31 October, 2020

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Somawansa Amarasinghe – Some Recollections From Our Political Journeys

By Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

Comrade Somawansa Amarasinghe since joining the JVP in 1969, had been committed at that time to the political line of the JVP. I understand that while he was held in custody in Welikada prison for the April 1971 uprising, he had become estranged from the politics of the JVP. However, when he had been transferred to Jaffna prison later, he had apparently been self-critical about his political deviation. Since then, as a full time activist he had fully committed himself to the JVP politics.

I met comrade Amarasinghe after November 1977, when the then UNP government repealed the Criminal Justice Commissions Act under which most of the leaders of the JVP had been convicted and imprisoned. Since he was released before us, he had taken a leading role in carrying out the political activities of the JVP in the south of the country. We had the opportunity to work together in some JVP political projects, such as the Human Rights Movement and Vimukthi Gee (the Songs of Liberation), during which he played a very active and positive role. From time to time, the Central Committee and the Politburo of the party provided him the opportunities to undertake responsibilities by working in the Socialist Workers Union and also in certain activities related to the party’s international affairs. In the late seventies, he was elected to the JVP Central Committee. When the JVP was proscribed by the UNP government in July 1983, he was the District Secretary in charge of Kalutara.

Somwansa.img_assist_customIn our political journeys, we had many political disagreements; he had some strong views: he was supportive of Sinhala nationalism and was biased against other faiths, in particular against Christianity. His pro-Buddhist and pro-Sinhala nationalist political line, in my view was contrary to the progressive political line we were following at the time. We had major disagreements with regard to the national question, particularly since the Presidential Elections held in 1982. Until then, he openly advocated the then JVP policy of accepting the right to self-determination of people on the Lankan national question. He even did so on the open political stage.

In July 1983, 26 members of the JVP including me, late comrade Somaratna Kaluarachchi, the JVP treasurer, comrade Vijitha Ranaweera, Mr Prins Gunasekera, late comrade Satyapala Wannigama, Dr Athula Sumathipala and a host of other professionals were detained under Emergency Regulations on the allegation of leading a pogrom against the Tamil population in the south. This pogrom was actually led by certain politicians of the ruling elite. The JVP was proscribed. Due to legal challenges raised in courts in late 1983, we were released from detention without any charges against us. In February 1984, I handed over my letter of resignation from the position of General Secretary of the JVP & its membership and also from being an elected JVP representative at the Galle District Development Council.

Before activating my resignation in February 1984, a final attempt was made to resolve the prevailing political issues. I still remember comrade Amarasinghe taking me in his motor cycle as a pillion passenger to Mathugama in January 1984, for a scheduled final discussion with comrade Rohana Wijeweera, which never materialised for reasons that are unknown to this day. Since comrade Rohana’s extra-judicial execution in November 1989, comrade Amarasinghe was the only Politburo member to survive the UNP’s extermination campaign against the JVP. According to the information I have, Mr Hendry Wickramasinghe had arranged comrade Amarasinghe to be taken to India by boat. Mr Wickramasinghe had also arranged travel visas for his family members to be flown to Bombay, and personally accompanied them from Bombay to Kerala so that the Amarasinghe family could remain together.

For this, 47 individuals including Mr Wickramasinghe had been held in custody for prolonged periods of time and interrogated. Without the assistance of Mr Wickramasinghe, comrade Amarasinghe would not have survived to see the day. Comrade Amarasinghe had been in exile, until he came back to visit the country in the mid-2000s. Yet after his coming back to Sri Lanka from exile, he had completely forgotten the services Mr Wickramasinghe had rendered to him and his family.

After the1982 presidential election comrade Amarasinghe’s political line including that of many other JVP leaders changed. The last JVP Central Committee meeting I attended at the former JVP MP Vijitha Ranaweera’s place in Vitharandeniya, Tangalle was held solely for the purpose of changing the JVP’s policy on the national question, specifically to repudiate the policy of accepting the right to self-determination. Comrade Amarasinghe was one of the top proponents of this repudiation campaign. It was the decision at the Central Committee that led me to finally resign from the JVP. Since I left the JVP, I had several accidental encounters with comrade Amarasinghe at bus halts or medical centres. Around 1986, I even had a dosa and vadai lunch with him and comrade Jinadasa Kithulagoda at a saiva restaurant in Colpetty! Nevertheless, on the occasions I had accidental meetings with him, I did not hesitate to point out to him the erroneous and incorrect nature of the JVP’s policy stance on the national question. Yet, as usual, comrade Amarasinghe rejected this and bluntly stated that “It (i.e. the JVP policy) is not going to change”.

During my first visit to Sri Lanka, probably in 1994, I wanted to meet up with the JVP leadership to discuss the then political situation of the country. When I contacted comrade Tilvin Silva, I was informed that they have to contact comrade Amarasinghe in London to get permission for such a discussion. I was waiting for this opportunity, but later came to know that he did not gave permission for this to happen. To his credit, I need to say that I was given that opportunity years later during another visit of mine to the country. I met up with comrade Tilvin Silva and Wimal Weerawansa. Our points of view were so far apart on certain issues including the national question, and we had to agree to disagree. In 2002, when comrade Amarasinghe came back to the country on a permanent basis, I was also visiting the country. I went to listen to his speech at Hyde Park, where he pledged to send 50,000 JVP cadres to the North East battlefront to fight with the government forces, against Tamil militants. Since then, I have seen several interviews he had provided as the leader of the JVP, and I was flabbergasted to see what he had said in some of those interviews. In recent times he resigned from the JVP and formed another political entity that did not gain any discernible political traction.

I have been vehemently critical of comrade Amarasinghe’s extremely nationalist and collaborative politics. Under his leadership, the JVP formed a coalition with the SLFP, thus defeating the very purpose for which the JVP was built in the 1960s, against the betrayal of the left movement by the leaders of the LSSP, the CP and the MEP at the altar of capitalism. Several leading JVP members even accepted ministerial portfolios in the new bourgeois coalition. Comrade Amarasinghe’s right wing politics extended further when in 2005, he decided to support the presidential candidature of the then leader of opposition Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, despite strong opposition from within the party ranks. I also understand that when Wimal Weerawansa broke away from the JVP wanting to follow an even stronger nationalist line of politics, comrade Amarasinghe had been very close to him and his politics. His recent departure from the JVP leadership appears to confirm his close association with right wing nationalistic politics. It is sad to recall his recent political behaviour had been much more erratic than what it used to be. He joined the ranks of ultra-nationalists of the country, thus betraying the very ideals of social justice and socialism that gave birth to the JVP.

In conclusion, I wish to emphasise that once he was a totally dedicated full time activist of the JVP. He resurrected the JVP that had been decimated by the policy of political and military annihilation of the then UNP government. He had been mainly responsible for re-building and rejuvenating the JVP with the able assistance of many strongly committed and active leaders who had been working on the ground at the grass roots level in the island. In my many meetings with him he was always a convivial political companion and I was sad to hear he had passed away. For his commitment and dedication to the cause of social justice over the years, we pay our fraternal respect to him. I also wish to take this opportunity to convey our sincere condolences to comrade Amarasinghe’s family, relatives and friends.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    So long JVPrs would not learn practical politics – theory based statements cant bring anythign to the nation. This nation is no clear about the theories of JVPers. True they have thoughts similar to those of academics when it go for lanken economy, development. But they have no senior men inthe party with know hows how to achieve them. AKD is just a good orator only. He is young and no knowledge in external affairs. All other regional men seen on lanken talk shows also lack wider knowledge in many areas. Perhaps that guy Dr who COULD be different else, that Samarasinghe or the like cant bring the party forward. Besides, no political forces can outreach masses if they move with undoeble agendas. For JVPrs everything should be clean…. how can that be in a country every second has no idea about good governance and its basics. Most feel that should come within an overnight. Not even a team woudl change within a shorter period of time. So what talks about a population in a developing nation. All forms of people roam in such societies.

  • 1
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    Somawanse and Sirisena Cooray,a catcher of Premadasa were married to two sisters!

  • 4
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    Two points to note:
    Lionel Bopage says “…defeating the very purpose for which the JVP was built in the 1960s, against the betrayal of the left movement by the leaders of the LSSP, the CP and the MEP at the altar of capitalism.”
    There was a party which was not guilty of any of the above, and Wijeweera created a split inm that party Led by Sanmugathasan. He was suspended for participating in the notorious anti-Tamil language protest on January 1966 along wth the SLFP, LSSP & CP(Keuneman faction). He displayed a narrow Sinhala nationalist streak since then and well into 1970’s. In 1978 there was some moderation of his chauvinist line, but thee was a vicious relapse of that ailment after 1982.

    I had occasion to meet Somawansa Amarasinghe in London in 1991 when I was with Upali Cooray and others in a Human Rights Group. I was nominated to discuss with the JVP’s Human Rights Group and a pro-LTTE Human Rights Group about a joint protest of HR violations in Sri Lanka.
    Only Somawansa turned up. We talked for over half an hour. I did not know who he was until much later and I did not bother to find as I was most unimpressed with his political understanding. All I can remember to this day was that he repeatedly accused all Tamil refugees in Europe of being economic refugees rather than political refugees (like him!).

    His ideological bankruptcy should have been clear to his JVP colleagues at the time, but he was their mascot– the only link they had with the old JVP.

    • 4
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      I met Somawansa Amarasinghe, who was joined by Tilvin Silva, at a diplomatic function a few years ago. Both appeared to be at sea in that crowd. While Tilvin maintained a somewhat dignified silence albeit with a smile, Amarasinghe dared answering questions from the few in our group. He was utterly unimpressive, incoherent and behaved like a fool. He knew we knew that. In contrast, was my meetings years ago with Colvin, NM, Bernard and others. The latter were intellectuals who could have held their own in any gathering of outstanding academics anywhere. My favourite was Colvin – whose English was flawless, brilliant such as the best British politics can offer. He punctuated almost every few sentences with a sensible but relevant joke. They were men of learning and of the world. JVP’ers of the Amarasinghe, Weerawansa varieties are mediocre pygmies – ideological thinking – or even basic education of quality – unknown to them. It is only racism, anti-Tamil/anti-Indianism that is keeping them afloat surrounded by a sea of prejudiced, uneducated followers – mostly unemployed Sinhala graduates, GCE/OL-AL types. There is no romantic Left of the pre-1970s worth talking of today.

      Kettikaran

  • 4
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    JVP has become Coffin Chasers under its new Leader Prince Anura.

    Put it bluntly Somawansa family had to go to courts to stop the JVP vultures feeding on the carcass to gain political mileage.

    How sad .

    This dude who is carrying on here couldn’t have been much chop in the real JVP .

    Otherwise how could Somawansa be the only survivor of the 14 member Politburo, which the UNP leader from Keselwatta annihilated , while the current Leader Batalanada Ranil was an apprentice Minister.

    An apology from Bopage on behalf of Prince Anura for taking that UNP LKR 25 Lakhs, would have gone well to console the naive real JVP supporters ,who are still going behind the current lot, lead by Red baby Elephant Prince Anura.

    • 5
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      It is clear from the above that our friend, 1971 ‘hero’ Lionel Bopage did not write this eulogy while rushing to Amerasinghe’s funeral.

      Another thing Bopage has forgot to mention is that the two were in-charge of “kidnapping” Mrs. B from her Rosmead Place residence on the night of April 5, 1981. On the way to the mission from the Kelaniya University, the group cancelled the plan due to a police road block near Kinsey Road. Bopage was later arrested disguised as a Buddhist monk, hinding under a bed in a Temple at Panadura. Don’t remember how Amerasinghe got caught).

      With national heroes like these, we Sri Lankans can’t go wrog, can we?

  • 3
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    KASmaalam KA Sumanasekera

    Do you know Somawansa was smuggled out of the country in a RAW deal with Hindians first to India and then to Europe. Incidentally Somawansa was supposed to be fighting the Hindian expansionists and the western neo-colonialism.

    When he approached my Elder to sell his red book idea immediately he was shown the door. Since he was also a Sinhala/Buddhist racist I would have thought both of you are comrades in arms.

    I have a friend who wanted me to meet him a few years ago, but I decided against his wishes and refused to meet him.

  • 3
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    The story of a small minded ,uneducated man with a big mouth and ambitions to re-make this country in his own mould!

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0
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    It was CBK when she was President who was responsible for bringing back Somawansa Amerasinge to SL ignoring the sentiments of her children and knowing how the JVP was used by Premadasa to get rid of her husband.
    Now she is backing Bodi My3 and Ranil and pretends to be a saint.

  • 2
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    It is regrettable that Bopage has glossed over that fact that at its very birth the JVP had consolidated an anti -Tamil pro -Sinhala political line when they excluded the Indian plantation Tamils as a reactionary entity loyal to India.This was accomplished with the introduction of Indian Expansionism, one of the famous five classes.It had laid down a firm Sinhala-Buddhist ideological foundation and that has guided the JVP to the present day. I appreciate you efforts to change their anti Tamil politiocal line but it was too late.You are one of the pioneers of the JVP and should have undestood it at the very beginning.They excluded the planation Tamils of the Upcountry first and then opposed the democratic aspirations of the Tamil community when they demanded to live with dignity and equality in the North and East.

  • 0
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    dear Lionel,
    Well stated.
    I join you in saying,”For his commitment and dedication to the cause of social justice over the years, we pay our fraternal respect to him. I also wish to take this opportunity to convey our sincere condolences to comrade Amarasinghe’s family, relatives and friends”. Bensen

  • 0
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    The late Somawansa Amarasinghe was a founder member of JVP. His Sinhala-Buddhist nationalistic views are not quite socialistic.
    Recollections of meetings with Somawansa by his socialist acquaintances do not portray him as a great intellectual.

    The Matale mass grave almost certainly had the remains of JVP cadre. The present day JVP is not making much effort to establish the truth. They sacrificed their lives for a cause.

  • 0
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    Plato

    You are wrong. Somawansa and Sirsena Cooray were not married to two sisters. Somawansa’s sister was married to Nandasena Cooray who was Sirisena Cooray’s elder brother. Nandasena Cooray was a UNP Municipal Councillor for Panchikawatte ward for a long time along with Ranasinghe Premadasa who represented Kehelwatte ward. It was Nandasena Cooray who introduced his brother Sirisena who was then a ticket checker at Elphinston theatre to politics. Sirisena Cooray and Somawansa never saw eye to eye.

    • 0
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      Colomba Kakka

      Those in the know are aware of Premadasa’s close links to the JVP top was through Somawansa Amerasinghe. This was while he was JRJ’s PM. The latters escape to the Capitalist UK via the Kallathoni boat mafia, with influences and logistics on both sides of the Indian Ocean, was arranged via this medium.

      The late Cyril Gardiner – whose family owned the Elphinstone Theatre –
      has mentioned on several occasions Sirisena was one of his low level employees. BTW, how did Sirisena Cooray manage to buy expensive Real Estate in wealthy Australia? Is it the old Sinhala story of unuth emai munuth emai. Citizen Perera and Voter Silva remain suckers.

      Backlash

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