The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will mark the 50th anniversary of its 1971 insurrection tomorrow (April 5). The party has never been shy of celebrating its first armed uprising, unlike the more troubled second insurrection of 1987-89. The 50th anniversary of the 1971 insurrection will be commemorated at different events in Hambantota, Gampaha, Polonnaruwa and [...]


Youth of today little realise the enormity of sacrifices made by youth in 71

In a long ranging interview JVP leader talks of the party's first insurrection, how the ghosts of the past still haunt the party and its vision for the future

Anura Kumara Dissanayake: “Mao Zedong once said that revolution is not a dinner party. Many things that happened should not have taken place.” Pic by Indika Handuwala

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will mark the 50th anniversary of its 1971 insurrection tomorrow (April 5). The party has never been shy of celebrating its first armed uprising, unlike the more troubled second insurrection of 1987-89.

The 50th anniversary of the 1971 insurrection will be commemorated at different events in Hambantota, Gampaha, Polonnaruwa and Kurunegala. “Many of our members who took part in the insurrection are still living in rural areas. The reason we are holding the 50th commemoration in these areas is that we hope to see them in attendance at these events,” said JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in an interview with the Sunday Times.

Besides being the country’s first armed revolt, the 1971 insurrection was significant in that it was led by both rural youth and educated youth from urban areas, Mr Dissanayake noted. By 1971, the problem of rural poverty and resulting issues faced by the rural poor had reached a tipping point. Wealth and power had become centred around a very small group. Most people felt excluded by their Government though they contributed to the economy. “A complete social transformation was needed to actively change that situation and fulfil the aspirations of the people. At the time, in many nations throughout the world, such transformations had been achieved through armed struggle,” he elaborated.

“We honour and celebrate those who took part in the 71 insurrection for if they had succeeded then, we would have built a far more prosperous country than what we are today. We would have created a country where the people were more content and one where democracy and human rights were protected. This generation of our youths took up arms and fought for these ideals. I’m not sure if a youth in today’s society can fully grasp the enormity of the risks that the youths of 71 took. They cast aside their own selfish and narrow objectives and fought, risking their very lives with the aim of creating a better tomorrow for the wider society. How is such a feat anything but honourable?”

Even the second insurrection of 1987-89 was not a spontaneous event, Mr Dissanayake claimed. The party contested a by-election as soon as JVP Leader and Founder Rohana Wijeweera was released from prison in 1978, followed by District Development Council elections in 1981 and the 1982 Presidential Election. The JVP also campaigned against President J.R. Jayewardene during the referendum he held “to postpone elections.”

“Our party made many sacrifices and endured much hardship to remain on the democratic path, but the barbaric United National Party (UNP) Government of J.R. Jayewardene was bent on going down a path towards a dictatorship. One of our members was murdered in 1984, long before we had ever thought of launching a second armed struggle. The Government saw us as an obstacle. So they reacted by banning us using the Black July pogrom which they themselves unleashed. Our trade union front filed a case at the Supreme Court to get the ban overturned, but the Government responded by banning our trade union front. We complained to organisations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations but the Government did not relent,” Mr Dissanayake stressed.

“The killing spree launched by J.R. Jayewardene, coupled with the landing of Indian troops in the country, posed a grave challenge to our democracy, which ultimately forced the group to take up arms a second time,” the JVP leader claimed.

In 1971, the JVP attacked and overran police stations, seized key towns and killed policemen and security forces personnel. The deaths of 41 civilians is also attributed to the insurgents. Among those murdered by the JVP in 1971 was renowned doctor and planter Rex de Costa. A former soldier, he was killed for lending assistance to police officers holding out at the besieged Deniyaya police station.

The far more bloodier and brutal second insurrection saw the JVP unleash terror on a far wider scale. Aside from the killings of police and security forces personnel, the party also assassinated politicians, academics, professionals and journalists. Among the assassinations attributed to the JVP through the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (DJV) were those of actor turned politician Vijaya Kumaratunga, former Minister Lionel Jayathilake and several MPs including Jinadasa Weerasinghe and G.V.S. De Silva. It also attempted to assassinate then President J.R. Jayewardene and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa by carrying out a grenade attack in Parliament resulting in the death of MP Keerthi Abeywickrama and injuries to several other MPs and Parliament staff members.

Both insurrections though failed the ghosts of their violent atrocities, especially during 1987-89, continue to haunt the party still, Mr Dissanayake acknowledged. “Mao Zedong once said that revolution is not a dinner party. Many things that happened should not have taken place,” he accepted.

“History is written by the victors. Accordingly, after our failed uprisings, the victors wrote history in such a way that we were brought to the dock as the only accused while the actions of people like J.R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa, whose Government slaughtered over 60, 000 people, were washed clean” he alleged.

This “distortion” of events has created a lasting impression among the people regarding the party and this perception continues to persist even today, the party leader further said.

Nevertheless, more than 30 years later, it is the JVP’s actions during its second insurrection that its enemies still use to attack the party, Mr Dissanayake highlighted.

“In contrast, our enemies always give us new slogans to shout against them. There was the contaminated coconut oil issue only yesterday. The week before, it was the sugar scam. Go back to 2016 and you have the bond scam. In 2007, they lost funds from the Employee Provident Fund (EPF) that was invested in the stock market. In 2007, we also had the MiG deal,” he remarked.

He insisted that the JVP had done more than its share of self-criticism on its past violent actions and publicly accepted responsibility for what it did. “We have done this on campaign stages and at media conferences since 1994. We have expressed regret time and again,” he stressed, questioning whether those in the UNP had done anything of the sort. Mr Dissanayake however, did not elaborate on whether the party has ever expressed regret for violent acts committed specifically during the 1971 insurrection.

The party has proved its sincerity through its commitment to non violence since reentering democratic politics in 1994, he argued. Mr Dissanayake pointed out that several JVP supporters, candidates and local politicians have been murdered since 1997. “We however, have never thrown so much as a rock in retaliation.”

Since its reentry into politics, the once firmly Marxist JVP has made some alliances with parties it continues to call “enemies.” It became part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Government of Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004 and also offered implicit support to common candidate Maithripala Sirisena during the 2015 presidential election. It was also accused of backing the Yahapalana Government behind the scenes. Mr Dissanayake however, countered that when looking back on the country’s situation at the times the decisions were taken, the JVP had always taken the best course of action available to ensure the welfare of the people.

The decision to join the Kumaratunga Government was taken at a time when the actions of then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had taken the country to the verge of separation between a Sinhala and Tamil State, Mr Dissanayake said. “The country would have split along racial lines like during the partition of India. Had that happened, the war would have spilled over into one between communities rather than between the State and a terrorist group.”

In 2015, the JVP asked the people to defeat the Rajapaksa camp, though it did not join the alliance fielding Maithripala Sirisena. The JVP leader said this was prompted by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s actions to seek a third term through the passage of the 18th Amendment. If Rajapaksa had prevailed in 2015, he would have been President till 2022, he pointed out. “This (Rajapaksa’s second term) was a period where terror and intimidation was at its height. If he had prevailed in 2015, they would have been in power for 17 straight years. Time and again, in places such as Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Tanzania, where a single family had ruled for so many years, it required bloodshed to overthrow them. I believe we would have faced a similar situation had Mahinda Rajapaksa prevailed then. We intervened to prevent such a tragedy.”

A political movement should not simply be a reactive movement. It has a responsibility to act to prevent any calamity that might befall a country. Since such a calamity did not occur, it does not register with the people, Mr Dissanayake claimed.

Since its reentry into politics, the JVP has consistently exposed corruption, wastage of public funds and voiced concerns of the people. Its performances at elections though, has left a lot to be desired, with the number of its MPs in Parliament declining at every election since a high of 39 MPs in 2004 (when it contested under the UPFA). At the last parliamentary election in August last year, the party could muster just three seats as opposed to six it had in the last Parliament. This was despite the JVP choosing to contest the election under the banner of a new alliance in the form of National People’s Power (NPP).

“We are not a party that judges our popularity based only on votes,” Mr Dissanayake remarked when questioned on the disappointing results. He opined that the JVP had been at a disadvantage since all elections held during the past few decades had been held under special circumstances.

If one were to take the last presidential and parliamentary elections as examples, both had been held under the backdrop of a “manufactured crisis” by way of the Easter Sunday terror attacks, he charged. “This resulted in manufactured slogans regarding national security and even racial security, with some claiming there was an organised attempt to sterilize people of one race. These manufactured slogans split the country’s society. One group campaigned against dictatorship while the other thrust the issue of national security to the forefront. With society being polarised into these two camps, it created an extremely disadvantageous situation for a third party. We were affected by this disadvantage.”

For 27 years from 1983 to 2010, the country’s elections were decided by the war, he remarked. “Once the war ended, it became difficult for our leaders, so they proceeded to manufacture conflicts. I believe the Easter attack was one such manufactured conflict,” he stressed.

“We believe the public will realise this at some point and flock to us. If an election was held under normal circumstances, we think we would receive far more votes. We, of course, do want to attract more voters and improve our performances,” he observed.

Following are Mr Dissanayake’s responses to several other questions:

n Did the splits within your party, such as the breaking away of Wimal Weerawansa and the Frontline Socialist Party also affect your electoral prospects?

Even if one member of our party in a rural area leaves, it affects the party’s chances of victory. So obviously, such splits did have an effect.

n JVP Founder Rohana Wijeweera’s son has recently indicated he intends to form his own political movement. Your thoughts?

Rohana Wijeweera’s son is about 32 years old now. He is a free man. He has said that he is Rohana Wijeweera’s son. He is not the son of the JVP.  He has every right to hold his own political views and follow his own political vision. I invite young people to follow his example and enter politics. I respect his right and wish him well.

n With 50 years having passed since the first insurrection, where do you see the JVP going now?

For 73 years, our leaders have believed that the best way to develop the country is through competition. This belief has only brought us disaster. Competition has resulted in them doing anything to make profits. This is what has brought us contaminated coconut oil, milk powder and food. Environment destruction has also come about due to competition. The open economy introduced to this country in 1977 has prioritised competition. The end result is that people’s money is centred around a very small group of individuals. Competition has failed. What is needed now is cooperation.

For example, we need sand for our construction industry and we need to remove sand in some quantity to ensure the existence of the river. But what competition does is it leads to sand being dug in vast quantities without any care for the river’s existence. If the overriding motive is cooperation, then sand can be removed in a way that also ensures it does not destroy the river.

If anyone still believes that this country can be developed through competition, they are wrong. Only cooperation can achieve that objective. We need a wholehearted effort from all sections of society for this to happen. As such, all our plans and strategies will be geared towards taking that message of cooperation to the people.


Rohana Wijeweera


  • 13 May 1970: General election results in United Front (UF) coming to power under premiership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike.  The coalition is heavily dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) but also comprises two left parties, the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP). The Janatha Vimukti Peramuna/People’s Liberation Front (JVP) cadres back the UF to office.
  • July, 1970: Members of Parliament form a Constituent Assembly, process of drafting a new Constitution begins.
  • 13 March 1971: Rohana Wijeweera, leader of the JVP arrested.
  • 16 March 1971: Emergency declared. Wijeweera continues to be detained, under Emergency Regulations.
  • 5 April 1971: An insurrection led by the JVP, breaks out in the form of simultaneous attacks on some 74 police stations in various parts of the country. (Another 18 are attacked in the next few days.) 35 police areas temporarily fall almost totally under insurgent control. The insurrection is speedily suppressed and in its immediate aftermath some 16,000 persons are arrested, including JVP leaders and held under emergency powers.
  • September 1971: First Amnesty International Mission to Sri Lanka.
  • 4 & 5 April 1972: A Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) to try insurgent suspects established.
  • 22 May 1972: A new Constitution adopted. “Ceylon” becomes “Republic of Sri Lanka”.
  • 12 June 1972:  Trial  by CJC of leaders of the April 1971 insurrection, begins. Chief Justice H.N.G. Fernando (Chair) and four others comprise the CJC.
  • 20 December 1974: After two and a half years CJC sentences Wijeweera to imprisonment, some given suspended sentences, some acquitted. Trials of numerous other groups on a regional basis continue.
  • 15/16 February 1977: Emergency under which JVP was proscribed lifted for holding of General Elections. Wijeweera and others remain in jail.
  • 21 July 1977: Opposition UNP comes to power under premiership of J.R. Jayewardene.
  • 2 November 1977:  Pardon announced for all persons serving sentence under the CJC Act. Wijeweera and other JVP leaders released from prison.

(Source; Suriya Wickremasinghe Secretary, Civil Rights Movement).


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