Posted on October 1st, 2022


Sarath Amunugama in his book Dreams of Change” has provided additional information on Wijeweera and the JVP. Wijeweera was involved in anti- state activity long before 1971. Wijeweera was the mysterious Doctor” who had participated in the    coup aimed at toppling the Dudley Senanayake government in 1966. Investigations revealed a link to a “Dr Tissa” who was identified as Rohana Wijeweera, said Wikipedia.

Wijeweera had to learn Russian to do higher studies in Russia. Wijeweera when he came back to Sri Lanka could speak Russian and   knew something about the political thinking in Russia.   Wijeweera did manual work in the fields in Moldavia during his vacation and saw at first hand the poor living conditions of ordinary Russians and the corruption of the Russian elite. Back in Sri Lanka, Wijeweera strongly criticized Soviet degeneration, said Amunugama.

Wijeweera started his political career with a spectacular rise in the China wing of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, said Amunugama.  China wing was led by N Shanmugathasan. This wing was not large, but provided Wijeweera with a network of likeminded activists and a cover for his own ambitions.

Wijeweera linked with   Premalal Kumarasiri, who was a leader in the China wing. Wijeweera thereafter abandoned Kumarasiri and set up his own party, with Kumarasiri’s men. These pro-China communists were the first members of Wijeweera’s JVP, said Amunugama. The group included his first deputy leader, Wijesena Vithana who went by the name Sanath Boraluketiya. He was a teacher and the District secretary for Anuradhapura in the CP (China wing). He was from Ambalangoda.

The others in this group were WT Karunaratne and SVA Piyatilleke both from Communist Party (China wing). H Milton an unemployed youth from Colombo North,   Delgoda Raja Perera, a technician in the Port Commission, Siripala Abeygunawardene, a CTB driver, DP Wimalagune, employee of Collettes, TG Walter, a motor car technician at CWE, AE Jamis, electrical technician at CWE, Piyasiri Gunaratna, a clerk, Nihal Dias, undergraduate and secretary of China Wing branch, Panadura, Mahinda Palihawadana, a bank clerk, Piyadasa Yalagala ,an employed youth, Muthumala, a clerk and TBC Fernando, an unemployed youth.

Wijeweera also absorbed the district groups of the CP China wing, who were with Shanmuganathan. Wijeweera got them easily into the JVP as feeder groups. The first to come in was the Panadura branch, followed by Kotte, Kalutara and Ambalangoda branches, said Amunugama.

Wijeweera established contact with two influential young leftists, Nimalasiri Jayasinghe, later known as Loku Athula and Cyril Dahanayake known as Diyonis. Loku Athula belonged to the Vahumpura (Bathgama) caste which was dominant in the Kelaniya –Mahara area and this helped to recruit members of this caste to the party.

Cyril Dahanayake was   in the Land Development Department Trade union. Dahanayake brought in the President of the Union, LY Danoris and Secretary HG Amarasena as well as two committee members, into the JVP. This trade union was an important addition to the fledgling JVP. Its newspaper ‘Voice of Development ‘became a propaganda vehicle for JVP. Dahanayake was able to provide support services such as office space and transport as well.

Sarath Amunugama draws attention to the role played by village school teachers in giving strength to the JVP.  He stated that Jayasinghe a graduate teacher at Elpitiya, openly held JVP classes for his students.  Jayasinghe not only converted his pupils but made their hometown a JVP controlled territory which held out the longest. Elpitiya, which was a small town in the hinterland of the Galle district, became a   JVP fortress which saw the killing of police officers, looting of police armory, and holding out by JVP militants for a long time.   

Wijeweera also   created a strong support base in the university sector.  At Peradeniya he had Sarath Wijesinghe a charismatic leader who had built up an independent base in the University for Himself and Lionel Bopage who later became Wijeweera’s right hand man. Peradeniya became a JVP bastion. Bopage and his group had stored weapons and gelignite in the university halls of residence in 1971.

Wijeweera also turned to Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara campuses. Vidyalankara proved to be difficult as it was controlled by Dharmasekera who had his own following.    Wijeweera therefore turned to Vidyodaya where the student council was led by Mahinda Weerasekera. He recruited Weerasekera and Vidyodaya became a bastion of the JVP.   Vidyodaya with its mass of young Buddhist monks also later became a convenient safe zone for JVP leaders when they were hunted by the police.

Amunugama draws attention to the manner in which Wijeweera used the Buddhist monks for politics. Wijeweera raised their role to a new intensity, observed Amunugama.  Monks were   made active members of the JVP .Several JVP front rankers were former monks who had disrobed. JVP monks, Narambedde Piyadassi (later Jagath Narambedde) and Kotawila Devasiri (later Dharmasena) were popular speakers at SLFP meetings at the 1970 General election.

 JVP’s Sangha organization was the first group of monks to participate in a May Day parade. About a 1000 young monks clad in saffron red robes paraded under the banner of the Socialist Bhikkhu Front. They were positioned immediately behind the JVP top leadership.

Wijeweera first used monks as spear carriers    then as foot soldiers in the      struggle. Hundreds of monks took part in the JVP insurgencies   and participated in violence. One of the achievements of JVP was harnessing the potential of young Buddhist monks as soldiers of this revolution, said JVP proudly.

In the 1970s, Buddhist temples were used to keep arms and ammunitions, as hiding places and as outposts for JVP. Members were posted to abandoned Buddhist temples to do propaganda work among villagers.  JVPers who committed crimes such as robbing banks were taken into the Tempe and robed as a monk.

The Sangaramaya for young monks located in Peradeniya and Vidyodaya were command centers for the party during the 1971 insurgency. High level discussions were held.  The decision to attack on April 5 was taken at Vidyodaya Gangaramaya.

Pro-JVP monks took over the management of important temples and monasteries. They became centers of propaganda and refuge for JVP activists. These monks ran their own front organizations and published a magazine.

In 1980, JVP had three special fronts, university, women and monks. The monks organization was under DM Ananda, who was one of the top JVP leaders. He was no 3 in the hierarchy. He was a monk who had given up robes in his final year in University.

Each JVP territorial division zone, district, sub district had a branch of JVP bhikkhu organization. It was the most comprehensive non formal Sangha grouping outside the traditional one based on nikaya, observed Amunugama.   JVP had cut across the nikayas, and established itself as a tri nikaya organization. Monks form all sects were free to join.   

In my view, this was not Sangha reform, no way. The reason was practical.  JVP was in no position to recruit monks by nikaya. The number of monks who joined the JVP was too small .

Unknown to the public JVP monks, were exerting pressure on senior monks, continued Amunugama. Mahanayakes were intimidated by young monks supporting JVP.. Leading Buddhist monks got threatening letters and some left the island.  Others drastically curtailed their religious and social activities. 

JVP monks criticized senior monks who did not support JVP.  They said that the senior monks should retire if they cannot carry out their responsibilities.  Kumbalgamuwe Dhammananda writing to, ‘Vinivida’ criticized the nayake monks, saying they are busy litigating without attending to their duties and protecting Buddhism.

JVP assassinated senior monks who were UNP or Leftist. Senior monks assassinated included Pohaddaramulle Pemloka, Thambugala Sumanasiri, Vellatota Pannadassi and Kotikawatte Saddhatisssa. Many other leading priests were also killed.

When JVP lost in 1989, JVP monks were heavily  criticized and these criticisms were given wide publicity in newspapers.  Some JVP monks gave up robes, other fled abroad. Some joined JVP guerillas who had retreated to the jungles camps. There were many reports of disappearance of monks, sightings of laymen with shaven heads, and discovery of discarded robes in public places.

Sarath Amunugama says changes in bhikku education  , particularly pirivena and university education  and the changing pattern of recruitments to the Sangha  created  a new strata of radical, socially committed monks, who however had to  live within  the  traditional Sangha  organization .JVP support came from this strata.  JVP offered a welcome escape.

When they joined the JVP the monks were introduced to an intellectual world which does not have the moral certainties of the Dhamma. Thus the monk faced a culture shock which predisposed him to radicalism, said Amunugama. However,  Marxism created a world of moral superiority like his familiar Buddhism.

The intrusion of monks into the arena of revolutionary politics has resulted in a loss of charisma,   said Amunugama. Monks have been arrested, stripped of their robes, and   killed in conflicts. When demonstrating, monks are teargassed and assaulted. They are forced to run with their robes tucked up. Will the public who see this, show religious devotion to them, asked Amunugama. This dwindling of social esteem may have long term implications for recruitment, education, influence and religious vocation of the Sinahla Sangha, concluded Amunugama  

I would add that one of the silent aims of the JVP, though not discussed here, is to   damage the Sinhala Buddhist civilization of Sri Lanka.  Reducing the image of the Sangha by making  monks behave in an undignified  manner  and making them carry out criminal  acts fits neatly into this purpose. The inclusion of JVP Buddhist clergy and other clergy is also aimed at using the religious robe either to embarrass it or to use it as a leverage whenever required  said Shenali Waduge.

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