In a Sea of Red (JVP Rally: 01 Nov 2018)

jvp
Taken from Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s official Facebook page.

I made some quick and immediate reflections after the large UNP rally last Tuesday the 30th of October. I attended the JVP meeting at the Nugegoda supermarket last Thursday, the 1st of November, and wanted to do the same.

  • It was well-attended; an organic turn-out only (no people ‘brought in’ for this meeting) so I am guessing it was mostly people from around Colombo and the suburbs. No drunkenness. No violence of any kind. (And this is, as far as I know, normal for JVP gatherings). A lot of men, but a fair number of women, and children as well. I felt completely safe. A lot of old comrades greeting each other. A charged atmosphere, a largely focused crowd.

 

  • The whole thing was webcast LIVE onto Facebook (on Anura Kumara’s page, you can check it out.)

 

  • There were not nearly as many people I knew (from Colombo) in attendance; ‘no middle-class section’ my friend joked.

 

  • Many people took the stage for the JVP as a show of public support for the party — not all spoke. This included academics, artists, journalists, lawyers, activists and some JVP political leaders. This included women and members of minorities (ethnic and otherwise). Though of course we can always do better on that!

 

  • There were (I believe) 10 speeches in all, including Anura Kumara. A few speakers, including Saroja Paulraj and Waradas Thyagarajah spoke in Tamil and Sinhala. A majority of the speeches were in Sinhala. Among the 10 speakers I believe two were women. Saroja Paulraj was excellent. Some of the other speakers were Dr Vijitha Rohana, Munir Munfer (from the Thihar Ibrahim Masjid), Dileepa Witharana, Lalkantha and Jagath Manuwarna.

 

  • The speeches: many framed the current crisis as a failure of the system of two ruling parties. Latest turn of events was framed as the ‘power gamble of MR, MS and RW’. Emphasis on needing to build a people’s movement for justice and democracy and JVP taking leadership on this, building an inclusive platform.

 

  • Most of the content of the speeches was substantive — there were some attempts at humour though, which were done through a more predictable ‘political’ standard, a good bit of mockery and mud-slinging aimed at the MR – MS – RW trio.

 

  • One speaker located the breakdown of democracy historically in Sri Lanka reminding us that this was not the ‘first time’ that democracy has been eroded like this; he also said that the JVP as a party and a movement along with ‘the people of the North’ have paid the most, everytime democracy has broken down in Sri Lanka.

 

  • A few of the speeches appealed to those gathered there to also be reflective about our own responsibilities as voters and how we ourselves as citizens could do better to radically transform the rotten political systems and culture of this country; how we could be less self-serving, more broad-minded etc.

 

  • They detailed the ways in which the corrupt, powerful two-party political system of UNP/SLFP has failed us so badly, how the ruling parties have both forgotten about the working class, the marginalized, the poor of this country and have only served their own interests.

 

  • One speech highlighted the absolute importance of abolishing the executive presidency, reminding us of the enormous mobilization around this issue in 2014/2015, and how the government came in on this promise.

 

  • Gender was only mentioned once, and class did not get explicitly mentioned. There was of course many references to poverty; there could have been a stronger analysis of current government’s economic policies which have precipitated poverty in this country.

 

  • The government’s bond-scam scandal was mentioned, but for example, no one really talked about their corrosive ‘development’ policies which have affected the lives and livelihoods of so many.

 

  • Ethnic conflicts were not mentioned substantively at all and I feel this was a major failing. Nor was this government’s failure to deliver on devolution or any genuine people-centric transitional justice mechanisms. Anti-Muslim violence and hatred was raised by Munir Munfer but could have been more substantively commented on.

 

  • Several other things which I believe the JVP could be leveraging now but didn’t: the erosion of people’s faith in government-sanctioned ‘reconciliation’ plans and the increasing militarization of this country; the JVP in its initial days if I am correct was founded on the basis of being anti-military / against the hegemonic military state. It would be great to hear a strong political critique of militarization.

 

  • Also they need a vocal position on the government’s complete negligence of people’s struggle to reclaim their land in the North and North East, and their continuing demands for justice around the issue of disappearances.

 

  • Finally, what would be integral to deepening and broadening their support base is if they openly acknowledge their own bloody history and their own problematic past; JVP’s support of the civil war, its past tendencies to lean towards nationalism and racism and its own history of a politics of exclusion which led it to become a party that for many years was considered dominantly male and dominantly Sinhala-Buddhist. And of course its own history of brutality towards dissenters.

 

  • This would not only be good for the evolution of its platform and its politics now internally, it would also set it apart from the two ruling parties, if they are willing to be reflective and thoughtful and to prove to us they are more than merely opportunistic.

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