Two undergraduates have landed themselves in the soup by scribbling graffiti on a city wall to the effect that `the king has messed up children`s examination` Maharajathumani, oba lamainge vibhagayata keliya. This slogan is of political significance. One of our alert readers discusses its linguistic aspects in a letter on the opposite page. The matter is now before Courts, as we reported yesterday, and we refrain from commenting on its legal aspects because we are convinced they are best left to the learned judges.
The graffiti in question smack of JVP propaganda. Only Rathu Sahodarayas could come out with something so coarsely creative and pithy. Remember their famous slogan which helped mobilise thousands of marginalized rural youth in the late 1980s: Kolombata kiri gamata kekiri (milk for Colombo and cucumber for the village), which speaks volumes for the glaring urban bias in resource allocation and the attendant inequitable distribution of national wealth. It catered to the educated yet unemployed rural youth, who in the words of Bertrand Russell, are `packets of energy` ready to be tapped by anarcho-radical elements. Another telling slogan is contained in this verse which the late JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera used to recite at presidential election meetings in 1982:
Badata sagini hadata sogini inata veraheli kebali ella
Sathuta senasuma ahimi karalu andura dinu kalaya gihilla
Nosita meri meri sathura payayata vakutu vee atha paya hakulla
Negitapalla, negitapalla, numbege varaya evilla!
(The dark era of rags, starvation and sorrow that robbed you of your happiness and peace of mind is over Rise and awake without lying in submission under the feet of the enemy this is your turn!)
Another hyperbolic JVP slogan that gained currency was: Kellanta garment kollanta pavement (Garment factories for girls and pavements for boys!)
George Orwell says in his famous essay, England Your England: `One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade step of its army. A military parade is like a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life.` Similarly, it may be argued that slogans of a political organisation shed light on its psyche and points to the direction it is moving in.
JVP slogans are based mainly on nationalism, patriotism, poverty, education, unemployment, morality and social justice.
Now that the government has won the war and monopolised victory, the JVP cannot market its brand of patriotism any longer as evident from the recent Uva PC polls results. Therefore, it has turned to other issues like the unholy mess in education to gain some political mileage. In the run-up to the JVP`s second uprising (1987-89), it coined a catchy slogan, which rendered into English reads:
`In 1948, Royal College gained liberation. In 1956, Ananda College achieved liberation. And in 1987, we are going to liberate the Veeraketiya Maha Vidyalaya!` These three schools were the symbols the JVP adroitly used for the rich, middle class and poor sections of society respectively. Ironically, the Veerakeitya MV is situated in President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s bastion, Hambantota, which is now getting kiri or milk while Colombo is getting kekiri or cucumber!
The aforesaid slogan against the `King` encapsulates the pathetic situation of the education sector in one line so pungently that it reminds us of Groucho Marx`s wit. It is a stinging broadside at the government in general and President Rajapaksa in particular, who is being projected as a king in some quarters. The failure of a minister is the responsibility of the President and the JVP has turbo charged its slogan with caustic sarcasm. It must be music to the ears of the hapless children and their parents affected by bungled public examinations and school term tests.
Among the JVP`s creations is the political poster recast in its present form as an alternative medium of party propaganda. Today, it has become a real nuisance and one of the main causes of visual pollution which has ruined public places around the country. The JVP also developed graffiti as an effective medium of sending breviloquent short messages (SMS?) to the public. With funds dwindling rapidly owing to its poor electoral performance and the growing public disenchantment with its agenda, the JVP is likely to become more and more dependent on cost-effective informal propaganda methods to convey its message to people with the passage of time.
In a democracy, channels must be kept open for expression of dissent however embarrassing or hurtful it may be to the ruling party. For, they function as safety valves that release pressure which builds up in the polity. Transgressions of the law in the name of propaganda may be dealt with but attempts to suppress freedom of expression are counterproductive. Will the King and his khaki brigade hear?