Lest we forget; JVP needs to apologise to the Nation for their two violent uprisings

 The President has another option regarding selecting persons of high quality and caliber as ministers at least for the key finance and economic portfolios. 

by Raj Gonsalkorale

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell the truth."- Oscar Wilde

The Jathika Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) has surfaced as the saviour that can lift the country out of the morass it has got into. Their analysis of the past and factors that have contributed to the current situation are compelling, quite comprehensive, and well-articulated. However, as most other analysts and political parties, they, like the others, are short on detail as to what specific measures they are offering to get out of the morass. Many, including the JVP, lives in the past and have not offered specificities but general slogans that are flaunted via sections of the media, the social media, sections of the clergy, both Buddhist and Christian.

Talking of the past, there are things that haunt many politicians and political parties. The JVP too has some skeletons they have hidden in cupboards and what some people seem to have hidden from their minds as well. The country experienced two violent uprisings of the JVP in 1971 and in 1988/1989. In particular, the second uprising of the JVP in the late eighties was more violent and inhuman. Those who lived through that period knows how violent it was. No doubt, some measures taken by the then government to quell that uprising were equally inhuman. More than 40,000 people were reportedly killed during that uprising, killed by the JVP and/or by a State apparatus. Some politicians who were part of that administration are still around and some have risen to great heights in the political arena. 

The present-day would-be saviors, the JVP, needs to be remorseful and repentant about their violent campaigns to unseat the governments of the time and apologise to the Nation and the families of those killed during their two violent uprisings if they are to be treated with some regard and a semblance of respect. The Sunday Observer of 1st June 2014 reported that quote “for the first time in its history, the JVP had tendered an apology to the people over 6,000 deaths that occurred due to JVP activities during the 88-89 insurrection. Addressing a meeting in London recently, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake had expressed ‘regret’ over the killings for which his party was responsible during the 1988-89. But one has to understand that 1988-89 uprising was no coincidence. There were developments that led to unfortunate incidents occurred during the 88-89 period,” Anura Kumara had said. He added that the 88-89 uprising occurred due to oppressive behavior of the then UNP government, led by the late President J.R. Jayewardene. This feeble “regret” is not an apology, and it did not display any remorse for the violent activities of the JVP. The caveat that the uprising was a consequence of the oppressive behavior of President J R Jayewardene cannot be taken as any kind of justification for the wanton killing of thousands of innocent people

Perhaps those who are well aware of the dismal past of the JVP could be given masks so that they could hide behind them and let the people know the truth if they are genuinely concerned about the country and its future. Of course if they had guts, they would have told the truth without hiding behind masks. If the country accepts the violence of the JVP without any remorse or repentance on their part, a repetition of that violence will be more than possible. It is ironic that the LTTE is still a banned organization in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere), while the JVP is not, although both attempted to seize power in the country or section of the country by violent means. 

It is important for the public to be more discerning and question whether there are Wolves in Sheep’s clothing, and whether those who attempted to seize power by violent means, would do that again, and whether the organized campaigns being carried out now, as opposed to the spontaneous people protests, are a means to that end.

Critiques of a government are very necessary in a democracy. That is the right, and the privilege that democracy presents to the people. Criticism however needs to be realistic and constructive. 

Realistic because of the very nature of democracy where there is no straight line to power and governance. People and forces that influence a democracy are many and varied, and politicians have to tread a fine line and be very good at doing balancing acts through compromises, which however cannot be unethical, immoral and corrupt. Constructive because it is easy to be destructive. Criticism levelled purely in pursuit of power for powers sake is easy, firstly because such criticism is free in a democracy, with no responsibilities attached, and because it is divisive, where one can compete in an arena of divisiveness even with more destructive criticism. Such approaches could easily lead to anarchy and provide opportunities for violent means to take power.

It needs to be constructive for the opposite reasons. Responsibility must precede or at least accompany the freedom to criticize. Constructive criticism fosters unity and elevates the public to look towards the future rather than the past, learning lessons from the past.

The spontaneity of recent protests by ordinary people from all walks of life is a novel and welcome experience for the country and it could be regarded as an evolution in the country’s democracy. On the other hand, organised protests where protestors are reportedly carted in buses from place to place are an insult and an affront to the many ordinary folk who have participated in spontaneous protests.

The President and the government have been shaken, possibly even beyond repair by these spontaneous protests. However, they are neither fools nor gullible not to distinguish between the two types of protest. The voice of the ordinary people was heard, and the entire cabinet resigned. 

The President has belatedly, but welcomingly appointed persons of highest quality, competence, and integrity to a committee to advise him on measures to take to overcome the economic crises faced by the government, including discussions with the IMF on a rescue package. A new Central Bank Governor of impeccable credentials has been appointed, and a new Secretary Finance who is equally well regarded and qualified has taken office. The critical vacancy for the post of Finance Minister is yet to be filled, although it is learnt that Dr Harsha de Silva from the SJB has been sounded out. Dr De Silva or the equally competent Eran Wickremaratne should be considered, and both should give serious thought to accepting the Finance Minister portfolio for the sake of the country. They and the SJB could put forward their conditions to the President and discuss and negotiate these with the President. Resignation of the President cannot be one of them as that would invite even greater instability, even anarchy, and open opportunities for questionable entities to profit from such opportunities taking the country even to a worse situation than where it is in now.

The President has another option regarding selecting persons of high quality and caliber as ministers at least for the key finance and economic portfolios. 

He could request a few National list MPs from his own party to resign and appoint the selected persons as MPs and then appoint them as Ministers. The critical need of the hour is to rescue the country’s economy and to restore confidence amongst lenders, investors, banks, and international agencies. Sri Lanka needs to find immediate measures to augment the depleted foreign exchange reserves so that essentials like food, medicine, gas, diesel, kerosine are not in short supply now or ever. Power cuts have to become a thing of the past, irrevocably. Cost of living support needs to be provided to people, especially the vulnerable. It may be possible to do this with a mixed bag of tax increases to boost revenue, such as a tax increase for bigger companies, high income earners, re introduction of the withholding tax, and reduction in expenditure by closing all loss-making State enterprises, coupled with friendly country assistance and an IMF bailout package to boost foreign currency reserves. Besides these measures, taking steps to increase exports, offering incentives for tourists and for remittances from those working overseas, and incentives for import substitution industries should be actively pursued.

A multi-party consensus on economic reform is needed to ensure that the measures do not become political foot balls. That could have been achieved within a multi-party cabinet.