By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Nothing symbolizes more clearly the content of the current moment we are living through than the dual facts of:
(I) The Presidency of a political leader whose name was associated with the Central Bank bond scam (“maha banku hora!”) which the Auditor-General of the day said had caused an incalculably large drain of finances over an incalculable period of time and
(II) The arrest of the Aragalaya youngsters who discovered, counted, videoed and handed-over to the Police, Rs 17.5 million which they discovered at the President’s House and could have pocketed but chose not to.
Therefore, those who denounce the Aragalaya and exalt President Ranil Wickremesinghe or prefer the latter to the former, expose their ethics, morality and hypocrisy.
Annihilating the Aragalaya
Though President Ranil Wickremesinghe thinks that he can arrest the Aragalaya by arresting the Aragalaya activists, he will soon learn something that all wise leaders knew through the ages: you cannot arrest, jail, incarcerate in dungeons, execute and eliminate AN IDEA. The Aragalaya is an idea which has become a state of mind; a state of consciousness which has seized the public imagination.
The Aragalaya spirit is the spirit of resistance, of freedom, of uprising, of liberation, of change, of rebellion. It has animated a generation and permeated a people. Just as the Hartal 1953, it will enter legend; just as Paris May ’68 it marks a revolution of culture and consciousness of a generation and therefore of society, forever.
If you try to stifle it, shut it down or kill it, you will only make it grow.
Some dreadful things happened in the name of the Aragalaya (May 9th night, July 13th night) which the Aragalaya should have named and shamed, but failed to, and is paying a heavy price for. However, on balance, the Aragalaya is far more positive than negative, far more constructive than destructive, far more progressive than retrogressive, far more democratic than undemocratic, far more right than wrong, and far more good than bad.
If not for the Aragalaya, the world would only have seen the Sri Lanka which had been reduced to charity from a generous beggar in Tamil Nadu who had obviously managed his personal finances better than the Sri Lankan state had managed ours. Sri Lanka had become a pathetic place.
Our dignity was restored not by the unelected Ranil Wickremesinghe but by the Aragalaya. The world witnessed a renaissance of Sri Lankan society, of the public space, thanks to the civic resistance movement drawn from all age groups and finally, starting April 3rd 2022 on Galle Face green, by the Aragalaya. The world saw on July 9th, the people of Sri Lanka led by the youth, liberating the President’s House and then swarming up like a tsunami wave, up the steps and through the doors of the Presidential Secretariat.
The Sri Lankan story was turned into a dramatic triumph of social self-assertion by the people of the island.
Does – will–the Aragalaya story, the story of the most massive and successful popular uprising in our history, the most successful assertion of democratic-republican popular sovereignty since Independence, end with the Constitutional coup, the Constitutional equivalent of the Central Bank bond scam, and the installation in the seat of power by the reviled Rajapaksa ruling clan, of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the most unpopular and hitherto unsuccessful political leader of our lifetime?
It will cause terrible psychological damage to our collective psyche, if we permit the story to end in that manner. It would be as if we had lost the war to the Tigers. We didn’t. We write this story and it needs to be completed satisfactorily, with the people as the rebellious, victorious heroes.
Aragalaya & Terrorism
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s rule became untenable when the day he decided on an overnight ban on chemical fertilizer, pesticide and weedicide. It was not only the economic consequences that caused the slide. It was the moral crime involved. He had won on a manifesto that pledged to make things much better and as part of that, to undertake a decade-long transition to organic agriculture. Instead, he devastated the peasantry that had voted for him in 2019 and his family for seven decades. It was a moral upending. When Gotabaya lost the moral high-ground it was inevitable he would lose his grip on power.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has made a similar blunder, committed a moral crime under less affordable circumstances. He has turned on, and cracked down on, the very Aragalaya that unintentionally but quite definitely brought him to power by removing Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a massive collective heave-ho.
Of course, this is but a large-scale version of how he double-crossed Sirisena Cooray, former UNP General-Secretary, who gave him the Prime Ministership he was himself offered in 1993. I know. I was there when it happened in 1997. He also double-crossed Karu Jayasuriya from the very moment he handsomely won the Colombo mayoralty. I was there then too, and warned Karu J that it would happen. Treachery is the trademark political ‘step-style’– as Gail Sheehy puts in ‘Passages’—of Mr. Wickremesinghe.
This time, the political and historical price will be far higher. Mr. Wickremesinghe has betrayed a mass democratic revolution, the Aragalaya, in full view of the world’s media. And he has only just got started.
Already his Cabinet Ministers are talking about “terrorism” and “terrorists” lurking in or hiding behind the Aragalaya. This is not just stuff and nonsense; it is very dangerous stuff. “Terrorism” is the organized and intentional use of lethal violence for political purpose, against unarmed, non-combatant civilians.
Not every armed struggle is terrorism or contains terrorism, though in Sri Lanka it notoriously did—and in any case there was no armed activity in the Aragalaya or in support of it.
Homicide or manslaughter by a mob as on the afternoon/night of May 9th, though a heinous crime which must be punished by the full force of the normal law, is not terrorism.
There was and is no “terrorism” within, alongside or behind the Aragalaya.
Ranil’s Rancid Right Regime
President Wickremesinghe has inherited the burdens of the Rajapaksa-created economic crisis, and cannot be sympathized with for his predicament because he was chosen by the soon-to-be deposed autocrat Gotabaya Rajapaksa as PM and more conspicuously, was voted in by the Rajapaksa-dominated ruling SLPP parliamentarians, as the President.
The economic recovery is deadlocked not only by the obvious problems of the chicken-and-the egg, IMF and the creditors conundrum. It is deadlocked even tighter now, by President Ranil’s choices and actions. He should have stepped down and made way for a political leader with some mass base, who could have made a fresh start and had a better shot at managing the crisis. Since Sajith Premadasa bravely ran against Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019 and lost by only 10%, missing the magic 50% mark by only 8%, he would have been the logical first option.
Instead, Mr. Wickremesinghe discredited himself by being the Rajapaksa’s man in the race, thereby reinforcing the impression of continuity rather than discontinuity with the ancien regime, the Old Guard. He therefore causes the forfeiture of the global wave of support we could have obtained and can still obtain as the country where the young people rose up and threw out an autocrat.
Ranil does more damage than even this, by cracking down on the Aragalaya activists and being seen as the repressive unpopular ruler he is. Why should world opinion bail out a country with that kind of narrative; that kind of story? Where’s the catharsis? Where’s the bounce? Where’s the happy ending?
For this story to end with a real catharsis, the unfinished Aragalaya must be taken to a logical conclusion, with a generational shift from the 70-something Establishment. The Aragalaya was not meant to and cannot be allowed to end with the installation of an unelected leader who becomes or reveals himself as an autocrat overnight.
Ranil is trying to kill the Aragalaya by repression, suffocation. He must not be allowed to. That is not how this great story must end; must go into the continuous chronicle of this island’s history.
That is why “RANIL RESIGN!” must resonate and resound in the final phase of the great national liberation struggle for freedom and democracy in our lifetimes: the Aragalaya!
The Aragalaya LIVES!