By Lionel Bopage
Prior to becoming the General Secretary and afterwards until I left the party, it was mainly I, who dealt with the Police and the government regarding the state’s repressive actions against the party. Of the Politburo members, comrades Rohana, Gamanayaka and S D conducted party activities in the open. As comrade Rohana was the main target of threats from the state and outside, he often did not spend much time at the party head-office. Nevertheless, I cannot offer any further insight than to guess the emotional condition under which comrade Rohana would have left Colombo without discussing his decision to go underground with the General Secretary of the party who remained in the open or even without informing him of that decision.
The factors that would have led to such an emotional condition in the party leadership could be summarised as follows: at a Politburo meeting held in June 1983, comrades Rohana and Gamanayaka took a position of rejecting the right to self-determination regarding the national question. I pointed out that the Politburo does not have the right to change party policies and informed them that if they were to do so, I would immediately resign from all the responsibilities and the membership of the party. The Politburo was aware that this political issue would lead to a decisive split within the party. The members of the Politburo, particularly comrade Gamanayaka, requested me not to leave the party and agreed to take a decision on the issue after discussing it at a full plenary session of the Central Committee. Following this, a full plenary session of the Central Committee was suddenly called in July 83 at comrade Vijitha Ranaweera's residence in Witharandeniya.
At that meeting comrade Rohana moved a resolution to reject the right to self-determination, the accepted party policy until then. Comrade Amarasinghe seconded that motion. I argued that accepting the right to self-determination was the correct policy and that Marxist-Leninists have recognized and continue to recognise that right as a democratic right to be won under a bourgeois democratic rule. I reasoned out that our responsibility was to convince the left-wing Tamil groups of the value of fighting for socialism rather than a separate state, building a broader movement working with progressive groups country-wide.
At that Central Committee session, Comrade A D P Rathnayaka, a member of the Politburo at the time and still living in Sri Lanka, also spoke against comrade Rohana’s motion. Despite our urging, the Central Committee almost unanimously supported comrade Rohana’s resolution. After the Presidential Election in 1982, certain discussions of a clandestine nature started taking place within the party about the issue of right to self-determination. To bring those discussions into the open, we organised a massive symposium in December 1982 at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo. Comrade Rohana spoke about the prevailing political situation and comrade Gamanayaka about the attacks on the working class. I spoke about the national question and the right to self-determination. Afterwards we gave an opportunity for a long question and answer session. However, no one asked any questions that rejected the right to self-determination.
It was surprising that most of the leaders of the Central Committee, who had previously accepted and advocated on public stage the right to self-determination as a bourgeois democratic right, remained entirely silent and changed their position in an instant. I don’t know whether it was the blind devotion or a ‘conversion’ that made them do so. However, with that I decided to resign from the party but made up my mind not to do so immediately. Before I left the party, I had a duty by the party membership to clarify the differences I had developed with the party leadership. Yet, in the wake of the July 83 pogrom launched with government’s intervention and then our detention, all that became impossible to achieve.