Revolt in the JVP

Published : May 09, 2008 00:00 IST

Propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa leaves the party after a scathing attack on the leadership in Parliament.

in Colombo

THE dissension brewing within the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) burst out in the open on April 8 when the partys high-profile propaganda secretary, Wimal Weerawansa, launched a tirade in Parliament against his party leadership. Weerawansa, known for his oratory, was at his theatrical best when he gave an hour-long personal explanation of the grand conspiracy of his comrades to oust him from the party. A group of JVP leaders, he said, had decided to expel him from the party after elections to the Eastern Provincial Council scheduled for May 10.

The rumblings within the JVP have been a subject of wild speculation in media and political circles. Two days before Weerawansas speech, the newspapers in the island nation carried identical reports on how the fate of the flamboyant propaganda secretary had all but been sealed by the party bigwigs for breaching the party discipline and for openly hobnobbing with the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Though the differences within the top hierarchy of the JVP were common knowledge, no one had anticipated Weerawansa to challenge the party leadership openly.

On February 29 at an interactive session with the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) based in Colombo, JVP chief Somawansa Amarasinghe ridiculed speculation about differences among the top leaders of the party. The question does not deserve an answer. However, out of respect for all of you, let me tell you that all the reports are a figment of the fertile imagination of the media. We have threatened legal action against the section of the media carrying out a scurrilous campaign against our party and you must have noted that in the last two weeks these reports have disappeared, he said. However, what has surprised political observers now is the success of the propaganda secretary in weaning away 11 of his parliamentary colleagues and his subsequent announcement that they would function as an independent group in Parliament.

The JVPs internal crisis stems from its approach to the Rajapaksa government. The JVP had won 39 seats as an ally of the ruling combine led by Rajapaksa in the 2004 parliamentary election. The party also aggressively campaigned in favour of the candidature of Rajapaksa in the November 2005 presidential election. Rajapaksas narrow victory over Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP) convinced JVP leaders that without their partys help Rajapaksa could not have become the President. Relations between the JVP and the President began to sour after the latter entered into a pact with the UNP in October 2006. The pact, however, collapsed three months later when Rajapaksa chose to induct nearly two dozen dissident UNP members into his government.

Yet, the JVP was not ready to rock the boat as the party believed that it would only benefit its bitter enemy, the UNP. It was against this backdrop that the JVP provided the much-needed relief to the ruling party by voting in favour of the 2008-09 Budget proposals unveiled in November, after giving conflicting signals. As the JVP hummed and hawed against the Rajapaksa government, the managers of the Rajapaksa regime, particularly the Presidents brother and senior adviser Basil Rajapaksa, succeeded in making inroads into what was considered an impregnable JVP fort. Weerawansas revolt is a clear indicator of such machinations of the ruling party.

In its turbulent 40-year history of parliamentary and revolutionary politics , the JVP has experienced several ideological and personality-centred rifts. However, the current turmoil is one of the worst in the domain of the nations parliamentary politics. This could be partly attributed to the partys struggle to retain its distinct identity while being an electoral ally of the ruling party.

The anti-India rhetoric of the party leadership, reminiscent of the period when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was in the island nation from July 1987 to March 1990 at the invitation of the Jayawardene government, its campaign against the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which envisages greater devolution of powers to the provinces, and against what it perceives as efforts for an international intervention in the islands ethnic problem were all essentially symptoms of the internal crisis that has gripped the JVP in the past few months.

The first clear signs that all was not well within the JVP came to the surface when the President, in the course of an interaction with the local and international media on January 22, casually remarked that some of the low-intensity blasts in Colombo and other parts of south were not the handiwork of the LTTE but were actually engineered by non-LTTE elements. Rajapaksa made the remarks in Sinhala in response to questions on the spate of blasts that had rocked the south. He was careful not to repeat them in English. The next day the local media focussed on the observations made by Rajapaksa and even raised the question if elements within the JVP were attempting a third insurrection.

The JVP tried to overthrow an elected government through a revolution in 1971. It made another attempt in 1989. Both attempts were crushed with an iron hand by the military at the behest of the government; the costs involved were enormous in terms of loss of lives and damage to property.

The Weerawansa episode began soon after Parliament assembled on April 8. In a speech meant for maximum impact within and outside the forum, he demanded to know, Why did you kill me? Am I not even worthy of remaining in the fringes of a party that is as sacred as the Temple of the Tooth is to a Buddhist? He said that after the party Polit Bureaus decision in the third week of March to get rid of him, he had no option but to go public with his version. He appealed to the grassroots supporters to take hold of the reins of a party that is in the wrong hands, to restore inner democracy and to make it evolve.

This conspiracy emerged following the 2005 presidential election. They began discussing my hair, nails, shirt, mobile telephone, wife and childrens schools. When I wanted to take legal action, I was instructed not to. But some others in the party send letters of demand at the drop of a hat. I am not hurt by the brickbats of political opponents. What hurts is the shot that is fired from within. I am a man betrayed, he said.

Within hours, a group of 11 JVP parliamentarians held a news conference to declare their allegiance to Weerawansa and their decision to function as a separate group. The drama was just beginning to unfold. By the next evening, at least four dissident JVP MPs were attacked allegedly by JVP cadre.

One MP was injured while the houses and vehicles of four MPs were damaged. A day after the Weerawansa outburst, Amarasinghe addressed a press conference to refute the charges. There is a conspiracy against the party as alleged by Weerawansa. But the problem here is we do not know where it comes from, he said.

Amerasinghe contended that the propaganda secretary faces several charges of irregularities and that he had been given several opportunities to reply to them. He also accused Weerawansa of being soft on the government and said the latter ignored party instructions to raise in Parliament issues pertaining to the ouster of Tamils from lodges in Colombo, the ever-escalating cost of living, and so on.

As the two sides traded charges, two JVP defectors returned to the party. They claimed that they were misled by the propaganda secretary.

The drama is not over yet. In a cadre-based and hierarchical party like the JVP, it is difficult for anyone to question the leadership and manage to survive unscathed.

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