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Sunday, 19 June 2016

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A political journey

Since joining the JVP in 1969, comrade Somawansa Amarasinghe towed a JVP political line. While in custody in the Welikada prison for the April 1971 uprising, he withdrew from JVP politics.

However, when he was transferred to Jaffna prison later, he was self-critical about his political deviation and became a fulltime JVP activist.

I met comrade Amarasinghe after November 1977, when the then UNP government repealed the Criminal Justice Commission Act under which most of the leaders of the JVP were convicted and imprisoned.

Since he was released, he took a lead role to carry out JVP political activities in the south. We worked together in some JVP political projects, such as the Human Rights Movement and Vimukthi Gee (the Songs of Liberation), where he played an active role.

From time to time, the Central Committee and the politburo of the party gave him the opportunity to work in the Socialist Workers Union and also in certain activities related to the party's international affairs.

In the late seventies, he was elected to the JVP Central Committee. When the JVP was proscribed by the UNP in July 1983, he was the District Secretary in charge of Kalutara.

In our political journey, we had many disagreements - he held some strong views: he was supportive of Sinhala nationalism and was biased against other faiths, in particular against Christianity. His pro-Buddhist and pro-Sinhala nationalist political line, in my view were contrary to the progressive political line we followed at that time. We had major disagreements with regard to the national question, particularly after the Presidential Elections held in 1982. Until then, he openly advocated the then JVP policy of accepting the right to self-determination of people on the national question. He did so even on the political stage.

In July 1983, 26 members of the JVP including me and a host of other professionals were detained under Emergency Regulations on the allegation of leading a pogrom against the Tamils in the south. This pogrom was actually led by certain politicians of the ruling elite.

The JVP was proscribed. Due to legal challenges raised in courts in late 1983, we were released from detention without any charges against us. In February 1984, I handed over my letter of resignation as General Secretary of the JVP and its membership and also from being an elected JVP representative at the Galle District Development Council.

Before activating my resignation in February 1984, a final attempt was made to resolve the prevailing political issues. I still remember comrade Amarasinghe taking me in his motorcycle to Mathugama in January 1984, for a final discussion with comrade Rohana Wijeweera, which never materialised for reasons unknown to this day. Since comrade Rohana's extra-judicial execution in November 1989, comrade Amarasinghe was the only politburo member to survive the UNP's extermination campaign against the JVP.

According to my information, Henry Wickramasinghe had arranged comrade Amarasinghe to be taken to India by boat. Wickramasinghe had also arranged travel visas for his family members to Bombay, and personally accompanied them from Bombay to Kerala so that the Amarasinghe family could remain together.

Forty seven individuals including Wickramasinghe had been held in custody for prolonged periods of time and interrogated. Without the assistance of Wickramasinghe, comrade Amarasinghe would not have survived. Comrade Amarasinghe had been in exile, until he came back to visit the country in the mid-2000s. Yet, after his return from exile, he failed to remember the services Wickramasinghe had rendered.

After the1982 presidential election, comrade Amarasinghe's political line including that of many other JVP leaders changed. The last JVP Central Committee meeting I attended at the former JVP MP Vijitha Ranaweera's home in Vitharandeniya, Tangalle was held solely for the purpose of changing the JVP's policy on the national question, specifically to repudiate the policy of accepting the right to self-determination.

Comrade Amarasinghe was one of the top proponents of this repudiation campaign. It was this decision at the Central Committee which led me to finally resign from the JVP. Since I left the JVP, I had several accidental encounters with comrade Amarasinghe at bus halts or medical centres.

During my first visit to Sri Lanka, probably in 1994, I wanted to meet the JVP leadership to discuss the political situation in the country. When I contacted comrade Tilvin Silva, I was informed that they had to contact comrade Amarasinghe in London to get permission for such a discussion. I was waiting for this opportunity, but later came to know that he did not give permission. I was given that opportunity years later during another visit to the country. I met comrade Tilvin Silva and Wimal Weerawansa. Our points of view were so far apart on certain issues including the national question, and we had to agree to disagree.

In 2002, when comrade Amarasinghe returned permanently, I was also visiting the country. I listened to his speech at Hyde Park, where he pledged to send 50,000 JVP cadres to the North East battlefront to fight with the government forces, against Tamil militants. I have been vehemently critical of comrade Amarasinghe's extremely nationalist and collaborative politics. Under his leadership, the JVP formed a coalition with the SLFP, thus defeating the purpose for which the JVP was built in the 1960s, against the betrayal of the Left movement by the leaders of the LSSP, the CP and the MEP at the altar of capitalism.

His recent departure from the JVP leadership appears to confirm his close association with right wing nationalistic politics.

It is sad to recall his recent political behaviour which had been much more erratic than what it used to be. He joined the ranks of the ultra-nationalists, thus betraying the very ideals of social justice and socialism that gave birth to the JVP.

He was a dedicated JVP activist. He resurrected the JVP that was decimated by political and military annihilation of the then UNP government. He was mainly responsible for re-building and rejuvenating the JVP with the able assistance of many strongly committed and active leaders who had been working at grassroot level.

In my many meetings with him he was always a convivial political companion and I was sad to hear of his passing away. For his commitment and dedication to the cause of social justice over the years, we pay our respects to him. I also wish to take this opportunity to convey our sincere condolences to comrade Amarasinghe's family, relatives and friends.

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