Splits in the JVP have a long history. On the very day it was founded, some of its prominent members voted with their feet. Since then it has experienced a number of debilitating desertions prior to the abortive 1971 insurrection and in its aftermath and following JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera`s humiliating defeat at the 1982 Presidential Election. All those crises in the JVP were consequent upon its inability to handle its failures which naturally led to the disillusionment of some of its leaders and the cadre and attendant challenges to leadership.
But, the crisis that has gripped the JVP today is different from the previous ones in that it has sprung not from the party`s inability to handle any failure but from its failure to `manage` its success. It may be likened to the predicament of a poor family that wins a sweep ticket but fails to improve its lot for want of proper management of its windfall. In the past, the JVP at least had its founder leader to mitigate damage and steer the party to safety during troubled times.
Today, the JVP has been infiltrated by the SLFP and the UNP as never before even at the decision making level if the conflicts among its senior members leading to a disastrous breakaway is anything to go by. Some of the JVP decision makers, as we have argued in these columns, have gravitated towards the UNP and the SLFP with the old guard struggling to keep the party on its revolutionary course. The present crisis of the JVP stems from a clash between the pro-SLFP and pro-UNP factions, with the latter enjoying the backing of the old guard for the time being because of its anti-government posturing. However, now that the pro-government faction has broken away, a clash between the pro-UNP group and the revolutionary core of the party is only a matter of time. That is very likely to happen during the realignment of political forces prior to the next general election.
Former JVP Propaganda Secretary and leader of the Janatha Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) Wimal Weerawansa`s book, neththa venuvata aththa (Truth instead of untruth) sheds light on the genesis of the current crisis, the factors that led to it, its escalation and its final outcome, the breakaway of the Weerawansa group. The book may lack depth and a serious academic discussion. (The author himself admits he did a hurried job and apologies for any shortcomings.) It is more an attack by way of self-defence than a serious political work but it is a must read for students of Sri Lankan politics as it is an insightful critique of the evolution of the JVP`s crisis and its present state of affairs.
The neththa venuvata aththa, containing 307 pages including a long index, has five main thematic strands: Factors that led to the JVP crisis-missed opportunities, UNP moles, mindless shibboleths etc.-the crisis and its mismanagement, the wrong strategy and the attendant misdirection, the disintegration of the party and the way forward. The book contains the edited versions of several vital documents meant for only the eyes of the JVP politburo members. They make very interesting reading as they are candid appraisals of the party`s strategy and turning points in its affairs.
Weerawansa attributes the JVP crisis to the party`s radical departure from the course its founder leader Wijeweera charted. The founder, he says, wanted the JVP to be a Marxist party with a commitment to the so-called national liberation struggle as its interface. That way, Weerawansa argues, Wijeweera wanted the JVP to be different from the LSSP and other traditional leftist outfits which presented themselves to the people as dyed-in-the-wool Marxist parties with no other agenda. Today, Weerawansa says, due to the influence of certain JVP top guns (like the party General Secretary Tilvin Silva), the party has become an absolute Marxist entity with little emphasis on the `national freedom struggle` and as such it has failed to be different from the old left and is doomed to go the same way as the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP). For, it has lost popular appeal due to its obsession with its Marxist agenda that the people have not taken kindly to.
Wijeweera had, according to Weerawansa, been careful not to allow the JVP`s Marxist agenda to take precedence over its focus on the `national freedom struggle` in a bid to forge a broader alliance of forces including those in the periphery of the capitalist camp the way Castro had done during the Cuban revolution by camouflaging his socialist agenda to muster the support of even non communist activists for his cause, to gain a turbo boost for his struggle and, most of all, to prevent a possible US intervention to abort the revolution.
Weerawansa attributes the present situation of the JVP to certain strategic blunders on the part of the JVP leadership such as the party`s rejection of an offer to join the Rajapaksa government in 2005 after its exit in 2004 (over President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s decision to set up a joint mechanism to share tsunami aid with the LTTE) and continue the JVP`s unfinished mission so as to be able to go it alone at a general election in or before 2010. Providing documentary proof, he argues that even JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe was initially well disposed towards coalescing with the Rajapaksa government and even lamented in a written submission to the party politburo a collective decision against such a move, which he considered a missed opportunity.
A perusal of the JVP leader`s submission to the politburo helps one see the hidden agenda that the JVP sought to achieve by helping Mahinda Rajapaksa win the presidency. Somawansa advocated that a tie up with the government was the only way to stop the enemies of the JVP from joining forces with President Rajapaksa and to prevent the grassroots level SLFPers who had been temporarily attracted to the JVP from being pulled back to the SLFP. His assessment is fairly accurate. The JVP`s refusal to join the government, as evident from the outcome of the LG polls in 2005, alienated the SLFPers who had voted overwhelmingly for JVP candidates at the 2004 election thus enabling 39 of them to be returned. And the UNP rebels moved in to fill the vacuum that the JVP pull out had created in the government. Thus, the JVP was denied an opportunity to carry forward its popular programmes like the tank rehabilitation project and prepare for the next general election. As a result, the JVP, which had a meteoric rise in mainstream politics-one seat in 1994, 10 seats in 2000, 16 seats in 2001 and 39 seats in 2004-has a bleak future staring it in the face, as it failed to manage its electoral fortunes.
It was a UNP mole in the JVP who had, according to Weerawansa, put paid to a coming together of the two parties again. That person will, Weerawansa says, destroy the JVP the same way an infiltrator rendered the communist party of Malaysia hollow. The unnamed mole is also accused of having striven to prevent the JVP from throwing in its lot with the SLFP at the last presidential election.
Weerawansa claims the UNP mole and others of his ilk have swayed the JVP`s agenda in such a manner that it has become a carbon copy of the UNP`s as evident from the JVP`s focus having shifted from the `national liberation struggle` to issues such as human rights, cost of living and media freedom. These issues, Weerawansa says, should be addressed but the party`s main focus must remain on the conflict and ways and means of defeating separatism.
The last part of the book is a lament. Weerawansa tries to justify his exit from the party to form the JNP. It is not only he, we are told, who has had to face vilification campaigns. Even Wijeweera had been targeted, he says. In the late 1970s, Wijeweera had been branded a CIA agent contracted to drive the Sri Lanka youth to their graves and in the late 1970s, he had been accused of being a pliable tool in the hands of President J. R. Jayewardene and the JVP had been derisively dubbed `Jayewardene Vijeweera Peramuna`. Even Lenin, says Weerawansa, had faced a sinister propaganda campaign which resulted in his supporters leaving the party in large numbers at the beginning.
The neththa venuvata aththa remains silent on why there emerged a bitter personality clash between Wimal Weerawansa and JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe to the point of the latter personally undertaking to oust the former, though both of them were on the same wavelength where how the party should relate to the SLFP under President Mahinda Rajapaksa was concerned. That clash, insiders believe, could be traced to an election that the JVP Central Committee (CC) had in June 2005 to nominate a presidential candidate, should the need arise for that. The names of Somawansa and Weerawansa were proposed and the CC overwhelmingly supported Weerawansa! Of the 28 CC members who voted, 23 backed Weerawansa while Somawansa polled only five votes! Perhaps, as the clash between the JVP and the JNP escalates-yesterday evening they were engaged in a bitter poster war with the Somawansa faction obliterating posters put up by the Weerawansa faction to announce a JNP rally slated for today at Nugegoda-and Rathu Sahodarayas take to washing dirty linen in public in a bigger way much more interesting information is likely to be leaked out.
Weerawansa`s conclusion in his book is that the JVP has gone astray and is flirting with Gotterdammerung. In other words, he is playing messiah to the JVP`s rank and file. How they will respond to his call remains to be seen but it is patently clear that the JVP has had a Humpty-Dumpty type fall between two stools and finds itself in the company of the traditional leftists.
And the worst is yet to come!