Saturday 2nd of March 2024

English Tamil

JVPs Second Insurrection a Retrospective Look  

2024-01-21 1424

(Victor Ivan)


Now Sri Lanka is approaching an election year. With the acute balance of payments crisis in the country, there was a big dialogue about the need for having a ‘system change’. There were also big discussions about the need for having new leaders and new political parties. Yet, so far, nothing of such changes, the new leaders or political movements has emerged, except the continuity of the remnants and scraps of the old political system. So much so, the only visible outcome has been the erosion of the recognition enjoyed by the old and mainstream  political parties, to a considerable level, while the JVP which is  also an old party  and remained relatively small in terms of its size, has apparently achieved a  considerable growth compared to the other  old political parties.  

I don't know the extent of impact the growth of the JVP would make on the next election. But I am of the view that it will not augur well for the country. The JVP has a parliamentary history of 30 years. The JVP secured 39 seats at the parliamentary election held in 2004 consequent to the alliance it entered into, with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).The presence of a good democratic party in the parliament (even if it does not hold the ruling power) could lead to desirable changes in the political system of the country. For instance, the Samasamaja movement (the LSSP) did not gain the ruling power in the country; but its contribution to effecting far-reaching and desirable changes in the country had been immense. The workers got an eight-hour workday because of them. It was because of them that a system of recording the entries made in police stations in the vernacular i.e. in the language in which they are originally stated was introduced and the village headmen system was abolished. Their influence on the creation of a free education system was also huge. Further, the amount of intellectual contribution made by them for the development of parliamentary traditions was also huge.

But the impact that the JVP has made for desirable changes in this long period of 30 years is marginal. At least, it has not been able to make any effective impact on preventing the illegal practice of MPs doing business with the government, which is a major source of corruption in the parliamentary system. Instead of promising to stop the system of providing duty-free vehicles to members of parliament after coming to power, it would have made a better and more effective impact towards the abolition of this wrong   practice if the JVP had acted, at least on a policy of refraining from accepting the duty-free vehicles allocated to the members of their party. The system of crediting the salaries of public representatives of the JVP to their party account is also not reasonable; it is a corrupt system that pushes the people's representatives to depend on their cronies for their survival. There are instances where they have failed to reflect consistency in their policy on the subject of corruption. The acceptance and   sale of one or two commercial broadcasting licenses offered to the JVP by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, considering the extraordinary support extended to him at the 2005 presidential election by the former,  can be considered a corrupt deal (even if the income earned from the sale was credited to the party account). It can be considered as an illegal transaction in which a large amount of money due to the treasury had been transferred to a political party, illegally. The source of huge amount of wealth spent for the construction of party headquarters of the JVP is also not clean and transparent. The former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva is considered locally as well as internationally as an extremely corrupt person who has ruined the Sri Lankan judiciary. However, the JVP perceived him as a hero who should be entrusted with the responsibility of rescuing the country. It was Sarath Nanda Silva that JVP had initially decided to put forward as the common candidate for the 2010 presidential elections. As Nagananda Kodituvakku has stated, if the JVP leaders have registered three political parties in their names, that too can be considered as an act of corruption. Even though JVP claims that it is not a party that has looted or stolen people’s wealth, the party had a special unit (headed by Ragama Somme) which was run for extorting money during the period it worked underground prior to  the second insurrection  and during the second  insurrection as well. As recorded in his book, Dharman Wickramaratna states that the JVP had burgled 62 branches of state banks during 1985-1990 and had looted money and gold items in them. There were 131 cases of salaries robbed. (page769) Not only the JVPers themselves, but also their loyal supporters  seem to  think that the JVP may have committed serious mistakes during the insurrection, but since they have not repeated  such  mistakes during the long period  of time that has passed since then, it is not reasonable to criticize them now  on   mistakes committed in the past . Not only the general public, but also some academics seem to think the same way. It can be considered as a good indicator that reflects the element of poverty inherent in the political culture in Sri Lanka and the extent of it. We know that, since ancient times, there was a system in operation in which the acts that were detrimental to the peaceful existence of private or public life were defined as crimes and the culprits who committed such acts were punished to ensure social security. Punishing those who commit crimes was considered an important responsibility of the state. Homicide was considered the most serious crime among the crimes committed against the people. The acts such as looting, violation of individual property rights, theft and acts of misappropriation can also be considered as serious crimes. A system of depriving the life of people who had destroyed the life of another person/s was in operation for a very long time. Later, a system was implemented in which people who commit such crimes were sentenced to life imprisonment and kept away from the society. Not only the leaders of the JVP ,but also some academics in Sri Lanka who have become their obedient followers seem to consider the people who have murdered the  people during insurrections  as better and respectable  characters than those who had stolen public property. But according to Section 456 of the Criminal Code of 1979, the right of prosecution for murder or treason shall not be barred by any length of time. But the right of prosecution for any other crime or offense shall be barred by the lapse of twenty years from the time when the crime or offense shall have been committed. After the Second World War the crimes committed by Hitler’s Nazi campaign were interpreted as crimes against humanity. Similarly, the crimes committed during the second insurrection of the JVP also fall under the category of crimes against humanity.

The JVP pushed the country into a situation where the entire society was compelled to live in constant fear of death during the insurrection. They had the ability to disable all activities in any area by issuing a small chit. People obeyed them not because of the respect or trust they had for them, but because of the enormous fear they had for them. Many leftists were pushed to the point of taking up arms for their defense because of the threats to their lives from the JVP. Some people had discussed this issue with me as well. Some who met me in my office warned me that they might even kill me. I told them that since I had made a firm decision after the 71 rebellion not to take up arms for any reason, no matter how harsh and violent the environment I had to live in, I would not take up arms again. I neither took up arms nor lived a secret life during that insurrection. As usual, I continued my work in the Ravaya magazine in public. Although I strongly criticized their work on many occasions, I did not get into unnecessary disputes with the JVP. I must say that they did not do any harm to me, let alone killing me. Although I was not harmed personally, I saw horrible and ugly things done to people by them, as well as by the security forces that fought against them.

For example, Nandana Marasingha came to meet me with Ranjith Dissanayake (Kalu Ranji) at the Ravaya office at Old Quarry Road in Mt. Lavinia, three days before he was assassinated. I had come to know that Marasinghe had become a JVP target; when I told him about it, his response was as follows: “Yes, not only me, even you have a threat to your life. Just because you have a threat, you haven’t gone into hiding. I do the same," he said. Unlike me, Marasinghe had played a huge role in promoting the JVP. He was a member of the group of 60 people who went to Jaffna to rescue Wijeweera during the ‘71 insurrection. It was an unsuccessful attempt, but he managed to escape without being arrested.  On July 23, 1972, he attacked the Anuradhapura prison and managed to rescue 31 of the 71 rebels who were held there. Piyadasa Ranasinghe, the fourth leader of the second insurrection, was among those rescued.  After that, on the night of September 29, 1972 he attacked the same prison again and rescued 134 suspects of the insurrection who were detained there. After being arrested in 1973, he managed to escape from prison again in 1975; but after being arrested again, he lived a peaceful life until he was released from prison. He was a talented Tabla player. After he was released from prison, he made an active contribution to the Vimukthi Gee Fiesta (Sandarshanaya) organized by the JVP. In 1981, he left the JVP over an ideological dispute and established an organization called "Janatha Kala Kendraya” (people’s Art Center) and adopted a life that placed more emphasis on literature and art.

In this backdrop, Nandana was shot dead on November 27, 1987 at the ‘pola’ground of Anuradhapura. It is considered to be an assassination committed on the orders of Wijeweera. The JVP assassinated a large number of people in that insurrection using their disloyalty as a reason. Apart from that, without any justifiable reason JVP even killed people who were of great value to the country to show that the insurrection was spreading everywhere. The killings of Professor Stanley Wijesundara, Vice-Chancellor of Colombo University and Professor Chandraratne Patuwithana, Vice-Chancellor of Moratuwa University are examples of this. Even for very small and simple offenses, people were killed in large numbers. As Dharman Wickramaratne has described in his book titled "ජවිපෙ දෙවැනි කැරැල්ල"-(The second insurrection of the JVP) ,219 ordinary people had been killed for watching television and listening to the radio when JVP had banned them. Also, 27 newspaper vendors were killed for selling newspapers despite the ban imposed  by the JVP on  selling government's newspapers, and it is also said that a number of newspaper agencies that  disregarded  the ban were bombed. (Page 854) Hundreds of people were killed for casting their votes at the election. Hundreds of government employees were also killed for discharging their electoral duties.

The JVP assassinated the people in a ruthless and contemptible manner. They had demeaning conditions imposed on the last rites of those killed were to be conducted. It was forbidden to lift the dead body more than a foot above the ground level. Less than 10 people could participate when performing the last rites. Hoisting white flags and carrying the body in a funeral car were forbidden. Cremation of the dead body was prohibited; and after burial, the grave should be at ground level and not be demarcated or distinguished from the rest of the area. Often a notice stating the reason for killing was displayed near the grave. Some people were killed in a manner causing maximum contempt for the victim, examples of the methods they used for that are cited below.

The gunman who assassinated Vijaya Kumaratunga after shooting him had turned back and shot him again at his face to crush and disfigure the face. Professor Carlo Fonseka analyzing that special situation said that apparently it had been carried out on the order of someone with an ugly face. The second example is from Matara. On April 26, 1988, JVP killed Buddhadasa Rupasingha Jayasekara of Matara Pasgoda, Bengamuwa, a plantation owner attached to the UNP, and his brother GR Jayasekara, the principal of Vilayaya Vidyalaya. Both of them were subjected to severe torture, stabbed in many places on their bodies, stripped, tied to a tree and burned their bodies by placing the carpets of the house on their heads.

The third example is from Monaragala. 39-year-old Gorakane Nandasiri Silva was an activist of the 71 rebellion. He was a freelance architectural designer who lost his job in the July strike. He ran a farm in Monaragala with Dissanayake M Jayewardene, a 27-year-old second-year student of the University of Moratuwa and several others. Dissanayake M Jayewardene was the brother of Vasantha Dissanayake, one of the main leaders of the Janatha Sangamaya. On the night of November 8, 1988, a group of JVP rebels stormed this farm and shot dead five people including Nandasiri and Dissanayake who lived in three houses in that farm, and cut their bodies into pieces and set the three houses on fire. They severed the hands of Nandasiri and the neck of Dissanayake and hung them on a branch of a nearby tree for exhibition.
The fourth example is from Galle. Ranasinghe, an employee of the Land Development Board, Udugama, Galle, was killed for violating the curfew imposed by the JVP and his severed neck was placed on a plate and sent to his home

The fifth example is from Kataragama. Weerasekera, who worked at the CTB Depot at Hambantota, was killed by JVP rebels at his wedding ceremony held at his bride's house at Pallemalala, a few minutes before he stepped on the Magul Poruwa, the marriage platform. With these examples outlined above, it is possible to comprehend the barbaric nature of the JVP. One can also question the behavior of the government and the security forces that fought against the JVP. The answer is that the behavior of the security forces was equally immoral and barbaric as that of the JVP, and perhaps even more. But it must be said that it is the JVP that should be held mainly responsible for this situation and not the government or the security forces.

This situation can be explained as follows. In the early stages of the Indian freedom struggle, the British army didn’t adopt a civilized approach in combating the rebels. They acted in a harsh and uncivilized framework. However, after Mahatma Gandhi assumed the leadership of the freedom struggle, the anti-British struggle in India too assumed a civilized form of non-violence which had not been experienced in any other country in the world before. This special situation in turn led the British government and the army to change their approach to   the Indian freedom struggle and bring it to an advanced level of civility. If the JVP of Wijeweera wanted to capture the ruling power, it should have used the space available in a democratic system. Even though Wijeweera, after being released from prison in November 1977 had switched over to the democratic path with his party, the JVP, the terrorist spirit of his   had not changed completely. He wanted to occupy the second place held in the political arena which was maintained by the SLFP as quickly as possible and also at an extraordinary speed. Despite his attempt to secure that position for six years, he could not even reach nearer the place maintained by the Sri Lank Freedom Party, though he had been able to surpass the traditional left. He contested the presidential election in 1982. He expected a close contest with   Hector Kobbekaduwa, the candidate of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Wijeweera was polled only 273,428 votes when Hector Kobbekaduwa secured 2,548,438 votes. The difference of votes polled between them was nine times. How much Wijeweera would have suffered from that defeat was apparent from the fact that he was not even present at the venue of announcing the official results of the election, at least to thank the voters who voted for him. Lionel Bopage, who was his most trusted friend at that time, has recorded the expectations of Wijeweera and the party in that presidential election as follows. " The expectations Wijeweera has had and the hopes he had created in the general membership of the party, about the prospects of the  election  was so high was evident  from the fact that  it was not possible  to have got Comrade Rohana Wijeweera out of his bed until three days after the results of the general elections were released”. (Page 95, “71 Rebellions by   Ruwan M Jayathunga) From these experiences, Wijeweera had realized that it was not easy to secure first place in an election; let alone the second place, under parliamentary democracy. Therefore, he made the ban imposed on the party in the aftermath of Black July ’83, a reason and an opportunity to switch back to terrorism. 

The JVP had nothing to do with the violent incidents of Black July ’83. The ban imposed on JVP in this regard was unfair. But the ban imposed was not a license for them to rebel. The other two parties which were banned, the Communist Party and the Nawa Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), worked to get the ban lifted, but Wijeweera did not do that, and made it an opportunity to return to terrorism. Wijeweera and his party talked big about the ban imposed on them; but, the irony is that they themselves resorted to imposing a ban on the other parties which were in operation in the country during the insurrection. Also, Wijeweera chose one of the most unethical options for moving to a rebellion. In an armed insurrection aimed at seizing power, the accepted method adopted would be to fight against the government security forces and defeat them and usurp the power. However, JVP's second insurrection had a different stratagem which was unconventional and barbaric. Accordingly, their aim was not to fight with the government's security forces and seize power. It was a policy of killing a large number of people, disabling the state machinery and the political system and spreading its authority and then seizing the political power. To achieve this objective they attempted to destroy the administrative machinery of the government and the ideological base that was pro-government and opposed to the JVP, and also killed a considerable number of people who were associated with it. I have never heard of a country where the rebels had seized power with such a method as used by the JVP. However, in the absence of a counter plan with the defense forces to deal with Wijeweera's fighting style, the survival of the state faced a serious crisis in the first three months of the insurrection. It was Premadasa Udugampola, the chief police officer in charge of anti-terrorist activities in the south, who introduced a counter-fighting strategy to the police and security forces that could face the program of the rebels. “Fight the enemy as they do”, was the counter strategy he proposed. The method used by the JVP was to avoid fighting with the security forces direct and instead select and kill civilians that will lead to weakening and paralyzing the administrative structure and the ideological basis of the state. Since the people employed for such killings were brought from outside, it was very difficult to identify them. The countermeasure proposed by Udugampola was to kill everyone who had links with the JVP. When the JVP chose an uncivilized method of combat, the opposition party was also pushed to the point of adopting a similar approach. The destruction caused by the second insurrection of JVP to the socio-political system and economy of the country was huge. The worst thing that the uncivilized insurrection of the JVP and the LTTE had done to the country had been the large scale cracking of the moral fabric of the country. The country should adopt a strict policy of not recognizing the JVP unless and until they sincerely apologize and atone for the heinous crimes they have committed during the second insurrection; it is needed not to take revenge from the JVP, but to avoid commission and repetition  of such immoral and  unethical acts again in the future by  anyone.

It is appropriate to conclude this article with an excerpt from an article written by Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda about the second insurrection of the JVP. “The commitment to violence and terror among the JVP activists to enter the center of political power was amazing. They are the segments that carried out the work of Nazi assault squads in our country- being engaged in abductions, collective assassinations,  mutilating the bodies of enemies, holding  mock trials before killing rivals,  going  from house to house carrying out JVP's orders and storming into political meetings and polling centers."