The battle of Katussas (chameleons)
Rathu Sahodarayas’ downhill journey has begun. Their post Wijeweera performance reached its zenith at the 2004 General Election, where 36 of its 37 candidates fielded from the UPFA list were returned and two of their National List seats ‘donated’ to the SLFP. Then it plateaued and now it is on the decline or, as they say, the JVP is down the pallang. The rise and fall of the JVP is a cyclical phenomenon. Its fall is characterised by the gravitation of the top-rung leaders to two centres of power, one representing the orthodox revolutionary core and the other dynamic rational interface of the party. This process is as old as the origin of the JVP, which began with acrimonious dissension among founder members, some of whom, including G. I. D. Dharmasekera, left in a huff in the late 1960s.

In the run up to its first bloody uprising of 1971, the JVP had suffered a division consequent upon a bitter power struggle between two groups led by Wijeweera and Loku Athula. Wijeweera later described that abortive insurrection as an adventuristic exercise and blamed it all on his rival faction. Former JVP strongman Kelly Senanayake in an interview with The Island, JVP will repeat what it did in the 1970s and the 1980s, on Nov. 26, 1997, revealed how intra-party trouble had reduced Wijeweera to a nervous wreck in the H-Ward of the Welikada Prison, where, according to party seniors, Kelly tried to assault Wijeweera with a broomstick, as the latter became so maudlin a nuisance to him.

Most JVPers voted with their feet upon release from prison courtesy the late President J. R. Jayewardene and Wijeweera was left with only a few senior members. The next major split in the JVP occurred while the party was still reeling from Wijeweera’s ignominious defeat at the 1982 Presidential Election and the proscription in the aftermath of the 1983 communal violence, which the JRJ government conveniently blamed on the JVP and some other leftists in a bid to avoid international opprobrium. Lionel Bopage and several others left the party over certain policy issues. What delayed the process of the JVP being reduced to an empty shell once again was its second revolt, which proved to be far more devastating than the first one. Violence kept it going for some time and Wijeweera’s adventurism gave the youth the much needed revolutionary kick and helped him keep the party together for a few more years.

Wijeweera’s reign of terror ended with the decimation of the JVP politburo save one member, Somawansa Amarasinghe. The JVP’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible but for President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who threw a lifeline to Rathu Sahodarayas after the 1994 Presidential Election, which the JVP didn’t contest to prevent a split in the anti-UNP vote and help Chandrika win comfortably, following an understanding between them.

That understanding developed into an electoral alliance between the JVP and the SLFP-led PA in 2004, which thereafter became the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). That marriage ended the following year itself, when President Kumaratunga tried to share tsunami aid with the LTTE through a ‘joint mechanism’. The same year, the JVP helped Mahinda Rajapaksa win the Presidential Election, having gone all out to prevent him from becoming Prime Minister in 2004!

The JVP has made many such U-turns since inception to overcome its political difficulties. Its sympathy was with the SLFP at the 1970 General Election but it took on the SLFP-led United Front government one year later in a bid to topple it, but in vain. The early years of the JRJ government after the 1977 General Election saw some tacit understanding between the UNP and the JVP, which served the UNP’s purpose of keeping the SLFP at bay and creating a division in the Opposition vote at elections. JRJ’s strategy of using Wijeweera as a counter to the SLFP yielded the desired results at the 1982 Presidential polls. However, one year later, the JVP turned against the JRJ government over the now infamous 1982 Referendum, and in the late 1980s staged an armed uprising to oust JRJ. Interestingly, Wijeweera, who wrote a book, Demala Eelam Prashnayata Visanduma Kumakda? (What is the solution to the Tamil Eelam question?), currying favour with India, made a quick about-turn a few week later, as we pointed out the other day, and launched an anti-Indian campaign after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord.

Following decapitation at the hands of the UNP in 1989, the JVP again drifted towards the SLFP, which it had sought to destroy in 1971 and during its second uprising. In 2004, it prevented the UNP from coming back into power and in 2005 ruined the UNP’s chances of winning the presidency. In 2006, it pitted itself against the UPFA at the LG polls. Last year, Rahthu Sahodarayas opposed the government’s budget at the second reading vote, endorsed the defence vote and abstained from voting after the third reading thus dashing the UNP’s hopes of shooting the budget down and dislodging the Rajapaksa government.

Now, we hear that Rathu Sahodarayas are baying for their Parliamentary Group Leader and Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa’s blood, claiming that he is working for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. His critics have dubbed him katussa (chameleon), slang for turncoat. What the JVP does with Weerawansa is none of our business. But, is Weerawansa the only chameleon among Rathu Sahodarayas? The entire JVP, we reckon, is a giant reptilarium where chameleons of all hues abound. They keep changing colours—from red to blue and from red to green.

The JVP founder’s dream was to first swallow the SLFP and then capture State power by defeating the UNP. Contrary to his wishful thinking, the JVP has from time to time lost its prominent members to the two main parties, especially the SLFP. Its 1999 Presidential Candidate Nandana Gunathilake is already in the SLFP in all but name and several others are expected to join him sooner or later. The suspension of Weerawansa might trigger a spate of defections from the JVP. Some of Weerawansa’s rivals in the party are gravitating towards the UNP, while the dyed-in-the-wool types in the party are planning to help bring the UNP to power and then topple it by way of a shortcut to power. Whether it is violence or non violence that they are contemplating to achieve that goal is not known.

What the JVP is experiencing at present is the outcome of a natural process. Those who are made to lead regimented lives tend to break themselves free after they realise that there is much more to life than asceticism and chasing an illusive goal. The JVP really belongs to those of Wijeweera’s ilk and a frustrated constituency. To others it is only a political ambalama (wayside inn) and not a permanent abode. It is natural that the disillusioned JVPers are making overtures to the two main parties. Their departure is only a matter of time.

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