WHERE IS THE VIABLE ALTERNATIVE POLITICAL PROJECT IN SRI LANKA?

“In other words it now becomes evident that (to quote Marx) people do not treat somebody as a king because he is a king in himself; he is a king because and as long as people treat him as one.” (Slavoj Zizek, ‘The Ticklish Subject’, p192, italics in the original).

******

If God is dead, everything is permitted, said Dostoevsky, part echoed by Nietzsche who exclaimed “God is dead, and we have killed him”. The danger of announcing the death of democracy, when it isn’t dead, is precisely that ‘everything is permitted’. It permits dictatorial practices on the part of the authorities who no longer feel fettered by democracy. It permits violent protest by those who believe that there are no longer any democratic methods of change – which in turn permits greater violence on the part of the authorities which directs it also against peaceful protest.

The placing of an obituary of democracy is even more pernicious because it removes hope from the citizenry, and as Ernest Bloch argues in his multivolume work ‘The Principle of Hope’, it is utterly indispensable.

I agree with Kalana Senaratne’s sober critique of the 18th amendment on Transcurrents and in the Sunday Leader but I also think that the Supreme Court judgement made some valid observations about the franchise. My comments on the debate are a critique of the hysteria and are written in the spirit of what Alain Badiou terms an “interpretative intervention”.

By committing the cardinal error of misinterpreting regime type and state form – and here the LSE’s (Sri Lankan born) Prof Razeen Sally was far more rigorous than the locally based critics when he noted the tendency towards ‘Caesarist-Bonapartist authoritarianism’- the post 18th Amendment discourse of Colombo’s civil society intelligentsia obscures the actually existing political space which constitutes the sites of strivings and struggles for potential transformation.

Here’s something for those who bewail that the 18th amendment was the ‘last nail in the coffin in which democracy has been laid’ to ponder: what do you say when the next nail goes in? To put it plainly, the 19th amendment could be to the electoral system.  How many seats will the opposition get under its present leadership, when elections are held under a system which is preponderantly ‘first past the post’? Let me put it in terms of Political Analysis for Dummies: hypothetically speaking, if Colombo has only one seat and the UNP were still led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, on present data that one seat would be won and Colombo represented not by the UNP but by a certain Mr Weerawansa.

This brings me to the Lawrence Olivier question. In Marathon Man, Olivier, playing the Nazi war criminal, Szell, kept drilling without anaesthesia into the teeth of Dustin Hoffman, all the while asking him a solitary, maddeningly repetitive question: “Is it safe?” (By which he meant was it safe for him to get his diamonds). Given the statement of Minister Keheliya Rambukwella (an early donation from UNP ranks to the SLFP government) that the next election, the ones to local government bodies, will be held under the FPTP system, one can assume that a change-over may be contemplated at the national level too, someday soon. Those members of the UNP and its supportive civil society who wish the UNP’s present leadership to remain must then ask themselves the Olivier question: “Is it safe?” (As in “Is it safe for Sri Lankan democracy, to retain Ranil as the party or Opposition leader?”)

As Szell (Laurence Olivier) discovered, it wasn’t safe.

There is the question of moral-ethical credibility. How to take the protestations of those who are critical of Mahinda Rajapakse but were never critical of Velupillai Prabhakaran? Or those who were and are far more critical of Mahinda Rajapakse than they ever were of Prabhakaran? Some, like the admirably eloquent Mr Sumanthiran of the TNA, have yet to make as full length and full–on a critique of Prabhakaran and the Tigers as he did in parliament of Mahinda Rajapakse and the 18th amendment. Ok, forget ‘full-on’, couldn’t he mention the LTTE and its leader even once, in his passionate denunciation of the “nailing of the coffin of democracy”? If this seems like a ‘Sinhalese militarist’ harping on the past, what does one make of the memorial ceremonies nine years after 9/11, not to mention the war memorials decades later? How many 9/11s did we experience? The Central bank bombing was only one. And our Thirty Years war ended only a year back. For the sake of credibility if not ethics and morality, self-criticism of collusion with naked fascism must surely precede criticism of a Caeserist- Bonapartist authoritarianism which still keeps alive the practice of multiparty representative electoral politics.

It is true that the regime’s ideologues play the anti-Tiger patriotic card to justify the 18th amendment, but that linkage is made not only by pro-18A but also anti-18A personalities. The Opposition which is hobbled by association with the LTTE (TNA) or appeasement of it (Ranil’s UNP), finds itself virtually impaled on the stake of un-patriotism by those like Prof Kumar David who draw a direct line of causation between the military victory and support for it on the one hand, and opposing both the military victory and the 18th amendment on the other.  He writes:

“Such is the gravity of September 2010, an inexorable consequence of May 2009…I take no particular delight in rubbing it into my Sinhalese compatriots that, as surely as night follows day, when state power raises itself above society through victory in a racist civil war, its subsequent transformation into an instrument for the repression of its own people is a lesson that history has demonstrated many times. The psychological setting and balances of power fashioned by the overwhelming victory of the state over the LTTE is the backdrop to today’s march to dictatorship… “(‘Treachery what is Left of thy name’, Sunday Island Sept 12, 2010)

Well, if that’s the package, if that’s the retrospective identification and nexus, then Kumar David and his “Sinhala compatriot” are of one mind, and whose arguments do you think the masses will go along with; which choice will they make?

Unlike the UNP, the TNA and their supportive intelligentsia, the JVP did stand against the Tigers, though they have yet to settle accounts with their own unrestrainedly savage attacks on democracy and democrats in 1986-89.

It is exceedingly difficult to take seriously the civil society opinion makers bewailing the death of democracy because they are not behaving as do any serious intellectual and political resistance against the kind of phenomenon they claim to be combating.

Take your pick: Lenin’s Bolsheviks against the Tsarist autocracy; Trotsky, his Stalinist opponents and the genius Gramsci against Fascism; Mao against the Japanese invaders. None of them wasted time screaming at or squealing against the enemy. Their audience was precisely their own ranks, those of the opposition or resistance. Their writings were about the strategy, tactics, lines, programmes and slogans to be adopted precisely to stop or roll back what was happening.  If they did any yelling, metaphorically speaking, it was within the oppositional space. Trotsky spent the years 1929-1932 like John the Baptist, a voice in the wilderness, calling for a united front of the working class parties, the Communists and Socialists. The Stalinist Comintern, led by the  enormously courageous  Bulgarian, Georgi Dimitrov who braved a Nazi court in Berlin (attended by Goebbels and Goering) and won by virtue of his argumentation and international solidarity, campaigned for an even broader alliance — that of the Popular Front of working class, middle class and liberal bourgeois parties. Mao went further in his advocacy of the united front, twinning guerrilla war with a broad alliance that included erstwhile enemies like Chiang Kai Shek (who had massacred Communists in 1927 and executed Mao’s second wife). Gramsci, jailed by Mussolini’s courts explicitly in order “to stop that brain working for the next twenty years”, spent his time in an encyclopaedic labour of critique and comprehension, forging a whole new arsenal of theoretical weapons, suggesting a sophisticated and seamless long term strategy and minting almost a new lexicon of politics of emancipation, instead of foaming at the mouth at his oppressors.

If someone were to think that I am stuck in a time warp, the point I make applies to Gramscian Marxist intellectuals like Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques who helped the British Labour movement think through and overcome the long Thatcher era.  Stuart Hall fought against the dominant views on the Labour Left, that Thatcher was yet another traditional Conservative Right wing government, and of the Trostkyist loony Left that considered her some kind of fascist. Using Gramscian methodological tools, he pointed out that Thatcher had used a package of emotional, psychological and ideological themes to bring together a broad and durable bloc of forces in a project that Hall defined as “authoritarian populism”, which had shifted the national terrain over the long term.

Stuart Hall also pointed out that the fight-back will have to be Gramscian, not a frontal assault by the no longer existing (disintegrated, atomised) “working class movement” against a non-existent “fascism”, but the construction of a countervailing but no less national and popular bloc and a protracted, incremental accumulation of cultural and moral hegemony which finally results in a politico-electoral tectonic shift. Martin Jacques took the discourse forward from that point, putting the spotlight on the disappearance of the old ‘working class’ and the emergence instead of new social forces, critiquing the programmes of the ‘Old Guard’ Labour Opposition and various Marxist groupings, encouraging new thinking about a new programme.

These intellectual and theoretical efforts had an ancestry in the pioneering re-thinking of the mid-1970s, by the Euro-Communists, mainly the neo-Gramscian Italian and Spanish CPs, grappling with the problem of one party dominant regimes such as that of the Christian Democrats who had ruled Italy for decades. The Italian CP leader Enrico Berlinguer floated the slogan of a historic compromise with a wing of the Christian Democrats. Other ‘new thinkers’ were Regis Debray who argued for a ‘Socialism wrapped in the French tricolour’ (the equivalent would be democracy, not twinned with a line that appeased the LTTE, but wrapped in the Sri Lankan flag) and Nicos Poulantzas who stressed that the state was not so much a monolith to be frontally confronted, but itself a terrain of contestation, and the site of power shifts.

Ernesto Laclau, Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques built on these foundations.  It was from these intellectual efforts and the understanding that some of what Thatcher had done could not and should not be undone; that the national terrain had permanently shifted; that this shift had to be taken into account and partly respected if it were to be partly replaced and wholly superseded, that New Labour arose out of the ashes of the old.

Much the same narrative, without the theoretical and ideological background, is true of the Democratic Leadership Council, which shifted the US Democrats to a centrist stand, picked and promoted Bill Clinton, and thus put an end to the long era of Reaganism and Republican rule.

If I may reiterate my original point, a serious intellectual resistance begins with the effort precisely to redraw and restructure the oppositional space and outline a viable, alternative political project with a national-popular appeal.  Lenin famously said that without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement. Similarly, without an alternative political project, no party put itself forward as a political alternative and expect to be taken seriously by the citizenry.

Contrary to the ‘theorists’ of the Opposition, the historical moment is NOT one of a democracy movement but of the revitalisation of the political party system through the revivification of political parties. Non-party political movements are fine but they can be regarded the crucial political agency of change only in a system in which the opposition parties have been actually repressed – not when they are simply unpopular and unelectable. The civic resistance strategy was the right one for unelected despotisms (the Shah), military juntas or communist party dictatorships, in which there was no multiparty system and elective principle. Only someone with a fragile grasp of reality could claim that it is true of Sri Lanka today, and only someone who has no political memory or is ignorant of our contemporary history could deny that the closest we came to it (apart from Prabhakaran’s fascist rule which surpassed these forms) was between July 1980 (the smashing of the trade union movement by sacking 60,000 workers), through December 1982 (JRJ’s referendum in place of parliamentary elections) and July ’83 (the proscription of the JVP, with the SLFP already decapitated through civic disabilities and incarceration).

Leon Trotsky may have been pushing it a bit, when he wrote that “the crisis of humanity is reduced to the crisis of leadership” but it is certainly true of Sri Lanka: contrary to the apocalyptic “wailing and gnashing of teeth” among the civil society radicals, the crisis of Sri Lankan democracy is primarily (if not ‘reduced to’) the crisis of opposition leadership.

There will be no revival of a democratic opposition without an opposition politics that reassures the majority of the electorate about its staunchness on issues of secessionism, terrorism, national security and national sovereignty. Any doubts on this score, or associations with the past of appeasement will have at the very least the same effect as memories of the closed economy of 1970-77 had on the electoral fortunes of the SLFP and therefore those of the UNP administration.  Amilcar Cabral urged his own class, the petty bourgeoisie to “commit suicide as a class” and be re-born ideologically as “revolutionary proletarians”, in an act that came to be known as “revolutionary suicide”. Similarly, for an effective re-balancing of the polity, the civil society cosmopolitans have to ‘commit suicide ideologically’ and be reborn as (pluralist) patriots or just get the hell away from the UNP and take the Wickremesinghes with them, allowing that party to return to its roots as the multiethnic, multi-religious representative of the patriotic Sinhala peasantry and provinces (Senanayakes) and the urban and rural ‘have-nots’ (Premadasa).

In Sri Lanka, the ‘intellectual’ critics of the administration are those least conspicuous in the search for an alternative to the prop that holds up the status quo which they condemn as ‘totalitarian’ and ‘fascist’. Ironically, these civil society ideologues prop up the prop; not support the alternative. Is it purely coincidental that those civil society personalities that opposed the military victory and Mahinda Rajapakse and advocate an international war crimes probe, are pretty much the same ones that opposed President Premadasa and supported the impeachment motion against him? There are echoes and residues of that political struggle, also in today’s polarisation within the UNP.

These pathetic, retrogressive pseudo-politics can have no resonance with the people – and as Lenin said “serious politics begins where tens of millions of people are”.

  • TT

    Nice way to put it Dr Dayan J, though I for one don’t understand any of those theories.

    In simple terms, people is power in democracy. One may have the best theory but if no people behind it, no power.

  • http://magerata.wordpress.com magerata

    Nice read, learned a whole bunch about politics, so here is my reaction, go “commit suicide as a revolutionary proletarian”
    But I am glad Prabhakaran is dead, now we can blame ones who are really accountable! In any case, we will be voting again, won’t we?

  • Dilkusha

    I enjoyed reading this piece. To someone like me who is not clued up about the political history of the world, it is an education and there is much to follow up and get familiar with.

    The parts that resonated with me is
    (a) “hope” cannot be summarily destroyed
    (b) The JVP hasnt apologised for their own savage attacks on democracy. Yes, the word “savage” is apt. “. How well I recall the time!
    (c) The crisis of opposition leadership is indeed a tragedy, totally agree with that thought, and they should take full responsibility for the decline in democracy.

    It hadnt occured to me that the Ltte contributed largely to the decline of democracy. Also the difference between regime type and state form is something to think about.

    Yes, certainly this post is an educative piece .

  • http://www.kusalperera.blogsite.com Amarnath Sunderagama

    Ha ha…..So this is Dr. Dayan Jayathilake’s “exclusive” copy to GV !!!
    He has collected so many quotes from so many, and gives them his own dubious interpretations, but as always, stayed away from saying where he stands on the 18 Amendment, on democracy, on this R regime and in fact on all important issues.
    His only issue with Sumanthiram is that Sumanthiram has not mentioned the word “LTTE” anywhere in his speech on the 18 Amendment. Does Dayan J mean, if Sumanthiram did mention a word or two condemning the LTTE, all his critical condemnation of the 18 Amendment is right, and DJ accepts them all ?
    From all what Dayan has been carefully writing these days, it only seems he is very careful, he does not antagonise the Exec Prez MR and eyes for another privileged position with the regime.
    To that extent he does his writing well. But what importance has these writings by people like Dayan, for GV to give them space ? Do they ever contribute to alternate thinking ? Or what is GV trying to achieve, for that matter ? What’s the objective in short ? Don’t see any !!!
    AS

  • ordinary lankan

    In every field of human activity
    The personal element
    The emotions –
    That quintessentially human element
    Is forgotten
    Amidst a sea of concepts
    Freedom and democracy are feelings
    We know them not
    We parrot generalizations
    We cannot experience
    A nation of scholars
    Without a practical bone (not a ref to Dr Dayan of course – we will never forget your sterling defence of SL and the Third World as well at those international fora)

    and here’s another one

    Not only in Sri Lanka
    But all over the world
    We are looking for a new principle of human organization
    A new principle of harmony
    That principle cannot be established by superior force, wealth or knowledge
    Or by any other fruits and benefits derived from an old order which is crumbling down
    The efficacy of the new principle can only be demonstrated by living it
    Without this living demonstration of values
    Nothing new will take root and grow
    That is why this new principle is the conscious and evolving human being
    A principle must live to avoid the fate of becoming a facade; an empty concept
    Its true home is the living human being

    ordinary lankans ( as opposed to extra-ordinary ones) are not dead – they are living…. some day they will be free

  • anonymous

    “Take your pick: Lenin’s Bolsheviks against the Tsarist autocracy; Trotsky, his Stalinist opponents and the genius Gramsci against Fascism; Mao against the Japanese invaders. None of them wasted time screaming at or squealing against the enemy. Their audience was precisely their own ranks, those of the opposition or resistance.”

    I guess this is why Dayan has been raving and ranting against the UNP in the last few weeks, because he is speaking to his own ranks!

    What Lenin and Trotsky would have called this joker is anyone’s guess!

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com/ PresiDunce Bean

    Lenin and Trotsky would have called Dayan a ‘Useful Idiot.’

    The phrase ‘useful idiots’, supposedly Lenin’s, refers to Westerners duped into saying good things about bad regimes.

    In political jargon it was used to describe Soviet sympathisers in Western countries and the attitude of the Soviet government towards them.

    Useful idiots, in a broader sense, refers to Western journalists, travellers and intellectuals who gave their blessing – often with evangelistic fervour – to tyrannies and tyrants, thereby convincing politicians and public that utopias rather than Belsens thrived.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2010/07/100624_doc_useful_idiots_lenin.shtml

  • anonymous

    Thank you PresiDunce Bean

    I shall refer to the said doctor as “useful idiot” from now on. A very useful term indeed.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    The delightfully named Amarnath Sunderagama obviously has a problem with reading and understanding the English language because he writes that “He …as always, stayed away from saying where he stands on the 18 Amendment…”

    The chap has plainly not understood this sentence that categorically says where I stand on 18A and is from the very article that he criticises:

    “I agree with Kalana Senaratne’s sober critique of the 18th amendment on Transcurrents and in the Sunday Leader but I also think that the Supreme Court judgement made some valid observations about the franchise”.

  • ram kapoor

    Cmon guys if you’re going to try and cuss Dr.j, Atleast use your real names!

    Good piece of writing Dr j. The long and short of what you say is that the unp needs to re evaluate the political landscape and itself in order to present itself as a formidable political party with no grey areas on where it stands on policy as well as whom it appeals to.

    assuming that happens, and there is a new unp leader, what if mahinda arrests that person for treachery? And all the person did was be critical of the current regime and 18th amendment etc while building the party into a formidable political force, as opposed to actually being treacherous what then? My fear is that is a likely scenario and that no opposition to mahinda would be tolerated.

  • anonymous

    ram kapoor said,

    “assuming that happens, and there is a new unp leader, what if mahinda arrests that person for treachery? And all the person did was be critical of the current regime and 18th amendment etc while building the party into a formidable political force, as opposed to actually being treacherous what then? ”

    Then the useful idiot will write a long article invoking everyone from Mao to Gramsci to show that it was treason indeed!

  • Grasshopper

    Dayan, the lack of a viable alternative political project is VERY old news! There is no leader in Ranil, we all know that. Why is it that you don’t call a spade, a spade with re: to Mahinda’s authoritarian rule?

    I admire the no-nonsense, fearless and successful defense you executed at the UN (for which you are yet to receive due credit from the Govt) but when it comes critiquing the current political landscape dominated by Mahinda & Co., I am afraid your article ain’t that useful, sorry.

  • http://arunishapiro.wordpress.com aruni shapiro

    Dayan,
    these days in America we see mostly old men who hold power for far too long unable to hear their constituents, mostly!

    Regarding moral-ethical credibility, you ask “how to take the protestations of those who are critical of Mahinda Rajapakse but were never critical of Velupillai Prabhakaran? Or those who were and are far more critical of Mahinda Rajapakse than they ever were of Prabhakaran?” Why no mention of those who were critical of Prabha and praised Mahinda for putting an end to the war yet oppose him in the 18th? You will find those among Sinhala bloggers.

    Also you say “non-party political movements are fine but they can be regarded the crucial political agency of change only in a system in which the opposition parties have been actually repressed – not when they are simply unpopular and unelectable.” Please Sir, what have you to say about last night’s tea-party wins in America?

  • justitia

    Reference Dayan J’s reply to Amarnath Sunderagama:-
    Dayan J is very careful in not specifically stating that he disagrees with the provisions of the 18th amendment. He merely agrees with a critique of a journalst, and observations by the supreme court – which again he carefully avoids to mention.
    This is ‘propping up’ observations of others.
    Reference Dayan J’s question about an election contest by Ranil J and others, IF a REALLY independent Elections Commission – with powers like those of the Indian Elections Commission – held/administered such an election after ALL eligible voters have been registered, in the colombo district,Ranil J may very well get more votes than Weerawanse.
    But, as things are, there will never be a really independent Elections Commissions, along with really independent Law Enforcement agencies, in the future, because members of such bodies will be appointed by the president himself – the ‘parliamentary council’ will be only a prop to ‘legitimise’ the process, the ‘observations’ of which will be surely ignored by the president in the selection of those loyal to him.

  • ram kapoor

    anon and grasshopper,

    i guess what dr. j is saying overall is that the 18a is a by product of the political landscape. because there was no viable opposition party, there was no viable opposition to 18a per se.

    while you can criticise and ask him to call a spade a spade, the situation is what it is precisely because of the above… (sorry does that make sense?!).

    In other words Mahinda knew he was able to get away with this, so he did it.

    As for DJ’s opinion, i’m more than satisfied that he said he agrees with kalana’s critique, and upon reading it, i kind of do as well.

    My fear is that one day, when the opposition do get their act together, will mahinda allow that opposition to flourish and therefore help promote a healthy democracy? These accusations of trechary and subsequent actions etc is what scares me.

  • Burning_Issue

    I think that DR. Jayatilleka has overly used many quotes and lost his message miserably; especially to the ordinary folks! His endorsement of MR still stands tall while nepotism in Sri Lanka has reached to a new unprecedented level! This political Scientist veils his opinion about the 18th A behind MR Kalana Senaratne; fails to highlight the degradation democracy and people power.

    “Some, like the admirably eloquent Mr Sumanthiran of the TNA, have yet to make as full length and full–on a critique of Prabhakaran and the Tigers as he did in parliament of Mahinda Rajapakse and the 18th amendment.”

    Well; Mr. Sumanthiran made unequivocal statements that he is a proud member of the Sri Lankan bar Association! He did not make reference to Eelam; did he? He concluded his presentation by saying that, the TNA opposed the bill even at the detriment to his people but at the interest of the country, Sri Lanka.

    One can judge TNA on there association with the LTTE; however, one has to know that, a form of Tamil Polity with the support of the disillusioned Tamils had to survive. This does not mean that all the TNA members supported Eelam. As soon as the LTTE was defeated, the majority of the TNA parliamentarians very comfortably denounced separatism. It is about time the likes of Dayan to get off the boat! Mr Sumanthiran’s presentation was the only anti-18th A worthy of note that should have been delivered by the leader of the Opposition. He made reference to the unprincipled Cross-Overs and how sickening that is; not to mention about DR. G.L Peries, the Constitutional Expert!

  • ordinary lankan

    some lines dedicated to Rajapakse and Mandela … pity the former is taking the mugabe route – I have nil knowledge ab all the above stuff – the learned bits but this seems rather clear to me – and yes Dayan pl get real and focus on what is going wrong rather than peripheral issues – focus on your former boss

    DONT DEFLECT – DISTRACT – DEVIATE –

    if you can just enjoy the lines below …

    The prisoner remains a prisoner
    Even after attaining high office
    He refuses greatness
    The free man remains a free man
    Even when he goes to jail
    He accepts greatness
    Both are great
    One refuses
    The other accepts

    Worldviews can dissolve
    All the salt you can gather
    In a sea of change
    Get one
    Don’t get lost
    In brooks and streams

  • wijayapala

    Dear Burning_Issue,

    Dayan’s message was not intended for ordinary folk. It was meant for the “intellectuals” in civil society who are stumped why nobody takes them seriously. He is basically saying that whining isn’t enough- critics of the current regime have to put a plan together. Somebody has already made an attempt:

    http://transcurrents.com/tc/2010/09/the_need_of_the_hour_is_a_broa.html

    Try reading it again, at least the Stuart Hall example; his points are worth it (and this is coming from someone who has trashed Dayan numerous times in the past). Another one of them to consider is his analysis that Sri Lankan democracy isn’t broken, but its parties are which explains why Mahinda is unchallenged.

  • Post DJBS Scenario

    Burning,

    I don’t think Dayan is viewed as a intellectual by academics but rather as PresiDunce Bean described a “useful idiot”.

    When Groundviews announced an exclusive article from Dayan a couple of days ago I thought —this should be interesting.

    What we got was a public display of pseudo-intellectual masturbation by a man child who desperately wants to escape the long shadow of his father.

    Groundviews is doing no favour to the memory of Mervyn De Silva by giving his son a forum to humiliate himself.

    Perhaps Dr Sara or Rohan could take him under their wing?

  • Agnos

    Wijayapala,

    If the voters are apathetic and don’t hold their elected representatives to their promises, if the voters think racially and irrationally, the responsibility to change that is with the intellectuals and civil society. Sri Lankans have this nasty habit of hero-worshipping unprincipled thugs– whether in the North with VP earlier, or with MR and past leaders in the South. Unless the public mindset changes so that they hold their leaders accountable, SL will continue this repeated slide into a totalitarianism.

    Only the regime’s cravenly apologists would stop with blaming an ineffective opposition for this deep malaise in society. Rather than write about the utter lack of principles of the crossovers and the regime, and the failure by the public to agitate against such depravity, DJ is hiding behind “the people”– never mind their ignorance, irrationality, apathy and racism–to make a tortured defense of this crude power grab.

  • Travelling Academic

    This “you cannot criticize the government because you did not criticize Prabhakaran in that many bytes of text or decibels of loudness” argument triggers frustrating memories of my teenage days at Jaffna Hindu College dining hall and the Nallur temple veethi. Every time I stated my case against Tamil nationalism and the Tigers, or my carefully calculated predictions that they will lead the Tamil community through the utmost of sufferings and set it back a hundred years, I remember being shot down by the inverse of this argument: “Did I hear you speak out against the burning of the Jaffna public library, mate?”.

  • ModVoice

    True the “democracy” is not dead in Sri Lanka. Not all countries that call themselves a democracy are true to its sense – for example, the “South Asian” model, where democracy means family politics, as an article on Tamilnet seems to have hit the nail on its head… http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=32574
    Prabhakaran could have been dining in his own bungalow house today had he been a “patriot” turned politician instead.

  • TA

    DJ is correct to remind us about where ‘serious politics’ begins. The expression of intellectual and moral opposition to our current political circumstances does not, however, necessarily have to do with the articulation of an intellectual framework that can produce a viable political alternative. These are different sports all together, and usually require different sorts of players. As comments above demonstrate, the problem that DJ is concerned with will not likely be solved in this space or announced by contributors to it – but rather by others.

  • Heshan

    Hollywood blockbusters and Marxist theory aside, S. Lanka is simply retrogressing into a pre-colonial feudal entity. The absolute and total failure of the Supreme Court to prevent the politically expedient hijacking of the Constitution paints the picture of an all-powerful Monarchy that, entirely unopposed, bulldozes its way over any opposition via sheer brutality or masterful undercutting (witness the recent exodus of UNP MP’s). What is clear is that the Opposition is not going to lead a revolution, any time soon. The Opposition is indeed paralyzed, having failed to resolve the conflict with the LTTE peacefully, due to the nationalist hysteria in the South. Revolution, however, is an antiquated term – perhaps a misnomer given today’s moderate political temperament. Mao, Stalin, etc. were not constrained by the bullhorn of IMF lending and UN obligations. Similarly, today’s leaders cannot induce drastic economic or social reform of the likes of Stalin. Suffice it to say, S. Lanka will not have Gulags any time soon (perhaps to the dismay of Dayan and other Marxist sycophants). So in the final analysis, it looks as if S. Lanka, for better or worse, is in it for the long haul, considering that the window of “revolution” is very small indeed. It remains to be seen whether time alone will induce any positive change.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Justitia,

    The critique I agreed with is not “of a journalist” but a doctoral student in Law at the Univeristy of Hong Kong, with an LLM from the University of London…which I suspect, is far more pertinent to the discussion of the 18th amendment, than anything you may bring to bear !

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Isn’t it interesting that the larger percentage of posts in this discussion, and indeed on GV in general, are, well…pseudonymous?

    Oh, I get it, if ‘Post DJBS Scenario’, for instance were to write under his or her name, its not just that I might bother to reply, but the fascist State would send the Death Squads, right?

  • Agnos

    My previous post should read: “…Only the regime’s cravenly dishonest apologists….”

  • justitia

    Dayan J is right. In fact, death and abduction squads are roaming the country.
    There are occasional reports of mysterious killigs, bodies being found, abductions, disappearances, arrests and incarceration without reasons being given etc. Deaths in cutody too occur.
    !7 journalsts have been killed by state ‘hit squads’ during past six years.
    All these are reported in national and international media.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Hey Y’all,

    Here’s a free cure for hysterics, and some great advice, from an unimpeachable source:

    OPINION ASIA SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

    Rajapaksa Makes a Move
    Sri Lanka’s president wants to stay in power for a long time. Only an organized opposition can stop him.

    By NIRA WICKRAMASINGHE

    …Mr. Rajapaksa did not singlehandedly create Sri Lanka’s overly strong executive presidency. The constitution introduced in 1978 by President J.R. Jayawardene concentrated significant power in the hands of a single individual. Mr. Rajapaksa’s SLFP has claimed at least since it took power in 1994 that it wanted to abolish the executive presidency and replace it with a form of government where power was less centralized. But now Mr. Rajapaksa is embracing a much stronger executive.

    With the constitutional term limit abolished, Mr. Rajapaksa has a fair chance of staying in power. Just as in other presidential regimes such as France or the United States, incumbent presidents in Sri Lanka are very likely to win second-term elections. Limits on terms of office are set precisely for this reason.

    Many Sri Lankans seem to think, for now anyway, that would not be such a terrible thing. Having ended a debilitating decades-long civil war, President Rajapaksa was re-elected earlier this year with a convincing majority of 58% over his main opponent Sarath Fonseka, a former army commander and erstwhile close ally. If given sufficient time and sufficient powers he promised to rebuild the country, supported by a depoliticized business community.

    …The fact that academics, lawyers, students and pressure groups took to the streets to protest against the 18th amendment indicates that there is still room for the opposition to maneuver in the interstices of power. The question remains whether, as defenders of the 18th amendment argue, voters will be given a true choice in 2016. This ultimately depends less on Mr. Rajapaksa than on the will of opposition political parties to forge an alternative democratic vision and give leadership to those who believe in it.’

    Ms. Wickramasinghe is professor of modern South Asian studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

  • anonymous

    Justitia said,

    “Dayan J is right. In fact, death and abduction squads are roaming the country.
    There are occasional reports of mysterious killigs, bodies being found, abductions, disappearances, arrests and incarceration without reasons being given etc. Deaths in cutody too occur.
    !7 journalsts have been killed by state ‘hit squads’ during past six years.
    All these are reported in national and international media.”

    True. Unless of course you turn yourself into a UI (useful idiot).
    Thanks again Presiduncebean for this delightful term!

  • wijayapala

    Agnos,

    Sri Lankans have this nasty habit of hero-worshipping unprincipled thugs

    I agree with you. No argument from me. How do we change this attitude?

    If the voters are apathetic and don’t hold their elected representatives to their promises, if the voters think racially and irrationally, the responsibility to change that is with the intellectuals and civil society.

    What intellectuals?

    I don’t think the voters thought racially or even irrationally during the last elections. The alternative in January was a power-hungry warlord of a former general, and in April it was an unrepentant failure of an opposition. Both were Sinhalese, and in Fonseka’s case it was a bonafide Sinhala racist (whom many Tamils voted for anyway).

  • Idealist?

    Democracy is not only about the opportunity to vote, or having a strong opposition in Parliament. It is also about an independent and free media, freedom of expression, an independent and strong judiciary, just laws, right to information and mechanisms to hold government accountable, etc.

  • Idealist?

    Dr. D.J. argues again and again that people vote in SL so there is democracy, there is space for protests so there is democracy, etc. But what kind of information do voters have access to via the media, does anyone in power listen to protestors? If so, is that the kind of democracy we want?

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    An article by Avinash Pandey Samar published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

    SRI LANKA: Is it some new political science you are referring to Dr Dayan!

    Avinash Pandey Samar

    “Who is the ultimate arbiter whom the citizens of Sri Lanka should follow” is the biggest question troubling Dr Dayan Jayathillake, a Sri Lankan writer. What is troubling me, though, is the fact that this is hardly a question that should trouble a political scientist. After all, even a standard 10th student of Political science, known as Civics in several countries, knows the answer to this question.

    No one can be ‘ultimate’ arbiter Dr Dayan, may I please remind you. Do you really remember the theories of social contract offered by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

    Everyone surrendering his/her own sovereignty to the universal sovereign in the form of a political community is what all of them believe. The emphasis, you will not fail to notice, is on ‘political community’ sir, and not on ‘ultimate arbiter’ as you tried to argue! May I, please, also remind you of the fact that the sovereignty thus derived is not some ‘natural’ right of the sovereign?

    The sovereignty and the surrender of rights in the form of general will, loses its legitimacy if it fails to meet general interest, was a corollary almost all of them had derived. The right to rebellion, particularly in case if the contract is leading to ‘tyranny’ is a phrase coined by Locke, the father of liberal democracy you are supposed to be espousing, and not by some insane critic sir!

    Tyranny is the word he used sir, if you noticed.

    Can you please enlighten me where does this idea of ‘ultimate arbiter’ seeps into your scheme of things? From which school of political science, at least, as that would explain a lot many things to me.

    The idea of ultimate arbiter is located in the idea that the state has the right to exercise the sovereign power and to act as parens patriae (parent of the citizens). I remember a decision of the Indian Supreme Court, among those of others denying this right to Indian state. In a case regarding the rights of erstwhile small princes, the full bench of the Indian Supreme Court has concluded that there exists nothing as sovereign power of the state. It asserted that the legal sovereignty vests in the constitution whereas political sovereignty lied with the people, not with the office of the institution representing it. It is ‘we the people’ who unite ourselves into a sovereign state, sir, not the other way round.

    May I please remind you of one very similar thing from the Indian experience sir? The National Democratic Alliance led by Mr Atal Bihari Bajpai had made an attempt to ‘review’ (read rewrite) the Indian constitution. The judiciary of India did not only stall the move but also reasserted that the basic structure of the constitution cannot be negotiated, altered or changed.

    Providing democratic governance is one of those basic structures sir, in Sri Lanka as well I think, correct me if I am not. And any law or amendment that compromises with that does not confirm with the law of the land and is not acceptable sir.

    Framing a question wrongly would never bring a right answer is a clichéd fact for those in academia. But then there is another question that why do people do it.

    Political Science defines itself as a ‘science’ sir, do you remember? Being busy with all your pursuits, academic and otherwise, I am sure it must have been long since you last read that. The reason behind that was simple. It was to ensure that the issues are studied as much ‘objectively’ as they can. It did not demand complete objectivity, as social conditions are not like natural phenomenon which could be absolutely objectively studied, what it required was keeping the intellectual’s own biases out of the study.

    Precisely for this reason, it is not about seeing a glass as half empty or half full. The objectivity you have, unfortunately, is demonstrated by the comparisons you bring in. Even while claiming to see things ‘from the perspective of comparative international politics’ the only comparison you bring in is that of Turkey! There have been attempts to change constitutions closer home sir, both successful and failed ones. The constitution of Pakistan was amended several times by these ‘Precedential Decrees’ (who in turn had usurped power as army generals).

    May I please remind you that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had validated most of these amendments? Would you still hold Supreme Court as the ‘ultimate arbiter’ instead of the constitution that embodies law of the land and not the changed ones which carry the whims of the dictators of the times? And then I had already discussed India, and its Supreme Court’s valiant rejection of any such plans. Do you notice, sir, which paths these two countries, with respect to democracy and civil liberties, have embarked upon?

    All you remembered from comparative international politics perspective was Turkey sir. There is Norway sir, among other countries. I have chosen this name for the involvement it have had in the Sri Lankan peace process.

    All, I would say at the end sir, In the face of a crisis, the best bet a nation has is its intellectuals, honest ones I mean. Honesty, in turn, can never be superfluous; it is always located in the robust critical enquiries the intellectual engage in without fear or favour. With due respect to an academic of your stature, Dr. Dayan, unfortunately, you do not seem to be engaging in this honestly.

    ………………..

    The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

    About the Author:
    Avinash Pandey Samar is a Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com/ PresiDunce Bean
  • Burning_Issue

    Wijayapala,

    Whether his article is meant for the “intellectuals” or not, the fact remains that his message is severely obscured. The article is entitled “Where is the viable alternative political project in Sri Lanka”; I ask; Dr. Dayan as a Political Scientist; one who supported MR in order to defeat VP; one who extended his support believing that MR was the right leader steering Sri Lanka towards a good path, has to say about the current development. What possible reasons that he can give in respect of the President bestowing powers for appointing election commission and Senior Judges?

    Why isn’t Dr. Dayan not part of the “alternative political project”? What contributions has he made so far? Oh yes; he has called for UNP to do away with RW; what else?

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    LUCID CRITICS AND LOONY CRITICS
    – DR DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

    One always prefers the rational to the raving, the literate to the illiterate, and the lucid to the lunatic.

    When it comes to opinions I prefer respected serious scholars to unknown ‘researchers’ or unlettered human rights activists, who seem indistinguishable from each other.

    Here is the diagnosis of the 18th amendment and a prescription, by a distinguished professor of history who is a product of Sorbonne and Oxford. In a highly critical piece on the 18th amendment in the Wall Street Journal of September 17th 2010, Prof Nira Wickramasinghe says:

    “…The fact that academics, lawyers, students and pressure groups took to the streets to protest against the 18th amendment indicates that there is still room for the opposition to maneuver in the interstices of power. The question remains whether, as defenders of the 18th amendment argue, voters will be given a true choice in 2016. This ultimately depends less on Mr. Rajapaksa than on the will of opposition political parties to forge an alternative democratic vision and give leadership to those who believe in it.”

    Prof Wickramasinghe is professor of modern South Asian studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands and the author of several books, including standard works on ethnicity and identity in modern Sri Lankan history. Her sober yet sharp critique is a far cry from the nonsensical nattering of “murder of a nation” ‘death of democracy”, “murder of freedoms” , “Evil” “Nazism” “Eichmann” etc…. and is a model for others.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Burning Issue,

    Not just an ‘ alternative political project’ but a viable one.

    Insofar as I am the first to have pointed out the crisis of the UNP ( ten years ago, in the Weekend express, and since) and far more recently, the need for a viable alternative political project- now independently called for by Prof N Wickramasinghe- I am surely a part of the search for one.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Here’s the way the current political discourse seems to me. In a swimming competition, a swimmer lagging behind accuses the one in front of taking steroids, while ignoring the fact that he is swimming with a weight attached by none other than himself, to his leg. The swimmer who is accused of just having taken steroids (in the form of the 18th amendment) is the incumbent. The match referee (the Supreme Court) has cleared him, but doubts remain. Fair enough– but it is stupid of the swimmer who is drowning, to complain about possible steroid abuse as a reason for failing in the competition, without removing the deadweight that is dragging him to the bottom of the pool! The drowning swimmer is the UNP-led opposition and the deadweight is the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

    When I point that out, I am not merely trying to be fair by the lead swimmer but also to save the drowning one and thereby the entire competition.

    The Opposition accuses Mahinda Rajapakse of attempting to prolong his incumbency. While this may or may not be true—and it usually is of incumbents, unless you are a George Washington or Nelson Mandela – the glaring irony is that there is one person who has prolonged his incumbency without even having been elected or having performed a huge national service by winning a great victory. That person is the leader of the very party and the larger parliamentary Opposition that accuses Mahinda Rajapakse of manoeuvring to remain in office! Rajapakse has been (elected, successful) leader of the country and the SLFP for only a third of the time that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been the (unelected, unsuccessful) leader of the UNP. Many of those who criticise Mahinda Rajapakse on the score of entrenchment, and seek regime change, do not criticise Wickremesinghe and seek regime change in the UNP. I find that in equal parts hypocritical and hilarious.

    The UNP’s leadership survives because it is propped up by an inherited fortune and foreign patronage. Successive governments may love him as an opponent, but it is only Ranil’s leadership and his civil society solidarity committee that provide the anti-Sri Lankan external elements with a Southern partnership.

    Marx once said of Jeremy Bentham that “the incredible flatness of present day bourgeois society is best evidenced by the heights of its greatest intellects”. Luckily he never made the acquaintance of Sri Lankan intelligentsia based at home and in the Diaspora.

    It is unsurprising that the commentariat which echoes Colombo’s chattering classes have so little resonance in the rest of the citizenry, its friends in the Diaspora and its international allies get Sri Lanka so wrong, and the Opposition is so pathetically weak ( thereby leaving incumbent administration has greater political hegemony than its quite considerable popularity warrants). Part of the reason is that they are so blinkered.

    How else could my intervention in the 18th amendment debate be considered a defence of the 18th amendment? I could be reasonably accused of mounting a defence – though not uncritical – of the Sri Lankan state or/and the Mahinda Rajapakse presidency, but a defence of the amendment? C’mon folks, that’s as smart as accusing a medical specialist who provides a dissenting diagnosis and prognosis of a symptom or a malady, of defending the symptom or the malady!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Hey PresiDunce Bean,

    If you so smart my man/lady, why don’t you tell all of us, where and when (meaning which volume of the Collected Works) Lenin actually used the phrase ” useful idiots”? Give us the source, friend.

    Let me guess, you haven’t really read any Lenin , have you? :))

    Congrats! You’ve sure picked the right pseudonym!

  • yapa

    Something good for that “Magazine Reading Scientist” and that “Gossiping Woman” from a distinguished person.

    LUCID CRITICS AND LOONY CRITICS
    – DR DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

    One always prefers the rational to the raving, the literate to the illiterate, and the lucid to the lunatic.

    When it comes to opinions I prefer respected serious scholars to unknown ‘researchers’ or unlettered human rights activists, who seem indistinguishable from each other.

    Thanks!

  • yapa

    sorry! sorry!

    This should have been posted under ” Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Is there a way forward?”.

    I will post it there. Sorry for the inconvenience caused.

    Thanks

  • MG

    DJ,
    “Her sober yet sharp critique is a far cry from the nonsensical nattering of “murder of a nation” ‘death of democracy”, “murder of freedoms” , “Evil” “Nazism” “Eichmann” etc…. and is a model for others.”

    Perhaps. But her sober yet sharp critique is also a far cry from your own nonsensical nattering.

    Perhaps it needs to be said that Gramsci’s organic intellectual does not disrespect the very people he wishes to address and convert to his viewpoint. I mean, how stupid is it to expect people to give a serious listening to what you have to say when you call them “dummies”?

    From where does that need to insult come? Somebody sure of his analysis and theory has no need to harangue and offend people. Such a person’s analysis and argument would speak to and provide a language and clarity to the deep but yet inchoate, unfathomable inner stirrings that his audience already feels. As you say, serious politics would speak to millions of people. Stuart Hall, Gramsci himself, sure didn’t feel any need to insult their addressees. Mister, what I sense here is a desperation—a desperation to get people to engage with ideas that you yourself suspect to be lacking in rigour, viability and political imagination. Perhaps even a desperation that stems from a need to suggest a political solution that would ultimately provide a space for your own participation, for your own glorification?

    Why would someone write of a need for an alternative political project without actually suggesting what that could be—other than to say that it involves displacing a certain political leader of the opposition? The only other clue we have about your idea of an alternative political project is that such an opposition politics would “[reassure] the majority of the electorate about its staunchness on issues of secessionism, terrorism, national security and national sovereignty.” Hmmm, but the current regime remains in power precisely because it reassured its voters on these counts, no? And where has it gotten the people? They got their sovereignty stolen from them, that’s what they got. And you’re suggesting a repetition? Stuart Hall, you’re not. No re-theorisation here.

    Also, did you think we would not notice that you yourself have a history of having played the “politics of appeasement” (not with LTTE but with the Rajapakse regime), which you argue de-legitimises the rhetoric of people such as Sumanthiran and RW? So, why should we listen to you if we are not to listen to them?

    A side note on your assumption that GV forummers use pseudonyms out of fear of death squads sent out by the fascist state. Firstly, this is a reality, and it is a fascist state in the making. Secondly, fear is not the only reason people use pseudonyms. Pseudonyms also allow one to write in a space of freedom, freedom from having to subscribe to a certain intellectual position determined by one’s position in society and the expectations others have of the role you SHOULD play, i.e. one can write from a position of truthfulness to oneself as an individual or citizen. Pseudonyms also allow for forummers to be received as equals where your view is evaluated in terms of WHAT you say and not WHO YOU ARE. There are many people here who are not society’s intellectuals, but some of them do make more sense than those who write AS society’s intellectuals, brandishing all their futile academic credentials. Are some of the harsh things said about you any less ‘true’ just because somebody didn’t sign their name to it? Doesn’t its value lie in WHAT exactly was said? Refute it if you want (or not), but don’t claim that the use of a pseudonym makes what is said automatically untrue.

  • Agnos

    “How do we change this attitude?” This will require a two-pronged approach

     1) Bottom up–relentless education at the grassroots level

    2)  Top down– the educated people need to make a principled stand.  It means steadfastly shunning university professors, newspaper editors and so-called ‘thought leaders’ who are so outrageously unprincipled— people like G.L. Peiris, Rajiva Wijesinha and DJ. The latter’s association with Premadasa and MR has made him unworthy of participation in any serious intellectual discourse.  I would argue that the media, including Groundviews, should shun these people. You cannot build a principled society at the grass roots level when that society has already accepted utterly unprincipled people as its ‘thought leaders.’   

     I can understand voters supporting Rajapaksa against Fonseka and  a UNP in disarray. But I can’t understand why they cannot publicly agitate when, say, Rajapaksa reneges on his promises (didn’t Mahinda Chinthana  say that the executive presidency would be abolished?) or when other politicians they voted for cross over within just a few weeks of being elected, showing contempt for the voters?  Is it rational to tell a politician: “Hey, I will vote for you so that you can ignore your platform; go steal the treasury; go indulge in corruption and use blandishment and threats to make other MPs cross over to your side; I will still support you.” ?

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dayan, while this article has its value (RWs continued presence means no amount of repetition is out of place), it would be more useful if you commented on the following.

    1. An analysis of how on earth RW remains entrenched in power despite his glaringly obvious lack of popular appeal? How is he manoeuvring through the political landscape to accomplish this mind-boggling feat?

    2. Your views on the 18th amendment and what the long-term implications are. This was actually the article we were expecting from you, not a recapitulation of the point you’ve been making repeatedly about the bankrupt opposition.

  • anonymous

    Dear UI

    Doesn’t really matter whether Lening used the phrase ot not. It is a good one. For you.

    Stay useful!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    MG, the people I address as ‘ dummies’ are NOT the ones who would be addressed by Gramsci’s organic intellectual. They are the ‘inorganic cosmopolitans’ that Gramsci warned against! This goes for you too , given what you’ve said here: ” Hmmm, but the current regime remains in power precisely because it reassured its voters on these counts, no? And where has it gotten the people? They got their sovereignty stolen from them, that’s what they got.” Try telling that to the masses and winning them over. Any alternative has to reassure them on the score of sovereignty and security, and that there will never be a return to the national humiliation of the RW years, PLUS a viable socioeconomic development which is sensitive to the needs of the have-nots.

    I sound raher different when I address/ed either (i) my fellow diplomats (ii) my peers in the think tank circuit over here and (ii) the Sri Lankan people, on the many occasions I have appeared on TV, with considerable effect on public opinion making, especially when crucial electoral decisions are made.

    As for the alternative political project, I don’t see anyone else having raised that point, so I’m hardly behind the pack! Secondly, the essential prerequisite for that discussion is dumping Ranil, so I don’t have the time to waste in discussiong alternatives until that is done. But out of (Christian) charity, here’s a hint. speaking at the Solis hall , Kotte yesterday, Sajith Premadasa said the following as quoted by the Daily Mirror this morning: “I would take my father the late President R. Premadasa as an example. He is unmatched by anyone in his amazing development programmes that transformed the country.”

    Dear Agnos,

    You say of me that ‘The latter’s association with Premadasa and MR has made him unworthy of participation in any serious intellectual discourse’. I would have thought that association with one leader who defeated the JVP’s Pol Potist insurgency, restored sovereignty by sending off 70,000 Indian troops and kick-started a pro-poor devlopment miracle, and a second leader who eliminated one of the world’s most formidable terrorist armies thereby winning a Thirty Years war, make any political scientist worthy of participation in a serious intellectual discourse. At any rate that’s what the National University of Singapore thought when it invited me to write a book, as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at one of its think tanks, and Simon Fraser Univesity believed when it invited me to be Visiting Chair of International Studies – which invitation I have had to decline due to present commitments :)

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Dear MG,

    oops I forgot. Ask yourself why my own nonsensical nattering on the 18th amendment rated all those paragraphs ( more than any other single quote) in the New York Times story on the subject, written by their Delhi Bureau Chief? You have heard of the NYT haven’t you?

    You are correct when you sense a ‘desperation’. I’ve been writing about RW’s disastrous leadership from 1997, and while the people at large have always rejected him, never making him the country’s leader, the UNP and the opposition still haven’t dumped him, with all the consequences for the country and its prospects. Am I desperate? You betcha! Why aren’t all of you?

    As for a Viable Alternative Political Project, try grasping the points made in the Island editorial of yesterday ( Sept 17):

    “It is not being argued that the Opposition should not protest against 18-A, which gives the government and the President untrammelled powers. It has to keep the government with a steamroller majority under pressure but there is much more it has to do to revitalise itself and be an effective countervailing force, which is a prerequisite for defending democracy. Unless the UNP resolves its leadership crisis urgently; makes a public apology for its attempt to scuttle the war by political means; severs its links with the forces––internal and external––hostile to this country, especially the NGOs sympathetic to the LTTE and trying to run a parallel government; retraces its steps and reaches out to the people at the grassroots, it will not be able to regain public sympathy either to win an election in the foreseeable future or to keep the government in check.”

    Now here’s an outline sketch for a start.

    “UNP parliamentarian Sajith Premadasa who aspires to be the next party leader emphasized last evening that the party should convey the correct message to the electorate through credible messengers for it to emerge victorious at future elections.

    Addressing a meeting organized by the Independent Professionals Forum,

    Mr. Premadasa said though many people cutting across the country had pinned high hopes on him, he did not have any magical power to lead the UNP to victory overnight.

    For it to become a reality, he said, the party’s structure and machinery should be revamped at village and urban level with a vision and mission that appealed to the masses.

    “In this case, the message should be correct. Also, the messenger should be credible,” he said.

    In revitalizing the party at every level, he said he would derive insights from the works of the past leaders while learning lessons from their wrongs.

    “I would take my father the late President R. Premadasa as an example. He is unmatched by anyone in his amazing development programmes that transformed the country.” ( DM)

    Dear Somewhat Disgusted,

    in answer to your question as to how Ranil survives, this is what I wrote in today’s Island:

    “The UNP’s leadership survives because it is propped up by an inherited fortune and foreign patronage. Successive governments may love him as an opponent, but it is only Ranil’s leadership and his civil society solidarity committee that provide the anti-Sri Lankan external elements with a Southern partnership.”

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Dear MG,

    You say “Stuart Hall, you’re not”. True, true, but you see , I have this problem: Having been described in the Journal of Latin American Studies, Cambridge, as “[makes] a profound philosophical argument about morality that is distinct from classical Marxism, liberalism and some forms of post-modernism” and associated with the work of philosopher Alastair MacIntyre; and been bracketed in Radical Philosophy, Monthly Review and the International Journal of Zizek Studies, with Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, I don’t see why I have to be Stuart Hall. For an encore, I’ve just gotta aim higher.

    Dear Agnos,

    You’ve trashed people like G.L. Peiris, Rajiva Wijesinha [and DJ]. the day you can give a lecture, off the cuff, of the sort that GL delivered recently at the prestigious Beijing Institute of International Affairs ( founded by Mao and Chou En Lai) or can debate with or write or speak like Rajiva, you’d be entitled to make such comments without sounding like you’ve got a huge chip on your shoulder.

  • anonymous

    “I would have thought that association with one leader who defeated the JVP’s Pol Potist insurgency, restored sovereignty by sending off 70,000 Indian troops and kick-started a pro-poor devlopment miracle, and a second leader who eliminated one of the world’s most formidable terrorist armies thereby winning a Thirty Years war, make any political scientist worthy of participation in a serious intellectual discourse. ”

    UI,

    You know we can word this differently right? LOL

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Be my guest. Give it your best shot :)

  • ModVoice

    Dayan must be very proud of backing two tyrants, one of which sent tens of thousands of Sinhala youth to attain Nirvana and the other one a Sinhala chauvinist very famous for human rights among many other things.

  • Agnos

     DI, 

    What does being considered for a position by a university, or one’s ability to write or speak, have to do with the claim that the three of you–the Colombo gang–are ‘utterly unprincipled?’  Indeed, your habitual evasion simply proves what I said.

    Do you live in some rarefied world where calling someone ‘unprincipled’ truthfully is ‘trashing’ him?

    Aside: Given my interests in neuroscience, I would like the Colombo gang of GL, RW and DJ to see the renowned scientist, Dr.V.S.Ramachandran, in San Diego and find out if there is any treatment for the deficiency in certain areas of their brains, especially the area responsible for moral judgment, regardless of whatever talent the gang may have, or claims to have.

  • Travelling Academic

    IMHO, Dr Jayatilleka’s analytical skills are exemplary. He is certainly highly knowledgeable in political theory. I have enjoyed reading his articles, have clicked on Wikipedia several times to know what he is talking about, and always ended up a little bit wiser.

    But it is disappointing that he is either unaware of, or chooses to ignore, several useful items of data: (a) the state of mind of the 16 year old bare-footed Tamil kid in the Tiger bunker during the time of the CFA – and that kid’s thoughts of his cousin visiting from Canada wearing flashy trainer shoes; (b) that Jaffna, even today, is full of chicken thieves whose affiliation to the local war-lord disgusts the ordinary civilians there – my uncle told me that if you give chase to catch a Jaffna chicken thief, you have an upper bound of 300 yards to do it in, otherwise he will show his ID and go quickly past the army check point where you will be stopped; (c) what is hinted at in (b) is several orders of magnitude worse in the East; and (d) in the election five years ago, large numbers of ordinary Tamil people wanted to vote for Ranil, against the wishes of VP, and were stopped at gun point from doing so.

    In my line of work, which is not political theory, I build models of observational data — and the law of parsimony is very important. A model is good if it explains data that was not used in building it – its ability to generalize. My observation driven by parsimony is this: The Tiger organization was a machine of war and terror, and did not have the capacity to survive peace. When Ranil dragged that Terror organization into the world of peace, it just collapsed. The only other contribution to winning the war that is of greater significance was that of Kadirkamar. We know this from Prabhakaran’s actions. He hated Ranil and killed people who went to vote for him; he hated Kadirkamar and killed him. On the other hand, rumour has it that Prabhakaran received with thanks (and he had his peculiar ways of returning favours) guns and cash from the two leaders Dr Jayatilleka speaks so highly of. Opportunistic, in the pursuit of greater good, one might argue – but still giving guns and cash to the bad guy. In this model of mine, other contributions to winning the war are only of second order importance.

    Does my model not explain why the government, and its former army chief, behave(d) as though they cannot appreciate the value of, and the developmental opportunities in, post-war Sri Lanka that I so much want to enjoy and be an integral part of?

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    So, lemme get this right. You, the anonymous Agnos, wanna check out ‘deficiency in the area of the brain responsible for moral judgement’…of someone who has been described in a Cambridge University Press publication as making “a profound philosophical argument about morality that is distinct from classical Marxism, liberalism and some forms of post-modernism”.

    Good one :))

  • MG

    DJ,
    Just for the heck of it, I googled your name, and all it turned up was your role as a newsmaker and your journalistic writing, not as an academic. Quite a different scenario when I googled Stuart Hall, who is generally known as a Marxist cultural theorist. Strangely, you don’t feature on course and Ph.D reading lists for cultural theory, unlike Hall, Zizek and Badiou.

    I also looked you up on university databases, and all I got were reviews for your book on Castro. And while one reviewer may have been impressed by your book, another certainly wasn’t.

    You’re at ISEAS, now, right? How come not the more prestigious Asian Research Institute (ARI) or even NUS? Yes, I know, NUS invited you to write a book. But they invited me too, and I didn’t think that ptu me up there with Stuart Hall!

    Now, if you were anyone in the league of Zizek, instead of griping about RW and the opposition, YOU would run as president against the incumbent, as Zizek did, and form the opposition you’re dreaming about.

    Nah, the only way you’re remotely like Zizek is that you marry beautiful women.

  • Agnos

    DJ,

    As is typical of many journalists, including your erstwhile friend Sivaram, you confuse high visibility with “power, knowledge and morality.”

    Since you are more concerned about your ego than truth or principles, I will not post anymore in response to what you say.

    But I want to remind readers here about a few things:
    1. After raving about communism for several decades, Castro has now conceded to a US journalist that the Marxist model hasn’t worked for Cuba.
    2. After being celebrated as ‘The Maestro’ for many years, Alan Greenspan, the former Fed chairman, has done a public Mea Culpa, saying his understanding of economics has been wrong all along (for several decades).
    3. The so-called “Chicago school of economics,” which held sway for a few decades and resulted in many Nobel prizes, stands thoroughly discredited in the aftermath of the financial collapse. Of course nobody is withdrawing those Nobels.

    So when some journalist or academic quotes other incestuous academics from the West about how highly they regard him, be skeptical, very skeptical, and make your own conclusions.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    MG,

    The ISAS is an organic part of the NUS, dummy. Even the address is ISAS, NUS.

    I guess we’ll just have to take your word for it about the invitation to you…since we don’t know your name!!! :))

    Try Google Scholar.

    Oh, by the way, thanks for the last compliment, which is empirically accurate, but what can I do if the bracketing of me with Zizek took place, several times, in a two part essay in two consecutive issues of…wait for it….The International Journal of Zizek Studies? In fact, the entire essay ( reproduced in the Monthly Review0 concludes with a mention of me :)

  • Sohan Fernando

    DJ said:
    Isn’t it interesting that the larger percentage of posts in this discussion, and indeed on GV in general, are, well…pseudonymous?… death squads… ” (etc), and:
    So, lemme get this right. You, the anonymous Agnos, wanna check out ‘deficiency in the area of the brain responsible for moral judgement’…of someone who has been described in a Cambridge University Press publication as …. ” […. etc.]

    Well, just my puny far-lesser-intellectual observations:

    1. About “Isn’t it interesting that “…
    Yes. It causes interesting and very negative realizations about the climate of fear and caution in this country. But I think DJ hasn’t said much here or before about that kind of interestingness? And DJ’s comment seems to suggest that he’s skeptical about the ‘death squads’ and other such stuff etc.? I guess he believes if powerful people fear truths of what you do/say or might do/say, then they’ll simply directly fire you, but they never will fire AT you…?

    But I guess there’s no point in asking him all this… after all, all you others haven’t received much/any straight answers where you’ve queried his stance on many things. (He’s even successfully evaded Agnos’ observation about “…habitual evasion simply proves what I said.” …! I’m guessing DJ actually prefers the DJ-bashing, since it distracts the rest of us from such evasion!)

    2. (By this observation, I’m not implying any agreement — nor disagreement or even “agnosticism “… — towards the “UI” opinion or similar opinions.)

    Unless DJ was showing off alliteration skills (learned in LK or HK or London?), I see no relevance in his point about “anonymous Agnos”. I mean, as others have asked above too, how does Agnos’ anonymity change the validity (or invalidity or anything in between) of what Agnos said?! Did HK and London teach Logic (and aside: did G.L. etc. also learn there!)?

    About anonymity: seems to me that Agnos and many other commenters are quite sensible to stay anonymous online. It shows LACK of deficiency in their brains. (OK, I agree there’s NO fear of nasty repercussions against some of you all’s DJ-bashing comments here; but in many other things anonymity could be a good idea and it doesn’t – or shouldn’t — require an LLM to know that). Of course, such commenters would NOT need any such anonymity at all, IF their writings and comments were, like a certain OTHER person, usually toeing the regime’s line at least to a large extent at least by the means of avoiding and evading making unambiguous (and simple) concrete statements about the atrocities of some regime among other things… even when directly asked.

    Luckily for many of us Groundviews readers, they are NOT imitating this certain other person.

    So I’m glad that some anonymous commenters see the sense of usually staying anonymous. Else we’d see some such Useful Non-idiots becoming Unuseful Idiots, if they allowed themselves to get bumped off or disabled! Anonymous And Alive — :-) hey I can alliterate too; woohoo, HK and London here I come!

    3. Re “someone who has been described… profound philosophical argument about morality that is distinct from classical Marxism, liberalism and some forms of post-modernism“…
    Well, seems to me IMHO, the current regime’s morality sure is also “distinct” from all of the above and anything else … So it’d be great to see an equally profound — but unambiguous direct and complete — statement about what DJ thinks about what’s been, and is, happening in our unique corner of the world. Guess we’ll have to wait for DJ’s next degree, for us to read a reply to that.

    4. In the case of many Groundviews articles, I find I get as much useful stuff (“stuff”: if such “godaya” English is permitted on this page!) out of many of the comments, as from the article itself. Regardless of anonymity/pseudonymity/otherwise. But in the case of DJ’s articles, I usually understand the article fully only once commenters have made it clearer,; and I usually get far more out of the comments!

    Which leads to my next observation… Hey you all, don’t get too distracted in DJ-bashing! :-) Philosophical profound treatises are all very well to comment upon, but there are greener philosophical pastures of more concrete stuff aplenty elsewhere on Groundviews. E.g., I’ve been hoping to see anonymous dissections of a certain recent Determination for example, far more useful than DJ-bashing! :-) Hurry up, or DJ might beat you to the punch and comment there first!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    MG, you are one smart cookie and well-informed too.:

    “You’re at ISEAS, now, right? How come not the more prestigious Asian Research Institute (ARI) or even NUS? Yes, I know, NUS invited you to write a book.”

    Nope, I’m at the ISAS, not the ISEAS. ISAS is not only of the NUS, it is actually on-campus? And it was the ISAS/NUS that invited me to write the book which i am writing at the NUS’ ISAS? And the ARI, ISAS and a bunch of regional and area studies think tanks are stacked on top of each other in one block? As for relative prestige and why I’m not at another place, i dunnoman, I’m not that egoistic, after all, my colleagues here include two former Cabinet Minister-scholars ( Dr Chowdhury, fmr Foreign Minister of bangladesh and Jaed Berki, fmr Vice president of the World Bank and fmr Finance Minister of Pakistan) and two Professors Emeritus, Ishtiaq Ahamed and SD Muni. That’s prestigious enough for me.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Sohan Fernando, man, It’s great to read you, and welcome, welcome! Wish I could shake hands. I mean it isn’t everyday I come across ayone who has higher standards than the world’s most prestigious and influential newspaper, the New York Times! You say that I have been evasive about the 18th Amendment, and the New York Times, in its only story about 18A, didn’t seem to think so, which is why they not only quoted me (comparatively) comoprehensively but pretty much gave me the bottom line quote. Please see below.

    To anticipate, if you want my take on 18A in the Sri Lankan media, get off this website and please read me in the mainstream print media: ‘Ten Observations on the 18th Amendment’, ‘Get A grip: 18A in Proportion and Perspective’ and several other pieces ( Sunday lakbima, Sunday Island, Sunday Leader).

    Sri Lanka debates ending presidential term limits

    By Lydia Polgreen | The New York Times
    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Wednesday debated a proposal to remove presidential term limits from the Constitution, paving the way for the popular president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to run for a third term and cement his family’s grip on power.

    Bolstered by winning nearly 60 percent of the vote in the presidential election in January and the near-collapse of the main opposition party, Mr. Rajapaksa is likely to rally enough votes to pass the amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament, analysts said. Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a referendum was not required to make the change.

    The amendment also includes provisions that could prove even more far-reaching by increasing the president’s power to act without oversight, legal experts said.

    It would remove an independent advisory council that the president currently must consult before appointing people to important, nonpartisan posts like Supreme Court judgeships and Sri Lanka’s human rights and electoral commissions. In its place would be a parliamentary council that the president could ignore if it failed to act.

    “It would mean that in the future the president will be in control of many independent institutions,” said Rohan Edrisinha, a Sri Lankan constitutional scholar. “That is going to have a serious impact on justice, human rights, free elections and the future of our democracy.”

    Mr. Rajapaksa was re-elected in January by a wide margin after his government’s decisive May 2009 defeat of the Tamil Tiger insurgency, which had raged for 25 years and defied the efforts of his predecessors. He easily defeated his main opponent, Sarath Fonseka, a former general who had been a close ally but broke with the president. A motley coalition of opposition parties drafted Mr. Fonseka, who had executed the ruthless and highly successful military strategy that defeated the 25-year-old Tamil Tiger insurgency.

    After the election Mr. Fonseka was arrested and court-martialed. The government said he had broken the law by politicking while in uniform and mishandling weapons contracts, but his supporters saw the arrest as evidence that the president was solidifying his grip on power by going after opponents.

    Sri Lanka’s Constitution features a strong executive presidency, and many analysts have argued that a country with such a long history of religious, ethnic and regional strife needs to devolve, not concentrate power. Indeed, Mr. Rajapaksa himself campaigned on promises to give more power to regional governments within Sri Lanka as a way to avoid future conflicts with its Tamil and Muslim minorities.

    Mr. Rajapaksa’s spokesman, Lucien Rajakarunanayake, said that given the president’s popularity and the difficult road ahead in rebuilding the country, it made sense to remove term limits.

    “This is a president who has a huge mandate and has to do a great deal of work to make sure the country moves forward,” he said.

    He dismissed the notion that the abolition of the independent advisory council would make the president more powerful. The previous panel was perpetually deadlocked, he said, and the new body would work more efficiently.

    Dayan Jayatilleka, a diplomat political analyst who was Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United Nations until he was removed in 2009, said that the changes simply formalize the vast enlargement of presidential power that has already take place.

    “It is a constitutionalization of the wartime presidency,” he said.

    But he added that opposition politicians are as much to blame for this expansion of presidential power. The main opposition party, the United National Party, is in shambles, and several of its members have defected to support Mr. Rajapaksa’s amendment. Sri Lanka’s Constitution, written when the country had a strong two-party system, did not envision that the second party would become so weak, Mr. Jayatilleka said.

    “In the past neither party would be sufficiently popular or unpopular to permit constitutional change,” he said. “Clearly that has changed.”

    © The New York Times

  • MG

    DJ,
    Sure, ISAS is pegged as a university-level institution, together with ARI, but in terms of academic success, ARI is far more developed. Many ARI academic staff hold positions in NUS faculties. They have Ph.D students too.

    ISAS’s own limits are publicly acknowledged by its director himself. In his website address he says, ISAS “wants to become a high-quality research institute…”. Apparently it hasn’t gotten there yet.

    But, hey, such an international luminary such as yourself, a brighter star than Stuart Hall–how come you don’t have a professorial appointment with NUS’ Political Science dept or with their South Asian Studies dept? After all, it’s only no. 34 in global rankings, not even among the top 20 in the world. Seems like your Zizek journal ain’t getting you anywhere.

    I ask again–why don’t you form the opposition you’re dreaming about, instead of whining about RW (which is just such a powerless thing to do)? Why not run for Prez? And if you fail in your bid, you can then be bracketed with Zizek yet again–as an academic who has lost touch with the ground (cos otherwise, he would have been elected, wouldn’t he)?

  • Anon2

    DJ,

    ““The UNP’s leadership survives because it is propped up by an inherited fortune and foreign patronage. Successive governments may love him as an opponent, but it is only Ranil’s leadership and his civil society solidarity committee that provide the anti-Sri Lankan external elements with a Southern partnership.”

    So you dislike his specific foreign patronage. And consider it to be anti-Sri Lankan. Just as Rajapaksa does. So, I guess the current regime would not be altogether hostile to what you’re trying to do here.

  • ordinary lankan

    Most number of posts here – DJ always attracts some kinda following …

    but all this seems pretty much inside the box to me – is there anything original – inspiring – anything new?

    I would humbly like to know

    looks like everyone is treading the well trodden road pretty hard

  • anonymous

    “I would have thought that association with one leader who defeated the JVP’s Pol Potist insurgency, restored sovereignty by sending off 70,000 Indian troops and kick-started a pro-poor devlopment miracle, and a second leader who eliminated one of the world’s most formidable terrorist armies thereby winning a Thirty Years war, make any political scientist worthy of participation in a serious intellectual discourse. ”

    UI,

    You know we can word this differently right? LOL

    “Be my guest. Give it your best shot ”

    So you responded to the name UI (Useful Idiot)!

    Funny man! So much for the three degrees!

  • ordinary lankan

    All that is fine and good – but intellectual arrogance in any form does not help take this debate forward. Please take note of this. point one.

    point two is that pseudonyms (I call this an alternative name) can be used and also abused. the mere use of an alternative name for the purpose of a debate is not only allowed but it is something that can be done skillfully. my own name for example is intended to unify citizens … anonymous writing is a hallowed tradition in the east –

    point three is that having ideas does not mean you have the answers to our predicament. the answer has already been provided by each one of us in the way we LIVE. look there and you will find the uniquely individual way we are responding to the challenge.

    the personal – internal and spiritual side is completely forgotten – compare India and SL and this is the difference – there is no spirituality – it is zero – and as a result there is no spiritual backbone

    so that Dr Dayan is where I suggest we look

  • ordinary lankan

    LOOK WHO IS TALKING!

    Beauty comes with fragility
    Strength comes with ugliness
    Knowledge comes with acquisition
    Wisdom comes with letting go

    Here in sunny Sri Lanka
    We have plenty knowledge
    No wisdom
    Human voice drowned
    Amidst the booming voice of ego

    Posturing, preening and looking in the (daily) mirror
    My heart lights up
    To see my name in print and colour

    The powerful
    Have lost their voices
    To the seduction of ego

    Egoistic communication
    Keeps advancing delusion
    Only human communication
    Advances all humanity

    You are all
    Beautiful – strong and knowledgeable
    And you can become wise
    But not by carrying all this heavy stuff

    My friends your given names
    Are all pseudonyms
    You have no names

    Find your true name
    I have found mine

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    “The timeline… reflects both the genesis of the heinous 18th Amendment and also the occasions mainstream press reported that the President attended / “visited” Parliament.

    It was no easy task to compile this. Only a handful ordinary citizens would have the expertise to search for this information online, or elsewhere. There is no easy record retrieval of the President’s attendance in Parliament on its official website. But what is immediately obvious when the scattered media reports are taken as a whole is that the 18th Amendment has in no way at all contributed to a more accountable Executive. ”

    Excerpt from ‘Months after the 18th Amendment: Is the Executive really more accountable to Parliament?’, http://groundviews.org/2011/06/11/months-after-the-18th-amendment-is-the-executive-really-more-accountable-to-parliament/