SLPP Rakes up the Past About Rohana Wijeweera’s “Execution” to Politically Embarrass JVP and Premadasa -led SJB and Create Tensions Between Both Parties’but Blowback may Affect Ranil also



Tomb raiders and politicians do not scruple to disturb the dead. The former look for valuables in tombs, and the latter hunt for memories, cherished or dreaded, to gain political mileage. One’s loss is said to be another’s gain. Nothing proves the validity of this axiom more than the sordid manner in which politicians use others’ misfortunes including bereavements, to their advantage.

The classical definition of politics is well known—‘activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government’—but given the way politicians exploit others’ agonies, politics may also be defined as the art of making use of others’ woes to gain and/or retain power. There is hardly anything that politicians do not use for this purpose. Not even cadavers are spared, so to speak, as has been the case in this country. Last Wednesday saw the latest instance of the dead being dragged into a political battle.

Raising a question in the parliament, SLPP Kalutara District MP Lalith Ellawala demanded to know what had really befallen the founder leader of the JVP, Rohana Wijeweera, who was arrested in 1989, forced to make a confession, which was televised, and made to disappear. Leader of the House, and Urban Development and Housing Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, asked for two weeks to answer the question. MP Ellawela’s question listed on Wednesday’s Order Paper was addressed to the Minister of Public Security.

The MP seeks to know whether the Minister is aware that on 12.11.1989, the then UNP government had Wijeweera arrested, and published that fact in the media, and whether Wijeweera died on 13.11.1989. He has requested the Public Security Minister to inform the House whether Wijeweera’s death was a natural one, or whether it was an assassination; and if the death was an assassination, whether there was a verdict given by a court of law in Sri Lanka to that effect; and whether any member or any leader of the JVP has taken steps to institute legal action in respect of Wijeweera’s death.

Ellawala would not have raised that question of his own volition. He must have been asked by someone else to do so. What the government is aiming at is not difficult to guess. Having been pushed against the wall, it is striving to launch a propaganda counterattack against its worst critics.

Cadaver Politics’

Sri Lanka is no stranger to what may be called ‘cadaver politics’. The UNP made the most of the brutal killing of Premawathie Manamperi of Kataragama during the first JVPuprising (1971) to win the 1977 general election with an unprecedented five-sixths majority. Ranasinghe Premadasa, the UNP’s best orator, who tore the Sirima Bandaranaike government to shreds, would move his audiences to tears by dramatically narrating the story of Premawathie’s tragic end.

Ironically, on his watch as the President in the late 1980s, thousands of men, women, boys and girls suspected of being involved in the JVP, faced the same fate as Premawathie, and his political opponents used those killings against him. One of the most prominent among the victims of the Premadasa government’s counterterror campaign was Richard de Zoysa, the well-known journalist, actor and television personality. The skeletal remains of a group of schoolboys found in a mass grave on the summit of Suriyakanda in Rakwana, also became ammunition for the then SLFP-led Opposition and helped it with its comeback in 1994; they had also been abducted, tortured and killed as they were suspected to be JVP activists.
Propaganda onslaught

The JVP has not asked for a probe into Wijeweera’s death, which is an issue it is apparently shy of taking up, for it does not want to open a can of worms, given its violent past. It only commemorates Wijeweera’s death and those of other JVP seniors who perished at the hands of the police, the armed forces and the various vigilante groups in the late 1980s.

MP Ellawala’s question is obviously part of a propaganda onslaught the government is planning to carry out against the JVP as well as the SJB, whose late father, Ranasinghe Premadasa, was instrumental in crushing the second JVP insurrection. The SLPP seems to be trying to embarrass the JVP leaders amidst speculation of a possible coming together of the JVP and the SJB, which consists of former UNPers led by Premadasa Jr. JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva, however, has ruled out the possibility of forging and alliance with the SJB, but his party has said it is willing to support a multi-party caretaker government.

The JVP has trained its propaganda cannon on the governmentvery effectively. Its leaders never miss an opportunity to carry out devastating attacks on the SLPP leaders, who blame the former for having had a hand in last month’s arson attacks on the properties of dozens of ruling party politicians. The SJB is also attacking the government, but its propaganda is not as effective as the JVP’s. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and other party seniors take the moral high ground in the parliament as well as elsewhere and condemn the SLPP leadership for corruption and the abuse of power.

Their arguments are compelling, and there is no way the government could counter them with facts and figures. Hence, the SLPP is trying to evoke the dreadful memories of the JVP’s reign of terror—the crimes its hit squads committed such as the destruction of properties, both public and private, worth billions of rupees, bank heists, the killing of voters who defied its polls boycotts, political assassinations, etc.

It will be interesting to see what the government’s answer to MP Ellawala’s question will be. Its response is likely to be full of anti-JVP propaganda to affront the JVP leaders. The JVP will not take it lying down, though; it will go flat out to counter the government’s propaganda campaign.

Most of the present-day youth are not aware of the JVP’s past. If a probe gets underway to find out what actually happened to Wijeweera, the crimes the JVP committed in the name of revolution are bound to come to light. The JVP leaders, who claim to be fighting for the rights of others, will have to explain why they have not made a serious effort to ascertain what befell their beloved leader.
It is believed that Wijeweera was made to make a confession under torture, killed and cremated at the Borella cemetery. Human rights groups have even claimed that he was burnt alive. Only anecdotal evidence is available about his death, and a proper probe should have been held into it at least after the 1994 regime change. But no government has cared to address the issue. About 33 years on, the present administration has suddenly woken up to the fact that Wijeweera’s death was not properly investigated.

Wijeweera’s son, Uvindu, is back in the country, and engages in active politics. He is reportedly planning to form a party to contest the next election. He has been critical of some of his father’s policies and the JVP’s violence. If his interviews with local television stations and YouTube channels are any indication, he rejects violence as a means to an end, and believes in a moderate version of Marxism. He apparently has an old head on young shoulders. His reaction to the SLPP’s attempt to launch a probe into his father’s death is not known.

Possible political blowback

The SLPP’s propaganda onslaught against the JVP might boomerang, for incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also drawn heavy fire for his alleged involvement in counterterror operations in the late 1980s as a key figure in the Premadasa government.

Wickremesinghe was hauled up before a special presidential commission of inquiry appointed by the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga government to probe allegations of abductions and torture between 1987 and 1989. Senior UNPers such as him will be required to testify in case a probe is launched into Wijeweera’s death. How the SLPP leaders, especially President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who handpicked Wickremesinghe as the Prime Ministerto the SLPP’s move to conjure up ghosts from the past remains to be seen.