A new discourse is going on about Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the People’s Liberation Front party (JVP) and the National People’s Power alliance (NPP). Well, it’s not entirely new – this discourse has happened before and is one of the many that concern the JVP.
Basically, the NPP is receiving much criticism that they do not participate in collective work and platforms.
How did this happen?
On October 17 the Mawbima newspaper reported a news titled ‘People should only rise up under us.’ According to this news, written by Anuradha Herath, Anura Kumara Dissanayake has said that if there’s another uprising in the country, it should happen under the NPP’s leadership, else that uprising would be wasted.
Last week, Dallas Alahapperuma’s party called a meeting of political parties against the postponement of elections. Even the Frontline Socialist Party attended that meeting. The JVP did not.
Then, a discussion between various parties was held at the public library. Although the JVP-affiliated Socialist Youth Union attended this, neither the top leadership of the JVP nor the JVP-affiliated trade unions did. In that discussion, it was agreed that the political parties of the opposition, including the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, JVP, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa, Tamil National Alliance, Muslim Congress, Tamil Progressive Front, 43 Group, Frontline Socialist Party, together with trade unions and mass organizations will participate in a protest march on November 2. Mujibur Rahman, Hirunika Premachandra, and representatives of the SLFP participated in this discussion. There was a consensus on this among parties who did not attend the meeting as well.
However, there seems to be speculation that JVP will not participate in the November 2nd march. Some are already campaigning against the JVP on social media saying that JVP will not take part in this collective effort. Some mainstream and alternative media are also publishing news highlighting that the JVP did not attend discussions among parties.
So, would the JVP not join a common platform against repression? Do they avoid those public platforms? Is that wrong? Is it a narrow, selfish policy of theirs?
We, too, have held discussions on organizing a collective protest on November 2 in our roles as social activists and outside of our roles as journalists. We also believe that we need a common platform. Nevertheless, we can understand the position the leaders of the NPP including Anura Kumara are in.
We propose that we leave the JVP alone to continue its work. There are several reasons why they have taken their approach. We’ll focus on those reasons here.
For this purpose, we spoke to several JVP leaders over the phone. Apart from that, we are primarily basing this on the speech Anura Kumara made on October 15.
We watched the entire one-hour speech he gave at the establishment of the Kesbewa electoral division of the NPP. We took notes. This speech covers the JVP’s stance in detail and was the basis of the controversial story from the Mawbima newspaper. When you take just a very small part of an hour-long speech, people may think that this story is messed up. But, when you hear the whole story, you can understand what the JVP is planning.
Anura talks about how we continue to be deceived: “We continue to be deceived. Shouldn’t we change this? Is there any point in turning the pages of history again and again? No. We must decisively close that chapter.”
In the modern political history of Sri Lanka, there have been many occasions when common platforms were formed to ‘protect democracy’, ‘defeat thieves’ and ‘send short-sighted governments home’. The importance of such platforms has been discussed on many occasions since independence and not just the past few days.
Especially in the presidential election of 1982, votes were divided when several candidates such as Colvin, Hector Kobbekaduwa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, and Rohana Wijeweera contested without forming a common platform against JR’s strict rule. In the 1988 presidential elections, Ranasinghe Premadasa narrowly won the presidential election as Ossie Abeygunasekera and Sirima Bandaranaike ran separately. It was said that if all parties including the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, People’s Party, and New Sama Samaja Party had carried out one campaign together, they would have defeated the UNP. It was after such lessons that in 1994 a common campaign was formed to bring Chandrika to power. The Mahinda Rajapaksa campaign of 2005, Fonseka’s campaign of 2010, and the good governance (‘yahapalana’) campaign of 2015 were formed with this idea of defeating a common enemy.
In all these cases, common platforms started to form about two years before the election. Before 2005, the patriotic movement started to develop. Before 2015, a few including Ranil Wickremesinghe created a platform called the ‘Freedom Platform’. Before the 1994 general election, there were many activities by civil organizations.
However, every time the idea of a common platform for democracy against repression came up, the opportunity for a third alternative force to rise was lost. Was limited.
Standing on the same platform with Sarath Fonseka and Ranil Wickremesinghe during the 2010 presidential election campaign and the 2015 campaign, the damage done to JVP was very decisive. It even caused huge divisions within the JVP.
Therefore, if we learn a lesson from history, creating common platforms to defeat common enemies is always a disadvantage for the JVP. There the main opposition force always gets the upper hand. Then when the next election is held, that force becomes strong.
On the other hand, without any political movement, the main opposition will get the advantage of people’s movements that arise in general.
In his speech at Kesbewa, Anura Kumara says, “It is under the National People’s Power that people should organize for an uprising. Otherwise, the outcome will be wasted.”
What they are trying to say is that we need to go beyond simply opposing the enemy and bring out a saviour. According to the JVP, that saviour is the NPP. In his one-hour speech, Anura highlights how a JVP’s rise to power is an advantage in many ways.
He also mentions that the next public uprising needs leadership.
‘Lakhs of people came to Colombo. On train roofs, in trucks, on backhoes. A lot of the results are still there today. The decisive outcome was Ranil Wickremesinghe’s rise to power.
A leadership is needed. A purpose is needed.” says Anura.
Anura Kumara further explains how the crisis will reoccur in future. He gives many reasons. He points out that the crisis is not over yet and describes the pressures on ordinary citizens including taxation.
At the end, he says that when the people rise again, “it is useless to create scattered uprisings. The government expects to push this into something violent. Repressing with batons and tear gas is good for the government.” Anura says that unorganized uprisings are an advantage for the government.
Apart from considering this entire context, it’s pointless to criticize the JVP saying that Anura simply said that the next uprising should form under them.
Anura Kumara says, “We have to provide leadership to people who rise up everywhere” and that accordingly, councils should be formed to lead people in villages.
We see nothing wrong with them thinking of the NPP as the political organization and Anura Kumara Dissanayake as the leadership that should organize people under themselves at this time.
It is not wrong for a political force to think of leading the people. In fact, every political force in Sri Lanka should think of leading and organizing people.
What they are doing is creating a new alternative while resisting what currently exists.
“Today the Rajapaksa camp has weakened. Crashed. The camp that was said to be unshakable, like a rock, collapsed in front of our eyes. Now the power rests with the people. The problem is that the people are not properly organized.” Anura continued.
There are many of their policies we agree with and those we do not. But that organization is a group working for power. And they see no point in giving power back to the establishment and believe that an alternative force should seize power.
That idea is not wrong.
Still, one can ask why the JVP can’t go on a common platform for democracy against the ongoing repression at the same time they do their own work.
But when this idea of this common enemy is overdetermined, many other reasons that caused the current crisis can get hidden. It is true that preserving democracy is a fundamental need. But many other factors caused this country to fall to this state. Corruption, fraud, short-sighted policies, and dishonest political leaders created this. Today, when collective platforms of the opposition are being formed, those responsible for this crisis also get on them.
Finally, what happens is that alliances ‘against the common enemy’ are formed once again. People believe that that is unity. But through those alliances, another traditional camp will come back to power.
So, the fact that the NPP is working alone is not surprising or objectionable at all.
The NPP is currently designing a mechanism. It really started before the protest movement. A national level executive council has been formed. After that, divisional councils of the NPP will be formed at the divisional level.
On October 27, the Trade Union Coordinating Center, which includes trade unions and organizations that are close to, but not a part of, the NPP, organize a series of people’s movements.
We must point out that personally, we are in favour of creating a common platform. Because this oppression must be defeated. It can only be done if political figures like Sajith Premadsa, Dallas Alahaperuma, M. A. Sumanthiran, Champika Ranawaka, and Sarath Fonseka take to the streets.
We are not a political party working to gain power. We aren’t even connected to one. We do not want power. Therefore, whether Sajith become stronger through a common platform is a secondary issue for us. It means that ‘we’ look at that problem secondly. On the other hand, we have no plans to create a common platform only to then campaign for leaders like Sajith Premadasa or Dallas Alahapperuma in the next election.
After we stop this repression, we all have different action paths based on our political views.
But that matter is not a secondary issue for the JVP. They are a group of people who come forward with their own proposals to build this country.
If they don’t get on a common stage, we can understand that. Now we should allow the NPP, its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the people gathered around them to carry on their politics.
Whichever party eventually comes to power in a general election, we are engaged in citizen politics. Therefore, we should be able to keep citizens’ power strong and fight with any government. Whether it is Sajith or the JVP, if the people fundamentally oppose any government, we will stand with that opposition from the people’s side. That is citizen politics.
However, there is something that those who want to rally against a common enemy should understand today – that the common enemy is not Anura Kumara.