By Rajan Hoole –
Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 34
The aim of the UNP during this crisis was to marginalise the influence of the Tamils in the economic and political life of the country. It was a two-pronged strategy where the Government attempted to control and use the violent forces of the Sinhalese nationalist Right. At the same time, they wanted to make the Left a scapegoat for the violence. This is the context for the alliance between the Government and Gunawanse, an alliance which is brought to our attention by Ratnatunga. While Ratnatunge’s focus on Gunawanse tends to draw attention away from the violence as a planned UNP affair, it does tell us about a particular segment utilised by the UNP. It is far easier for a minister (e.g. Minister Dissanayake, Gunawanse’s patron) to switch patronage to another monk, than for a monk to find another minister.
The UNP had reduced the parliamentary opposition to a non-entity. The field was thus left open to the extreme Right and the extreme Left. Under these conditions, the Government found it useful to patronise elements of the extreme Right. However, the July violence had such unforeseen repercussions that Jayewardene came under pressure from several quarters, including donor countries in the West and India. It was a telephone call from Indira Gandhi which prompted the Government’s attempt to both pacify and restrain the forces of the Right, in an attempt to end the violence. The telephone call came in the evening on 27th July, and led to a late night cabinet meeting. Indira Gandhi told Jayewardene that she was sending her foreign minister, Narasimha Rao.
Consequently, Gamini Dissanayake was sent to speak to Gunawanse in an effort to restrain his actions. (Jayewardene’s subsequent speech on television was again aimed at appeasing this constituency, which the UNP had called to arms. While Jayewardene called upon the Sinhalese to lay down their arms, he also made it clear that he was sympathetic to their feelings and blamed Tamil provocation for the riots.) The devastating potency of the violence appears to have persuaded a paranoid Jayewardene, that it was this extremist segment represented by Gunawanse which spoke for the Sinhalese masses.
Later in the morning of 28th July Jayewardene was in conference with Gunawanse. The latter told him that the Sinhalese people were angry with him. Gunawanse asked Jayewardene to ban the TULF, address the people and colonise Tamil areas with Sinhalese. Jayewardene, according to Ratnatunga, showed him the 6th Amendment draft and told him that the Left were trying to overthrow the Government. Apparently a deal was struck and Gunawanse, we infer from Ratnatunga, told his followers to call off what they were doing. (According to Ratnatunga (p.32), Gunawanse sent a message of his meeting to some of his followers.) Typical of his style, Jayewardene then, as Ratnatunge indicates, asked the Police to harass Gunawanse.
The decision to blame the Left had been taken at the cabinet meeting after Indira Gandhi’s phone call, if not earlier, as evident from what Jayewardene, according to Ratnatunga, told Gunawanse. Next, in the evening (28th), the IGP Rudra Rajasingham and DIG Ernest Perera met Jayewardene at his residence after the record- ing of his TV broadcast. In the official version given by Ratnatunga, Ernest Perera told Jayewardene of a leftist master-plan to topple the Government in four stages: The plan was to incite clashes in the following order:
- between Sinhalese and Tamils
- between Sinhalese and Muslims
- between Buddhists and Christians amongthe Sinhalese and
- between factions in the armed forces.
We are also told that the two police officers stayed to watch Jayewardene on television call- ing upon the Sinhalese, or more correctly Gunawanse, Mathew and like-minded cabinet colleagues, to ‘lay down their arms’. It was a call to a crew who were the most unlikely partici- pants in a leftist conspiracy – making it thus a bizarre context in which to hold an earnest dis- cussion on a leftist plot.
The four stages given above are uncharac- teristic even of the extreme Left anywhere in the world. They rather have the hall-marks of the Buddhist Right. There are to begin with practi- cal constraints against the Left adopting such a programme. The Left can campaign for mass support against the Right, only on the basis of offering a distinctively alternative programme. A Left group could play with hatred against groups identified as oppressor classes or nations, or against other Left groups accused of betrayal of the Left cause. But it cannot hope to win by playing with communalism, since that would be competing with the Right on its own turf. That was how the parliamentary Left in this country went a long way towards political suicide in the 60s and 70s, by allying with the SLFP which was then very much a communal party.
Thus during the communal attacks on Tamil students at Peradeniya University in 1983, the JVP had worked towards bringing back the Tamil students who had been driven out by forces of the Right. Even during the very vio- lent campaign of 1987-90 when the LTTE from the extreme Tamil Right was massacring Sinha- lese peasants along the borders of the North- East, instances of the JVP killing Tamils were extremely rare. Even then, the reasons were not anti-Tamil.
One may thus take it that neither the sea- soned politician J.R. Jayewardene nor the well- informed and analytically trained senior police officers believed that the four stages were those of a Left conspiracy. Nor could one believe that these two police officers went to Jayewardene without something of substance. In time the four-stage conspiracy came to be widely ridi- culed and Ernest Perera went into history ac- cused of inventing a hoax. What really hap- pened?
To be continued..
Part four – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Cover Up
Part five – 30th July 1983: The Second Naxalite Plot
Part seven – Black July: Thondaman & Muttetuwegama
Part nine – Tamil Merchants In The Pettah – Post July 1983
Part eleven – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Question Of Numbers
Part fourteen – Circumstances Leading To The Magistrate’s Inquest
Part fifteen – Welikade Prison: The Second Massacre: 27th July 1983
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 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 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
*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..