The JVP had been on cloud nine until recently, thinking that its efforts to reimage itself in a more positive light as a modern political entity had yielded the intended results, for there occurred an increase in its approval ratings as well as its appeal to the youth, especially after the Aragalaya protests. An aggressive image-building exercise carried out both on the ground and via social media, helped repackage and remarket the JVP so much so that it was laboring under the perception that it would be able to enlist the support of the general public and make a clean sweep of the local government elections; it has therefore gone all out to frustrate the government’s bid to delay the polls. But politics is like the game of snakes and ladders; there are many ups and downs besides twists and turns. The JVP has come across something it did not bargain for.

The propaganda arm of the SJB, which has locked horns with the JVP, has dug out something to upset the self-proclaimed Marxist outfit, which is trying to disown its past selectively. The SJB propagandists have brought into public debate the JVP’s land policy, which rejects the concept of private ownership of land and promotes collective land ownership, which underpins Marxism the JVP claims to espouse.

The JVP rejected outright two things that the J. R. Jayewardene government (1977-1988) introduced—the market economy and devolution of power. In fact, it resorted to mindless violence to abort the devolution of power effected through the 13th Amendment, which was born out of the Indo-Lanka Accord (1987). It has come to terms with the open economy and devolution over the decades for all practical purposes; it secured representation in the Provincial Councils, which it tried to scuttle in the late 1980s, and has softened its stand on the open economic policies Sri Lanka embraced after the 1977 regime change; it became part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance government led by the SLFP, which has adopted the same economic policies as the UNP. But it has remained silent on its land policy, which may or may not have changed over the years. Worse, a document containing its original land policy, which is an anachronism in the modern world, had been sitting on its official website, and the SJB has used it as a bludgeon to beat the Reds with.

The SJB’s latest propaganda onslaught could not have come at a worse time for the JVP, which is trying to woo the business community by projecting itself as a full-fledged, mature, democratic party, which can be trusted with the management of the national economy. Besides, there is no way any party could govern the country without the backing of the business leaders in this day and age for obvious reasons. The JVP is also dependent on the business community for campaign funds. It was only recently that the JVP held a much-publicized business forum, attended by a significant number of the captains of industry, and corporate sector professionals, according to media reports. The JVP leadership waxed eloquent, at the business forum, on its future plans to rebuild the economy and help the business community while improving the people’s lot. Most of all, the JVP leaders strove to convince the business world that they had mended its ways, and would create an investor-friendly environment in case of capturing state power.

Whether the business leaders have changed their stance on the JVP and will throw their weight behind it at future elections remains to be seen, but the recent business meeting may have prompted them to take a fresh look at the outfit’s economic policies objectively. But the SJB has brought to light the JVP’s original land policy, which bans private land ownership, which the captains of industry not only cherish but also defend passionately; it has thereby planted the seed of suspicion in the minds of the business community, who underwent untold suffering at the hands of the JVP in the late 1980s besides incurring huge losses due to numerous hartals. The JVP also gunned down many businessmen who defied its orders. No one with a block of land will take kindly to the JVP’s land policy, which however may strike a responsive chord with the landless people. Overall, the public ownership of land has not worked in this country. The Sirimavo Bandaranaike government’s experiments with land reforms, which led to the nationalization of vast extents of privately-owned land, failed, and caused the ruination of most estates, which had been run professionally and profitably previously. Thus, Sri Lankans’ experience with land reforms has been bitter, and the JVP will have its work cut out to convince the public that its land policy has changed. If it makes a public statement to that effect, it will be doing so at the expense of its Marxist credentials that it flaunts to attract the radical youth. The JVP has stopped short of disowning its original land policy formulated by its founder leader, Rohana Wijeweera. It has only said the SJB is referring to something old, and is tearing into SJB leader Sajith Premadasa.

The JVP, which was on the offensive from the start, attacking all its political rivals, and taking the moral high ground, has had to go on the defensive, trying its best to counter the SJB’s propaganda. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has sought to make light of the SJB’s propaganda attack, insisting that the land policy at issue is 40 years old and the party’s policies have changed to suit the needs of the modern world. He and other party seniors like Sunil Handunnetti have flayed the SJB for trying to mislead the public, but the question is why the JVP has not publicly disowned the land policy in question. Dissanayake has even asked Premadasa to update himself. This issue would not have arisen if the JVP had cared to update its website provided its land policy has changed!

The JVP has got a lot of explaining to do, for investor confidence is a prerequisite for the success of any political party and no business leader will subscribe to the idea of collective land ownership. It will have to spell out its land policy, and convince the public and business leaders that there will be no more about-turns on this vital matter. A political party that lacks policy consistency is not usually taken seriously.



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