Why can’t one go to Jaffna to criticize the government?
Now look who’s dividing the country!
In a most curious turn of events the military which battled to defeat the LTTE because of its separatist agenda is now the agency that is dividing Sri Lanka into two distinct portions. Persons who wish to travel to the north to campaign against the government are stopped, harassed and busloads are turned back. I ask you who is de facto dividing the country. What is wrong, in law, with holding meetings to raise public awareness and increase anger against abductions, killings and rights violations? If one can do it in the Sinhalese south but not in the Tamil north, well who has set up a two-state formula? This is not war time when, arguably, there were public security constraints; this is now-now when the Rajapaksas’ are on the run.
Why is the New-JVP, harassed and blocked every step of the way to Jaffna, to join up with Tamils who share similar views, and to condemn the abduction of two of their members, Lalith Kumar Weeraraju and Kugan Muruganathan? These obstructions by the security establishment only raise further suspicions about who was behind the abductions. Where is the evidence that the law of the land was to be transgressed at a peaceful protest rally? No doubt the government and the security establishment would have been roundly condemned, and for me that’s just what makes the protest important in the public interest. It is only by raising our voices that we, the people, can salvage scraps of our eroding democracy. I am no member of the New-JVP, but I have not the slightest doubt that it is not just their freedom that is at stake, but my freedom too. That’s the reason I am making a fuss in this column today.
Terrorism, the New-JVP and
I am delighted that radical Tamil youth – I hope some of them are also coming over to left conceptual positions – and a strong Sinhalese leftist youth movement are merging. The three antique left leaders are falling over each other to polish Mahinda’s sandals, the Bahu and Siritunga parties are still on the small side; therefore the emergence of a large Sinhala-Tamil left party, based on young people, is most welcome. At the same time we need to be cautious, it’s too early to predict if this movement will prosper in size and whether it will develop sound political positions worthy of support. Maybe I am clutching at straws in my old age, but I am inclined to be cautiously optimistic.
There are two vital matters this movement, if it emerges as a sizable force, must pay careful attention to. The first is the question of terrorism. The JVP’s terrorism of 1971 and 1989-91 has not been forgotten and LTTE terrorism against both Tamil and Sinhala victims is fresh in people’s minds. The LLRC was shameless; it whitewashed the military’s atrocities, but it did expose LTTE atrocities, so one has been reminded of half the truth. My point is that with the New-JVP and some ex-LTTE cadres coming together, there is apprehension in the public mind of a return to the bad old days. The most urgent task facing this movement, because of this past, and because of its, albeit desirable, youthful Sinhala-Tamil composition, is to dispel these doubts.
A newspaper report says Chameera Koswatte declared that the movement “has no intention of starting an armed struggle,” but next day there were reports of Professor Shantha Hennanayake of Peradeniya complaining that he had been “assaulted by students belonging to the JVP rebel group.” There is still a long way to go before the radicals dispel fears of futile violence from the public mind. Not only dispel concerns about their own intentions, but more important, they must develop the maturity to cope with increasing state violence, repression and provocation, which are inevitable if the movement grows in strength.
Again precisely because of the dichotomous, indeed virulently hostile positions of the Old-JVP and the defunct-LTTE on the national question, any collaboration that brings together cadres originating in these prior entities face a huge challenge in working out a shared stand on the national question. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of both sides in struggling to arrive at a common position but it’s not going to be easy. I have seen a statement that the New-JVP will support the ceding of police and land powers to provincial governments “if the Tamils want it.” This is welcome, but it sounds like Sinhalese agreeing to give something to Tamils. Good enough for rotten bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, but not good enough for a Marxist party where there has to be a stronger multi-ethnic internal dynamic.
It is better if the New-JVP first enrols large numbers of Tamils and then engages in internal debates where comrades of all ethnic backgrounds deeply involve themselves. Then it will be in a strong position to finalize its programme on the national question. This may take time, but if the process is frankly explained to the people they will be patient so that the job can be done properly. For now, conceding police and land powers is sufficient, till requisite organizational strength for a thoroughgoing theoretical job is acquired.
One country two systems
Allow me to return to my starting point, division of the country. When analysts say Sri Lanka is not a dictatorship but only an authoritarian state, it is true only of the south. This is simply not factually correct of the Northern Province and to a substantial degree the Eastern Province. In these areas there is a dictatorship, a certain form of politico-military dictatorship. Ask ordinary citizens. We must stop saying Lanka is not a dictatorship and rephrase it to say that it is not a dictatorship in the Sinhalese South but military dictatorship prevails in Tamil regions. One country two systems!
You see, though I started with travel prohibitions that was a little plan to take you along on a political trip. My message is that in many ways this government has brought about a division of the country.