By Vishwamithra –
The sunset is brightening the horizon; a painted sky is glistening with the twilight’s riot of colors: crimson and orange. This dusk’s spectacle never ceases to enthrall many a being tired and weary at the end of another day. From dawn to dusk, one sea of heads, representing all walks of life, has come from the four corners of the island to mingle and show solidarity with those who suffer the insufferable hardships imposed by a collapsing economy and rotting body politic. Dominated by the day’s youth, children of tender age and elders who could hardly walk without a walking stick or aid make up this curious mix of human community whose only wish is a contented life with limited means, yet enriched with unreachable dreams for their next generation, the cavalcade of wishful thinkers and practical-thinking youngsters show no fatigue or exhaustion.
A thoroughfare that was once a racecourse where the horses belonging to yesteryear’s turf clubs, ran their races to entice the gambling addicts and for the ego-elongation of the ladies of the day to display their latest fashions; decadent practices of the elite of the colonial era never stopped to satisfy a curious newspaper reporter of the era. After the races ended for good and fashion shows were relocated to the grand lobbies of five star hotels, the Galleface Green became a location for the fitness-crazy who wanted to stay fit and healthy; they walked and ran from the eye-pleasing Galleface Hotel up to the Lighthouse, another landmark that enchants the probing eyes of many tourists.
Opposite the great Indian Ocean is situated the magnificent old parliament building, one uniquely colonial structure which has been converted into the office of the Executive President. Each morning with the sunrise on its back, the roaring waves seem to pay their reverential worship to the massive pillars of the old parliament building. In between the Indian Ocean’s shores and the old parliament building, is another spectacle emerging from the seas: Colombo Port City, a concrete jungle protruding to disturb the placidity and the serene beauty of the arena. A crude Chinese anomaly on a indigenous Sri Lankan canvas, a painting that might well be an eyesore to some, yet to another, especially the government-political kind, a treasure trove from which only ill-gotten wealth could be readily dug out.
Nonetheless, all that flowery descriptions of the present backdrop come to naught in the domineering manifestation of the country’s youth. Their demand for the total dissolution of the status quo, its irritating doorkeepers, the current set of parliamentarians, and introduce a people-friendly constitution whose chapters and verses are more akin to real human values and multifaceted rights and privileges bestowed on the people rather than on a finite set of corrupt politicians and bureaucracy.
In 1948, they say that Ceylon gained Independence from the British colonial powers. Was it so or what really did occur was the transfer of power switch from the British Civil service to the local elite who could not relate to the true demands and wants of an indigenous people who never had their places in the sun under the British powers. The relative prosperity basically shared by a few in Colombo and other big town centers in Ceylon, was never a reality for the poor living in the remote villages in the land. It was not so in the Deep South, not in the hill-country and never so for our brethren in the North.
All the frustrations, letdowns and loss of hope were first perceived by the population at large as temporary hiccups, a minor discomfort more akin to birth pangs of a new nation rather than wrongful and idiotic principles and policies engineered, adopted and followed by the local elites. For a few members of this new elite who happened to rule the country, the voting population was merely a cushy vehicle to propel the leaders from their confortable drawing room chairs, first to parliamentary seats and later to the cozy chairs in the Cabinet of Ministers.
Freedom, independence, sovereignty and rights were just words whose real meanings the ruling classes themselves either did not know or never cared to understand. When our closest neighbor India had to engage in a fierce and brutal Free India struggle, the Senanayakes, Bandaranaikes and Kotelawalas sat in their divans, enjoyed their whiskeys or played snooker or billiards in the exclusive clubs in Colombo and won the so-called freedom struggle without shedding a drop of blood. The after-effects of such a placid struggle not only imposed certain inherent characteristics on our ruling elites, they also stymied the enthusiasm of the ruled class.
Given this cruel context of placidity and lazy approach to achieving the end-goals, our masses accepted the half-truths and outright falsehoods uttered by our own politicians as the gospel. Despite many crises enveloping the nation at crucial times, the generation born during and soon after Independence did not have either the perceptive powers or the need to be more acutely aware of the global and local sociopolitical conditions to respond to these crises in a more belligerent and decisive manner. What took place in 1971 and 1987-1989 periods were political skirmishes engineered by a cell-centered organization which did not understand the nuances of a real revolutionary struggle.
But what is appearing today on the Galleface Green is totally different. Its character and the players and its spontaneity are a combination of social forces entirely born after the failure of these insurrection-oriented plots against democratically elected governments. When the queues for gas, petrol, diesel and milk-food began lengthening, when the demand for elementary medicines such as Panadol exceeded the supply, the limits of their patience crossed the threshold.
What was once commenced as a protest against the rising costs of living and scarcity of gas and other household essentials the struggle graduated to another level of political agitation. They want the ruling Rajapaksas out of power and now they demand that, especially after witnessing the farcical display of infertile parliamentary performance by all our parliamentarians, all two hundred and twenty five (225) gone, for good.
That is an appalling indictment not only on these good for nothing members of the House of Parliament, it is one on the total system, it is a telling blow to our constitutional rule of governance. What in fact is shaping up today on the Galleface Green is the birth of our second ‘Freedom/Independence Struggle’. We won Independence in 1948 from the British Raj. Now our youth demand freedom from our local indigenous Raj. The only difference between the two powers is that the British Raj ruled in accordance with a given set of rules and constitutional constraints whereas the current rulers are unspeakably corrupt, exceedingly self-centered and prohibitively incompetent.
More than three weeks have gone by and not a single political party has spelt out their plans as to how Sri Lanka could get out of this economic rut. No political Party is willing to tell the whole truth. Sajith is thundering about his a Premadasa era, an era which is thoroughly forgettable; AKD is as elusive as he possibly can be when asked what his plans are. The rest of the jokers who are on the field do not deserve any mention in this column. The only legislator who happens to speak something worthy of reading is M A Sumanthiran, the member of the Tamil National Alliance. But he too is fast becoming irrelevant.
In the midst of this chaotic political background, the protesters are staying not only relevant, they are shaping to become stronger with each passing day. The barometer is gaining relevance and intensity. Their show on the Galleface Green on May Day celebrations were the best while the other mainstream political parties made their valiant efforts to show their own respective powers. But the youth gathered on the Green.
They have closed the doors for the President of the country. Gotabaya can no longer attend to his work from inside his own office. The youth have taken over the entrance to his office. Prime Minister too is being subjected to embarrassing humility and the protesters are driving him to his own bunker at the Temple Trees. The other Rajapaksas too have vanished, at least for the time being, from the scene. While our own youth are fighting a second Freedom War on that charmingly scenic Green, the so-called gatekeepers, politicians, of the nation are hallucinating about remaining in power or gaining power. In fact, gatekeeper is too subtle a term; they are more or less the janitors of a battered people. At the end, they all will be unserviceable machinery, irrelevant and will end up as undusted relics of our history.
Only those whose crowns are beaten, bodies are bathed in sweat and stomachs empty will ironically stand to fly our flag. Against a headwind blowing inshore from the Indian Ocean, the masses within whose unadorned chests remain a reservoir of patriotism, would not mind even a whirlwind blowing them to the ground; for them the dust they taste of their own motherland is sweeter than the nauseating aroma of ill-gotten wealth of the politicos that gets blown away by that same sea breeze. In the meantime, the Galleface Green which should be more aptly called ‘Freedom Square’ is readying itself for its evening chores. To quote Tagore: ‘Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action –Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake’.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org