By Vishwamithra –
“Success is the ability to move from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill
All sloganeering has fallen silent; defiance has lost its antagonists; crowds have thinned down; parents are too busy prepping their children for exams and the youth seem to be astray and for the umpteenth time, without an identified leader. Gota, instead going home is continuing to occupy the helm. A new Prime Minister who is neither new nor very able was sworn in. A Cabinet of Ministers whose resumes look woefully inadequate and physiques yet bloated are controlling the power-wheels of each of their Ministries.
Yet the long queues for fuel, petrol and diesel, decorate the streets; gas cookers in households are idle for want of cooking gas which is still in dire supply and in pharmacies and hospitals, inventories of essential medicines have reached their lowest reorder levels. A three-meal day has come down to two a day and in some homes just one- rice and one vegetable or pol sambol or kirihodi. Nourishment has become a thing of yesteryear’s luxury. A sole breadwinner cannot afford to buy his loving wife a new saree; the children’s growth has been impeded by lack of nourishing food for dearth of protein and starch. The day when one would see moving skeletons in every street corner would dawn without any prior announcement.
The Minister of Agriculture is asking the people to grow yams of all kinds; Media Minister is now declaring that the country is in severest of debt, stranglehold at the rate of 6000 million rupees a day. The treasury is printing money to pay the government servants and provide for pensions to retirees. What other misery would befall the nation in the next three months, they simply do not know. Sudden enlightenment seems to have dawned on them, yet none of them have even a rudimentary plan with who, what, where and when. Almost three decades of corruption-filled politics and seventy five year old shortsightedness has produced a nation of beggars and lotus-eaters.
An old woman who wakes up with the morning sun and fresh dew under her feet is looking at a cloudless sky and cursing her leaders, past and present alike. Her preoccupation with the wellbeing of her grandchildren is overwhelming and she knows that the current generation’s lot is beyond redemption indeed. Her eldest son, whose livelihood as a three-wheeler driver, has lost his income and living on borrowed cash from the village loan shark; her daughter-in-law is pregnant with her second child and finds it extremely difficult to cope with her steadily rising hypertension for which the medicine cost is beyond her affordability. A vicious cycle of poverty is spinning around their necks and the quiet murmur that’s emanating is not a lullaby a small baby would sleep to.
Reverting back to the ‘Struggle-Aragalaya’ which held enormous promise at the beginning and the potential it showed, especially amongst the youth of the day, is weakening substantially. A people strapped into an eternally grotesque pattern of life on the one hand and hard-pressed demands on day-to-day living on the other are increasingly becoming aware of the obvious limits and constraints imposed by a strangling socioeconomic system.
The Aragalaya, with its unfortunate consequence of being without a noticeable leader or a leadership council, is showing its inner vulnerabilities. Such inherent susceptibilities cannot be overcome by allowing events to take control of other sequential events. To transform a mere protest movement into a dynamic organism along scientific lines and sound SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)-analyzed process is no way easy and its leadership should not be held by amateurish sloganeers. It requires much more strategic and tactical inputs by any number of technocrats in whose hands the protesters are demanding to lay responsibility and leadership on.
There is no compelling reason for the on-looking spectators of the masses to buttress a political process and transform such a random process into a craftily organized mass movement. Such movements attain maturity not in three or four weeks; they consume a lot of planning; they need to be organized from top to bottom and vice versa. They need to be agonizingly patient and in the process would demand sacrifice of superior quality and unprecedented proportion.
The Rajapaksas are neither willing nor ready to abdicate political power which they, in their hearts of hearts, think is their private property. From the time Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed the mantle of the nation in 2005, except in the most forgettable period from 2015 to 2019 when the so-called Yahapalanaya government (mis)handled the affairs of the State, the nation’s journey was corrosively damaged, both in the sociocultural sphere and more so on the economic front.
Yet, with handing victories firstly in the Presidential Election and thereafter in the parliamentary elections, Sri Lankan electorate committed an unpardonable blunder- a massive judgmental error by electing Gotabaya as President and granting the Pohottuwa Party two thirds majority in Parliament. It was primarily the youth vote that carried these corrupt Rajapaksas and their political henchmen to an intoxicating win. It is the same youth that galvanized itself into a loud voice on the Galle Face Green last month.
Such volatility of political mind is not so rare in the Indian Subcontinent. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have all gone through this political windmill and except Pakistan all others have survived as working democracies in the midst of violent and raucous populations in their respective lands.
Sri Lanka’s situation is exceptional in that it is exclusively in Sri Lanka that the electors have chosen to elect one single family to govern the country. Therein lies our collective shame; therein dwells our indignity and disgrace. And when they reacted to the economic hardships and the brutal pain such hardships inflicted on their families, they demonstrated, in no unmistakable fashion, their single-mindedness and an unwavering fidelity to the cause of social justice and economic egalitarianism, the rulers themselves were gripped by fear and surprise.
A population which was so docile and apathetic to the vagaries of political and economic injustice turned into a coherent and articulate army of protesters. What was even more astonishing was their patience and ability to absorb insults and indignities hurled at them by the ruling clan. But May 9th changed all that and more was yet to come. As if for tit for tat, they responded, when their brethren were attacked by the Rajapaksa-goons, by spontaneous attacks on some dwellings of Pohottuwa parliamentarians and even killing of one of the Pohottuwa MP in broad daylight on a broad street in Nittambuwa. However, these violent activities that followed May 9th was an ominous sign for the Aragalaya. Wild rumors and willful critiques of the patience and the nature of being non-violent of the protesters took a hard hit at an abstract level and their effects are emerging only now.
The ostensible goal of the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister could not have any motive other than erecting a safeguard to protect the Rajapaksas from prosecution for the great misdeeds they collectively committed.
Now we come to the most crucial question of the day. Is this the end of the struggle which we so fondly call Aragalaya? How far can the protesters travel with hope and do they have sufficient amount of stamina to sustain their superlative effort? Are they going to continue, if they are hell-bent on continuing, without a leader or a leadership council? The leadership of the movement, how invisible it could be, which apparently it is as of today, needs to answer these questions. Failure to find answers would eventually lead to gradual erosion of interest and enthusiasm ending up in total collapse of a movement which showed so much promise at the very outset of the struggle.
If whatever was discussed at the last couple of COPE meetings is true, one would conclude that things are certainly going to get much worse before they start getting better. That is not a good omen. At the same time, the basic political demand of the Aragalaya participants which is the exit of Gota, now along with Ranil Wickremesinghe, has not changed and all signs are that it would be a very formidable task for the protesters to achieve.
While Sri Lankan diaspora is keenly watching the developments in Sri Lanka, the local population is so engrossed with the management of their daily lives in a grinding way; they may have now realized that ouster of a democratically elected government is not something that could be attained in a few weeks of protests and demonstrations. No one can deny the credit due to all the youth in the country for showing some real staying power. Nonetheless, they also must be mindful that the ultimate judgment is made if and when they succeed in ousting Gotabaya Rajapaksa from Presidency and establishing a brand new system of governance which, while holds aloft the past sociocultural achievements, also embraces the twenty first century’s technological contributions to human development all over the world. As some savant said the other day, the answer is not on the fringes, it always resides in the middle.
*The writer can be contacted at email@example.com