Posted on August 2nd, 2022


The 1987–89 JVP insurrection was the second unsuccessful armed revolt conducted by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna against the Government of Sri Lanka, then under President J. R. Jayewardene.

Victor Ivan said that he had anticipated the rise of the JVP in its second insurrection. He was told that old JVPers who refused to obey the JVP were under threat they could even be killed.

Unlike the first unsuccessful JVP insurrection of 1971, the second insurrection was not an open revolt, but appeared to be a low intensity conflict that lasted from 1987 to 1989 with the JVP resorting to subversion, assassinations, raids and attacks on military and civilian targets.

In most semi- urban and village areas JVP were faceless. Threats came without the courier seen. JVP delivered messages, tied to stones and thrown into gardens of the intended recipients. These had to be obeyed otherwise the JVP punishment was very severe.

There were message drops for the JVP members     Aliases were used. The other members would know only that X was a member but not his position in the JVP. In 1989 main areas of JVP was Piliyandala, Homagama, Hokandara, Kahatuduwa circle.

 In 1987 JVP also embarked on a comprehensive agenda to destroy the economy. The JVP burnt down 245 out of 545 agrarian service centers in the country along with paddy stocks and storage facilities in 1987-89.

A group wishing to take over and run a country does not start by ruining its economic infrastructure as JVP did.  JVP was instructed by its handlers, obviously, to create difficult economic conditions that would make the public rise against the state. A senior academic had designed the blueprint for this economic destruction to be implemented by JVP, said Rohan Gunaratne.

JVP succeeded in doing this, and by October 1989 the economy had been crippled. JVP and its handlers hoped that the resulting hardship would turn the public against the government. However,   this did not happen. Instead the academic who had    designed the plan fled the country with his family when the insurgency failed.

The JVP insurrection of 1986 to 1987 took a toll of the rural areas, said Garvin Karunaratne, former GA Matara. Thanks to the JVP, the well to do people in the rural areas, the estate owners, the rice millers, lorry owners and traders all left the rural areas for the cities.  

In my subsequent visits to Matara I met many a rice miller and many a merchant who were the live wire in their rural habitat in Kamburupitiya, Hakmana etc. They had got rid of their rural possessions and migrated to the Matara town.

Many people who had been living happily on their estates left for good. Some have never stepped into their estates since the JVP uprising of 1987-1989. They have allowed their workers to manage the estates are satisfied with whatever returns they got.

The development of the rural areas requires the services of every entrepreneur and entrepreneurs come from the rich families with enough money to invest. They are not in the rural areas now. That was the legacy left by JVP with their two insurrections concluded Karunaratne.

JVP carefully and methodically hit the key sectors in the economy. Tea estates in the Uva Badulla areas and coconut and rubber estates in the south were badly hit. Over 2,09,000 kilograms of tea were destroyed by the JVP in the central provinces. The JVP targeted the transport sector  and  this paralyzed the country and brought it to a standstill. Public and private transport  was reduced to such low levels that food shortages threatened.

The two tactics used by JVP   to hit the economy were orders to close factories and work places and secondly, order to workers to strike. In 1987 Ramya Weerakoon’s apparel business was contacted by the JVP. Little notes were delivered to the security guard in the factory by JVP errand boys, she said.  Close the factory today with full pay for workers the notes said. A slip usually came on Friday or Monday, Ramya recalled.

If the two adjoining factories were also losing, she also closed her factory. The days of lost production hit them hard but they had to obey. A factory owner had defied the JVP order and they ordered him to shut down for a week. Another factory in Horana was burned down.

Between 1987 and 1989, JVP called many strikes. In September 1988, JVP ordered nationwide strikes with widespread compliance. Shops, transport, hospitals and government services were shut. Bank, Postal and telecommunications virtually halted. On 15 August 1989, the JVP called for a total island wide general strike on Indian Independence Day.

Some 90,000 tea plantation workers in the southern Ratnapura district went on a week-long strike from 7 September 1989 in response to a JVP call. Neither the imposition of emergency nor the threat of dismissal had any effect on the workers, possibly because of the terror the JVP inspired. The striking workers also could not be dismissed as that might have resulted in a wave of sympathy strikes in other sectors.

Employees of the government road transport service went on strike, demanding higher wages. They were later joined by the private run mini-buses and railways crippling the public transport.

The transport strike was followed by several token and one-day strikes. On 26 June 1989 the JVP called for a 24 hour general strike to sympathize with the 52,000 striking transport workers. Telecommunications and postal workers had walked out of their posts in support of the bus workers demands. Port workers and state sector workers staged a wildcat strike. Oil refineries remained closed due to JVP instigated strikes.

Twelve key trade unions had announced that they would launch agitations to seek Sri Lankan Rs. 2,500 as basic minimum wages, the amount which was being offered to the Jan Saviya families under the poverty line. The JVP had instigated these strikes.

JVP also took an anti India stance.    Wijeweera, set a deadline of 14 June 1989 for a complete boycott of Indian goods, departure of all Indians of Sri Lankan and Indian origin.

This call  had a devastating effect on the economy and bring the country to a standstill. Not only is Sri Lanka dependent on India for certain essential goods, there were eighteen private and public sector Indian companies operating in Sri Lanka, including state Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Indian Airlines  Air India  Pugoda Textiles, Bombay Dyeing and the Taj group of hotels. Over 70 per cent of the state Transport Board buses were of Indian make and the Sinhala drivers could not defy the JVP boycott call.

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