22 May, 2024


On The Pāda Yātrā & Gunadasa Amarasekara’s Point

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Don’t tell me not to fly, I simply got to
If someone takes a spill, it’s me and not you
Who told you you’re allowed to rain on my parade?

Barbara Streisand, from “Funny Girl”

Names matter. So do personalities. Peruse history, peruse all those revolutions, rebellions, and political changes which have in some form or the other shifted regimes and created precedent, and you will come across both. Revolutions are birthed, sustained, and in some instances continued by rhetoric. Rhetoric is the preserve of the politicians. And politicians, ladies and gentlemen, are not statesmen. Not by a long shot.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has a following. Those who support him inflate figures. Those who oppose him downplay them. Whatever both sides say by way of justifying their stance on the man, one thing is certain: he is not a statesman. If he was, he would have accepted defeat. The only reason why anyone can cut him some slack, hence, is that he is less concerned about returning to power than about sustaining an ideology that survives personalities and parties and ensures a consistent vote-base. The way things stand however, I’d say that this is unlikely. Highly unlikely.Pada Yatra Pic via Wimal Weerawansa's Facebook

His critics will say that he is possessed by a demon. A demon that goes by the name of “bala tanhava.” I wouldn’t disagree, but going by that logic none of his predecessors would have been possessed by that demon, something which (given constitutional realities after 1977) is highly unlikely. But there’s of course something else these critics will note: the fact that the man served two terms and the fact that he lost batting for a third. I would be less inclined to disagree there.

That still doesn’t stop Mahinda Rajapaksa from taking advantage of the other demons which seem to have besotted this government, i.e. the demons of self-contradiction, self-aggrandizement, self-righteousness, and self-centredness. One can’t blame him for speaking against the present government and pointing out flaws, never mind his motives and never mind the fact that when he was in power, he tolerated those same flaws. Naturally, those in power will point at relative merits and those kicked out will idealise the past. Yes, we’ve all been there, done that.

About two days ago the largely Rajapaksist “Joint Opposition” organised a walk (of protest) from Kandy to Colombo. This walk, a Pada Yathra, met with opposition, restraining orders, Court visits, and of course the usual rhetoric from the government ridiculing the entire exercise. Typical, I suppose, given political realities and given how the opposition of any regime, be it the UNP or SLFP, loves to dabble in amnesia and dissent. This article is not about the Pada Yathra, however.

This article is about Gunadasa Amarasekara. About a year ago I wrote on him to Colombo Telegraph (“Gunadasa Amarasekara’s Relevance”) and noted that he basically had provided absolution to Rajapaksa’s cabal even though many of those who were with the former president espoused values which he (Amarasekara) clearly opposed. I now realise that I was wrong. Amarasekara, unlike those who support personalities and like Professor Nalin de Silva, does not give blank cheques. For that reason, what he said about two months ago stands relevant, particularly in light of what the Joint Opposition is engaged in now.

Amarasekara said (if I remember correctly) that the JO was as concerned about political rhetoric as the SLFP and UNP, which in the long run would turn the people away from more pressing issues to do with devolution and constitutional reforms. I vaguely remember how diehard supporters of the JO reacted: they either were confused or muttered invective against him. Some even whispered that he was “turning” (like those ministers who’d sided with the government after expressing support to Rajapaksa). Ridiculous and absurd of course, but for those who indulge in black-and-white logic, nothing short of unconditional praise (for the JO) could endear the likes of Amarasekara to them.

The Pada Yathra was about colour. It was about displaying colour. It was deliberately made to reflect that other Pada Yathra from the 1980s, the one Rajapaksa organised against the then UNP regime’s excesses. That, however, had next to nothing that featured in what was begun two days ago, for the simple reason that the JO needs attention and needs to attract it fast.

And it’s not hard to see why. Tisaranee Gunasekara, in an illuminating article titled “Keeping the lunatic fringe in the fringe”, points out that this government has done all it can to be marginally superior to its predecessor. Well, marginal improvement is nothing to be proud about, but it’s still an improvement. Which is why, though I’m a supporter of neither regime, I still can’t fathom how and why members in the JO can spot out dictatorial tendencies in this government when the entire country (yes, even those who bayed for blood while supporting it unconditionally), knew what Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government indulged in during those last few months before January 8, 2015.

On that count, I agree with Ranjan Ramanayake, who came up with a classic the other day: “The Pada Yathra is just a vehicle parade.” The reference was to the fact that several politicians who participated at the walk were seen in vehicles, unlike the majority who preferred to walk. I have my reservations about Ramanayake, but the man speaks his mind and speaks it in such a way that even his bitterest critics are forced to concede ground to.

Which brings me back to Amarasekara. I don’t think he commented on the Pada Yathra per se. I do know, however, that what he said a few months ago remains relevant today, if at all because it was Amarasekara (together with Professor Nalin) who started a campaign that culminated on the political field, at least for the time being, with the Jathika Hela Urumaya. True, that campaign clearly doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the JHU today, but on one point at least they are in agreement: the fact that a nationalist program has less to do with personalities than a sustainable, consistent ideology.

The Joint Opposition isn’t doing much in this respect. Sadly. The movement (to call it a party would be erroneous) is housed by its share of veterans, respected ideologues, and idiots, not to mention populists and jokers. It’s also housed by devolutionists (not that I have anything against them) and in other ways affirm values which are at odds with Amarasekara’s brand of nationalism. For the sake of maintaining a counterthrust to the government, however, I believe he is willing to cut them some slack, but when it comes to other matters, i.e. political principles, he is less so.

And you know what? I wouldn’t blame him. Nationalism isn’t about rhetoric and shouldn’t be about rhetoric. It doesn’t start with demagoguery and shouldn’t end with show. As I’ve pointed out before, despite two terms as an all-powerful Executive President Mahinda Rajapaksa was unable to stifle federal-speak in his own party. The SLFP, after all, was and is the party of devolutionists and federalists, even more so than the UNP, which to its credit was less concerned about capitulating to Eelamism (during the ceasefire years) than cautiously tackling a deteriorating economy. That the JHU, even after joining the present government, still contends against federal-rhetoric speaks volumes about its sincerity and of course commitment to ideology.

The Joint Opposition, I think, should listen to Amarasekara. If the past is anything to go by, it may well deteriorate into a “one man one show” exercise, which to be honest isn’t what its supporters want. What they want or rather SHOULD want is a movement that survives personality, acts as a bulwark against the government (and even official opposition), and plans for the future. Mahinda Rajapaksa will feature in there as long as he stands by its core values. The moment he’s out, the people will suffer him. In silence. And in the end, he too will be out.

Let’s not forget, after all, that January 8, 2015 wouldn’t have happened if Mahinda Rajapaksa had a) listened to sense, b) listened to his party members instead of his immediate family, c) not called an election, d) given space to Maithripala Sirisena, the most senior and deserving candidate for the post of President or Prime Minister after him, and e) discouraged hosanna-singers. Let’s not forget that even Amarasekara voiced his qualms about Rajapaksa’s regime and his “sahodara samagama.” And while we’re at it, let’s not also forget that even after two years the Rajapaksa Resurgence clearly seems here to stay (proverbially speaking). That, ideally, should drive home the point that their movement should be about sustaining an ideology and not boosting that “sahodara samagama.”

Those who attended the Pada Yathra, I noticed, wore the same t-shirt. A t-shirt adorned by the smiling face of Mahinda Rajapaksa. A pity, I should think. No, not because I hate the man or for that matter his smile, but because all this rhetoric, all those words he and his supporters spout, could have been justified if he didn’t turn the walk into a parade.

Ranjan Ramanayake probably got it right when he spoke the other day. So much so that when I heard what he said, I tried my best not to smile. Or grin. Predictably, I failed.

*Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com. His articles can be accessed at fragmenteyes.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Brother since you have taken lot of trouble to pick holes on the Rajapaksa Pada Yatra. Your wow factor at Ranjan Ramanayake says a lot about you. What you have not still processed and the ilks of you MR did walk away graciously after the defeat. People of your ilk gave him life. The man for whatever his frailties gave something to this country that no other President or Poodle was able to give. But in the euphoria and naivete the Yahapal government went the extra mile to try and prove MR and his family as crooks. Well the Yahapal Government was in a high with shaking hand with John Kerry and requesting Homeland Security to help find the Rajapaksa stash world over. Now for your information the Homeland Security took up the task and a team was in Sri Lanka. The could not find any money stashed by the Rajapaksa’s. But for your dismay your darling Ranil made a strategic blunder undermining the Chinese and expecting tons of Dollars from West. It has come to a naught. Now Ranil has to pay penalties to the Chinese for restarting projects. Since the anticipated Western dollars did not materialize the government has to tax the common man to pay for expenses. On top of that the Government is busy ordering super luxury vehicles to Ministers on the taxed money. Still Rajapaksa would not have had any relevance if not for Sira hijacking the opposition and giving Sambanthan from TNA the Main Opposition Role. This is a farce, a tragic comedy. The parliamentary election campaign has two clear opposing sides. MR’s faction had 95 seats. It is using the opportunistic politicians and National List Sirisena hijacked the peoples mandate. This frustration is clear on the ground, in the villages. There is anger in the society. These people coming out in large numbers, they are coming in their own volition not being send in state sponsored buses. This anomaly will correct itself and Rajapaksa has been gifted the opportunity by both Sira and Ranil due to their own incompetence. The rest will be history.

  • 5

    If Pada Yatra was an option under MR times, people would have put SL on the world map easily walking days and nights breaking all the Guinness records.

    What we saw under MR in terms of people gathering was, a group of MPs visiting harbor and airport built in south by MR and even that wasn’t pleased that nice looking guy, who ran to disperse them with a toy pistol.

    We have moved a long way in terms of freedom of movement and speech. But DJ has been started writing a essay on Pada Yatra aligning it with smart patriotism, sovereignty and mother land.

  • 4

    People will have to walk. But the Lokka will turn up occassionally to have a look at them – to see the Progress! What a PADA (Fart) yaatra!

  • 8

    A Pada(Fart)show by Jarapaksa Thieves. Wonder who is spending for the food,Drinks,Arrack,Transport,placards,advertising,uniforms,.Anyone can guess the cost factor!!

    • 0

      Whoever named you as “MUDSON” should be applauded. He/She had foreseen, you would, one day, be a super “MADAKARIYA” to your opponents. For your information Mudson, it is your vagabond govt gives all the ammunition to this kind of protests.

  • 3

    It takes courage to keep trying even after a humpty-dumpty fall – this is
    Mahinda Rajapakse! He has no chance of a come-back, with his Family embroiled
    with the FCID, as an update of theirs indicate the Family acquired wealth in a
    decade as follows:
    FCID updates – No.64/15 Basil R. Rs.396 Mil. in 3 Property purchases,
    FCID No.17/15 Yoshita R in 8 Transaction Rs. 707 Mil., FCID No. 138/15 Namal R in 16 transactions Rs. 347 Mil., .. Totalling Rs. 1450. Million only!

  • 2

    The entire pada yathra is to boost up MR and Naml baby. But unfortunately there is no major demand in this yathra. Tjis is too early with too little justification. when the real need comes they would have exhausted their options. Poor MR. Since he lost the presidency his political calculations/manipulations have gone wrong. He has failed in all his efforts, Let him come to Colombo and have a meeting … so what..nothing will happen. Booruwansa, Vasu P, Dinesh and gomanpila would have would have some exposure at MR’s expense. MR will gain nothing … he will loose some more supports from the ranks of palimentarians. MS will be justified in getting rid of Ranatunge and the likes… Basils dream of forming a movement will remain in jail.

  • 1

    Mr Ranjan Ramanayake got it about right; but he was holding back. This was one big fiasco with a collection of small men posturing at key passing points, and hoping their stock will rise. It didn’t! AND their acolytes, who have nothing better to do, made a general nuisance of themselves.

    Marching up and down the busy public highway inconveniencing people is hardly the way to win friends and influence people. The yakkos who thought this one up ended looking very silly.

    Back to the drawing board, then.

  • 0

    This walking mechanism is just one way of protesting against mythical political scenario in Sri Lankan political history . I see this regime as hanging on a string , they are the big talkers not the workers . Firstly we must consider the composition of present goverment before declaring reasonable comments . Who the head of goverment , is he the priminister or the president , there can’t be two . Just imagine the combination of troop of president , who are they ?? . None of his cronies were given mandate in the election ,and Priminister’s point of view whose team is composed with load of liars ,and comedians , Ranjan ,palitha thevarapperuma ,Sujeewa Serasingha , fonseka are few characters whom chose by people to rule a country . So, in a such circumstances that Padayathra is a sudden wake up call for a change in the system ..like keeping a ball under water that goverment cannot hold it with load of baseless allegations , that’s what indicate from this kind of protestings. It doesn’t matter who leads it . I feel that many people has instigated to comment over Rajspaksa’s participation , but he has right to participate on behalf of masses , unless who is in there to support or guide behalf of the masses today . Because the goverment and other opposition is just like a two side of a stick . They have combined to a joint operation in the country, which merely not to strengthen the unity and peace which had lost for decades . The ultimate result of this exercise is lawlessness , bankruptcy and separatism .

  • 0

    I suggest that we must speak about the barriers to place a peaceful protest in this country, which was seen very clearly . A protesting is a right of masses . Just imagine how the state medias and beauracracy behaved today . We have seen most shameful chief of policeman in the country who acted like a clown , and relentless pleadings in the courts along the route of Padayanthra to twart it’s marching toward the capital . Aren’t they shameful to lift its legitimacy. The north is under fire . As far as I know that many singhalese working in the north areas are chased up to leave the north , the last public eye caught up in the wake of chasing and attacking at Jaffna university student . The northerners are systematically declared the war on ethnic clensing in the north . But no one says a word . These are the most serious and dangerous outcome of incompetent present regime . But unfortunately that we are deviated by wrong stories . Which is embarrassing and dangerous.

  • 0

    shame on you for supporting Ranjan R. who the moment he opens his mouth displays his foolishness. Can you honestly say that you would want Mahinda and other senior politicians to walk all the way over four or five days ? that is sheer stupidity. So what if they transferred it to a parade the people who took part has to enjoy it so that they will not feel tired. YOU are such a biased man and very small minded that is not the point you should look at how people rose against this current government to speak against the traitorous actions of the current government. Although I respect Mr GUndasa Amarasekera he is no politician so only politicians can make a change . Can Gunadasa Amarasekera make a change . THIs is low journalism.

    • 1

      Nice reply brother. I have no time to respond to your first few comments but regarding your point on Gunadasa Amarasekara, the “he is no politician” argument could have been made of so many other non-politicos who STILL changed political structures with ideology. Example? Anagarika Dharmapala.

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