An emerging force in Sri Lankan politics may have wider regional implications

While the NPP’s visit to India exemplifies changes in its political understanding, it has an important dimension in Sri Lanka's domestic politics. New Delhi appears to have judged that the NPP coalition has the potential to play a decisive role in the upcoming presidential election.

A. Jathindra Feb 16, 2024
Sri Lanka’s JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in talks with with EAM Jaishankar in New Delhi

Amid the buzz surrounding the presidential race this year, the visit of the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) alliance of 28 left-leaning parties and organizations to India has raised much attention. As Sri Lanka plunged into an unprecedented economic crisis, its political stability deteriorated. People’s hopes in terms of mainstream political parties have plummeted. Against this backdrop, expectations have turned towards alternative forces that are not yet in power.

In a survey conducted by the Institute for Health Policy, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka was seen as a preferred candidate by 51 percent of people; opposition leader Sajith Premadasa got only 33 percent support; and incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe got only nine percent support. While the reliability of the survey could be questioned, the fact is that people think why not give another party a chance? When people, mainly the younger generation, are trying to seek an alternate leader, the answer may be Dissanayaka.

The visit of the delegation received serious attention in the Indian media. The discussions with the Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval highlighted the NPP’s role as a future-shaping force in Sri Lankan politics.

The JVP has been well known for its anti-India campaign. In 1971, "Indian expansionism" was one of the five political dogmas of the old JVP led by Rohana Wijeweera. In the lens of the old JVP, Indian-origin estate workers were the “fifth column instrument of Indian expansionism.” In 1989, the JVP was instrumental in politicalizing anti-Indian sentiment among Sinhala youths based on the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987. The accord was used as a tool to lure Sinhala youth into the red club.

JVP's change of stance

In the old JVP’s understanding, the Tamil struggle and India’s support were also part of the Indian expansion plan. However, the JVP’s fear of India was swept away when the Indian-trained LTTE turned against India’s presence in the northern and eastern provinces. The LTTE compromised with President Ranasinghe Premadasa and fought against the Indian Peace Keeping Force.

The LTTE published a booklet that explained their action against India. It pointed out that there was a convergence of interest between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government in sending away the Indian Army. It compared the LTTE’s action to that of Chinese leader Mao Zedong. “Mao compromised with Chiang Kai-Shek to send the Japanese out of China. There is a similarity between that action and ours. Both are historically justified.” 

The JVP turned to democracy after failing to seize power through the barrel of the gun. Since then it has been playing an energetic but unrealistic role in politics. Its unrealistic politics have prevented it from succeeding in mainstream politics. It is against this backdrop that the JVP has been trying to adopt ideological changes. 

Even after turning to democracy, the JVP has not proved its consistency with regard to India’s interests in the region. Until recently, the JVP opposed India’s major economic projects in Sri Lanka. However, the NPP’s recent approach towards India indicates its changes in geopolitical understanding. The NPP has correctly read the geopolitical pulse in the region, which means that if a party wants to come into power, it is not only enough to appease the local population; it must also learn to partner with big powers in the region. 

Old fears laid to rest

Dissanayaka’s recent interview in The Hindu newspaper shows how JVP has transformed itself. “India is our closest neighbor and major political economic center, so when we take political economic decisions, we must always be careful about the impact they will have on India,” he said.

Dissanayaka’s visit to India has drawn criticism from anti-India pockets, but those who believe in the inevitability of change in politics would welcome the NPP’s stance. While the NPP’s visit to India exemplifies changes in its political understanding, it has an important dimension in Sri Lanka's domestic politics. New Delhi appears to have judged that the NPP coalition has the potential to play a decisive role in the upcoming presidential election.

The old JVP was a child of Cold War politics. Marxism-Leninism was an attractive ideology with the jargon that ignited the minds of the youth. The JVP’s threat perception of Indian expansionism was not a byproduct of Marxist-Leninist ideology but rather a result of nurturing old fears. There is unnecessary apprehension among a small group of Sinhala nationalists who think that India may swallow up Sri Lanka. As a radical Sinhala nationalist force, the old JVP relied on this fear psychology and fueled this fear in 1971 and 1987-1990.

However, the political landscape has changed drastically. The NPP realizes that anti-India politics is no longer useful in its future course.  A particular political decision may have been taken at a particular point in time due to survival reasons, misconceptions, or simply a lack of political understanding.

(The author is Executive Director, Centre for Strategic Studies – Trincomalee (CSST). Views are personal. He can be reached at )

Post a Comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
my blog
Sat, 02/17/2024 - 07:11
Hello there! Quick question that'ѕ ⅽompletely off topic.
Ɗo you know һow toⲟ makee yoսr site mobile friendly? Мy site ⅼooks weird whеn viewing from my iphone 4.
Ӏ'm trrying too fіnd a template or plugin tһat might
be able to rresolve thiѕ issue. If you have ɑny suggestions, pleawse share.