12 December, 2017

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The Southern Polity: The JVP And The SLFP

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

Rajan Hoole

The Indo-Lanka Accord and Sri Lanka’s Fault Lines: July 1987 – Part – 4

The UNP Government had handled the opposition with such cavalier disdain from 1977 that the SLFP and JVP were impatient to get at the UNP with any weapon that came to hand. They were quick to harp on the Indo-Lanka Accord as a gross betrayal of Sri Lankan sovereignty by the UNP Government. But this was again a purely opportunistic position. In its first statement following the violence of July 1983 the SLFP Central Committee had ‘appreciated the offer of assistance by the Indian Prime Minister’. In a document written by JVP leader Wijeweera titled ‘Our Solutions to Eelamism’ and widely circulated in early 1986, he had said, “The demand for Eelam could not be resolved except through the help of the Indian [Government]” (Thalakolawewe Chandrarathne, CDN 14.11.89). Until 1987 the JVP had been soft on India and had instead accused the Government of being subservient to American imperialism. But from late 1986 when it became evident that the Jayewardene Government was moving towards resolving the ethnic issue through a system of devolution of power with Indian help, the situation changed. The SLFP, JVP and the MEP led by Dinesh Gunawardene (son of Philip Gunawardene) smelt blood and came together in a purely opportunistic alliance.

On 28th July, the protesters against the Accord assembled at the Pettah Bo Tree junction, a focal point of the July 1983 violence. They included Mrs. Bandaranaike, Anura Bandaranaike and several other SLFP stalwarts along with Buddhist monks affiliated to the three parties mentioned. The latter included Ven. Sobitha and Ven. Ananda. The mood became violent as some of the monks called for a ‘fast unto death’ and for lives to be sacrificed in the course of the protest. Rioting broke out in Colombo which, this time, the Police and the Army suppressed effectively.

A police officer on duty gave an example of how the JVP used the cover provided by the SLFP and the Buddhist monks to provoke the Police into a general backlash against civilians and for other purposes. SSP M. Serpanchy, known to be a conscientious officer, was in charge of a police party in the Fort area. He was said to be a disciplinarian who did the mandatory night rounds prescribed for his rank, while many others did only on paper.

There was rioting in the Fort area with crowds pelting projectiles and burning vehicles. 17 hard core JVPers were then held in a building opposite the Bank of Ceylon Tower. The JVP with some mob elements were trying to enter the area. First they tried to come alongside Hilton Hotel and were warned off by Serpanchy’s party. They then tried to come along Chatham Street. A police officer then present said that some of the crowd were armed, and were intent on rescuing their comrades in custody. One man stood from behind a pillar, and from time to time struck his head out, made obscene signs at the Police, shouted obscene remarks and quickly took cover. After watching this for some time, Serpanchy took aim and shot the man in the head when he struck it out. The body lay there and even by 5.00 PM no one complained or claimed the body. At the end of the day, Serpanchy went back to the station, wrote his report, asked another officer who was witness to support him, and closed the matter.

On 29th July when the Accord was signed between President Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, violence spread to other areas resulting in the loss of over 100 lives by 2nd August according to Chandraprema (see bibliography for C.A. Chandraprema and R. Gunaratna).

Mrs. Bandaranaike and her son Anura continued their campaign against the Accord in histrionic language. Speaking in Burrows Park, Kurunegala on 18.9.87, Mrs. Bandaranaike said, “The darkest period of our long and eventful history was enacted on 29th July…and our sovereignty was written away in one fell-blow and our land was ceded to India. Before the ink on the Pact was dry, 10,000 Indian troops and their gun-boats and destroyers asserted their rights here in the guise of peace- makers.”

Sadly, the SLFP was addressing the issue of July 1983 four years too late. The first blow against the sovereignty of Sri Lanka was struck when the Government of the day with no audible protest from the SLFP launched a pogrom against the Tamils. It took an enforced visit by the Indian Foreign Minister Mr. Rao to restore some confidence among the Tamils with regard to their security. From the 1960s, it has been the cry of extremists in the Sinhalese intelligentsia that the Tamils were India’s fifth column. In July 1983, the Government forced the Tamils to look to India to guarantee their security. Both the SLFP and the JVP had acknowledged a role for India in resolving the Tamil question. It was four years of default, further aggression by the Southern polity and failure to work out an acceptable arrangement to safeguard the rights and security of the Tamils that resulted in the Indo-Lanka Accord.

The SLFP and the JVP could have taken a responsible approach to the Accord and saved the country so much bloodshed. As undesirable as is the presence of foreign troops, the challenge of statesmanship was to make it as brief as possible. The UNP could have been justly faulted for bringing this about by playing cat and mouse with the Tamil issue without resolving it internally. They could have demanded that the solution should be implemented without delay so that the Indians reason to prolong their stay. But leadership whose mind was the ‘Sinhala Only’ mould were wisdom even when the new and perilous reality demanded it. They could not see the contradiction in hammering India without taking a position on resolving the Tamil issue.

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rhetoric. While its effective machinery went about fomenting anarchy and threatening and killing those who supported the Indo-Lanka Accord on principled grounds, the SLFP leadership remained blissfully ignorant of the coming fate of its grass-roots. That was the state of the party organisation.

For the JVP the game-plan was clear. The first step was to knock off its political opponents – the Left parties, members of civil society who supported the Accord and the section of the UNP close to Jayewardene – through individual assassination. The SLFP and the faction of the UNP whose anti-India populism provided camouflage for the JVP’s violence were useful for the moment. Their turn was to come later. It is notable that the JVP’s statements then referred to the ‘Jayewardene-Dissanayake-Thondaman Government’. The name of the Plantation Tamil leader – the last in the trio – was calculated to evoke both anti-India and anti-Tamil sentiments. The JVP carefully omitted any criticism of Premadasa at this stage.

The prospects seemed too tempting for the SLFP leadership, who saw in a partnership with the JVP a cheap ticket to power. But Jayewardene had so successfully divided the party that its organisation had broken down. Anura Bandaranaike who had flirted with the UNP in 1982 and had ruined the Party was now flirting with the JVP. Vijaya Kumaratunga, his brother– in-law, who had the energy and capability to give the party an organisational backbone, had left the SLFP with his wife Chandrika to form the SLMP.

On 28th July, the SLFP leadership had given their weight to a phenomenon resembling religious fanatics on the rampage. It could hardly have been started by the JVP and the Buddhist clergy acting on their own. Cries for blood sacrifice had been uttered and scores had been killed by police and army firing. As a left-of- centre democratic party, the SLFP was out of its depth in this situation. Amidst this grotesque orgy of cries of betrayal, it was the JVP that set about taking the initiative behind the SLFP’s rhetoric. While its effective machinery went about fomenting anarchy and threatening and killing those who supported the Indo-Lanka Accord on principled grounds, the SLFP leadership remained blissfully ignorant of the coming fate of its grass-roots. That was the state of the party organisation.

For the JVP the game-plan was clear. The first step was to knock off its political opponents – the Left parties, members of civil society who supported the Accord and the section of the UNP close to Jayewardene – through individual assassination. The SLFP and the faction of the UNP whose anti-India populism provided camouflage for the JVP’s violence were useful for the moment. Their turn was to come later. It is notable that the JVP’s statements then referred to the ‘Jayewardene-Dissanayake-Thondaman Government’. The name of the Plantation Tamil leader – the last in the trio – was calculated to evoke both anti-India and anti-Tamil sentiments. The JVP carefully omitted any criticism of Premadasa at this stage.

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

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Latest comments

  • 0
    1

    Democracy is a word for for the fools.. I still wonder what Sri Lanka would be like if JVP was in power.. Maybe it would be worst than the MaRa regime but maybe everyone would be in happier state.. Only God would know… Sometimes people must be willing to die for their cause and thinking, for that I applaud the JVP and also the LTTE.. Maybe both visions went astray with their visions, but one thing is damn sure, governments from 1948 have ALL been foul with their own agendas.. God bless Sri Lanka..

    • 0
      0

      Only an idiot would think people would be happier under JVP or even LTTE. Please learn about Pol pot in Cambodia

    • 0
      0

      Penetrator, God has indeed blessed Sri Lanka with all Her natural attributes. As Bishop Heber said long ago, “Where Every Prospect Pleases, but Only Man is Vile!” He was vilified for it at the Time. What a Natural Paradise we can make of Sri Lanka, if only those who take to Politics, and get Elected, put Sri Lanka first, and themselves Last!

  • 0
    0

    Sach you are the idiot.. Once you learn, then start your comment.. I know about pol pot, Mao, hitler, etc.. etc.. Do not try to give me a lesson.. Learn first and then start talking..

  • 0
    0

    Young voters of this country, no body knows about how this patriotic s behave during this period, the writer has clearly mentioned about this opportunistic in this country and I suggest this letter to be translate in to singhalese and publish with a wide publicity

  • 0
    0

    The Governor of the Nothern Provincial Council has “cancelled” the budget forwarded by the council saying that “it is not in accordance with the constitution” – but without any clarification.
    This certainly is undemocratic.
    The militarisation of the north and east continues.

  • 0
    0

    PLEASE PUBLISH LATTER IN SINHALESE LANGUAGE BECAUSE THE YOUNGER GENERATION IN THIS COUNTRY DOESN’T HAVE ANY IDEA ABOUT WHAT HAD HAPPEN DURING THAT PERIOD HOW JVP AND SLFP BETRAYED THIS NATION

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