By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The strangest speeches during the parliamentary debate on the Emergency came from two ex-military-men in the government benches, to wit, Rear Admiral (Retd) Weerasekara, and Major Denipitiya. They said that if fingerprinted as having participated in the Aragalaya, young people would be unable to secure employment. Whether that is in keeping with the law and the Constitution, the BASL should know.
But what I know is that those remarks reveal a delusion that this administration will remain in power for a long enough a period of time for that to be a problem for the youngsters who were in the Araguaia, which at one point was probably a million strong.
It is far more likely that those who voted for the harshly repressive Emergency on July 27th will suffer the same fate electorally that Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP did in 2020.
If Emergency had been declared on the night of May 9th, or even during the small-scale street-fighting with the Army near the Parliament on July 13th by a group that was denounced real-time, publicly and repeatedly by the leading Aragalaya activists, it would have had some kind of law-and-order logic.
But now? The declaration follows the gratuitous assault on a clump of Aragalaya protestors at Galle Face Green. Above all it follows the selection by Parliament of the unelected Ranil Wickremesinghe as President of the country, wielding the full panoply of autocratic powers of the 20th amendment.
Following the declaration of the Emergency, unarmed, non-violent Aragalaya activists have been arrested, seized on a plane and it is reported, even been picked up in a van.
Hiru News reported that the Cabinet and the Government parliamentary group were briefed by the head of Intelligence that the Aragalaya was merely “the tip of the iceberg” of a far-flung revolutionary plot to seize power.
If that were indeed the case, how is it that the revolutionary conspirators did not push forward on July 9th when as the whole world saw it had a massive volume and momentum? How come the Aragalaya pretty much dispersed after its achievement of its main aim, the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, unilaterally withdrew from the state buildings it had occupied and was about to leave the precincts of the Presidential Secretariat?
It just doesn’t make sense. There are two possibilities.
Either there was such a plot but the plotters chose not to push forward when the Aragalaya was at its peak, when they had the momentum in plenty and instead they decided to camp out in the various state buildings they occupied and sing songs—one evening a young lady accompanied by a guitarist sang Bella Ciao on the lawn of Temple Trees or the PM’s Office.
So, the revolutionaries were either dumb and didn’t take their shot, lost the momentum, and therefore the threat has passed, is no longer active—in which case the situation does not require the declaration of Emergency rule.
Or, there never was such a wide-ranging revolutionary conspiracy in the first place.
What is scary is that we have seen all this before; lived through this before.
Firstly, in December 1982, the Jayewardene regime deprived itself of legitimacy by scrapping the parliamentary election scheduled for early 1983 and held a Referendum today. In the current replay, legitimacy has leached out of the system by appointing through parliamentary selection—not even unanimity or consensus—Mr. Wickremesinghe as President.
Secondly, when 13 soldiers were massacred by the LTTE in July 1983 and both Prime Minister Premadasa and Colombo mayor Sirisena Cooray urged President Jayewardene to send the dead bodies to the individual villages rather than hold the funeral in Colombo and the president agreed, he was prevailed upon by the Defense bureaucracy of the day to reverse his decision. The Kanatte rioting took place as a result.
Thirdly, when the anti-Tamil pogrom, Black July 1983, burst upon us, the Police top brass briefed the Cabinet that the JVP was responsible. Minister Ananda Tissa de Alwis told the nation that it was a three-stage plan: targeting firstly, the Tamils, secondly the Muslims and Christians, and thirdly the rich. This sounds exactly like what we are hearing from the Ranil-plus-Rajapaksa regime today.
President Wickremesinghe knows better than to swallow this bilge. But he has chosen to do so, or to dish it out to the public.
The JVP was framed and banned in 1983. Today the FSP and JVP—though the order is reversible—are being framed.
Since the Aragalaya is in ebb-tide, there is no valid reason for the declaration of a state of emergency. It cannot be in order to deal with a clear and present danger. That leaves only one other explanation. Emergency has been declared in order to deter economic protests by the people and to unleash the Armed Forces and the Police against the people when the economic crisis bites even more.
More specifically, Emergency has been declared to smash the student unions, the trade unions, the peasant unions, the fisheries unions, the women’s organizations, i.e., the organized mass movement, to blast open the resistance to ‘stabilization’ and ‘structural adjustment’ programs of neoliberal ‘shock therapy’.
To put it baldly, the draconian Emergency is not aimed at a radical terrorist threat or at Aragalaya 2.0.
The Emergency is aimed at Aragalaya 3.0, which, given the economic crisis and the coming austerity, cannot but be Hartal 2.0.
Will it work? Can it work? Remember what happened after the framing and repression of the JVP in 1983, which pushed that party out of open politics and the democratic mainstream in which it was functioning? Our country was plunged into an intense civil war in which tens of thousands died. Today the Left is represented by the JVP and FSP, both of which are demonized by the regime.
Today there are hundreds of thousands of young people who did not and do not belong to these Left parties, but are as if not even more spirited and rebellious. If they are subject to repression, they can either join one of the two Left parties or form their own radical-democratic rebel movement which is bigger than the socialist FSP and JSP put together.
Is that what the new President and his Government want? In the 1980s the civil war in the South was (barely) containable, because the working people, including the peasantry, were not involved because the economy was ticking over. It was an insurrection of radical left youth, not the adults, the working people, and the middle classes.
Today, with an economy that has tanked, or been tanked, all classes and all generations have been drawn into the struggle. In the 1980s, the country was led by JR Jayewardene who had won the Presidential election of October 1982 convincingly. He was succeeded by Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa who won the Presidential election of November 1988.
Does the Old Guard, with an average age of 70+, really feel that lucky? Today the country is run by an unelected leader. Would President Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the Cabinet and the ruling SLPP really like to spend the rest of their term having provoked the most massive, militant rebellion this country would have seen since Independence, against the backdrop of a collapsed economy?