Close on the heels of the controversy over The old man and the sea, which the JVP Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa wrongly attributed to Guy de Maupassant recently and landed himself in an elephantine soup in the process, comes the story of a would be powwow between the grand old party and the bell on vital national issues.
In politics, as it is in life, nothing is so certain as the unexpected. The JVP hates the UNP like nothing else and vice versa. That hatred made the outfit go all out to ensure the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe`s defeat at the last Presidential Election. Its decision to support the SLFP Candidate Mahinda Rajapakse was not consequent to its love for him. Time was when the JVP even didn`t want him made Prime Minister, as political observers may recall. When the question of a Prime Minister cropped up after the UPFA`s victory at the 2004 General Election, the JVP preferred the late Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar to Mr. Rajapakse. Nor had Mr. Rajapaske taken kindly to the JVP while the SLFP was wooing it in a bid to topple the UNF government. But a few months later, adversity made Mr. Rajapakse and the JVP strange bedfellows vis-`E0-vis an unofficial coming together of President Kumaratunga and the UNP. In other words, the unexpected happened!
So, the UNP-JVP talks being talked about should not come as a surprise. On the other hand, in 2000, we saw the UNP?to borrow a phrase from JVP Leader Somawansa Amerasinghe`s political lexicon?do a bit of `curb crawling` and pick up the JVP to sabotage President Kumaratunga`s Draft Constitution which envisaged, inter alia, Regional Councils. Thus, it should be seen that political lechery is not something alien to the JVP. (In 1982, it should be recalled, JVP Leader Rohana Wijeweera, released from prison by President JRJ, entered the presidential fray with the objective of ruining the SLFP candidate`s chances of winning.)
The question is not so much whether the UNP and the JVP are going to meet for talks but what they are going to discuss as well as why the UNP has suddenly changed its policy towards the JVP. Those two parties, as is well known, don`t see eye to eye on anything?not even on the fact that Sri Lanka is an island or the sun rises in the East! On all vital issues such as the economy, national security and the LTTE problem, to name only a few, the positions of the two parties are poles apart. The focus of the on-going efforts to bring about a national consensus through talks among political parties is on how to resolve the North and East conflict. The UNP makes no bones about its appeasement policy, which it gave full cry from 2001-2004, while the JVP wants the LTTE wiped out militarily. The UNP wants Norway to continue its active role in the peace process, but the JVP is calling for booting out the Norwegians. The talks on the cards are very likely to be born deadlocked!
Why is it that the UNP, which would rather have the JVP banished from mainstream politics like in 1983 (after the communal riots), has suddenly felt the need for having talks with its bete noire? The UNP is convinced that the JVP cannot be written off, given its support base which accounts for about four or five per cent of the registered voters and that its support for the SLFP constitutes an insurmountable obstacle at an election. The JVP is also the UPFA`s Achilles heel and any campaign to topple the government must target the JVP-SLFP link. Now that relations between the two parties are at a very low ebb, the UNP may have thought that the time was opportune for targeting the weakest link.
The budget is around the corner and the UNP is floating rumours that there will be an election soon afterwards. Those are usual survival tactics of any party losing its MPs to a government. The UNP has to project the government as unstable by spreading rumours of a snap election. It is also banking on the possibility of ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga making a dramatic come back?all cylinders firing?and causing a split in the SLFP, which she is quite adept at. If the government could be denied the JVP`s support by any chance, the UNP can have some hopes of winning a future election due to a split in the anti-UNP vote, and then creating a situation similar to that between 2001 and 2004, when the UNP`s Prime Minister (Mr. Wickremesinghe) became the de facto President.
In 2001, what preceded the downfall of the Kumaratunga government was the sudden exit of the SLMC, which was expedited by the then SLFP General Secretary S. B. Dissanayake, who openly ridiculed SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem and challenged him to leave, following the communal violence against the Muslims at Mawanella, which was instigated by an SLFP heavyweight. SB later decamped and helped the UNP together with Mr. Hakeem to topple the PA government! Today, we have the SLFP General Secretary Minister Maithreepala Sirisena taking on the JVP and ridiculing it in public.
Atop all that, there is the Nandana Gunathilake affair. Nandana, who was the JVP`s presidential candidate in 1999, has resigned from all posts in the party and is expected join the SLFP as its Panadura organiser and be appointed a minister. The JVP will forgive the Rajapakse government for anything but taking him on board.
The JVP is essentially an anti establishment party, which is like a fish out of water in the present situation where it has had to prop up an SLFP-led coalition. Now it has no alternative but to continue to trek the path it has chosen if it is to retain the number of seats it won at the last General Election. But, it is convinced that things are beginning to fall apart as it is losing its radical outlook by softening its stand on many issues such as the jumbo cabinet and Norway as the facilitator, due to its bonds with President Rajapakse. The JVP, as an ultra radical party, far removed from political reality, is always more comfortable in politics as an Opposition party. It is at present in an awkward position as a party which is neither in the Opposition nor in the ruling coalition. If the SLFP poaches its prominent members, it might have to retaliate even at the risk of an election and the attendant loss of seats, as it has no other way of preventing its disintegration.
If the SLFP takes Gunathilake in its fold and the JVP severs its links with the government as a result, come the budget, President Rajapakse will be on a very bad wicket. All those forces that campaigned against him at the Presidential Election have become hyper active once again. The President couldn`t be unaware of the UNP`s battle plan. The reaction that could be expected of him is to engineer more defections from the UNP. The first casualty of the moves to pull the carpet from under the President`s feet and his reaction thereto will be the on-going dialogue between the SLFP and the UNP purportedly to reach consensus.
The much advertised preparations being made for talks between the UNP and the JVP remind us of a famous saying by Ernest Hemingway: Never go on trips with anyone you do not love. (We hope it is not by Guy de Maupassant!)