JVP at a crossroads
Posted on March 6th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala Courtesy The Island

From the commonsense point of view of the average voter in Sri Lanka, there are four broad political groupings or blocs that contest elections with a view to taking part in democratic government. These  are: (1)the neoconservatives (or neoliberals) usually represented by the UNP that is committed to free market capitalism and allows interventionist Western influence, (2) nationalists principally organized under the SLFP (currently being reincarnated in the SLPP) who value political independence, full national sovereignty within the country, (3) the regional or communal minority groups organized in the form of Tamil and Muslim parties, and Sinhalese Buddhist  interest groups such as the JHU and its splinter group the  PHU, that arose in response to the generally anti-majority mentality of those Tamil and Muslim communal parties, and (4) nondescript leftists or  Marxists who are usually opposed to the UNP and the SLFP ideologies and have become members of, or otherwise support, Marxist parties such as the CP, LSSP, and the JVP. Over the past seventy years since independence governmental power has been alternately wielded by the first two, with the other two acting separately either as coalition partners of the government of the day or as partners of the opposition. But, when all is said and done, the smooth running of the country has been perennially baulked by the basic nature  and practice of the latter two groups (i.e., the communalist minorities bloc and the class politics based left bloc), with the result that the country has been condemned to stagnate politically as well as economically as a backward nation, despite the relative abundance of natural resources including the human factor. The ethnicity based group is responsible for the artificial ethnic or communal element that has plagued Lankan politics over the past seventy years of independence from Britain. The attempted division of the country on ethnic lines through an arbitrarily imposed constitution making process is not a solution.

The JVP, since the proclamation of Sri Lanka as a republic in 1972 under the SLFP-led United Front government, has twice unsuccessfully tried to capture power through armed rebellion (1971 and 1986-90). Rohana Wijeweera , the founder of the JVP, organized a series of meetings across the island, starting on September 26, 1979 (the significance of which is that prime minister SWRD Bandaranayake, founder of the SLFP, died on the same date in 1959 after being shot by an assassin), on the theme The end of the road for the SLFP” ‘Gamanaka Avasanaya’( which was also the title of a documentary produced by the Government Film Unit following the tragic death of the popular leader). Wijeweera’s theory was that since the traditional left had by then been virtually written off, the JVP had to attack the SLFP in order to replace it as the main opposition. That immoral opportunistic policy or strategy of the JVP enabled the incumbent UNP government to persecute the previous prime minister and SLFP leader Sirima Bandaranayake (who contributed so much to strengthening the nationalist revolution of 1956 spearheaded by her husband) by depriving her of her civic rights for seven years in 1980. In spite of the tacit help that the JVP extended to the UNP to harass their common victim the SLFP, UNP gangs were used to attack many JVP gatherings, as for example when such meetings were disrupted by goons at Campbell Park, Colombo on September 22, 1978; in Jaffna on September 24, 1978; at Punchi Borella on May 28, 1981; at Gangodagama Junction, Hakmana on August 13, 1981, and at several other places such as Mihintale and Dompe. The incident in Jaffna in which Wijeweera was hit with a stone on his face during his speech was not inspired by Tamil racism, but apparently by UNP saboteurs. The JVP’ers have never been racists. Only the LTTE and others who confuse nationalism with racism have ever called them Sinhalese racist extremists. But they were dedicated to their ultimate goal of a Marxist utopia in a communally harmonious unitary Sri Lanka; they were true nationalists. They unequivocally opposed Indian intervention in the Tamil separatist problem. JVP founder Wijeweera held that separatism and world imperialism were related. As an anti-imperialist party, he believed, the JVP had to oppose both separatism and capitalism. Opposition to separatism was different from the line taken by the traditional left. Wijeweera’s opinion was that the traditional leftists accepted the ‘right to self-determination of small nations’ which Lenin had advocated and that they sympathized with Tamil separatism; he, however, thought that this principle was inapplicable to Sri Lanka. (For the information used here – its interpretation is entirely mine – I am indebted to journalist Dharman Wickremarathne, publisher author of the well researched,878 page book  javipe 2veni kaeraella – prathama kaandaya” JVP’s 2nd Insurrection – Volume I” [ISBN 978-955-50453-4-6,printed at Jayanath Ranasinghe, R.R. & Sons – Colombo 12, December 2016], pp. 51-53). Incidentally, the book mentioned in parentheses is dedicated to Sincere brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives in their struggle in the name of the banner of the unitary status of the Motherland”.  The current JVP’s silence about the Tamil racist federalist project is incomprehensible.

But the JVP’s attitude towards the genuine SLFP (now embodied in the SLPP) seems to have hardly changed, though a change looks likely now. In the process of befriending the UNP to attack the nationalist forces it has automatically become the UNP’s ally against the SLPP, which is the new manifestation of the authentic SLFP. No wonder, people need a JVP ascendancy  at this critical juncture like a hole in the head. Fortunately, at the recent LG elections, the JVP hasn’t secured the control of a single local body. The debacle of the JVP was a foregone conclusion for the patriotic nationalist majority of Sri Lankans, while it was a shock  to many who  had been disillusioned with both of the main parties for their alleged corruption . (Though corruption in high places is a crucial issue, the most important issues relate to the very existence of the country as a single sovereign state and to the efficient  management of the national economy.  National political parties including the JVP must address the latter problems.) In my view, a broad retrospective look at its violent past of the JVP in parallel with the more effectively violent evolution of the Tamil separatist movement, in the context of the former’s present predicament is in place at this juncture.

The left movement in Sri Lanka started very early, in the mid-1930’s, to be more specific. The pioneers of the left movement in Sri Lanka were persons of great personal standing and excellent education. However, as they were far ahead of their time, the popular impact they were able make on national politics was not very great. Their involvement in the labour movement more or less limited their popularity to that sphere.  Though they made a powerful showing in the first parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka in 1947 (left parties together won 19 seats against the victorious UNP’s 42 seats). As Marxists, they focused on class politics, not nationalism. Naturally, the leftists fared well on the estates. With the rise of nationalism, they lost their appeal to the masses. The pioneering stalwarts moderated their revolutionary fervor  and from time to time formed alliances with the SLFP and the UNP. Their alliance with the SLFP in 1970 gave them the opportunity to enjoy probably the biggest share of power they ever enjoyed. The failed April 1971 insurgency led by the JVP seven years after its origin in the mid 1960s, having severely criticized these pioneers for their alleged reactionary reformist ideologies, proved to be an exercise in futility. However,  it indirectly influenced the character of the republican constitution of 1972, which turned the country into the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka from its dominion status under the Soulbury constitution.

The 1971 April insurgency was brutally suppressed, with thousands of young men and women killed by the security forces. The JVP was proscribed by the SLFP-led United Front government of the day as soon as the insurgency was launched. A Criminal Justice Commission was appointed in 1972 to try those implicated in the April ‘71 insurrection. The prosecution of suspects started in August 1972 and ended in November 1976, and the leading insurgents were sent to jail for varying terms of imprisonment. After the aborted rebellion, the JVP was officially re-launched in 1975. When the UNP came back to power in 1977, routing the incumbent SLFP-led government, its Machiavellian leader had the convicted rebel prisoners released and started using the JVP to keep the electorally decimated SLFP at bay. The JVP entered the democratic stream after this. The JVP leader even contested the 1982 presidential elections, though unsuccessfully.

Meanwhile, violent separatism emerged in the north. Armed terrorists ambushed 13 unarmed army soldiers  in Jaffna in 1983. The UNP government mishandled the riotous situation that erupted in Colombo when the bodies of the dead soldiers were brought there for burial; Tamils and Tamil businesses in Colombo and in other parts of the south were attacked by mobs; similar attacks by Tamil mobs on innocent Sinhalese in the northern and eastern provinces followed; but the government did little to stop the anarchy. It was charged that the so-called anti-Tamil pogrom was a deliberately engineered one executed through agents provocateurs either by the government to implicate the JVP and other left parties or by the separatists themselves in order to convince the outside world that Tamils were being persecuted and were not safe among the Sinhalese and that separation was the solution. The UNP government blamed the violence on the left parties: the  JVP, the CP and the NSLSSP,and banned them,  which then went underground. These parties, committed to Marxism, were not racist, but they opposed separatism. All the same, the government and the separatists condemned them as Sinhalese racists, and Sri Lanka earned a bad name, particularly in the West, and this was beneficial for the separatists. So, the 1983 incidents served the interests of both factions. When, under the UNP government, the Sri Lanka army was about to finish off the LTTE, the Indians intervened to persuade the Sri Lankan government to stop its nearly completed military operations. A peace accord was signed under duress. An illegal 13th Amendment to the constitution was enforced, according to which provincial councils were created. Ironically, the provincial council system was originally enforced in all provinces except the north and the east for which they were primarily intended.

The JVP revived its own terror activities, and the UNP government paid them in the same coin. In the 1986 to 1990 period some 60,000 young men and women (almost totally Sinhalese Buddhist, but some young Tamils also took part in it); a few of them died fighting the government security forces; the others were killed extra judicially merely on suspicion. They did not fight for or against any particular community; they fought for the country on behalf of all its citizens. But the so-called international community never cared. It was Mahinda Rajapaksa, then in the opposition, who went to Geneva to make complaints to the UN human rights agencies. The JVP fought for the country. But the JVP leadership was decimated. Whereas the Tamil separatist terrorist movement grew with foreign help, the JVP terror campaign, though originally suspected of enjoying some foreign sponsorship, didn’t betray any evidence to prove that such was the case.

The JVP rose from its ashes phoenix-like after the end of what opponents of the 1977-1994 government condemned as the 17-year ‘curse’ of  UNP rule. This was during the SLFP-led People’s Alliance days that started in 1994. Ten years later, early in 2004, the JVP helped form a ‘probationary’ government under a new SLFP-led coalition called the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which lasted till June, 2005. The JVP scored its biggest win in a parliamentary election it ever did in the April 2004 general elections, where they won thirty nine seats, and they got some cabinet minister posts. History has shown that the JVP cannot secure parliamentary representation or at least any powerful local government presence without forming an alliance with either of the two major parties it wants to replace at the top of national politics. But the JVP’s struggle from the early 1970s has been focused on ousting the SLFP from its traditional leadership of the nationalist forces and promote itself as the main national force that will finally overcome the UNP. (In the recent local government elections it dreamed of beating the SLPP, the newfound refuge of the betrayed SLFP.) The mature experience of those who have known the JVP’s origins in the mid-60s, its two armed insurrections, and its temporary alliances with the major parties shows that this will never be. If the JVP sticks to its accustomed strategy of confronting those who should be its allies, it will only be successful in shooting itself in the foot as the recently held LG polls has demonstrated.

The JVP must take a good hard look at its wasteful past and subject itself to serious reform as a party. It must get rid of its outdated ideologies and outmoded leaders. It must not condemn the voters as idiots for not voting for them. Most important, the JVP’ers must find political allies with whom they can coexist and serve the nation.

13 Responses to “JVP at a crossroads”

  1. Hiranthe Says:

    Nothing will change until they get rid of the current leaders who have been bought by the West and India. Every JVP leader when gives a speech, you can easily notice their dishonesty in their eyes. Their followers are genuine.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    JVP more than doubled its LG election performance in 2018 compared to 2011. In 2011 it only managed 2.8%. That increased to 5.8% in 2018. Therefore it is not correct to say JVP is spent force. On the contrary. After its collapse in 2010 due to its split, JVP is on the rise since 2011. In 2015 parliamentary elections, JVP managed to get 4.9%.

    If the trend continues, JVP will win over 6.2% at the next parliamentary election and 12 seats. Calling voters idiots, ungrateful, foolish and unpatriotic is a sign of politcal idiocy. Voters are the masters and politicians are servants.

    I disagree JVP should find political allies. That is not what it should do. Instead JVP must shed all political alliances and forge ahead as a single party. It cannot win 39 seats again but it will retain its voters and fill a political void unfilled by other parties. Ideally, the JVP should contest the 2019 presidential election alone if no party agrees to their tough conditions. This will ensure the maximum number of seats in 2020. (JVP cannot come close to winning but they can make their presence felt).

  3. Vaisrawana Says:

    Yes, the JVP must stop calling voters idiots for not voting for them. That only shows their own idiocy as politicians. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t idiots even among the voters. The country was in the same besieged unstable position in 1987 as it is at this moment due to external intervention in our domestic affairs. Then it was highlighted by the symbolic parippu drop by India. The Indo-Lanka accord was signed between India and Sri Lanka amidst violent protests by the public, staged despite a state of emergency. JR was cowed after the parippu drop; he feared an Indian invasion. At that time the JVP – supposedly returned to the democratic mainstream following the abortive 1971 revolt and release from jail and apparent rehabilitation on the advent of the UNP government – had earned a great deal of credibility and public sympathy. Like the vast majority of the general public, the JVP’ers were dead against the accord. Even prime minister Premadasa was against the solution imposed by India; the contents of the agreement were concealed even from the cabinet of ministers, let alone the public. The protest campaigns were spearheaded, mostly from behind the scene, by the JVP. Crowds were tear-gased, baton-charged, and even shot at. Dozens including young students and monks were killed in these demonstrations. Could the JVP rally supporters in such numbers today or ever in the future? Never! unless they change.

    Only UNP diehards will like to have the present day JVP’ers around as they are. The reason is this. The JVP will have the majority of its supporters, if any, among the Sinhalese. The minorities will ignore them. So the JVP will only eat into the nationalist vote bank, which will be to the advantage of the UNP and to the detriment of the party that champions the nationalist cause, which is the promotion of the welfare of all Sri Lankans as a single people.

  4. ranjit Says:

    JVP will never ever form a government in any sort in our lifetime never because of their rattle snakes policies. This government made them rich so they just fool the people with their sweet talks and pretending they are with the people while they conspire with our real enemies. JVP will not be a fighting force under the current leadership at any time. They too need a change.

  5. DR M D P DISSANAYAKE Says:

    My Dear Dilrook
    I had great respect for your analysis, but today from these comments I gather you are a JVP. No harm done Dilrook.
    There was concrete evidence of your friend ANURA K D had accepted funds from UNP, live videos you may have missed. Wijedasa Rajapakse had testified.

    Come on Dilrook, get on BOARD, for heaven sake do not sit on the fence.

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    The JVP has NO FIXED PRINCIPLES. It is GUIDED SOLELY by its UNRELENTING QUEST for POWER by MISLEADING and PREYING upon the insecurities of ordinary people.

    AT PRESENT, the JVP is best described by Wimal Weerawansa’s LABEL: Rathu Ali Patiyas.

    The JVP aligned itself TEMPORARILY with the UNP that killed most of its original leaders to DESTROY the formidable MR/UPFA, BUT only until it can DO UNTO the UNP what the UNP had DONE UNTO the JVP. To the JVP, the UNPatriotic party is an EASIER FUTURE TARGET than the SLFP/UPFA was, and now the SLPP will be.

    I would not TRUST the JVP further than I can throw a GRAND PIANO!

  7. DR M D P DISSANAYAKE Says:

    Dear Ananda
    “I would not TRUST the JVP further than I can throw a GRAND PIANO!” what a great analogy.

  8. Charles Says:

    I like Dilrooks « politics » . But he does not write to please any one or in support of any one;
    I hate these numbers and percentages that are bneing thrown about after every election Those numbers do not really reflect the minds of the people whoi had voted. JVP has no future even if they increase a few votes here and there at elections. That is more the movement of youth vote. We had more important Marxist movements in Sri Lanka and today they have become a part of the memories of the bygone days.

    JVP has no future unless it allies with a Socialist political moment. It spoilt whatever popularity it was gaining by allying with the UNP. Now they have lost the sympathy of the mass of the people. They should have learnt that lesson from Wimal Weeravansa. I think for them the only way out is not trying to catch thieves in the Rajapakse Regime along side UNP , but in moving along with the SLPP. SLPP has taken over from the old SLFP and come to stay.

    JVP as a part of SLPP may gain the sympathy of the people and may be able to move forward as perhaps one day as a separate Political Party. But not now. JVP has to begin by getting rid of its present set of leaders and elect new leaders who will give up association with reactionary Capitalist Parties and move towards Socialist parties along side SLPP.

  9. Christie Says:

    I am a person who looks at the money. The UNP until the sixties was financed by the local Sinhalese who had few pennies. The Leftists or Socialists hardly had a penny and they were from the start were financed by the Indian Parasites businesses. This Cabal included Nadars, Parsis, Boras and malayalis and other Indians. They financed the Socialists from the start. Some of the financiers s are Handys. Captains, Kundanmals, Hidramanis, Gnanams, Eswarans etc.

    They are the ones who finance all our politicians.

  10. Dilrook Says:

    Dear Dr Dissanayake

    I’m certainly no supporter of the JVP, UNP, SLFP or SLPP for the record.

    As Charles correctly stated in the above post, I like to say things as they are – aimed to create a harsh impact which is not well received at times. My intention is to get people to consider unpopular and at times ugly realities.

    JVP is a populist force without steady principles; I agree. JVP lost its way in propping up the UNP – the most capitalist party. However, JVP has powerful and increasing ground level support for a party of its size. I will be telling an untruth if I don’t say so. JVP is also looking at ways to capitalize on matters the JO is silent. Like the SLPP/JO, the JVP is also driven by party political (less clan politics though) calculations than any concern for the nation primarily. No one has ever won a presidential election for the first time without direct or indirect support of the JVP. It controls close to 9% of Sinhala Buddhist voters which is a sizable percentage.

    SLPP cannot wipe out the JVP electorally. The only possibility is an understanding with the JVP for the 2019 presidential election.

  11. Vaisrawana Says:

    The JVP is always obliged to form an alliance with one of the major parties just to ensure its survival. In 2020, JVP will hanker after the SLPP.

  12. DR M D P DISSANAYAKE Says:

    My Dearest Dilrook
    First I am glad you are politically neutral. So I am. I am no member of any party. I admire MR, GR for the work they have done.

    But, JVP are criminals: they killed Pitakotta Somananda Thero, Kotikawatte Saddatissa Thero. Now they take bribes. I know before most recent elections, you had doubts of SLPP winning due to division of SLFP vote base, But we all can be wrong, no harm done.

    MR will never accommodate AKD. He is liar, theif above all a womaniser. I know this Guy My Dear Dilrook.

    The country is imporant more than individuals. Cheers

  13. Dilrook Says:

    I have no regard for the current JVP leader but not all Sri Lankan voters think like me.

    Those may be facts but voters can’t care less. JVP has a sizable vote base and it is growing despite what we may think of JVPers. Mahinda has joined forces with Karuna, Douglas, Duminda, etc. So there is nothing to say he will not accommodate the JVP if it is politically beneficial. The problem is more so the other way around. Will Anura Kumara be willing to work with Mahinda again? JVP vote has been crucial in electing new presidents. With the total absence of minority votes, SLPP must form a broad alliance in 2019.

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