In May 2009, when the nation was celebrating the war victory over the LTTE, the key government ally nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) had a crucial meeting. It was to discuss what the party would do next. After all the purpose of floating an all monks’ party had been achieved. The war has been won. Though ‘Dharma Rajya’ had been the more pronounced goal of the party its immediate aim was to create a context that would see an all-out war against the LTTE.
As such at the JHU meeting in May 2009, a valid point was mooted by the likes of Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe. They insisted that the JHU should discontinue its representation in parliament since it had already achieved its goal. A continuation of its representation would cast doubts on its very validity, this group argued. However a stronger group argued against it. It claimed the party’s presence in parliament was mandatory given the government’s vulnerability in the face of growing pressure from the international community to dole out wide ranging powers to North and the East. The rest was history.
As the JHU observed its 15th anniversary on Monday, February 18 on a low key note, a few seniors of the party still feel the movement would have been in a better position today had it acquiesced to Warnasinghe’s argument. They note that the JHU would have been on a much better wicket had it taken a break and re-entered parliament solo at the 2015 elections, once the Rajapaksa regime got unpopular. It would have prevented the JHU from locking horns with Rajapaksa, the man they steered towards war victory and also avoided the party’s 2014 internal rift. On the other hand, leaving the government in 2009 would have deprived Patali Champika Ranawaka from displaying his skills as an efficient minister, especially in the subjects of power and energy and thus develop the party’s political infrastructure. It was after the parliamentary polls in 2010 that the JHU stalwart was given the portfolio.
As for achieving its goal of a war victory, surely the JHU did it in style. By the time the party was launched in February 2004, President Chandrika Kumaratunga was toying with the idea of fielding her foreign minister, the very astute Lakshman Kadirgamar as the SLFP prime ministerial candidate. Kadirgamar was also backed by the JVP and an influential section of society who found the notion of a Tamil Prime Minister quite appealing given its increased chances of a political solution to the conflict through negotiations.
When the government troops were hesitating at Mavil Aru, Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera walked in procession to the area in a bid to motivate troops to break the deadlock
The JHU which believed that a political solution would put the country’s sovereignty in jeopardy, instead started a massive campaign promoting Mahinda Rajapaksa as the PM candidate. It pointed out that the Tigers were using negotiations to buy time for regrouping and as such, an all-out war was the only means of achieving durable peace. The JHU seniors felt they could get Rajapaksa, who by then was a political moderate with a nationalist bent, to fight the LTTE till it was militarily vanquished. The JHU campaign for Rajapaksa gained momentum with so many other groups too joining it, and finally Kumaratunga was compelled to give into the popular demand and nominate Rajapaksa as her PM.
The JHU also played a strategic role in the 2005 presidential election campaign of Rajapaksa. Kick starting Patali Champika Ranawaka’s 2010 general election campaign, young Namal Rajapaksa revealed that it was Ranawaka who drafted the much hyped Mahinda Chintanaya document. Mahinda Rajapaksa being a moderate was not totally averse to negotiations in his initial days as President. It was the JHU, especially Ranawaka, who had been maintaining close ties with the military since his days with Nationalist Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT) and Sihala Urumaya (SU) that made military solution the Hobson’s choice for Rajapaksa. Ranawaka was ably assisted by Udaya Gammanpila who was by his side all the time till the tragic fall out of the two close friends in 2014.
Throughout the war it was the JHU, even more than the SLFP, that went out of the way to defend Rajapaksa’s war effort. When the government troops were hesitating at Mavil Aru, Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera walked in procession to the area in a bid to motivate troops to break the deadlock. Once the war was over, the JHU fought tooth and nail with the NGOs and international community countering allegations against the war damage.
Fifteen years after the launch of the JHU, today the party is a far cry from its original vigour and glamour. Patali Champika Ranawaka, as of late, adopted a more liberal political approach and thus has outgrown the party. However, it’s a fact that if not for the JHU, perhaps the Sri Lankan troops would be still fighting the war with the LTTE or we would have left with a bifurcated country.