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Encyclopedia > 1971 Uprising
Politics of Sri Lanka

Politics of Sri Lanka
Political parties in Sri Lanka
Elections in Sri Lanka:
Parliament: 2001 - 2004 Government The President of the Republic, directly elected for a 6-year term, is chief of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces. ... A political party is a political organization subscribing to a certain ideology or formed around very special issues with the aim to participate in power, usually by participating in elections. ... Politics of Sri Lanka Categories: Election related stubs | Elections in Sri Lanka ... Legislative elections were held in Sri Lanka on December 6, 2001. ... Legislative elections were held in Sri Lanka on 2 April 2004. ...

The People's Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) is a marxist Sinhalese political party in Sri Lanka was involved in 1971 youth uprising in Sri Lanka which were lost around 15,000 youth lives. Marxism is the political practice and social theory based on the works of Karl Marx, a 19th century philosopher, economist, journalist, and revolutionary, along with Friedrich Engels. ... The Sinhalese are the native inhabitants of Sri Lanka. ... A political party is a political organization that subscribes to a certain ideology and seeks to attain political power within a government. ...

At the last legislative elections, 2 april 2004, the party was part of the United People's Freedom Alliance that won 45.6 % of the popular vote and 105 out of 225 seats. As the second partner in this alliance it became part of the government. A legislature is a governmental deliberative body with the power to adopt laws. ... Politics of Sri Lanka Categories: Election related stubs | Elections in Sri Lanka ... The United Peoples Freedom Alliance is a political alliance in Sri Lanka. ...


The Advent of Colonialism

Ceylon is a small tropical island, of some 25000 square miles, separated by a narrow defile of water from the Indian subcontinent. It is divided into different regions by both topography and climate. The whole coastal rim, and the northern and eastern interior, form a flat lowland; on the south-center, however, a high massif rises sheer above the plains to dense, forested peaks of over 7000 feet. Overlapping this division is an extremely sharp climatic contrast between a triangular wet zone in the south-west corner of the island, with heavy rainfall, fertile land and irrigated cultivation, and a dry zone haunted by drought and scrub, which occupies the whole of the north and east of the island. In the early pre-colonial epoch, much of this was watered by extensive hydraulic systems, and formed the homeland of the Ancient Sinhalese Kingdoms which vied with the Tamil states in the for north of the island. The network of tanks, dams and canals had, however, fallen into disuse and decay by the thirteenth century, well before the arrival of European conquerors; and, as a consequence, the center of Sinhalese culture and society had shifted southwards to the highlands of Kandy in the south-west. It was in the latter zone that cinnamon was collected wild in the jungles: this spice became the first object of Portuguese plunder in the sixteenth century. Ceylon underwent a longer historical experience of colonization than any other country in Asia. It bears the marks of this past - some 450 years of European domination - to this day. The Portuguese invaded the island in 1505, and rapidly conquered the coastal lowlands, isolating but not subjecting the Kandyan kingdom in the fastnesses of the south-central highlands. They established a rudimentary but effective trading control over the island, exploiting it for the collection of wild cinnamon, of which Ceylon then had a world monopoly. In the succeeding 150 years they also succeeded in converting a relatively high proportion of the Sinhalese population in the south-western coastal strip, centered on Colombo, to Catholicism, thereby dissociating them both culturally and economically from the Sinhalese in the beleaguered Kandyan uplands. A singular mark of the Portuguese impact on the low-country Sinhalese was their mass adoption of Lusitnaian names. To this day, De Souza, Perera, and Gomes proliferate in the southwest: a phenomenon whose only parallel in Asia is to be found in the Philippines, where the Spanish monastic frailocracia achieved an even more spectacular success in formally concerting and hispanizing the indigenous population. Portugese rule, however, came to an end in 1658, when the Dutch seized their territories in the island in collusion with the Kandyan nobility, during the long Ibero-Dutch wars of the seventeenth century. The new rulers developed and modernized the economic system bequeathed to them by their predecessors. The Dutch cinnamon economy was now based on organized plantations, in which production was rationalized and yields increased. The blockade of the unsubdued highlands was tightened, and the social and political system of late Kandyan feudalism gradually disintegrated within the ring of Dutch forts and settlements which surrounded it. Holland was not interested in mass conversion of the local population, given the more pronouncedly particularist and racist character of Protestantism: but it did introduce the peculiar system of Roman-Dutch law which has survived in the island down to the present.

( The 1971 Ceylonese Insurrection, Fred Halliday )

The Plantation Economy

Another 150 years latter, Ceylon underwent its third European conquest. Once again, it fell to a new colonial master as a by-blow of international conflicts within Europe itself. The formation of the Batavian Republic in Holland in 1795, ally and client of the Directory in Paris, led to a British attack on Ceylon as part of England's worldwide counter-revolutionary and imperialist offensive against the French Revolution and its sequels. Kandyan feudalism collaborated with the British expeditionary forces as eagerly and short -sightedly against the Dutch, as it had with the Dutch against the Portuguese. Once the Dutch had been evicted, London proceeded to complete the unfinished work left by Amsterdam. In 1815, the British fomented a revolt by the Kandyan aristocracy against the last Kandyan monarch and marched into uplands to depose him at their request. Three years later, when the same nobility rose against British rule in a fierce rebellion in which their villagers participated heroically, they were crushed by the occupiers they had themselves invited into their remote redoubts. A subsequent rising in 1948 was soon stamped out; a communications network was constructed to end inaccessibility of the uplands; and for the first time, colonial rule now covered the whole length and breadth of the island. The military and political preconditions had now been laid for a massive economic transmutation of the island. In the 1830s, coffee was introduced into Ceylon, a crop which flourishes in high altitudes. The principal impetus to this development of capitalist production in Asian Ceylon was the decline in coffee production in the West Indies, following the abolition of slavery there; similarly, the development of mass cotton production in Egypt for the Manchester mills came in 1861 when the US civil war cut off the supply of US cotton to Britain. Speculators and entrepreneurs from England swarmed to the new conquered uplands, and expropriated vast tracts of forest on the higher slopes of the Kandyan valleys from the villagers who had traditionally used them as common lands for fuel and fruit gathering. The right to seize this land was 'purchased' from the British state at nominal prices: it was then cleared and converted into enormously profitable coffee plantations. The Kandyan villagers refused to abandon their traditional subsistence holdings and become wage-workers on these new capitalist estates. Despite all the pressure exerted by the colonial state, they could not be broken into the mould of a plantation proletariat in the nineteenth century. British imperialism thus had to draw on its limitless reserve army of labour in India itself, to man its lucrative new outpost to the south. An infamous system of contract labour was established, which transported hundreds of thousands of Tamils 'coolies' from southern India into Ceylon for the coffee estates. These Tamils labourers died in tens of thousands both on the journey itself, and in the nightmarish conditions of the early plantations. Nearly a million were imported in the 1840 and 1850 alone: the death rate was 250 per 1000. The decimation and super-exploitation of this class founded the fortunes of British imperialism in Ceylon. The creation of this vast immiserized mass not only generated the surplus-value pumped regularly home to London: it divided the oppressed population of the island as well, allowing the colonial state to manipulate and exacerbate ethnic antagonisms between Tamils and Sinhalse in a classic strategy of divide and rule. The coffee economy collapsed in the 1870, when a leaf disease ravaged the plantations. But the economic system it had created survived intact into the epoch of its successor crop. In the 1880, tea was introduced on a wide scale and soon had ousted coffee completely. The main social alteration to which this led was not in the structure of the labour force, which remained as before composed of contracted Tamil coolies, but in the nature of the entrepreneurial units. Tea was more capital-intensive and needed a higher volume of initial investment to be processed. The result was that individual estate-owners were now supplanted by large English consolidated companies based either in London ('sterling firms') or Colombo ('rupee firms'). Monoculture was thus increasingly capped by monopoly within the plantation economy. The pattern thus created in the nineteenth century has remained essentially identical ever since: Liptons and Brooke Bonds rule the Ceylonese massif down to this day. The only significant modifications to the colonial economy were the addition of a rubber sector in the foothills below, and the enlargement of coconut cultivation in the coastal region near Colombo. These three crops, in descending order of importance, henceforward dominate the island's commercial agriculture. ( The 1971 Ceylonese Insurrection, Fred Halliday )

A Socialist Party

In The last years before the Second world War, however, a small group of Marxist intellectuals appeared on the paralysed political scene in Colombo. In 1935, they formed the LSSP, which campaigned against the imperialist oppression and exploitation of Britain, and attacked the grovelling complicity of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie with it. It elected two members to the state Council in 1936; more significantly, its agitation gradually started to arouse sections of the plantation workers and peasantry. A sudden upswing of class struggle in the rural regions coincided with the onset of the Second World War. The LSSP, which had hitherto been a loose organization grouping all tendencies in the left, now split: a minority which supported Stalin was expelled and the Third International was denounced from positions similar to those of Trotsky in early 1940 . In consequence, the LSSP did not follow path of class-collaboration with the British pursed by the Indian and other Communist Parties once Germany had attacked the Soviet Union. It denounced the British military build-up in Ceylon during the war, and intensified its efforts to mobilize the exploited classes in the towns and countryside against the colonial power. The result was a mounting series if strikes and riots on the plantations, which created panic among the estate-owners and tea companies. Threatened both by the LSSP's uncompromising hostility to its war effort in Asia, and by its political awakening of the Ceylonese masses, British imperialism acted swiftly to cut off the possibility of a national liberation movement under the party's leadership. The LSSP was dissolved in June 1940, and its leaders jailed. Ruthless suppression of underground resistance followed. Many of the LSSP leaders subsequently succeeded in escaping to India during a Japanese air-raid, where they transferred the center of gravity of their activities during the rest of the war. Incipient mass radicalization was thus repressed before if achieved a durable political form in Ceylon.

Thus, after the war, Britain was able to arrange a leisurely 'transfer of power' to a Ceylonese oligarchy that had scarcely even feigned an independence movement against it. The prospect seemed an extremely fair on for neo-colonial stability. Ceylon was not plagued by over-population of the Indo-Pakistani type. It had less than 8 million inhabitants, whose per capita standard of living was by now well above that of the sub-continental mainland. During the war, its traditional rice imports from Burma had been cut off; to prevent the danger of social unrest in time of war, the British were obliged to establish an official rationing system and to fix the price of imported rice at state cost somewhat below its market levels, while simultaneously guaranteeing price for domestic paddy producers. The practical result was a welfare system of subsidized rice, which was continued after the war when world prices rose considerably. A complementary characteristic of the British legacy was the exceptionally high level of education in Ceylon - again rendered possible because of the small size of the island and therefore the comparatively modest cost of a school system to imperialism. Literacy was thus some 65 per cent in 1945 - an extremely high figure for Asia at that time. The social and political significance of both these mechanisms - very atypical for any colonial or ex-colonial country - are evident: they reflect an unusual capacity of the state to control the population by peaceful mystification r 9ther than physical repression. Budget allocations expressed this Ceylonese peculiarity dramatically: as late as a decade after independence, state expenditure on food subsidies and social services, including education, was no less than ten times that times on the armed forces. The latter were to remain miniscule by comparison with the norm in the so-called Third World, some 4500 men in 1962.

( The 1971 Ceylonese Insurrection, Fred Halliday )

1971 Youth uprising in Sri Lanka

The leftist Sinhalese Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna drew worldwide attention when it launched an insurrection against the Bandaranaike government in April 1971. Although the insurgents were young, poorly armed, and inadequately trained, they succeeded in seizing and holding major areas in Southern and Central provinces before they were defeated by the security forces. Their attempt to seize power created a major crisis for the government and forced a fundamental reassessment of the nation's security needs. The Peoples Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) is a marxist Sinhalese political party in Sri Lanka. ...

The movement was started in the late 1960s by Rohana Wijeweera, the son of a businessman from the seaport of Tangalla, Hambantota District. An excellent student, Wijeweera had been forced to give up his studies for financial reasons. Through friends of his father, a member of the Ceylon Communist Party, Wijeweera successfully applied for a scholarship in the Soviet Union, and in 1960 at the age of seventeen, he went to Moscow to study medicine at Patrice Lumumba University. While in Moscow, he studied Marxist ideology but, because of his openly expressed sympathies for Maoist revolutionary theory, he was denied a visa to return to the Soviet Union after a brief trip home in 1964. Over the next several years, he participated in the pro-Beijing branch of the Ceylon Communist Party, but he was increasingly at odds with party leaders and impatient with its lack of revolutionary purpose. His success in working with youth groups and his popularity as a public speaker led him to organize his own movement in 1967. Initially identified simply as the New Left, this group drew on students and unemployed youths from rural areas, most of them in the sixteen-to-twenty-five-age- group. Many of these new recruits were members of lower castes (Karava and Durava) who felt that their economic interests had been neglected by the nation's leftist coalitions. The standard program of indoctrination, the so-called Five Lectures, included discussions of Indian imperialism, the growing economic crisis, the failure of the island's communist and socialist parties, and the need for a sudden, violent seizure of power. Rohana Wijeweera (born circa 1948 - died 1989) leader of JVP, prominant follower of Che Guevara and Sri Lankan revolutionary whose communist views of spreading wealth to the poorer classes earnt him great popularity. ...

Between 1967 and 1970, the group expanded rapidly, gaining control of the student socialist movement at a number of major university campuses and winning recruits and sympathizers within the armed forces. Some of these latter supporters actually provided sketches of police stations, airports, and military facilities that were important to the initial success of the revolt. In order to draw the newer members more tightly into the organization and to prepare them for a coming confrontation, Wijeweera opened "education camps" in several remote areas along the south and southwestern coasts. These camps provided training in Marxism-Leninism and in basic military skills.

While developing secret cells and regional commands, Wijeweera's group also began to take a more public role during the elections of 1970. His cadres campaigned openly for the United Front of Sirimavo R. D. Bandaranaike, but at the same time they distributed posters and pamphlets promising violent rebellion if Bandaranaike did not address the interests of the proletariat. In a manifesto issued during this period, the group used the name Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna for the first time. Because of the subversive tone of these publications, the United National Party government had Wijeweera detained during the elections, but the victorious Bandaranaike ordered his release in July 1970. In the politically tolerant atmosphere of the next few months, as the new government attempted to win over a wide variety of unorthodox leftist groups, the JVP intensified both the public campaign and the private preparations for a revolt. Although their group was relatively small, the members hoped to immobilize the government by selective kidnapping and sudden, simultaneous strikes against the security forces throughout the island. Some of the necessary weapons had been bought with funds supplied by the members. For the most part, however, they relied on raids against police stations and army camps to secure weapons, and they manufactured their own bombs.

The discovery of several JVP bomb factories gave the government its first evidence that the group's public threats were to be taken seriously. In March 1971, after an accidental explosion in one of these factories, the police found fifty-eight bombs in a hut in Nelundeniya, Kegalla District. Shortly afterward, Wijeweera was arrested and sent to Jaffna Prison, where he remained throughout the revolt. In response to his arrest and the growing pressure of police investigations, other JVP leaders decided to act immediately, and they agreed to begin the uprising at 11:00 P.M. on April 5.

The planning for the countrywide insurrection was hasty and poorly coordinated; some of the district leaders were not informed until the morning of the uprising. After one premature attack, security forces throughout the island were put on alert and a number of JVP leaders went into hiding without bothering to inform their subordinates of the changed circumstances. In spite of this confusion, rebel groups armed with shotguns, bombs, and Molotov cocktails launched simultaneous attacks against seventy- four police stations around the island and cut power to major urban areas. The attacks were most successful in the south. By April 10, the rebels had taken control of Matara District and the city of Ambalangoda in Galle District and came close to capturing the remaining areas of Southern Province.

The new government was ill prepared for the crisis that confronted it. Although there had been some warning that an attack was imminent, Bandaranaike was caught off guard by the scale of the uprising and was forced to call on India to provide basic security functions. Indian frigates patrolled the coast and Indian troops guarded Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayaka while Indian Air Force helicopters assisted the counteroffensive. Sri Lanka's all-volunteer army had no combat experience since World War II and no training in counterinsurgency warfare. Although the police were able to defend some areas unassisted, in many places the government deployed personnel from all three services in a ground force capacity. Royal Ceylon Air Force helicopters delivered relief supplies to beleaguered police stations while combined service patrols drove the insurgents out of urban areas and into the countryside.

After two weeks of fighting, the government regained control of all but a few remote areas. In both human and political terms, the cost of the victory was high: an estimated 15,000 insurgents- -many of them in their teens--died in the conflict, and the army was widely perceived to have used excessive force. In order to win over an alienated population and to prevent a prolonged conflict, Bandaranaike offered amnesties in May and June 1971, and only the top leaders were actually imprisoned. Wijeweera, who was already in detention at the time of the uprising, was given a twenty-year sentence and the JVP was proscribed.

Under the six years of emergency rule that followed the uprising, the JVP remained dormant. After the victory of the United National Party in the 1977 elections, however, the new government attempted to broaden its mandate with a period of political tolerance. Wijeweera was freed, the ban was lifted, and the JVP entered the arena of legal political competition. As a candidate in the 1982 presidential elections, Wijeweera finished fourth, with more than 250,000 votes (as compared with Jayewardene's 3.2 million). During this period, and especially as the Tamil conflict to the north became more intense, there was a marked shift in the ideology and goals of the JVP. Initially Marxist in orientation, and claiming to represent the oppressed of both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities, the group emerged increasingly as a Sinhalese nationalist organization opposing any compromise with the Tamil insurgency. This new orientation became explicit in the anti-Tamil riots of July 1983. Because of its role in inciting violence, the JVP was once again banned and its leadership went underground.

The group's activities intensified in the second half of 1987 in the wake of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord. The prospect of Tamil autonomy in the north together with the presence of Indian troops stirred up a wave of Sinhalese nationalism and a sudden growth of antigovernment violence. During 1987 a new group emerged that was an offshoot of the JVP--the Patriotic Liberation Organization (Deshapreni Janatha Viyaparaya--DJV). The DJV claimed responsibility for the August 1987 assassination attempts against the president and prime minister. In addition, the group launched a campaign of intimidation against the ruling party, killing more than seventy members of Parliament between July and November.

Along with the group's renewed violence came a renewed fear of infiltration of the armed forces. Following the successful raid of the Pallekelle army camp in May 1987, the government conducted an investigation that resulted in the discharge of thirty-seven soldiers suspected of having links with the JVP. In order to prevent a repetition of the 1971 uprising, the government considered lifting the ban on the JVP in early 1988 and permitting the group to participate again in the political arena. With Wijeweera still underground, however, the JVP had no clear leadership at the time, and it was uncertain whether it had the cohesion to mount any coordinated offensive, either military or political, against the government.

External links

  • JVP's Official Website
  • SRI LANKA - A LOST REVOLUTION? The Inside Story of the JVP by Rohan Gunaratna
  • Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka : The Role of India's Intelligence Agencies
  • A Lost Revolution: The JVP Insurrection 1971

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