Posted on August 3rd, 2022


The two JVP insurgencies of 1971 and 1987 have not been looked at analytically. Commentators have focused 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, which arose spontaneously.  It was nothing of the sort. It was an externally influenced movement intended to destabilize and break up the state.

Analysts now trace JVP beginnings to the 1960s at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, where agitation started in the mid 1960s.   I was in the University at this time. The first University student strike took place in my time, in 1962 or 1963. I have forgotten what it was about. Its climax came when the demonstrating students,   suddenly barricaded the staircase to the administration building. They sat there, occupying the full staircase, which curved up on either side.  Lecturers immediately said, Somebody is behind this. Our undergrads would not, on their own, have thought of this tactic.”

Cyril Ranatunge said that Marxist students at Peradeniya became aggressive in the 1960s, supported by sympathetic staff. Violence emerged in Peradeniya in latter part of 1960s, he said.

In 1968 the army was billeted in University   Peradeniya campus as the annual armed services parade was to be held in Kandy. Instead of a warm welcome, students mounted a violent attack on the army with stones and home made weapons. One soldier was severely wounded and hospitalized with head injuries. Later we found that the JVP was rehearsing for1971, said Ranatunge.

I remember wondering why the students had reacted like that. As an educated group they should have respected the army, welcomed it and recognized the right of the government to station its army anywhere it chose.  Graduates were allowed to enter the army at a certain high level. However, I recall one lecturer,  a relative, supporting the student action and saying that the government should never have stationed the army on the University campus.

The 1971 JVP insurgency has been described as a romantic, innocent revolution, an unplanned spontaneous attack. It was no such thing. It was pre-planned and well organized. The purpose was to bring down the SLFP government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. JVP was planning a putsch, to remove the government by force. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was to be eliminated. She would be taken into custody from her Rosmead Place residence.

JVP started in the classic manner. Once the new SLFP government came into power there was an unprecedented outburst of lawlessness throughout the country, said S. Nadesan. JVP had infiltrated government industrial concerns and had intimidated the workers.  There were work stoppages.

The 1971 insurgency was carefully planned in advance. Kamal Gunaratne commented on the planning that would have gone into a simultaneous attack on 92 police stations. Each attack was planned ahead. The electricity supply was cut before a police station was attacked. Approaches to police stations were sealed off, in some cases, by felling large trees.

Cyril Ranatunge commented on the posters and graffiti which appeared over night throughout the island (except in North and east).  Overnight posters appearing all over at the same time pointed to an organization which was orchestrated and well disciplined, he said.

JVP cadres were expected to take and hold certain areas. Colombo district which spanned a large area was demarcated into five, Meda Kolamba (the city limits); Dakunu Kolamba (the coastal areas up to Mount Lavinia); Kotte (from Kirullapone to Avissawella); Uthuru Kolamba (beyond the Kelani river to Peliyagoda and Negombo); and Nuwara Paara (from Peliyagoda to Nittambuwa).

‘JVP Disha Lekam’ (head of the area) of the Nuwara Paara covering Peliyagoda, Kadawatha, Ganemulla, Weliweriya, Kirindiwela, Mirigama, Veyangoda, Gampaha and Nittambuwa) was Jayadeva Uyangoda alias ‘U Mahaththaya’.

JVP did not attack only police stations. They attacked army camps and utilities as well. These were more important than the police stations. The police stations were to provide secure rear-bases for subsequent attacks by the JVP on towns and cities.

 JVP planned to attack the armed forces in their camps. The army cantonment at Panagoda would be attacked.  Navy personnel at Ragama and air force personnel at Katunayake were to be immobilized by introducing a purgative to their food.

JVP had compiled information regarding vital institutions which affected the country security and economy. They targeted utilities. JVP had tried to attack the transformer on the Wariyapola Road in Kurunegala district.  Edward Gunawardene, in charge of operations in Kurunegala recalled that the sergeant guarding a large transformer on the Wariyapola Road with two other constables ‘started calling me on the walkie talkie in a desperate tone.”

Vavuniya was one of the pockets where the JVP was able to hold out for a long time, observed Jayaweera. That is because JVP took Vavuniya   in a planned manner. JVP controlled the road at Iratperiyakulama and Omanthai, cutting Vavuniya off from Anuradhapura and Jaffna. JVP also controlled roads at Medawachchiya, Rajangana, and Polgahawela, which meant they had control of all key road and rail junctions. 

JVP controlled Madukanda, a village   in Vavuniya which provided a link to Trincomalee. A hard core of about 25 stayed on in the thickly forested ridge off Mamaduwa village, north east of Vavuniya from where till mid August, 1971 they made regular incursions into town and torched school buildings and buses and sniped at army camps and patrols. Air strikes failed to flush them out,  said Jayaweera. They were eventually flushed out.

JVP also had its retreat planned. From Kegalle JVP moved to Anuradhapura, then when that got hot they fled to Kantalai and Wilpattu. Anuradhapura unlike Kegalle was thick jungle in the interior with public in the central areas only. JVP had selected remote areas, such as Kahatagasdigiliya, Kala oya, Galenbinduna wewa, and Ottappuwa, as their bases for staging operations said Ranatunge.

Army camps were set up in these places.The air force was also brought into pursue fleeing insurgents and helicopters to move reinforcement at speed. JVP then went into inaccessible areas off Kantalai, into a vast area of forest reserve on Trincomalee Road. Army had no idea where their camps were and had to start all over again.

JVP came perilously close to overthrowing the  government. Had the  simultaneous attacks taken place on a single night as planned, the utterly  unprepared government would have found it  difficult to  defeat the JVP.  During the first 72 hours the JVP strategy appeared to be working. Then the government got its act together and defeated the JVP.

JVP was a destructive movement heading towards fascist movement and it should be destroyed said an army officer.  This officer has gone after the JVP leaders all along and had played a significant role in getting  the front line leaders of the JVP movement.

Waging a battle against a state is no easy task observed a Daily News editorial. While the JVP did succeed in virtually taking over some areas especially in the south, it was no match for the army and the police that were at the disposal of the Government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike. It was a sort of baptism of fire for a government that was just one year old when April 1971 happened. The insurrection was brutally crushed and all those who surrendered were later ‘rehabilitated’ and released to society.

JVP gained control of some areas during the insurgency, but did not know what to do next, said analysts.  JVP activists who managed to control large areas of the country following April 5th did not know what to do next.The hierarchical system of cells had kept members isolated from each other and ignorant of the JVP’s overall plan.

 Instead of taking over neighboring towns and cities and marching on to other areas, they simply waited until those areas were also captured.  They failed to set up a new government or new administration in the areas they controlled.  They were not trained for that. They were trained to await orders from a higher authority, said Rohan Gunaratne.

JVP only had short term plans, not long term ones, observed Chandraprema. JVP had focused solely on a single decisive blow against the Government. There was no provision to conduct even a short term guerrilla operation,  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. It was to set the stage for a takeover by a foreign country.

JVP in 1971 was not trained for guerilla war. Analysts observed that JVP’s conspiratorial structure   was excellent for surprise armed attack, but not for long drawn-out guerrilla warfare. The cadres were not physically or psychologically prepared to continue an armed struggle.   They only had a scanty and inadequate training in military tactics and weapons use.  The arms and ammunition such as shotguns and locally made hand-thrown bombs were not only inferior in quality but were in short supply as well. 

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