By 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!