Colombo Telegraph

Black July: Indira Gandhi, Gunawanse And The Left

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 35

One piece of testimony came from IGP Rudra Rajasingham. When asked about the Left being accused of the July 1983 violence, he said that he was surprised when the accusation was made, adding that the Left was definitely not involved. This seemed a matter-of-fact statement made without any cal-culation. But when told that Ratnatunga and T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka had made him party to the accusation, he was disturbed and later even annoyed. Yet his silence all these years seems unaccountable if the President misquoted something that took place in his presence to which he was party.

The truth has a funny side to it, and tells us something about Jayewardene. It comes from placing the key elements of Ratnatunga’s testi- mony in a different perspective. An informant came to Ernest Perera on Wednesday night, the story goes, with information about the plot. The informant appeared to have had this informa- tion on Sunday (24th), but the reasons for the delay in communicating it are not comprehen- sible. (The informant reportedly put this down to Perera being at Kanatte till late on the 24th and there being a curfew on the 25th and 26th.) Rajasingham and Perera left the President at 9.00 PM on the 28th. Then according to Ratnatunga, Jayewardene summoned Ernest Perera to his private residence at 6.00 AM the following morn- ing and got him to dictate a statement to his pri- vate stenographer J.A. Paulasz.

Jayewardene then made photocopies of the statement and gave it to his service chiefs and later in the morning to the visiting Indian For- eign Minister, Mr. Rao. This statement was about the said leftist plot to overthrow the Government and was in print with the signa- ture of an official for the first time. Ratnatunga says: “IGP Rudra Rajasingham, although unaware of this new development, was however the least sur- prised.” Ratnatunga appears to be saying something that he does not wish to elaborate. Jayewardene could have asked Perera to record a statement when he and Rajasingham were with him the previous evening, which he did not. Did Rajasingham too learn about the leftist plot for the first time when the state- ment was handed over to him the following (29th) morning?

Certain truths stand out from this re- markable episode. There had been a wider constellation of forces of the extreme Right which the UNP had been trying to bring under its umbrella, that had lent their sup- port to the violence of July 1983. This has been suspected but not fully explored. Many of the links were informal and remained un- recorded. But there had been tell-tale signs for some time. Among them was the attempt to drive the Tamil students out of Peradeniya in May 1983 where the core organisers had strong UNP connections.

It is also known that Gunawanse had met Jayewardene before the July violence and a more uncompromising approach to the Tamil ques- tion was also in evidence during the weeks lead- ing to it (e.g. Jayewardene’s interview to the Daily Telegraph). Although the problem was os- tensibly in the North, it suited others in the South (e.g. Sinhalese business interests which are rep- resented by the Press) to extend it to all the Tamils. According to local information, a good part of the loot from Black July too was acquired by Sinhalese mudalalis (businessmen). There had also been talk around about levelling down the Bambalapitiya and Anderson Flats, and chas- ing Tamils out of Wellawatte. Chasing out Tamils from border areas of the North-East and plant- ing Sinhalese colonies was a chief preoccupa- tion of Dissanayake’s at that time. Gunawanse, his protege, too, according to Ratnatunge, re- minded Jayewardene of this during their meet- ing on 28th July.

Another fact that stands out is that it was principally the firm interest then shown by In- dia that helped to end the violence sooner, limit the damage suffered by the Tamils and give them a fighting chance of asserting their rights. (Those who do not wish to admit it, avoid the issue by cataloguing a long list of social evils of India.) The sovereignty of this country was thus im- paired by forcing India to intervene on behalf of the Tamils and in turn by pushing the Tamils to look to India for their security. Thus the greatest damage to this country’s sovereignty was caused by the forces of the extreme Right who ironically make the most of sovereignty.

Throughout his account of the July 1983 vio- lence, Ratnatunga holds out tantalisingly (as in the Migara column) the prospect of Left involve- ment. He speaks of a meeting of ministers with Jayewardene at his residence on the 26th evening, and again at the cabinet meeting the next morn- ing, where a suggestion to declare the Soviet (Russian) Ambassador persona non grata, close down the embassy and expel the staff, was dis- cussed and abandoned. This was no doubt dis- cussed as a means to find a scapegoat and pacify the West from where concern was being voiced. He however finds that his evidence cannot sus- tain a Left conspiracy as the cause, and at the end of Chapter 2 opts for ‘disgruntled soldiery and wounded Sinhalese pride’ (p.69).

Yet on page 404 of his 408 page book, Ratnatunga returns to speculate on the July ’83 violence being a joint plot between ‘Tamil Marx- ist guerrillas and Sinhalese Marxist parties’ to destabilise and overthrow the pro-Western Gov- ernment. This was while completing his book in early 1988. But Jayewardene had already claimed this in his address to the UNP parlia-

mentary group on 4th August 1983 and disowned it in his interview with the Manchester Guardian three days later (see Sect.13.3). Again, Ratnatunga has absolutely no evidence to show for a Marxist plot after the passage of four and a half years. He adds rather lamely, “Some evidence has been found not of direct links, but possible links through middle men. Was the burning of factories…a method of throwing the hammer and sickle into the capitalist works?”

There was perhaps a pressing reason for Ratnatunga to have returned to this theme. When he began writing the book, the JVP was a marginal force. Between April 1987 and the sign-ing of the Accord at the end of July the same year, it had mushroomed into a major force. At the time the book was being finished, the JVP had become the Government’s major pre-occu- pation. In the book titled Politics of Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience released in 1988, there is no discussion of the JVP! More than the author’s fault, it points to a serious lacuna in Southern debate and perceptions about the July 1983 vio- lence, after which the JVP was banned and com- placently cast aside as a scapegoat. There was scant thought of the deadly mushrooms that would spring from beneath the rubble and ashes of July 1983.

To be continued..

Part one – Sri Lanka’s Black July: Borella, 24th Evening

Part two – Sri Lanka’s Black July: What Really Happened At Kanatte?

Part three – Black July: ‘Api Suddha Kara’ – JR’s Failure To Declare Curfew

Part four – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Cover Up

Part five –  30th July 1983: The Second Naxalite Plot

Part six  – Black July: The Testimony Of Lionel Bopage, Then General Secretary Of The JVP

Part seven – Black July: Thondaman & Muttetuwegama

Part eight – What Was Behind Tiger Friday – 29th July? -The Significance Of The Pettah

Part nine – Tamil Merchants In The Pettah – Post July 1983

Part ten –  Sri Lanka’s Black July: A Family’s Tragedy In Colombo

Part eleven –  Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Question Of Numbers

Part twelve –  Welikade Prison Massacres: The First Massacre: 25th July 1983

Part thirteen –  Welikade Prison Massacres: Testimonies Given At The Magistrate’s Inquest

Part fourteen –  Circumstances Leading To The Magistrate’s Inquest

Part fifteen – Welikade Prison: The Second Massacre: 27th July 1983

Part sixteen – Welikade Prison Massacres: Chief Jailor Observed Army Commandos Coming In

Part seventeen – Welikade Prison Massacres: Postscript

Part eighteen – July 1983: Planned By The State Or Spontaneous Mob Action?

Part nineteen – July 1983: Ranil Wickremasinghe Followed Cyril Mathew

Part twenty – Events Of 24th July – The Eve Of The Holocaust: Who Wanted A Military Funeral?

Part twenty one –  Events Of 24th July: What Were The Army’s Orders?

Part twenty two – Black July: Further Evidence Of Advance Planning

Part twenty three – Black July: The JSS Goon Squad Regime

Part twenty four – Institutional Implications Of The JSS And Black July

Part twenty five – Black July: Ranil Wickremesinghe, Gonalwela Sunil And The Kelaniya University

Part twenty six – Black July: Army Hathurusinghe Prevented Police From Assisting Prison Victims Under Attack

Part twenty seven – Black July: Justice Of Peace Gonawela Sunil And The Killings In Prison

Part twenty eight – Prison Massacre And The Alitalia Hijacker Sepala Ekanayake

Part twenty nine –  Black July: Further Indirect Evidence Of State Involvement

Part thirty – Blak July: Remarks & Testimonies In Retrospect

Part thirty one – Black July: Some Missing Threads

Part thirty two – Black July: Alle Gunawanse – A Missing Link?

Part thirty three –  Black July: Relation Of Events At Kanatte And The Tiger Friday

Part thirty four – Black July: JR Confers With Alle Gunawanse And The Search For A Scapegoat

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power  – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To be continued..

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