Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s recent remarks on foreign policy at the BCIS convocation omitted any mention of Lakshman Kadirgamar, just as the choice of those rightly honoured by the BCIS for their contributions to diplomacy omitted Kadirgamar, Shirley Amerasinghe and Neville Kanakaratna.
Those omitted were, as practitioners, intellectuals and personalities, the giants and heroes of the Great Tradition of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of assertive, articulate, dynamic Non-Alignment; outstanding figures of the Global South in the world arena.
Kadirgamar chaired and revamped the BCIS Council of Management, secured a new building for the BCIS from China, and welcomed the Chinese PM at the unveiling of the bust of Zhou Enlai on its premises (April 2005). He founded a new BCIS journal, and was murdered by an LTTE sniper mere hours after he launched its 2nd issue.
Had Chandrika followed the Kadirgamar line rather than go with the PTOMS, she would have been twice as successful as she was and at least half as respected as he is nationally.
Abolition of the executive Presidency would automatically mean a shift of the political centre of gravity to Parliament. However, a brand-new survey of Sri Lankan public opinion reveals that the very Parliament that liberal constitutionalists want to restore, is the public institution regarded as the very worst by the Sri Lankan citizenry.
With 25,000 households as the sample, the survey is much more extensive than any we have seen so far.
“…The information presented is derived from an analysis of data collected by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Sri Lanka and the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS), in collaboration with Citra Lab, other UN partners, and UNDP’s SURGE Data Hub. The data has been made available to the public by the UNDP. The sample encompasses 25,040 households representing all districts of Sri Lanka. The survey has sought public perceptions on various aspects of governance through Likert Scale responses.” (https://groundviews.org/2023/11/09/a-governance-diagnostic-by-the-sri-lankan-public/)
Here is the key takeaway of Table 2, which features the comparative assessment of public institutions:
The “legislative branch (Parliament)” is “strongly distrusted” by 40% and “distrusted” by 29%.
This makes a massive total of 69% with an unambiguously negative view of Parliament.
It is precisely to this institution that those who wish to abolish the executive Presidency wish to transfer power.
When the Westminster model prevailed, be it in 1947 or 1972, the system had no Provincial Council sub-system housed within it.
If the apex institution, the executive presidency is abolished, the centre decapitated, then the only counterweight to the Provincial Councils is the Parliament. Parliament is insufficient to contain the centrifugal potential of Provincial Councils, countervailing the pull-factor of the neighbouring Big Power and ‘ethnic-kin’ state.
If power is transferred to Parliament, weakening the capacity of the centre in relation to the periphery, the public will seek a strong alternative/substitute centre in the most popular of public institutions:
“…the most trusted public institutions are the legal institution/system and the armed forces. The media and the police institutions are rather moderately trusted… The public trust in entrepreneurs is moderate. The trust in government sector, municipalities and trade unions is low. The least trusted are the parliament and the political parties.” (ibid)The ground-reality is in Table 2:
The Armed Forces are “trusted” by 45% and “strongly trusted” by 15%, amounting to a solid 60% of public trust.
It is “strongly distrusted” by a mere 5%, and “distrusted” by 8%, totalling a paltry 13%.
Anura’s strategic slip-up
If Sajith Premadasa and Anura Dissanayake really want to ensure the holding of the Presidential race and emerge winner, they must know that error is unaffordable with the countdown underway. On Nov 13th AKD blundered.
With him as key speaker the JVP commemorated the 34th anniversary of the death of Rohana Wijeweera and the party militants who died in the defeat of the JVP’s 2nd uprising in the late 1980s. The event was largely attended and the audience was enthusiastic. The commemoration was quite legitimate, but revealed an unresolved contradiction which could conceivably cost the NPP and AKD one or both elections by a narrow margin.
JVP-NPP leader Anura Dissanayake and JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva were frank enough to admit that several sympathetic “gentlemen” (‘mahaththuru’) had raised questions about the prudence of the commemoration. They ask “is it wise to do so at this time when we’ve built a broad movement?”, said Anura. These elements support the progressive changes in government, politics, economics and society that are forthcoming from Nov 2024, but “have problems with 1988-89”, he sardonically observed. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ez2UOjh71AE&t=113s)
Replying the doubters, Anura asserted that the commemoration, and the portrait of JVP founder Rohana Wijeweera, were “essential precisely at this time”, because the JVP’s superior spirit, moral-ethical qualities and social content were indispensable ingredients to be infused into the broad new movement the NPP, and were imperative to drive the qualitative change that was to come next year. The inheritance of the past had to be brought into the present and inform the future. He promised that the 35th anniversary of the 1980s uprising would be commemorated next November with the country under an elected JVP-NPP leadership and administration.
AKD and Tilvin Silva gave a history of the run-up to the 1988-’89 uprising, providing context and causation. Both leaders expressed the willingness to be open and self-critical about the past. Both utterly failed to prove it by making a single self-criticism.
Anura and Tilvin needn’t apologize for the armed uprising, but they could and should have admitted to gross errors, chiefly of targeting. Their narrative of UNP repression, unjust proscription, the Indo-Lanka Accord etc. while being true, is also partial, and does not explain why the first killing by the JVP was not of a member of repressive ruling party but of Daya Pathirana, the radical leader of the leftwing Independent Students Union, and took place in December 1986, many months before the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987. Daya Pathirana, Nandana Marasinghe, Vijaya Kumaratunga, Jamis Athugala and well over a hundred other leftists, not to mention voters, were killed by the JVP.
The JVP wants the voters to see the NPP as a new movement while at the same time insisting that the NPP and the voter endorse the late 1980s uprising and the JVP’s version of it. There is a contradiction between these two profiles, ‘brands’. Those who accept the NPP and AKD, will not necessarily endorse Wijeweera’s 1988-’89 JVP. If they did there would hardly be a need for the NPP.
The Latin American Left parties with a guerrilla past far more romantic than the JVP, such as Uruguay’s Tupamaros, succeeded in transcending military defeats and have been repeatedly elected to their countries’ leadership, by letting the ghosts of their past rest in peace, find their place in the nation’s complex history and popular consciousness. Memorialisation of uprisings and martyrs are quiet, dignified, intimate remembrances, mainly of an artistic-cultural character; not large-scale public political events.
The 34th anniversary event revealed that the JVP has not come to terms fully and honestly with its history, the complexities of continuity and change, and the relationship between party (JVP) and Movement (NPP), even –especially—with a Presidential election on the horizon.
The JVP-NPP leaders should sit down with the top brass of the NPP’s impressive War Veterans Front and work out a credible, holistic perspective on the 1980s uprising. In-your-face commemoration and dogmatic defence of the 1980s JVP uprising without repentance or regret for its barbaric excesses, could give the voters pause.
The passion of Gaza
When I see the mass murder of children by incessant Israeli strikes in Gaza I am reminded of the massacre of innocents by Herod. This doesn’t fall into the category of ‘sin’, but of ‘evil’.
When I listen to the invocation of passages from the Old Testament to justify—or urge—the slaughter of children, I understand better how the ancestors 2,000 years ago of those who do the quoting today would have been enraged by a 30-year-old itinerant teacher who insisted that they were misinterpreting the message of God, and instead preached peace, justice, righteousness, mercy, and solidarity with outsiders—those other than the chosen people in the ethno-tribal sense. No wonder the Pharisees framed that young man on false charges and insisted that the Roman occupiers crucify him.
Probably the most heart-breaking thing about the situation in Gaza is the fate of those buried under the rubble-- including children-- terrified, injured, suffocating, dehydrated, starving, waiting to die.
The most indelible symbol of the suffering of Gaza is the sight of people digging with their bare hands to rescue those trapped under the rubble.
At least 70% of those dead are women and children. Israel with its smart hi-tech can surely fight a more surgical war even from the air, but isn’t. The type of bombs used (US supplied J-DAMs) do maximum damage. If Hamas is the target, where are the Hamas dead? Most of those dead, or at least 50%, should be young men of fighting age. They aren’t. Such people are hardly visible even among the injured and dying in the hospitals. Whichever the TV station, we see that the overwhelming majority of casualties are little girls and boys, and women.
70% civilian casualties mean that the Israelis either don’t care, or the Palestinians as a whole are the intended target. It is the latter possibility that has led to the use of the word ‘genocide’—including by Craig Mokhiber, top UN official and lawyer who resigned so as to be able to articulate the term publicly.
The UN lowered its flag the world over, in a day of mourning for 101 UNRWA employees, the highest number killed in the history of the UN. None were killed by Hamas.
Israel has shattered the framework of partnership it had or was erecting with moderate and conservative Middle Eastern, Arab and Islamic states. Those states feel the ground of public opinion shifting under them and are moving to catch-up with their citizens, who will remain bitterly anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian for decades due to the obliteration of Gaza.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran, have more in common with each other now, than they have or will have with Israel. NATO member Turkey is sharply critical of US ally Israel. Far from Iran being isolated, President Raisi made the longest, most impassioned speech to the joint meeting of the OIC and the Arab League in Riyadh chaired by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince.
Student youth on Western campuses feel more in common with their generational counterparts in Gaza and the West Bank than they do with their own leaders in their capital cities. The last time I saw such solidarity was during the Vietnam War.
In Britain, we are witnessing the return of the repressed: Labour leader Keir Starmer framed Jeremy Corbyn for anti-Semitism and ousted him in a political coup. Even at the time Starmer’s pro-Israeli tilt was known. Now, Corbyn’s anti-Zionist (not anti-Semitic) perspective has been vindicated with a massive pro-Palestine movement in the streets of London, drawn from actual or potential Labour voters.
In France and Belgium there are large demonstrations. President Macron has begun to criticise the killings by the IDF of women and children, bringing him closer to the old Gaullist position.
By its conscious overkill in Gaza, Israel has lost the global sympathy it could have retained after October 7th if it had only retaliated differently, with proportionality and discretion in targeting. Even former President Barack Obama has spoken out against Israel’s frenzy.
US diplomats have correctly cautioned that the US embrace of Israel is losing it the support of the people of the Arab and Islamic countries for a generation. Researching my book on Fidel Castro I came upon an authenticated episode towards the end of the victorious Cuban guerrilla war, when the dictator Batista launched air raids. The US had cut-off military aid to Batista by then, but Fidel noted the aircraft and examined the markings of the ordnance which had killed innocent peasants. Seeing that they were American (the US had built up Batista’s military for possible service in Korea), Fidel, by no stretch of the imagination anti-American in personal and cultural terms, swore that once the Cuban Revolution had won, he would turn his attention to the longer, larger struggle against the main enemy: US imperialism.
By supplying Israel with no conditions or restrictions attached the weapons it uses for massacres and ethnic cleansing, the US has sown the seeds of anti-American sentiment throughout the vastly populous region if not further afield.
With its airstrikes, the US seems to be gradually sinking into the sands of a war without borders in the Middle East. Does America want to be seen by the world and its own citizens as losing blood, treasure, prestige – and global space to its peer competitor China— by waging war on the side of an ally who commits atrocities, burying babies alive under tons of rubble?
The BJP’s sharp deviation from India’s traditional Gandhian-Nehruvian stand as a champion of Palestine as a moral cause, and Prime Minister Modi’s open embrace of Netanyahu’s Israel, will have a lose-lose outcome: alienating India’s own Muslims while reducing its capacity to vie with China for the trust and friendship of the huge Arab and Islamic world.
If Al-Shifa hospital is a Hamas hideout not only in tunnels beneath but in some parts of the hospital, how come there’s no sniper-fire from inside, though there are Israeli drone strikes and snipers firing from outside.
Al-Shifa hospital is a contemporary Calvary-- the original name of which was Golgotha, “the place of the skull”.
It is the unspeakable suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of Nazi fascism in the Holocaust which endowed them with an independent state of their own. In a perverse inversion, Israel’s Gaza war is displaying neo-Nazi cruelty. It has sown the seeds of hatred and rage on a scale that no state has done since WWII.
Palestinian doctors and journalists are demonstrating truly Hemingwayesque ‘grace under pressure’, and are the existential heroes and heroines of our time. (https://fb.watch/oe23KfkV4K/?mibextid=2Rb1fB)
The Palestinian story has been given a continuous global airing and is now winning the battle of narratives. What is being seen cannot be unseen; what is heard cannot be unheard. Israel may or may not win this Gaza war but it has already lost the global, grand-strategic war. History proves that winning the war for the intangible can be more important than winning the war for the tangible.
It is the martyrdom, the collective crucifixion of the Palestinian people of Gaza that is laying the basis for an independent state of Palestine. There has been a seismic shift in global consciousness. Gaza is both the reflection of the dark side of the human condition as well as a crucial test of our humanity. We are all Gazans now, all Palestinians now.