By Rajan Hoole –
The Year 1988: The Red Moon Over Sri Lanka And The Dawn Of New Wisdom – Part 7
On 21st October, the SLFP decided to call off two meetings in the Badulla District after the JVP’s military wing, the DJV, called upon the people not to attend the SLFP’s propaganda meetings. It accused the SLFP of a secret deal with India where it agreed to abide by the Accord and keep Indian troops. The meeting in Badulla town was subsequently held where Anura Bandaranaike accused the UNP and SLMP (USA) of sending them threatening notes in the name of the JVP, and warned these parties. He was confident that the JVP was on his side. But the JVP did not deny responsibility for the leaflet.
A few days before mid-November the SLFP was sent a letter bearing a DJV letterhead informing it that it had been proscribed. In the final week of the presidential election campaign there was a widespread report that the JVP’s ban on the SLFP had been lifted.
This found Ranjan Wijeratne in a most unlikely role of JVP spokesman. At a press conference on 14th December, he vehemently denied the report that the JVP had lifted its proscription of the SLFP, saying that “mischievous attempts were being made to mislead the unsuspecting voter”. He said that the SLFP was planning to distribute a letter purported to be issued by the Patriotic People’s Army (DJV) stating that the JVP had lifted the ban on the SLFP. He called the letter “a false document and a desperate election stunt by the SLFP which knows it is losing the presidential election”.
A commentary in the Indian Journal, the Economic and Political Weekly (18.2.89), observed: “It would seem that he (Ranjan Wijeratne) was concerned that potential pro-SLFP voters, frightened by the ban, would now feel free to go and vote for the SLFP. This clearly shows how the UNP found that subversive threats and violence could serve their [UNP’s] own ends. It also fortifies the idea that some part of the violence and disruption was created by the UNP to prevent a high poll … We are led to an overwhelming conclusion that Premadasa in his own way had been as clever and masterly and as secretive a strategist as Jayewardene was supposed to be.”
The LTTE too in its own way helped Premadasa, but only to suit its own ends. In the interior areas of Batticaloa for example where the LTTE moved, the UNP was allowed to campaign, but not the SLFP.
A further instance of the perversity of the overall political atmosphere was the timing of the LTTE’s two massacres of Sinhalese civilians in areas further removed from its normal movements. The first was a brutal massacre in the early hours of 10th October of 45 villagers in Tantrimale in Madawachchiya, co-inciding with Premadasa’s ceremonial acceptance of the UNP candidacy on the 9th, where he said that he would, if elected President, send back the Indian Peace Keeping Force. Of the victims, 14 were women and 18 were children. This was a deliberate, planned massacre, which involved about 60 LTTE men marching south through the jungle from the Puliyankulam area.
This massacre resulted in a very predictable press campaign in the South almost and very unreasonably suggesting the Indian Army’s complicity in the massacre. An example was the Sun editorial of 14.10.88 under the title “The Peace that Failed”, which seemed to see some significance in the lame LTTE leader Kittu who was flown out of Madras after his office was closed, being released in Jaffna on the eve of the massacre. The Sri Lankan Army Commander Hamilton Wanasinghe was clear (Sect. 21.2.5) that such massacres cannot be stopped and had repeatedly indicated that he could not manage the situation without the IPKF presence in the North-East.
The second big massacre took place just after the inauguration of the presidential election campaign on 10th November. The LTTE ambushed and killed 28 Sinhalese bus passengers near the old Sinhalese village of Gomarankadawela in the Trincomalee District. The Island of 15th November editorially blasted the IPKF for not being able with its 50,000 men to subdue 2000 LTTEers. This, the Sri Lankan Army never got close to doing with similar or even greater manpower.
The LTTE was then not fighting the Sri Lankan Army and massacres of Sinhalese did not even have the perverse excuse of reprisals. These would then have made more sense in Tamil Nadu. In what passed for brilliant strategies of the various actors in Sri Lanka, the LTTE looked further into the future than the politicians in the South. It also understood the volatility of Southern opinion combined with short memories.
Despairing over the election campaign, the columnist Lucien Rajakarunayake wrote: “The candidate for the UNP is lost in the coils of an absurd legality while the country is faced with the most gruesome bloodletting. The candidate for the SLFP is trapped in her own prior dreams of the marauder’s gun helping her to return to power” (Sunday Times 11.12.88).
Premadasa won the election of 19th December by a small margin. He secured 50.43% of the votes, while Mrs. Bandaranaike obtained 44.9% and Ossie Abeygoonesekera 4.5%. Only 52% of the registered voters cast their votes as opposed to 80% at normal elections. This had no doubt helped Premadasa as the polling was low mainly in rural areas which supported the SLFP. Here the JVP’s threat to voters was very effective. More than 100 civilians, including elderly women voters, were killed during 48 hours about election day.
The NSSP (New Socialist Party) Secretary Dr. Vikramabahu Karunaratne (CDN 31.12.88) stated, “The main factors affecting the result are the coercion and terror exerted by the JVP and other semi- fascist forces which grew with succour and assistance of the SLFP. The JVP and DJV may continue to attack and kill to cover up their misdeeds.”
There was then insufficient appreciation of the effect of the UNPs own terror on the elections. The anger of the Left then was mainly directed towards the JVP and SLFP. A police officer then prominently associated with the Government’s terror was DIG Udugampola who was in Anuradhapura during the presidential campaign and was later moved to Kandy. The arrest and murder of the lawyer Liyannarachchi followed the JVP’s gunning down several members of Udugampola’s family in the Southern Province in mid-1988. Liyannarachchi was alleged by the Government to have confessed to having been in a committee that passed death sentences to be carried out by the JVP. It also suited the Government to have Udugampola acquire a reputation as a killer, since it diverted attention from ‘Black Cat’ killer operations run by senior UNP ministers. Similarly, it suited the Government editorially to highlight PRRA’s killings (e.g. Ceylon Daily News, early December 1988).
To be continued..