Wijeweera and the nation’s lost Brigade: An Ode in November

2017-11-15 00:00:59

People have a right to know the fate that befell Wijeweera

The month of November is a gloomy and sombre one in the calendar. It is the start of winter in certain parts of the world with bleak sceneries, dreary days and cold nights. It starts with Halloween, where all the ghastly and macabre images surface giving the heart a tremulous premonition of what awaits the after life. Christians all over the world remember their dead during this month in a sombre mood with black,white and grey dominating their rituals. November is generally rainy, gloomy and cold; the notion of November Rains or il maha wehi as we call it in Sinhala, doesn’t conjure up any jovial emotions to the mind.  

In Sri Lanka the JVP commemorates its fallen comrades in arms on the month of November including their founder Leader Rohana Wijeweera, their one time Deputy Leader Upatisssa Gamanayake and other polit bureau members with the exception of Somawansa Amarasinghe, who were liquidated in one scoop by the state military and intelligence apparatus in November 1989, recording one of the most successful operations of counter insurgency in the world. Yet it also marked the decimation of the top rung leadership of the party and consequently the end of the second uprising of the Sinhala Buddhist rural youth against the capitalist system of rule the country has followed since independence.  

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP ) or the Peoples Liberation Front is the most unique political movement in Sri Lanka’s modern history. In fact there has never been such a spectacular and concentrated attempt to grab state power by any political movement in this country either prior or after the two insurrections led by Wijeweera and the JVP. While the first uprising in 1971 was unprecedented globally, in the history of revolutions in the manner in which police stations and other state installations around the country were attacked in a single night, almost paralyzing the coercive and enforcing machination of the state, the second insurrection used a system of subversive and disruptive activities aimed at gradually crippling the state apparatus and replacing it with a de facto rule.  

Opinion is divided on whether Wijeweera was a freedom fighter and a leader of a struggle against inequality and injustice or on the other hand, a murderous and cruel terrorist who wanted all his opponents dead. There could be convincing evidence on both accounts and the conclusion to the question will always be subjective. It is invariably so with characters like Che Guevara, Abimael Guzman of the Shining Path or Wijeweera. For some they are torch bearers against inequality and oppression while opponents call them brutal murderers and despots bent on grabbing power at any cost. Whatever your answer might be, that they are unique representatives of momentous political currents and historical events is undeniable.

Wijeweera, like many of his comrades, came from Sinhala Buddhist rural areas; as opposed to the popular belief they weren’t from the strata of society languishing in abject poverty, prompting some political commentators to brand them rural petty bourgeois. Whatever our subjective conclusion on that account, that he brought the rural Sinhala youth to the political forefront, not as subservient supporters of the bourgeois leaders of the main political stream since independence, but as a veritable contender for state power in their own right, is beyond argument. He brought the poor, oppressed and marginalized Sinhala educated youth from the villages to the political arena challenging the existing hegemony of the wealthy, powerful and ancestral political culture.  
Did Wijeweera mislead his followers in 1971 and 1988-89, bringing them to destruction like moths to a flame? Or was he made a victim of his radical political undertaking by a brutal and ruthless ruling class and their military? Victor Ivan, a leader of the 1971 uprising, opines that Wijeweera could have resisted the armed underground option by pursuing a path of nonviolence viz a viz state oppression. He draws a comparison with Mahathma Gandhi who persisted with nonviolence in the face of violent oppression. Yet, it is easy to make judgements on hindsight and as to the pressures under which Wijeweera had to make those decisions, with his and his cadres’ lives at stake, could leave us with vague possibilities of what could have or would have been.  

Wijeweera and the polit bureau members were assassinated in state custody. No one believes in the fairytale accounts of the most powerful leaders of the movement that almost ran a de facto Government , shooting each other while in custody or trying to escape from custody like common criminals. Some shocking accounts by lower grade officers involved in those fateful operations that liquidated Wijieweera and others, reveal that they were killed in cold blood. In any event, none of the politbureau members have died in battle; therefore technically and legally the state is responsible for the deaths in custody.  

People have a right to know the fate that befell Wijeweera, Gamanayake and other top rung leaders of the JVP in those fateful days of November 1989. With the entire country transformed into a torture camp by the military as well as state backed para military units, any judicial or legal recourse in relation to detainees would have been non existent; yet personalities like Wijeweera were potentially national level leaders and his death deprived the land of one of its most radical, fearless and young leaders.   

Some shocking accounts by lower grade officers involved in those fateful operations that liquidated Wijieweera and others, reveal that they were killed in cold blood

With the deaths of Wijeweera and the top leadership of the JVP, the second insurrection of the Sinhala rural youth imploded. Yet Wijeweera was simply the messenger, a symptom of a greater evil engendered by oppression, injustice and inequality; socio-econo- political cancers that have not been removed , rather overrun the body polity.  

As the JVP celebrates the il maha viru samaruwa, it is opportune for a discourse on our past mistakes. I neither join the chorus of eulogies that deify Wijeweera and his comrades who fell on the battlefield; yet neither do I join the detractors and cynics who only see them as blood thirsty terrorists and members of a fascist group.  

I remain silent, sombre and pensive; almost reverent. If one insists that I join one of the groups aforementioned, the choice is obvious.  

 I am reminded of two stanzas from one of my poems penned as an ode to the fallen rural youth of the nation; it goes like this.  

Term them rebellious, unruly and extreme...

Send them to the gallows, leave them to bleed.....

Pass any judgment from your coveted seats....

But keep in mind that we all were asleep!!

I stare at the night skies as I walk in the streets....

I see the starry eyes of my friends fast asleep....

The butterflies who refused to be ruled by the bees....


The November rains continue to splatter on the window panes and roof tops of millions of homes of the Sinhala nation; thousands of its precious sons and daughters remain as anonymous soldiers under the ground or scattered in ashes; no tributes, tombstones or monuments to their name.  
Yet the dream still lives on; a dream for a fairer, brighter and more just society for all! Now silent and dormant; like a volcano, sleeping, yet breathing, throbbing……….,waiting!!

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