With the social, political and economic changes in the country over the last two years, specially since the spread of the Covid 19 pandemic, Jathika Jana Balawegaya or National People’s Power (NPP), the broader alliance of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, has shown impressive progress in its popularity among all section of the society. Having no faith in the two traditional political camps, specially given the repeated allegations of corruptions during both regimes, NPP claims that real progressive change is possible in the country only under its rule. In this backdrop the Daily Mirror interviewed NPP Leader and MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
Excerpts of the interview.
Q At the recently held Representative Summit you said that you are ready to take over the power from the Rajapaksas. But at a time the country is going through one of its worst social, political and economic downturns do you have a plan to put the country back on track?
These two traditional parties have led this country to the most disastrous end. To transform this country there is an urgent need to take over the political power. We are ready to give leadership to this new transformation. And we can appoint a Cabinet with people who are extremely qualified in the respective subject areas and have as its members much more qualified individuals compared to both the previous and the present regimes. We have the resource persons for that. And also instead of a Parliament comprising politicians engaging in illegal liquor business, illegal sand and gem mining and criminal activities we can appoint a team comprising members who would serve the people. Making the plan to build the country is not the sole responsibility of the government. The government has to prepare plans for that, give leadership to achieve targets and for that all the sections of the society have to be involved. So it is not going to be the concept of this person or that person, but a collective endevour is needed and we are in the process of initiating an operation to prepare for this collective effort.
Q Right now the burning issue at hand is the economy. How are you planning to pull the nation out of this debt-trapped economic situation?
At the outset we need to inform the people that we have been issuing warnings about this situation several decades ago. This economical journey, which does not tally with realities of the people, happened because loans were taken to create huge concrete jungles and there was waste and corruption that took place with that money. We are in a massive debt trap despite the repeated warnings we gave. To get out of this situation we need a short-term, mid-term and a long-term plan and we also need a vision to solve the issues created by this economic situation. We need a long-term plan to sustain the economic situation.
At the short-term level we need to do an extensive audit investigation on the project we have initiated from these loans and must talk with the institutions which lent these loans. We must immediately go for a loan restructuring plan for at least three years. Secondly even today the unit that generates the highest foreign income to the country is Sri Lankan workers abroad. That is about US$ 7.5 billion. But since last June there is a drop of about USD 1.6 billion. That is to say that these leaders have failed even to get the foreign income that could have been generated for this country. So we need to have a plan to maintain the existing foreign income avenues and make new plans to increase that. There are a large number of rich Sri Lankans around the world and we are inviting them to invest in this country and join in the efforts to build this country. I don’t say that overnight we could get out of the present crisis we are in right now. But we could generate income at least to get the essential commodities.
Thirdly if we are going to a third party, which is the most popular answer right now, it has to be done depending on how conducive the conditions that would be imposed by these third parties on the country. As a popular option we are not planning to go to a third party to get out of this crisis.
As a midterm plan we need to restructure the investment procedure that took place over the last so many years. If you take, about 35 percent of the recent investments were on development of roads and highways. As short-term plans we need to focus on investments that could ensure dollar earning. We still believe that our traditional crops could generate income in the world market. Secondly we have a plan to acquire a part in the world’s software market. We are sure that we could acquire at least USD 15 billion in the market. We need to prepare a long-term economic plan considering geographical setting of our country, her resources including human resources, civilization and world politics. I don’t say that we can do this overnight, but if we can work on a plan at least for five to six years we can save our country from this deepest crisis.
Q Even though you talk about taking over power it cannot happen democratically given the ground realities. This government has just completed only two years and there are three more years to go. Isn’t it advisable for you to support the existing government which is in a severe financial crisis; at least to see till its term is over?
Do you belive that these leaders have a genuine aim to develop this country? Covid-19 was a disaster that brought fear of death to everyone’s doorstep. These leaders even robbed from that pandemic catastrophe. The fertilizer crisis was a direct hit on the farmers. They even robbed off the import of fertilizer. Do you think they want to solve these problems? Today a minister sits on his chair with the plans to earn for himself. He doesn’t have any idea or vision for this country or the future. So I don’t think we should even talk about a common agenda. When the Covid 19 pandemic was spreading we spoke to the government. It was not a pandemic of the government. It was a natural disaster and to save the country from that we were ready to give the fullest participation. We proposed a common mechanism. But the rulers didn’t do that because within a common mechanism they would not have been able to rob from the antigen tests, bringing down Sri Lankans from abroad, or even buying necessary medicine and medical equipment. So there is no use in talking about a common mechanism with these leaders.
Q But aren’t there three more years during which Gotabaya Rajapaksa can lead this country?
With regard to change of government our first option is elections. But in the world we have seen how these corrupt and disastrous regimes have been toppled by people getting on to the streets. That is also democracy. Even though that is not our plan we are ready for that. The corrupt and dictatorial regimes have been toppled not only by elections but by people who had come to the streets. There are so many examples in the recent history in the world. So there is no necessity to go for another three years.
Q Do you think that Sri Lankan or Sri Lankans will go to that extent of toppling the government via a street fight?
We are a political orgnisation that understands the sensitivity and movements of the people. People are not static like statues. The reality is that speaking against the injustice and queuing up against the inequality. It is a natural phenomenon. If you study the movement of the human nature this is a natural phenomenon.
Q Are you ready to give leadership if a situation like that arises?
Yes. If there is a danger that the country would become a failed state and if there is a breakdown of social institutions then as a political movement we have a responsibility to do that.
Q But if you study the history and how different regimes have suppressed a similar rise of people and how it would lead to an extremely dangerous situation, this country could be led on to a worst situation.
Those are only legends in the history. Not only the Rajapaksas, but no one else could lead this country to such suppressive rule. We know that military and retired military officers have been used in many areas of administration. There is no room for a military regime in Sri Lanka. At the same time even though there are a few high ranking and privileged section of the military with the government, the majority in the middle and lower ranks are not with this disastrous regime. They do not want to be a part of this ruinous and devastating governance. They also have a burning pain against it. So I don’t think even though the Rajapaksas have an intention and need to do that, there is no possibility of that.
Q If we study the democratic political history of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna we don’t see a major change in the voter turnout for your party. The only time your party was successful was in 2004 with the Chandrika Bandaranaike government. There you proved that your party could work without corruption. Don’t you think that it is better for you to form an alliance with other parties?
We don’t believe we could find solution to the existing issues by forming a government with any of these two major parties. If you consider constitutionally and traditionally you think that the power is vested with the President, Cabinet, Parliament and the judiciary. But they don’t have the power. What this Executive Presidential system created is that the power is outside the real power. Under Chandrika Bandaranaike it was she, Mano Tittawella, Tara de Mel and Balapatabendi and under Mahinda’s regime it was Mahinda, Lalith Weeratunga, Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Then came Ranil Wickremesinghe’s regime and even President Maithripala was not there. Ranil, Malik, Paskaralingam and Charitha Ratwatte. And during the present regime it is Gotabaya, Basil and the others. So there is no power in the traditional system. These ministers even don’t know what is happening within the cabinet. The ministers themselves say that cabinet papers have been passed without signing them. We hear the cry of ministers. So we don’t want to be a part of this government. We need to start a new political culture for this country and we need to start a new journey.
Q We saw some MPs have openely praised your political party and your political journey. Do you think there will be other politicians in these two main camps joining you?
We are open about our political journey and our activities. Our journey is open to anyone who is ready to join. At the moment our main target is to strengthen the Jathika Janabalawegaya.
Q We saw that one of the main reasons for you to leave the Chandrika Bandarnaike’s government was your stance on the ethnic problem. Thereafter you openly supported the war against the LTTE and defeating it militarily. But the ethnic problem has not been solved. What is your solution to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka?
We believe that all citizens with the religion they believe in, language they speak and the culture they represent should be treated equally. There are no second citizens. And if they believe that they want to be a part of this government they should be equal stakeholders of the governance. We believe that both Tamils and Muslims have been deceived promising them many things. We really believe that they are equal and we believe that there should be freedom for every religion and respect every culture and guaranteeing the ability to communicate with your own language in administration and accept them equally and they should be able to go forward in the development of their respective areas and be stakeholders of power. We believe that they should not be deceived.
Q When you say sharing power are you talking about a power sharing through a federal system?
We don’t belive in a federal system, but we should guarantee their equal political rights and rights to hold power. Without that we cannot solve this problem through a federal system.
Q What about the Provincial Council system?
A Provincial Council system is now in the Constitutional system. PC system is a failed system of administration and it is a failure in the national crisis also. But if those people believe that it is their right, hence the PC system has to exist.
Q Regarding the war there are allegations that a large number of human lives were lost. As a result every year the country is facing a challenge from UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Do you think the decision the JVP took to support the war was right?
During the war we should have thought more seriously about the difficulties faced by the ordinary Tamil civilians. As a Left-wing political movement we failed in our responsibilities. We have a self-analysis on that.
Q Do you think that you should make a public aplogy for what happened?
We are an active political movement. During a war the military and the government are working as one unit. In a war ordinary civilians get caught in the crossfires and there are loss of lives. As a left-wing orgnisation we should have thought about this more seriously and we should have been more cautious. We admit that our failure to concentrate on these issues were shortcomings on our part.
Q Will set aside the two major parties. But if the political parties representing the minorities want to join with you then what is your view?
We are open. We believe that we should be united not only with the Sinhala leaders, but Tamils and Muslims too. We need a power comprising all leaders. We want to build a power that we share equally with the Tamils and the Muslims. It is not only the traditional leaders, but there could be new leaders from these communities. It is not a power that forces them from above. So we are openly inviting the Tamils and the Muslims.
We don’t believe in a Sinhala only power and administration. Our adminisration will be a one that represents all communities.
Q Anyway there is a belief among the people that the JVP is a Sinhala Buddhist organization? Or is this the impression that some of your former leaders who left you portrayed?
We cannot take responsibility of those who left us. But there could be a justifiable suspicion about our orgnaisation, but we stood on the side of the truth when attacks on Muslim minorities took place in Aluthgama, Digana and other places and even during the Easter Sunday attacks. We stood by justice. We know many leaders stood based on their votes, but we were not worried about votes. We would stand by any ethnic community which is being suppressed.
We don’t get involved in racist politics, but we hold the flag of ethnic harmony. We are a party against racial disharmony.
Q If you take the numbers it is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that has the third most seats in the parliament. Are you ready to work with a political alliance like that.?
Our doors are open. We are ready to work with the political parties that represent the North and East of Sri Lanka.