16 May, 2022


Protests To Riots To Rajapaksas’ Exit? Sovereign Are The People

By Vishwamithra

“Every man who has in his soul a secret feeling of revolt against any act of the State, of life, or of destiny, is on the verge of riot; and so soon as it appears, he begins to quiver, and to feel himself borne away by the whirlwind.” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

The natural development of a protest movement could be foretold. Such a sociopolitical development would certainly contain within itself some salient features which cannot be discarded nor disregarded as minute or trivial. Sri Lanka, as currently placed in the midst of political turmoil, is being battered by economic hardships on the one hand and eventually subjected to a total societal collapse on the other; its political leadership, both in government and in opposition, is being subjected to critical evaluation by a suspecting citizenry and, in fact, sitting on the edge of irreversible disrepair.

Protests are the order of the day; their emergence on streets in most of the big cities in the country is a new element that has to be recognized as a brand new lamppost in an otherwise dull and foggy landscape. What started on March 31 as a protest march to President Gotabhaya’s private residence has turned out to be a continuous flow of humanity all over the country, from Moneragala to Tangalle, to Kalutara to Nuwara Eliya and Jaffna. A vast blanket of humanity has covered the concrete and greenery of the country like an ominous shroud over a corpse in which rigor mortis has still not set. Inauspicious symbols of a looming tempest are visible everywhere.

No more the teardrop of the Indian Ocean, the land of Theravada Buddhism, granary of the East as the ancients used to call her, Sri Lanka is wailing and screaming for change; she, in her own limited way, is demanding the ejection of the Rajapaksa brothers from office who have been looting, mismanaging and ransacking her affairs of the economy and governance-affairs. The analysis and forecast of a nation so gripped by sheer incapacity to deal with the issues that nag a third-world country placed on the throes of collapse as spelt out in my previous column have come so daringly close to truth and reality. Although I do not wish to brag about such uncanny forecasts (I do not wish to use the word predictions), any commonsensical person with sensitivity to the issues that prowl a stagnant economy and a backward-looking administration would not have come to any other conclusion him or herself.

What’s even more astounding and bewildering is the total lack of empathy shown by all those who are charged with navigating the ship of state in these stormy seas of turmoil and chaos. They seem to be completely besieged by the enormity of the events and their occasion. Fitness to govern is being tested and the Rajapaksa brothers have failed beyond any reasonable qualm.

The most dangerous stage of this development process would be when this movement crosses the next threshold that is uncontainable riots. The scarcities of essential items is still, to use an oxymoron, present. Queues for petrol, diesel, kerosene and medicines are lengthening by the yard. And when the householders reach their homes they are in darkness; the rest of the family is fighting their hunger pangs. They simply cannot revolt on empty stomachs. But at least one member of the family would join the growing crowds of protests and demonstrations. With no leader leading them, no political swami or guru advising them, these armies of innocent, unarmed warriors get on to the streets and join the ever-lengthening lines of marchers. Within a matter of 72 hours the country has turned into a relatively peaceful battleground, at least yet.

Then comes the next phase of the movement: riots and chaos. If and when the government fails to take any concrete action showing the slightest of submission to the demands of the protesters, these relatively peaceful protests will assume a totally different character, both in substance as well as in process. For that to happen, any of the following is sufficient: action on the part of the forces of law and order resorting to suppression measures such as shooting, even with rubber bullets; the demonstrators themselves, being frustrated and depressed by inaction of the government, begin breaking the physical barriers flown across the street junctions and corners, bombard stones and set fire to government property and resort to hardcore looting of supermarkets and other businesses and damage vehicular traffic. Then all hell will break loose.

Is the government ready for such an unrestrained action by the demonstrators? On the other hand, would the demonstrators exercise extreme caution and discipline of mature revolutionaries and continue to show their anger and fury with so much self-constraint?

The answer is not to take action as and when such an overpowering process begins; a clever politician or wise leaders on both sides need to take measures before such an occurrence. Are we a people of mature leaders or really an ugly group of immature activists and rulers? On the other hand, is such a climax of events a mere inevitable phase of natural progress or a man-led anti-government uprising? Whichever way it turns, either on the idiocy of the rulers or lack of patience and caution on the part of the rebels, when will it become unmanageable?

All these questions will be answered in the coming days or weeks. Exit of the Rajapaksas does not seem to be a quick one. If they quit, when, where and in what fashion such an exit would take place? In fact, as at now, there are more questions than answers. That again is the very core of character of such movements, of such uprisings, of such spontaneous responses from the masses to unbearable hardships and intellectual squalor.

The display by our parliamentarians when the House met on April 5 was truly pathetic. Not one single speaker, barring Sarath Fonseka, did have the time to speak about the real economic crisis that the country and her children are facing today. Sajith Premadasa continued to bat on his comfortable turf- how to come to power; AKD was in fact not allowed to speak at length; Ranil Wickremasinghe could not be understood while Mahindananda Aluthgamage was shrewdly exploiting the disunity among the parties that make up the Opposition. Any demonstrator whose family is starving without food and sighing without a murmur would have been utterly disgusted and would have seen the dire need for a total change, a transformation in which there would be no inch of room for any of these parliamentarians who treat parliament as a political platform for their own aggrandizement.

He won’t see an iota of suffering or even a breath of sacrifice by the politicians. They all look well-fed, some of them exhibiting their obscene obesity. They all travelled in posh vehicles that did not seem to have run short of petrol or diesel. Their shutters were colored so those who occupied the interior were not visible to the outsider; they simply did not seem to care. These unobservable features would not, however, escape the inquiring eyes and minds of the ordinary man and woman.

Would our democracy withstand these few days of protests and demonstrations and emerge as a stronger nation and a cleverer one? Or are we seeing just the beginning of a much more deep-rooted fury of a people who had been suffering the insufferable for decades without letting out their anger in full-scale revolutionary fervor.

At the time of writing this column, the executive branch of government is virtually empty. Only four Ministers were sworn in after the questionable resignation of the Cabinet occurred. Even then, the most important Finance Ministry has become vacant again in the wake Ali Sabry’s resignation within twenty four hours after he was sworn in. In addition to this mess was the resignation of the Secretary to the Treasury and Governor of the Central Bank. The country’s main crisis is one of economic genre. And the country does not have its Finance Minister, Secretary to the Treasury and the Governor of the Central Bank. Coming days are going to be indeed darker and gloomier.

But one must not forget that in a democracy such as ours, toppling of the government by non-democratic means is almost impossible. There is no precedent to this kind of mass uprising in our country. Both in 1971 and 1987-1989 period, the so-called JVP-led revolutions were orchestrated by one single political movement. Only well-trained militants took part in those two occasions and the rest of the country was merely a spectator.

This time it is quite another case altogether. On the two previous occasions, scarcity of essential items and long lines for diesel and petrol and cooking gas was not an issue that occupied the minds of the people. Electricity or lack of it was not someone even talked about. The substance is different and context is vastly new and unmistakably passionate and in such a backdrop of social unrest where the next move is originating from and where it will lead us to may be truly unspeakable. But one must remember, sovereign are not the rulers, sovereign are the people.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 3

    If the Rajapaksa family were honorable, they would have all resigned in shame, for failing this country.
    Any leader in nations like Japan would have. But no, they cling desperately to their powers, having absolutely no damn clue how to get us out of this big mess that they made, because of their incompetence, nepotism, cronyism, and disgusting corruption. They fleeced this country at every opportunity, amassing wealth they never had before, and neglected the people and country. Their racist policies divided this country, and most of all they IGNORED the warnings months ago about this very dire situation we are in today, from experts both here and internationally. They were more focused in selling chunks of our country to China, which they must have got their percentage of commission, but as we can see solved NONE of our problems.

    As long as there is a Rajapaksa in the leadership, as long as they stick to what is not working, things look hopeless for this country.

  • 0

    “Sri Lanka is wailing and screaming for change; she, in her own limited way, is demanding the ejection of the Rajapaksa brothers from office who have been looting, mismanaging and ransacking her affairs of the economy and governance-affairs.”

    In 2015, regime change mafia told exactly the same thing and misled the voters. Instead of getting a ‘Yahapalana’ Government people got a ‘Jadapalana’ Government that ruined the economy. Worst thing was they ruined peace and stability prevailed after eliminating Tamil terrorists who terrorized the people for three decades by allowing Muslim terrorists to carry out terrorist attacks.

  • 3

    If politicians cannot discuss current crisis, why on earth we have parliamentary sessions. Rajapaksas are just rushing procedures, but buying time for horse trading , wheeling and dealing, requesting two more days for discussion on IMF bailout. Protesters should pay special focus on Prasanna (buying time), Mahindananda (trying to split opposition) and Johnston who said “President will never quit, we still have the support of 6.9 million, these are just small crowds making noise.”

  • 0

    “Any demonstrator whose family is starving without food and sighing without a murmur would have been utterly disgusted and would have seen the dire need for a total change” Says the writer in this excellent prophetic analysis.
    People may vote with their pocketbooks, but more often than not, they revolt with their bellies. If you want to predict where political instability, revolution, or coups d’état, will occur, the best factor to keep an eye on is the availability and affordability of food, or energy prices. Food and energy are, of course, never the sole driver of instability or uprising. Bad governance, corruption, a lack of democracy, ethnic tension—these better-known factors may be critical—but food is often the difference between an unhappy but calm population and one in revolt heralding turmoil. A redeeming factor might be the appointment of a stellar team to assist in IMF negotiations which though late might bring quick results to ease the monetary and fiscal crisis. May still be too little too late!

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