by Dianne Silva
JVP MP Vijitha Herath spoke to Dianne Silva of the Daily Mirror about drama revolving around the disappearance of Premakumar Gunaratnam, the survival of the JVP and the interference of India in internal matters of Sri Lanka
The White van culture
What is your opinion on the perceived white van culture that is present in the country at the moment?
The white van culture that is present today was something that was very familiar in Sri Lanka during the 1987-89 period, it seemed to have vanished after that. However once the war began that same culture reemerged. The people of this country were very hopeful that the end of the way would mean the end of this menace; however that was not the case.
Unfortunately we are still talking about this white van culture; we can see so many incidents, not just in the Northern Province but in the Southern and Western province as well, it is happening in every area of this country and we think it is a big challenge to democracy in this country. The main problem is that the government cannot identify who is responsible for these white-van incidents. Therefore the people can think that the responsible institution is the government. The government knows very well who is carrying out these incidents.
We also criticize the government because there is no evidence, regarding the white van incidents that take place. We all know that there is a good and extremely powerful police force, we have other security forces, but they cannot find out who is responsible for these incidents—this means that the government is the most responsible institution regarding these incidents
You are placing the bulk of the blame for these incidents on the government. However the defence presented by the government and a very plausible explanation is the fact that many people are using “white vans” as an excuse to carry out their own agendas?
There were so many incidents where the people who were abducted by white vans, once they were released told the media that they were abducted by someone involved in thuggery using a white van—that is why such a word entered the popular vocabulary.
We can assume that there are only a few incidents when people use that term in its true sense, however the truth is that this term was popularized because so many white van incidents took place. If there were no real incidents related to white vans, the phrase white van would not be so popular amongst the people. There were many real incidents where people were abducted using white vans, over the past two to three years.
Oppositional voice of the JVP
Do you think that the JVP is a strong oppositional voice, considering the breakaway faction has gained a considerable amount of popularity?
As an independent opposition political party, we have many activities lined up for the future. We are also working towards solving these “white van” mysteries and we are criticizing the government for their inaction and countering their acts of thuggery.
We plan on organizing the people of this country towards a fight for democracy and we will also begin an awareness programme around the country on these issues. The breakaway faction is not a big problem to our party.
They are gaining a considerable amount of publicity. You don’t think this will affect the JVP at all?
The strength of our party has not collapsed, only a few members have left from our party, because of various theoretical and organizations problems. I want to emphasize the fact that they are no issues to our party activities.
Few members have left from our party to form a new political party. This is not the first incident, during our history which began in 1965. From this period up to now there are so many factions that left the party and they formed new political parties. One good example is Wimal Weerawansa, he left our party but look at him now. He has become a joke. We this fraction also cannot do anything in future against the JVP.
The recent drama surrounding them has made them very popular, how can you regard this as being insignificant?
Popularity is not politics; popularity can only be there for a very short, temporary period. We have been working with the people for a long time and building up our base of supporters.
We have known so many instances, not just JVP factions but various other popular political parties have had to face breakaways factions. At the same time there are people who become “popular politicians” like Mervyn Silva and Duminda Silva. However this will remain only for a temporary period, this goes to show that popularity is not a base of politics, the main base is how the grass root level people get involved in our political organization. We are doing our political activities, not just for popularity—although popularity is somewhat important for any political party, it is not the primary goal of politicians.
We want to do political activities with grass root level people, and we have a long term plan and a good estimation of the Sri Lankan, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people—therefore we are doing our political activities on behalf of the long term political activities.
Premakumar Gunaratnam Disappearance
The JVP has repeatedly claimed that Premakumar Gunaratnam never existed, now that all this drama surrounding him has taken place—what is your stance?
This person Premakumar Gunaratnam has never been a member of our politburo or central committee. He claims that he was a part of the JVP, there have been a number of Kumaras but we don’t know of anyone by this name. If you don’t believe me why don’t you check the politburo name list at the elections department and the names of the members of central committee—you can check it.
From the media reports that you have seen, what is your impression of him? Why do you think he is targeting your party to build his political identity?
I don’t know and I can’t comment on that. However I know Dimutu Attyagala very well, she was a member of our politburo and also my classmate and I know a number of other members from that party like Pubudu Jayagoda, Duminda Nagamuwa etc but I don’t know why that person (Premakumar Gunaratnam) used our party’s name
There have been a number of different scenarios presented about the manner in which Dimutu Attyagala and Premakumar Gunaratnam were abducted and whether in fact they were abducted. What is your interpretation of these events?
They claim they were abducted by some pro-government armed gang. We analyzed so many explanations from their party and up to now we are still at a dilemma and are unable to say exactly whether this actually happened or not—because there are so many contradictory facts, between that man’s explanation (Premakumar Gunaratnam) and Dimutu Attyagala’s explanation.
There are also questions of the Australian High Commission’s interference. We have to still obtain more information to comment on that issue correctly therefore I cannot say exactly how that drama was played out.
Are you of the view that this was a publicity stunt that they orchestrated themselves?
We are unsure about that. Because we know that in the past the government has carried out a number of abductions, therefore sometimes it is possible that they could have been responsible for this incident. But we need more information to comment on this issue correctly.
However the important issue here is that the government carries out a real investigation into this incident to expose what has happened. If the government was not involved in such an incident, then it is the responsibility of the government to expose to the people, who were responsible for this incident.
If we look back at the period soon after their disappearance and release there was this insinuation, that the JVP was involved in this abduction?
I completely deny it, because as a democratic political party we are not involved in such activities and we cannot do that. I watched the skype telecast with that person (Premakumar Gunaratnam) and he also said that the JVP was not involved in that incident.
What is your interpretation of the Australian High Commissions involvement in this issue, the pressure they put on the government, and the way the government responded to this pressure?
The behaviour of the Australian High Commissioner and the intervention of the High Commission was questionable. As defending a citizen of her country, yes she had the right, but how she came into possession of his passport and the sequence of events are all questionable and the procedure is very questionable.
We must also not forget that there were a number of political parties and human rights groups and other groups who were pressurizing the government about these abductions and disappearances—this was very good and it is something that should not be forgotten and it should be appreciated.
The government is having discussions with the visiting Indian Parliamentary Delegation, on the 13th amendment. Considering what happened in Geneva and the fact that the decision by India did cause us to lose considerable support at the United Nations Human Rights Council, what is your opinion of the way in which the government is handling diplomatic relations with India?
The 13th amendment was forcibly implemented in 1987 and according to our view the 13th amendment is not a solution to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka and therefore they have no right to bring that up. The Sri Lankan people can discuss and have a dialogue on the best political solution for this country.
India is only interested in its own agenda for economic reasons; therefore we ask the government to be aware of this and act in the interest of the people of this country.
The devolution of power is not a solution for the issues in this country, I think that even India, the USA or any other country does not have the right to interfere in the internal issue of Sri Lanka. As a political party we are opposing this interference and the government should not be meeting or even bowing down to the pressures of the opposition members from India.
We think that it is the responsibility of the government to give equal rights to all people of this country, without considering their race. First of all however we have to implement real democracy in this country. courtesy: Daily Mirror