The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 4

Page 4 Sunday, November 9, 2014 The Nation
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MalindaSeneviratne
T
wenty-five years ago a man
was killed. He was one of some
60,000 who had been killed in
those gruesome days of the late
eighties. It is reported that he had been
tortured and shot. It is reported that he
was still alive when he was tossed into
the incinerator at the General Cemetery,
Borella. This was at the tail end of the
second insurrection launched by the
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
By this time, most of the key leaders
had been eliminated. The rank and file
was decimated along with hundred of
suspected supporters. It was a time of
abduction and torture, proxy arrests
and trigger-happy vigilante groups,
assassination of political figures,
academics and journalists, and summary
execution. It was a time of courage
and foolhardiness; a time when acts of
terrorism by self-styled ‘revolutionaries’
was met by acts of terrorismby the State.
It was a time of anarchywhich effectively
ended with that particular murder.
Rohana Wijeweera, hero for some
and villain for many, left a signature
on the political landscape of post-
independence Sri Lanka. There is the
fact of masterminding two (failed)
insurrectionary assaults on the state. The
JVP, as Dr Gamini Samaranayake has
argued, also demonstrated that armed
insurrection was an option and that
the state was not ready. It’s a lesson that
no one learned better than the LTTE.
A lesson that was never learned was
this: the state, over time, corrects for
deficiency and prevails unless there’s
a mass uprising that complements or
there is pernicious outside intervention
by forces far superior. The last ‘combine’
does not deliver revolution but further
subjugation (e.g. Arab Spring).
‘Rohana Wijeweera’ is a doctoral
dissertationwaiting to be written, a novel
that could be an adventure story, a horror
story or even a comedy. Such was his
historical presence from the late sixties
to the late eighties. And yet, he has not
inspired ‘rebels’ who came later in the
way their preferred heroes such as Che
Guevara or José Martí have. This could
be because of the kind of rebel he was.
He could deliver a stirring speech
which could excite sections of the youth
made more of heart than mind. He was
not endowed with a great intellect but
was nevertheless a good strategist – knew
to pick the slogan of the moment. He was
never in battle fatigues, so to speak. He
had nothing of the courage and sense
of sacrifice the men he led possessed. In
1971, he was essentially an adventurist. In
88-89, he showed signs of megalomania.
Suchmen don’t inspire.
Thepost-WijeweeraJVPdoeslittlemore
than acknowledge a political presence.
In rhetoric, ideological assertion and
practice, the present set of leaders have
effectively distanced themselves from the
man, his methods and even his vision.
They have all but abandoned the class
project which Wijeweera the Populist
at least paid lip service to and even
convinced many young people it was
everything to the JVP.
Twenty-five years later, the party still
has the Wijeweera signature. Red. The
Bell symbol. Great May Day shows.
Poster-boys. A university presence large
enough to play spoiler on occasion. An
ability to show a strong commitment
to discipline. The thrust, however, in
circumstances that gradually declined
after the 2004 ‘peak’ of some 40 MPs, has
been about saving face. They still have a
fixationwith the streetsbut it’s something
that seems more of a throwback to a
romantic time than anything else. They
have union strength. Just can’t seem to
put it all together. It could be put down to
ideologicalconfusion,intellectualpoverty
or dismissal by the population in general
or a combination of these.
There were ‘highs’ no doubt. The JVP
pushedthroughthe17thAmendment.The
JVP helped Mahinda Rajapaksa become
President, in hindsight a necessary
(though not sufficient) condition for
eliminating the LTTE. But then again,
they suffered the same fate that befell the
‘Old Left’. The stronger coalition partner
remained unmoved by demands and the
weaker had to split.
There was always a cloak-n-dagger
faction, apparently. There was also the
nationalist faction thatwasnot impressed
with the JVP’s Marxist pretensions. Both
factions went their separate ways. What
was left is committed to mainstream
democratic politics, good for a few
parliamentary seats and for putting up
posters in regime-change adventures but
not much else.
Rohana Wijeweera is no more. He left a
trail of blood. His JVP could destabilize.
For a while. The JVP that came after has
had itsups anddowns, threatened to score
a couple of times but was either tackled
or dropped the ball. They aremildwhen it
comes to political engagement. No strong
arm tactics except where they have some
degreeof power(theuniversities).They’ve
put to shame their colleagues from other
parties when it comes to parliamentary
conduct. Overall a plus score that eluded
the founder.
If the JVP is still politically relevant,
it is not because of Rohana Wijeweera
but in spite of him. That says a lot about
the political legacy and, of course, the
historical significance of the man. Dead
and rarely lamented. Irrelevant, someone
might add.
RohanaWijeweera’s
fading political signature
T
he rumblings of dissent within the
ruling United Peoples’ Freedom
Alliance (UPFA), instigated mostly by
the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) pale into
insignificance in comparison to those that
are being now felt in the main opposition
party, the United National Party (UNP)
which is in the throes of another crisis.
Hopes of the UNP faithful and indeed,
for those seeking an alternative to the
UPFA rose dramatically, when the UNP
performed creditably at the Uva provincial
council elections and even ‘won’ a few
contests there at the electoral level and
then appointed Sajith Premadasa as its
deputy leader.
There was talk of a UNP resurgence.
Some even went to the extent of surmising
that with a surge of votes expected from the
North and East, its candidate will win the
presidential election easily. Now, however,
all hell seems to breaking loose in the
party with personality clashes between key
leaders being a factor.
At the root of the conflict is the return of
Premadasa to a position of influence in the
party. This has irked the likes of Mangala
Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake.
Samaraweeraisnowreportedlynegotiating
a return to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
(SLFP). This may still happen in the next
few weeks.
Samaraweera has been arguably
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s harshest
critic since he left the UPFA in 2007. Also,
in UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s
battles with Premadasa, Samaraweera
sided firmly with the former. Even so,
Samaraweera’s value to the UNP at this
stage is questionable.
That is because being an extremely
divisive figure, his presence in the UNPhas
heightened the UNP’s factional in-fighting.
The Premadasa faction in particular wants
him sidelined. Dyed-in-the-wool UNPers
also resent his entry to the party where he
rapidly rose to become its public face and
media guru.
That itself is ironical because
Samaraweera was the mastermind
behind President Rajapaksa’s presidential
bid when he was facing opposition
from within the SLFP in 2005. At that
time Samaraweera was instrumental in
projecting Wickremesinghe as ‘traitor’ who
appeased terrorists!
Amoot point is how Samaraweera, after
ferociously criticizing President Rajapaksa
for seven years, could now join forces with
him for the presidential election. Stranger
events have occurred inSri Lankan politics:
S.B. DissanayakeandDayasiri Jayasekera
are two recent examples Samaraweera
might emulate.
The other simmering issue is who the
UNP candidate would be. Party leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe has evinced
interest but his most vocal endorsement
has come from his erstwhile rival,
Premadasa. Significantly Wickremesinghe
has deliberately delayed an announcement
until a poll is announced.
Premadasa’s ringing endorsements,
replete with recollections of the J.R.
Jayewardene-Ranasinghe
Premadasa
era, has been interpreted by some
as an indication that he is offering
Wickremesinghe a political rope to hang
himself with. However, Premadasa also
offers to contest if his leader doesn’t.
There is a popular perception that while
Wickremesinghemaybeanablestatesman
if he is elected to office, it is still difficult
to market him to the electorate. Hence
the search for the so-called ‘common’
candidate! Now, there are reports that
Wickremesinghe himself is having second
thoughts. Such a scenario will encourage
the emergence of other contenders. The
usual suspects - Karu Jayasuriya and
Sajith Premadasa - earn an honorable
mention and now even former President
Chandrika Kumaratunga is being cast in
the ‘common candidate’ role apparently by
Wickremesinghe himself.
If Wickremesinghe is indeed entertaining
such thoughts, it is a reflection on the belief
that he is not the ideal candidate to rally
all the forces of the opposition against
President Rajapaksa. Kumaratunga also
wouldn’t fit the bill, having previously
reneged on promises to abolish the
Executive Presidency.
It is unfortunate that the stalwarts of the
UNP are jostling for positions of power and
privilege within the party, and in so doing,
ruining its prospects of presenting a united
front to the electorate. The powerbrokers
in the UPFA will exploit this to the
maximum with for example, incentives for
crossovers.
The drama being played out in the
corridors of ‘Sirikotha’ is eerily reminiscent
of the phase the SLFP went through in the
early eighties when Sirima Bandaranaike
was deprived of civic rights by the J.R.
Jayewardene government and the party
was frantically looking for a candidate to
oppose Jayewardene.
On that occasion, while Maithripala
Senanayake, the obvious successor to
Bandaranaike, was overlooked in favor
of Hector Kobbekaduwe after much intra-
party squabbling. The rest is history:
Jayewardene romped home a clear
winner. Now, history might repeat itself, but
with the UNP at the receiving end.
The current cloud of confusion will not
aid the UNP. Theoretically at least they can
dilly-dally until an election is officially called.
This is widely expected on the first day it
is legally possible to do so: on the 20th of
November, which is only a few days away.
Time is running out for the main opposition
party.
Opposition struggling to find
a common candidate
THIS IS MY NATION
Chandrika Kumaratunga
Karu Jayasuriya
Mr Zeid’s integrity gripe
T
he UNHigh Commissioner for Human Rights,
ZeidRa’adAlHusseinisupsetwiththeGovern-
ment of Sri Lanka. He said, ‘The Government has
refused point blank to cooperate with the investi-
gation (into allegations of human rights violations
in the last phase of the war); such refusal does not
undermine the integrity of an investigation set up
by the Council – instead it raises concerns about
the integrity of the government in question.’ He
then asks, ‘Why would governments with nothing
to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabo-
tage an impartial international investigation?’
What he has notmentioned (why not?) is that the
Governmenthasexplained
adnauseam
itsposition
on thematter detailing the lack of consistency, im-
partiality, rigor and integrity on the part of his of-
fice and especially his predecessor, Navi Pillay. He
is correct though when he says such refusals don’t
undermine the integrity of the said investigation.
It is not the refusal that questions integrity but the
pathetic track record of his office, especially with
respect to its dealings with Sri Lanka.
This was abundantly apparent in the collusion
of his office with the inglorious machinations of
the United States of America to insult, humiliate
and inotherwaysharassSri Lanka inmultiple ses-
sions of the UNHRC. The US Embassy inColombo
as well as senior diplomats representing countries
that have consistently sided with the USA in these
moves have been interfering in the internal affairs
of Sri Lanka for years and especially in what can
only be called ‘themanufacturing of “evidence” to
support a conclusion that has been desired’.
Sri Lanka has every right to object. Sri Lanka
has every right to question Zeid’s integrity when
his office, so ready to unleash invective on Sri
Lanka, indulges in scandalous navel-gazing when
certain countries have rejected the commission-
ing of similar processes against them. In the case
of Israel, for example, the UNHRC has to contend
with irrefutable evidence whereas in Sri Lanka’s
case, Zeid is working with vague allegations made
by persons of dubious repute citing equally com-
promised ‘witnesses’.
This is why his last question is ridiculous. He
asks, let us repeat, ‘Why would governments with
nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths
to sabotage an impartial international investiga-
tion?’ The issue is, Mr Zeid, the absolute lack of in-
tegrity onyour part and that of your office. Simple.
If you have any doubts, try answering the follow-
ing questions.
Why has your office not questioned the investi-
gating teamabout ‘evidence forms’ getting into the
hands of terrorists? Does it not bother you that sig-
natures have been collected on unfilled forms?
If the Government did nothing about such activ-
ity, then indeed it would be supporting ‘interfer-
ence’ in the UNHRC investigation, compromised
though that process is. Mr Zeid should be applaud-
ing theGovernment for acting swiftly on this issue
and bringing to light something that clearly indi-
cates that the entire investigative process has been
compromised beyond rectification.
Mr Zeid dismisses the entire matter by saying
that his teamis equipped to detect fraud. Collusion
infraudanda trackrecordof selective targetingon
the part of his office doesn’t really give credence to
the claim, but let’s go along with it. He ought to be
concerned by the fact that some people are actively
engaged in a massive fabricating exercise. Worse,
the agent of fabrication in this instance has had
close relationships with certain diplomats in Co-
lombo as well the Tamil National Alliance, the
principal Sri Lankan political entity that had been
supporting the patently flawed UNHRC exercise.
Integrity is the issue in contention here. It would
be much simpler and so much more honest if Mr
Zeid came out with the truth. All he has to do is to
put the following in Diplospeak: ‘We have, for rea-
sons we don’t have to state but which you all know,
decided on the conclusion that is convenient to our
purposes, we are in the process of manufacturing
evidence to support this and so Sri Lanka can go
fly a kite!’
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