The JVP that
was and now perhaps may not be!
Vindya Amaranayake and Ishara Jayawardane
If ever there was a political party in Sri Lanka that underwent
such calamitous transformation, from being a radical Marxist
entity to a hardcore democratic nationalist movement, it is the
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
From its formation in 1966, until today it has walked a tight
rope, surviving two uprisings and total annihilation in the
hands of the two major political parties – first by the Sri
Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led coalition in 1971 and then by the
United National Party (UNP) in 1987-89.
However, it is undeniable that the JVP has made its presence
felt – quite convincingly – in the political arena since its
ascent to mainstream politics in 1994. Yet, there has always
been one factor, which distinguished the JVP from other
political parties that were clamouring for the prize of
governmental authority: They never resorted to wash their dirty
linen before the public and always stood as a group, in the face
of dire criticism over their policies and stances.
But this is no more. The defection of 10 JVP parliamentarians,
led by raucous MP Wimal Weerawansa opened floodgates of the
party. For the first time in the party’s history, the public
witnessed how far the rotten politics of the country has
infiltrated the party of ex-rebels.
It must be noted however that, defection is not a novel
phenomena to the JVP. In September 2006, the party’s
Presidential Candidate Nandana Gunatillake left the party citing
irreconcilable differences with the leadership, to function as
an independent MP in Parliament. Yet, there was no mudslinging.
Internal rifts remained very much internal.
Again in January 2008, Minister Mahinda Rathnathilake’s Media
Secretary Sampath Dimuthu Ketapearachchi revealed a party plot
to keep MP Sunil Handunnetti under house arrest. During the
ensuing weeks, the public learnt that matters were not so rosy
within the Red party anymore. Internal affairs begin to leak out
and the public smelt a rat in the explanations provided by party
However, never in the history of the party has it witnessed a
phenomenon where skeletons were made to perform nadagam before
the public, as it is done now. The JVP has always prided itself
over their party unity and strong group mentality. While the two
main parties crumbled and splintered into smaller parties, so
much so that the public were confused over some MPs’ party
allegiances, the JVP always stood aloof defying such temptation.
They said in one voice – ‘we cannot be bought.’ Even those who
opposed the JVP on ideological bases could not fail to notice
the integrity of the members when it came to party loyalty.
After his defection from the party, the speech made by
Weerawansa in Parliament was critiqued by many not so much
because of what he said, but the manner in which he addressed
the House: The vocal prowess that made the MP popular was not
perceivable. It was similar to a lamentation of a child whose
toy was snatched away by a cruel adult. There was no mature
The reaction of the party leadership and his loyalists was not
dissimilar either. Once fallen from grace, Weerawansa was
nothing but some troublesome entity that conspired to destroy
the party. His contribution to the party and its development as
a nationalist movement is now forgotten.
Banished from Paradise, what does the former hero do – form
another political movement, in a move not so different from the
members of other political parties.
In retrospect, going all the way back to 1965, it is apparent
that dissident politics is not as unfamiliar to the JVP as it is
imagined by many today. Rohana Wijeweera, the celebrated founder
leader of the JVP, broke away from the Ceylon Communist Party
with a group of radicals to form a new movement on May 14, 1965.
Hence, just like the inception of the SLFP, the JVP too hails
from a breakaway faction of another political party. Armed with
youth drive and passion, the group then led the 1971
Insurrection, which is perceived as a lost revolution today.
After the attempted annihilation and the trials and
tribulations, the top leaders of the party were imprisoned. Yet,
they rose from the ashes in 1987, to lead another rebellion in
the south. The notable difference was that most of the educated
and idealistic leaders who were willing to sacrifice their life
to form a Communist state were present at the second
Many have left the country and many claimed disillusion with
regard to their idealist cause in 1971. In a bid to gather their
views on the present status of the JVP, The Nation spoke to
former insurgent and present Deputy Power and Energy Minister
Athula Nimalsiri Jayasinghe (Loku Athula).
His prediction was that the JVP would only be engaged in active
politics for the next 10-20 years: “The party will be reduced to
oblivion and then we will see only a few bearded red-shirted
individuals. By that time they will be old trying to carry the
casket of the JVP.”
Commenting on the formation of the JVP in 1965 he said,
Wijeweera’s intentions in forming the party was far from being
altruistic. “Socialism was a theory that appealed to everyone at
that time. Wijeweera used this to recruit members to the party.
His intentions were not altruistic. Socialism was a pretext. So,
many disillusioned members left the JVP later on and the
standard label he gave everyone was ‘the traitor.’ He never
cared about the nation,” he said.
Jayasinghe added that the JVP has not changed over the years and
its policies remain the same. “JVP has not changed much. The
ideas disseminated by Wijeweera remain as they were in 1965.”
He also said that before the 87-89 uprising, Wijeweera had an
underground armed organisation while pretending to engage in
democratic politics. “The JVP says one thing publicly and the
next moment they are ready for a revolution. A genuine
revolutionary party will publicly declare their policy.”
PNM retains Weerawansa as General Secretary
Even when he was among party favourites, Wimal Weerawansa was
a strong supporter of the Patriotic National Movement (PNM). In
fact, he was the General Secretary of the movement. According to
PNM Chairman Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara, Weerawansa is still the
General Secretary and will remain so.
In the meantime, the dissident group has expressed its their
intention to form a new political movement with the support of
the PNM. In an interview with The Nation, Dr. Amarasekara
explained the role of the PNM and the ideology behind the
However, it was apparent that the PNM disseminates an ideology,
which is in contrast to the JVP ideology that Weerawansa claims
he still adheres to. Therefore, the questions arise whether two
groups believing in contrasting ideologies can work together as
one political force. Yet, stranger things have happened in this
country and only time will tell the future of the JVP and Wimal
Following are excerpts of the interview with Dr. Amarasekara:
Q: What is the ideology behind the PNM?
A: “Our ideology is something called a Nationalistic
Ideology. What we want to do is to collect all the nationalistic
forces and present an ideology to the people based on a kind of
civilisational consciousness. We tried to achieve a
civilisational ideology, which cuts across all these political
lines. Till we achieved independence there was no national
liberation struggle, unlike in India. As a result, we never had
a national ideology. After 50 years of independence we have not
been able to build a national ideology.”
Q: Do you mean to say that Marxist socialist theories failed
because they were not built on a national ideology?
A: Yes, the pity of it is that they took it in a very
simplistic manner. They never understood – probably at that time
there was no thinking on these lines.
Q: What brought forth the formation of a movement such as the
A: The JVP would never have come up if not for the 1956
change. It was the 1956 change that took politics to the rural
masses. The main change was that politics was taken to the rural
masses. Up to that time, politics was ruled by the elitist class
in Colombo. For the first time, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and other
nationalist forces took politics to the rural masses. Prior to
that, there was another event of great importance – 1944 free
education. For the first time, C.W.W. Kannangara took English
education to the masses and created a form of intelligentsia.
Bandaranaike took politics to the rural areas. These were the
two events that gave rise to the JVP, who came from those
classes in the rural area. They are called the ‘Children of
What constitutes the JVP is the rural youth. If after ’56, the
SLFP had a vision, if they knew where they were going, then, if
they had changed the economic policy and political policy and
had vision and acted and looked after the children of that
intelligentsia, the JVP would not have come up as a political
force. What happened was after ’56, the SLFP never acted with a
vision. As soon as they came to power they didn’t know where
they were going, they had a simplistic vision as well. They
never realised that if they had acted properly with a vision,
the youth would not have banded to form a JVP. After ’56, the
rural youth had some access to education, they were aware of
their political crisis but they were not looked after. They were
really a frustrated underprivileged class and also with petty
bourgeois ambitions. A semi educated rural youth who knew that
they should have a place in the sun. The onus goes to the SLFP.
Q: How do you perceive the 1971 insurrection?
A: By 1971, Rohana Wijeweera, who was a bit of a romantic,
thought he could get hold of the rural chaps. However, after the
failure of the ’71 insurgency, he matured and decided to enter
the political stream. In ’83 as they were making a mark, J.R.
Jayewardene banned the party, which was a great mistake. When
they were banned on one completely false pretext, they were
blamed for the Black July even though they had nothing to do
with that. As a result, the JVP went underground and resorted to
insurrections and violence.
Q: Do you call them Marxists?
A: I wouldn’t call them a Marxist party. They may use some
Marxist slogans and so on. Whatever it is, Marxism is a humanist
ideology. Of course, it never succeeded in the West and it was
taken by Lenin in Russia and Mao and those versions are not
Marxist. The way it ended up in Russia was Stalinist, an
anti-humanist dictatorial party in the name of Socialism. It was
the model that appealed to these boys: the dictatorial
anti-human Marxism of Stalin. The JVP has the Stalinist
ideology. I wouldn’t call it a Marxist ideology. You can see the
JVP after J.R., once again they entered the democratic
mainstream. During the insurrection of ‘87 they displayed
utterly inhuman and despicable behaviour. One could say that
they had no access to democratic means and had to resort to
violence. Then they once again entered the democratic stream and
banded up with SLFP.
Q: How do you perceive the rift within the JVP today?
A: Where the break up is concerned, I feel that it is a
clash of ideologies. As usual, the personalities maybe involved.
This is definitely a clash of ideologies because basically as I
told you, the JVP believes in revolution and though they have
entered the democratic process, I don’t think they have much
faith in the democratic process. I think they are basically in
that Stalinist frame of mind: That socialism can be pushed down
the throat. However, Wimal Weerawansa belongs to a new
generation. He is not a man who was involved in the insurrection
of ’87-89, he was a man who joined the party as a school boy.
And I think he was exposed to much of these debates,
intellectual debates and discussions. Probably he was also
influenced like that. He happens to believe in the democratic
process and believes in our national ideology.
In fact, I knew that at some stage that could happen, that these
two ideologies can’t go together. It had to happen at some
stage. And I think it has happened. I think what is preferable
is for Wimal to take over the party and get the party to agree
with him and in that context I think it is a very good thing
that happened. Somawansa’s faction must rethink and adjust
themselves. They must rethink because of the fate that the
Marxists have suffered in this country. Somawansa must think
Q: What is the future of the JVP ?
A: I think, if they are going to have a future they must
rethink where they have gone wrong. Some ideological change is
Meanwhile, The Nation spoke to JVP strongman Anura Kumara
Dissanayake to learn the party’s reaction to Weerawansa’s
intention to form a new political movement. “It is anyone’s
right to form a political party. We cannot deny that. This is
one such instance.”
When queried whether Weerawansa’s absence is going to create a
void in the party, Dissanayake said that when anyone leaves any
entity, inevitably, there is going to be a void. But he affirmed
that the party will not be weakened by the void, but it will
remain as strong as ever.
Referring to the conflict at hand, he said, “Our party is based
on three main values: Discipline, principles and trust. In the
absence of one, a member cannot stay. The reason why Wimal is
out of the party is because we adhere to our principles.
Otherwise, he would still be here. It also means that there is
still discipline within the party.”
He added that all those who say that the party has been
weakened, can see the party’s strength in the near future.
Dissanayake also said that if the party has weakened, there
would not have been such a strong public participation at their
May Day celebration on Thursday. “The fact that the people are
there, means that we are still strong.”
However, the attempts made at contacting members of the
dissident group were not successful.