23 July, 2019

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About ‘The Frozen Fire’ – Beyond Art – Part III

By Lionel Bopage

Dr. Lionel Bopage

Except for carrying out public campaigns on lifting the party proscription, if the party had no desire to come to the open, then why did the party used me to discuss that issue directly with the President? This was not the first time the JVP had negotiated with the government’s political leadership. On various occasions comrades Rohana, Gamanayaka, Kelly Senanayake and I had met and negotiated with Messrs J R Jayewardene and R. Premadasa and also had phone conversations with them.

In 1987, the government said it wanted to enter into discussions with the JVP. They released Comrade Shantha Bandara, a member of the Politburo and a few others who were in custody. Around 1988, I recollect the government proclaiming an agreement to stop violence signed by Rohana Wijeweera and Upatissa Gamanayaka for the JVP and the Minister of Defence, Lalith Athulathmudali for the state. Father Tissa Balasuriya, OMI initiated this process as a result of a bogus mediation made by a person called K C Senanayake (many had mistakenly taken him to be comrade Kelly Senanayake). However, the government followed up that agreement and issued a gazette notification repealing the proscription of the JVP. The ban on the student and trade union organisations was also lifted and the raids carried out in the south were also halted.

That agreement included a clause to the effect that the JVP will stop its violence and arrange to hand over all the weapons they possessed. However, the day after that agreement was made public, Comrade Rohana issued a press communiqué followed up by another by Comrade Gamanayaka stating that no such discussions were held between the JVP and the government. It went on to say that the JVP will not in the open or in secret bargain with the government and that the agreement Mr Athulathmudali had published was entirely false. This was identified as a conspiracy of the government and the United Socialist Front to slander the JVP and its leadership. The attempt of the government, whether it is genuine or not, failed. By that time the possibility of bargaining with the government was fading fast.

During the same period, some of the conditions the Patriotic People’s Movement, the armed wing of the JVP, had laid down as a basis for discussion were:

1. the abolition of the Indo-Lanka Accord;

2. removal of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces;

3. abolition of the provincial councils;

4. repealing of the Provincial Councils Act;

5. freeing all those held in custody;

6. dismissing some sections of the armed forces; and

7. holding a presidential election and a general election.

What appears from the above is that from around 1986 the state, while intensifying repressive measures against the JVP, would have also desired to come to a temporary compromise given the escalating instability the country was facing. During this period, the opposition, if elected to power, was even prepared to offer ministerial positions to the JVP.

After 1988, the JVP had clearly overestimated its power to influence events. For example, the JVP would have taken the public obeying their orders that were enforced ruthlessly using force, as an indication of popular support. I strongly believe that the JVP, in an attempt to discourage or weaken the armed forces, would not have decided to assassinate family members of the soldiers or officers who did not quit military service, unless they had overestimated their ability to capture state power soon. With that decision, the state repression against the JVP reached its bloody and brutal climax. From the catastrophe that was occurring at the ground level, it was clear that the repression had reached a stage, in which the state or the JVP could not turn back.

In the period soon after the proscription, if Comrade Rohana could not engage in open politics, someone like comrade Gamanayaka could have come out and exposed the lies of the government and the conspiracies hatched against the party, in particular exposing the secret circular the JVP said to have had in its possession. If such a death threat prevailed at that stage, why couldn’t comrade Rohana go abroad for some time? Engaging in clandestine politics for some time could have led to the tragic decision to launch an armed struggle. Did the unpreparedness of the leadership to engage in open politics during that period until most of the leaders were killed, contribute to strengthening the campaign of repression and violence?

According to comrade Gamini, comrade Rohana had a strong desire to be in direct contact with me, or for me to maintain some relationship with the party. Even on several occasions comrade Rohana had come to Colombo to have discussions with me, he says, even when financial rewards were offered for information on his whereabouts. The last Politburo meeting I attended was in January 1984 somewhere around Ja-Ela. One of the decisions taken there was to arrange a meeting with comrade Rohana to discuss my political issues once more. Accordingly, in early February I was taken to a rural area in Mathugama by comrade Amarasinghe on his motorbike. However, Comrade Rohana did not turn up at the discussion as expected. Meanwhile, I came to know that the member of Politburo comrade Rathnayaka had also left the party in October 1983 due to political issues similar to those of mine about the destination the party was heading.

I cannot think of any obstacles that existed then or afterwards if they wished to contact me, although no political initiative to contact me had been forthcoming. I clearly saw a marked change in the political direction and the forward vision of the party; the significant change being the refusal to recognize the right to self-determination. When the ruling elite wanted to block the path towards building a better and fairer future by shamelessly using chauvinist and racist positions, unfortunately even the JVP itself could not stay away from that process.

Even if there was a discussion between comrade Rohana and me, I suspect whether it could have led to a productive outcome. By then, the JVP had opportunistically surrendered themselves to racists and nationalists, even by sharing the same platform with them. Finally, this led to consolidating and entrenching in society nationalist and racist positions. Since the presidential election in 1982 and during the second armed uprising in 1987, the question why the party leadership was so inclined towards reactionary racist positions is an important subject matter that still needs to be discussed.

Comrade Gamini’s statement that comrade Rohana had shown a strong desire to maintain direct contact with me or for me to maintain contact with the party is flawed. That is because of the slanderous attack the party launched against me when I tendered my letter of resignation. This sadly was not a new phenomenon. If one had a different political position to the one comrade Rohana held, hostility was a common response. Until I was released from detention in December 1983, the party maintained contacts with me through comrades Chitra and Daya Wanniarachchi. As soon as I tendered my letter of resignation the party launched various slanderous campaigns directed at me. Among those slanders were that I betrayed the party while being held in detention, that I surrendered to Catholic Action through comrade Chitra, and that I fled due to the fear of repression the state had launched against the party. Despite this hostility directed at me by the party, any actions of the bourgeois regime against the JVP did not gain my support at all.

When I bid farewell to the party in February 1984, my last request was to make my letter of resignation available for access to all members of the party. However, in light of the new political direction the party had adopted, it is not surprising that the party did not accede to my request. Thus, any democratic discussion regarding the issues I had raised in my resignation letter such as the party organisation, culture, political orientation and direction was scuttled. The issues I raised and the reasons why I left the party have come to light only recently.

Since I wrote the article ‘Frozen Fire’ – Art and Political Reality, I saw for the first time in my political life, one or two comments maliciously implying that I betrayed the party by joining the UNP. I challenge those who make such comments to come up with concrete evidence and if none is forthcoming, for them to stop their slandering campaign. The only thing I could say to those who raise such allegations is that you have swallowed not a simple rope, but a giant one!

Related post:

About ‘The Frozen Fire’ – Beyond Art – Part II

About ‘The Frozen Fire’ – Beyond Art – Part I

‘The Frozen Fire’ – Art And Political Reality

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    It sounds like a party of narrow minded persons with very little knowledge of the world. They have been like frogs in a well

  • 1
    0

    Lionel,
    What options did JRJ have in 1987 other than getting Indian help
    in the form of IPKF?
    Please educate us. Please don’t ignore this question.
    Simple Simon

    • 2
      0

      Let us start from what the UNP pledged in its election manifesto in 1977. They said that the demand for separation was a result of the failure of previous governments to grant the rights of Tamils. Yet, after coming to power with a five sixth majority, the UNP completely disregarded that pledge to provide a solution based on discussions with the representatives of Tamil people. Prime Minister Jayewardene in fact intensified violence and police harassment against the Tamil youth. This led to the armed confrontation.

      In 1978 there were riots against Tamils in the south. Next came the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom planned by the UNP leadership, though they blamed it on the left. The whole objective was to break the economic strength of Tamil businesses in the south.

      We all know that the beneficiaries of the pogrom were the Sinhala capitalist class. Following the model of Apartheid repressive legislation used in South Africa, Mr Jayewardene introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The 16 TULF MPs, who represented the Tamil people were sacked, thus disenfranchising the Tamils in the North and the East. In brief, that is what led to the situation you are referring to.
      It was the failure to address the issues affecting the Tamils in a just and fair manner that led to that situation and the subsequent war.

      Regarding this issue, I tend to agree with what Mr Dhammika Perera has said in one of his recent interviews (not that I agree with all of his views on other matters). Tamil is an official language of the country, but totally neglected in terms of its implementation.

      The national question will remain one of the most volatile questions devastatingly affecting the country, unless the south is prepared to address it in a fair, just and long-lasting manner.

  • 1
    0

    One is reminded of the folk tale,’the person who climbed the kithul tree to steal a drink of toddy, when caught said he climbed the tree looking for grass for his cattle’. In order to consolidate their plea for political assylum in the West, hordes of non Tamil assylum seekers contributed largely to convert Tamil ‘self determination’ to terrorism.

  • 2
    2

    A valuable account by Lionel Bopage , but which (interestingly, revealingly) skips over the real opening, or perhaps the last best chance, the JVP had: when Premadasa was elected President, demanded that the IPKF leave, declared a ceasefire, released 1300 JVP detainees (incurring the displeasure of the military, which was dangerous when he had enemies within the Govt) and invited the JVP for talks as well as to share power. The JVP publicly spurned his offer at the Nugegoda meeting and resumed the violent offensive. The question remains as to why the JVP resorted to this course of action when it could have claimed some kind of success with the change of Presidents and policies. The answer to that question could say more about the character of the JVP than anything else.

  • 3
    1

    Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    ” The question remains as to why the JVP resorted to this course of action when it could have claimed some kind of success with the change of Presidents and policies.”

    Probably they JVP would have noticed President Premadasa was surrounded by war mongering reactionary opportunists like you.
    There isn’t much difference between the JVP and the LTTE, they both share the same stupid South Indian gene.

    ” released 1300 JVP detainees (incurring the displeasure of the military, which was dangerous when he had enemies within the Govt)”

    If the country was built squarely on the principles of democracy, leaders have no need to keep an eye on the armed forces, which should be subordinated to civilian democratically elected leaders. How would the military expressed its displeasure, through a military coup?
    By the way who were the enemies?
    S**t Bomb Mudali and Dutta Gamani perhaps.

  • 1
    0

    I will never forget how JVP terrorists killed my brother who was a PC simply doing his duty – guarding the bank of Ceylon in Kegalle. The year was 1971. What do you say to that Bopage?

    • 0
      0

      Mr Godahewa,
      First of all, I am sincerely sorry to hear about what had happened to your brother in 1971. I can understand and feel your frustration and bitterness, but it was the state and its security forces including the Police that used terror against the JVP activists since the middle of 1970. Those days, many police officers who were simply said to have been doing their duty to safeguard the state and its interests, used to torture JVPers. There have been many instances where people who were not really involved in the melee also had become casualties. The untimely attacks of the JVP in countering the state terror launched via the security establishment also played a part in the ensuing tragedy.

  • 0
    0

    Imperialism, nationalism and communism endorse violence
    Winners are heroes, losers are terrorists

    The end justifying the means is a human trait
    The ‘isms’ facilitate this

  • 1
    0

    Lionel,
    It is Simple Simon again!.
    I think your analysis from 1977- 83 was in response to my query “what options did JRJ have in 1987 other than leaning on India and the IPKF”

    I totally agree with your comments, but you have evaded answering my question. Had the so called Vadamarachchi operation continued the Army possibly would have defeated LTTE at the cost of killing lot of innocent civilians as in May 2009. I am not an expert on political issues, but I think what JRJ did was possibly the best he could have done in 1987.
    I disagree with you that 1983 riots were initiated to satisfy the business needs of the Sinhalese in the South. I think it was to appease the inbuilt institutionalised racism of the Sinhala Buddhists. Quoting JRJ’ “ I had to allow for the natural inspirations of the Sinhala people”
    Please comment- Simple Simon

    • 0
      0

      Response Part 1:
      Sorry for the misunderstanding. I did not wish to evade your question, but wanted to imply that the 1987 situation was one they themselves had created. The UNP led by Mr Jayewardene created this situation by allowing the anti-Tamil pogrom to occur and then using it as a pretext to proscribe the JVP in July 1983. He could have avoided that situation, if his regime acted in the long-term interest of the country, i.e., by lifting the proscription of the JVP and granting rights of the Tamil people in the country to live as equals without being discriminated. Yet, the regime did not choose either of these options.
      The reasons are many: firstly, Mr Jayewardene and the UNP needed some mechanism to save face, which the JVP was not willing to grant them as they had over-assessed their own strength. Despite, the Criminal Investigation Department and the Attorney General’s Department clearing the JVP of any linkages to the anti-Tamil pogrom, the UNP repeatedly refused to lift the proscription. Secondly, Mr Jayewardene and the racist block within the UNP wanted to keep treating Tamils as second-class citizens of Sri Lanka. An in-depth analysis of the situation shows that the death of 13 soldiers was not the cause of the pogrom, but a ‘convenient starting point’ for a pre-planned attack. The planned nature of the pogrom makes this self-evident. Despite the well-known involvement of the gangs of prominent ministers in the government, of the JSS and others including certain ‘monks’, no proper investigation has been held so far to identify the real culprits and bring them to justice.

    • 0
      0

      Response Part 2:
      The armed forces of Sri Lanka, despite their brutal nature, had refused twice to carry out Mr Jayewardene’s orders to take Jaffna by “burning the place to the ground” due to the “unacceptably high casualties” that would be made if they were to do so. In 1987, the regime was under serious threat from two sides, the LTTE in the north-east and the Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya of the JVP in the south. The Jayewardene regime wanted to redeploy armed forces from the north to the south to destroy the militants in the south. To do that the regime needed external help so that they could manipulate this situation to their advantage. At that juncture, it was only India that heeded to Mr Jayewardene’s request. In 1988, according to the CIA papers, he had mentioned that “none of his outside friends would help him, so he had no choice but to make a deal with India”.
      Shortly after the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom, Mr. Gamini Dissanayake said that if India invades, the Tamils in the country will be killed within 24 hours. Nevertheless, India agreed to send the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) to ensure ‘peace’ with the Jayewardene regime pledging to devolve power to the Tamil community and recognise Tamil as an official language. However, these are yet to t materialise, even after two decades have elapsed since the signing of the Accord. They could have easily done this even before the Accord was signed.

    • 0
      0

      Response Part 3:
      Anyway, under the circumstance the regime was faced with, Mr Jayewardene had no alternative but to call for the IPKF to Sri Lanka. This was similar to what the Indians did in 1971 following a request from Ceylon to help restore ‘normalcy’. This does not mean that he did not have alternative ways of addressing the situation in a fair and sustainable way, but he and the regime would have lost face in doing so. So, I agree that in 1987, Mr Jayawardene did the best he could have done under the circumstances to safeguard his regime and its interests. Otherwise, India would have intervened in Sri Lanka, if the Sri Lankan government collapsed or, if the LTTE established a separate State.
      About your disagreement with me about the business needs of the southern Sinhalese, I would like to maintain that position, because of the following reasons:
      Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism was spearheaded by the emergence of a low-country based commercial class under the British colonial rule in Ceylon. Ms Kumari Jayewardene, a well-known academic and social scientist wrote about the rise of mercantilism in the country and the elites in the twentieth century. She stated that the anti-Indianism of that class was to do with the business rivalries with Indian merchants. In 1984, Mr L Piyadasa wrote in his work: “Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After” that the economic interests Esmond Wickremasinghe, Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake represented can be furthered only at considerable cost to the people of Sri Lanka.

    • 0
      0

      Response Part 4:
      About 5,000 businesses were destroyed in July 1983. Every Tamil-owned business in the Colombo, Fort area was set on fire. In Trincomalee alone, the navy allegedly destroyed about 150 Tamil-owned businesses within six hours. I can recollect sometime later the regime commenced a ‘rehabilitation’ process. This involved the government taking over the property; using the insurance money to rebuild the businesses; and handing over the Tamil owned businesses to Sinhalese. I firmly believe that Sinhala and Buddhist nationalism were the diversions used by the regime in getting rid of Tamil business interests in the cities in favour of Sinhala racists.

  • 0
    0

    Bimal

    My uncle Rex De Costa was killed by these JVP bandits in 1971 for the sole reason that he was an estate supirintendent. Hell to them!

  • 0
    0

    It was not what JR did, but was forced to do
    After Rajiv Gandi and 9/11 India and America were on our side

  • 0
    0

    I have seen the movie and look forward to reading Lionel’s review at a future time once he has seen it. His role in the party’s activities are shown prominently in the first part of the film; hence, his views would be enlightening.

    Leaving the ‘politics’ aside, I would say this movie is essential viewing for a fan of Sri Lankan cinema.

  • 0
    0

    Rex De Costa was a fine planter in Deniyaya. Lionel please tell me why your gang killed him in day light?

    • 0
      0

      Mr Weerasinghe,
      In fact, Adjunct Professor Michael Roberts in Adelaide, Australia, who is also a close relative of late Dr Rex de Costa specifically asked me this question when I met him, probably a decade or so ago. I personally didn’t know what happened, but I made some inquiries from some of the survivors from those days hailing from Deniyaya.
      According to what I found Dr Costa had gone to the extra length of going into the Police Station and physically attacking those JVPers who had been taken into custody, possibly, even prior to the insurrection. I do not know how his planting or medical career was related to assaulting prisoners held in custody. Perhaps, Mr Gihan Weerasinghe may not know about this connection with the security establishment that could have ultimately led to his death.
      However, I am sorry about his untimely death.

  • 0
    0

    Lionel, thnx. You have been very objective and professional in your article and responding to the queries. I found it hard to believe how a man of your stature and integrity could refer to a ruthless man like Wijeweera Comrade. A Tamil writing about Prabhakaran will never be allowed to call him as Comrade Prabha. Whole Sri Lanka would crucify him then. See how racists are the Sinhala majority? Simple Simon

  • 0
    0

    Mr Bopage

    My uncle Rex was a gentleman to finger tips. He never went to the Police Station to interfere. He was gunned down in Deniyaya town in broad daylight, like how they killed Premawathi Manamperi. Because he was ‘posh’ you guys were jelous.

    You canvassed to send MR and Gota to Hague on the reason of command and control.

    Applying the same rationale you you should be sent to jail for command and control of JVP about the death of my dear uncle as you were the 2nd most powerful after Wijeweera who was then in Jaffna jail

  • 0
    0

    Lionel,

    Whatever the doctorate you possess to me you are a terrorist and facts cannot be changed Sir

  • 0
    0

    Lionel, Rex de Costa was not the IGP to walk into the police station to attack anyone held in police custody. Bullshit!
    simple Simon

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