By Shreen Saroor –
Ranil in his first interview as the new PM said he will protect the Gotagogama and the army commander Shavendra said if they are not violent they can stay and continue the protests. All this while the Rajapaksa government tried its level best to dismantle it. They used various strategies and their last one backfired to the extent that they had to go hiding and safety to a place where many of their avowed opponents and Tamil youth were allegedly tortured and made to disappear. One of such victims’ wife said “I hope they choke and die the way my husband was suffocated and killed on their order”.
Rajapakse went into bunkers the week exactly after 13 years when many who were taking shelter in bunkers in Vanni, especially the severely injured ones, had been bulldozed and killed in an effort to erase all war crime evidence. May be this is what is called natural justice or karma. Thanks to Aragalaya that made Rajapaksas the most unwanted family and caused some of their associates to be on the run, even seeking asylum in countries which they claimed, not so long ago, were conspiring and supporting to divide Sri Lanka.
On the night Ranil Wickremesighe was appointed as the premier, the GotaGoGama (GGG) youth continued with the same passion to chant ‘Gota go home’ and ‘no deal politics’ which has been their consistent and primary demand. That and the recent violence both instigated and vigilante against government politicians, made Sajith or Anura or Sarath Fonseka to refuse to accept the offer given by the country’s most undesired person unless based on principles and conditions that resonated with the demands of GGG. But when negotiations were going on why on earth Ranil accept it instantly? Is he the only politician capable of fixing the economic crisis and bringing in the IMF intervention quickly or is he the most desired by the international community? Or he believes in his skill of breaking the resilience of Aragalaya not by force or violence but by dismantling it silently. Rajapaksas know Ranil’s skill of dividing and striking. He did this with the most feared and strongly united LTTE which pursued its objectives with single-mindedness under one leadership. Ranil used the latent grievance of the eastern section of the LTTE and proactively pitched it to break the unity. That resulted in the fall of LTTE. Ranil later became the one and only messiah even to some Tamil representatives, to deliver accountability and justice after Rajapaksas finished off the war so brutally and became maligned internationally. Even the Muslims believed that he would protect them from Rajapaksas’ Islamophobic rhetoric but only to be meted out the worst possible attacks on them during the claimed Yahapalanaya government.
The youth involved in Aragalaya withstood Rajapaksa machinations due to their steadfast belief and committed pursuit of a better Sri Lanka. Aragalaya gained ground in different parts of the country where the struggles varied. Aragalaya made it possible without any violence whatsoever for the Rajapaksas from the strength of two-thirds in Parliament to less than a simple majority and to the brink of collapse. Aragalaya which united different struggles and instilled hope for this country is under severe scrutiny by the people who support it after that May 9th chaos. It is in this backdrop Ranil is the preferred choice and a willing accomplice who is assigned the vital task of sending the youth, which the Rajapaksas could not, to a deep dark hole. The sheer rush to appoint a PM and that too a man who is completely rejected by his own constituency demonstrates how Gota and the rest of the Rajapakse clan have moved their card to weaken the youth movement to preserve their hold on power. Ranil by taking the premiership has, in a single stroke, defied the Aragalaya’s principal demand of Gota go home and dented the opposition’s united stance in support of it.
When the protestors at Mirihana were attacked by the government, it claimed that the protestors were extremists (Islamic). Some who stood in solidarity with the Aragalaya and visited on and off are currently trying to draw a parallel in debating whether those at the Aragalaya too are extremists (Sinhalese, this time!)! This is a superficial and escapist claim.
There are mixed messages given by different groups who were part of the peaceful struggle on social media as well. As it stands today, the dedicated efforts by many to place on the table issues that the people in the outlying regions so poignantly face are not being acknowledged. The 8-point proposal I saw and the manner in which it was delivered does not resonate with what they had tried hard in the month-long struggle, some even pleading for Tamil voices and issues of the north and the east people to be raised as part of the Aragalaya. Further, it tends, as well to give the impression that you are now appealing to the newly appointed Prime Minister. For sure he will love this dilution and retraction. Those in the Aragalaya please do not give into it. You all are the icons of society and the catalyst and the instrument of the systemic political change that we all have for long been yearning for. Galle-face symbolised the hope of that, and the vibe it generated spread far and wide irrespective of different struggles.
Any seeming deviation from your original principles and goals which we shared and have held fast to would only convey a perverse message, that is when things we fight against become fait accompli, we just endorse them and thereby compromise on our principles and goals. If this approach is adopted, as things move on, we would even come to disappointingly recognise that the status is acceptable. We are not for status quo, and we are not for the same set of persons who have brought untold misery upon our people and our country.
Regions matter. Outlying regions have long neglected issues, some of which remain at the bedrock of the national calamity we are caught in as a whole. It is not only Colombo that elects people’s representatives. What we insist on is an election and a new system to be installed there. 225+1 needs to be held accountable for what happened to this country. For that, you will have to make our voters responsible citizens. You too need to be in the race to be elected representatives. Your nonviolent and anti-racial stands are the need of the hour in this country and its politics. You need a long-term strategy and how you want to continue this protest until you achieve that systemic change and new Sri Lankan culture of being united with our differences that you so desired and gave your blood for. That is not only in Galle-face but to continue it in the regions and to stand with the poor, marginalized and discriminated. Show them how the leaders of this country messed up with the wrong generation by coming out of this checkmate ingeniously.