by Uditha Devapriya
One of the most fascinating things about politics is how a common enemy unites groups that otherwise have diametrically opposed views. I am not suggesting that the JVP is such an enemy, nor that their aversion to it has united the SJB and the SLPP. But reading between tweets, Facebook posts, and even political comments, I can only conclude that the resurgence of the JVP has generated mutual aversion to its policies, personalities, and aspirations. It’s intriguing, but it’s by no means inexplicable.
While both camps regard the JVP as sectarian, this aversion materializes in different forms and takes on another character: thus, while the SJB accuses it of acting as a third-spoiler against the opposition, the SLPP accuses it. to question its policy.
What to think of such perceptions? When it comes to the JVP’s attempts to deconstruct government policy, the SLPP is right to view the party as a challenge. This does not justify the swagger of the regime’s sling supporters at Anura Kumara Dissanayake, but it does provide a justification, however slight, for such swagger.
It’s a different story with the SJB and, to a much lesser extent, the UNP. The gist of their argument, as far as I know, is that the JVP cannot make it to an election alone. Since this prevents him from fighting on his own, he should therefore join a coalition led by the dominant opposition. If he doesn’t choose that line, he will split the anti-government vote and allow the SLPP to win again. Thus, the more he rubs himself with the idea of going solo, the more his campaigns will be counterproductive for the Opposition.
While this line of reasoning has always surfaced vis-à-vis the JVP whenever a government becomes unpopular, in recent weeks it has sparked a horde of negative comments against the party. No doubt its resurgence online has contributed to such criticism.
To read between these comments, one wonders if the supporters of the SJB are worried about the JVP: one of them went so far as to warn that if the latter becomes more sectarian than it is, “he there will be a boycott ”. The government, of course, is not faced with such a problem: its promoters do not have to fight the JVP for the voices of its traditional bases, even if one wonders whether the Rajapaksas will have to fight for it. long-term support for these fronts, given their alienation from the peasant and working-class roots of the SLFP.
To be fair from the SJB, the argument that the JVP can spoil the prospects of united resistance against the government is partly true. The SJB’s predecessor, the UNP, profited greatly from the JVP’s campaign against Sirima Bandaranaike in 1988. This is certainly not to deny the popularity that Ranasinghe Premadasa enjoyed in the run-up to the elections that year. . But if one sticks to the JVP’s tactic of smearing the opposition, these campaigns ended up benefiting the status quo more than the resistance.
This was by no means the exception in 1988. Writing to The Island on Christmas Day that year, columnist Kautilya argued that the benefactor of the violence provoked by JVP “was the narrow winner.” I admit that this simplifies what was a rather complex situation, because there was, as one analyst in Economic and Political Weekly argued, “reasons to believe that local SLFP sympathizers sometimes joined the JVP”. But the underlying conclusion cannot be denied: JVP violence ultimately tipped the scales against the SLFP, just as JVP rhetoric bolstered the UNP’s prospects a decade earlier.
The situation under Yahapalanaya was different. There, the JVP had been recognized as part of the official opposition: its leader was the chief opposition whip. Deprived of any appropriate status in parliament, the joint opposition led by Mahinda Rajapaksa found itself unable to cut the ice there; it had to find its base outside the legislature. It paid off in 2019 when the slogan of the hour became Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s claim to be a maverick and newcomer: a claim the JVP couldn’t make.
Krishantha Cooray is only half right in her claim that the UNP’s mistake was to “let the so-called ‘common opposition’ dominate public discourse on political issues” Bond Scam and other unpopular measures , a complicity that the current head of the SJB has never shared – but he is right in the sense that by ejecting the common opposition and allowing it to gain momentum abroad, the UNP has allowed to gain the upper hand over the official opposition, the TNA.
Unfairly identified with the UNP, the JVP has done a lot to identify and publicize the regime’s flaws. The presidency of COPE by Sunil Handunetti allowed the Bond Scam to be revealed to the public; While some MPs, many of whom later migrated to the SJB, clumsily attempted to insert several footnotes into the COPE report, Handunetti stuck to his guns and released the report as it stood. . The JVP blasted UNP policies as much as the joint opposition did, alongside students protesting SAITM and unions protesting the Port City deal. Yet these moments belonged to the Rajapaksas; despite its laudable criticisms of the UNP, the JVP therefore had to give way to a more nationalist-populist front.
Neither the supporters of this government nor the supporters of Yahapalanism will admit the role played by the JVP in tarnishing the prospects of the Yahapalana regime. This says as much about the popularity of the Rajapaksas as it does about the myopia of those who think this diet was the best we have had, and argue as much column after column. In either case, the JVP remains forgotten, marginalized and criminally underestimated.
My point here is that while the ability to mobilize large swathes of the population against the government is the litmus test of any opposition party, the JVP has failed to match its political rhetoric with election results. Since 2005, it has experienced an almost terminal decline in the polls, barely commensurate with its popularity among young people.
The view that an “honest” opposition does not need to win an election – an opinion endorsed by supporters of the JVP – does not bode well for a party identifying itself with a disillusioned electorate. In politics, numbers matter. Without numbers, any attempt to act “holier than you” – a tactic the JVP resorts to so often that it has become a hallmark today – not only fails to generate votes, it also refuses. crucial support to its counterparts elsewhere. Perhaps it is this nervous idealism bordering on arrogance that alienates SJB activists. Unfortunately for the JVP, he did not try to emerge from such perceptions, as shown by the explosion of Anura Dissanayake against Sajith Premadasa following the latter’s call for early elections.
That said, the assumption that the JVP’s rhetoric undermines the prospects of the SJB as the country’s main opposition is wrong and, to me, smacks of partisanship. It is no small irony that political activists who do their best to overthrow the government can, in the same vein, denigrate the decisions and positions of a party which, despite all the disenchantment of the people towards of this regime in the aftermath of the first wave last year, obtained only three percent of the votes in the general elections. To denigrate such a party even subtly indicates, at first, a fear of this party – hardly becoming an opposition trying to pose as an alternative to the regime – and, in the second, a confidence in the capacity of the main opposition to unify. dissatisfied sections of the population against this regime.
To think of the SJB as somehow more unified than the JVP is of course to misunderstand the reality. The SJB currently suffers from a double paradox: between its modest size and the extent of the divisions that are rife within it, on the one hand, and between its break with the UNP and its response to the UNP’s return to parliament. ‘somewhere else.
The climax of his muddled relationship with the UNP surfaced the other day on Twitter, when some SJB lawmakers alleged, and then quickly withdrew the allegation, that UNP officials colluded to delay. the old regime’s investigations into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge. Such confusions reflect for me a deeper problem: the SJB has yet to develop an identity that can help it stand out. Indeed, while publicly rejecting its UNP heritage, many of its deputies tout policies that do not differ from the neoliberal prescriptions of the parent party.
That this remains the case despite Sajith Premadasa’s attempts to reach out to social groups alienated by the policies of the previous regime, despite a shift among some SJB deputies from adherence to orthodox theory to calls for populist measures, and despite a debate that has arisen over economic policy within SJB circles (a debate in which Dayan Jayatilleka and Kusum Wijetilleke, among others, made commendable interventions), should inform us that if there are many terms to describe the “unified” SJB is not one of them.
The end result was woefully clear: people no longer distinguish between the old party and the new; nor, moreover, between the government and the opposition.
This is mainly what has strengthened support for the JVP. While I remain skeptical whether its resurgence can translate into actual votes, it is clear that disenchantment with government policies has made a third option – which the JVP has always been – preferable to a traditional opposition. Instead of attacking the insularity of the JVP, SJB activists should therefore find out why the anger at the regime has turned its detractors, not to a traditional party as is generally the case, but to a party whose identity remains on the left and resolutely on the left. majority opposition MPs.
There are many valid criticisms that can be made about the JVP. I have done them, in this column and elsewhere, over and over again. But lamenting his decision to play the game alone, not knowing why the SJB couldn’t muster so much firepower, even after all these months, is unfair, unfair and counterproductive to me. Exiting the SJB is not about demeaning the JVP or returning to the UNP, but rather charting an ideology that fits with the interests of the country and the aspirations of its people.
The writer can be contacted at [email protected]