|Is the JVP no
longer a force to be reckoned with?
After much ado,
the general strike on Thursday ended in an anti-climax. In the
build up to the event, many feared a repeat of the crisis in
July 1980, but that was not to be. The protest petered out
although the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the main
instigators of the trade union action have threatened that more
work stoppages are on the cards.
Nevertheless, Thursday’s strike brought some political home
truths to the surface for both the government and the collective
opposition, the JVP included.
If anyone expected the working masses to heed the JVP’s call and
bring the country to a standstill on Thursday, that simply did
not happen. And that is not because government employees could
well afford to forego the five thousand rupees the JVP was
If the general public dearly wanted that pay hike but was yet
hesitant to stage an all out crippling work stoppage, what is
the message that is being sent to the powers that be and the
powers in waiting?
That the JVP has lost some of its organisational sting could be
a contributory factor but it is also undeniable that the
government still commands the confidence of a considerable
segment of the populace, all its faults and foibles
That would primarily be because there is a general perception
that this regime is prosecuting the war in earnest, as no other
government before it had done and therefore, needs to be given
more time before it could be summarily challenged. Some may
disagree with this strategy of all out war, but last Thursday’s
events were a virtual endorsement of this policy by the public.
In this context, it is relevant to note that the mainstream JVP
which called for the strike also promotes a ‘war and nothing but
war against terrorism’ stance. Therefore, the relative lack of
success of last Thursday’s strike also confirms that the JVP is
now on the wane as a dominant political force.
It is significant that, unlike in 1980, there was minimal force
used on those who opted to strike and there certainly were no
strong arm tactics such as dismissal of workers who participated
in the trade union action.
That was partly because the current regime is not strong enough
to enforce such measures. But it is also because it probably
hopes it can, come election time, win back the support of the
JVP against their common enemy, the United National Party (UNP).
The government of course must know that it can ill afford to be
complacent despite their moral victory on Thursday. Even if the
strike did not grind the country to a halt, it was also
effective in disrupting the services of many government
institutions where only minimal functions were maintained.
That should serve as a robust reminder to the government that
even if the public was tolerant of the government’s many
misdemeanors at present because of the war effort, they may not
grant such liberties indefinitely.
In cricketing parlance then, Thursday’s strike was a draw: it
was neither a victory for the government; nor was it a defeat
for the JVP. But it most definitely should serve as an eye
opener for both the government in power as well as the
opposition parties lined up against it.
The political divide needs to respect media
Mediamen apparently cannot keep themselves out of the news
these days. If there were several incidents where media
personnel who had been critical of the government were abused,
threatened and even beaten up in the past few months, last week
saw a similar incident allegedly at the hands of the opposition
United National Party (UNP).
Two mediamen belonging to a state television network were
allegedly manhandled by UNP officials at their party
headquarters. The mediamen have also complained that a white van
allegedly followed them thereafter.
We cannot comment on the veracity of these claims as the matter
is under investigation, but it suffices to say that harassment
of the media - by whatever party - is yet to come to a halt.
We have experienced the now familiar scenario where one
political party sheds unimaginable tears of concern for the
media when they are in the opposition. The same party, when they
are in power a few years later, pays scant respect to the media,
conveniently forgetting the profound promises it so gallantly
made while languishing in the opposition.
The two major parties in the country, the Sri Lanka Freedom
party and the United National Party are guilty of this treachery
at one time or another. Obviously, neither party believes in the
ideals of freedom of expression - they see the media as mere
extensions of their grand design of capturing and holding on to
the reins of power.
The finger is being pointed at the current SLFP-led regime for
being at the forefront of media harassment. Recent events have
provoked these sentiments and not unjustifiably so too. But we
must remind ourselves that UNP governments too in their heyday
found only few darlings in the media.
What is needed for this country therefore is not to point the
accusatory finger at one party or another. We would rather have
a new media culture where there is mutual respect between
governments in power and the collective media. For that kind of
relationship to evolve, we would need a commitment from both
sides of the political divide to the ideals of media freedom. Is
that too much to expect, though?