“…of battles won or lost—but waged—against the enemy.”
(Che Guevara: ‘Message to the Tricontinental’)
The Mahinda Movement had, beneath the rousing nationalist romanticism, a tough-minded realization that what was being waged was a resistance struggle; a peaceful people’s uprising, a rearguard action.
The main reference point of the Mahinda Movement’s public discourse during the Presidential election campaign and more pronouncedly after January 8th was not the 5.8 lakhs of voters, but rather the marker year 1815, the year of the betrayal of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe who had successfully resisted the colonial incursion of 1810.
1815 was the year of the Kandyan Convention which sealed the surrender of the whole island to Western colonialism. This year was the 200th anniversary of that surrender.
1815 will be appropriately marked by the joint resolution being drafted for presentation at the UN in Geneva this September by the US together with what Asst. Secretary of State Nisha Biswal calls the “international core group on Sri Lanka” (whatever that is), and which is meant to be endorsed by the Sri Lankan Government. US Asst. Secretary for Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski says that a domestic inquiry mechanism will have to be “led by persons acceptable to the minorities” and have an “international presence”, “participation” and “monitoring”. Reuters reports that the proposed US resolution which is expected to obtain Sri Lankan concurrence will include a US-UN “framework for reconciliation” for postwar Sri Lanka.
We are to abandon national self-determination and sovereignty, and return to the centuries when Western imperialism determined our external political destiny and internal political order—the sole difference being that this time around, it will be behind a screen of an elected native administration. That is the neocolonial model pioneered in Latin America but long since overthrown in that part of the world.
Today, Sri Lanka has experienced a coincidence of three trends, which some may describe as cycles.
The first is that of the alternation of centre-left and centre-right regimes with their corresponding economic philosophies, namely state-led and market-led.
The second trend is the alternation between ‘Easternisers’ and ‘Westernizers’; between ‘look East/Global Southwards’ and ‘look West/Global Northwards’. In Maoist terms, in Sri Lanka today ‘the West Wind has prevailed over the East Wind’.
The third trend is the expansion and contraction of the ideological and political influence of the Ruhuna, the Deep South, the seat and seedbed of resolute Sinhala resistance in defense of the island.
The project of patriotic resistance had no option of accepting President Sirisena’s leadership over Mahinda Rajapaksa’s simply because the former showed no signs of giving leadership to the anti-UNP struggle. Given President Sirisena’s continuing compact with the UNP—which was inevitable given his compact with CBK—and given the UNP’s capitulationist compliance with the Western-minoritarian bloc, any renunciation of Rajapaksa in favor of Sirisena would have been a disabling of the struggle against the UNP and the project of Western-minoritarian re-molding of the Sri Lankan state.
The defeat of statist nationalism as project and ideology, which began at the ethnic periphery on January 8th, was extended into the heartland by August 17th. The defenses that remain standing in geopolitical terms are the two contiguous areas, the ‘Greater Ruhuna’ or the ‘Greater South’ (Kegalle, Ratnapura, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Moneragala) and in the heartland, Kurunegala-Anuradhapura. In a return to an ancient historical pattern, these are the ‘free territories’ of Sri Lanka; the liberated zones of the national resistance or national liberation movement.
The political narrative of Mahinda Rajapaksa is not yet at an end. As that of Mark Twain, the political obituaries for Mahinda may prove to be greatly exaggerated. At its simplest level, he is still younger than JR Jayewardene was when he first led Sri Lanka. Winston Churchill, voted out in 1945, made his comeback in 1951 at the age of 76. De Gaulle had to step down as the leader of wartime and postwar France, only to return in 1958.
The future of the anti-UNP struggle and the patriotic center-left in Sri Lankan politics is presently bound up with but must not be reduced to the trajectory of Mahinda Rajapaksa or indeed the Rajapaksas. It is contingent upon (a) the gap between the political space and leading role in determining the island’s destiny that the Sinhala majority feels it is entitled to, and that it actually feels it enjoys under the status quo and (b) whether or not the existential concerns and core strategic interests of the Sinhala majority are realistically recognized, respected and guaranteed, in negotiations with the minorities and the West, India and the UN, over the destiny of Sri Lanka. Some say “geography is destiny” while others say “demography is destiny”. They are both right.
The period of dramatic frontal political warfare and open clashes is over. The patriotic resistance struggle will be a protracted political guerrilla war of attrition. The elections are over and have ended in defeat, but to borrow the watchword of African liberation movements fighting against Portuguese colonialism, “A Luta Continua”—“the struggle goes on”.