Comment by Shyamon Jayasinghe, Melbourne

Mr. Wimal Weerawanse’s speech (reported in your columns on 27/4) at the inaugural meeting of the National Advisory Council on Peace & Reconstruction (NACPR) is remarkable only for its paleness and vacuity. What a graphic and dramatic difference to what would have been uttered by the old left of Colvin R De Silva, NM Perera and Leslie Goonawardena! The old left were men and women of considerable intellectual stature. What amateurs we now have whether on the left or right! Political leaders of the old days knew their political science, their law, and their economics etc and could impress any international gathering.

Here, on this crucial occasion one would have expected the JVP leader to express at least a hint of a new vision with regard to the huge national question that the NACPR is going to deliberate on. However, look what Wimal says:

(1) Our colonial rulers adopted the practice of divide and rule

(2) Prior to colonial history such a policy had not been practiced

(3) Our differences in cultural and ethnic identities should not be a cause for our disunity

(4) We must not think of a solution that would undermine our sovereignty

(5) That solution must be arrived at by discussion

Aren’t these all well-worn platitudes and clichés that party leaders have been mouthing all along? For one thing, the second statement is not correct. Divide and rule has been a strategy as old as history and prevalent all over the world even today.

As a person who once heralded the JVP as a political force of the future, I stand very disappointed.

Either the JVP has not formulated a vision, which is a bad thing for a party that has promised a “new path” to a tired electorate. The former prime minister and the current president have both outlined their own visions with regard to this key problem. Whatever holes there may be in the latter proposals, the fact is that they were expressed very positively and surely. There is no point just protesting on the streets if one has nothing to offer as an alternative other than to say, “We’ll think about it later”.

Right now, the JVP is going hard on the government of which they are a constituent party. They are threatening to quit if public servants’ salaries are not raised. They are organising strikes among the teachers, and our educated teaching fraternity are quick to catch the bait. They have demanded and got subsidies for all manner of things. This is the very old ‘nanny socialism’ which even NM etc would have rejected today. A secondary student here in Australia knows that one can distribute welfare only if the economy is growing at a sufficient pace. The JVP, even with key economic portfolios in their bag, has not announced a plan for macro economic growth. In fact, left politics have failed in democracies of the West because the electorates over there have understood this basic economics. The JVP is calling for price controls. No where in the world has price controlling worked other than to create black markets or down the economy with stagnation.

I recently met one of the JVP parliamentary members who came with a Sri Lanka parliamentary delegation to Australia and tried to explain to him the importance of strengthening trade liberalisation. He said to me that the state too must trade and offer competition. State trading has been experienced in Sri Lanka for ages from the time of the old socialist days and even before, in the guise of the CWE, the Paddy Marketing Board, the Marketing Department, the Tyre Corporation, the Hardware Corporation etc. They all failed miserably for the simple reason that the state cannot trade. In the old days of the Paddy Marketing Board, I happened to be a public servant in Polonnaruwa. The conversation topic among public servants at the time was how the Regional Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services ( under whom the Paddy Marketing purchasing functions came) could not afford a car; but how his purchasing officers used to go past him in flashy cars! In later years, I was myself in charge of the Marketing department, which was set up by Basset in the colonial days with the objective of ensuring a good price for vegetable growers. I did not take long to realise the impracticality of this grandiose vision that only led to purchasing offices making good money. When World Bank officials came to meet me, I recommended the dissolution of that department.

What the state should do is to let the private sector trade and keep for itself the tasks of regulating and monitoring key trade activities for socially harmful consequences, by a licensing system etc.

Pitifully, the JVP has not contemplated any of these issues. Organising protest is easy in Sri Lanka because there is no hope in sight for people of any walk of life. Nevertheless, such a campaign must be with a purpose and a vision. If it is born of mere opportunism, then it is sad for Lanka and can lead only to a kind of fascism in government when supporters of such movements will regret at leisure.



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