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The 1971 insurrection in retrospect

8 April 2016 12:39 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • On  Tuesday April 5, the 45th “Bak Maha Viru Samaruwa” took place  at four places in the country
  • After the Matale Rebellion against the British in 1848 the 1971 JVP revolt  was the first against a government in power

The People’s Liberation Front, the party commonly known as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) commemorated its “Bak Maha Viru Samaruwa” or the April Heroes’ Day for the 45th time on Tuesday (April 5) at four places in the country, unlike in the previous years when the main function was held in one place with the participation of all the leaders of the party.


At the same time the most recent breakaway group of the party, the Front-line Socialist Party (FSP) too commemorated the day in several places in the country. However, the National Freedom Front (NFF) led by former minister Wimal Weerawansa, the only other existing breakaway group of the JVP has by now given up all political and ideological legacies of its mother party, including the commemoration of the those who sacrificed their lives for a cause shared by members of all these groups a few decades ago.  


A significance of the 1971 JVP insurrection which broke out on April 5 of that year against the newly elected government of the world’s first woman Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was that after the famous Matale Rebellion in 1848 against the British rule of the country, it was the first ever armed rising by a group of ordinary people against the government in power. 


Interestingly, the JVP insurrection of 1971 too was officially considered as a rebellion against the Queen of Great Britain. The suspects arrested in connection with the insurgency had been indicted before the specially instituted Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) in 1972 for conspiring and rebelling against the Queen’s government, in spite of the fact that Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then called, had been considered to have gained Independence from Britain as far back as 1948. 


The JVP and its 1971 insurrection are unique in many ways in Sri Lankan history. At a gathering of those involved in that insurrection, but dissociated with the JVP now, held on April 5 this year in Colombo, Swaminathan Wimal, a lecturer of the Jaffna University who had been invited as the guest speaker said that the 1971 uprising has been the cradle of violent uprisings against the establishment as well as a brutal suppression of uprisings in recent history.  


Many analysts have opined that the Tamil youth in the North and the East who took arms against the State  a few years after the 1971 insurrection had been inspired mainly by the uprising of their southern counterparts. It also had been an inspiration to another rebellion of southern youth led by the same group, the JVP in 1988/89 which claimed nearly a hundred thousand lives. However, unlike the southern rebellion which was brutally crushed by the armed forces within a few months, the northern uprising lasted more than thirty years claiming another one hundred thousand lives.


Although it was called a childish act by a misguided group of youth, the first JVP insurrection had a great impact on the politics of Sri Lanka. On the economic front, Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike had to introduce a land reform scheme as many of those involved in the insurgency had been from poor families in rural areas. On the political front, the JVP had argued that Sri Lanka’s Independence in 1948 was a farce since the governor general of the day was responsible for the British queen. The highest court in the country at time was the Privy Council in London. And the United Front Government of Mrs. Bandaranaike had to address the issue with a new Constitution which severed all administrative as well as judicial links with the British Raj making Sri Lanka a republic. 


In the later years too, the JVP had been able to turn the course of the country’s history manipulating the rivalries of the two main political parties. It was the JVP that was instrumental for the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 2001 which was introduced during the famous “Parivasa Anduwa” (probationary government) under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, considerably curtailing the powers of the Executive Presidency through the introduction of the Constitutional Council and independent commissions. 


Again in 2004 it was the JVP that persuaded President Kumaratunga to topple the UNF government scuttling the peace talks between the UNF government and the LTTE which had taken a dangerous turn with the government beginning to give into almost all LTTE demands. One of the demands had been an interim administration for the northern and eastern provinces called the “Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) which was in fact a blueprint for a separate State. 


Also the role played by the one-time southern rebels in the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had been considered as invincible even by his foes, in January last year is well known.  

   
The JVP has been unique in its survival despite being physically subjected to macabre suppression by governments of the two main parties, the SLFP and the UNP in its 51-year history. During the two uprisings it lost tens of thousands of its cadres and majority of its experienced leaders including its founder leader Rohana Wijeweera who was killed after being arrested during the second insurrection in November 1989.  


Despite the brutality, the party had exhibited and introduced in its two insurgencies a distinct culture into Sri Lankan politics. The incredible selfless dedication for the cause by the majority of the JVP has been unparalleled. It is unimaginable that presently, a JVP Member of Parliament, provincial council or a local government body subscribes his monthly salary and other perks to a common fund run by his party and lives a life with the help of members and supporters of the party. Many members of the JVP still give up their higher education, well-recognised and well paid jobs in order to become full-time cadres of the party. 


However, except for a few, many have found that they cannot continue with this sacrifice and have withdrawn citing genuine as well as spurious reasons. Members of the NFF broke away from the JVP citing theoretical differences, but used the opportunity to enjoy posts and perks provided by the Rajapaksa regime, never resorting to any sacrifices they had been used to or compelled to make. The process of this withdrawal by the aging people from the stem of the JVP during the last five decades has resulted in a young party membership that could be indoctrinated easily towards sacrifices. One can accuse the JVP for their brutality during the two insurrections but not for corruption.    


However, their doctrine is seen by the people of this country as utopian. Their public meetings have been great crowd pullers, but when it comes to elections even those who admire their policies vote for one of the two main parties which appeared to have a better chance of coming to power. Hence, the JVP is unique in that they make sacrifices for the party although they know that they would not come to power in the foreseeable future. 

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