By Vishwamithra –
“Political leaders still think things can be done through force, but that cannot solve terrorism. Backwardness is the breeding ground of terror, and that is what we have to fight” ~Mikhail Gorbachev
Rohana Wijeweera was a remarkable man. At the height of the cold war in the international arena, when the United States was in constant confrontation with the then Soviet Union in every possible global forum, Wijeweera played his logical role as the leader of the first revolutionary political party in post-Independence Sri Lanka. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which Wijeweera started as a cellish-organization driven by indoctrination-oriented transformation of the minds and political thinking of the rural youth in Sri Lanka within a very short time of three years (1968-1971), managed and succeeded in transforming the prevalent political landscape; it inspired a sizeable segment of our youth population, both educated and semi-educated, to such an extent, Wijeweera at the beginning, just on the eve of the 1971 Insurrection, was a real hero among these indoctrinated youth. As a mob-orator, Wijeweera had no match. R Premadasa was a close second, but lacked the flow and stamina of Wijeweera.
According to some close comrades-in-arms of Wijeweera, his dedication to the cause and the spirit of untiring commitment he displayed at the formative stage of the ‘movement’, alone was responsible for the graduation of the movement from a cellish organism to a well-funded, structured political entity in the late 1980s.
Yet what began as a political think-organization in the late 1960s turned out to be a well-oiled killing machine in the late 1980s. The planned and plotted executions of leading political figures, mostly of the kind that had either associations or direct connections to the United National Party (UNP), except perhaps the killing of Vijaya Kumaratunga, assumed a macabre style with gruesome consequences to the victims. In 2017, after two score and six years, another April 5thdawned and paled gently into the night.
Today Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna is a democratic political party with three parliamentarians. Although no match to Rohana Wijeweera, its present leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake is undoubtedly the best orator in Sinhala among a very lackluster set of parliamentarians. The other two JVP members, Handunhetti and Vijitha Herath, too are outstanding speakers and this JVP-trio dominates the local political platform shoving other parliamentarians into insignificance and men of no consequence. Speechifying in the local vernacular seems to be the monopoly of the JVP.
Yet Wijeweera founded a political organization whose philosophy bordered on the murderous path which was taken by Pol Pot in Cambodia. Whilst Pol Pot resorted to the massacres of his opponents more so after assuming power, Wijeweera resorted to it as his raison d’être. The romanticist aura that the ’71 Insurrection radiated died with the crushing blow it received at the hands of the government security forces. Leaders of the then SLFP-led government were Sirimavo and Felix Dias Bandaranaike. The Victor Ivans, Lionel Bopages, Kelly Senanayakes, Sunanda Deshapriyas, heroes of the ’71 Insurrection, and the lot that was attached to the JVP philosophy of governance and economic principles are gone from the JVP. Their departure from the epic vision of communist takeover of government machinery and implementing people-friendly policies is all history. Rohana Wijeweera, although immediately in the wake of the ’71 Insurrection was portrayed as a dedicated revolutionary in the caliber of Ho Chi Ming and Che Guevara, with the 1982 Presidential Elections, his stature sank to an unrecoverable low in that his posture of a revolutionary driven by idealism and ideology was shattered; his prowess to represent the downtrodden masses diminished and his appeal to the English-speaking elite as a romantic radical began waning by the day. But his appeal to the rural educated and semi-educated youth remained intact.
Saman Piyasiri Fernando alias Keerthi Vijayabahu who was primarily responsible for the establishment of Raathri Aandua (government at night time) gained momentum when Wijeweera launched his so-called Second Revolution in the wake of the assassination of Daya Pathirana, leader of Independent Students Union, University of Colombo. Despite attracting a lot of unwanted rivalry and peer-revenge, Wijeweera managed to lead a clandestine movement whose rank and file consisted of disillusioned youth bent on extracting their pound of flesh from whoever was in power. A social imbalance that had been caused by failure on the part of successive governments since Independence was waiting to be tilted in favor of anarchy and disorder. At the same time Wijeweera’s cunning and political strategizing embraced the most fundamentally flawed but dangerous base instincts of the masses. With the arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the pervasive nationalist sentiments of large sections of the Sinhala people, the JVP began to terrorize the country to an unprecedented level, consequently the entire nation became hostage to Wijeweera’s mad and perilously perverted thinking. In other words, Wijeweera, while enjoying the luxuries of a planter’s laidback life on an estate in Ulapane, put into motion a killing machinery that killed many and terrorized hundreds of thousands of innocent Sri Lankans.
While Wijeweera was in full swing in the South, another killer whose idea of a Tamil homeland spread from Puttalam to Yala East via Jaffna peninsula along the coastline of the country systematically eliminated his rival leaders of like-mended terror organizations and reigned supreme with a well-equipped army. His name was Prabhakaran and his organization was Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). Two ruthless leaders sat on top two ruthless movements. Like all ruthless leaders, like all dictatorial megalomaniacs- which both Wijeweera and Prabhakaran were- Wijeweera and Prabhakaran were uncomfortable with any rising stars within their own movements. Prabhakaran’s closest confidants in the LTTE were Karuna in the East and Mahattaya in Jaffna peninsula. Karuna is alleged to have masterminded the attack on the Temple of the Tooth and Arantalawa massacre of Buddhist monks while Mahattaya was gaining prominence and popularity among the rank and file of the LTTE in the peninsula. Prabhakaran could not tolerate this. Nor could he allow any of these leaders to overcome his own exalted status of being the undisputed leader of the coming Elam.
Prabhakaran’s calculated extermination of his rival groups and their leaders, not sparing even Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and other leaders of the civil political leadership of the Tamils in the North, assured him of the status of unrivaled ‘Prince of North’.
In self-assuredness, Prabhakaran was not second to Wijeweera. Both these ‘revolutionaries’ did not tolerate internal dissent. Although they preached democracy for the country, in Prabhakaran’s case for Elam, they never practiced it within their own ranks. Neither of them were on the battlefield.
Prabhakaran’s role on the battlefield was limited after the ambush attack at the Thirunelveli junction close to Jaffna on July 23rd 1983. He conducted the Elam war from the comforts of a super bunker located in the Wanni district, close to Mulativu. The house in Mulativu district contained a bunker descending four stories underground. The camouflaged bunker was found by troops in a coconut grove in 2009. They said at the time that it served both as the main rebel hideout and a major residential site for Prabhakaran.
Rohana Wijeweera too led a very comfortable life in the cool climates in upcountry, on a tea estate in Ulapane, to be specific. Although both led two armies relentlessly, sometimes with ruthless efficiency and sometimes erratically, their short-term goals were attained with clockwork regularity and military precision.
Chinese military philosopher Wu Ch’i, wrote: “Now suppose there is a desperate bandit lurking in the fields and one thousand men set out in pursuit of him. The reason all look for him as they would a wolf is that each one fears that he will arise and harm him… This is the reason one man willing to throw away his life is enough to terrorize a thousand.” (Source: United Defense Manufacturing Corporation)
Prabhakaran and Wijeweera shared one other common social cord- caste. While Wijeweera hailed from the Karava (fisherman) caste, Prabhakaran came from its equivalent caste in Jaffna. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in the early seventies and even later attracted their major recruits from the so-called depressed castes. However, there is no solid evidence as to which caste groups made up the majority of fighters in the LTTE.
A social ailment not attended to by successive Sinhalese-led governments, the JVP and LTTE created havoc in the Sri Lankan polity in no unambiguous fashion.
The two movements made their mark in our recent history and whether they would rise again in the future is very much dependent upon how fast and with what sincerity the present and future governments are willing to resolve an unresolvable issue.
The coin will appear again, one would say. And whichever side the coin is turned, it is either Wijeweera or Prabhakaran, an undesirable choice for the turner! But nobody can question the sincerity to the cause both these terrorist leaders exhibited.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org