Posted on September 15th, 2020


The two JVP insurgencies of 1971 and 1987 have not been looked at deeply or analytically. Commentators have concentrated on describing what the JVP did, not why they did it.  Commentators treat the JVP with great indulgence, calling the JVP an idealistic, romantic youth movement.

 Dharman    Wickremaratne said that, as a working journalist, he had associated with many JVPers. They had a broad vision, much energy and strong voices, he said.  Neville Jayaweera and S. Nadesan were also sympathetic. These commentators have only looked at the JVP student and youth base, observed analysts. JVP was not a youth rebellion at all, said Chandraprema. The youth were merely used by the JVP.

Analysts also suggested that the JVP movement arose primarily   due to the poverty and unemployment in the country.  It is these two factors that drove the youth to JVP, said analysts. That is not so. The poor and unemployed did not run to the JVP. The JVP came after them. JVP was a shrewd, externally directed movement, which needed an obedient cadre. They got one without any difficulty.

In recruiting cadres, JVP made contact with most downtrodden and desperate    persons. These were indentified and JVP made contact with them and convinced them that they should support JVP. JVP focused on the lumpen proletariat and used them for their own purposes, said Chandraprema.

JVP knew to exploit the envy and anger of those who could not make it, those who were unemployed or in low paying jobs with no hope of advancement for their children. JVP gave them ‘the psychological factor of hope’, said Chandraprema. The notion of revolution gave the youth a zest, he added. There was also disenchantment with the traditional left, pointed out Wiswa Warnapala. When Wijeweera was discharged from prison in 1970, he was treated as a hero and garlanded.

JVP also used caste. In 1971, JVP had support from Karawa, Wahumpura and Batgam in the south. Govigama, Navandanna and Berava did not support, said analysts. Mahawatte village consisted mainly of  Batgama, Wahumpura, Durawa, Nakathi castes and most of the villagers supported JVP. Menikhinna consisted mainly of Batgam caste and was a hot bed of JVP activity.

Initially, there was much sympathy for JVP in villages, said Rohan Gunaratna. Many people had genuine sympathy for JVP because they too when they were young, had experienced the frustrations articulated by JVP.  The lower and lower middle class thought JVP offered a better alternative to UNP and SLFP. They had high expectations from JVP. There was also the feeling that unemployed and underprivileged youth had the right to revolt, observed Chandraprema.

Some writers, using their imagination, saw this as ‘the first revolutionary organization of the Sri Lanka peasantry’. JVP was trying to convert a rural backward peasantry to a revolutionary force, they said.

JVP leaders however, did not come from the unemployed group or the lower classes. They came from the middle class.  They were educated and employed. This is to be expected. An uneducated group could not lead an insurgency. There were professionals among the JVP leaders. Lalith Chandrasiri was an electrical Engineer of Steel Corporation. Viraj Fernando was a mechanical engineer at Steel Corporation.

Some were in stable employment. Somawansa Amarasinghe was a technical assistant in Irrigation Department. Jude Anthony was electrical technician at St Anthony’s Consolidated. Wijepala (1971 insurgency) was an employee of Colombo Port commission. Beli sira” was a bullock cart renter at Hambantota.     One member in the   Womens division was a teacher, another was a local government employee, and a third had worked in Singapore.

The JVP Politburo of 1980 had seven University graduates or drop outs, observed Rohan Gunaratna.  The JVP top rankers also included graduates and University drop outs. J.G. Wijegunasekera was a graduate in mass communications, University Kelaniya. Upali Jayaweera had graduated from University of Kelaniya with an honors degree in economics. Saman Piyasiri has been in University of Kelaniya. Lalith Wijeratne (Aravinda) studied in the Arts Faculty at University of Peradeniya.

The JVP leadership became politicized due to various factors. Ananda Idamegama was an engineering student at Peradeniya suspended for assaulting pro UNP students.  Shantha Bandara had studied at Trinity College, Kandy and Ananda College Colombo.   He was in the Science Faculty, Peradeniya, and was secretary of Socialist Students Union.  He was suspended from the university   few months before his final exams.

JG Wijegunasekera was an active trade unionist at Coconut Cultivation Board, and Small Industries Board.  He was dismissed after the 1980 strike. Upali Jayaweera applied for dozens of jobs, but could not get a job because of his leftist leanings. Palitha Dissanayake was a school boy when he went to prison in 1971. He became a full time JVPer.

JVP seems to have had good intelligence and knew to sniff out sound recruits. Upali Jayaweera was the son of village headman, his mother was a school teacher, his brother was an engineer and Upali was in the Medical Faculty. He went back home when University closed in 1987. He was approached   when reading at the Nuwara Eliya Public Library.

 His potential was immediately seen. Upali was appointed leader for Maskeliya, and was sent to University of Colombo for training, as Peradeniya   University representative from Medicine, together with the representatives for English, science and arts.  Rohan Gunaratne was impressed by Upali Jayaweera, and said Upali would have commanded the party, if he lived.

JVP posed as a Marxist party. But no one took their Marxism seriously. Wijeweera was not supported by either Russia or China, the two leading Communist powers. Wijeweera‘s own Marxism was always suspect. Wijeweera changed from Leninist to Trotskyite in 1973. 

 Wiswa Warnapala   heard Wijeweera address students at Peradeniya In 1971. Wijeweera was all revolutionary rhetoric, gestures, and gesticulations, said Wiswa. Wijeweera traversed the entire course of the history of revolution and referred to all revolutionary ideologies in the world. Wijeweera‘s own revolutionary ideology was a hotchpotch of all these ideologies without a clear cut strategy. His ideology was, in Marxian terms, not ideology at all, said Wiswa.

My assessment was that this man, with neither ideology nor political strategy would put the youth of the country into serious trouble, concluded Wiswa. In one   manifesto Wijeweera had said that if a person wrote to the government in French he would get a reply in French.

Dr.  Wasantha Bandara   had maintained secret links with Rohana Wijeweera throughout 1984-1989 period. During regular secret meetings with Rohana Wijeweera, Bandara said he realized Wijeweera was not in full control of the operations undertaken by the JVP.

Indradasa said Wijeweera was ‘a person easy to control,’ though his speeches sounded fiery.   Facing the camera for a video statement when arrested, the expression on his face was one of disappointment and dismay, said Indradasa. He had spoken in a shattered voice, with emotion.

When he was captured in 1971, Wijeweera was very docile, unlike his public image, said Chandraprema. He had told everything about everybody while trying to hide his own liability for the insurgence. His statement went to 400 pages, in 1989 he was brief, said Chandraprema.

JVP was a hard headed cynical  organization under a ruthless leadership, said critics. Noble sentiments were lacking. There was a lack of heroism and moral uprightness in the JVP, said Chandraprema.. The JVP leaders were never idealistic.  Rank and file may have had idealistic  views’ but not the leadership.

JVP had boasted of their simple life style. Then  in September 1989 Rupavahini showed the public the mansions, cars, and personal luxuries including  foreign aphrodisiacs used by the top JVP leadership.

For the JVP high command , self protection came first. When they ordered villagers out on a demonstration, JVP got those they disliked to march first so they were the first to get killed. JVP leaders stayed  in the rear,  they never went in the front.  They were safe from fire. They had followed this from the time they started forced demonstrations, said Chandraprema. An enterprising officer had once got a helicopter to fire at the rear of the procession.

In 1989 JVP did not display much bravery in captivity. Top leadership  told all within 24 hours. They were captured within  less than 24 hours of each  other. JVP was only willing to kill for a cause but not to die for it,  critics observed.   Analysts noted that the junior cadres were much better,  under interrogation .They did not sing even under torture. I do not think this was due to courage and loyalty, they probably  knew very little  about the  organization .

JVP had two levels of activity, open and secret. One genuine, the other bogus. They had two parallel political agendas  to match this, one for the public and another for the  insiders  in the party. The entire organization was conspiratorial, said Wiswa Warnapala.

JVP ‘s  public agenda said the JVP wanted  to create a socialist revolution which would benefit the masses.  This bogus agenda was  put forward to win  the popular support   JVP needed  in order to capture political power. The  cadres were told that the public agenda was  an  ‘upakrama’. Whenever a party cadre showed any uncertainty over the dual strategy, the answer was eka upakramayak,  sahodaraya”

The secret  agenda, which was the real one,  was armed seizure of power by a trained cadre of young men. JVP  while holding meetings for the  public was secretly arming.  They were  getting ready to kill. Emphasis was on weapons and training . It was to be  a Fascist type putsch, said Wiswa Warnapala. 

JVP only had short term plans, not long term ones, observed Chandraprema, indicating that  JVP was  only a tool obeying its handlers. JVP ‘s task was to bring the country to a grinding halt through terror and killing.

JVP had foreign contacts and foreign support. Ananda Idamegama  had contact with foreign ministries in Colombo. DJV had  trained a few of its members in India. In 1985 Amnesty International  issued a report on Sri Lanka taking the side of the JVP.  When an armed gang  abducted eight bhikkhus of the Manawa Hithawadi Organization in 1988  Somawansa phoned Amnesty  international  in London.  BBC  filmed an attack on JVP at University of Sri Jayewardenepura and showed it as  ‘island of terror’. When JVP were arrested there were Habeas corpus applications. These were paid for by applicant’s relatives or by an aid  organization . 

Early in the 1971 JVP insurgency,   it was rumored that  JVP was receiving covert aid from a foreign source. Godahewa  stated firmly that JVP had received funds in 1971   and named Middle East, Thailand and Japan.  It was obvious that the JVP was receiving some form of external aid in the period 1977-83 , said Chandraprema.

JVP tried to show that all funds were obtained locally,  through membership fees,  donations,  robberies.  JVP robbed cash from banks and petrol sheds. Dalandagama Maho   cooperative petrol shed, Polgahawela  and Galagamuwa  petrol sheds were robbed in 1986. In 1988, Digana Peoples Bank  was robbed of Rs 8 million, Wellawatte Peoples Bank robbed of  Rs 20  million in  cash. JVP robbed cash and jewellery from Marandagahamula Peoples Bank in 1987, and Wallewatte Peoples Bank in 1989. A pay roll of Rs 4 lakhs was robbed in Balangoda.  Another pay roll from Kalebokka was taken in 1989.

But JVP could not have funded its two  insurgencies  in this ad hoc manner. JVP had heavy expenses. Some Rs 1,000,000 to Rs 1,200,000 was needed  as  payment to full timers . Two activists in Kandy were given Rs120,000 and 150,000 .   Money was also needed to lease houses,  purchase and maintain vehicles.  In the late 1980s  JVP  bought three houses. Araliyawatte in Lilambe area Wariyapola, the house at Gonapola junction Batuwita and the mansion Katugaha Walawwa in Neluwa near Attampitiya road . When Shanta Bandara  was captured    Rs. one million  had been offered for his release.

After the 1989 defeat, the JVP was rescued by its foreign contacts. The foreign links of the JVP came to light only then, said Godahewa. This fact has not received the publicity it deserves., India’s RAW had arranged to provide accommodation and other assistance in India to fleeing JVP cadres.  Nearly 400 were given sanctuary. In April 1989 Somawansa’s wife and son had been sent to Japan, then    UK via Kerala,  Thailand and Italy.’

The sole Politbureau member to escape, after the 1987 insurgency,  was  Somawansa Amarasinghe. He  left in March 1990. The media said  Somawansa Amerasinghe was assisted by RAW  to safely flee Sri Lanka, and he was initially given refuge in India. Shamindra Ferdinando said Somawansa was helped by a section of the government to escape to India where Indian authorities looked after him before facilitating his migration to the UK.

  In UK Somawansa had run a special international JVP cell. This was used,  very successfully to conduct special meetings in different countries in Asia, on behalf of the JVP. According to Dharman Wickremaratne, Somawansa had traveled to Italy via France and thereafter to Switzerland.. Somawansa  lived in Paris and London  for 12 years and  returned to Sri Lanka to  lead the JVP in 1994.  ( Continued)

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