Tomorrow April 5 is the 47th anniversary of the 1971 youth insurrection by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and it came in the aftermath or afterglow of the tumultuous parliamentary debate yesterday on the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Many analysts believe the JVP insurrection was crushed and the youth prophets crucified possibly because it came too early. In 1970 the socialist Sirimavo Bandaranaike government along with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the Communist Party (CP) and other socialist groups swept to power defeating even the United National Party leader, Dudley Senanayake who had been the Prime Minister for three terms. Analysts believe the United Front Government had several landmark issues on its agenda to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and restore the dignity of millions of people who were caught in a poverty trap imposed on them by a selfish and wicked society.
These measures included the ceiling on lands and houses—revolutionary moves in which the then Agriculture Minister Hector Kobbekaduwa and Housing Minister Pieter Keuneman played the key role. If these had been implemented properly, we would have had a just and fair society today.
Unfortunately the government decided to give priority with a setting up of a Constituent Assembly whereby Sri Lanka would become sovereign and independent after being a dominion of the British Commonwealth since 1948. Analysts believe while the new Constitution issue was important, though it was changed again in 1978 by the J. R. Jayawardene government, the United Front could have prevented the 1971 insurrection if it gave priority to sweeping socialists reforms like the land ceiling and the ceiling on houses.
So in April 1971 the JVP apparently believed the United Front government was trying to consolidate its position through the 1972 Constitution. So it launched the insurrection on April 5, 1971 with its plans reported to include the takeover of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and the arrest of the Prime Minister. But someone somewhere sneaked and the government moved fast with its armed forces and police to counter and crush the JVP’s revolution in Colombo and the outstations. Thousands were killed or injured on both sides and strict curfew was enforced for about two weeks.
Official records indicated that 53 security forces died and 323 were injured, 37 policemen were killed, and 193 injured in police stations.
Journalists also faced the crisis with armed services patrols at various junctions, stopping our vehicles and splashing spot lights mainly at night.
After the insurgency was crushed, the government took a legal step which was as devastating as the attack on the JVP. Apparently ill-advised, the government introduced the Criminal Justice Commission law which gave sweeping powers to the court. Ultimately most of the JVP leaders were tried, convicted and sentenced to long jail terms.
In the meantime socialist reform policies such as the land ceiling and the ceiling on houses were sabotaged by the government leaders themselves, most of whom possessed hundreds of acres of land more than the ceiling allowed. Several leaders also had mansions in several parts of the country.
When J.R. Jayawardene swept to office in 1977 and set up the Special Presidential Commission to probe the alleged abuses of the former leaders, the former premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike and several ministers were stripped of their civic rights. Mr. Jayawardene also scrapped the CJC act, the JVP leaders were released and they came into the mainstream of politics. But in 1982 when Mr. Jayawardene held an illegitimate referendum he drove the JVP back to the arms struggle and the result was the reign of terror from 1987 to 1989.
We hope that from today, the government will give special attention to youth issues providing them not only the essential needs but also giving them a say in decision making.