JVP and the Tamil people

By Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

The National People’s Power (NPP) presidential candidate, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, in a recent interview with the Tamil daily, Virakesari, made some thought provoking comments about viable choice for the Tamil people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the upcoming presidential election.

Dissanayaka has acknowledged there is no question about the Tamil people of the two provinces casting their votes to Tamil parties in any election other than a presidential election. However, he has pointed out that when it comes to making choices among Southern political parties, his party could be their ideal choice, emphasizing the imperative to take the legitimate aspirations and genuine grievances of the Tamil people to the people of the South. This, he has underscored, needs to be done in a proper way, without which there cannot be a way forward.  

Candid in his admission that the JVP’s approach and activities had failed miserably in winning over the hearts and minds of the Tamil people of North and East, Dissanayaka has however insisted they would never give up hope of working among the Tamils of the North and East and winning over them in the future.  

If  Dissanayaka genuinely believes his party, or rather the NPP will be the Southern political choice for the Tamil people in the December presidential polls, and if he sincerely regrets his party’s failure to win over the Tamil people, he should accept the fundamental reasons lie in his party’s policies with regard to their problems.  

There needs to be serious introspection on the part of JVP leader and his comrades at this point of time. JVP leaders have constantly been talking about the necessity for change in post-war thinking and have proudly declared they have embraced that new thinking.  Unfortunately, they have never ventured to analyze what the JVP as a political force had done towards any attitudinal change among the people of the South, especially with regard to a political settlement that would effectively address at least the minimum of the legitimate aspirations and genuine grievances of the people belong to the minority communities.

More than half a century of Sri Lanka’s political history shows the JVP’s stance on the ethnic problem has always run counter to the political aspirations of Tamil speaking people. Despite claims to being Marxist, the party that staged two armed insurrections unsuccessfully during the latter half of the last century, never seemed to have a progressive policy on the political problems of the minorities. Bluntly put the JVP has never supported any of the attempts made by previous government to find a political solution to the ethnic imbroglio.

The party was not in existence when the Banda – Chelva Pact was signed in 1957.When Sri Lanka Freedom Part (SLFP)y and mainstream left parties organized a protest march in Colombo against 1966 Dudley – Chelva Pact, JVP’s founder leader Rohana Wijeweera  who was then a prominent leader of the youth wing of the Peking wing of the Communist party led by N. Shanmugathasan, participated in it despite the decision of the party not to take part in that vociferous communal campaign.

During the early part of 1980s, when the United National Party (UNP) government under president J. R. Jayawardene introduced thee District Council system, the JVP vehemently opposed it and campaigned against it among the people of the South.

When the  Indo – Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed between Prime Minister  Rajive Gandhi and President Jayawardene,  in July 1987,  the JVP, though an underground  operation at that time,  plunged the country into a period of bloddy chaos and intensified its virulent campaign against so – called Indian expansionism. 

The party also rejected the Provincial Councils system introduced by way of the 13 Amendment to the Constitution in the wake of the Peace Accord, describing it as a step towards separation of the country.

During the first year of President Premadasa’s rule, the second rebellion of the JVP was mercilessly crushed and Southern Sri Lanka witnessed the most ruthless State repression. Wijeweera and his close associates were captured and later killed. Subsequently, after almost five years of political hibernation, the JVP returned to democratic politics in 1994, and during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s period, the party contested all elections including the Provincial Councils.

Lest one forgets, the party was also in the forefront of the communal agitation in the South against the Norwegian facilitated peace process initiated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasigha’s administration during the early 1990s.

At one stage the party went to the extent of forming a political alliance with the government led by President Kumaratunga, where leading members of the party accepted ministerial portfolios. Later, it left the government protesting the negotiations initiated to device a mechanism for the rehabilitation and resettlement of those affected by 2004 tsunami in the North and the East, with the participation of  the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).

In the 2005 presidential election, JVP supported Mahinda Rajapaksa who contested on an anti – Peace Process platform. Though the party played no part in the government of Rajapaksa, it wholeheartedly supported the full scale war waged by him.

After a short-lived union with Rajapaksa, the JVP joined forces with the movement fighting the misrule of Rajapaksa and his brothers, and subsequently went on to support the candidates of the common opposition in two consequent presidential elections in 2010 and 2015. It gave critical support to the National Unity Government led by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickramasingha in the initial stages and later, unhappy with the government’s policies and activities began to strongly criticize it.

Even though the JVP was supportive of the constitution making process, it didn’t put forward any tangible proposals that would address the protracted national question. Its leaders merely talked of other aspects of the constitutional reforms such as abolition of executive presidency and electoral reforms, completely ignoring the severity of the problem that paved the way for the 30 – year bloody war.

The brief history of the JVP drives home, what the writer sees, as the glaring aspect of inherent nature of the party that has never supported any attempt to find a political solution to the national problem and has never identified itself with the progressive forces that were supportive of the legitimate aspirations of the minorities. Instead, the JVP had always been inclined to identify itself with all the campaigns directed against attempts to find an amicable settlement.

This history of the JVP has left a strong and lingering impression among the Tamil people, so much so, that when it comes to their political rights, there is no basic difference between the JVP and the other Southern political parties.

Dissanayaka, who argues in the interview, that when thinking of casting their votes in the upcoming presidential election, Tamil people of the Northern and Eastern provinces must differentiate between the JVP and the parties of the South, must show the Tamil people, not only that the JVP policies regarding the national problem and the solution for it has changed and but that Dissanayaka and the rest of the leaders are also different in their thinking from the former leaders of the party. Only then can he think of winning over the people of the North and East and expect them to make their choice accordingly.

(Author is former chief editor of Thinakkural, Tamil daily and currently a consultant at Virakesari)

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