1st June 1997

What has Laurent Kabila got to do with the

Lanka Guardian?

By Rajpal Abeynayake

If Lauren Kabila’s takeover in Congo was a “capitalist revolution” there must be something for Dayan Jayatilleke to be happy about. Dayan is currently the Editor of the Lanka Guardian, founded by his father, senior-journalist Mervyn De Silva.

For those with short memories, Jayatilleke was better known as Anuruddha Tilakasiri during the Premadasa era, when he wrote a regular column for the Observer taking on most of Premadasa’s many pugnacious detractors. Now, Jayatilleke has metamorphosed into Editor, turning the Lanka Guardian into a magazine that is largely a reflection of the Editor’s convictions. Former Editor of the Observer, H.L. D. Mahindapala used to be fond of saying that “ a good publication will always carry its Editor’s stamp.” By this yardstick, Dayan certainly is a very good Editor.

In the 19th anniversary issue ( number 1 and 2 ) Jayatilleke makes use of a host of his regular contributors, Tisaranee Gunatilleke, H.L.D. Mahindapala, K.M de Silva to name a few, to pack that extra anniversary punch. A Janasaviya research report, for example, makes the case that Janasaviya is an empowering programme that is not a mere handout.

So, enter Dayan the capitalist ideologue. And what has Laurent Kabila got do with the Lanka Guardian? Well, Kabila was the Marxist revolutionary, portage of Che etc., whom Che thought would be a great revolutionary had he not lead a life distracted by constant womanising. Then came the end of the Cold War, and all of that kind of interregnum which made rebels cast in the mould of Kabila a little effete. But, with time, Kabila transmogrified from a Marxist revolutionary into capitalist rebel. “Capitalist rebel” need not be a bad appellation, though it certainly sounds sinister at first ring. We can’t expect to find Marxist rebels at the “end of history”, right? It is time that a new breed of rebel emerges, and Laurent Kabila is the most representative rendition of the new militant.

Look at it this way. Kabila is a welcome rebel. His fight was a rebellion, not a cabal coup de etat. His agenda is to emancipate the masses from the clutches of decades of ruinous Mobutu rule in Congo . But yet, he is a convert to capitalist economics, though being a former Marxist, such a conversion gives Kabila the imprimatur and credibility to be a rebel with respect.

So, enter the new breed of rebel. This is not to compare Dayan with Kabila. But in some way, it seems natural to think that the ideological metamorphosis of the likes of Dayan is a necessary evolution, like Kabila’s. Call it part of the grand plan of the universe that we transient humans have little control over.

If the Lanka Guardian is a reflection of Dayan’s ideology, then its not surprising that the Guardian has also carried various tracts and analysis intermittently on Marxist doctrinal affairs. But, compared to the force of the pro- Premadasist, fiercely anti PA stance that the magazine now regularly adopts, the little nod at dialectical Marxism is a quaint aberration it appears.

To me, Jayatileke embodies the noveau capitalist ideologue, and since “capitalist ideologues” did not exist in the same sense that “Marxist ideologues” existed, I see Jayatilleke as one among a new breed of ideologues who have emerged in the vacuum created by the “death” of Marxist ideologues in the post cold War political discourse.

For example, one cannot accuse the Guardian these days of not taking a stand. This is not to say that the magazine is devoid of its intellectual flavour, but since Dayan took over the day-to-day operation of the Guardian, the magazine has become a pro-active political organ as opposed to a purely journalistic device which it used to be when Dayan’s father Mr Mervyn De Silva ran operations.

Of course the old order changeth, and though the Guardian will lose some fans, it will gain many who will be enthused by the new “revolutionary” approach. When Tisaranee Gunasekera, for instance, a particularly strident appartchik of the new revolutionary school ( of the LG ) blames the current UNP for being dull and vacuous, it is most probably not in the form of an observation but in the form of an exhortation. When a Dayan\Tisaranee analysis ponders whether Janasaviya will be successful without Premadasa, it doesn’t need much looking to figure out that the attempt is to forge a new policy and ideology for a capitalist Sri Lanka. These are not academic musings. They are an ideological project.

That’s by itself interesting, though there will be the customary accusations ( I can’t help but say ) by some of the “chattering classes” (that Mr Mahindapala refers to in his anniversary message) that Dayan has sold the Guardian down the drain. Certainly, if you are looking for “objective intellectual discourse” on political subjects, these days, you should be looking somewhere else and not at the Lanka Guardian. But then, who says the order has to be “like father like son?”It is central ( not exactly “left of central ‘’) to capitalism that there be a continuous discourse and evolution of thinking on how capitalism can redress the essential weakness of the system i.e: that there will always be poverty in developing capitalist societies.

For example, there will be doctoral ecstasies to come in the analysis of the concept of say the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, ( ask Susil Siriwardene, incidentally another example of a ex revolutionary who was another Premadasist ideologue of the same post -Marxist persuasion .) Susil was an admirer of the Grameen Bank much before the West “discovered” the concept and started marveling about it. The concept of the Grameen Bank ( a system of granting loans for self-employment to women only ) took into account social imperatives such as the fact that the men in Bangladesh drink and waste loan money, whreas the women don’t . Dayan’s prescription for poverty alleviation is Janasaviya — whether you agree with it or not being entirely another matter. But capitalism needs devisors and conceptualists of the ilk of those who can think of ideas such as Grameen Bank.

So, the Guardian is definitely an ideas magazine now, as it claims in a cover blurb, though the kinds of ideas propounded in its pages are not necessarily clinical or sanitized to suit “ objective impartial’’ (and odourless) intellectual tastes. Raw and organic, the Guardian is a Premadasist capitalistic ideological flagship, and whether you want to buy it or not is strictly a matter of choice.

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