WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

JVP rises from the ashes

By Nirupama Subramanian

(COLOMBO, OCT. 12,2000) From the tyre pyres of the 1980s to possible kingmakers, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which led two armed insurrections against the State, has travelled a long road.

The JVP obtained about 6 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, winning 10 seats. For a party that entered the democratic mainstream for the first time with the parliamentary elections of 1994 in which it obtained one seat and one per cent of the vote, its performance in this election is a quantum leap.

``We had our own target, and we are certain we would have achieved it had it not been for the violence on election day,'' said the JVP propaganda secretary, Mr. Wimal Weerawansa, at a news conference today.

The party could have won at least one seat each in the districts of Kegalle and Kurunegala had it not been for widespread rigging, he said. Nevertheless, its performance was impressive enough for suitors to begin wooing it when it became evident that the country was headed towards a hung Parliament. Mr. Weerawansa today ruled out joining the next Government, irrespective of the party that would form it. ``We will not join the Government, but we will decide today at our central committee meeting how best to use our mandate to ensure social justice for the people,'' he said.

A decade ago, no one would have believed that this would happen. An estimated 60,000 people were killed in 1988-1990 during the JVP's brutal war against the State and the Government's take-no- prisoners response to it.

Thousands of JVP cadres and sympathisers simply disappeared. Its leader was shot dead. Many were burnt alive on roadside tyre- pyres by State-backed vigilante groups. This election has seen the JVP make not just a decisive comeback through the ballot, but also replace the traditional Left parties as a fast growing third force in Sri Lankan politics.

Through a well-organised and clean campaign, this time, the JVP was able to tap into voter disillusionment with the two main parties, the People's Alliance (PA) and the United National Party (UNP).

With its anti-Government image and an ideology that is a mix of Marxism and Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, the party has once again begun to look attractive to the rural poor and the youth. The JVP was founded in 1967 by Rohana Wijeweera, a drop-out from Moscow's Lumumba University. Within four years, the Che look- alike declared war on the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-led Government, which was put down with help from India and Pakistan.

The second insurrection came in 1987, after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord, by which time the JVP had embraced an extreme form of Buddhist nationalism, enabling it to tap into the strong anti-India, anti-Government feelings prevalent at the time.

By December that year, the JVP had killed several hundred functionaries of the ruling UNP and turned the rest into fugitives. Government retaliation turned the next three years into a blood-bath. Its re-emergence among the same people who were affected most by the cataclysmic events of those years could mean that memories of the JVP's violent methods are not an issue today.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka