26 September 2011

The JVP's identity crisis

The results of the 2010 General Election floored a lot of people, especially the JVP which suffered the biggest losses in terms of reduced numbers in Parliament.  From some 41 seats secured in 2004 courtesy of support from the SLFP voters in 2004, that party slid to the single digits, hooking up with Sarath Fonseka’s fledgling party saving the blushes.  That was in-your-face signal to engage in identity-seek.

The JVP is officially ‘left’, politically, and officially ‘Marxist’ in ideology.  Its actions over the past 40 odd years would however not fail to raise the eyebrows of Marxists and Leftists, considering the party’s many about-turns, flirtations with the Right and faith in terrorism (as evidenced in the JVP’s 1971 and 1988-89 avatars).  The 2010 result was an ideal reflection-call.  The JVP had tried armed insurrection before.  It had tried to piggy-back on nationalism.  It had gone the way of the Old Left (coalition-politics) and arrived at the same dead-end.  It was time to rethink.
Those in the party would of course know best, but like all Left-claiming organizations the JVP too had its divisions and among them the one between the hardliners and the take-things-easy types, the middle-roaders if you will.  Egos would have played in the party’s leadership equation, I am sure, and so too questions over priorities: party interest vs. national interest in times of threat to nation.
The JVP’s in-party face would know whether or not things played according to script, but it is pretty clear that the party’s political fortunes slipped after leaving the UPFA and took a nose-dive after siding with the UNP to support the ‘common’ presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka. 
There’s always been talk of a ‘rahas’ (secretive) or ‘hora’ (clandestine) leadership hidden from the public eye, with Premakumar Gunaratnam as chief.  We don’t know for sure what the tensions were, but it’s all out now.  The public-face leadership and the hidden-face leadership are clearly at each other’s throats.  Little is known of Gunaratnam, younger brother of that exemplary, multi-talented, much-loved leader of the Inter University Students Federation in the eighties, Ranjithan, except that he didn’t share any of his older brother’s qualities and that he had one that his brother had not: a strong arm.  Ranjithan, moreover, was a nationalist and would never pander to separatist posturing for political gain.  Premakumar is a throw-back to the Lionel Bopage faction within the JVP: Eelamist.   At least this is what we can conclude from what’s being said regarding the recent fracture. 
Premakumar’s hardliners would think nothing of causing political instability if it helps the re-positioning of the party and making it more ‘relevant’ in national politics.  One must understand that relevancy does not imply a positive; the LTTE was also ‘relevant’ in that it had to be taken into account in political decision-making.  These are the types who would brush aside the deaths of tens of thousands that might be the price of relevancy as ‘can’t help’.  That’s political irresponsibility.
On the other hand, the Gunaratnam faction or any other group within that party does have a case when it comes to party identity.  The JVP, all things considered, has been a thene-hetiyata-ane (pick the nail to suit the spot) kind of party, i.e. opportunistic and even describable as populist. Most positions taken have been justified by calling it ‘strategic repositioning’ or some such thing.  That’s ok.  All parties do that.  That’s what power politics is all about, ideology being mostly frill.  The problem seems to be the realization that the composite has no integrity and is therefore running the risk of being everything and therefore nothing. 
In this sense, this ‘split’ would be a good thing for the party, although what’s good for the JVP (or any other party) is not necessarily good for the country or the people.  In the very least, it would help the general public locate the JVP in the political firmament.  Think about it.  The JVP had run with the Rajapaksas, bedded with the UNP and hunted with Fonseka.  It helped Mahinda Rajapaksa into power, used the UPFA as a prop to have a bigger parliamentary presence, saved the UPFA at the budget vote, played CIA-agent when that was thought to be convenient, abandoned principles, picked up gun, engaged in terrorism, condemned other terrorisms and helped defeat such tyrannies, echoed Eelamist rhetoric, rejected devolution, etc., and now there’s one faction calling for the affirmation of nationalism while another indulges in Eelam-speak.  That’s hodge-podge for you and more reminiscent of the UNP and SLFP than any ‘left’ organization that one can think of. 
We can’t predict the outcome of this ‘split’.  Given the gun-loving tendencies of the Premakumaras and the aversion of Somawansa Amarasinghe, Tilvin Silva and others to hide-and-seek, cloak-and-dagger politics, it is hard to think of amicable resolution.  Questions of legality are likely to play a role in yielding some kind of boldly outlined outcome.   If the moderates win out, the hardliners would have to (happily?) retreat to the jungles.  If the hardliners prevail, the moderates will have to form a party of their own and play an insignificant Old Left type role in the democratic space.  Either way, something definite is likely to emerge in terms of JVP-identity. 
Anyone taking the jungle path, particularly at this point, would only be playing into the hands of the salivating outsiders plotting and/or hoping for political upheavals that would help get them toe-hold in the island or else turn toe-hold into assertive presence.  The regime cannot be expected to lie down and die.  Gun-picking would script blood-letting into the political process.  That would be tragic indeed.  This side of such an eventuality, however, is where political cogency exists.  That’s not a bad thing for a political organization, up-down-and-confused though its history might be. 
We are in for interesting times, either way.  ‘Interesting’ is, unfortunately, not necessarily blood-free.  There is nothing intrinsically bad about being radical.  Maturity and a sense of responsibility would be good.  Wisdom to envisage outcome and therefore avoid unnecessary violence would be great.  We still don’t know how the JVP biscuit is going to crumble but the architects and beneficiaries of the crumbling ought to be adult about things.  The JVP’s history doesn’t make one hopeful, but we can play the wait and see game. 
However, it is a tad too late in the day for that party to have growing pains and be indulged as a result.  This should not be forgotten.