The Aragalaya, a series of hopeful, terrifyingly beautiful events, a unique display of the common citizens’ collective power in hope for a dignified life in a country of their dreams. Citizens of all walks of life, millions of them, at some point would have left their footprint on the symbolic heart of the Aragalaya, the Galle Face.
In this collective effort, we’ve had some great victories for the history books. Outcomes that were unimaginable just seven months ago. However, each moment we needed better focus in our effort, the very element conducive to the beauty of the Aragalaya, the decentralised nature of it, would stand in our way of better organisation.
In recognition of this drawback, to give better direction to the struggle, BuildLK for sometime had realised the importance of creating a wide alliance among the progressive forces of the Aragalaya. While we were contemplating the possibility of this, in came Ranil Rajapksha. The merciless hunt of prominent figures of the Aragalaya had commenced unexpectedly by the so-called idealistic liberal, democratic political figure of the country. The suppression of these independent figures proved relatively effortless for the Ranil Regime as these scattered figures suddenly found that they had just them to fend for themselves and hence presented as easy targets to the law enforcement agencies. Prominent figures such as Pathum Kerner, members of the IUSF and FSP have easily been taken into custody. The only reason these figures may have been spared of a 88/89-esque fate may have been the power of social media. In the case of Wasantha Mudalige and Siridhamma Thero, not even the pressure from social media has been able to prevent them being illegally detained for over 90 days now. In the face of this suppression, we at BuildLK realised, pushing for better organisation among the various factions in the Aragala was the need of the hour.
One party that seemed to be facing the suppression with minimal consequences was the JVP. Therefore, given their increasing popularity among grassroot level and middle-class voterbases, and their apparent strength in organisation, I personally believed that the JVP would be the perfect entity to form the core of the new alliance where the other progressive parties could rally around. So in the future, this may not just strengthen each group’s position in an upcoming election, but in the immediate term it could mean legal protection extended for the independent protestor under JVP’s legal wing in the face of this suppression. Hence to lay the foundation work for this alliance, I decided the starting point would be to initiate a dialogue with the JVP, and then approach other prominent figures such as Pathum Kerner, Rohan Pallewatta, and Patali Champika Ranawaka. As a result, we first arranged a meeting with Sunil Handunnetti at the JVP headquarters on the 24th of August 2022.
With the formal introductions out of the way, we pitched the idea of an alliance and the importance of it from the point of view of the Aragalaya to comrade Handun. Our main objective of the meeting was to gauge the willingness of the JVP for such an alliance, and the limit to which they were open to compromise on ideological differences with various parties on the spectrum of the Aragalaya. Handun’s immediate response was that there were indeed no such restrictions to anyone who’d like to work with the JVP, and no ideological difference was too big to stop from starting the discourse. Even though this response felt a little too good to be true, Comrade Handun went on to suggest that it would be best to inquire as to what exactly is stopping the other parties from working with the JVP. “Take Sarath Foneska for example, he is someone that has worked with the JVP in the past. What’s stopping him from working with us again?” Handun posed a semi-rhetorical to us. “It is because he has his own ambitions for power”. In regards to striking the power balance in an alliance, Handun went on to suggest that unless any other party hopeful of joining this alliance can demonstrate they have a larger voter base, a larger volunteer group and overall organisational capacity, they should be willing to accept Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) as the leader of the alliance. JVP has been a party of immense sacrifice, and by rebranding themselves as the NPP, Handun further said they’ve given up a part of their identity to form this formidable alternate force and so it was only fair that the leadership stayed with the JVP, unless anyone else can challenge them on the aforementioned metrics. We believed this was a fair judgement and promptly acknowledged the statement.
On enquiring about the party constitution and the leadership selection process of the NPP, Comrade Handun enlightened us about the executive council which is made up by 2 members of each organisation (about 30 such groups) constituting the NPP that takes a vote on the party leadership. We then suggested a similar council could be formed with all participating groups of the alliance and the leadership selection method could be included in the party constitution. Handun’s response to this was along the lines of, a constitution can of course include just about anything, but it is more important to make this alliance on a trust basis. This remark was a little disappointing to hear from a respected, seasoned politician of Handun’s calibre. To dismiss the importance of a party constitution, basically the social contract among the party members and its leadership, signalled an unwillingness by Handun to allow provisions for a JVP leadership in an alliance be challenged, and rather it be maintained on a trust-based agreement indefinitely. In a progressive alliance, one would hope some of the essential values going forward would be inclusivity, meritocracy, and constructive criticism towards development. That is, when forming a progressive force, we would’ve hoped to create an inclusive environment for a diverse range of opinions where the constructive clash of these opinions could bring about novel, robust ideas. Then in turn if there happens to be better capable personnel to execute these ideas, the party constitution should allow a change in leadership based on merit.
The openness towards a progressive alliance was more positive however in our succeeding meetings with other figures in the alternative political landscape. Rohan Pallewatta for example, mentioned he had learned from his experience as running as an independent candidate and saw value in creating impactful partnerships in politics. He has found his space within the SJB, where Rohan has managed SJB to formally transform the party’s economic policy from extreme liberal to that of social democratic nature. Pathum Kerner too as an independent candidate has already started building bridges among other independent figures of the Aragalaya such as Rasika Jayakody, and has gone a step further by inviting seemingly ideologically opposing parties to join the alliance as well. Patali Champika Ranawaka who had already formed his organisation the ‘43 Brigade’ for some time, too was hopeful of the youth increasingly entering active politics and taking over from the ageing generations. Regarding the NPP however, the common notion among these figures were, that they were not the most straightforward or welcoming group to work with.
It was not just in the meeting with Handun, but a comment made by AKD too during NPP’s Kesbewa electoral conference last month that alluded to the JVP’s lack of intent of a broader approach in the near future. In his speech, initially referring to the events of the once impregnable great wall that is the Rajapakshas being toppled by the people’s power, AKD went on to add that it was apparent the people held the power within themselves but unfortunately lacked the ability to organise accurately. “Therefore it is our responsibility to mobilise the people for a resurgence and make sure the next uprising occurs under the leadership of the NPP. Otherwise the results will be lost in vain”.
It is quite unfortunate to see that AKD may have missed the very aspect of the Aragalaya that made it beautifully chaotic, a feature that made the otherwise brutal Rajapaksha Regime unable to cope with and hence back down. It was the collectiveness of millions of citizens leaving aside their social and ideological differences behind and uniting for a common cause. But according to AKD, the next uprising has to be under the guidance of the NPP else it will be in vain. That is, AKD’s hope would be to take this immensely diverse mass of people and conform them to NPP’s ideology by the next wave of protests. It is certainly disheartening to see the JVP not understand the concept of inclusivity in politics. This is merely suggesting to the public something of the like, “next time you should join us and do it our way or else all will be lost”. But rather, one would’ve hoped this moment would’ve inspired a realisation that it was time they should be more open, broaden their approach and be welcoming to a diverse range of beliefs and visions, to create a more inclusive force relatable to a majority of fighting, hopeful citizens. Yet, the JVP still seems to be dreaming of the day when the independent citizen joins their struggle. But when in reality, we are hoping for the day the JVP recognises and unites with our struggle.