19 April 2012

A ‘Janatha Mithuro’ moment

[First published in the Daily News, November 10, 2010, this bit of 'small history' and the 'small' things that 'small' people did shows, hopefully, that odds can be evened out]

There was a time I was associated with an organization called the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT).  It was an agitational front that grew out of or was a new avatar of a group that called itself ‘Janatha Mithuro’, formed in the early nineties and led principally by Patali Champika Ranawaka and Ven. Atureliye Rathana Thero.  The members were mostly young graduates and undergraduates who took issue with the Premadasa Government as well as the fascist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. 

There were others too, like M.D. Daniel, a long standing Maoist and a campaigner for the rights of farmers and his twin-like comrade-at-arms, Sunny who was involved in an attack on the US Embassy in 1971, along with G.I.D. Dharmasekera (later ‘Anagarika’) or so the legend goes.  The ‘Janatha Mithuro’ (JM) were interested in green socialism and advocated a different paradigm of development which factored in different methods of assigning value to things. 

The JM naturally attracted the ire of the fascist JVP and the nineties saw a fight for control of the universities between the two groups.  The JVP got the IUSF but lost control of Colombo University, Moratuwa and the Science Faculty of Kelaniya Campus, not necessarily to the JM but to anti-JVP groups in which the JM had a big say.  The JM played a key role in the all-important Southern Provincial Council Election in 1993 which marked the beginning of the end of 17 years of UNP rule and helped propel Chandrika Kumaratunga to power.  The on-the-ground aspect of that campaign was dominated by the JM.

I still remember a meeting that took place in Rattanapitiya at my schoolmate Bandula Chandrasekera’s house just after the People’s Alliance won the 1994 Election.  Champika said simply, ‘A lot of people who walked with us will find this win enough of a consolation to give them a sense of achievement; we must expect a drop in support.’  It was downhill from that point onwards. 

The NMAT championed a cause that had few takers.  They echoed the sentiments that Dr. Nalin De Silva had articulated for almost a decade: the LTTE can and must be defeated militarily.  The NMAT had a role to play in whipping up support for this ideological position.  Naturally, they were labeled ‘war-mongers’, ‘racists’ and other such names by those who wanted to legitimate the LTTE and break up the country.  Those who after the defeat of the LTTE are secretly heaving sighs of relief will not, significantly, whisper a word of thanks to the likes of Dr. Nalin De Silva or Champika Ranawaka, one notes. 

The NMAT got ‘derailed’, I believe, when its leaders got into electoral politics, first with the Sihala Urumaya and later the Jathika Hela Urumaya.  The NMAT was transformed into a house for the shock-troops of those political entities. After the unprecedented success of the JHU in 2004, the NMAT was left orphaned and also homeless. 

It was at this point that the NMAT was taken over by a few individuals who insisted that the organization will (in the words of its principal ideologue, Anuruddha Pradeep) be like a Petrol Shed (one-item shop: countering of terrorism) and not a supermarket (taking on issues of identity, religion, injustice etc).  The NMAT was effective because it knew its limitations.  All that needed to be done was to put up a well-designed poster in Colombo and the JVP (believing that the NMAT was an arm of its key enemies, the JHU and Champika Ranawaka) would play with the same slogan and put up a poster all over the country, obliterating the NMAT signature. The NMAT wanted message taken and got the JVP to do it.  The NMAT also put out many publications which were later used to counter LTTE propaganda abroad.  Then there were also the occasional demonstrations.  Small crowd, yes, but compensated by cohesion, focus and dressing.  Thus was created the conditions for a paradigm shift in terms of how to deal with the LTTE.

By the end of 2008, the NMAT went out of circulation, so to say. Someone asked me what had happened and I remember responding: ‘there was a leadership change’.  ‘Who?’ was the follow-up query. ‘Gota’ was the answer. The work was done. 

Last night (November 20, 2010), there was a gathering (at short notice) of the first set of ‘Janatha Mithuras’ to bid farewell to Karunaratne Paranavithana, newly appointed Consul General to Toronto.  At the time the first discussions pertaining to forming a political party were held (sometime in 1990), Parane was a first year student at Colombo University.  It was a small gathering but a lively one. Talk of old times, nostalgia, old jokes, heated debate about current realities made food unnecessary (although we did knock back some rice).  Someone asked about NMAT and someone answered, ‘It was dissolved at the Nugegoda Bo Tree’. I can’t remember if the date of dissolving was mentioned. 

Someone else chipped in ‘Janatha Mithuro was dissolved at the Fort Railway Station; that’s what the JVP said at the time’. We laughed.  I quipped, ‘The JVP was dissolved in Parliament’. More laughter. 

Karunaratne Paranavithana, Charitha Herath, Anura Weerasekera, Lakshitha Jayawardena, Bandula Chandrasekera, Priyantha Pathirana and Anuruddha Pradeep were each in their own way effective political activists, excellent orators, intellectuals in their own right and they all contributed to making this country what it is today.  None of us are perfect; all of us are flawed and there are probably thousands who believe we set the clock back even as millions identify with and cheer the outcomes we all helped produce by doing our little bit and a lot more than that too at time. 

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to associate these people and look forward to such another gathering years from now when we are younger than we are now, less wise and more free to think and love. Just to compare notes, make a joke and laugh until our lungs give out. 


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1 comments:

sandika said...

you have written this small note on 'the history of small things of small people 'A janatha mithuro moment' in a clever way so that we all of us can understand the importance of having such moments with friends that always move with the janathawa or the importance of their movements and related histories more accurately.

i like the way that you have ended your this little note.