Colombo, Politics and Governance

Weerawansa Disrobed or the Birth of a Sinhala Karuna

Wimal Weerawansa

Image courtesy JVP website

Some priests in ascetic orders who indulge in carnal pleasures, though not very often, do get excommunicated. A prominent catholic priest of high rank in Europe who had allegedly abused a child some twenty years ago was disrobed recently, when the affected party unearthed that case. There are some Buddhist monks too who are not virtuous, but there is no effective mechanism to disrobe them. What happens often is that the person in question himself voluntarily quits the temple. Though they are frowned upon by society as Heeraluvas I esteem them for their courage and honesty in leaving a place where they don’t fit in anymore.

In a certain sense, Peoples Liberation Front (JVP) also is a secular sect, akin to a pious religious order, with ascetic pretensions. Presumed canon of this pseudo order is Marxism. Since the Buddhist religious order could survive with basic precepts of even simple religious virtues being breached rather than followed in any serious manner, there is no reason why a secular party like JVP could not maintain its integrity without the help of rigid Marxist Commandments.

Listening to the emotional speech made by Wimal Weerawansa in the Parliament with regard to the suspension of his membership by the JVP, what came to my mind was the long list of former members who, either sacked or having voluntarily left the party since the 1960s, have consequently narrated the same emotional stories of services rendered and immense sacrifices they had made for the well-being of the party in the past. Ingratitude and the cruel treatment by the party stalwarts towards these aggrieved members were sensationally highlighted, just as Weerawansa did today, though none of these pleadings could stall their being branded as traitors. The paradox of this sinister process was that these same people when they wielded power in the party never hesitated to stick the same label on their predecessors who failed to tow the party line. In fact, punishment with a mere label of a ‘traitor’ (at most, confiscating their vehicles or mobile phones) is mild in comparison to the practice of meting out justice for the same offence, i.e. betraying the party, in other parts of the world, especially when the party was in power, like condemning to the Guillotine or banishing to Siberia for life, or worse, beheading with a snow axe by an agent of the all powerful party.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe broke the LTTE into two whereas the incumbent President, as events start straightening out now, would manage to split the JVP into more than two. The circumstances under which these splits took place in these two political movements are diametrically opposed to each other with the LTTE (a military outfit) having to witness its breakup in times of peace and the JVP (a democratic party) facing its time of reckoning during intense war. This distinction, I think, is important, for it sheds light on the different roots and characteristics of the two movements.

JVP has never been a Marxist movement in the strict sense of the word. From its very inception it tended to arm itself with the cosmetics of Marxism as a façade without truly relating to productive process of labour in any meaningful way, thereby lacking social substance. It is true that the present context of the modern developed world doesn’t leave much space to successfully operate on each and every tenet of Marxism for any political party, if it is to survive as a practical alternative to capitalist political option. Modern working classes of the developed world, for instance cannot be properly perceived by the classical Marxist theory of labour. The very development achieved through capitalism has transformed the worker in a way that could not possibly have been imagined a few decades back. He is no longer a wretched slave who had to toil 16 hours a day for a pittance with no protection from a social network based on solid labour rights and a strong code of universal human rights. Just as the nature of labour, the configuration of capital too has taken a turn in a dramatic way. Therefore, the JVP not adhering to some outdated dogmatic tenets of classical Marxism can hardly said to be committing a grave offence.

Yet, amongst all these historical changes there remains like an age old truth in Marxism, a rock that withstands all challenges posed by capitalist development, which is humanism. This humanist perspective of Marxism, under no circumstances, can be changed or reformed. The Marxist stand vis-à-vis racism belongs to this sphere. During both World Wars the world Marxist movement split up over this matter. But true Marxism was uncompromising even at the risk of being washed away by the populist and patriotic sentiments that swept through whole continents one after another. Even Lanka Samasamaja Party, the pioneering Marxist movement of Sri Lanka split up over this issue during the Second World War. If there is a near absolute principle in the humanistic project of Marxism, it is nothing but Anti-racism.

Yet, JVP from the very beginning was vacillating, under various pretexts, on this cardinal issue. This ambiguity could conveniently dwell in the backward social milieu with no friction coming into the fore. Even Buddhism that has no room for race or caste has become ‘Sinhala’ in Sri Lanka. It is in this backdrop that the JVP, mildly anti-Indian in the 70s (tirades against Indian expansionism) transforms itself into a fully-fledged Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic force by the 80s in the face of a civil war thrust upon it by an oppressed ethnic minority. While claiming to be anti-racist as a face saving maneuver, it went on to label the armed struggle of the oppressed minority as a form of pure terrorism and a fascism by extension, so that they, the JVP could keep their Marxist mask while battling tooth and nail against the aspirations of the oppressed minority. This is why we always distinguish between Champika Ranawaka’s anti-terrorism, which is genuine in the sense that he never tries to hide his anti-minority racial sentiments and the JVP’s anti-terrorism which is nothing but anti-minority chauvinism.

There is a certain distance one can go with his feet on two parallel but opposite tracks, one on Marxism and the other on nationalism. As the war intensifies the width between these two tracks tends to become wider and wider making it difficult to keep on going with each foot on a different track. The JVP as a party which was as steadfast as Wimal Weerawansa, the individual, in being patriotic during the peace time and during the first phase of the present war, is now trying to restrain that individual’s patriotic enthusiasm, as the repercussions of the brutal war starts filtering through all crevices of society, in various forms of suppression, finally endangering the party’s own grip on the Sinhala petty bourgeois strata. Alas, by this time Wimal Weerawansa, leaving behind the ambiguity of his party has gone such a long way with his romance of patriotism that no shackle would be strong enough to stop him now. When the party gathers courage to disrobe him now by suspending his party membership, he has got the courage to fight back, exposing the very contradiction the party has been sponsoring all along.  

As we see this, the basic fault lies not with Wimal Weerawansa’s individual behavior (tainted with greed and opportunism, of course) but with the backward puerile ideology of a party that purports to be Marxist. When one clamours for war as a solution to an ethnic problem he should be ready and have the courage to accept all woes that go together with any war in general and civil war in particular. A party that hollered for war even when peace prevailed should be frank enough to face the bitter repercussions now that the war rages in its full swing. Tightening belts for workers, deep resentment of housewives, erosion of all democratic norms, abductions, killings, intimidations, suppression of media freedom, Fascist tendencies of all hues, in short, militarization of the whole society not only in its mundane life but also in its thinking too, are part and parcel of war. In times of peace, one can have his cake and eat it, that is, he can keep his Marxist pretensions while being a mild nationalist, but in times of violent conflict, the necessities to prop up war efforts make it impossible to keep the healthy ratio between the two at a sustainable level.

Weerawansa who has cultivated during the last couple of years the habit of living in “Ramya, Suramya, Subha’ amongst the most prosperous ruling elite Sri Lanka has ever seen since its Independence, can hardly be expected to come to the old fold again (where even his wife has no freedom to taste the fruits of nouveau riche) even if the party clears him of all charges tomorrow. His puerile wailing over Sigiriya and Sri Pada, opportunities allegedly missed for the sake of the party (notwithstanding the pleasure opportunities abundantly made available by the same party for him to enjoy the splendor of Paris, London, Tokyo etc; at the cost of fifty thousand souls laid to rest in the latter part of the 80s) speaks volumes for the future of a Sinhala Karuna Amman.

Just one difference: Weerawansa has no burden of conscience as Karuna had, for Karuna as a Tamil had the misfortune to toil for the majority only to be discarded once the service is rendered. Weerawansa, a born racist, happily serving the cause of his own racial prejudices, would never feel like a fish out of water.


Editors note: Also see videos on the JVP split and the opinions of those who were part of the 1971 JVP insurrection here.