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‘I will engage in Political activities with progressive elements in Sri Lanka and other Countries’-Kumar Gunaratnam

Kumar Gunaratnam

Central Committee member of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Kumar Gunaratnam spoke to LAKBIMAnEWS about the allegations levelled against him, his many aliases and the future plans of the FSP in an interview with Rathindra Kuruwita:

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the media last week that you will never be allowed to return to Sri Lanka. What implications would this have on your political activities?

I could not follow the reports on what he has said but no one can tell me to stop my political interactions with the Sri Lankans, especially the proletariat and the leftist elements. That cannot be decided by a person or a party in power. I will engage in political activities with left leaning progressive elements in Sri Lanka and in other countries. These kinds of obstacles are to be expected if you are engaged in politics aimed at changing society. Every political activist who has chosen this path knows it. I will do my best to assist the party from wherever I live.

The JVP and the previous avatar of FSP, Movement for Peoples’ Struggle (MPS) have consistently stated their opposition against international influence in Sri Lankan domestic affairs but it was international pressure that played a big role in your release……..

When we say international interference we meant imperialism and neo liberalism; that has been the theoretical stance of the JVP since its inception.

We have stated that the governments which have ruled the country have bowed down before the imperialist powers and carried out the economic, political and social agendas of these powers. Although the current UPFA government talks about patriotism and sticking it up to the western powers to win votes of the people, in reality it is owned by the forces of capitalism represented by the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organization. We are against this neo liberal interference. And we would like to say that all the negative influence of neo liberalism comes to the country through governments. That is something the people should know.

That is what we are against. We are not against international progressive elements, intellectuals or human rights organizations. There are many such groups working around the world to protect peoples’ rights, to counter the growing militarism which is becoming an inherent part of neo liberal agenda and to push for socialism. We have nothing against building a broad coalition with such elements, and it is only through strengthening leftist parties in all countries that we can overcome the challenge posed by capitalism.

Socialists should be global in view, especially now when the traditional boundaries of the national state have become invalid in the 3rd quarter of capitalism

You said this has been the position of the JVP, in theory. But in practice this was not the impression we get. All we heard were general blanket statements bordering xenophobia.

Yes, you are right. In the last decade the JVP has failed to distinguish itself from a horde of chauvinist political parties which emerged. Instead of broadly explaining the issues the country faced and the root cause of it – capitalism, we limited ourselves to a mere anti-LTTE stance. This narrowness led us to coalition politics and instead of being the alternative to the system we accepted that the capitalist repressive state could solve our issues, including the ethnic conflict. That is when things fell apart; we made a crucial error by legitimizing the capitalist state which is always repressive.

This led the ground level JVP supporter to believe that socialism could be achieved by being a party to a capitalist government and then they lost the ability to distinguish how capitalism operates.

And yes, I and other members of the FSP are also to be blamed. By publishing a self criticism we have openly admitted to our mistakes and we hope that the debate this arouses will enrich the leftist discourse in the country and stop us from repeating our mistakes.

What was your stance about the decision to enter a into coalition government with the SLFP in 2004, knowing very well how the old left was destroyed by entering into such deals in the 1960s and 70s?

I have to reiterate something first. I am not saying that I took the right stance each time or that the guys in FSP were always right. This is not also about pointing fingers at individuals. What’s important is to show we faced an issue as a party and what we have become.

Every one of us has held different positions on issues and in some cases I have held different stances on the same issue in various stages of the discussion. I can go on and give a list saying these are the stances I held in different matters but that’s not really important because we have all contributed to what the party did. What is important is to identify why we took certain decisions, collectively.

In a separate interview in this edition of LAKBIMAnEWS, JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake has said that you were never in the party’s Central Committee or the Politburo. This echoes what the JVP leaders have been saying about you. On the other hand, your brother, Ranjitham, is considered a martyr. Why are they trying to deny your existence?

I am sad that Anura Kumara would say something of that nature and I feel it’s a waste of time to even respond to that. I know Anura Kumara since he was a student at the Kelaniya University. If he has forgotten about our past and our interactions there is nothing I can do. I am not politically bankrupt to insist that comrade Anura should acknowledge me.

The JVP leadership is denying my existence because of political reasons and this is an attempt to drive us towards state oppression. If I want to prove that I was known to comrade Anura Kumara and others I can produce documents and/or pictures, but what is the point of doing so? It will not benefit the FSP or socialism.

You are one of the main leaders in the rebuilding of the JVP after the death of Rohana Wijeweera in 1989? What was your role?

I was one of the few members who held positions within the party who escaped death in those black days of the late 80s. After the end of severe state repression the remnants of the struggle joined to rebuild the party because we knew that it was essential to re-enter open politics

Many comrades worked with us. Some left us in 1991, some in 1994 due to various reasons but that does not discount what they did at that particular time. There were hundreds of comrades who took great risks and made tremendous sacrifices to rebuild the party. I am grateful to be in their company.

You spoke of the comrades who left the JVP in the 90s, among these is the departure of the Hiru Kandayama, a group led by Rohitha Bashana who saw the LTTE struggle as a liberation movement. What was your political interaction with the members of the Hiru group and what was your view of the ethnic issue during that period?

The JVP had agreed on a particular stance on the national issue by the early 90s and that was a view shared by comrade Rohitha also. By the end of 1994 their ideas changed. However, we are a party which followed democratic centralization. Members of the party should accept the view/s of the majority and if you feel that you cannot accept the decision one has no option but to leave.

In 1998 the JVP built an alliance with leftist groups that stood for self determination and socialism but within four to five years the party decided to form an alliance with the SLFP, the home of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalists. What caused this switch?

The decision to work with leftist parties and contest elections was a mature decision and showed an attempt to enter a healthy leftist culture. Different leftist groups have different views about issues like the ethnic conflict and that should not stop us from uniting to stand against the forces of capitalism. We had our differences but our end goal is socialism.

It was a wise decision but unfortunately we could not sustain it. Both sides made mistakes. After that alliance we entered a phase where we lost touch with our long term vision and began to respond to daily situations. By early 2000s we presented our five year plan which was a revisionist move. After that we sunk into election-ism and our objective shifted to getting more and more votes. We began to pander to the chauvinistic tendencies because satisfying the voter became more important than principles.

The JVP has always propagated anti Indian sentiments. Commenting on the recent UNHRC session where India voted against us, the JVP leaders have once again tried to rouse anti Indian sentiments. You also fought the IPKF in the late 80s. Has your position on India changed?

India will decide whether to support us or not in the international arena depending on their agenda. Their decisions will be based on local, regional and international reasons and it’s stupid to believe that they will always back us. The government got angry because they had bent over backwards to satisfy India in recent times.

You have obtained an Australian passport under the name Noel Mudalige. Is this illegal? Did you provide misinformation to the Australian government as some ministers have stated?

I have not done anything illegal. As a political asylum seeker I could seek residence in a particular country under a different name, this is legal; that provision exists even in Sri Lanka. If I did anything wrong the government could have taken legal action. They did not.

You worked at Ministry of Fisheries in the mid 2000s. Didn’t you interact with ministers from the UPFA at that time?

When we were helping them my name was not an issue. I had carried out activities for the party since 1994. I was around when discussions were held to withdraw our candidate from the 1994 presidential elections because Chandrika Bandaranaike agreed to abolish the executive presidency. I have met many SLFP leaders who now deny my existence. That is how Sri Lankan politics is.

There were media reports that you and Sarath Fonseka are quite close and that it was this relationship that made the JVP support Fonseka in 2010?

It’s not true. In 1989, I was arrested by a detachment under Sarath Fonseka. We have no close friendship; if we had a relationship it would have been far from amicable.

Fonseka did nothing to secure my freedom. I am alive because of a mere coincidence. In 1990, President Premadasa called for an all party meeting to convince the country that there was no longer any political suppression. Ariya Bulegoda, leader of the Progressive Front and Bandula Dissanayake, a university friend and a human rights activist used that chance to secure our freedom

In 2010, I was against Fonseka’s nomination and the majority was against this, but we were forced – there is no other word – to support him. But that does not mean Fonseka has no right to engage in politics or contest in elections. The government should release all political prisoners and put an end to other undemocratic activities. The country needs a broad alliance to protect democratic rights and we are ready to help build that. courtesy: LakbimaNews

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