A Janatha Mithuro movement
was a time I was associated with an organization called the National
Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT). It was an agitational front that grew
out of or was a new avatar of a group that called itself Janatha Mithuro,
formed in the early nineties and led principally by Patali Champika
Ranawaka and Ven Atureliye Rathana Thera. The members were mostly young
graduates and undergraduates who took issues with the Premadasa
Government as well as the fascist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
There were others too, like M D Daniel, a long standing Maoist and a
campaigner for the rights of farmers and his twin-like comrade-at-arms,
Sunny who was involved in an attack on the US Embassy in 1971, along
with G I D Dharmasekera (later ‘Anagarika’) or so the legend goes. The
Janatha Mithuro (JM) were interested in green socialism and advocated a
different paradigm of development which factored in different methods of
assigning value to things.
The JM naturally attracted the ire of the fascist JVP and the
nineties saw a fight for control of the Universities between the two
groups. The JVP got the IUSF but lost control of Colombo University,
Moratuwa and the Science Faculty of Kelaniya Campus, not necessarily to
the JM but to anti-JVP groups in which the JM had a big say. The JM
played a key role in the all-important Southern Provincial Council
Election in 1993 which marked the beginning of the end of 17 years of
UNP rule and helped propel Chandrika Kumaratunga to power. Then
on-the-ground aspect of that campaign was dominated by the JM. I still
remember a meeting that took place in Rattanapitiya at my schoolmate
Bandula Chandrasekera’s house just after the People’s Alliance won the
1994 Election. Champika said simply, ‘A lot of people who walked with us
will find this win enough of a consolation to give them a sense of
achievement; we must expect a drop in support.’ It was downhill from
that point onwards.
The NMAT championed a cause that had few takers. They echoed the
sentiments that Dr Nalin De Silva had articulated for almost a decade:
the LTTE can and must be defeated militarily. The NMAT had a role to
play in whipping up support for this ideological position. Naturally,
they were labeled ‘war-mongers’, ‘racists’ and other such names by those
who wanted to legitimate the LTTE and break up the country. Those who
after the defeat of the LTTE are secretly heaving sighs of relief will
not, significantly, whisper a word of thanks to the likes of Dr Nalin De
Silva or Champika Ranawaka, one notes.
The NMAT got ‘derailed’, I believe, when its leaders got into
electoral politics, first with the Sihala Urumaya and later the Jathika
Hela Urumaya. The NMAT was transformed into a house for the shock-troops
of those political entities. After the unprecedented success of the JHU
in 2004, the NMAT was left orphaned and also homeless. It was at this
point that the NMAT was taken over by a few individuals who insisted
that the organization will (in the words of its principal ideologue,
Anuruddha Pradeep) be like a Petrol Shed (one-item shop: countering of
terrorism) and not a supermarket (taking on issues of identity,
religion, injustice etc). The NMAT was effective because it knew its
limitations. All that needed to be done was to put up a well-designed
poster in Colombo and the JVP (believing that the NMAT was an arm of its
key enemies, the JHU and Champika Ranawaka) would play with the same
slogan and put up a poster all over the country, obliterating the NMAT
signature. The NMAT wanted message taken and got the JVP to do it.
The NMAT also put out many publications which were later used to
counter LTTE propaganda abroad. Then there were also the occasional
demonstrations. Small crowd, yes, but compensated by cohesion, focus and
dressing. Thus was created the conditions for a paradigm shift in terms
of how to deal with the LTTE.
By the end of 2008, the NMAT went out of circulation, so to say.
Someone asked me what had happened and I remember responding: ‘there was
a leadership change’. ‘Who?’ was the follow-up query. ‘Gota’ was the
answer. The work was done.
Last night (November 20, 2010), there was a gathering (at short
notice) of the first set of Janatha Mithuras to bid farewell to
Karunaratne Paranavithana, newly appointed Consul General to Toronto. At
the time the first discussions pertaining to forming a political party
were held (sometime in 1990), Parane was a first year student at Colombo
University. It was a small gathering but a lively one. Talk of old
times, nostalgia, old jokes, heated debate about current realities made
food unnecessary (although we did knock back some rice). Someone asked
about NMAT and someone answered, ‘It was dissolved at the Nugegoda Bo
Tree’. I can’t remember if the date of dissolving was mentioned.
Someone else chipped in ‘Janatha Mithuro was dissolved at the Fort
Railway Station; that’s what the JVP said at the time’. We laughed. I
quipped, ‘The JVP was dissolved in Parliament’. More laughter.
Karunaratne Paranavithana, Charitha Herath, Anura Weerasekera, Lakshitha
Jayawardena, Bandula Chandrasekera, Priyantha Pathirana and Anuruddha
Pradeep were each in their own way effective political activists,
excellent orators, intellectuals in their own right and they all
contributed to making this country what it is today. None of us are
perfect; all of us are flawed and there are probably thousands who
believe we set the clock back even as millions identify with and cheer
the outcomes we all helped produce by doing our little bit and a lot
more than that too at time.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to associate these
people and look forward to such another gathering years from now when we
are younger than we are now, less wise and more free to think and love.
Just to compare notes, make a joke and laugh until our lungs give out.