28 May, 2024


Truth Is An Abyss  

By Sarath de Alwis –

Sarath de Alwis

Politics is the soil in which the nettle of poisonous enmity, evil suspicions, shameless lies, slander, morbid ambitions, and disrespect for the individual grows rapidly and luxuriantly. Name anything bad in man and it is precisely in the soil of political struggle that it grows with particular liveliness and abundance.” ~ Maxim Gorky

A longtime friend of Lenin, Maxim Gorky, made this scathing condemnation of politics when he saw a genuine uprising of the Russian people hijacked by what he called ‘dirty hands’ and ‘greedy pockets’.

Revolutions, uprisings, or struggles, call it by whatever name you wish, don’t end the way its planners, instigators or volunteers intended. Often, they end with unexpected results and tortuous outcomes that promise more chaos. Of that we can be sure.

On 9th August 2022, our new President constitutionally elected by Parliament made his first official visit to the Army Headquarters Complex at Akuregoda.

In utter amazement I watched the grand event on television. With absolute fascination I listened to his commendatory homily to the military establishment.

President Wickremesinghe’s brief yet loaded remarks reminded me of a beguiling analysis of the manipulative political mind.

Journalist Robert Caro in his book The Passage of PowerThe Years of Lyndon Johnson (2012) says:

“Power always reveals. When a man is climbing, trying to persuade others to give him power, concealment is necessary. But, as soon as the man obtains more power, camouflage becomes less necessary.”

Caro concludes “… it is not that the power corrupts or is magnetic to the most corruptible. The truth is – power only reveals who you truly are.”

Gotabaya Rajapaksa made Ranil Wickremesinghe acting president before he left the republic. It was one and half days later that he offered his resignation from Singapore.

After President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left the shores of Sri Lanka, our Constitutional President was either acting president or interim president.

During this time the protestors, the mob, the hooligans, well-meaning and innocent youth (take your pick) were in occupation of the Presidential secretariat and the President’s House.

Of course, they were engaged in civil disobedience. They were in violation of the law. There was also a tacit empathy between the law breakers and law enforcers. Law enforces did not demand Civil Obedience without a court order.

The coercive power of the state was irrevocably and unmistakably unleashed against the ‘Aragalaya’ only after parliament voted 134 to 82 to make Ranil Wickremesinghe the president of the republic on 20th July 2022.

President Wickremesinghe’s desire to restore the rule of law is understandable. In these troubled times we must ponder over the nature of power and violence with open minds. That the Government as an institution holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is a foundational premise.

A mindless mob engaged in sheer vandalism is the new narrative. In retrospect we mustn’t be surprised at this turn of events.

A socio-political movement spontaneous and leaderless cannot be sustained when the state turns on its repressive machinery.

Sooner or later the ordinary people who flocked to swell its ranks discover other priorities.

Without a clear political objective beyond the slogan ‘Gota Go Home’ it was a matter of time for it to spin out of control.

There can be some criminal elements who will take advantage of street protests. But street protests are made by ordinary people. Ordinary people have grievances. They are not criminals.

What we witnessed was a modern-day urban protest. It was an explosion of socio-economic discontent. It was a marvelously transparent affair. Everyone with a smart phone was an activist, reporter and commentator. The exceptionally gifted produced documentaries and sitcoms.

It opened a parallel universe. In the deepest recesses of our dysfunctional democracy we found millions of people with accumulated frustrations, alienation, and bitter resentment.

Those resentments have not been addressed. The ‘Aragalaya’ is by no means over. Gale face is only a beginning. It was a chaotic release of pent-up discontent. It was exhaustingly cathartic. Monotonous and innocuous lives suddenly found excitement and the promise of a spectacle of a lifetime.

But something far more important happened. The people found a voice. The masses, the mob, the rabble call them what you will, have found that their genuine grievances have created a liberating sense of solidarity, community, and collective strength.

Rule of law is light years away from rule of power. Rule of law in the hands of an imaginative leader trusted by the people can reach awesome heights and achieve miraculous feats.   A fragile leadership that is not trusted by the people sooner than later discovers the convenience of the rule of power.

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt famously warned about the perils of engineered power as opposed to the moral exercise of power.

“Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance.” 

Only an insecure leader seeks power for its own sake.

She warns about state violence used as an attempt to hold onto power. The violence deployed is indicative of the perceived loss of power and influence of a leader. There is no way to legislate public trust.

The Aragalaya has vacated Galle face grounds. But it lives on in the hearts and minds of people. How many hearts and minds I do not know. Quantifying its strength will need a general election.

Meanwhile we can make a general assessment. Very ordinary people collectively reached a point when they decided to engage in a heart-breaking political struggle. They wanted a world in which human beings recognized the worth of each other and loved one another. They rejected the existing system where people swindled each other routinely and quite transparently!

It is a long and hard battle for truth. As Franz Kafka explains truth is always an abyss. “One must as in a swimming pool – dare to dive from the quivering springboard of trivial everyday experience and sink into the depths, in order to rise again -laughing and fighting for breadth – to the now doubly illuminated surface of things.” We may be approaching Kafkaesque times.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Ranil W should REMEMBER that he achieved his ambition because of Aragalaya movement and hence should listen to what they want. A SYSTEM CHANGE that removes politicians of SLPP + SLFP types/character. They want good honest politicians who cares for the SL citizens and not for themselves.

    • 1

      Ranil W … achieved his ambition because of Aragalaya movement … .
      Mahinda Rajapaksa is having a hearty laugh!

    • 1

      Hello Naman,
      You say:
      Ranil W should REMEMBER that he achieved his ambition because of Aragalaya movement and hence should listen to what they want.

      Ranil is a rejected man.
      Never achieved Presidency by being elected by the Sri Lankan voters.

      Ranil has been appointed by the Rajapakshas to protect the Rajapakshas.
      His ‘Position Description’ is to be the custodian and handover the baton to Namal.
      As such, Ranil has no obligations to the ‘Aragalaya’.
      Ranil is looking for another fool who attempts to organise an armed revolt.
      That will be the perfect excuse for a bloodbath (many tens of thousands)

      The Rajapakshas will come up with another plan – a very effective one that none of us know of.
      The purpose is to get the rural idiots to vote again to protect the Sinhala Buddhists from another perceived disaster.
      Ranil could well be the person to action ‘the plan’ in collaboration with the Rajapakshas.
      Ranil would be the demon and Namal would be the saviour.

      The ONLY meaningful action left to the Aragalaya is to move into rural areas (across the entire country) and educate the masses.

      • 0

        Do not be surprised, Sunil Abeyratne. I am in total agreement with you.

  • 5

    “Truth is an abyss” over to Leonard Jeyawardena.

  • 3

    The manner in which Sri Lanka treated President Gotabhaya was a disgrace to the country. I was his worst critic. But I never supported toppling governments or forcibly removing leaders from office. That is what American deplorables do. I wonder why, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.
    There is no reason for Gotabhaya to move from country to country. He should return to Sri Lanka and claim his entitlement. He was not expelled. Who can expel a sitting President? He was compelled to leave the country and then resign.
    All those who incited, assisted and engaged in the insurrection to remove Sri Lanka’s democratically elected President by force should be prosecuted for sedition and those who forcibly entered the President’s House and threatened the President to resign from office should be prosecuted for treason. All movable and immovable assets of the insurrectionists should be confiscated. Insurrectionists may have caused at least Rs. 1 billion in damages. Who will pay for the damages? This is no joke.
    There is talk about the 22A. The only purpose of the 22A is to retain the power among the corrupt.

    • 7

      A Load of BULL!!

    • 11

      “The manner in which Sri Lanka treated President Gotabhaya was a disgrace to the country.”
      Was it significantly worse than the way he treated Sri Lanka.
      Mine is only an observation, no defence of either treatment.

    • 5

      You now agree that it is the people of Sri Lanka including those 6.9 million voters are not happy with the Rajapaksa regime ignoring the fact that still they run this government. It is sad that the former President is now running country by country and even unable to move out of his room. People did not ask him to run away from the country illegally while his brothers who are real corrupted people still in the protection of Sri Lankan military. As you suggested all movabale and imovable assets of Rajapaksa family should be confiscated and they should be in jail. It is Gota who appointed Ranil is in power to share the corruption with other corruptors. You can remember it is the Ranil who said that Aragalaya is right Gota and Mahinda should go home and it is Mahinda who made all arrangements to make Ranil as President,no one else. Can you freeze the assets of Ranil and all those 134 who voted for Ranil?

    • 9

      Gota ran away because he was always a coward in a superhero outfit. People like you swallowed the fake image. He was just a bully.
      You can see the difference in how Ranil handled it even after his house wasn’t just invaded but burnt down.

      • 6

        Yes Ranil is a super hero, good at torturing helpless prisoners, have armed men attacking unarmed protestors ! He has always hidden behind bodyguards !

        If his house was burnt by someone, is he fit to drive the investigations, and give punishment and even change laws? Should not an independent, unbiased person do these things ? What is his psychological situation in this matter ?

        Can Salmon Rushdie conduct the investigation and punish the person who stabbed him ? Is this how the judicial system works ?

        • 1

          “If his house was burnt by someone, is he fit to drive the investigations, and give punishment and even change laws? “
          Scraping the bottom of the barrel today, are we?

      • 2

        Since yesterday I have been driving from North to Central Europe. Whenever I have time, I try to develop tourism. Everyone I know sympathizes with Sri Lanka’s self-created problem. I was doing all these things while working at my job, and I didn’t have much time to take care of myself.

        Whenever I have such time, I watch the latest news of my country. I am very worried about the future of Sri Lanka which has been destroyed by an illegitimate family. If people had a good understanding of the danger, they would not go this far.

        All the media in Sri Lanka should be blamed but the blindness of celebrities should not be forgotten. The message any artist sent served to mislead the vulnerable. Artists who mislead people in that way should be punished. Damn those opportunists ever. One thing that has become clear to me in these few days is that if the people of Sri Lanka are not serious, our problem will remain like a deadly cancer even if it is not treated. Adherents of the Sri Lanka myth will have to learn to understand the facts of our destruction. Only then can they see it beyond that in the next election. I always make it clear, both our people and their representatives are very corrupt

    • 1

      GR will be back to a quiet retirement. He will probably write his memoirs…My Struggle?
      He should be welcomed for helping save the country from breaking up. His actions over fertiliser etc were those of a foolish and stubborn man not those of a vindictive man. All the rest…sharks in tanks, murders etc are unproved allegations.

    • 3

      You could wallow in your mud; not splatter it all around!
      Who chased Gotabaya away. He was ‘asked’ to go home, not go begging.

    • 1

      Hello Champa,

      I refer you to ‘Austin Fernando’s piece’ published in the Colombo Telegraph.
      Here is the link.

      Here is an extract from his article:
      .. It is obvious he feared losing his life. Who does not? To his credit, media reports are saying that when the President’s House was surrounded and inquired whether to open fire, he had ordered them not to although he was in real danger. His conduct must be appreciated. Even at the risk of his life, he has imparted a lesson to future Presidents and the Military.

      If this is correct, Gota had the option of deploying the military to crush the Aragalya.
      He would have faced intense international sanctions but he could have stayed on.
      He did not do it.
      (Remember R Premadasa’s regime).

      I would argue that not deploying the military was his strength and not his weakness.

      He is a citizen of Sri Lanka.
      As such, he is entitled to return to Sri Lanka and be protected as previous presidents are.

      Gota failed as a President.
      But he chose not to compound it by killing the Aragalaya participants.

  • 2

    In Srilanka power cannot last without violence and violence cannot last without power.

  • 3

    If not for the Galle Face Green protest Rajapaksas will be in the Throne and still abusing their powers. I do understand that the Rajapaksas are still in control of political power through the SLPP MPs who are supporting the current President.
    Ranil W should STOP harassing the Aragalaya people and go after the money accumulated by the crooked parliamentarians. The voting for the Presidential selection should not have been secret balloting but OPEN one.
    SL citizens should know who is voting for whom and WHY. Horse trading happened in selecting Ranil W who did not have any mandate from the PUBLIC.

    • 1

      I am not contesting that Rajapaksas would be still in power, if not for Aragalaya. What I am saying is that if not for Rajapaksas, Ranil would not be nowhere near power. You overlook subtleties!

  • 1

    People will remember that when Ranil was the PM between 2015 and 2019, was making a chorus
    “ Kawutha Hora”. The answer was all those in the corrupted DEN that is called the Parliament. Without the FLUSHING of the current occupants, no future for SL.

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