Uva Provincial Council Member of the JVP Samantha Vidyaratne shares his thoughts on future politics of his party and the struggle spearheaded by it.
Q You raised a lot of noise against the Uma Oya project. You, in fact, fielded a separate independent group representing the affected people to contest the local Government elections. It failed. Now, you are quite silent on the project. Why is that?
It is a project with disastrous consequences on multiple fronts once implemented. Now, there are some structural changes introduced in the execution of the project. There is a mechanism to give relief to the affected people. We carried out protest rallies at grassroots level. We brought the struggle to the notice of the President. We took legal action. We got the project suspended on three different occasions. Of course, we wanted the Government to terminate the project. It could not be done, though. But, we forced the Government to take measures for the mitigation of damage caused in the execution of the project. Based on advice from the Norwegian expert whom the Government consulted, they altered the route of the underground canal. Plastering on the canal wall was also altered. There are certain changes to machinery used in dredging the tunnel. Machinery is changed in keeping with the soil condition. They have slowed the pace of construction. With the introduction of the latest technology, damage has been minimized. This is a project that violates human rights. People were denied access to drinking water, their livelihood.
Those who took the lead in the people’s struggle were fielded for the elections as an independent group. They did not succeed. People again got carried away by traditional political rhetoric. Those who led the struggle are now scattered a bit. Some are with us. It is a bit difficult for us to unite them all. At one point, people will be forced to team up with us again.
This is a project that spells doom. Further doom will fall once the project is completed.
Q The JVP which you represent suffered a setback all over the country at the last elections. What is the reason?
Instead of calling it a setback, I would say the JVP could not perform to the extent expected by all including us. We also expected a better performance than this. Society also did the same. Yet, we did not reach the expected level at the election. People’s political decisions are shaped by the prevailing circumstances. It does not happen in the way we think only. Our people’s literacy rate is good. Yet, we are still poor at political wisdom. Those who advocate racism can still make headway in politics. It is easy to capture power by cashing in on religious and racial sentiments of people. That is backward thinking. So, it is an arduous task for us to reach our political targets.
We will tie up with anyone accepting these policies. We want citizens to join us. Suppose, there is an intellectual working for Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa
Q In our country, we see some parties driven by populism and adaptable to public sentiments. There are some other political forces trying to stick to their ideologies without adaptation to public sentiments. What does your party advocate?
Our society has a specific need. We are driven by it.
Q What is that need in your view?
You referred to two matters. One is politics based on populism. The other is to convince people to embrace the ideologies followed by the party concerned. In our case, we have a vision to be achieved. We want to lead society in that direction. We do not believe in giving inducements for vote catching. We have our own vision on economy, environment and communal harmony. We have painted our vision and translated it into policies. Today, the country pays dearly for following popular politics since Independence. The economy is in ruins. Racism and religious fanaticism have raised their head. Moral values of people have eroded. We need to work out a mechanism that can find solutions to all these social and economic ills.
The traditional political party system cannot address it. There are people who love and care for the country. May be they are not affiliated to any party. During the last elections, we witnessed how some civil society movements became so influential even challenging the status of political parties. In addition to the political parties, these civil forces played a pivotal role in unseating the Rajapaksa rule. We believe that such forces have a role to play in building the country. Casting aside traditional politics, we thought of forming a broad front that comprised such personage. We need to include those who are honest, dignified and anti-corrupt. That is the path for us.
Q Are you referring to the civil society organizations such as the National Movement for Social Justice that campaigned for good governance at the last 2015 Presidential Election?
There are civil persons and organizations having links with the political parties. We do not intend to tie up with them. We will formulate policies. We will tie up with anyone accepting these policies. We want citizens to join us. Suppose, there is an intellectual working for Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa. If he is ready to join us accepting our policies, we will welcome him.
QThe JVP cherished certain policies since its inception in 1956. But, the JVP still occupies a distant third position in national and local politics. How do you intend to change the long- standing policies of the party in the new political journey?
Only the media have ranked the political forces in this manner. According to our interpretation, there are only two forces. The United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), in our view, are on the same footing when it comes to their economic policies.
They use racism and religious fanaticism as and when required for their political ends. They represent the capitalist class. We, in the left, are the only alternative force. In that sense, there are two political camps in the country. The world is also going through a crisis. Capitalism has no solution to people’s issues. There are acute problems in the world.
People are warring against each other. There are multinational companies exploiting people. The drug menace is out of control. It means the world is in a quandary being unable to solve problems. The present system has caused enormous damage to the environment. We need an alternative.
That is a system ensuring equality to all mankind and meting out justice to all beings. Capitalism cannot find solutions to it. We advocate socialism
Q Does it mean that the JVP still believes in Socialism as the only means?
Yes, it is clear. We need to change the social system. Yet, there is a global reality today. Taking it into account only, we can proceed. So, we cannot look back to the 1917 communist model, Chinese system, Cuban model etc. Ours is not like that.
We need social revolution that is in line with the current global trends and needs. That is a system ensuring equality to all mankind and meting out justice to all beings. Capitalism cannot find solutions to it. We advocate socialism.
Q Is the proposed JVP-led front capable of achieving it?
There are social ills. We need to evolve a system that can cure all these ills permanently. For that to happen, we have to win over people. We need to do what is best at this juncture. The formation of this front is one such step forward.
Q In Capitalism, there is market-driven manufacturing. Yet, in Socialism, it is driven by social needs, not profit. Today, only the market–driven model is followed all over the world. What is the policy of your political front that is in the making?
We are working out our policies at the moment. It is not appropriate for me to spell out the policies now. It is in the process. Society needs to move forward. It cannot remain stagnant. We need scientific innovation. Innovation in the world today is not used solely for the common good of people. Though it is said that everything is done to keep society happy, it is not the case. Society is not happy as a whole eventually. May be, people enjoy the luxury of having quality garments, vehicles etc. But, most people are not happy.
The world is also going through a crisis. Capitalism has no solution to people’s issues. There are acute problems in the world
Q Your party has moved to introduce the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. How is it linked with the policies of the new political front?
If we form a Government, the present constitution will undergo drastic changes. Yet, the 20th Amendment is today’s requirement. A total revision of the constitution is impossible now. We brought the 20th Amendment to change a system that is sine-qua-non in today’s context. All the past leaders pledged to abolish the executive
Q There is criticism that the JVP is doing this at the behest of the UNP. What is your response?
We have to ask as to why these critics are opposed to the 20th Amendment. If they criticize us as being the cat’s paw of the UNP in this regard, they virtually admit that the UNP would come to power next time. We do not believe in it, though. In 1994, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga promised to abolish the Executive Presidency. Did she act in favour of the UNP then?
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also did the same in 2005. Does it mean that Mr Rajapaksa wanted to do a favour for the UNP? These critics see the 20th Amendment as a barrier for a person in their mind to become the President. They pin hopes on someone to become the President. As things stand at the moment, those who are in the Rajapaksa camp are opposed to their dream President.
Q Yet, it became obvious that the JVP acted in the interests of the UNP in the enactment of legislation to postpone the provincial council elections. Actually, the UNP benefited from it finally. How do you respond?
We do not act for the benefits of the UNP or the President. Those who criticize us see us as an impediment to them in upholding their political cause. We are only concerned about the public benefits. There is criticism on the current electoral system. It is a distorted system that enables only moneyed candidates to win elections.
We never intended to postpone elections. In fact, we supported the enactment of that piece of legislation on condition that the electoral system would be changed within the stipulated time to conduct polls. The Government only broke that promise. Now, we have to struggle for early elections.
Q The political complexion of the JVP was nationalism at one time. The JVP stood for the development of local industries. The party also agitated against foreign interference. Also, the JVP played a role in the war against separatism. Now, there is a school of thought that the JVP is heading for neo-liberal policies. What is your view?
There is an attempt to create a public opinion to that effect in some circles. The JVP has not deviated from its founding ideals.We strive for Socialism. Yet, we have to take into account the present ground realities in pursuing our target. Unless we adapt ourselves to the changing circumstances, we will become a political force that is extinct.
They use racism and religious fanaticism as and when required for their political ends. They represent the capitalist class. We, in the left, are the only alternative force. In that sense, there are two political camps in the country
Q What about nationalism you once advocated?
When armed separatism was at its height, we appeared to be a force of nationalism in clear-cut terms. We had to take certain action as the situation demanded. We eliminated terrorism.
Now, we have to win over people in the north. We indulged in the anti-imperialist struggle. We do it even today. Nationalism is raising its head globally. We foresaw this trend. At one point, the world will be globalized under a communist system in the future.
Q There is an allegation that your leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has become a stooge of the UNP. What is your view?
All our past leaders faced such criticism. We have not become the cat’s paw of any political party. The group that criticizes us in this regard has links with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena. That is to cover up their cases.