By Vishvanath

Leader of the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) Anura Kumara Dissanayake, during a political event in Canada, on Sunday, happened to express remorse for his party’s violence in the late 1980s. In answer to a question from someone in the audience, he said such things should not have happened. It was not a case of Dissanayake being wrong-footed; he apparently had that answer ready.

Self-reproach is not something that one expects of the JVP, which always tries to justify what it has done in the name of its communist cause. Dissanayake may have sought to allay fears in the minds of Sri Lankans that the JVP was without remorse for its violent past and might revert to its old ways. Its political opponents are using its past crimes to instill fear in the public. Dissanayake and other JVP leaders have been taking great pains to counter such adverse propaganda. They have their work cut out.

Process of mellowing

Revolutionary outfits mellow with the passage of time and tend to become conformist albeit to varying degrees. We have seen this happen to the radical leftist parties in this country as well as elsewhere.

The Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) emerged as dyed-in-the-wool socialist outfits, and they could afford to remain so in a bipolar world at the time with the Soviet Union and China standing up to the capitalist bloc effectively, and having a significant number of nations including regional powers such as India in their sphere of influence.

In 1953, the Marxist parties of Sri Lanka came very close to capturing state power. They almost ousted the then UNP government. Their successful Hartal in protest against a steep rise in the cost of living, especially the cost of rice, prompted the Dudley Senanayake administration to adopt repressive measures, and some protesters died in police shootings.

The situation became so ungovernable that the Cabinet of the UNP government had to meet onboard a ship anchored in the Colombo Port for fear of being surrounded by protesters. Finally, PM Senanayake had to resign, and the new Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala partially restored the rice subsidy, and the protests died down. But the leftists had demonstrated their strength.

Still, coalition politics had a mellowing effect on the SLPP and the CPSL and they became dependent on SLFP-led alliances to gain parliamentary representation. They have had to compromise their socialist ideals and reconcile themselves to open market economic policies, which are antithetical to Marxism.


The JVP, too, has had to come to terms with open economic policies. It has declared that it will ensure the continuation of the current economic system while ridding it of cronyism and corruption in the event of forming a government. It has undertaken to work with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in case of forming a future government. Its leaders have met IMF representatives and exchanged views on the IMF bailout programme. This is not something anyone would have expected the JVP to do a few decades ago, given its antipathy towards the IMF and the World Bank it branded as ‘agents of neo-imperialism’. “Death to capitalism” used to be a familiar refrain in JVP propaganda.

In its Policy Declaration, published under the leadership of Rohana Wijeweera, the JVP promised to take over even the free-trade zones.  It says, “A fully-planned economic structure shall be established, and the existing capitalist mixed economy shall be abolished … Banks and Credit Institutions and all monopoly industries shall be nationalized without any compensation … The payment of debt and interest due to imperialist banks and institutions shall be abolished … Systemic steps will be taken to abolish private ownership even in the field of small industries ….”

In a world, where even China and Russia have undergone change in keeping with global trends, and Cuba has mellowed, the JVP cannot remain unchanged. North Korea is struggling for survival; it is an anachronism in the modern world. The JVP seems to have realized that unless it changes its economic policies, its chances of appealing to the masses and improving its electoral performance will be remote.

Foreign policy

Resistance to ‘Indian expansionism’ used to be a cornerstone of the JVP’s ideology. One of the five classes the JVP used to conduct for new recruits in the 1970s was on Indian expansionism and the need to counter it. The JVP dropped this lecture in the late 1980s, according to incumbent JVP leader Dissanayake, but it resorted to violence in protest against the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka during that period and went on a killing spree in an abortive to scuttle the 13th Amendment and the establishment of the Provincial Councils. The JVP no longer calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment or the Provincial Council system. Another policy about-turn on its part.

Interestingly, JVP leader Dissanayake, recently visited India as a guest of the Indian government, and sought to gain political mileage from his visit. Addressing a meeting in Canada on Sunday, Dissanayake reiterated what he had said in a television interview in Colombo, immediately after his India visit; Sri Lanka had to be mindful of Indian national security concerns if it was to avoid trouble. India must have been more than happy to hear that from the JVP leader again.

The JVP has also established a good rapport with the US, which it once demonized as a wellspring of evil and danger to the world. But today it never misses an opportunity to endear itself to other western nations. It claims that western diplomats are meeting its leaders in Colombo because the latter think the JVP will win the next presidential election, but those envoys are seen at meetings with other political leaders as well.

Political front

There have been several instances where the JVP opted to subjugate its ideology and principles to political expediency. It backed the SLFP-led United Front (UF) coalition at the 1970 general election with the likes of Mahinda Wijesekera playing a very active role in the UF’s propaganda campaign.

One year later, the JVP took up arms against the UF government it had helped form in a bid to capture state power and plunged the country into a bloodbath in the process. It failed in its endeavour. After the UNP’s victory at the 1977 general election, the JVP leaders were released from prison, and subsequently they were accused of colluding with the J. R. Jayewardene government. Then, the JVP turned on the Jayewardene government, which proscribed it falsely blaming it for the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom; it went underground and took up arms against in the late 1980s. It suffered a decapitating blow at the hands of the Ranasinghe Premadasa government in 1989.

In the early 1990s, the JVP closed ranks with Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga, and pulled out of the 1994 presidential race to prevent a split in the anti-UNP vote. In 2001, it offered to prop up the crumbling Kumaratunga government conditionally, but that administration collapsed and the UNP regained power.

The JVP contested the 2004 general election as a constituent of the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance, secured 39 seats, pulled out of that administration, but threw its weight behind Mahinda Rajapaksa, who successfully ran for President in 2005. It would not have been able to perform so well at the 2004 parliamentary polls if it had not coalesced with the SLFP.

In 2015, the JVP supported the Yahapalana camp led by the UNP, and had representation in the National Executive Committee appointed by Maithripala Sirisena after winning the presidency. President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the Prime Minister in the Yahapalana government revealed in the Parliament, a few weeks ago, that JVP leader Dissanayake had played an active role in the Yahapalana government’s anti-corruption programme. Thus, the JVP has joined forces with the mainstream political parties for political expediency from time to time.


The JVP is overconfident that it will win the presidential election to be held later this year. There are at least six more months to go for the presidential contest. In politics, six months is an eternity, and it is not possible to make predictions about the presidential and parliamentary elections yet.

Whether the JVP will succeed in winning the coming elections and capturing state power, one may not know, but at this rate it is likely to go the same way as the other Marxist political parties that mellowed due to their prolonged stay in parliamentary politics and lost their vitality.  


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