By Kumar David –
Not a flop (about 75,000), but it was fun and frolic not a political avowal; Deciphering the Jana Bala Demo (JBD)
After a tamasha comes the time of reckoning and by this I mean not the day of judgement, but as an accountant would reckon, the balance sheet – the profit, the loss and the balance. First on the plus side, it was big, not massive but not a flop either. The organisers promised 200,000 and ferried in about 75,000 – you think a bit more? Ok I won’t quarrel. My estimate relies on aerial photos on the web and in the newspapers. If I spent an hour dividing photos into 1cmx1cm counting squares I could make a more accurate estimate, but who cares? The point is that though only a third of the promise materialised it is comparable to Wembley Stadium on Cup Final Day (90,000); not bad. Second on the plus side is that the revellers had a good time. Like the Royal-Thomian of old, two or three sakkili bands, folks dancing in the streets, merrymaking and phoney slogan shouting. The organisers proved that they have access to numbers and can induce the faithful with offers of transport and the promise of a good time to visit the capital city and enjoy a day out. Gastronomic delights, like rice and curry packets and in the case of the men, tots of liverish if anti-social libations of the ‘old-stuff’ to wash it all down with were on generous offer.
Is this damning with faint praises? No; not at all. Yahapalana cannot repeat this feat on any comparable scale. It’s no secret that this is all about girding up to the next election cycle. Then the all-important question is ‘who do you despise less’. From the vantage of elections; the planners displayed another upside. They had access to boodles of cash and cash makes the electoral cow moo. February 10 showed that the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate was fed up with incompetence in bringing rogues to justice, Sirisena fifth-column inspired infighting, and two years of economic stagnation. “You have had two years and bungled. Enough is enough!” the electorate said. The query on every tongue was did the Jana Bala Demonstration (JBD) affirm that this trend has gained strength. I make no secret of my greater distaste for the despotic Rajapaksa power centre than the incompetent Ranil-UNP outfit, but believe me I am scientist enough to distinguish between what I like and an objective assessment. For reasons I will now outline I doubt that the ‘Rajapaksa cause’ has consolidated its advantage or made visible progress in the months since February.
It has been reported that Mahinda Rajapaksa declared during run up preparations for JBD that his forces would converge on Colombo, make the country ungovernable and had declared: “We will surround the capital, camp in the city and stay put until this government is evicted.” But mass power to disrupt governance did not materialise, instead it was a carnival of fun and frolic. Those who recall May Day rallies of yore, or old enough to remember the August 1953 Hartal will recall how deadly serious the mood, how thoroughly demonstrators grasped the matters in conflict and above all the timbre of leadership – Hyperion to a Styr. Simply put, JBD was not a gathering of conscious and motivated citizens who understood the issues around which they had supposedly mobilised.
What were the supposed issues? Here is how Colombo Telegraph summarised it: “The protest, organised by the Youth Wing of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna led by Namal Rajapaksa, agitated against the proposed ‘separatist constitution’, selling national assets, protecting the accused in the Central Bank bond scam, exacting political revenge, attacks on the Buddhist clergy, imprisonment of ‘war heroes’ and imposition of new taxes. It drew crowds from all parts of the country”. OK there is one point here that has merit; the government is dragging its feet over the bond scam. The reason is that the actual beneficiary (via the said ‘accused’) is the current incumbent and then candidate in the 2008 presidential tussle. It is also correct that value added tax has gone up but it is too complicated to undertake an assessment of the government’s failed economic strategy here. That will have to await a fuller critique, best done after 2018 all-year economic data become available. Watch this space!
Exacting “political revenge” is code for indicting, prosecuting and imprisoning Rajapaksa era rogues and murderers; this is exactly what this government has failed to do. And there is no reason to believe that these impotent UNP leaders will at this late stage sprout scrota and grow guts to drag villains off to court and lockup. What people should be demonstrating against is the incapacity to seek “revenge” on those who pillaged the nation, raped, abducted and murdered during the Rajapaksa decade. President Sirisena according to reports is now making himself an obstruction to justice. Folks in the rally know all this but their attitude is “Our lot are only slightly worse scoundrels than the other lot” – ung okoma horu.
Now to the most important of the opposition’s rallying cries, distributed in three points in the Colombo Telegraph summary. Let’s pull them together. The ‘separatist constitution’; attacks on the Buddhist clergy; imprisonment of ‘war heroes’. The purpose of this portfolio of slogans is unmistakable, it is to incite racial tension, fall back on wells of deep chauvinism and provoke anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim sentiments in the bleaker psyche of susceptible citizens. This wicked agenda did not resonate with on-lookers nor did it enthuse the marchers themselves. Bahu claims the racist cry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnQryg2hKfw – in Sinhala) did not echo in the streets and was not taken up by the public. My other sources agree. So, is chauvinist incitement beginning to fall flat? I hope so, but I am not reassured. But he is right on another point: Salvation for this government lies in enacting the new constitution. He is, however, far more confident than I am of the ability of Ranil and the UNP to get anything important done in the next two years.
Then there is the Namal factor; or rather the war of the Rajapaksas which was evident in the jamboree. Basil seems to have been left on the side-lines. A high-profile attendee, Gota, has previously been touted as the opposition’s presidential candidate; but there’s a hitch! Big Brother himself rode in (not on a piebald stallion but standing in a grey-green jeep) charming, resplendent in white, a twinkle in his eye and a smile that does credit to his dentist. Reading the leaves, it seems the opposition has swallowed Nihal Jayawickrema’s shifty story hook line and sinker and is set to petition the Courts in earnest seeking a third innings for Big Brother.
If GL and his bunch of black cloaked dimwits proceed along these lines one possibility is that the government may find reasons to drag the match on for as long as possible in order to compound uncertainty in the SLPP. The worst would not be the uncertainty of candidature but the multiplication of infighting in the ranks of the hopefuls. Will Court interventions flop? Will the Courts play along with parliamentary (with Mr Speaker’s connivance) or government procrastination? Will Gota abandon the Stars & Stripes, if so how long can he delay jumping flagship America? The leading role given to Namal, the side-lining of Basil and the de-facto side-lining of Gota (that else is the message of Big Brother striding into JBD to the rapturous adoration of the flock) surely implies that the game plan is as follows: Another innings or two for Big Brother and thereafter the succession to pass directly to Eldest Son. Do you foresee another civil-war, this time inside the Rajapaksa wildlife park?
Two of the Dead-Left’s aging helmsmen showed their faces while their parties lie in tatters. Greed for one final round of Cabinet perks springs hope eternal in their asthmatic breasts. The Dead-Left is a cranky existential nonentity, but in the context of this pandemonium it has taken to promoting its own Quixotic challenger. But every SLPP and JO body I have quizzed declares that brother Chamal has as much chance as a three-legged donkey at the Ascot Derby.
There is however one useful thing Dead-Left leaders can do prior to their long overdue final public appearance in the obituary columns. They can campaign within the Joint Opposition in favour of the new constitution. It is no secret that Dead-Left leaders and cadres (I am in contact with dozens) know full well that the term ‘separatist constitution’ is racist rubbish. They know that many so-called ‘war heroes’ are war criminals. As for justice-obstructing, novice-monk sodomising, late dining men draped in saffron robes, sometimes referred to as clergy, every soul in the Dead-Left despises them. The problem is that most cadres and two leaders believe that they must turn a blind eye for the sake of playing along with the Rajapaksas. But with their mortal souls in exit mode in the departure lounge, if they were to take a stand against chauvinism inside the Opposition at least the last page on their copybooks will not be blotched and besmirched.
Let me sign off by saying that the JBD challenge fell flat; it was game and set (only) to Yahapalana. But no, not yet match! There is time more; but Yahapalana shows no inclination towards reincarnation, the constitution seems a non-starter. So, what do we have? A championship match where both contenders wrestle with one hand tied behind their back and thier mouths stuffed with crap. Consequently, the outcome of the parliamentary elections in 2020 is far from certain; the presidency is floored by uncertainty. Hmm time for a short nap you might say.