“It is not the consciousness of men that determine their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” – Karl Marx

Anura Kumara Dissanayake received several rounds of applause from the Business Community gathered in the ‘Rainbow hall’ of the Grand Oriental Hotel on Monday 27th July. Having retired from the humdrum of Business and Commerce eighteen years ago, this writer cannot comment on the quality of the composition of the audience – whether they were captains or lieutenants of our private sector. The presence of two brothers who converted a family business in to dynamic blue chip conglomerate under post-JR neo liberal economic order was confirmation that comrade Anura Kumara and the JVP has a respectable resonance in the world of private enterprise. He did not actually use the Latin adage “Ex scientia pecuniae libertas. Out of knowledge of money comes freedom.”

Anura Kumara Dissanayake
Anura Kumara Dissanayake

That is what he promised the business community. But the money had to be redistributed. He ruled out vertical redistribution. We don’t wish to take from the rich and give to the poor. In a succinct presentation of the economics of a caring state he explained that substantially high investments in education, health, transport and related spheres would ensure horizontal redistribution and social justice. The next incisive observation was that the private sector was now investing by instinct and not by informed decision. “Now you sniff for opportunities and gamble with your seed capital”. A JVP government will identify opportunities within the larger frame of national priorities, conduct the initial studies and allow the private sector to work out the rest.

He cited an example of how the JVP during its brief stint in office launched a national drive to increase milk production and also found productive employment for more than four hundred graduates in Veterinary Science who were in search of employment.

The JVP invitation to the Business community was to share their vision. It was further amplified as ‘The awakening of a nation’s conscience’.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake has a confident grasp of details, an exceptional ability to recite statistics and a disarming style of delivery that commands attention. He also has an ability of presenting his prognosis with a sense of shared values.

“Do you seriously believe that our affairs are decided by a cabinet of Ministers? Under Chandrika it was herself, Mano Tittewella, Tara de Mel and Balapatbendi. Under Mahinda it was himself, Gotabhaya, Basil and Lalith Weeratunga. Under Ranil it was himself, Malik Samarawickrama, Charitha Ratwatte and
Arjuna Mahendran.”

The indictment came with an effortless nonchalance that made almost the entire audience nod in agreement.

‘The JVP had no interest in Business. Politics was their only business. That was not the case of the UNP or SLFP led governments. Their members were in politics as well as business. When setting policy, they were guided more by their self-interest than by national interest.’

Stressing the need for an assertive policy to increase our share of world trade, he reminded the Business community that migrant workers by remitting more than US Dollars six billion per annum while our share of world trade has continued its downward slide over the last ten years.

Human resource development is pivotal to our development strategy. The pursuit of deleterious and defective economic strategies for seven decades since 1948 has deprived us of the economic triumphs that should have been ours in the region as well as the world.

The world has evolved to an unprecedented level of technological sophistication in producing goods and services. In providing goods and services to markets, domestic or global, Sri Lanka needs to possess the technicians and professionals who can match the demands of the global benchmarks in the new knowledge centric economy.

Our children, our youth and our workforce constitute our greatest and the only renewable asset.

Developing our systems of education, health, sports, vocational training and scientific research are imperatives that promise enormous returns on investment.

Enthusiastic applause
The JVP leader defined the respective roles of the Government and private entrepreneurship. Providing direction, incentive and required infrastructure was the responsibility of the state. It was not the remit of the government to run the business or to get mired in the nitty-gritty of commerce.

He received several rounds of enthusiastic applause which awakened this writer’s deep and abiding contempt for what we call the private sector. How much of that applause would translate in to votes? Not many. When morality is pitted against profit, the defeat of morality is almost assured.

Progress is our constant search for Utopias. In the ‘Sole of Man under Socialism’ Oscar Wilde wrote “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glance at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail.”

The JVP is now on a course to become the main player in opposition politics. It can succeed in this task if it opens itself to other forms of critical thought, Anura Kumara Dissnayake said as much when announcing that the JVP would reconstruct itself by obtaining other insights. The presence of the former Auditor General Sarath Chandrasiri Mayadunne on the National List is evidence in that direction.

Moral arguments don’t win elections. The JVP with its policy statement demands to be the party that governs the governing party. If you don’t want us to form the next government, make us the vibrant opposition that past parliaments sorely missed.

The Business class does business with the party in power. It has the time and the patience to listen to the JVP until Election Day.

Then it will be back to business as usual for the Business community of Sri Lanka. Prominent absentees at the event were the new oligarchs whose hold on the traditional political class is not under imminent threat.