1971 JVP Uprising: Mrs B was the “Only man” in the cabinet

Who co-ordinates operations today? Recall the ’71 JVP uprising

GAMINI GUNAWARDANE (Island)article_image

The speed with which the Police, STF and Armed services swung into action following the explosions, despite their initial failing, is commendable. They seemed to know where to strike no sooner than the green light was given. Within hours, the police visited the most vulnerable spot in Dematagoda, and the three police officers and also the pregnant wife and children of the prime suspect blew themselves into smithereens. Security Forces with STF then raided the right places in Sammanthurai, Kalmunai and Katthankudy with devastating results. All this is good and no doubt that the Forces are in good health and kicking yet, despite the beating they got from the government for being efficient.

But the immediate problem however is, who will monitor and follow this through, to a conclusion? Who co-ordinates all this work and give directions? We do not see outwardly the existence of such an institution in place right now.

With regard to co-ordination and direction, one needs concurrent activity in so many areas from the word ‘go’. (a) Examination of so many deadly items recovered from so many places for investigation and intelligence reconstruction purposes. (b) Case preparation and prosecution. (c) Interrogation of so many suspects arrested, and following up on what they reveal and connect the dots (d) matters of custody and relations with Prisons Department. (e) Sifting and co-ordination of exchange of information among intelligence and investigation people, to piece together for the whole picture to emerge. (f) Relations with foreign intelligence and enforcement agencies. (g) Need to trace the financial sources of the Terrorists, and many more.

There is also the need to co-ordinate with the AG’s Department and Justice Ministry, the need for new laws in terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001 as pointed out by Neville Ladduwahetty in his article in ‘The Island’ of 3/5. The need to take immediate strategic action regarding Sharia Law, and the Sharia University; and correct many other political blunders done for short term political gains. What are the long term political decisions to be made now, while things are hot and before the sense of urgency is lost with time? There are so many other things to do; the list is too long to be given here.

If we are keen to learn from history, we have a fine model to look at; in the way the then government handled efficiently the crisis that arose from the 1971 JVP Insurgency, which was totally a new experience then. When the crisis hit the ceiling when JVP struck on the night of 5th April ’71 the big political guns went into hiding. One couldn’t be surprised as they did not know what had hit them, in those peaceful albeit some post-election violence. It was unprecedented. The Opposition UNP got to a side, did not obstruct and engage in the blame game. Only two people stood fast, like the rock of Gibraltar. That was Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike and her cocky young nephew Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the brilliant lawyer and Minister of Justice, finest speaker in Parliament, disliked by all. It is said that on the night of the 5th it was Mrs. B herself who served coffee to the top officials who manned ‘Ops Room’ which was hastily set up at the Temple Trees. No wonder that Sir John described her cynically as “the only man in the Cabinet!”

They immediately re-called IGP Stanley Senanayake who had gone to England and replaced the acting IGP Leel Gunasekera, a Civil Servant whom they had earlier appointed, in their euphoria after the 2/3 victory at the recent election. They scrapped the Janatha Committees that they had appointed to oversee the top administration, following their romantic escapade with socialism.

Mrs. B. immediately brought in as Additional Secy. Defence, a totally new idea, Mr. S.A. Dissanayake, Rtd. IGP. He had helped them in the ’62 Coup case, again an unprecedented investigation, as DIG CID where his brother was the 1st accused. Mr. Tyrell Gunatilleke, the then Director CID described to me the following discussion that took place between the top two immediately thereafter.

Mrs. B.: ‘Jingle’ who else do you need on board?

S.A.D.: Eleric Abeygunawardane as Additional. (The brilliant IGP who had retired immediately after the election).

Mrs. B.: Will he come?

SAD. : Madam, if you personally talk to him, he might.

She did. And he came in. (Note here the respect with which they treated the Police top brass then.)

Mr. Abeygunawardena set up his office in a Government Bungalow in either Wijerama Mawatha or in Longdon Place, my memory is not clear here, to monitor and direct operations then on. That relieved the IG to restore the police stations which were in shambles after the unprecedented simultaneous attack.

The Police station OICs and ASPs were asked to send their investigation files direct to this office. Under Emergency Regulations, admissions made to ASPs by suspects were made admissible in courts. Mr. Abeygunawardane’s office had a few Senior State Counsels like Ranjith Abeysuriya, Kenneth Seneviratne and some others to prepare cases for prosecution and advise the police officers on further investigations. Thus cases were filed in courts without delay. Mr. A had a few CID and Intelligence officers attached to him, who continued to monitor and direct operations to arrest the balance rebel leaders who were hiding.

India loaned us Gurkha soldiers to guard Katunayake Air Port. On 8th April a full day curfew was declared and a load of ammunition was air lifted here, as we had run short of ammunition! The important thing is all this was done logically and on time.

Then Mrs. B declared a ten day amnesty Thousands surrendered to local DROs and temples. They were all accommodated in detention camps in the closed University campuses, under army volunteer officers. Middle level Public Officers were detailed to ferret out the chaff from the paddy, and the rest were released.

FDB, Minister of Justice then set up a new Court called the Criminal Justice Commission, chaired by three Supreme Court Judges. Rohana Wijeweera and the top leaders numbering 42(?) suspects were charged here and convicted. It was called the ‘Maha naduwa’.

Parallely, we in the CID were asked to probe whether and how the JVP was funded.

Mrs. B also had a long term strategy. She declared that we were sitting on a ‘powder keg’, and proceeded to take several radical steps. She brought in the unpopular Land Reforms Act, Nationalization of Tea, Rubber estates, Oil companies, Insurance trade, import & export trade and so many which was thought socialist reforms, to take the sails off the JVP thinking.

Of course there were abuses. She got another arm of the CID to investigate such cases, and the Kataragama Beauty Queen case was the well-known conviction obtained against an Army volunteer Captain and a Sergeant.

When the Parliament finally met, many MPs mainly government MPs, brought in many allegations of abuse against the police. Mrs. B dismissed them with the following words: “If not for the police, none of you will be here talking ill of them.”

Mr. J.R. Jayewardene, when he came to power had the JVP convicts released from prison on the grounds that CJC was bad in law. He had the return 20 years later.

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