By Kumar David –
The cockup of transport arrangements and of curfew “relaxation” on Monday 11 May could have cost Gotabaya Rajapaksa the expected election walkover. Exasperation has not come to the point where those who voted for him last time will all switch to Sajith or Ranil – a waste of time – but what I hearing in the last three days from people at the grassroots is, “api chende dena yanne naha; mahataya balanna, godak kattya me sare chande denne natha”. (We won’t go to vote; a lot of people won’t vote this time). The grassroots in Colombo and Gampaha Districts and perhaps beyond are fed up with the way the administration has buggered things up.
This is contra common sense one might think, given that the curve has flattened and the virus brought pretty much under control. But I am prepared to bet a bottle of the old stuff that the rate of abstention in the next election will be the highest since independence. Apart from not wanting to be exposed in public places, a lot of people who voted for Gota last time are now demotivated. Racists and rascals in yellow robes won’t find a ready response to chants of “Burn the Humbayas and tame the Demalas”. Gota’s poropaya bunch will probably win, but the margin will not be large.
There are good reasons why ‘the lower orders’ are cheesed off; they bear the brunt and pain of lockdown and curfew. Here is what they say; I have plenty of contacts.
1. They said we could go to work but we were kicked off trains. We have to produce a letter from our employer and have it registered at the cop-shop. To get a letter we have to get to the workplace in the first place!! Which comes first, the bloody blindfolded chicken or the rotten egg?
2. They said there would be busses for us to go to work. What buses? Where? We are prevented from walking and told to come in our own vehicles (BMWs and Pajeros?) to bus starting points. Buses would be to central locations from where vehicles (Jaguars and Bentleys?) would convey us to our vadapola.
3. I am daily-paid (davas kuli). From which mother’s son (actual terminology unprintable) am I to get a ****** (unprintable) letter?
4. Oh yes, sons of prostitute big shots in government, company types in ties and fancy ladies, every one of you has a permit (that’s true I have checked around). You drive around and in and out. It’s us small yakos who are cooped down, harassed by the police and threated with arrest and a fine (dhada gahanavalu). No money to feed kids, now pay a fine!
People at grassroots are now more afraid of the police than the corona – what a pass it has come to. The poor are denied their tipple as well. A pluperfect “booruwa” in Excise named Gompy Kumarasinghe issued a statement: “Liquor shops were opened when curfew was relaxed, there were huge crowds. So, we decided to close them down again!” God forgot to give this donkey a brain? What the incident proves is that shops have to be open for the longest possible hours to meet market demand; asses draw the opposite conclusion.
The lockdown imposed by Gota is illegal. To be lawful it has to be Gazetted or issued under emergency law and brought before parliament. Instead he is using the pandemic to seize power. He has dismissed calls to recall parliament and is even undermining Mahinda & Sons Inc. Corona in a chance to push everybody aside and rule without heed to parliament, cabinet or public. He imposes curfew upon curfew without regard to hardships of the poorest; day-wage earners and workers. Gota is tied to the military and has a reputation for ruthlessness. His despotic inclinations reappeared with the outbreak of the pandemic. Hand in hand with the military he has used presidential decrees to arrogate unconstitutional power to himself.
Little anti-Gota discourse is allowed. The media is a vehicle for government propaganda; the authorities treat the public like mushrooms (‘keep them in the dark and feed them shit’). Chairperson of the HRCSL, Deepika Udagama told the Actg. IGP that arresting people for criticising officials and policies, violates the constitution. As of 17th April, 17 people had been arrested for posting “malicious content” on social media. It is no surprise that the group called the Alliance of Independent Professionals prefers to remain anonymous. At the end its fourth report there is a link to three previous reports which are also worth reading. I cannot vouch for the group, but the reports are sufficiently interesting to warrant attention. You can access the fourth report here.