08 December 2014

Mahinda, Maithripala, Non-issues and the Nonentities

Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri is better known by a nickname he earned as an undergraduate, ‘Vamaa’, translatable as ‘Lefty’.   Whether or not this had anything to do with ideological preferences, Nirmal has certainly been fascinated with Left politics.  Indeed, to the extent that left-right distinction is still valid in Marxian and subjective terms (read self-identified) Nirmal is still ‘Left’.  Perhaps this is why he posted a ‘left’ question as a Facebook status update.

‘There are at least four “left” presidential candidates.  Of them, the NSSP (Nava Sama Samaja Party) candidate has pledged to support Maithripala.  If Duminda Nagamuwa (Frontline Socialist Party) poses as the ‘Common Candidate of the Left,’ let me ask, “what makes him more ‘left’ than the other two, namely those of the Socialist Equality Party and the United Socialist Party?”’

This maybe an important question for Nirmal, but ‘who is the most “left” of the lot?’ is not even of marginal interest for the vast majority of the voters.  Nirmal has also suggested (in another status update) that Nagamuwa’s candidacy can only help Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Nirmal of course is supporting Maithripala Sirisena, this should be remembered.  ‘Leftists’ crying foul is old hat. Leftists have always accused each other of serving the interests of ‘the enemy’.  In this instance the questions are prompted by a need to justify choices more than anything else.

The only ‘left’ issue that is of political interest in this election is the face-off between the JVP and its breakaway, the FSP.  The FSP seems to have stolen a march on the ‘Mother Party’ by putting forward a candidate in a context where the JVP has opted not to.  Whatever the radical/Marxist readings of ‘bourgeois elections’ may be, elections figure in popular perceptions and numbers obtained, however small (relatively), are taken as indicators. Whatever the FSP gets will be read as numbers drawn from the JVP. 

‘Show’ matters too.  So, even though the JVP is not contesting, if it stamps presence during the next few weeks, that ‘show’ can overtrump FSP ‘gains’.  Convoluted arguments and practices to support Maithripala will compete with the need to protect the ownership claims to the red flag.  The likes of Nirmal (and other ‘leftists’) will howl in horror that the JVP is not really ‘Marxists’ or ‘Left’.  Be that as it may, in popular perception (and this counts!) ‘red’ belongs to the JVP, for now. 

What’s most interesting about Nirmal’s angst is that at least these are ‘issues’ for him whereas the absence and silence of many good-governance fellow-travelers of the past couple of years have not bothered him at all.  What happened to the ‘Friday Forum’ which was at one time ready to fire off press releases at the drop of a hat?  What happened to the ‘Platform for Democracy’?  What happened to that pawn of USAID and thinly disguised UNP front, the Bar Association which made a lot of noise but whose voice has diminished to the occasional whimper?  What of the NGO wallahs who would rise as though from a drunken stupor when they sniffed regime-change potential each time someone gave the finger to the President? 

There are other questions.  Why is Kumar David singing the praises of the key representatives of the class enemy, namely Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Rajiva Wijesinha while treating his current ‘Marxist favorites’ the JVP like those only fit to polish the floors of the walawwa and the people he loves to hate, the JHU, as vote-swinging adjuncts?  Where’s Maithripala in his analysis and why is this candidate who is wooing the vote treated like a puppet?  And why is Dayan Jayatilleka handing out character certificates to Champika Ranawaka and Ven Athureliye Rathana?  Don’t these questions trouble Nirmal? 

Perhaps all this is because ‘regime-change’ need has effectively footnoted or ever dismissed outright political ideology.  While this is clearly an indication of widespread and justifiable antipathy to how things are in the ‘land of miracles,’ it also points out to widespread confusion on the usual regime-change suspects. 

Consider the following (crude, yes) depiction of politics over the past twenty years.  Chandrika drove to power in the SLFP vehicle on which she painted the word ‘federalism’.  In 2005, Mahinda shoved her off and replaced the word with ‘nationalism’.  Mahinda still has the car.  Maithripala has jumped into the UNP car. He’s in the driver’s seat but there are many hands on the steering wheel.  Too many for him to look like a driver the people can trust, but that’s a separate issue.  The ‘problem’ for the Saravanamuttus, Jayantha Dhanapalas, Sudarshana Gunawardenas and other ‘democracy-voices’ could be that this hodge-podge is volatile.  It can go anywhere and that includes places they would not be comfortable in.   What if, for example, at the end of the day they find the Maithripala Bandwagon has got a ‘Nationalist’ make-over?  What if that vehicle with those colors wins the race?  Would be ironical, would it not?