By Rajan Hoole –
“So bloody was the march of revolution, and the impression which it made was the greater as it was the first to occur… Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any…. even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve. For such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow. Moreover, the confidence of members in each other rested less on religious sanction than upon complicity in crime…
“Oaths of reconciliation, being proferred by either side only to meet an immediate difficulty, held good only so long as no other weapon was at hand. But when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed, it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first.” – Thucydides, on the civil war at Corcyra (Corfu) (427 BC), from his History of the Pelopponesian War, between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BC)
The Moon occupies a special place in the human psyche. By comparison, the effects of the Sun are easily comprehended. The qualities that occur in relation to it are heat, light, beauty and sunstroke. The effect of the Moon is on the other hand subliminal. It calls forth the wilder emotions without one being conscious of it. Its transforming effect on the mind is far less understood. 1988 was the year when the JVP’s terror worked subtly on the minds of the people in the South. It targetted individuals carefully, and more than paralysing the Government it paralysed minds. It convinced a broad section of the impressionable young that it stood for honesty, justice and equality and was a genuine alternative to the corruption that was only too visible in the ruling class.
Very remarkably, it made a significant section of the intelligentsia rationalise the previously unrationalisable and accept the previously unacceptable. Their world was turned upside down. As opposed to the self-seeking opportunism in the upper segments of society, the JVP, the underdog and a victim of state repression, seemed to exemplify the qualities of courage and sacrifice. By an extension of the logic, many were only too ready to accept that the victimhood and sacrifice of JVP rank and file, also gave the JVP leaders the right to sacrifice whomever they chose on the road to their supposedly socialist goal.
However, much of the JVP’s claims turned out to be counterfeit. This was so with their anti-Indianism, which was portrayed as being genuine as opposed to that of vocal members of the establishment. Chandraprema (see bibliography) is quick to point out that the JVP was killing Sri Lankan soldiers whom it wanted to fight the Indians and drive them out, but had itself not made an effort to fire even one bullet at an Indian Army patrol. But in 1988 the going for the JVP was good. The chief reason was its subtlety, which also entailed giving all except a small minority the feeling that if they obey and keep quiet, nothing would happen to them, and indeed, they may even have a better life.
Its ultimate failure is to do with the qualities it shared with the LTTE. After its blood-stained rise it was afraid of temporary accommodation, and could not bear an electoral contest where a show of public opinion risked exposing its claims as hollow. It needed total power and quickly. From about the close of 1988 it lost its subtlety through its desperate methods. When it started forcing ordinary people to demonstrate for its cause on pain of death and shooting those, even poor old women, whose only crime was to caste their vote at the presidential election, it exposed itself as it had not done before. The large numbers among the elite who were bending over backwards to accommodate it decided by the end of 1988 that they could not live with it. By this time the JVP was going it alone after spurning the cover the SLFP had given it and there was a new president – Premadasa – who gave the feeling that he had new ideas.
In retrospect, it is puzzling that many had initially the illusion that there was a way of playing safe with forces like the LTTE and JVP by “keeping out of politics”. The hollow idealism of these groups not tempered by concern and respect for the people must ultimately bring greater misery to all.
During the latter part of 1987, the JVP’s main targets were UNPers, the Left and senior security officials. Notable among these were the killings of SSP Terrence Perera of the Counter Subversive Unit of the Police on 3rd December 1987 and the UNP General Secretary Harsha Abhayawardene on 23rd of the same month. From January 1988 various democratic groups, individuals and NGOs who supported the Accord were announced by the JVP as prospective targets. Among these were the Deva Sarana and the All Lanka Peasants’ Congress (ALPC) both of which worked among the peasantry in the Kurunegala district.
The targetting of some of these organisations also had to do with eliminating dissidents from the 1971 JVP insurgency. Sarath Fernando, a former JVPer, who, like the JVP’s former general secretary Lionel Bopage, was an alumnus of the Engineering Faculty of the University of Ceylon (Peradeniya). He was involved in both the ALPC and Deva Sarana. Fr. Yohan Devananda, an Anglican priest from Deva Sarana (God’s Refuge) was also threatened. A notable dissident killed was Nadana Marasinghe – in November 1987. About the only SLFPer killed during this period was E.G.J. Pathiratne of Dickwewa (mid- February 1988). But that was apparently because he had earlier belonged to the JVP. This, despite the fact that on the main issue of the Indo-Lanka Accord, the SLFP and the JVP were in agreement, and the SLFP was obligingly silent on the JVP’s murders of democratic opponents who stood for a principle.
Against this background, it is hard to fathom how the SLFP entertained any hope of riding to power in coalition with the JVP. Apart from Vijaya Kumaratunge (who had been killed by the JVP) being Mrs. Bandaranaike’s son-in-law, the SLFP was bound by considerations of duty and honour to protest against the murder of fellow democrats. These values were in short supply during that period. Only power seemed to matter.
To be continued..