The JVP Resurgence: Threat from within or a new Third Force

16 Jun, 1999    ·   206

Zarin Ahmad while analysing the favourable poll results of the JVP cautions that though "the JVP is not a formidable military force yet, it could always revert back to its earlier militant strategies in future".

The JVP Resurgence

The resurgence of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the Provincial elections of April 1999 in Sri Lanka vindicated the last words of its JVP politburo member minutes before his death in 1989, that the JVP will re-emerge if the burning problems of the masses are not solved. . The JVP is an ultra-left organization which was established in May 1965 with nine handpicked members led by Rohana Wijeweera, committed to fight for a Socialist revolution in Sri Lanka. Since then the JVP has operated both as an electoral political party as well as an underground organization. It had a particular appeal among the youth, who managed to wrest the Arts Faculty in the 1982 elections of Colombo University.

The History of JVP

The JVP came into the limelight during April 1971 when it decided to capture State power by attacking police stations in the country. The movement was totally wiped out, but it rose again in 1977 after the release of Wijeweera. It contested as a mainstream political party in the 1977 General Elections and polled 3441 votes. Between 1977 and 1983, it became a fast growing political force and emerged as the largest Left political party in Sri Lanka. In the District Development Council elections of 1981, the JVP polled more than 10 per cent votes in Colombo, Galle, Gampaha, Anuradhapura and Badulla. Wijeweera contested the 1982 Presidential elections and came third, securing almost three lakh votes. However the party was proscribed in 1983. It went underground, but came to the fore again with its insurrection in 1987-89. The occupation and control of North- East Sri Lanka by Indian security forces spurred the JVP into action. They changed their strategy from a Socialist revolution through class struggle to a Socialist revolution through patriotic struggle. Once again, it took recourse to violence from 1987 to 1989, but it was again wiped out. However, during both insurrections, the JVP brought the country to a virtual standstill, and it required the full resources of the State to quell its movement.

JVP and the April 99 Elections

In the recently concluded elections, the JVP has won 15 seats, and secured more than five per cent of the total votes. It polled a total of 248799 votes in the five provinces making it the third largest party behind the People's Alliance and the United National Party. It has secured eight seats in the Western Province, one in the Central province and two each in Uva, Sabaragamuva and the North- Central province. What makes their performance significant is the fact that they secured more than seven per cent votes in the Western Province and made inroads into the Gampaha district which has been the stronghold of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. It secured the same number of votes as Rohana Wijeweera, when he contested the 1982 Presidential elections. The performance of the JVP is commendable as it is despite the absence of a charismatic leader like Wijeweera. This raises the issue whether this is a static number of votes which the JVP can garner or are they capable of further expanding electorally in future. This will be contingent upon the political and military strategies followed by the JVP.

Implications for Sri Lanka's Internal Security

The outcome of the recent Provincial elections is a clear signal to the established parties especially the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the other Left parties that the JVP is now a force to reckon with. It also indicates the disenchantment of youth, particularly the radical youth, with the State as well as the Marxist parties. The Secretary General of the JVP in a recent (May4) interview to The Hindu, stated categorically that the party has changed its strategies and tactics in tune with the changes in the Socialist world without compromising on the desire for a Socialist revolution based on Marxist theories. He asserted that there is no scope for an armed struggle in the changed scenario. In future, the JVP aims to become an alternate force, not a third force the one and only anti- Capitalist Leftist force.

The 1994 elections had created the opportunity for the disarrayed JVP to regroup and reorganize itself. Five years later, the JVP proved its dynamism and resilience to come back to the fore of Sri Lankan politics. The JVP has adopted different strategies to meet a challenge or create a crisis. It started with Marxist-Leninist politics coupled with Maoist guerilla tactics, took to electoral politics, and then played on the anti-India sentiments during the 1987 insurrection. Although the JVP is not a formidable military force yet, it could always revert back to its earlier militant strategies in future. This could add to further strains in the war-torn island.