Leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Prem Kumar Gunaratnam speaks to Rivira with regard to the Party’s future political activities and current political trends.
Following are the excerpts:
Q: What is your future political plan? Are you going to continue as the FSP or join with a Party like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)?
On February 1, the second party convention was held. This was under the theme of a party for the socialist class against anti-imperialist neo-liberalism.
Previous Governments since 1977 took forward one plan. The neo-liberalism introduced in 1977 was taken forward by former Presidents, J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the political parties in the country. Now, to take forward the unfinished business of the plan, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena have joined together. We will continue as a Party representing the common masses that have been troubled by this. In this, we have a plan to rally the working class, the farmers, the students, the females, the Tamils and the Muslims.
Q : What if the JVP invite you to join an alliance and continue?
We have an open policy when dealing with other leftist parties, the JVP and other organizations. We came out of the JVP as a result of an internal struggle that arose because the JVP were going on a path that had strayed away from leftist politics. That is how the FSP was created. The basis for this was the political aim that was there at the inception of the JVP.
Now, with that same goal, we are working with fellow leftist political parties. Although there are minor ideological clashes, where we can work together, we do so. Therefore, there are no obstacles to us working together with the JVP. The problem is that despite jumping off track and dilution, there are still factions in the JVP who believe in leftist politics. In the politburo of the JVP, there are such persons who are with us. They will join us in the debate in time to come.
Q : Is the JVP your enemy or carbon copy?
I don’t know whether certain JVP leaders consider the FSP their carbon copy. However, our enemy is not the JVP. It is the capitalist system. In reality, our carbon copy is not the United National Party (UNP) or the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). What those parties do is to maintain the capitalist system by taking over the contract every five years. We are attempting to change this system. It is therefore not to change the contractors.
Q : There is no unity among the Sri Lankan leftist factions. Are you getting ready to build such a leftist discourse?
We started out from a self-critical position. We engaged in a self-critique in relation to lapses and weaknesses on our part which had taken place since 1978 till 2011. Self-criticism is essential for a leftist party. It must be done before the people. This is because the party belongs to the people. In 1971, during 1988 and 1989, it was their children who died. After the self-critique that the JVP engaged in, in 1978, we were the ones who next went before the people and engaged in a self-critique. Another mistake on our part was moving away from other leftist political parties.
We must first align with the leftist parties and not with the capitalist parties. We have past experiences with regard to what took place from aligning with capitalist parties. That is why during the 2015 Presidential Election, we formed a common leftist front. To this day, we work with them with an understanding.
Q : These days, the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) is the talk of the town. With the incident of a head of SAITM being shot, things got heated. What is your view?
The government has a massive mechanism. They must use it and reveal the truth behind the shooting to the people. When one looks at the SAITM issue, one can see how the government has been edging closer and closer to the goal of selling education. What the government should do is to expand the State Universities system. This is because the children of our poor parents cannot pay Rs 6 million or Rs 7 million to obtain a degree. Also, education is a right of the people. No one has the right to make it a commodity and sell it. Next, due to the competition, always there is a drop in the quality. What happened to the country’s transportation? It broke down. This is what is happening to education. Therefore, we will continue to fight education being sold. Student activists are engaging in a continuous struggle. They must receive credit in this regard. The children of SAITM too must be meted out justice.
Q : What is your view of the problems of the Tamil people?
There is national pressure on the Tamil people and Muslim people. Because of this capitalist system, there is no way a Lankan nation of people can be formed. As a result, Tamil and Muslim people are being pushed towards the brink of separation and division. The Tamil people and Muslim people must be united.
Q : How should this be done?
The Tamil people, the Sinhalese and the Muslim people must be brought to one platform to fight. They must be brought together in a centre where they fight for national equality instead of national inequality. The majority Sinhalese must take the initiative in this regard. They must take to the forefront.
When looking at the socio-economic and ground level realities of this country, there is no other option other than to live together. The federal system does not work. Nothing good will come out of forming separate countries on the basis of being Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. What this will achieve is the development of the country being hampered. Also, if a system of devolving power like federalism is proposed, what we are telling the Tamil people is that such will not solve their problem. Also, what we are telling the Sinhala people is that they should not oppose this on a racial basis.
Q : In such an instance, what is the political principle your party follows?
In such an instance, we will adopt a neutral policy. However, we will make the people aware. We will make it clear to them that it is only if they, the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims, fight together, that a solution will come about. We will make them aware that racist solutions will not yield results.
Q : Isn’t the fact that you received Sri Lankan citizenship out of the blue, part of a governmental political plan?
I think that my receiving citizenship was the result of a political struggle. It was especially following the help from party members, and on the other hand, help given by various democratic and leftist groups, the media and political parties, that the UNP government had to give me citizenship. It came to a point that they could not deny it. What is laughable is that towards the latter part of 2015 January, I was asked to leave the country because I was engaging in politics while staying on a tourist visa. Then, I went to the Supreme Court. When that attempt failed, I continued to stay on in the country.
Afterwards, I was arrested and imprisoned on the basis that I was staying in the country without a valid visa passport. Yet, I have now once again been given a tourist visa. Previously, when a request was made for the tourist visa to be extended, it was not complied with. This clearly points to the dual policy of the Government.
Q : Has the process of obtaining a visa concluded?
Not yet. Our request was to renounce the Australian citizenship and to be given the inherent Sri Lankan citizenship. At present the relevant documentation in this regard are being prepared and it is to be presented to the Australian Government.