Anura Kumara Dissanayake ’s national liberation movement and the Tamil National question


Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) is at present intensely focused on the need for a national liberation movement. According to him, when looking at the social, political, and economic realities of Sri Lanka, it is clear that what is needed today is social change; what is needed for the system change that people yearn for is not a political party, but a national liberation movement.

He explains that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is this party and that the NPP is the national movement.

Judging by the views expressed by Dissanayake at a recent interview with Meera Srinivasan, Colombo correspondent for Chennai-based influential English daily The Hindu, it is understandable that he is trying to say that the NPP – which was formed few years back under JVP leadership in alliance with more than 25 other parties, groups, women and youth rights organisations, and trade unions – will carry forward the national liberation struggle he envisions.

“Looking at developed countries, their progress was largely linked to the national liberation struggle. India had a great national liberation movement. Sri Lanka never had such a movement. When the British ruled the country, there was an opportunity to build a national liberation movement. After they left, there was another opportunity to build such a movement. Our leaders at the time missed both those historic opportunities.

“Now we have a third opportunity which should be used without fail to defeat the corrupt ruling political class. For this purpose, all communities – in the north, east, and south – should be united. The aim of this national liberation struggle is to free the country from a corrupt political culture. Our first priority is to free the country from the corrupt political elite that has been ruining the country for decades,” he explained.

Minorities and the NPP movement

Admitting in the interview that the NPP’s political work has been mainly among the Sinhalese people, Dissanayake appeals to the people of the north to join the national movement as an organic part.
The correspondent, pointing out that a political solution was yet to be found even after nearly 15 years since the end of the civil war, asked Dissanayake what message he would like to give to the Tamil people.

He replied that his party accepted that there were issues in relation to the Tamil and Muslim communities regarding their linguistic rights, cultural affairs, and participation in governance, adding that these problems should be solved.
However, he said nothing about devolution of power or the 13th Amendment, which has become highly controversial in recent times despite being part of the country’s Constitution for 36 years.
Dissanayake, who is widely seen as a potential frontline candidate at the next Presidential Election, should have made clear his movement’s current position on those issues, since many people might expect it.

It seems that the NPP ideal is to bring about social change in the country through a national liberation movement that will defeat the corrupt political elite, thereby finding solutions to all problems facing the country, including the ethnic problem.

Historical antecedents

The idea of finding solutions to problems through a national struggle that can bring together all communities is not a new approach. It was the approach that the traditional leftist parties put forth from the early part of the last century. History has taught us that the primary cause of their failure was communal politics.

There was also a time when old leftist leaders said that ethnic problems of minorities would disappear in a socialist society that could be brought about by a working-class revolution encompassing all communities.

Those leaders who started their political journey with the ideal of transforming society eventually fell into a communal quagmire in order to survive in parliamentary politics and miserably failed in the end.

In the political history of the world, we have seen that the leftist movements have been the natural and strong allies of the oppressed ethnic minorities. However, in Sri Lanka, the leftist parties did not play that progressive role after the first half of the last century, wherein communal politics came to the fore.

Even the JVP, which has taken on a new avatar as the NPP, is no exception in this regard. The JVP has a negative history of having thus far resisted all attempts towards finding a political solution to the ethnic problem.

The Rajapaksa regime was supported by JVPers due to carrying out the civil war. They also masterminded the severing of the north-east merger.

Even in recent times, they have not changed their longstanding position regarding the ethnic problem. Therefore, it is inevitable for the Tamil people to consider Dissanayake’s call to be a part of his national liberation movement based on how his party approached the ethnic question and their legitimate political aspirations and grievances throughout history.

Contemporary changes

Even after the experiences of a brutal war, the JVP has not been inclined to change its policy on the ethnic problem. NPP leaders often say that they should not be judged now based on their past politics. Upon realising that it is not enough to mobilise people locally in order to come to power and that the support of the international community, especially its superpowers, is also necessary, they have made major changes in their positions.
They justify their contemporary changes by saying that it is natural to change strategies to suit the changing international situation without compromising on fundamental principles.

In a recent interview, Dissanayake said that the NPP had changed to suit the new age and that there was a difference between theory and reality.

The NPP, which previously rejected international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank as being controlled by the US and Western imperialist countries, is now ready to work with them and has come forward to cooperate with the private sector, which it described as capitalist forces, and to welcome foreign investments.
Its leaders, who have changed most of their positions, are yet to make any change regarding their stance on the ethnic problem. They cannot progress even an inch in winning the confidence of the Tamil people simply by asking them to join the national movement.

Missed opportunities

Everyone is aware how the NPP behaved amid protests in the south earlier this year, following President Wickremesinghe’s declaration of his willingness to fully implement the 13th Amendment.
If the NPP had at least shown its willingness to support the President’s efforts to implement the 13th Amendment, it could have sent a positive signal to the Tamil people that it was ready to change its stance in relation to the ethnic problem.
The party also did not participate in the conferences of the parliamentary parties convened by the President thrice earlier this year.

It is well remembered that Dissanayake said at a seminar at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute last year that if the Tamils accepted the 13th Amendment as a solution to their problem, the NPP would have no problem in supporting it.

However, seeing the opposition to the President’s announcement, he changed his stance, feeling that any comments he might make in favour of the amendment would be a setback to his party’s growing support among the Sinhalese people.

The NPP leaders’ talks of a future NPP regime finding a solution to the ethnic problem that would be acceptable to people of all communities through a new constitution is simply a ploy to sidestep the problem at hand.

The policies and stances adopted by the JVP/NPP so far on the ethnic issue have only helped strengthen the hardline Sinhalese nationalist forces that refuse to accept even the minimal legitimate political aspirations of minority communities.

Dissanayake should desist from behaving like previous Sinhalese political leaders who ruined the country by lagging behind the people’s wrongful thinking for opportunist political advantages. Instead, he should explain to those people the political mistakes of the past and the adverse consequences that may arise from them. He should lead the people forward in a manner that is freed from the past.

Dissanayake should present himself as a leader who can bring about considerable understanding among the Sinhalese people regarding the problems of minority communities. The national liberation movement he envisages will never be complete unless the support that is said to be growing in the south for the NPP today is wisely used to bring about such an understanding. Without such a move, it may end up simply being a movement intended for electoral purposes.

Courtesy:Sunday Morning