By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
The Aragalaya on Galle Face drew incredible support largely because of its peacefulness and cosmopolitan support. Perhaps it was the largest public rally since Independence, Many professional commentators expressed the view that since it lacked “political” Leadership, it was doomed to fail. But was it not the very message that the placards and slogans proclaimed? They demanded “System change” well beyond cosmetics and shuffling of the same old discredited pack.
The “Gota go home” “Naaki Mynah” and “Kaputu Kaak, Kaak” was merely the expression of acute disgust and frustration with the Rajapaksa family, which in their opinion, symbolized the evil and venality of the entire cabal of the politically corrupt.
The destruction of their parental monument was symbolic. The Sri Lankan Nation is not a bunch of vandals, they are not easily provoked to desecrate parental monuments. It is a measure of the uncontrollable fury and frustration at the abusive parasitism of an insensitive bunch of nepotistic degenerates. The spontaneous bursting of a blister of revolt against a bunch whose unprincipled exploitation of a hapless people. The corruption by the Rajapaksas and their arrogance was astonishing.
The extent and popularity of the venting of this reality was stunning. Especially in a country where politics is so deeply- rooted, extensive and corrupt. The image of maturity and “political maturity” is a clever myth. On balance, a fair opinion is that we are not discerning enough to see fraud and manipulation. The deliberate cunning which has led to family dynasties dominating governance – of which the Rajapaksa group has been the most nasty, corrupt and oppressive.
In no truly democratic country, can we see such a venomous, exploitative, and enormously mediocre family, reach such pinnacles of “Prosperity and splendor”.
The demand is for radical surgery, not sticking plaster patchwork. The current trend seems to want to revert to the universally maligned and Draconian provisions of the immensely maligned PTA. This is bad at any time, and particularly so at a time when we are being drawn over the coals at the UNHRC in Geneva. In the way the issue, has been handled by us suggests a kind of “Death Wish“. One of the most startling examples of supreme stupidity and inaction relates to how the government handled the revelations of Lord Naseby. One joker was supposed to have stated that the government awaited the “Right Time” to expose it. Gnanakka again?
The placards which “Kick out All 225” gave a clear message. To pretend that it was only a call to reject the obnoxious Rajapaksa brood, is a fallacy. The residue may soon learn otherwise.
Mahatma Gandhi, the symbol of the success of the Satyagraha campaign of peaceful resistance was effective in dislodging the most formidable power of the British Raj. He was assassinated in 1948, barely one year after India gained Independence.
His conviction that mass movements could displace immensely powerful occupier regimes. It was so. This was widely regarded as having much to do with making the British to free India from a period of long bondage. The British made a cardinal error of resorting to suppress the peaceful obstinacy, by unleashing unspeakable atrocities in attempts to suppress an essentially peaceful and popular protest. See any similarity?
The fact is that the effective campaign of the Mahatma began with the “Salt March,” which was simply to lead all Indians, to evaporate in sunlight, a few buckets of seawater, to supply their domestic need. The stranglehold disappeared. The British colonialists, maintained a “monopoly“ or control over this universal ingredient in food (as they did in Ceylon as well). If it chose to throttle and dissent by the ruled, they simply cut of the supply of this commodity.
For a comprehensive account of the evidence of how the occupier British unleashed extreme brutality and robbed India of its resources, one cannot do better than to search The Web, for speeches of Shashi Tharoor on the plunder of India’s wealth.
We were a great beneficiary of Indian Independence, which was secured after a long drawn struggle, we had a great boost for our own Independence, and this should be gratefully borne in mind.
(Even greater, the gift of the teaching – The Dhamma expounded by Siddartha Gautama, The Buddha, which rose to its zenith during the reign of Emperor Asoka the Great.)
The “Aragalaya” was notable on several grounds.
The protest went on for over 100 days. Despite Rain, heat of noon, absence from work. Domestic pressure, risk of catching Covid 19, lack of basic necessities etc., the part played by individual and corporate donors was exemplary,
There were many who expressed doubts that the movement, with no (political).
Leadership, is doomed to fail. Events proved otherwise. But to most, this exclusion of entry or dominance by parties, was a virtue. It was the very point that all political groupings were culpable, but to varying degrees.
Some laxity was shown, after political thugs, let loose by “Temple Trees,” and shamelessly ignored by the Police, as they set about demolishing the shelters and structures built by the demonstrators. Even those who decry vandalism and violence of any kind, could not help but be amused by the sight of the marauders who were shown clutching their sarongs, in the drunken hope that they will not “outrage the modesty” of the jubilant crowd.
This State vandals of the Galle Face shelters and services of the Aragalaya would never have expected the retaliation, firstly, by dumping their transport buses into the Beira Lake. Even those who resolutely oppose violence, could not help being tickled, by the way drunken thugs, who had been tossed, along with their buses, into the Beira, clutching their sarongs in order not to outage the modesty” of an amused public ranged on the banks of the lake.
The range of the persons participating in this protest was amazing. The most moving were the foreigners who joined in with enthusiasm. In a clearly clumsy and irrational move, an attempt was made to “deport“ one active person. This understandably, is being judicially challenged. Some of our citizens abroad, have rallied to join the Aragalaya. Among many, was this lady who had been away from home long enough for her parents and others to look forward to spending as much time as possible together. For this lady to forgo that pleasure in the token even symbolic interest, in support, carries with it a powerful message of youthful commitment to a worthy cause.
(iv) A genuinely youth movement
Not even the most bigoted or prejudiced observer, could deny the important fact that it is a truly youth movement owned and led by the youth. This is the first such movement that has passionately attracted and been owned by the youth.
In order to judge the success or failure of the aragalaya, one has to first recognize what it wished to achieve. First, to get rid of the Cabinet, to banish the PM. This they did. The next was to dislodge the Executive President. This they did, actually leading to the invincible Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country in ignominy. As expected, much is being made of the invasion of the Presidential abode, as an act of vandalism. While the alleged triumphalism was highlighted, not a word has been uttered about the millions in currency notes that the “invaders” found and carefully handed over to the Police. What about the collection of top-end cars found in the garages, by a man who never had to use them, because of a massive contingent of “official vehicles” that were his to marshall. (By the way, what about the suitcase full of some 50,000,000/= that changed hands in a Hotel Car Park?).
Clearly Gotabaya, is not the only rogue ln the galaxy of Presidents who have debased the honour of that position.
So, the “Aragalaya” gets top marks. They have however to realize that the worms may start leaving the woodwork and this has to be prevented. The disgraced Rajapaksa brigade may assemble, to creep into positions offering access to pilferable funds. Ranil Rajapaksa may need to step cautiously. If the ugly allegations of his collusion, with a family greatly contributing to our present state of Bankruptcy, can be assured of an even more severe expression of public disapproval. His long political career is not without blemish. There is no doubt that he will be closely watched. Some of his early decisions are not hopeful.
Cabinet – size and composition
One of the hopes of the Aragalaya was “system change”. With every passing day, the new dispensation seems to be wayward and betraying what was the popular demand. The Cabinet was bloated beyond reason. Several of the discredited and despised politicians are “back in business”. So-called State and Subject Ministers only serve to drain an already desperate budget. There is little evidence of serious thought being given to what the Sirisena era proclaimed as a “Scientific Cabinet.” If this is so, one can only marvel at the success of the disguise.
It has to be remembered that the voting public have been misled before – most recently by their choice of the last President. The dominant consideration was that electing a non-political person to the top post would usher in a non-corrupt, efficient, fair and decent administration. How wrong could they have been. Thievery, profligacy and corruption thrived. Nepotism reined everywhere. The attempts at creating a “family dynasty” continued arrogantly.
Public disgust was resolutely expressed by the “Aragalaya,” and the banishment of an all-powerful President into a world of total rejection. He had barely survived the mid-point of his first term.
What have we got now? The first few weeks have thrown up some frightening prospects of a tyranny. Every action smells of a disaster in the making, Clearly, Mr. Wickremasinghe is a puppet tenant until (it is feared), the hated Rajapaksa dynasty thinks it is opportune to creep into power – complete in thievery, crime and nepotism.
One of the first acts of RR (re-christened Ranil Rajapaksa) was to meet up with the Army top brass. A few hours later was the brutal and unnecessary attack on the Aragalites who had already promised to leave in the morning. This was perhaps one of the ways that RR believed he could display his over-weaning authority and power of The Presidency.
In this, he was possibly dead wrong. Over-kill by those in authority, carries no guarantee of peace or enduring stability. Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe takes pride in his nearly half a century in Parliament and no less than five times as Prime Minister. The downside of this is, that he cannot convincingly claim ignorance of all the unsavoury decisions that previous governments have taken.
In less than one month of his ascendancy, he has taken many actions that are indicative of a man hell bent on revenge and subordination. We may have a little time to see whether it is true or not. The conscience of a people cannot be erased by brutal control. This has been borne out by the way that curfews and road barriers have been ignored. The authorities need to be reminded that excessive use of tear gas may have long-term health hazards. It is likely that the cheapest may also be the most hazardous. One is led to believe that reckless use may be to dispose of outdated stocks, or to encourage the import of more cylinders, with the opportunity for bribes and commissions.
The effectiveness of policing is grounded on respect for the uniform. Thus, even a single uniformed officer could quell a restive crowd of a hundred. If this respect is lost, open physical violence will manifest. Then even a dozen demonstrators can overawe an officer. There is troubling evidence that militant members have resorted to confronting police with violence. Result – open brawls.
It must be remembered that physical authority must be dictated by care and considerations of necessity. It should never be recklessly resorted to in panic or haste.
The effectiveness of control is governed by the mind-set pf both sides. The authorities must remember that an army, used as protection of persons or Institutions, must be just, fair and necessary. At the present juncture, when the parents or wives are suffering in long lines to buy a morsel to quench the hunger of their children, soldiers must be under severe strain. Particularly, as they are they being compelled to attack their own people, but are paying with their lives and loyalty for misdeeds in which they are not even remotely responsible. If the forces feel over-taxed, the possibility of resentment leading to disaster, must always be kept in focus. Else, Mutiny is its name.
Unless this fragility is heeded and addressed, disaster may not be far away. In this too, the RR dispensation may not be too far away. Apparently, the RR belief is that a show of resolute thuggery is what is needed. They may be painfully wrong.
This answers my second question, whether resistance is lurking and poised for the kill. Thus my reading is that such fear is real. The major demand of the Aragalaya is that we need a system change. In my view, this is a pressing necessity, constantly ignored by a corrupt system whose main (or only) desire is for the corruptible system to prevail. If only RR’s guile can be combined with ability and wisdom, there may be hope. The prognosis is bad.
Considering the stubborn resistance and unwilling ness to listen and heed the Voice of the people, the future is bleak. If RR and his lapdogs realize that violence begets violence, and continues in the present way, incarcerating dissenters, with scant respect for the Law and even more so, the tenets of common decency, the future is gloomy. What is “lurking” may be larger numbers in readiness and more incensed than before, by the inaction, or lack of sensitivity to the travails of the people. Instead it is a case of New Constitutions, perks and privileges (obscene) while the people suffer. The manipulation for Ministerial posts, party positions, cross overs, coalitions and break-ups are a diet that does not calm a desperate citizenry. The blame too should be shared by the media. Just a glance at the newspaper headlines shows an obsession whether somebody had or did not have lunch with a disgraced fugitive from justice. The only reaction of many, is “So What?”.
President RR comes in with a heavy load of baggage. Among the unsavoury and in some cases, inexcusable departures from propriety. Batalanda, Bond Scam, One-sided Cease fire agreements with the LTTE, the betrayal of the Armies’ Long Range intelligence Group (leading to the murder of some thirty of their members) are only a sample. Can a person win the confidence of locals – leaving aside the international after such an inept record? How can one forget that “Kawda Hora, Kawda Hora, Kawda Hora” episode in Parliament! He seems quite comfortable now in the arms of this one time “Hora”. Thus another uprising is beyond a mere possibility. What form a resurgence would take is anybody’s guess. But the signs are distinctly unfavourable.
If the brutal manner in which the Aragalaya was dismantled is a fore-taste of what is yet to come, it will be deadly. This is not the time for the Government to tinker around. When the cry was for systemic change, mere cosmetics would not be it. Some basic assumptions will need critical re-examination of all the trappings of good governance. This is to question the validity, necessity, and relevance of the current system. This would involve;
- Universal franchise. Are we mature enough to be able to make mature choices?
- The Party system. What purpose does it serve?
- Electoral Units (Constituencies).
- Proportional representation or first past the post.
- Parliament reforms (rationalization of salaries, perks and various allowances).
- Improving standards and services to justify its existence.
- Size of Cabinet. Downsizing with respect to true requirements and not political expediency.
- Powers of recall.
- The Party Whip and confidentiality of voting.
- Abuse of the National List.
This is by no means a complete one and leaves much room for expansion and refinement.
As a passing thought, particularly for the demonstrating youth. Maybe, an unkempt appearance, long hair, undisciplined beard, shabby clothes, body piercings, tattoos and bulky chains and bracelets may be in fashion, they would be “off-putting” as it is for the writer. A well-groomed youngster, would command much support for the cause.
cugan / October 13, 2022
Overall the super mersists of SB minds set has to be change, they carry the “superior ” ,foremost, champions of Buddha, and the guardian …..thinking they are preserving
Rohana’s wife and the children being looked after ,a child Balachandran…..
The farmers frustrated and came to the streets, does any of them cared not at all,the super market shelves are filled,
We Tamils had embargoes not even panadol, they categorised we all Tamils are LTTE,
First thing first cut out the dual citizenship, they had cover ,then be patriotic like Gota.
cugan / October 13, 2022
The “executive and the national list”is so dangerous
We could accuse RW,but imagine if it’s goes to people like Ratwatta, (gone with the pistol in to the prison, thank god he didn’t pull the trigger)
Naman / October 13, 2022
Dr U P,
Your article does NOT recognise the ORIGINAL ARAGALAYA at the Galle Face Freen by the Tamil Politicians in 1950s. Had the GoSL at that time attended to the Tamil Politicians CONCERNS, we would NOT be in all sorts of CRISES (economic social political).
SJ / October 13, 2022
There were serious discussions and an outcome that was buried alive thanks to the UNP, Sinhala extremists and even the insensitive conduct of the FP that enabled some of it.
davidthegood / October 13, 2022
Dr.U.P, I agree absolutely with your last paragraph that youth must be presentable. Help may be needed for haircuts. But the most important issue is that Prez. must negotiate with aragalaya without giving into evil family talk, if he is to survive the next outburst with police killing fields and a blood bath of nation. We citizens too have a right to live peacefully in our nation regardless of political greedy robbing of national wealth.
RBH59 / October 13, 2022
Aragalaya Failed? Lurking? Likely To Come Back? More Violently?
Ranil system on repelling peaceful protesters is aggravating argalaya and the tax system having loosing job, (Taxation is looked as theft Paying for the stolen money ). And to destroy people’s power purposefulness to keep his presidency, now it is becoming motion on nonviolence requires more militancy than violence. He cannot make a new Government as he proposed because Phottuwa voted for him.
Gus / October 13, 2022
RW the SATRAP of the RAKSHAPAKSES is concerned about SL children being involved in anti SL government protests BUT NOT concerned that 50 percent of SL Children are starving or are suffering malnutrition. This is the sort of bullshit approach that will result in the inevitable and eventual SL failed state!
Naman / October 13, 2022
Suppression of Aragalaya by Ranil Rajapaksas should cease asap. Children too need to see hear and talk about how the crooked politicians and businessmen have stollen national wealth and wasted tax payers money on ‘white elephant’ projects. Police should not obstruct/ attack the peaceful protesters. They should be guardians of the people and should go after the crooked.
Ashan / October 13, 2022
Although Aragalaya started off with a big bang, it eventually fizzled out, without achieving very much.
The crime family is gone from power, but have they really?
The Goat man is back and comfortable in the country, and NONE of them have been held accountable for their corruption and crimes, and those off shore accounts, and properties around the world, are still in their possession. The continue to live their lives of luxury with their ill gotten gains.
The many times failed Ranil is back in power, and we are back to square one, still in the same rut.
Raj-UK / October 13, 2022
Aragalaya was a success, an indication of a united front of all citizens, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, until RW appeared in the 11th hour to save the Rajapakse clan. The opportunity was a god send to a man whose political career was down the drain. His political opponents, led by the Rajapakse PPP, who jeered & insulted him, now became his allies, his only survival card, & how well he adapted to Rajapakse politics overnight. The man who supported the Aragalaya now turned tables, & viciously at that. RW may have achieved his dream thanks to the Rajapakses but he made a deal with the devil & sold his soul. Like all SL politicians, RW has no integrity or honour, just self serving, & probably dumb as well to become the organ grinder’s monkey.
Raj-UK / October 13, 2022
Rajapakses are back in the game, the same corrupt punks & yobs are in Parliament & the country continues on a hand to mouth existence begging from ‘friendly’ nations. In the eyes of the world, SL continues as another corrupt failed state, so what aid & foreign investment can we expect? We talk of an IMF recovery but refeuse to accept their conditions, & at an age of ‘sustainable’ tourism & preservation of ecology & environment, what can SL offer more than other tourist destinations? In short, what is the strategy for growth?
Obviously, SL can’t go on aimlessly like this. As the average people become more desperate, the next wave of the aragalaya will not be peaceful, especially if clamped down viciously by the military & govt. goons. I don’t condone violence & against capital punishment but if a French style revolution with guillotines et al (mass lynching at Galleface green? ) is to happen, I won’t feel sorry for any of the 225 or so current punks & all their cronies who have plundered the country. The suffering of average citizens cannot go unpunished.
Pon Lanka / October 17, 2022
It is not the fault of Aragalaya; many people are still in shock at how their voted leaders Mahinda, Sirisena, and Ranil have been cheating them, not only defrauding the public funds and using their powers and status to become Bulliners, while the citizens facing shortages in everything, they need to live at least a subsistence level of living. This pathetic situation has now grown to demonstrate openly against the Mahinda family at the Nawalapitiya Town demonstration, shouting at Mahina” Hora, Hora” or a thief and cheater in front of the police battalion, helplessly watching the protesters.