brilliantly by Meryl Streep. After a wait they do get an interview. The Prez almost laughs at the earnest young female researcher and brushes the entire matter off with a ‘let’s wait and see’. Finally they decide to go public on a morning show, The Daily Rip, with Cate Blanchet as co-anchor. Here again derision, so Kate goes ballistic but to no avail.
The film ends with the massive comet, with parts disintegrating and missiles trying to destroy or deflect it, impacting Earth to totally destroy it. Kate and Mindy, with families, get pulverised mid meal. The Prez and an entourage of 2000 escape in a sleeper spaceship and land on a habitable planet. Orlean is attacked, killed and devoured by a monstrous creature.
On Wednesday, January 12, I listened to a BBC interview with director-producer and writer Adam McKay, who said that the intention of making the film was to get a message across. It had a short run in cinemas after its release on December 10, 2021. Then streamed on Netflix.
Don’t Look Up is a satirical sci-fi film intended to awaken people to the imminent and immense danger of global warming. It also satirises government and media indifference to the climate crisis. It received mixed reviews, though the acting was commended by all critics. However, the severity and immediacy of its warning message about global warming was doubtful in its impact. The film received four nominations for the 79th Golden Globe awards, but won none. Netflix reported that the film set a new record for the most viewing hours in a single week, making it the third most watched Netflix film so far.
To Cass, Al Gore’s 2006 film on global warming, The Inconvenient Truth, made a greater impact as there was no intention to entertain, at all. Cassandra bets our Sinhala cinema folk could come up with a superb satire or tragicomedy on the country situation. But censorship? Yes.
A sort of comedy is playing out in Britain at the moment; a frenzy of enquiry, was he there or wasn’t he? The ‘he’ here is PM Boris Johnson and the ‘there’ is a party at the garden of 10 Downing Street in May 2020, with the first lockdown in force. Some say BJ and wife were at the party, he and others say no. To Cass it looks like a genuine storm in a teacup. The announcement or invitation email that circulated among staff at the PM’s residence or office indicated that it would be under strict pandemic restrictions and said to ‘bring your own alcohol’.

Local tragicomedy

We watched a sort of comedy on a day that reminds us of tragedy. Cass means here the recent commemoration of SWRD Bandaranaike’s birth anniversary. There was Maithripala Sirisena leading the Blue Hands with floral tributes, accompanied by sacked State Minister Susil Premajayantha in the forefront. Cass swears her eyes were playing no tricks when she espied him again following the two daughters and their retinue to place flowers at the feet of the statue of their father at Galle Face. Premajayantha is running the double race again with new Hands and the inheritors of the Hand. This blue politician was the first SLFPer to sign in as a member of the newly formed SLPP. Here was a tragicomedy, satire with no satirical impact, showing the flat out reluctance to go back to being a nonentity. ‘Cling to any branch’ is the name of the game.

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
It was 14th January 1982. I, together with my family, was making slow progress from Colombo to Matara in the pre-expressway era, when we heard on the car radio, the noon news bulletin of SLBC announcing the death of my father. There were no mobile phones then for me to receive the sad news from the family. My sister Mali, the only other medic in the family, very kindly undertook the onerous task of looking after our father in the intimate environs of our traditional family home ‘Wijaya Giri”‘ in Godagama rather than allowing him to wither away on a hospital bed. Having visited my father a few days earlier and persuaded Mali against active treatment in an inevitable situation, I was not surprised to learn the end of his multifaceted life but was sad that I could not be there, holding his hand that penned millions of words, when he left this world after decades of selfless service.
Standing at the foot of the bed and looking at his majestic face darkened by death, I thought to myself, “What have I done, compared to what you achieved in so many spheres?” I am still reading about his unmatchable achievements and learning more and more about him from others who write about him. has taken 40 long years for me to pen this tribute although my admiration of him has grown exponentially over the years. In fact, I wondered whether I could be tarnishing his image posthumously by referring to him as a politician because he had so many other significant achievements. I am doing so purposefully to emphasis that our country was once blessed with politicians whose mission was to serve.

First to represent the UNP from Matara District
Communism took root in the Matara district because the leader of the Communist Party Dr S A Wickramasinghe was from there and also a very caring general practitioner. In fact, my father started social service in the early 1930s with Dr Wickramasinghe, forming the Matara Youth Society with him as secretary and Dr Wickramasinghe as the president. Although they parted ways due to ideological differences, they remained friends, and Dr W was gracious enough to offer him the nomination from the Communist Party on more than one occasion. In spite of certainty of success, my father refused and stood by the UNP. The Matara branch of the UNP proposed him as the candidate for the 1952 and 1956 general elections, but the hierarchy of the UNP parachuted outsiders encouraging caste-based politics.
In 1960, the UNP high-command was forced to relent and my father successfully contested Matara seat becoming the first UNP MP for Matara and the first to do so from the whole district. He was chosen to propose the vote of thanks to the throne speech of the Dudley Senanayake government enabling him to demonstrate his much-recognised oratory in the parliament too. His old friend, Dr W retorted cynically from the Opposition benches, “My good friend has made an excellent speech, as usual, but it may well be the funeral oration of this government”, which was prophetic! Unfortunately, my father lost in July, the seat he gained in March. One reason for the loss was malicious stories spread by his opponents alleging he had said, that he needed to wash the seat in the parliament before sitting on it. I know well this was more hurtful to him than losing the election as he was one of the pioneers in the South to stand against caste divisions. In fact, in early 1940s, when caste discrimination was rampant in the South, he organised, as the Secretary of the Matara branch, a Sinhala New Year Celebration which commenced with many from different castes eating Kiri Bath, sitting on mats with the leader of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, S W R D Bandaranaike.

S W R D’s offer
The SLFP government people elected in 1956 with high hopes also started faltering. Sensing the imminent danger, SWRD started planning a revamp. He wanted to go to the UN to display his masterful oratory and reconstitute the Cabinet on his return. He sent an emissary to my father with the offer of appointment to the Senate as the Junior Minister of Education straightaway to be made the Minister with the planned reshuffle. According to my mother, who overheard the conversation, he did not take even a second to refuse the offer.

Betrayal by UNP
Undaunted by the loss, my father continued to teach and do social work. The crossover of C P De Silva caused Mahanama Samaraweera to be nominated the UNP candidate for Matara. J R Jayewardene persuaded my father to contest the Kamburupitiya seat saying, “Justin, don’t worry. Even if you lose, we will look after you. After all, there is the Senate”. My father lost, the UNP forgot the promises, but he enabled my cousin, Chandrakaumara and my brother, Ranjan to represent that constituency subsequently.
George Rajapaksa once told me, “The UNP does not know how to treat the faithful, the best example being your father. If he had done for us what he did for the UNP, we would place him on a high pedestal”.
Even during his era, my father perhaps was too soft and remained with the UNP till his death. Would any other person have refused such offers?
Maybe, to overcome their guilt, the UNP government issued a stamp in the memory of my father in 1990.

Teacher, par excellence
Born on 18 November 1904, Kotawila Withanage Don Charlis Justin Wijayawardhana attended the missionary school in the village before joining to St. Thomas College in Matara. Don Juvanis Wijayawardhana, a notary’s clerk, decided to send his son to Mahinda College, Galle in view of the brilliant performance of his son, Justin at the Junior School Certificate Examination. More than the easy success in the Cambridge Senior examination, what Mahinda College gave my father was the inspiration to fight for independence and the preservation of Buddhism. Though he could have got a more rewarding government position with his qualifications, he opted to be a teacher and joined Rahula College in Matara.
He contributed immensely to the upliftment of Rahula College by the renowned principal Mr D J Kumarage, to be one of the best schools in the country. Rahula was an assisted school, which meant only teachers’ salaries were paid by the government. To meet the increasing demand for admissions, my father went round with Mr Kumarage and persuaded philanthropists in the area to build four buildings which were ceremoniously opened by Prime Ministers DS, Dudley, Sir John and Sir Oliver, the Governor General.
In addition, he was in charge of Sinhala and English debating teams, Arts and Drama society. He wrote many plays for students to stage of which one stands out; Matara Batha, a comedy which was so hilarious, it is said that even Mr Kumarage, who seldom smiled, burst into laughter.
My father taught Buddhism, Sinhala and art. He taught me too and I managed to fail in art, the only subject that I have ever failed! After teaching and inspiring many generations of students, he retired in 1964 having devoted his entire teaching career to Rahula.

Social service
He was a live-wire of the co-operative movement and headed the village co-operative till a few years before his death. He masterminded village development projects like roads and culverts through the Village Development programme.
When Buddhism was threatened by a fanatic sect, Thapasa Nikaya and , defended Bhikkhus threatened by misguided villagers. With the support of Chandraratna Manawasinghe, who was on the editorial staff of Lankadeepa, my father was able to dispel the falsehoods, helping save Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
He reserved his best for Community Centres Praja Mandala, which were established in Matara and surrounding areas. They were the meeting places where villagers could listen to the radio for the very first time. He obtained radios from the government for these centres. Those huge primitive devices needed a massive aerial across the tallest of coconut trees to get a rattly short-wave reception and were powered by car batteries, needing a fortnightly replacement by the post office. When they got late, the radio fell silent and the whole village missed the ‘Radio bana’.
The crowning glory was the annual congress of Community Centres, which lasted a couple of days with many competitions; that was the only opportunity for people to display their talents, unlike today, when we have too many talent shows. One of the highlights was the Kavi Maduwa, the poet’s corner where reputed guest poets gave lectures, in addition to recitals. That was the biggest event in the cultural calendar of the South.

Pioneer translator and writer
A visit to India in the late 1930s changed my father’s life forever as he was able to meet the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement but the most important was his meeting Rabindranath Tagore, whose works he had already translated to Sinhala. He recalled with great fondness the unexpectedly long meeting wherein Tagore granted him permission to translate any of his works.
Sivumal Motagedara, who studied the life and literary works of my father for his research project for the M A degree from Colombo University, has published his dissertation “Justin Wijayawardhana: Jeewithya ha Sastriya Sevaya (Godage, ISBN 978-955-30-9644-9). He argues, very convincingly that it is a great injustice that Justin Wijayawardhana has not been accorded a much more prominent place in Sinhala literature and takes to task the academia for not doing so. He rates Justin Wijayawardhana as the pioneer translator who introduced the works not only of Eastern writers like Tagore but also Western writers like Leo Tolstoy, Hall Caine, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman and H G Wells to Sinhala readers. He also mentions Wijayawardhana’s ability to change the style of writing to fit the original for translation and contends that it is rare.
Perhaps, the main reason why my father’s writings have not received the attention it deserves is they were published in newspapers and magazines––not as books due to lack of facilities like agents for writers and the monopoly held by only a few publishers.
I know the great difficulties he had in getting his first book, “Nasthikara Puthraya”, the translation of Sir Hall Caine’s ‘The Prodigal Son’ published in 1964. He had to give up royalty for a tiny sum and the publisher did not even notify how many copies were sold!
Although he had many manuscripts ready, unfortunately, only two more books were published during his lifetime.

One was a translation of a book on the invasion of Tibet “Tibbethaye Bauddha Manava Sanharaya”, which was extensively used by the UNP during the 1965 election campaign. The other was “Tom Mamage Kutiya”, a translation Of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s masterpiece ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, which was published by Marga in 1976.
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs, acceding to our request, published “Seeliyage Lokaya” in January 1983 to coincide with the first death anniversary and “Samawa Deema” in January 1984 to coincide with the second death anniversary. The latter, a collection of translations of ten short stories by Russian writers Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, Anton Chekhov and Hungarian writers Geza Gardonyi, Kalman Mikszath, Karoly Kisfaludy, was completed in September 1975 and dedicated to JRJ, the then leader of the Opposition. The dedication in my father’s handwriting, in his trademark violet ink, written with his beloved ‘Swan’ pen is reprinted in this book.
“Seeliyage Lokaya”
is an original work written in a novel genre. It is an exploration of village life, a synthesis of events and people in their respective villages of birth as seen by my parents. However, he has titled it ‘Seeliya’s world’, as he called my mother, Jinaseeli Jayawardana ‘Seeliya’ affectionately. The cover was drawn by my youngest brother Kamal. During one of my visits to President JRJ, when I presented a copy, he went through the chapter titles carefully and said “Upul, you must translate this to English as it is a mirror, showing the world what our village life is. It will be the opposite of ‘Grass for My Feet’ by J Vijayatunga”. I tried but, unfortunately, I do not seem to have inherited the translator gene!
The youngest of our six sisters, Champa is doing a tremendous job in keeping our father’s literary heritage going. She had been able to get “Nasthikara Putrya” and “Seeliyage Lokaya” republished. “Samawa Deema” has also been republished with a new title “Idama ha Thanhawa”. In addition, she has got the following in print: “Punarjeewanaya”, a translation of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection, “Lo Pathala Keti Katha”, a collection of short stories by world famous authors including Tagore, Mulkraj Anand, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wild” and “Minis Angaharu Yuddaya”, a translation of H G Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’.
‘Sai Baba: Man of Miracles’ by Howard Murphet was translated at the request of the Sai Baba Society, which was made in late 1974. Although my father finished the translation in a matter of two months, a unique achievement for a book running to 400 pages, it did not come out in print till a year after his death, in spite of Sai Baba’s blessings!
Matara C Justin Wijayawardhana started writing to Sinhala newspapers and magazines from his late teens and continued for six decades. In addition to articles on Buddhism and current affairs, there are many more translations that have been serialised. Champa is engaged in this monumental task of gathering them so that more books may be published.

My father, who initially put service over marriage, changed his mind the moment he saw a new lady teacher who joined Rahula staff. The marriage of Justin Wijayawardhana and Jinaseeli Jayawardana from Ransegoda took place on 17 May 1940, during the biggest flood ever recorded in the Southern Province. We were under the impression that the bridegroom encountered the flooding on his way to the bride’s but two books by Hewamadduma brothers give a different story. The Hewamadduma family from Lenaduwa was one of the closest families to ours. Till his untimely death in 2013, Amare, the well-known administrator, historian and writer used to write regularly about my father. After that his younger brother Dharme has taken over. In Amare’s book “Amara Samara-1”, as well as his elder brother Upatissa’s book “Ma Dutu Maha Purushaya: Justin Wijayawardhana” give detailed accounts, as recounted by their father. Every time a flood occurred, their father Sinnno Appuhamy used to say, “This is nothing compared to the flooding when Wijayawardhana mahattaya got married” and had gone on to relate how my father directed the preparation of boats the previous evening and how they paddled the 15 miles in floodwaters and brought back the couple, disregarding all warnings, safely to Godagama at 3 am, the following day! Apparently, my father having settled the new bride in bed had gone immediately to help flood victims. That shows his character and that my mother was solidly behind him. By the way, Thilakasena Sahabandu, who was married to Hewamadduma sister Karuna, wrote a beautiful anthology of poems titled ‘Sevaye Suwanda (Fragrance of service) which helped a great deal in my father’s election victory.

Unfortunately, what should have been Justin Wijayawardhana’s greatest legacy was not to be. Seeing how the poor got into difficulty with lavish funerals, he campaigned for simple funerals but his pleas fell on deaf ears. However, he ensured his funeral was simple and my mother did even better, ensuring that we handed over her body to the Galle Medical Faculty when she died on 24 February 1986.
Detailed written instructions were left about the funeral but true to his considered manner, he stated we could make changes if circumstances demanded. He also stated that if we felt bad for not spending on the funeral, to build a house for a poor family, which we did. The day after death, he was cremated in a coffin made from cheap wood and painted white, on a simple pyre made from locally collected wood. Though his voice was heard at almost every local funeral, he did not want funeral orations and as stipulated there was one anusasana. Although we did not inform any VIPs, Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel turned up and as he was representing the government, we allowed him to speak. The only thing beyond our control was the massive crowd.
As we watched, a great man who had rendered selfless service for almost eight decades, gradually turned into ashes. As requested, his ashes were thrown in Nilawala Ganga.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!
By Kusum Wijetilleke
Desperation has been a central theme for much of Sri Lanka’s citizenry long before the pandemic. Although it may seem far removed from the present multitude of issues, the Yahapalana/Mahinda Rajapaksa Constitutional crisis of 2018 set in motion a series of events that have contributed significantly to the current tragicomedy of the Sri Lankan State. At the time the ‘Unity’ Government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was struggling along, the economy was in a state of inertia, having recorded a GDP growth of just 3.1 percent in 2017, the lowest in over 15 years. For the sake of balance, there were notable accomplishments under Yahapalanaya that deserve mention: Independent commissions, increased exports to the EU, successive primary account surpluses and 1990 Suwa Seriya, to name a few entries on the credit side. The debit side entries only continued to grow, beginning with the infamous CBSL bond scam and the close association of the then PM to those involved. The public outcry over this major scandal, from a coalition promising ‘good governance’, was only compounded by the Hambantota lease agreement with China Merchants Port company.
Complexities arising from the 19th Amendment, especially regarding the powers of the Executive Presidency and the devolution of powers to the provinces, sparked claims from the Opposition that PM Wickremesinghe was steering Sri Lanka into a future federal state. The Ranilist faction, with hindsight, lost that battle in the court of public opinion. The co-sponsorship of the UNHRC Resolution of 2015 (30/1) and its explicit mention of “foreign judges… and investigators” was another major contributor to tensions that led to the eventual disunity at the heart of Yahapalanaya. The alleged and as yet unconfirmed assassination plot regarding President Sirisena cleared a path that led through the Easter bombing to the current presidency and policy paradigm of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Pohottuwa.

Seasons of missed opportunities
The December-January season is critical to the Sri Lankan economy; the boost to local consumption from the season as well as the influx of tourists and remittances represent a windfall that sustains the operations of many businesses for much of the year. In December 2018, there were major disruptions to tourism and hospitality industries arising from travel advisories issued by major tourist origin countries, based on fears of political violence. Sri Lanka’s forex reserves reduced, the Rupee depreciated further and investors sold off treasury bills, all of which contributed to a ratings downgrade and a 3.7 percent drop in industrial activity during that period. The Governments of Japan and the US temporarily froze some $1 billion worth of development aid.
This season of missed opportunity would replay and extend itself in 2019 and beyond. The Yahapalanaya rupture and resulting security failures led to the Easter attacks and ultimately, to an election defined by national security. The context matters; Yahapalanaya, especially with the benefit of hindsight, was clearly an act of desperation. Some three decades of war against a terrorist organisation failed to spawn a meaningful National or ‘Unity’ Government, yet voters were desperate enough to hope that this coalition might be fruitful. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election was also a sign of desperation. The wave of anti-Rajapaksa sentiment that brought in Yahapalanaya dissipated and the public was sold a grand promise of a Lee Kwan Yew-esque administrative juggernaut with fresh ideas, powered by professionals promoted through a meritocracy. These notions seem almost delirious considering what has transpired.
As the President carries on, seemingly unwilling or incapable of making any of the very obvious policy ‘u-turns’ that might help ease the suffering, voters are beginning to feel that familiar tinge of desperation. Against this backdrop, the main Opposition, SJB has been accused of not meeting the moment with requisite energy and fortitude, leading to question marks over its position. There has been a media tilt towards alternatives with the National People’s Power coalition (Jathika Jana Balawegaya) and its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) showing increased energy and organisation.
The JVP-led NPP recently released a manifesto of sorts entitled “Rapid Response to Overcome Current Challenges”; the voting public eagerly anticipated a set of policy alternatives, desperate for some semblance of a strategy to set Sri Lanka on a sustainable path to recovery. AKD’s strength has always been his clear, precise and colourful articulation of the corruption and excesses of government. It might be forgotten to history that the JVP was once a political ‘king-maker’ of sorts, propping up, for example, the UPFA Government of 2004 and the Mahinda Rajapaksa candidacy of 2005. The opening lines of the NPP manifesto alludes to the “misguided economic and social policies pursued by various governments…” of the past, of course this must necessarily include the JVP and many of its present leadership including AKD, who was cabinet minister in the mid-2000s. This argument is also used against the SJB leader Sajith Premadasa due to his seniority in the UNP during its brief periods in power. The crucial difference is that Premadasa, while senior, was certainly outside the UNP establishment of that time, unlike AKD, who was very much a leading figure in the JVP’s support for the UPFA.

Bullet points firing blanks
Political history aside, the NPP must be judged on the merits of its ideas and what proposals it can bring to the table. In discussing the economy, the manifesto makes an immediate critique of the open economic policy of 1977, specifically its “prioritisation of personal gain over social responsibility”. The heading of this section reads “A Thriving economy instead of a Dependent Economy” which then leads to obvious questions.
Given the interdependent and interconnected nature of global economies, given the limited size, scope and production capabilities of Sri Lankan industry and Sri Lanka’s inherent dependence on exports, how does Sri Lanka become self-reliant? Further, if the open economy has been destructive, what form does the alternative take? There are severe efficiency gaps in Sri Lanka’s manufacturing sectors, compounded by strong labour laws and regulations; just some of the reasons the worlds manufacturing conveyor belts are concentrated in specific countries. Does the NPP intend on enhancing manufacturing efficiencies, do they intend on relaxing labour laws, if not how do they intend on reducing the cost of Sri Lankan manufacturing? In fact, the NPP makes the point that “neo-liberalism” has failed to prioritise production and was instead focused on financialisation. This critique fails to realise that Sri Lanka benefits from “neo-liberal” trade policies, in fact Sri Lanka’s exports and consequently its economy depends on open markets and free-trade throughout the world. It must be said that the NPP is hardly alone in making a confused critique of neoliberalism and free trade, yet it points to the fundamental challenge facing the JVP led coalition; the need to balance its Marxist-Leninist roots with the challenge of positioning Sri Lanka in a global market. Turning away from the global market cannot be an option for Sri Lanka.
The Rapid Response Manifesto continues with a section titled “Our Approach” which advocates a “value-added economic approach”, with a number of Bullet points, that once again lacks any specifics with the only clue being to “gradually discourage the importation of goods that can be produced locally”. Here the NPP takes a popular route to production and industry but misses the key factor of cost. There are undoubtedly products that are imported which can be produced locally, the question is at what price. There are reasons why Sri Lankan businesses prefer to import raw materials for the production process rather than source locally and these include: cost, quality and supply chain efficiency.
Any plan to shift production locally must consider these key attributes of production; unfortunately, the NPP manifesto makes no such considerations.
The Bullet points continue with a call to “generate more foreign exchange by joining the global supply chain”. This supply chain is part of the aforementioned and much maligned global open-market and a direct result of globalisation, something the NPP rejects as a precursor to “financialisation”.
In discussing how to tackle Sri Lanka’s rising Government debt, the manifesto further states that more detailed measures will be released in the future with some basic measures being mooted for the time being. These include some sort of punitive action for members of previous administrations, a ‘formal’ five-year plan, working ‘diplomatically’ with creditors for debt restructuring and a mechanism to enhance contributions from migrant workers.

Presidency or Westminster?
These are wasted bullet points given that the country is facing both liquidity and solvency challenges. There is no critique of IMF programmes, no roadmap to restructuring and few plans to increase Government revenue. The very least one might have expected from a coalition with Socialist origins was a broad proposal for income redistribution through an overhaul of the SLPP regime’s tax cuts. As Sri Lanka now has some of this region’s lowest corporate tax rates, it represents an open goal for any political manifesto, one that the NPP seems to have missed completely. Rapid Response, despite the title, does offer some longer-term benchmarks on vital investments on healthcare and education, calling for annual minimum expenditures of five and six percent of GDP respectively.
AKD and the JVP have long been critical of the Executive Presidency; the NPP manifesto reiterates the need for a cabinet accountable to parliament and not to the President. It goes further in calling for the President to be elected by Parliament instead of by the people. This is perhaps where the political rubber meets the road when it comes to Sri Lanka’s unique electoral dynamics. Colombo’s liberal vote base seemed to support similar notions judging by their votes for Yahapalanaya and its purported Westminster model. The Executive Presidency is viewed by the liberal elites as a poisoned chalice, while rural voters in the Sinhala-Buddhist heartland believe this seat and its occupant to be a guarantor against minority rule through globalist proxy.
The NPP gets credit for articulating its position unambiguously; the question remains as to whether the Westminster gambit will be digestible to an electoral base that firmly rejected this parliamentary model in the 2019 election. This brings us back to the aforementioned inertia of the Yahapalanaya regime with its competing power centres and contradictory rhetoric, compounded by an inability to even issue a simple gazette. Sri Lankans will notice that little has changed with the current Pohottuwa administration, Consequently, Executive President or not, the inertia has come full circle.
The NPP’s stance on the Executive Presidency will perhaps force the hand of the main Opposition party in one direction or another. The SJB has political-brand name recognition; few in Colombo perhaps appreciate the strength of the Premadasa name in rural Sri Lanka. On the other hand the SJB also possesses other personalities that have won the trust of the electorate to varying degrees; MPs Harin Fernando, Dr. Harsha De Silva, Eran Wickramaratne and Champika Ranawaka to name a few. These MPs have all carved out their own niches in the wider electorate, consequently, the SJB ‘Team’ might bring its own set of advantages. Whether the core of the SJB believes steadfastly in the Westminster model or whether they utilise the innate ‘brand-name’ might well depend on which election the administration calls first. However, from an ideological standpoint, the SJB must clearly define its path, now that the pretender to the oppositional throne has made its stance clear.

Opportunistic vanguardism
Rapid Response, overall, represents a missed opportunity for the NPP to provide an actual roadmap to economic sustainability and political stability; to be perceived as a real alternative for the electorate. The manifesto seems confused about where it wants to take Sri Lanka’s economy and its people and this is somewhat emblematic of the Marxist-Leninist Communist JVP.
The ideological confusion may seem pedantic but it is hugely informative of why there always seems to be so little convergence of leftist movements and why they are so prone to circular firing squads. Lenin himself is a much-debated figure in history, especially among scholars of Socialism. Prof. Noam Chomsky has written extensively about Leninism and in particular its allegiances with Stalinism noting that for many ‘mainstream’ Marxists of that era, Lenin was a right wing deviation of the socialist movement.
Two of the more famous Marxist intellectuals, Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek have referred to what they view as Lenin’s ‘opportunistic vanguardism’. Chomsky notes that Lenin’s writing changed character around 1917; the notion that the radical intelligentsia were going to exploit popular movements to seize control of the state and then organise the populace into the kind of society that they chose. Considering the very core of socialism: Workers’ control over the means of production, this deviation by Lenin seems completely inconsistent. The original Marxists or what Chomsky refers to as ‘left Marxists’ such as Luxemburg and Pannekoek were notably aghast at the moves made by Lenin following the October 1917 revolution, something Chomsky refers to as a ‘coup’ rather than a revolution. One of Lenin’s first actions after seizing power was to destroy the Factory Councils developed by the Soviets, weakening worker control over production: The very antithesis of socialism. As per Chomsky: “Lenin reconstructed the Tsarist systems of oppression” moving away from the libertarian-socialist origins of Luxemburg and Pannekoek.
The JVP led NPP would do well to better understand what Lenin believed, right up to his death; that a socialist state would not be possible in Russia and was instead a holding action for the “real revolution”, which as per traditional Marxist theory would occur in the most advanced industrial capitalist state, which at the time would have been Germany.
The Rapid Response manifesto does little to suggest that the JVP/NPP represents a vanguard intelligentsia of any creed, offering nothing of substance as an alternative in these most desperate of times.
(Email:, Twitter: @kusumw)
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