Echoes of April 5
Posted on April 4th, 2015

By Janaka Perera

April is the month when flowers bloom in Nuwara Eliya.  It has also been a month when guns boomed and bombs exploded and of ‘revolution.’    All of them occurred on a 5th of April within a span of 29 years.

The first of these was the Japanese air raid over Colombo in 1942 followed by the air raid over Trincomalee on April 9. Though it was the first time Sri Lankans experienced aerial warfare it had no significant impact on the country since the Japanese did not occupy the island.

But April 5, 1956 – eight years after independence – was different.  The Parliamentary Election held between April 5 and April 10, swept S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s SLFP-led coalition (MEP) into power in a landslide victory. It heralded the island’s first major socio-political transformation, which was also called the revolution of ‘56’. It however raised too many hopes that could not be fulfilled and opened the way for a violent upheaval exactly 15 years later, again of a 5th of April.

Most of the Sinhala rebels who joined this foredoomed insurrection were the ‘children of 56’ – a generation driven to frustration by rising unemployment and the political bankruptcy of the mainstream parties.

At dawn on April 5, 1971 armed units of the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna, popularly known at the time as the ‘Che Guevara Movement’, opened fire on the Wellawaya Police Station killing a policeman at his desk. It heralded the end of a phase in Sri Lanka’s post-independence politics and shattered the myth that no one would attempt an armed revolution against the State in this ‘thrice blessed land’.

Never again would the island enjoy the relative peace and tranquility of the previous two decades (except for two riots – the ‘hartal’ of 1953 and the communal violence of 1958).   Instead the country would gradually descend to greater violence within a period of little over 10 years, both in the South and the North.

When the insurgency of 1971 broke out the Parlour Bolsheviks and the established Left, who until then used to sing the virtues of armed revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, found themselves overtaken by a group which was relatively unknown until about 1969.  The Marxist old guard had missed the bus. So they quickly disassociated themselves from the JVP claiming that the party never retained the scientific and ideological basis of socialism.

JVP Leader Patabendige Don Nandasiri Wijeweera alias Rohana Wijeweera first drew public attention in early 1970 when he and a school teacher, Jayakody were produced before at the Nuwara Eliya Courts on a charge of possessing firearms.  Their photos issued by Police Headquarters were carried on the front page of the now-defunct Lake House daily, Ceylon Observer.

No other political movement had ever enjoyed such a propaganda build up as the JVP. Almost every day the press virtually romanticized its activities.  The party formulated a plan of indoctrinating the youth through a series of classes conducted in secrecy. The classes dealt with socio-economics, politics and injustices perpetrated on the masses from colonial days to present times.

The CID in the meantime was keeping a close tab on the party and its overt and covert activities. Explosives were seized and arms were recovered from several areas.   When police began rounding up party members it was interpreted as the coming State repression.

On March 16, the Government declared a state of island-wide emergency following an armed attack on the American Embassy in Colombo, causing the death of a police officer. The attackers were ostensibly protesting against the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. The attackers however did not belong to the JVP but to a rival faction, known as the Dharmasekera Group.

It was later strongly believed that the real motive of this attack was to foil the JVP’s plan to take a Government by surprise.

The arrest of Rohana Wijeweera the same month was seen as a new step towards suppressing the party. The consequent decision to attack police stations island-wide was taken at a JVP Politburo meeting held on April 2.

Within three days starting on April 5, JVP cadres in groups of 25 to 30 attacked 92 police stations from North to South armed only with crude home-made weapons, shot guns and a handful of stolen submachine guns and rifles.

The Government crushed the insurgency within two weeks with foreign assistance (for our armed forces were then little more than a ceremonial outfit, equipped to deal mainly with rioting and illicit immigration). Over 1200 rebels and a far lesser number of security forces and police personnel lost their lives.

Although the insurgency collapsed its repercussions were far reaching. It foreshadowed the Northern rebellion which sent the establishment reeling less than two decades later. Former senior DIG (Crimes), Colombo, Ramachandra Sunderalingam – then SP Jaffna – told this writer that the Southern insurgency was an inspiration to Tamil militant groups. However the then Government had failed to take seriously the warnings he had given in this connection.

The JVP’s failure was an eye-opener to the LTTE separatists. It helped them to avoid the serious blunders the Southern rebels made. The result was that the whole island was pushed into a conflagration that lasted almost 30 years.

Coming back to the JVP insurgency, its worst destructive legacy was killing the rural economy, according to former Government Agent Matara, Garvin Karunaratne who recalls the pre-1971 vibrant rural life centered on the temple in the village, where the land owners, plantation owners, rice millers and others all who moved well with the masses. It was the rich who had invested and generated employment.

He states that both the JVP insurgencies (1971 and 1986-90) took a heavy toll of the rural areas. Following the violence and bloodshed all the well-to-do people there had left for the cities. They who were the live wire in rural habitats had got rid of their possessions and migrated to urban areas. Many people who had been living happily on their estates had left for good. After the rich left the villages their children never went back  there.

The pied pipers of the JVP and the LTTE had pied piped two generations of Sinhala and Tamil youth into their graves within a period of 38 years.

 

4 Responses to “Echoes of April 5”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Many reasons contributed but lack of a strong army was one of them.

    People have problems. But they CANNOT ORGANIZE to kill, etc. others just because of that. ORGANIZED activity against the state should be BUSTED EARLY using brutal methods on a few. That can save tens of thousands of lives.

  2. Indrajith Says:

    “JVP Leader Patabendige Don Nandasiri Wijeweera alias Rohana Wijeweera first drew public attention in early 1970 when he and a school teacher, Jayakody were produced before at the Nuwara Eliya Courts on a charge of possessing firearms. Their photos issued by Police Headquarters were carried on the front page of the now-defunct Lake House daily, Ceylon Observer.

    No other political movement had ever enjoyed such a propaganda build up as the JVP. Almost every day the press virtually romanticized its activities.”

    The above facts were clearly elaborated by G.I.D. Dharmasekera in his book of 1970 “Che Guevara kalliya dhanapathi puwathpath magin pumbanu laboo America pilliyaki”

  3. Christie Says:

    Namaste: Indian terrorist arm financed, managed, trained and branded Tamil Tigers by the Indian Empire. The JVP that killed Sinhalese and got Sinhalese killed was financed by the Indian Imperialists. Wijeweera was hiding among the Tamils during his last days. When he came from overseas and was staying in Peradeniya Halls he was getting money from Indian colonial parasites in Colombo. Jai Hind.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Why did events come to a head in the month of April ? Was it because of the extreme heat and humidity of April with tempers frayed due to heat stress ? If so, what can be done to cool our heads and bodies during that time ?

    Rohana Wijeweera who was born in South Matara area, lost his father at an early age. They had a large family and they were poor. That explains why he went ultra left and in adulthood took to the populist Che Guevara type of romanticized movement.
    I recall that even T-shirts produced in the west and some parts of the east both carried the Che image. It was an attempt to make the Youth turn to an ideal type of politics. But the violence and killings spoilt it all.

    Wijeweera lost due to the violence and killings. Hope the lesson is learnt. Clever thinking – lateral and out of the box – will solve many a problem in a bloodless manner. In the end, that is the only way to a lasting success in all political problems. Do do this, good knowledge as to what the problems are, and what the surrounding issues are, with really matters.

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