25th  April, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 41


















"It is time for the JVP to deliver"

It was his desire to seek parliamentary representation for the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) that led to the election of a JVP member to parliament for the first time, a decade ago. Contesting under the name Sri Lanka Progressive Front (SLPF), it was Janith Vipulaguna who spearheaded the JVP towards its first electoral victory, at a time when senior JVP members feared to go before the public seeking a mandate. Having polled 1,391 votes, Vipulaguna created history by being the first elected JVP MP, and happily resigned bowing down to a party decision, thereby paving the way for senior member Nihal Galappatty to be sworn in as MP for Hambantota. A former sub editor at the Lankadeepa, Vipulaguna quit his job as a journalist to pursue fulltime JVP politics and put his creative acumen to good use as a member of the JVP’s propaganda machine. He quit the JVP in 2001 to lend support to the UNF’s Matara team alleging the JVP of veering away from socialist ideals, lack of inner democracy and for moving towards racism instead of pursuing a federal solution to the country’s ethnic strife as advocated in Marxism. 

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Q: How did your political career begin?

A: I have always found Marxism attractive and supported the JVP as a youngster. I felt that the country required a revolutionary change in the sphere of politics and identified the JVP as the political force that would be able to effect that change.

After the second insurgency, JVP members faced public wrath as murderers and were unable to visit their hometowns. There was a high level of public rejection of those associated with the JVP that many a senior felt that they should not seek public office.

It was my insistence that led the JVP to contest the 1994 general election. Leaders felt their lives were in great danger and refused to contest.

I wanted the JVP to enter mainstream politics and take things from there. I had to persuade some members to agree to the inclusion of their names on the nomination papers, so great was their reluctance to dabble in democratic politics then.

I felt we had to politically grow. The moment was right. After being elected, I happily stepped down to accommodate Nihal Galappatty — marking the beginning of the JVP’s mainstream politics.

Q: As the first elected JVP MP, what made you join the UNP, a capitalist political party?

A: I am a socialist at heart. I quit the party I loved and served a jail term due to the JVP’s corrupt practices and its racist approach. When we questioned them, we were labelled as traitors to the ‘great cause.’

The JVP has no inner democracy. All they wanted was to capture power.

Today, it has completely divorced itself from Socialist ideals and on an agenda towards power perpetuation.

The JVP of today has conveniently forgotten that founder leader Rohana Wijeweera accepted the right to separation. The present leaders don’t remember this Marxist fundamental anymore. They make cadres work hard and raise funds for them to lead luxurious lives and to advocate war as a new privileged class hitherto unknown.

Socialism is not about spreading seeds of dissention and whipping up communalism. The present JVP leadership has defeated itself by forging an alliance with a feudal party that has worked towards its destruction and the defeating of its politcal ideals.

Q: But, the use of force to capture political power is accepted in Socialism?

A: Yes. The JVP should know that in a multi cultural country like ours, we should work within its framework. We must respect the cultural practices and traditions of this country. Respect individual rights. This is not Soviet Russia to implement socialism in its most raw form.

Q: But you remained a JVP member despite the killings?

A: It is a political stance taken by us, I disagreed, but I stayed until I realised that there was no tolerance within the JVP for an opposite viewpoint.

Q: You mean, there was no inner democracy?

A: There never was. If you compare the lifestyle of the leaders with that of the grassroots members, you can very well see that.

Following the second insurgency, I served a two-year jail term. The JVP leaders are ungrateful people. When the party was revamped in 1989, sacrifices went unrecognised and there was a ‘friends club’ of the new leader. Then, there was misappropriation of party funds for personal purposes.

Q: Is misappropriation still taking place?

A: Of course it is. Look at the lifestyles of some of the party leaders. These are full time politicians maintained by the party. They can’t afford this lifestyle. Some are known for their maintained good looks — maintained at great cost to the party.

This is the money that is collected by poor activists. It is their sweat and genuine commitment that is thus abused by leaders who lead lives more luxurious than the leaders of so-called feudalistic parties.

The duplicity is that the JVP is able to criticise a legal tax amnesty for tax defaulters. The amnesty is for defaulters of all hues, not simply UNP. While doing so, the JVP also comes out with rhetoric like their refusal to accept salaries. If so, the salaries should be re-directed to the Treasury and should not be credited to any other account.

JVP leaders are lower middle class people. They have no ancestral wealth or business holdings. Wimal Weerawansa has sufficient means, maintained though he is by the party. He is almost a fashion icon and whose money is spent on him? The party too supports Somawansa Amarasinghe’s family. Capitalist political leaders in our county don’t lead such privileged existences despite the constant bad publicity they get. The innocent grassroots activists must understand this truth.

Q: Nevertheless, as a Marxist, isn’t it difficult for you to support the capitalist UNP?

A: It still is. I am still a Marxist at heart. But I have learned to practically use the ideology within right wing politics.

UNP is a developed political party with political ideologies, economic thrust, vision, statesmanship and international acceptance — none of which the JVP possesses. Governance is not the JVP’s strong point, but playing a critical role in opposition is. It is a party built on attractive slogans, rhetoric and emotions.

As for my presence in the UNP, I am here because of Ranil Wickremesinghe. I have tremendous respect for him. He is a man who overlooked personal political gain, position and popularity in pursuance of a political solution to the ethnic conflict. There was internal opposition to what he was doing, but he continued. The UNF’s peace process may have been flawed, his governance too lacked a populist approach — but he gets 100% for genuine commitment to see this nation through.

Q: In hindsight, what would you identify as the JVP’s biggest drawbacks?

A: Their inability to recognise the need for a federal solution to the conflict. Instead, the so-called Marxists have turned racists. Their approach further complicates the problem and an indictment on the very basic principles upon which the JVP has been founded.

Secondly, its lack of developmental goals and the inability to deal with globalisation. The JVP is full of steam but has little ability to develop the country.

The SLFP too believes in the ‘pancha maha balawegaya,’ or the five great social forces. Look deep into that and one would find the class and racial classifications within. That is the link between the SLFP and the JVP.

We need parties like the UNP with a multi ethnic approach to advocate pluralism — unity in diversity.

Q: But the JVP’s socio-political approaches have altered in the recent past and they do seem to veer towards a more liberal attitude. Are you saying that the JVP’s ‘Five Year Plan’ is at variance with it original policies?

A: The so-called ‘Rata Hadana Pas Avurudu Selesma’ is at great variance with the UPFA manifesto. Then, there is also the issue of two manifestos.

Is the ‘Five Year Plan’ not valid anymore? The UPFA manifesto does not contain half the things included in the plan.

The Freedom Alliance was formed for electoral gains and not for the betterment of the country, something the prudent voters must take note of. These two parties are so different in policies and ideals, and have bartered their ideals to capture political power. By doing so, the JVP has denied the country of a Marxist option, which is what the people expect of them.

Also, don’t forget that the JVP has a revolutionary ideology as well. It may be modernised to suit the current socio-political needs, but it is a fundamental aspect of the Marxist ideology. The future will be full of fresh problems. There will be far greater bickering as well. Even if President Kumaratunga wants to negotiate peace, the JVP will definitely scuttle it.

Q: But the JVP is agreeable to conditional talks, as long as the people at a referendum would sanction the outcome?

A: Why deal with racial elements to pursue peace in the first place? The UNF did a better job. Flawed it may have been, but the UNF’s peace process had great potential. As for the JVP, it is fundamentalist and racial to the core and could only end up aggravating the issue than solving it.

The JVP cried foul about the Manirasakulam Camp and demanded Kumaratunga to take over the defence portfolio. They are maintaining stoic silence with regard to massive truce violations since the new government came into being. The LTTE was at war and over 11,000 people were displaced. Where was the promised action? That’s the UPFA’s scorecard.

The UPFA has put this country in great peril. The JVP could have given critical support and played a constructive role in opposition. Instead, they have become part of this kenda heliya.

The JVP, for the first time is in government. It is up to them to deliver now. Rhetoric got them there, now is the time for deeds not words.

Q: Despite your criticism of the JVP, the recent electoral results favoured the JVP and their strategies have certainly paid off?

A: Of course. I do admit that the JVP markets itself well. This electoral victory was purely of the JVP’s making. The election itself was of the JVP’s seeking. If you seek a poll, you win that poll. This has happened in 1960, 2001 and now in 2004.

I do not underestimate the JVP. They are very good at psychological operations. Their campaign targeted both the heart and the mind of the voter. Without them, the unattractive PA would not have made it. The JVP has the best political network, the most effective approach to the populace and gifted orators with mass appeal to convey the message.

But, the JVP while increasing its voter base has sacrificed its identity as the true alternative to the UNP, the SLFP and left parties.

But, they can soon emerge as the second political force, pushing the ineffective SLFP to the third slot through attractive sloganistic politics. Yet, it has no solution to the ethnic conflict and an economic policy that could deliver.

Q: In this backdrop, how do you assess the UNP’s recent electoral performance?

A: As a government that lost its mandate in two years, the UNF must think hard. It must introduce structural changes and heads must roll.

There are some good lessons to be learned from the JVP as well. The UNF spent much on its campaign, but lacked attractive packaging. It also lacks politicians who rise from among the common people. Both the UNP and the SLFP do not ‘create’ leaders. Leaders assume office as if it is their birthright.

The JVP creates leaders at village level and spends on them. It is also a party that has comprehensively studied the Sri Lankan society and how to approach it politically, hence its success in reaching out to the masses.

UNP too must learn to create leaders, not give nominations to Colombo-bred people to suddenly take root in villages after getting nominations. That is the strongest base for any government.

Also, there is no future in harping on the JVP’s past. People have decided to overlook beyond that when they elected them into government. It is a new rural leadership that is emerging through the JVP. We must understand all the lessons contained in the electoral result and learn from them.

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