BY DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA
Their weakness is that they have been unable to agree on a leader who can reflect that strength, and instead have opted for a compromise in the form of Somawansa Amarasinghe, who is to the JVP what Ranil Wickremasinghe is to the UNP. The JVP would have been – and would still be--much better off with Tilvin Silva as leader and one of the others, perhaps Lal Kantha, as General Secretary.
The underground leadership of the JVP picked Wimal Weerawansa as its public face and voice in the years of recovery and re-emergence, a task which he performed admirably,but only so long as he was fighting against Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration or the Ranil-CBK period of appeasement of the LTTE. In any case his relatively poor knowledge of Marxism could never enable him to lead a party with the JVP’s profile, project (some may say pretensions) and better educated peers. His political ambitions made him move on, but his public performance deteriorated and star waned, with his electoral victory in the Colombo district being the zenith of his popularity.
The UDF, the JVP’s dissidents, have in their ranks the most dedicated and ideologically committed cadres, and as Stalin pointed out, once the correct political line has been determined “cadres decide everything”. The UDF has as its de-facto leader, Kumara Gunaratnam, whose older brother Ranjithan (said to be dead) was one of the most intelligent, able and disciplined cadres I have met anywhere. By comparison, Kumara himself seems to have had more guts than brains, but those guts were in abundance. While the JVP cadre was busily murdering Sinhala leftists and minor state employees in the name of a patriotic war against the IPKF, Kumara was a true believer who actually planned and possibly participated in an ambush of an IPKF unit. The morning after, the JVP leadership contacted the Indian Deputy High Commissioner and profusely apologised, promising never to repeat that.
The more left-liberal commentators have tilted to or welcomed the emergence of the radical dissidents. While the UDF’s line seems to be more in consonance with something recognizable as radical leftist by international standards, one problem remains. The problem is that the JVP’s university students’ wing and its leaders have joined the dissidents. While the positive side is that wing of the JVP has, in recent times, made a welcome outreach to the Northern students and is therefore a bridge between North and South and an antidote to Tamil secessionism, the negative aspect is the student-wing of the JVP has been the source of the most barbaric and retrogressive political behaviour in the form of defending ‘raggers’ from disciplinary measures and prosecution, launching violent protests against such disciplinary measures and opposing the introduction of English in schools and campuses.
The Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) has taken a stance that is seen or easily spun as anti-armed forces, on the issues of university ‘shramadana’ (volunteer clean-up) and the orientation course for incoming students. It is one thing to be anti-militarisation and quite another to sound hostile towards the army, especially one that is popular. Any serious student of the Latin American Left as well as of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia would know that the army is either an agency of change (Venezuela) or must be carried along with the process of change. Therefore, the interface with the army and the students would be regarded by any intelligent Left party as an opening for fraternisation. This was understood by Wimal Weerawansa during the war years, but not by the JVP or its more radical breakaway, the UDF, and its IUSF affiliate, today. More to the point, a student federation that is seen to protect violent‘raggers’ from disciplinary and legal action, but protests against a liberating, patriotic, peasant-based military, is neither especially astute nor particularly prudent.
The reported affiliation of the IUSF and its angry ideology of ‘levelling down’ and ‘petty bourgeois egalitarianism’ (as Engels called it), with the dissidents, militates (pun intended) against the evolution of the UDF into a more enlightened, rational revolutionary or radical movement. The dissident UDF will, I fear, be far too reliant on the IUSF, to rectify and restructure its ideology—which in turn means that the UDF’s political behaviour will not be significantly better than that of the JVP.
Every society benefits from a strong Left as a social counterbalance. In some instances, when the Left has the appropriate mix of policies and personalities, it manages to win social consent and political power. This has been the case in Latin America from El Salvador to Argentina, from Uruguay to Peru, in what is referred to as the ‘left shift’. It has also been so in the South Asian region, in Nepal. The JVP has been chronically unable to make that shift, because its founding political paradigm of Wijeweera’s brand of Marxism-Leninism was so significantly different from that of the Latin American left and the Nepali Maoists, that it does not readily permit such a transformation. This is a problem that the dissident faction of the JVP (now named United Democratic Front- UDF) will also face.The problem with Wijeweera’s JVP was not that it was patriotic, nationalistic or populist – all of which it was and is --but that it was Sinhala centric and latently(sometimes manifestly) Sinhala chauvinist. Wijeweera’s gross error was that instead of ‘Lankanising’ Marxism-Leninism, he simply Sinhalised it.