Feature Article

JVP: party on the path to power- Taraki

[TamilNet, Sunday, 12 June 2005, 09:49 GMT]
In an Opinion column that appeared in Colombo weekly, Midweek Mirror of Wednesday, January 15, 1998, popular journalist and military analyst, late Dharmaretnam Sivaram wrote on the rising popularity of the Sinhala Nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) among the masses of Sinhala South and of JVP's imminent rise to be a strong contender as a ruling party in the democratic electoral politics of Sri Lanka. This feature reproduces the full text of the article.

The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will begin a campaign tomorrow [Wednesday, 15 January 1998] to further strengthen and expand the party in the countryside. It has designated Jan 15. - Jan.31 as "Development Period." During this, the JVP will go on house to house campaigns, distribution of party literature, recruitment drives, reorganising etc.

The party is certainly emerging again as a force to be reckoned with in Sri Lankan politics. The conditions for its rejuvenation are ripe.

The cost of living is becoming unmanageable to most rural as well as urban households. The discontent with the government is clearly visible except to diehard PA types, well paid sociologists and confused UNPers. There is a specific political space which is open to the JVP's steady and very methodical expansion.

This space can be described thus: There is discontent over the rapidly rising cost of living within a wide cross section of the population. The UNP cannot mobilise and channel this discontent into militant and general opposition to the PA because its leadership is weak, indecisive and worse, equivocal. The party"s priorities, moreover, are determined by coteries confined to the world of big business. The MEP and the traditional left parties do not count any longer in the political equations of the country. (The traditional left has been thoroughly co-opted by the system despite its periodic and meek noises, protesting its innocence.)

The JVP, therefore, remains the only and best organised political force to mobilise the growing discontent in the countryside. This is quite similar to the political condition in 1986-87 which the JVP capitalised on. The rural population and sections of the urban working classes were discontent with the UNP. The SLFP was squabbling within and was a weak, indecisive force which had little strength to mobilise and channel the mass discontent against the UNP regime at that time. The JVP was the only force which offered itself then to the unhappy youth as a politically effective alternative.

The rural and urban middle classes are, to a large extent, still wary of the JVP. But they are not a decisive factor against well organised and politically assertive forces. The very position of the middle classes in the social stratum make them vacillate politically, according to the exigencies of the circumstance.

The UNP is no match for the JVP when it comes to mobilising and organising. Firstly, the JVP has a committed full time cadre which the UNP, and for that matter, any other political party in the south, lacks.

A very centralised system to face future elections is being systematically put into place by the JVP. The party has organised 73 electoral committees thus far. During the Jan. 15- Jan. 31 "Development Period" more electoral committees will be formed. The work is largely the responsibility of R.R.M Ajith Kumara who is now the JVP"s Secretary of Administration. Ajith Kumara was accused in 1987 for attempting to assassinate President J. R Jayewardene and members of his cabinet by lobbing a grenade at them in Parliament.

One of the main criticisms about the method adopted by the JVP in 1987-89 is that the party did not correctly organise the urban working classes into the vanguard of the revolution. It is said that things went wrong because the urban working classes, particularly in the strategic sectors of the economy such as ports, transport, power etc., were organised too late and that by that time, the rural petit bourgeoisie had run amok under the Deshapremi Viyaparaya, true to its class character, scuttling the revolutionary process. The capture of state power should have ultimately been the work of the proletariat and not the armed and misguided groups of petit bourgeoisie and students, said the critics. The JVP"s central committee does not acknowledge this criticism of course. But some of its organisational strategies currently show that the views of the critics of the 1987-88 strategy have been seriously considered by the hierarchy.

The JVP is now organising the urban working classes under the Socialist Workers Congress (SWC) into tightly knit cells, firmly under the party"s control. The SWC is the trade union arm of the party. Its strategic Colombo cell is led by K.D Lal Kantha, a behind the scene force during the 1987-89 rebellion. The SWC has built up a trade union base at the Colombo port and the Ceylon Electricity Board. It is also in the process of beginning a trade union in the health services sector.

The organisation is also associated with the dismissed government workers of 1977 who still agitate for their rights. Ajith Kumara set up the National Centre for the Dismissed Employees in 1977. The centre is active again. (The dismissed workers have organised a demonstration against the state on Feb. 4) The SWC has also organised a union to agitate against the sale of Lanka Phosphate Ltd. This is called the Phosphate Nidhiya Surakeema Sangvithanaya.

The JVP asserts that it is basically set on a democratic path to capture state power. Its trade union and electoral organising work is strictly within the rule of law. But the government apparently is not ready to accept this unqualified. It appears that there are four main reasons why the JVP is unable to still dispel the suspicions which continue to haunt its efforts to re-establish its power in the country. Firstly, it is said that most of its politburo and central committee remain underground; that people like Tilvin and Galappathy are not the decision makers. Secondly, security forces claim that 100 assault rifles and 1016 other firearms captured by the organisation in 1987-89 are yet to be recovered. Thirdly, that there is an emerging trend in recent times of robberies in the countryside in which youth, sometimes clad in police uniforms, have looked only for weapons-and got away with them. The JVP has not been implicated directly in this trend. But it is understood that the security forces are not prepared to completely ignore the phenomenon as a mere law and order problem.

And finally, it is pointed out that the JVP"s structure remains very much like that of a militant revolutionary organisation than that of a democratic election oriented party. Nevertheless, I think that the government should respect the JVP"s effort to organise itself democratically and recognise it as yet another symptom of the economic and social mess in which Sri Lanka finds itself today.

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