Rajapaksa popularity is a farce, says JVP’s Bimal | Sunday Observer

Rajapaksa popularity is a farce, says JVP’s Bimal

JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake was a vocal critic of the October 26 anti-constitutional power grab that installed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, insisting that once the coup was defeated, memory of it must be wiped out from the national psyche by educating the people about the danger it posed to the country’s democratic health. Post-crisis, Ratnayake remains convinced that legislation is necessary to investigate the economic, social and political damage caused by the crisis and take punitive action, vowing that the JVP will intervene in this regard by bringing changes to the Commissions of Inquiry Act

Following are excerpts of Bimal Ratnayake’s interview with the Sunday Observer this week

Q: The JVP was at the forefront in the battle against what it called a ‘political coup’ for two months. Do you think the outcome was worth it?

A: At the time our fight was to stop the destruction of democracy and protect it. The battle we embarked on was to only reach that end. I count it as a battle won as we were able to politically defeat our opponents.

However, the reappointment of the United National Party (UNP) Government was a result of the people’s mandate that brought them into power in 2015. Adhering to the people’s mandate we must allow those chosen, to govern. However, if the chosen rulers continue to take incorrect decisions the blame falls on its leaders and the public who voted them in.

Our fight was to merely stop the country’s leaders from destroying what was left of democracy in Sri Lanka. Having achieved that we are happy with the result.

Q: During this political struggle Rajapaksa loyalists continuously accused the JVP of being the cat’s paw of the UNP. Do you think the JVP rank and file understood the reasons the party took this stance?

A: At first, the members were not able to understand as the event that took place was in a conspiratory manner. Another reason was the black media ring surrounding the Rajapaksas, state as well as private which carried out large scale pro-Rajapaksa propaganda. Therefore, it took time for us to provide them with the correct information. But within a month we were able to inform and discuss in detail with our members on the steps we had decided to take.

Sceptics were placated following the Supreme Court decision which proved that the JVP decision to defeat this political coup was correct. This was also supported by the fact that various countries did not accept Rajapaksa’s premiership while local political parties also supported the JVP stance.

As for being labelled UNP sympathisers, our party is not one that takes decisions based on criticisms or comments made by either friend or foe. The JVP has a collective leadership where we only take decisions following discussions with the central committee and party membership.

Q: Rajapaksa is still a popular political figure in the country. Why do you think the people decided to rise up against him in this instance?

A: Rajapaksa’s persona is built through advertising. If not for the media outlets that support him, Rajapaksa would not exist in the political arena today. His popularity is a mere farce, artificially created by his business and media loyalists.

The truth is that the number of his supporters, his popularity and his political campaign has not increased since 2015. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) made up of Rajapaksa loyalists appeared to win at the local government elections only because the SLFP leaders had made way for the Rajapaksas’ election campaign.

Despite claims of receiving 4,000,000 votes, we did not see even 400 000 people take to the streets demanding that he remain as Prime Minister. On the other hand, we saw large numbers of common people including mothers, female activists and even progressive media personnel calling for his removal. Rajapaksa can never win an election again. He is a decaying concept in the minds of the people.

Q: Despite what seemed like the ascent of Rajapaksa back into power, the people, activists and political parties fearlessly resisted him. Why do you think this happened?

A: I think the people were irked by the ugliness of it all. Our society is a garbage mound full of lies, corruption and political idol worship. But even a society that has so decayed, it was not able to stand this politically immoral situation.

Rajapaksa was defeated on January 8, 2015, through a political struggle that began years before. The people who supported this struggle by voting him out were left feeling like their mandate was betrayed.That is where I believe they found their courage to rise against this. As the JVP, we assured the people we will defeat this conspiracy which may have also contributed to them taking this fight to the streets fearlessly.

Q: People appear to be wary of both main political parties. Is this an opportunity for the JVP to capitalise on?

A: Over the years while the popularity of both parties declined the JVP was not able to utilise this political disillusionment of the people in our favour due to the war. Till 2009 the faults of both parties were covered up by the country’s war effort. As the smokes of war have settled the people are able to take a closer look at their rulers.

In the following decade, it has become clear that neither party can socio-economically take Sri Lanka forward. A more favourable situation has been created for the JVP as not only progressive individuals but those seeking to protect democracy are attracted to us.

As a result in 2019 we hope to create a common platform bringing together the party and academics which will gather more support for the JVP. We are not discouraged as we believe the people will eventually find their way to us.

Q: Making a powerful speech in Parliament during the coup you said its memory should be erased from not only our minds but genes as well while proposing that the Commissionsof Inquiry Act must be amended to investigate the incident. How will your party see to this?

A: As a country, this is where we are unfortunate. Sri Lanka had many times where we saw its people join hands together, such as, at the end of the war in 2009 only to be divided and destroyed by the politicians and their agendas. However, yet again the people stepped up to defeat this conspiracy and showed their strength despite the power, money and media support of the Rajapaksa camp. Therefore, we must make the people understand and educate them that this grab of power by him was wrong and make them aware of the dangerous situation we were eventually saved from. It is the duty of the Government.

But the current Government clearly has no plans to do so. Sadly, what is seen now is a group of politicians satisfied that they are in power while educating the masses on the ills of the political coup have been left at the wayside.

The JVP does not have the power to carry out this massive task which needs the support of a government mechanism. As MPs if we propose an Act it will take many years to come to fruition. Therefore, it is up to the Government to bring it about. Barring the MPs involved in the ‘chilli powder’ clash in Parliament from attending its sessions for two weeks is not an acceptable solution. Every person who is part of this coup, including Rajapaksa and his media stooges, have once again shamelessly shown their faces in public and in Parliament. This is a dangerous precedent.

Therefore, we must look into the economic, social and political damage caused and take punitive action against each and publicise. The JVP hopes to actively intervene in both bringing about the amendment to the Commissions of Inquiry Act and enacting the 20A to the Constitution which will see the abolishing of the Executive Presidency.

Q: It has been a decade since the killing of Journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. Many others too have been killed while each government has promised to deliver justice and failed. What can the JVP do to push these probes and fight for justice?

A: As a party, we have spoken freely and often in Parliament about the killings of journalists such as Lasantha Wickrematunge. But we have had to face the fact that the law is never imposed on the rich and powerful in Sri Lanka. Therefore, we do not believe that the killers of media personnel will ever be punished as at various instances the alleged killers have been linked to the main political parties and are protected in return.

The killing of Lasantha and the disappearance of Ekneligoda were simply stepping stones for politicians to gain power. The true intention was never to deliver justice to them or their families. No matter how much the JVP speaks up, this is the end result. It is very disappointing.

Many ask us why we haven’t taken steps or been actively involved in bringing the killers of JVP founder Rohana Wijeweera to book. Lasantha Wickrematunge was someone closer to the main political parties than to the JVP. His close acquaintances can be found in the Cabinet of Ministers even today. However, they have failed to identify and punish his killers. Therefore, will the same people who are unable to deliver justice to a friend deliver justice to someone who they saw as a fierce opponent? Only a political transformation could bring justice to those who were slain and made to disappear.

Q: Military intelligence units have been implicated in many of these cases but we are yet to see a discussion on intelligence oversight in Parliament. Is it because parliamentarians fear these units themselves?

A: It is these same units that killed thousands of JVP brothers and sisters in the past. Therefore, the JVP is never reluctant to speak about them. We have done so, as and when required. Other parties, however, keep quiet as they are engaged in ‘deal politics’ and do not speak out.

Q: Do you believe military intelligence units today are focusing on real national security threats or are currently on a mission to absolve themselves from past crimes?

A: I think what we are seeing is a breakdown of discipline. Any armed force must have discipline. But once disciplinary rules are done away with by either political or military leaders it allows for the armed forces to go astray. In the past, we saw the Rajapaksas cause the breakdown of military discipline to use some military units for their political projects. The Namal Kumara case is a prime example of how state or military intelligence is being used to fulfil political aims.

What has resulted is a serious political divide within these units which continue to work towards political agendas through political pawns placed within the system.

Recently we saw either Intel officers or guards of the Chief of Defence staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne assaulting media personnel. What was displayed is that many of these units believe they have impunity and are above the law, a notion they are made to believe through communal politics and some extremist Buddhist monks. This is inevitable when you call a criminal, a hero instead. If you allow your dogs to roam free for a long period of time, it is not possible to put them on a leash thereafter to discipline them. This is what has happened to some units operating in the country and is not particular to the military alone.

Q: How can we make these military units that are a law unto themselves toe the line?

A: They are used to operating above the law. It can only be changed through a disciplined political leadership. But as political parties that do not have any discipline themselves, govern, the country and its other sections tend to go astray. People who crave for order and discipline vote for parties that have none, only to be left disappointed. Therefore, it is the People who must do their duty to make the change in the country. The JVP cannot be simply kept as a virus guard against corruption. A mere six MPs cannot take up this task. Therefore, I urge the public to give the JVP and a group of intellectuals the chance to prove themselves as better rulers.