The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

31st March 1996



'We didn't kill'

By Shyamal A. Collure

April 5, 1971 saw the turning over of a new page in Sri Lankan history when the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front) sought to topple the then United Front government by an armed struggle. The leader and theoretician of the rebel group, Wijeweera Patabendige Don Nandasiri alias Rohana Wijeweera was in custody - away in the Jaffna Prison when the doctrinal 'revolution' became a reality. During the insurgency, a total of 95 police stations were attacked with 35 police divisions falling into the hands of the JVP. The rebels took control of over 50 main towns but their administration was doomed to be short-lived.

The following interview with JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva comes in the midst of preparations of the party for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the '71 insurrection.

Q: What were the reasons that led to the insurgency?

A: We started forming this party in 1965 as there was an enormous vacuum in the representative system to air the views of the oppressed. Our primary aim was to form a big political party with that objective in mind and not to capture state power through an armed struggle. However, towards 1971 state oppression was unbearable and it became extremely difficult to survive without arms to protect ourselves.

A state of emergency was declared on March 6, 1971 and on March 13, Comrade Wijeweera was arrested. The government passed a new law on March 16 authorising the law enforcement officials to destroy corpses without performing autopsies. It was in those circumstances that our membership had to take to arms.

Q: Some attribute the uprising to certain social and economic problems prevalent at the time. Your comments?

A: Such attribution is absolutely erroneous. The uprising didn't give vent to social and economic injustices. They were the issues which brought the masses towards our party. The real cause of the insurgency was state oppression which knew no bounds.

Q: Whatever be the reasons, didn't Wijeweera think that the time was ripe for an armed struggle?

A: There were some intra-party factions with regard to the leadership. As a result, a group led by 'Loku Athula' (Nimalasiri Jayasinghe - now M.P. and Deputy Minister) attempted to take the upper-hand. The decision to attack police stations taken at the Sangaramaya of the Vidyodaya University on April 2 was mainly his. Lionel Bopage did not agree with him. Then he told the latter that Wijeweera had sent a message to that effect. That was a lie.

Wijeweera was totally unaware of such a decision till the very moment the police stations were attacked. He was in the Jaffna Prison at the material time. Vanathamulle Osmund's mother and William used to visit him frequently. Wijeweera had sent a message through Osmund's mother asking the membership to retreat in view of the terrible oppression and seek to get him released through legal means. All other ways of communication had broken down by then.

However, I must admit that the general membership wanted weapons for survival - for self- defense.

When we formed our party, we didn't have a definite method to gain power. Therefore, it is wrong to say that the principal goal of the JVP was to capture power by force. Having said this I must add that this particular decision was supported by the majority of decision-makers in the party and by almost the entirety of the membership.

Q: Isn't it said that Wijeweera wanted a group of 500 armed cadres sent to secure his release should the other alternative fail?

A: That's what the Commission was told by Loku Athula and Lal Somasiri with a view to implicating Wijeweera. It is their version. There is no truth in that.

Q: But even a lot of books and articles written on the insurrection say so?

A: May be. Such articles are written on the basis of the evidence led by the prosecution at the trial. So, they are inevitably one-sided.

Q: Why did the insurgency fail?

A: It was not a well organised struggle. Nor was it fought to achieve any specific goal. 'Attack' was the only aim and it indeed was the best form of defense available. I stress again that the aim was not to capture power.

In brief, internal problems, the lack of a clear vision, organisation and strength as well as the government's ability to crush such an uprising in the end resulted in the failure of the rebellion.

Q: Looking back, does the membership regret it now?

A: No, not at all. We see both plus and minus points in that. We studied the pros and cons of it in detail and made a self-criticism in 1977. However, our stance or policies have not changed. The down-trodden people should fight for their rights. The JVP will continue to represent such people.

Q: Why did one-time activists in the ilk of Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Loku Athula, Podi Athula (Victor Ivan), Sunanda Deshapriya and Lionel Bopage leave the party?

A: I am not in a position to answer for them. They left for reasons best known to them. From what I know, Uyangoda left the island for further studies. Members like Kelly Senanayake were expelled from the party on disciplinary grounds. Loku Athula couldn't remain in the JVP after the way he betrayed us at the trial. Out of the lot, Lionel Bopage continued to be in the party till 1983. He alleged that the JVP was going from 'left' to 'right'. Probably he didn't want to serve a proscribed political party any more. Podi Athula and Sunanda Deshapriya resigned soon after they were arrested - long before even the trial commenced. Some had genuine difficulties and their own aspirations. Others gave varying excuses to leave the party. We don't tie the members to the party by force. Just as much as one can join it, one also has the freedom to leave it.

Q: Did the members become more violent after the proscription of the party in 1983?

A: When you say more violent, it implies that we had been violent earlier. No; by nature, we are harmless. The United Front government in 1971 compelled us to resort to that type of action. So did the UNP regime during 1987-89.

Indeed, we faced numerous difficulties subsequent to the proscription. We couldn't carry out party activities democratically. But our campaigns were continued through posters and leaflets. We used our trade unions and student unions to the maximum during this time. Our paper, 'Niyamuwa' too was banned. However, we published another by the name 'Malima' to take its place.

Q: By 1985-86 your party had captured power in Students' Councils of all the campuses except for those of the Colombo University. The Independent Students' Union (ISU) led by Daya Pathirana successfully kept your party men at bay. It was the most formidable opponent of the JVP within the campus system. I suggest to you that it was the JVP that killed Daya Pathirana and later many other prominent figures of the ISU as they stood in your way. You were also humiliated for not being able to penetrate the Colombo Campus. Your comments?

A: The JVP didn't kill any activist of the ISU or anybody else for that matter. These were charges leveled against us by our enemies to tarnish the image of our party. Coming back to the Colombo Campus, I should say that we too had power in certain Faculties.

Possibly the killings you referred to were carried out by our enemies to embarrass us. It must also be borne in mind that the ISU was becoming a threat to the traditional leftist movement. Above all, the capitalist government of the day could very well have done them. The government badly wanted to sow the seeds of disunity among undergraduates - to create dissension with a view to containing their activities. As the Independents considered the JVP as their eternal enemies, they took advantage of these killings to sling mud at us. To date no inquiry has been held into these extra-judicial killings. Therefore, it is unfair to point an accusing finger at the JVP for them without having sufficient proof to substantiate the charges.

Q: Nowhere does the Marxist-Leninist Philosophy advocate the killing of unarmed civilians to reach the political destination of such a party. The JVP calls itself a Marxist party. However, several innocent civilians including labourers and bus drivers were killed by the JVP during 1987-89. What have you got to say to that?

A: Yes, ours is a Marxist party. That is true. But, I can't agree with the rest of what you said. While denying the foregoing charges in no uncertain terms, I wish to emphasise once more that the JVP never indulged in killings.

Q: If I propose that these killings were executed by the military wing of the JVP called 'Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya ' (DJV) which was led by none other than the JVP polite bureau member Saman Piyasiri Fernando (Keerthi Wijebahu)?

A: The government tried to describe the DJV as the military wing of the JVP. It was the same government which said that our political bureau member Saman Piyasiri headed the DJV. This is absolutely baseless. The killings you are referring to were carried out by the DJV and not by us.

Q: Wasn't there any link between the JVP and the DJV?

A: DJV was a broader group of patriots. It is true that some of our members were actively involved in the DJV was well. But, we didn't have any formal, official or other link than this as a party.

Q: Do you then condemn the inhuman killings of the DJV?

A: I can neither condemn nor endorse them without analysing the circumstances in which the DJV was compelled to resort to that type of activity. The activities of the DJV cannot be considered in isolation. They have to be taken in conjunction with 'State Terrorism'

Q: Didn't the DJV disappear soon after the JVP was crushed for the second time - viz. by March, 1990?

A: I can guess the implication. Your inference is wrong. JVP and DJV were not one and the same. As I said earlier, the DJV was a broad-based patriotic group which fought against the Indian invasion and the unpatriotic government of Sri Lanka. By March 1990, President Premadasa sent the Indian Army back. So, on the one hand, the DJV was sans a cause to fight for and on the other, most of its leaders had been killed by that time.

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