Why AKD’s India Visit Matters
Posted on February 16th, 2024

By  Uditha Devapriya Courtesy The Island

India’s decision to invite JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has made headlines in every local paper, and practically every Indian paper.

The visit is significant for at least two reasons. First, the JVP-NPP is not the country’s main Opposition. At the General Elections in 2020, it obtained a dismal three per cent but enough to secure three seats in Parliament. For such a party to merit an invitation from New Delhi speaks a lot about India’s perceptions of Sri Lanka’s politics.

Second, it extended an invitation to a Party that has historically not had amicable relations with India. During the 1980s the JVP distinguished itself for its anti-India rhetoric. Nanda Malini’s Pawana, which expressed the hopes, frustrations, and sentiments of the JVP and its supporters, likened the Indian Army to hota-bariyo or pigs. an Army of Marauders that had to be resisted and fought no matter what. The Indian government’s decision to invite such a Party, and that Party’s decision to accept the invitation, is thus very telling.

To be sure, the JVP never really left the 1980s, not even when it entered the democratic mainstream in the 1990s. Even now, on issues that became relevant during that period, like the 13th Amendment and devolution of power, it remains tight-lipped.

Despite transitioning into the JVP-NPP, the Party has also not been above playing to populist-chauvinist politics. Though it speaks big about the failures of the last 75 years, it too has been a part of politics in the country, playing the spoiler and occasionally, as in 2003 and 2009, joining other outfits. While it likes to boast of being a cut above the rest, as it is in many respects, its critics have frequently underscored what they see as its contribution to Sri Lanka’s political culture. The Party has never seriously contested these claims.

What the JVP-NPP’s critics fail to realise is that the JVP-NPP is gaining ground and winning electoral space, and fast. Marginalised by both mainstream parties, the UNP and SLPP, and also by the SJB – which has now effectively ruptured into several sections, the latest rupture signalled by Sarath Fonseka’s critiques of and attacks on Sajith Premadasa – it is seen, rightly, as a Party standing outside the mainstream.

If the Indian Government saw it fit to invite such a Party, it tells us one thing and one thing only: the Indian Government sees it as a big player, mover, and shaker in Sri Lankan politics. This is an Election year, and for India, Elections in Sri Lanka are always a big deal. As things stand, every other person on the street, every other youth on the ground, has expressed support for the JVP. Whether they vote for the Party at an Election remains to be seen. What matters is the groundswell of support that it has secured.

As Dayan Jayatilleka has noted, India made its move quickly. By being the first country to ‘recognise’ the JVP, it effectively checkmated China. The JVP already has links with the Communist Party of China: it sends congratulatory missives to the CPC and even visited Beijing last December. But this was not on an official invitation. Delhi’s strategising has, in that sense, elevated the JVP’s global presence, squaring the circle.

The JVP is frequently depicted as an archaic and outdated Party, full of socialist ideals that supposedly do not work in real life. Though its version of communism is not, contrary to what its critics may think, comparable to the economic policies of the Soviet Union, the JVP is committed to revolutionary politics and sees Elections as a means of achieving a radical programme for the country and economy. Established parties are wary of such visions: the latest MP to take the JVP’s statement on IMF reforms to task, Harsha de Silva, says the Party has no clue about ground realities or the difficulties facing the economy.

This is only half-correct. The JVP’s economic policy is evolving and eventually will adapt to the ground realities de Silva is talking about. But what de Silva and the SJB have left out is the backlash the government’s commitment to austerity has generated from the people. That backlash is bound to find its pivot in the Party which is least likely to enforce the savage tax hikes and austerity that the SLPP-UNP regime is implementing. If the JVP fits the bill, people will rally around it, notwithstanding the McCarthyite hysteria against it.

At the same time, the JVP is re-strategising and rebranding itself, though not at the cost of its most fundamental tenets. For instance, it recently met an IMF delegation, and declared that it had no issue with IMF reforms provided that they are in ‘the national interest’. For the government and the SJB, this seems to show that the JVP is opposed to debt restructuring. But, the JVP’s concern is more about how restructuring is being enforced.

What we are seeing now is austerity for the poor and welfare for the rich. The Supreme Court, for instance, has named those responsible for the economic crisis and accused them of financial crimes. Yet those named have yet to be punished or penalised. It is that rift, between those who suffer and those who don’t, that has pitted people against economic reforms. The JVP-NPP has been able to stay ahead of the game, ahead of the government and the SJB, precisely because it has identified this rift.

This, in other words, is the JVP-NPP’s unique selling point. Sri Lanka’s public consciousness is to be found not at airconditioned media conferences or seminars, but in other spaces: on the ground, in villages, universities, and slums. There is much anger against the government within these spaces. The JVP has been able to channel that anger. If it is excluded, that anger will seek other channels, outside a democratic framework.

There are worse things that could happen in Sri Lanka than a leftwing government. Not all the mantras of free markets and privatisation out there can save a government from the fury of the masses. India appears to have realised that and has moved accordingly. It knows that the JVP is gaining political real estate. Rather than ignoring it, thus letting other countries cosy up to the Party, New Delhi has intervened the way it should. If that does not burst the government’s and the main Opposition’s bubble, nothing will.

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