The Sunday Leader

Of Revolution And Counter Revolution

By N Sathiya Moorthy

At the end of the day, the ‘ruling’ UNP-led ‘United National Front for Good Governance’ (UNFGG) is seeking to convince the voter that the August 17, parliamentary polls are only the forgotten continuation of the presidential elections held on January eight last.

By deeming so, they hope to keep former President Mahinda Rajapaksa near-permanently out of power, at least during the short and the medium terms, with talks about his inevitable ‘dis-enfranchisement’ doing the rounds already.

There is also no denying that the UNFGG is seeking a mandate to continue with the ‘good governance’ work that they (?) had initiated under the 100-day programme, with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the helm.

By declaring that he would not make Rajapaksa the prime minister even if their(?) SLFP-UPFA got a parliamentary majority, President Sirisena too has sent out a clear message that he is all for the continuance of status quo, and not the restoration of status quo ante, circa 2014, in any form.

It may be untenable for the President of the nation giving the impression that he was hunting with the hound and running with the hare, all the same.

However, his declaration to stay away from poll campaign is a healthy precedent in other respects. Whoever comes to ‘power’, post-poll, it should be institutionalised, to distance the high office of the nation’s President from any blatantly political role, like leading a political party or alliance.

He is the President of the Sri Lankan nation, Head of the Sri Lankan State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The highest office in the land, elected still through a nation-wide poll, cannot be reduced to the status of a street-corner group, where alone partisanship of any kind could be condoned, if at all.

Worse still, an Executive President in the Sri Lankan context derives his presidential powers from the people but draws his ‘executive’ authority from the party that he or she has been controlling with an iron grip since the institution was created close to four decades ago. It has suited successors at the helm to continue with hybrid democracy, combining the powers that electoral democracy offers and the authority that only a party-centric mechanism ensures.

The close identification with the by-now evolved pattern of post-Mao, ‘Deng China’ cannot be escaped. China too has a democracy, compared to Mao’s days, the leader gets only 10 years at the helm but once someone is elected, the party takes over.

The tussle between the party and the person continues. To that extent, Sri Lanka has avoided that tussle. This Singapore-model democracy has helped China, yes, on the development front, but not Sri Lanka.


Whither ‘development’!

The SLFP-UPFA seems to have concluded President Rajapaksa was synonymous not only with war and victory but also with ‘development’, particularly in rural Sinhala areas. He also proved that war or no war, development could still work at the grassroots-level.

By implication, Rajapaksa meant that war or no-war, predecessors in office had ignored the villagers by choice, not compulsion. He later extended the mantra but to little electoral effect in the war-torn Tamil areas. There, war remained when there was no war.

If the UPFA is promoting the Rajapaksa name just to communicate to the Sinhala-Buddhist majority voters what all he had stood for through the 10 years of his rule, the UNFGG has now come up with a six-month action plan on ‘cluster villages’, to ensure rural development.

The credit should thus go to the Rajapaksa leadership to put rural development at the heart of the nation’s development plan, which the two centre-left JVP insurgencies could not do in their time.

What does it all mean in electoral terms? Going by presidential poll figures, the UNFGG has to better the rival UPFA in Sinhala villages across the country, and even semi-urban centres that have come out of the shadows under the Rajapaksa regime and for good reasons. It’s this faster urbanisation of rural Sinhala areas that brought with it additional votes to the Sirisena kitty.

To ‘em all, ‘democracy’ seemed to have mattered more than ‘development’. Rajapaksa’s well-tested action-plan of ‘democracy for development’, which read, ‘development without democracy’ to his critics, cut both ways. The model worked with his Sinhala-Buddhist majority voters, so to say, for most parts, as was the case only in the times of his slain UNP rival, Ranasinghe Premadasa. The latter interpretation remained not only attractive to the Tamils, but also found new constituencies in the non-nonsense Muslim community and the non-existing ‘Sinhala Catholics’.

Today, by using clichéd terms like ‘revolution’ and ‘counter-revolution’ to describe what essentially is a personality-driven electoral war, critics of Rajapaksa seems wanting to keep the poll focus exclusively on him. If they have achieved anything by having him voted out as President, they are ready to sacrifice even those achievements, if only it could help them defeat him electorally, a second time, too. Very rarely has such gimmicks produced the desired results.

There is already nothing to suggest that the anti-Rajapaksa camp has been able to cut into the proven 48-per cent vote-share from the presidential polls.

To his burden, it should be said, that Rajapaksa too should prove that he could transfer those very votes – all of them, and more – to his UPFA candidates, all across the ‘Sinhala South’.


Whither TNA?

The Rajapaksa camp has nothing much to fall back upon once the UPFA votes are exhausted. They cannot expect the TNA to back them, post-poll. If however for instance, if they were still to be on the top of the electoral heap, they can instantly expect UNP ‘rebels’ – a term seldom heard over the past year or so – to back them, from ‘inside’ the government rather than outside.

Should they were the ones to fall short of the numbers, the rival UNFGG camp could still hope to count on the ‘TNA seats’ in the North and the East, to give them the numerical edge, post-poll, if that is what it takes to form a ‘post-poll government’. They would rather leave it to friends in and of the TNA to do it for them, but post-poll.

Going to the Tamil people with a ‘Tamil agenda’ could cut both ways. One, they may lose friends in the TNA, which wants to continue monopolising the Tamil politics in the country until the Tamils themselves are tired out. Worse still, it could lose them the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist votes’, going beyond their profession to secularism, equity and equality – terms that are often used to confuse themselves and the other. Only with such a move could the Ranil/UNP leadership hope to achieve some credibility and all the legitimacy that it had lacked at the January induction/inception.

Yet, when the chips were to be down, and devolution comes to be discussed in greater detail, the Tamil concepts of ‘nationalism’ could continue to clash with the Sinhala-Buddhist interpretation of ‘Sri Lankan nationalism’. There is ‘counter-revolution’ of another kind brewing behind and below the pot in the Tamil areas.

As the experience from the post-Premadasa era showed until Chandrika-Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took charge in the Nineties, the Tamils (read: LTTE) used the prevailing confusion and the absence of a strong and credible leadership in Colombo (read: Sinhala South) to spread its military wings to the administrative side in the areas under their control. Thus were born the ‘LTTE judiciary’, ‘LTTE bank’, ‘LTTE postal service’, et al.

Today, the post-war polls of August, 17 merge in itself all elements of what post-war polls should be in the contemporary Sri Lankan context.

To the Sinhala-Buddhist critics of Rajapaksa, it’s ‘revolution’ of their  January eighth  kind versus ‘counter-revolution’ of a kind that they fear is facing the nation on August, 17.

To the Tamils, it’s again a break from the past, a past they say they all want to forget but not forgive. The Sinhala contenders, particularly the anti-Rajapaksa forces, have not included in their political and electoral campaigns any concrete commitment on the ‘ethnic front’.

This could have already triggered fresh hopes in the forces of ‘counter-revolution’ among the Tamils, nearer home and afar among the Diaspora. They would only be happy if the ongoing ‘revolution-counter revolution’ Sinhala discourse contributes to a ‘counter-revolution’ of the Nineties kind in the Tamil areas, too.

As Sri Lankan experience itself has shown, be it in the case of the two JVP insurgencies or the LTTE wars, instability of the non-ethnic, non-class kind has the potential to sustain and revive revolutions and counter-revolutions.

In this case, the Tamil Diaspora war-mongers from the past would also be happier for the success of a ‘counter-revolution’ of the ‘Sinhala kind’, as it would then give them one more chance to tell their global sympathisers and supporters: “We told you so.”

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email:

1 Comment for “Of Revolution And Counter Revolution”

  1. Metteyya Brahmana

    No – the ‘one’ issue is whether a pro-Western, anti-China UNP and their leader Ranil Wickramasinghe are going to continue to run Sri Lanka into the ground on behalf of their neo-colonial masters, or continue the path of extraordinary growth and prosperity under the UPFA and Rajapaksa. The matter wasn’t settled on January 8th because Ranil and the UNP think they are smarter than the Sri Lanka voter and can hind behind election gimmicks like “good governance” and engage in the largest bond fraud in the history of the country, and hide behind front people like Maithripala and Champika to siphon off Buddhist votes to support racial and religious seperate governed territories that would dramatically weaken the country.

    The voter has now awaken and see they were taken for a ride. Good governance has turned into VERY bad governance for six long months with bond fraud, phony ‘independent’ committees of UNP loyalists, FCID politicization of law enforcement, stopping all the Chinese-funded economic development projects that were occurring under Rajapaksa, and pivoting to a new alignment with the neo-colonists of the West who only want to subjugate Sri Lanka for their own “white people are destined to rule the world” purposes.

    And Maithripala has been reduced to a mere figurehead in Ranil’s quest for more power, in which Ranil shifted all the executive power from the president to himself through control of the cabinet without even asking permission from the Sri Lankan voter. Maithripala doesn’t even have the power to get Ranil to fire the Central Bank Governor even though he specifically requested that Ranil do just that, so referring to the Sri Lankan government as the “Sirisena regime” is an outrageous lie. The current government is a Ranil/UNP-led regime that has not been endorsed by the Sri Lankan voters.

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