By Rajan Hoole –
1989: The Eclipse of the JVP and the Perplexity of the Left – Part 1
“The cause of all these evils was the lust for power, arising from greed and ambition…The leaders in the cities, each provided with the fairest professions, on the one side with the cry of political equality of the people and on the other of a moderate aristocracy, sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish. Recoiling from no means in their struggle for ascendancy, they engaged in the direst excesses. In their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded. But they made party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoked with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm, to glut the animosities of the hour.
“Thus morality was in honour with neither party, but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation. Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel or because envy would not suffer them to escape.”
– Thucydides, on the civil war at Corcyra (Corfu) (427 BC), from his History of the Pelopponesian War between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BC)
Premadasa took his oaths of office as the new president from the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy – a practice inaugurated by Jayewardene – on 2nd January 1989. It was also early in the New Year that attacks on SLFP candidates along with their supporters commenced, and commenced with a vengeance. They were easy targets since they had not faced this before and were unprepared.
In the closing months of 1988 grass-roots SLFP supporters featured on hit lists provided by UNP agents, and were killed off as JVPers with the SLFP hierarchy hardly showing any signs of being aware of it. But this time party meetings and candidates were attacked by the JVP, and SLFP candidates had to be protected by the security forces. A notable attack was that on the SLFP meeting at Hingurakgoda on 8th February 1989 when Mrs. Bandaranaike was on the stage. She narrowly escaped and was taken away by helicopter.
Mrs. Bandaranaike had since the presidential election abandoned the DPA manifesto where she had hoped to bring the LTTE in by offering greater autonomy to the Tamils. It was again a sign of the SLFP’s inability to come to terms with the Tamil people, and a failure to understand that Mrs. Bandaranaike’s defeat at the presidential election had nothing to do with the offer to the Tamils. The SLFP had been so easily unnerved by UNP propaganda. At the parliamentary elections with a higher voter turnout of 63%, the SLFP obtained 67 seats to the UNP’s 125 – an inferior performance to that at the presidential election. Again the intimidation of SLFP supporters needs to be taken into account.
Premadasa’s Appeal to the JVP and the LTTE
Within a short time of Premadasa’s taking office as president, he lifted the emergency. Accordingly during mid- January, 1800 JVP suspects held in prisons were released. From one angle it was in keeping with his repeated utterance that the youth had taken to violence because of genuine grievances and should be won back. It was also in line with his anti-elitist populism and also to some extent with confused popular sentiments at that time. In early April he again issued a call for both the JVP and the LTTE to come into the mainstream.
This, the LTTE accepted, and from May 1989 the LTTE was given the freedom to move around Colombo and hunt its political enemies. (This formal acceptance should not detract from the fact that the LTTE was being courted by the different factions of the UNP from late 1987 and the first arms deliveries took place at the latest by early 1988.) On 1st June Premadasa called for the withdrawal of the IPKF. This unprincipled approach of the Government which was on the one hand committed to the Tamil parties who had come forward to run the North-East Provincial Council set up under the Accord, while clandestinely backing the LTTE on the other, prepared the country for an additional surge of violence. Under Indian tutelage, the parties in the North-East Provincial administration led by the EPRLF lost any sense of balance and started conscripting – virtually press ganging – youth for the Tamil National Army (TNA). The Premadasa Government from July directed the Army and the STF to pass on large supplies of arms and ammunition to the LTTE in secret locations.
As the Indian Army withdrew from October 1989, the LTTE massacred nearly 1000 members of the TNA cadre who were on the run, and set about imprisoning, torturing and killing hundreds of Tamils who had independent views and were seen as an obstacle to its totalitarian control. All this was done with the connivance of the Sri Lankan forces who were not unhappy about Tamils killing Tamils. The help given by the Premadasa Government to the LTTE was not to bring them to the mainstream of democratic life, but to destroy every semblance of democracy among Tamils. The Government was blind to the explosive consequences of giving the Tamils over hook, line and sinker to a fascist force that could never countenance peace.
The more discerning Tamils knew that there would never be peace. From the time the LTTE went for talks with the Government in April 1989, its close supporters in Jaffna had been saying openly that this was only the first step – a stratagem to get the Indian Army out. Then, they added, there would be a long war for Eelam with the Sri Lankan Army. The Government was arrogant and overconfident without foundation. Following this interlude, the LTTE went back to war with the Sri Lankan Government after getting into place a strong network in Colombo, and having Sri Lankan weapons to use against its Army. There is more on these events in our publications covering that period. We gave this short sketch of Premadasa’s dealings with the LTTE mainly to assess his approach to the JVP (see also Sects. 19.3 and 19.4).
The sequence of events in the South suggests that Premadasa had been given to believe that the JVP, whose recent actions had been helpful to him, would come to a settlement on mutually acceptable terms. If not some of his actions (e.g. release of detainees) would have been inexplicably reckless. His kind of peace had nothing to do with justice and respect for the people. When the LTTE reneged and returned to war, he readily turned the full brutality of the State on the Tamil people of the North-East. This is also what happened in dealing with the JVP. For the rest of this chapter we will deal with the war against the JVP and its consequences for Sinhalese society. Our sketch includes material that has come to light recently.
To be continued..