By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Before the Aragalaya and even before Mirihana or the candlelight vigils on the sidewalks, there was the peasant unrest. The peasantry got it right, when it said “never since 1948 has there been a leader like Gotabaya who devastated us like this”. Some said it had happened earlier under the British, others demurred, saying not even under the British.
The candle-light vigils, the Mirihana demonstration and the Aragalaya all got it right: Gota Go Home, because he was the one responsible for the catastrophe and he was the very worst we had ever experienced. His was a freak presidency.
The Gota Go Home/Gota Gotta Go slogan corresponded perfectly to Mao Zedong’s definition of the correct line or what he called ‘the mass line’; ‘from the masses, to the masses”; the cognitive cycle from the perceptual knowledge of the masses to the conceptual knowledge of the revolutionary intellectuals and reinserted in its refined version, into the mass consciousness.
This was working fine, as manifested in the spectacular demonstrations in the Sri Lankan Diaspora.
Where are those now? What has happened is the struggle has shifted, been diverted, cluttered, adulterated, confused.
How can anyone square ‘Gota Go Home’ with ‘down with all 225’, ‘shift power out of the Diyawanna parliament’, ‘overthrow the system’ etc., which, if at all, should come ONLY AFTER the ouster of Gota? Fidel Castro and Che Guevara said none of this while fighting to oust Batista. The Iranian mass movement that ousted the Shah never raised these divisive issues during the successful struggle; they only came up later. The Filipino movement which ranged from the Catholic church, and the Liberal to the Maoist CPP-NPA-NDF, never raised these slogans within the mass struggle to get rid of Marcos.
How on earth can one say, as the peasants rightly do, that no one has ever been as bad for agriculture and food security as Gotabaya, and also say that this has been going on for 74 years?
How can one logically say that the 20th amendment created an autocracy and then say that things have been lousy for 74 years?
How can one rightly assert that the economy has never been worse and then say that the years in which Ceylon/Sri Lanka was a model of welfare, as well as those decades in which we had a high growth rate—including an average of 5% during wartime—all belong to 74 years of doom and gloom?
How can a rational mind accept that the truth that Gotabaya’s 20th amendment makes for an autocracy, and then jump from that to the conclusion that one should abolish the entire executive presidency rather than surgically remove the 20th amendment—and in the case of the FSP-IUSF, abolish parliament as well?
How can one justly accuse Gotabaya of having usurped all power through the 20th amendment, thereby creating a powerless Parliament and Prime Minister, and then go on to lynch Parliamentarians for not changing the situation? How can one justly target an autocratic president and his oligarchic clan as concentrating power and wealth in their hands, and also attack the parliament and parliamentarians?
These divisive slogans were imported into the original struggle firstly and mainly by the JVP-NPP and later, with more Tabasco by the FSP-IUSF, or should I say, IUSF-FSP.
Then there is the question of violence and the character of that violence. The idea that it is somehow justifiable to lynch supporters of the government or even its opponents like Kumar Welgama, because Mahinda Rajapaksa’s thugs attacked demonstrators on Galle Face Green is bullshit.
Liberal Party leader Benigno (“Ninoy”) Aquino was assassinated, shot in the back of the head, as he was getting off the plane in Manila, having flown in from the USA to lead the anti-Marcos struggle. Where was the rioting and lynching of Marcos supporters in the subsequent struggle? The massive, inclusionary demonstrations led by widow Cory Aquino (who later became president) and powered by the university student movement, especially of the University of Manila, was determined, militant, massive but non-violent. If there had been even the slightest lethal violence would the military have been neutralized and Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile broken ranks, thereby ending the rule of Marcos, forcing him to fly into exile?
Don’t excuse the lethal mob violence by reference to harsh economic conditions or the privileges of MPs. There has been considerably militant, even violent street agitation, in recent years in Latin America, against the terrible economic hardships created by the neoliberal model and its crisis. There was shooting, even lethal shooting, by the State. Examples range from Chile to the town of Medellin in Colombia. Chile has elected a leftwing president while a left populist is front-runner in Colombia’s election. Where was the mob violence against parliamentarians and the lynching to death of any of them throughout Latin America?
The stuffing of slogans and the justification of violence has blurred, even distorted the profile of the Aragalaya and caused cognitive dissonance among its impressively broad support movement and mobilization in the diaspora.