Where – O where! – is the Left, the Right, and the North + East?
Posted on July 24th, 2020

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Social scientists and the commentariat have either failed, or deliberately ignored, to take note of the changes in the surface and subterranean foundations of the political landscape in the post-Nandikadal period. Our pundits are still cackling as if we are in the post-1956 period in which the mono-causal theme of blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists was touted cockily as a sign of being intellectually superior in public, media and academic discourses. To be anti-Sinhala-Buddhist was – and still is — the fashion of the day. Digging up every adverse comment from the dustbin of history was a common technique to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists as enemies of the minorities. Every shred of historical, political, social or economic evidence was corralled and distorted to argue that the minorities were discriminated by the majority, though the inhuman role of the Tamil Vellala elite of marginalising their own people as pariahs was either brushed aside or hidden under the label of Tamil nationalism.

Down grading the Sinhala-Buddhist culture, language and religion at the highest academic levels became a powerful propaganda tool in the privatised research centres run by pro-Tamil agents (example: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, headed by Neelan Tiruchelvam and Radhika Coomarasawamy) whose bank accounts were stacked with foreign funds to hire the academics/intellectuals to manufacture the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology. Only like-minded ideologues were invited to participate in their seminars, publications, research etc., to produce anti-Sinhala-Buddhist consensus. The focus was essentially on the South. They craftily avoided turning the searchlight deeply into the North because they knew that exposing the horrendous history of the North, where the ruling caste of Vellalas who oppressed, suppressed, persecuted their own people, and even ostracised them as pariahs, would undermine their claim to be victims of the South. History was a volatile force which had to be managed carefully to serve their politics. They were determined to sanitize their narrative by diverting the focus away from the North to make the South look like the evillest force that bedevilled inter-ethnic relations

The latest to raise the racist ghost of the past is Dayan Jayatilleka, who is raving and ranting against the armed Dharmapalas” (i.e., the Rajapakases) accusing them of dismantling the existing order to establish a militarised authoritarian regime. He is not saying anything new. He is parroting what the Saravanamuttus, Savitris and Ismails have been voicing in the post-Nandikadal period and even before. As a self-professed political scientist, he is expected to rise above cheap propaganda and analyse of the current situation either as a Marxist diagnostician, taking into consideration the de-Tigerised politics of the North in the post-Nandikadal period, or as a public intellectual digging deep into the new political contours of the nation shifting away from a defunct Left and self-destructive Right descending into a hell of divisive politics. A comprehensive analysis would consist of a mix of both. But he is wallowing in the filth of his own hate politics. Hell hath no fury as Dayan scorned and denied a lucrative post in the ruling regime!

Today the political pendulum stands steadily and comfortably at the traditional Centre which neither the Left nor the Right can challenge successfully. In fact, there is no Left nor Right to take on the dominant Centre. The Centre has emerged as the decisive force that would steer the way in the absence of a constructive and powerful Left, Right and, of course, the mono-ethnic extremists of the North and the East. All of them are struggling to recover from the massive blow dealt by the Centre in the last Presidential election. The rise of the Centre marks the end of the political adventurism and violence of the Left, Right and the North and the East.

The rise of the Centre was totally unexpected. It was also so overwhelming that it has thrown all the other forces into absolute confusion. In the main, the awakened Centrist force have thrown the Right, Left and the anti-Sinhala Buddhist North off balance and their main struggle right now is to rise from the vacuum into which they have fallen and redefine their place in the new political landscape. The rise of the Centre, packed the with the commanding grassroot forces of our time, has not only isolated the rest from the mainstream but also left them derelict, some without leaders, some without a vision / alternative, and some without a future in sight. Sri Lanka has stepped in emphatically, decisively and loudly into that global trend that, for instance, went to make Hindutva Modi in India, and America Great Again” – minus menacing Covid-19.

Managing the success in the face of the daunting Coronovid-19 and its economic consequences is the task ahead. But, politically speaking, the victory has ushered in a new phase in which the reinvigorated grassroot forces had risen determinedly to reject the attempts of the misguided neo-liberals to reverse the natural flow of history. Rewriting the Constitution was an attempt to rewrite history.   The entire Parliamentary process was manipulated, doctored and debased by the Right to legalise the robbing of the rights of the people in the name of the rights of a few who had done their worst to destroy the nation. Yahapalanaya politics was a foul exercise launched and pursued by the neo-liberals to go against the will of the people.  And when the time came the people gave the neo-liberals the reply they deserved. The Right went to destroy the people and the people turned on them and destroyed the irrelevant neo-liberals.

The will of the people expressed in the last Presidential election stunned the pundits whose political calculations never predicted the massive swing to the Centre. This swing was the definitive reaction to the extremist Right-wing forces hijacking history to serve their disruptive and unsustainable political ends. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the most manipulative and active representative of the Right, made the cardinal mistake of trying to swim upstream and, in the process, he has killed not only his prospects but the future of the Right as well. Never in the history of post-Independent history has the Right fallen to the depths of near extinction as it is today.

The collapse of the Right is a phenomenon that had never occurred even when its Parliamentary popularity was reduced to eight seats in 1956. Despite that the UNP held together at the grassroot and organizational levels, with respected and formidable leaders in command of the Party. Even in the big crisis when the two giant elephants (Dudley and JR”) fought, the Party did not go to pieces. The cleavage today is so wide that there is no political bra big enough to hold both segments together.

Today the UNP has neither the leaders nor the hard-core base which is split right down the middle. The going down of Ranil will be welcome by most, including his Party loyalists. And when the new Parliament meets after August 5th Ranil will limp his way to his seat with a depleted following who are most likely to decamp to either Sajith or Mahinda Rajapakse, unless, of course, both parties decide to unite. The end of Ranil’s grip on the UNP marks the death of his misguided pro-West, anti-national Right-wing politics. If the Rajapaksa brothers are to be compared to Bandaranaike of 1956” then it is fair to compare Ranil as the alienated, out-of-touch, vilified Sir. John of our time. The Right will be a write-off as long as Ranil Wickremesinghe hangs on to Sri Kotha – the last resort of the vanishing breed of ageing elephants who had lost their tusks.

The next option in national politics is to turn to the Left but it is rather difficult find a political animal by that name. It has been a force that has been splitting like the amoeba into sub-atomic particles from its birth. The irony is that that the last of the Marxist revolutionaries are abandoning the Left and rushing to join the decadent Right committing hara-kiri aided and abetted by Left-wing theoreticians like Victor Ivan and Dayan Jayatilleka. On the one hand, the Vikrama Bahu” revolutionary has joined the Ranil-wing of the Right and, on the other, Dayan Jayatilleka, the leading Marxist theoretician, has joined the Sajith-wing of the Right. Post-Nandikadal politics has certainly taken a bizarre turn with no-hopers of the Left embracing the coffined corpses of the Right.

Where do we go from here? Whether we like it or not, even a cursory glance at the national scene indicates that the last remaining point of sanity and stability is in the Centre. It has risen unequivocally as the will of the people and there is no alternative to it now. The clarity of the will of the people has to be factored in for the nation to calculate its next moves. It is into this political framework that the North comes in as the orphaned victim of the de-Tigerised politics of the post-Nandikadal peninsula.

The militarised, fascist de facto regime of the Tigers had gripped the North so comprehensively and obsessively that the unexpected fall of the invincible” Tiger regime has left the North in a political vacuum. No one in the North had to make decisions under Tiger regime. All decisions were made for them at the top and there was space only for the Tamils to follow the Thalaivar” obediently if they had any ambitions of seeing the sun rising the next day. That was the easy part. Now the heavy burden of making decisions has fallen on the tired, old leadership which is clueless and wandering in the new and dizzying complexities without a compass.

They are drifting between two worlds, one dead and the other struggling to be born. They are in transition. They are torn between the past which began with the Vadkoddai Declaration of War in 1976 and a future of peaceful co-existence in a de-Tigerised democracy, however infirm it may be. Despite their braggadocio and bravado, it is dawning on them that they had come to end of their tether. They have run through all options from the time S. J. V. Chelvanayakam launched his Federal Party in December 1949 at the Government Clerical Service Union in Maradana and not in Jaffna, which is supposed to be the heartland of the Tamils. Since then they had tried (1) confrontational politics with satyagrahas, (2) parliamentary manoeuvres and negotiations, (3) partnership with what they called the Sinhala-governments”, (4) waging war after the Declaration of War at Vadukoddai in 1976, (5) regional pressure through India, (6) international pressure through the Tamil diaspora, and (7) establishing even a de facto state exhausting practically all options to achieve their elusive Eelam. All of which ended eventually in Nandikadal.

So isn’t it time for the North to sit down and take a hard look at the journey they had taken, following the footsteps of Chelvanayakam, and consider seriously what other options/opportunities they have in their next mission of figuring out what is achievable and where they are likely to be in the next five, ten, fifteen years, or, for that matter, all the time available in history? The most obvious question facing them is to consider whether their future is in going back to Vadukoddai and take the same road to Nandikadal without a Prabhakaran to lead the way?

In working out answers to these and other questions the Tamil leadership should keep in mind (1) whether Vadukoddai violence will work for them internationally in this age anti-terrorism; (2) whether they can match the military might of the Sri Lankan forces that won at Nandikadal; 3) whether the peninsular dynamics that motivated the Vadukoddai Resolution are operative now to mobilise the Tamils into another round of mindless violence?; (4) in the new global order where China is a stakeholder in the Indian Ocean whether India can step in arbitrarily and arrogantly to play the role it played under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi?; (5) whether the Tamil leadership is willing to pay the bloody price required to gamble with violence without any guarantees of victory?; and (6) whether they would like to live in another Kashmir or Palestine with everyone tut-tutting at the never-ending tragedies while the privileged Tamils migrate to greener pastures exploiting the suffering of their fellow-Tamils left behind?

In reviewing all these issues, the Tamil leadership should remember that that their ageing predecessors were the first victims of the violence they unleashed at Vadukoddai. They armed and encouraged the youth to take the gun and when they began to run amok with the new toy in their hands it is the Founding Fathers of the Vadukoddai Declaration that were decimated first.

The violence of all three communities that shook the nation from time to time had the following common characteristics: a) they were motivated by ideologies that led to fascist and brutal violence b) the guns and bombs were used by immature youth who fancied that they had the solution to the problems facing them and the nation at large; (c) none of their violent experiments succeeded. All of which leads to the ineluctable conclusion that there is no future in intransigence, dogmatic blindness, political extremism, experiments of the failed past and, above all, violence.

We are right now left with only a dead Left, moribund Right, a distraught and derelict North and a wobbly East. The only viable and the positive option is the promising Centre. It is inevitable that the North+East+Right+Left (NERL) forces will have to negotiate with the Centre if they and the nation are to go anywhere. August 5th will confirm that there is no alternative to the Centre. The future of depends on how NERL will negotiate their way to their separate or collective comfort zones with the Centre.

The Presidential election have been fought, and the Parliamentary elections are being fought, to test the limits of the power of the NERL competing with the Centre and vice versa. The unprecedented power that will be vested in the hands of the Centre (after the Parliamentary elections) will define the parameters within which both the Centre and the NERL can operate in seeking their separate goals.

The impending competition of the Centre vs. the NERL — of course, after the Parliamentary elections — need not be hostile or an intransigent power struggle for one power bloc to dominate the other. In the behind-the-scene bargaining there will be ample room for compromises. In between, there will be a lot of grandstanding by the NERL to claim that they can do better than the Centre. That is the name of the game. The reality is that no one – I repeat, no one — can do better than the other in a world conquered by Covid-19. Admitting and accepting this inevitability imposed by Covid-19 is the first step to economic recovery – the prime necessity that must be prioritised in the national agenda. There is a time for politics but this is not it. Economics must be given the same priority at Coronivd-19. NERL cannot win either on Covid-19 or on Article19. Both must be treated as equal partners.

In the post-Nandikadal phase the Centre has come to stay. NERL , if it fails to recognise the new realities, can either pray or bray. 

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