Revolutions are essential when the democratic paths fail do good to the masses. The 1977 Elections brought the UNP into power and the JR Jayewardene Government opened up the economy. Privatization was the fuel that propelled the economy. But the majority of the country’s poor remained less affluent. A party which opposed the UNP’s way of rule was the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP). This party was agitating for change since its formation in 1965, but the ‘Reds’ really organised themselves with the 1971 insurgency. It began on 5th of April in 1971 and was led by that bearded revolutionist Rohana Wijeweera. April 5 this year (2021) marked the 50th anniversary of this revolution. Many say it was a failed attempt to change the system. Some say that we can still learn many things from that revolution.
It’s not easy to overrun a police station and attack quite a few more in the country on the same day. It’s not right to attack police stations and threaten peace in the country. The JVP did both.
The Reds never believed in a peaceful dialog and agitated with an elbows out attitude. Like the LTTE it never tolerated anyone crossing its path. They had weapons, bombs and the minds to destroy whoever who opposed their views. More than defeating the regime the JVP was more confident in winning over people; especially youth.
We can say that scores of youth chanting revolutionary slogans in 1971 were made to bite the dust. We can tell more about ‘1971’, analyse as to what went wrong and pick heroes and villains. But what purpose would that serve?
It’s better to observe that whenever the JVP took to a physical struggle against regimes there was defeat written for them before hand. During the second insurgency, beginning in 1987, there were stories that of the JVP having an army and these armed men fighting against the LTTE and the Indian Peace Keeping Force, that was stationed here in the island. Some critics termed the JVP military wing as a ‘monkey army’ and the Reds defended themselves fiercely against such criticism.
Painfully the JVP realised that an aggressive violent struggle was useless and a too heavy price had to be paid to sustain such efforts.
Wijeweera was killed and also most of the organization’s top comrades. The only surviving member of the second revolution Somawansa Amarasinghe went into exile. He returned in latter years and took the party on to a democratic path that led to the doorway of mainstream politics.
But before that happened the JVP and the LTTE made the island ‘burn’ at its two ends; it was difficult to travel to the north because of the war against terrorism and nearly unthinkable to go south because of insurgents rotting on burning tires. Both these revolutions didn’t take the country anywhere and the economic loss for the country due to the uncertainty that prevailed was calculated in humongous figures.
Despite Amarasinghe giving the JVP a new face the Reds could never must mass public support to go it alone and build a new and formidable force. Young comrades carrying tills and boarding public and private buses to collect money for future activities wasn’t a good advertisement for the JVP. People had already rejected socialism in Sri Lanka. Soon their were squabbles within the party and after Amarasinghe’s demise the Reds lost the little clout they had.
The present leader of the JVP Anura Kumara Dissanayake still raises a voice against corruption while attending parliamentary sessions. One of its frontline members Sunil Handunetti was the Chairman of the COPE. The present set of JVPers affirms that the competition that was introduced to the economy was what caused destruction to the Lankan economy. But when the last general elections arrived and people used their franchise Handunetti couldn’t even secure his seat in Matara district.
The JVP had celebrations in four towns on April 5 (Monday) to mark 50 years of the 1971 revolution. When the newspapers summarised what happened on Monday most scribes on an average said that celebrations took place without much significance. This underscores that the JVP needs new thinking, not a new lease of life.
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