By Ameer Ali –
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s plot to end the aragalaya at Galle Face Green with violence had boomeranged and set ablaze the entire country. He knew already how unpopular he had become when he visited Anuradhapura and got booed by his once supporters. After that his base instincts must have prompted him to stage a final showdown before departing from the political scene. He therefore invited or rather hired a crowd of supporters among whom were drunken men and goondas to listen to his bravado speech in front of the Temple Trees before allowing them perhaps on prior arrangement with police to disappear in batches and march towards the targeted venue at the Galle Face Green. What happened thereafter is now public knowledge.
There were two aspects in that bloody episode which are worrying. One was the failure of police officers to prevent the violence from happening. It should have been evident to any normal individual, let alone the police, who watched the developments in Temple Trees that something sinister and violent was about to happen. Kollupittiya police station is at the midpoint between Temple Trees and Galle Face and when the crowd walked in front of that station police should have stopped them, but they didn’t. How does one explain this inaction except to conclude that they were under orders from top not to stop MR’s hired guests? Anyhow this is not something strange, because even in the past, and in every communal riot that broke out against minorities the police had remained bystanders. This is part of the country’s political culture and system, which the new generation wants to change.
The second aspect was an equally disappointing one. It is the damage done to the heart winning image of peaceful protest demonstrated by aragalaya over the last four weeks or so. It won international admiration as an exemplar of peaceful protest. The behaviour of some of the defenders to pay back the attackers with the same coin had tarnished that image. Tisaranee Gunasekara’s “The End” captures this sentiment quite eloquently.
However, while the 225 parliamentarians are quibbling inconclusively to find a break through to the current impasse, events outside the parliament had sent a clear message that the entire regime with its president must quit. “Gota-Go-Home” and “No 225” are simple and very clear in their meanings. The resignation of MR and his cabinet, and measures to form an all-party interim government should ultimately end in the removal of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Without his resignation or removal aragalaya’s mission will not be complete. The systemic change that it demands politically as well as economically is not possible by keeping one of the Rajapaksas at the helm.
It appears that even the saffron brigade would like to have him continue as President, because they see in him the embodiment of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. The brigade still fails to realize that it is this ruinous philosophy that provided a safety valve to cover all the misdeeds committed by ruling regimes since 1948. Rajapaksa regime topped the record. While pretending to protect Buddhist Sasana it systematically bankrupted the economy through reckless mismanagement. What happened to the virtuosity that supposed to have been injected by the saffron brigade to bring splendour and prosperity? As that great scholar monk Walpola Rahula stated in his Sathyodaya, sasana is protected not by any government or the sangha but by the ordinary believers in Buddhism through their sincere adherence to the principles of Buddha’s teachings. The new generation wants to keep members of the sangha away from playing political games.
The opposition parties are playing a dangerous game by delaying an interim solution to the political stalemate. No one knows what negotiation is taking place between GR and the military. If the impasse continues one may witness a Myanmar type solution engineered by GR, which would certainly worsen the economic situation. As soon as GR came to power he purposely and strategically planted the military in positions of civil administration. Having tasted some control over that sector already total control over it would not be a problem if an opportunity arises. GR may provide that opportunity if he were to remain while opposition parties continue their quibbles. It is a dangerous game they are playing. Sooner GR goes better would be the environment for economic remedy.
*Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Western Australia