The JVP-UNP strike has come and gone. If there is a single person who believes it was a success, it is JVP MP K. D. Lal Kantha, who organised it and bragged that he and his union allies would cripple essential services on Thursday. The other JVP leaders carefully avoided committing themselves to the strike. Nor have they risen in defence of Comrade Lal Kantha, who is smarting from the failed strike. Mum`s the word on the part of the UNP about the strike. (Did the UNP back that abortive trade union action to give an impetus to the JVP`s downhill journey and ruin its political future, as Jeffrey suggested in his cartoon on this page yesterday?)
Never mind the pratfall that the JVP-UNP, ably assisted by the TNA, suffered! How the organisers of the strike tried to make the non-strikers fall in line was shocking. Two ambulance drivers were knifed by masked men at the Kandy General Hospital, as they were opposed to the strike. This incident harks back to the reign of terror in the late 1980s, when non-participation in JVP-instigated events became an offence `punishable` by death.
Many were those who suffered violent deaths at the hands of galkatas carrying sparrow units for expressing dissent and refusing to toe the JVP line. Doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, monks, students and journalists were among the victims of the death dealing JVP goon squads at that time. Fear was instilled into the public in such a way that a `chit` containing a JVP order distributed by a brat running errands for Rathu Sahodarayas was sufficient to cause public and private institutions to put up shutters and cripple civilian life. Only a few dared defy JVP orders to join its strikes and protest marches which were violently suppressed by the police, the armed forces and the vigilantes. The people were, so to speak, caught in the nutcracker of terrorism and counter terrorism.
When the JVP re-emerged in 1994 and entered the democratic mainstream after having been beheaded by a ruthless crackdown which cost the party its entire leadership save one or two of its senior leaders, people thought it would desist from repeating its past mistakes. The new look JVP, in fact, lived up to the public expectations, setting an example to the two main parties notorious for political violence and polls rigging. People encouraged the JVP to remain in democratic politics by backing it at elections to the hilt. In 1994, it scraped through a general election with a single parliamentary seat. In 2000, its strength increased up to 10 MPs. In 2001, it managed to win 16 seats. Its alignment with the SLFP helped it win 39 seats in 2004.
Its conduct had been exemplary until the breakaway of a group of MPs led by its Propaganda Secretary and Parliamentary Group Leader Wimal Weerawansa a few months ago. Thereafter it laid bare its fangs and reverted to its old habits. Vehicles of the dissidents were robbed and some rebels assaulted. Weerawansa had to flee his home fearing for his and his family`s safety. Goons set upon dissidents` friends and one of them was mercilessly assaulted and his house damaged a few weeks ago in Kandy, as he had treated Wimal and some other rebel MPs to tea. The JVP has thus proved that it no longer hesitates to unleash violence when its interests are threatened. Its public display of violence against dissidents, which reminded the people of its ugly past, was one of the reasons why workers didn`t answer its strike call en masse. They didn`t want to be branded as supporters of the JVP by taking part in its trade union action.
There is little that the JVP can do to avoid being accused of having a hand in the attack on the two ambulance drivers in Kandy. The JVP may claim it should not be subjected to a media trial but the fact remains that it is a suspect in the attack as the chief organiser of the strike.
When journalists are attacked and perpetrators vanish into thin air, the blame for such incidents is laid at the doorstep of the government quite rightly so! The contention of media rights organisations which we subscribe to is that unless and until culprits are brought to book, the government remains the suspect. We have been pressuring the government in these columns, in our small way, to clear its name by apprehending those responsible for attacks on the media. Since the two drivers concerned were a threat only to the JVP`s interests and not anyone else`s, the JVP has naturally become the main suspect in the attack on them.
Similarly, the government must investigate the attacks on JVP supporters on Thursday, including the incident at Embilipitiya, where a JVP activist was admitted to hospital following an attack by a minister`s goons. In the run-up to the strike, the government claimed President Mahinda Rajapaksa had ordered that no strong-arm tactics be employed to thwart the JVP-UNP trade union action. Now that one of his ministers has flown in his face, will the President honour his word and deal with him?
The Kandy incident has dented the JVP`s democratic credentials badly and compounded fears that the people still have of its violent past. It is only natural that they wonder if the monster of JVP violence has risen from its hibernation. People`s fears and apprehensions will have a bearing on the way they vote at future election and this is a worrisome proposition for the JVP.
People`s disillusionment with the JVP and their aversion to its violence and hubris are sure to be reflected in the PC polls outcome next month.