The Somawansa vs. Weerawansa battle that exploded last week has been very much in the air in the preceding days. Various media reports had said that the JVP was in crisis but the party dismissed these as inventions of hostile forces. The JVP leader has publicly confirmed that Weerawansa, who in addition to being the leader of the party’s parliamentary group, was also its propaganda secretary, was under disciplinary inquiry. He implied last Saturday that nothing further had been done. But this claim has been rejected outright in an emotional parliamentary statement by Weerawansa himself who said that he had been removed from all his posts and sacked from the party. ``The gunshot from inside is harder to bear than that fired from outside,’’ he said.
Weerawansa, an accomplished orator in Sinhala, a fine journalist who has during his 20 years in the JVP worked for its various publications, has undoubtedly been the party’s most visible personality, perhaps more so than even its leader, Somawansa Amarasinghe, who spent long years abroad after narrowly escaping death when the armed forces of the State, using both legal and extra-legal methods, extinguished in 1988-89 the JVP’s second armed adventure. The way in which the insurrection was dealt with was as brutal as the insurrection itself. But the Premadasa administration of the day, covertly or overtly backed not only by the other major political forces both in government and opposition as well as overwhelming public opinion, was convinced that the situation was ``we or they’’ and dealt with it accordingly. Even 20 years later, it must be remembered that the country was then on the brink of anarchy and was saved by a mere whisker.
Weerawansa can today speak emotively in parliament of seeing his father, who had threatened to take poison to deter the son’s JVP activity at that time of terror, viewing a burning corpse near the Na Tree Junction in Kalutara, fearing it was his son’s body being reduced to cinders. But it must not be forgotten that there were many others whom the JVP despatched just as cruelly as the security forces bumped off JVPers and those who were suspected of being JVPers. As a writer on this page points out, all kinds of political and other scores were paid off at that time as it was possible to ensure short shrift for anybody by identifying him or her as a JVPer.
Only a simpleton will believe that whatever Weerawansa does now, and will do in the near future, will be without the nod from no less than President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The JVP, largely on account of contacts particularly Weerawansa had with SLFP leaders like Lakshman Kadirgamar, Mangala Samaraweera, Anura Bandaranaike etc. was able to co-operate with the SLFP to oust the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and forge the UPFA. This alliance defeated the UNP at the election President Kumaratunga called by prematurely dissolving parliament even though Wickremesinghe commanded a majority in the legislature. That tactic well served the JVP which was able to win nearly 40 seats it would never have won on its own as well as CBK at that time. But she has lived to rue the day that she followed what was then perceived to be a winning strategy. The lady being who she is, is saying as much today.
Weerawansa well understands that his political survival will depend on the help he will receive from the president and the government. Even though he and his supporters seem to be in the minority in the JVP - most certainly in its politburo and central committee if not in the broader party itself - Rajapaksa, a master of realpolitik, understands the value of the numbers Weerawansa can deliver to his side in parliament. Already Weerawansa has showed his hand and whether Amarasinghe will be strong enough to purge a man who was the most visible element of his party and his supporters without shooting himself in the foot remains to be seen.
The Somawansa faction is already doing some ham fisted things like grabbing the vehicles the MPs backing Weerawansa are using. These duty free vehicles were bought on the non-transferable permits issued to the various MPs in their own names. The party may have paid for the vehicles but it will not have title to them in the way a finance company will own a car bought by one of its customers on hire purchase terms until all dues are paid off. The car is registered in the finance company’s name and is only transferred to the buyer when the debt is paid off. The various MPs may have taken orders from their parties on what make of car to buy and other instructions on their use. But the JVP will not be able to have title to these vehicles until the period during which such vehicles remain non-transferable has expired. So grabbing these vehicles like car seizers will not work, especially when the losers have the backing of the government.
Mr. S.B. Dissanayake, in an interview we publish today, has said that the JVP expects its MPs to be ``unnatural’’ humans spurning the various perks that the taxpayer lavishes on all MPs. But the MPs, most of whom are not members of the politburo or central committee which are the repositories of power in the party, do have more perks than those in the seats of power. Human nature being what it is, that has led to other problems. As SB has said, many in the JVP hierarchy do not walk the straight and narrow path they order others to tread on. The pay of elected JVPers must be ceded to party funds and a working man’s stipend received in lieu. The days when JVP MPs brought a buth packet from outside for their lunch is now history. Weerawansa, particularly, is known to have expensive tastes and the first straw in the wind of what promises to be a major mud-slinging exercise is already visible.
It is unlikely that Amarasinghe will be able to gather his brood and leave Weerawansa to stew in his own juice. While Rajapaksa will want him to capture the JVP if possible, Weerawansa will certainly have the cushion of SLFP membership and a seat in an SLFP cabinet in the worst case scenario. What the public will like to know is whether the voter, who first voted for a party and then expressed a preference for some candidates, will see the law as he understands it will continue to be unimplemented or incapable of implementation. No MP who defected has lost his seat in parliament thus far. Whether the JVP will fare better than the UNP in this regard remains to be seen.