The only thing that stood between Sri Lanka’s “Go home Gota/Gota go home” (rather catchy and infectious) version of the storming of the Bastille as it played out on Thursday (31) night down Pangiriwatta Road, Mirihana, under the cover of darkness (thanks to a power cut suddenly imposed in the area, whereas most of the rest of the country were immeasurably suffering the same for over half a day), in the streets in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence, and the “hangin’” of the “strange fruit” of “bulgin’ eyes and twisted mouth” (remember Gaddafi and Siyalkot) style lynching of the first citizen of the land, was the presence of mounted barricades (one of which was toppled by the protestors) and road blocks, the riot Police, Special Task Force (STF) and Army personnel, dirty water from cannons and the miasma of lacrimosa.
What started out as a somewhat tepid protest of placard bearing against the Government’s failure to address and provide immediate solutions to pressing issues (fuel shortage, power crisis, gas shortage, soaring commodity prices, and the rising cost of living, etc.) and held towards the evening of last Thursday at Jubilee Post in Nugegoda soon gathered numbers, a repertoire of animus infused slogans, assorted four-letter epithets, bars/clubs/rods/sticks and handy projectiles, and thus momentum à la the Ides of belated March, and voila, Rajapaksa of Pangiriwatta had a mini resistance on his hands (only, he was not at home). Perhaps, the protestors creatively interpreted the request made by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation’s Chairman, just 24 hours before the protest, to not queue up at filling stations as they lacked adequate diesel stocks to supply, and therefore decided to take this respite provided by the authorities from the rat race to be obtain essentials and instead sought to ferret out the pied piper of economic disembowelment and his family who seem to be flying high (i.e. Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s family time vacay in the States, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s spiritual cleansing in Tirupati and Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s flyboarding in the Maldives) whilst the hapless masses are flung from rickety financial pillar to penury post.
In the throes of untreated persecution mania and ever quick to resurrect the poly-cephalic hydra of extremism, the President’s Media Division (PMD), surveying the violent riot’s damages to property (vehicles including those belonging to the Army and Police being set alight) and injuries to Police and STF personnel and journalists which required hospitalization, claimed that the protest in Mirihana, described by the Public Security Minister as an of sabotage, was the work of a group of organized extremists (the working definition alternates between ‘any person who gets shafted by those they voted into power, and have, as a result, reached the end of their tether, and hence, decide to express their righteous anger and frustration’ and ‘any person intending to destabilize the country by causing an unruly situation by anonymously instigating the public through social media platforms’, the latter definition courtesy of the PMD), and have made arrests in the double digit range (ironically, a Government Parliamentarian was acquitted of murder the same day), arrestees who were then produced before court and were subsequently either enlarged on bail or remanded. Curfew too was subsequently, albeit briefly, imposed on several areas.
What’s more, after it was announced that similar agitations supposedly organized by social media based online citizens’ groups, and which are purportedly not politically driven, and from which the political Opposition has distanced itself from, were to be held yesterday (03), the President has, in a preemptive move ‘in the interests of public security’ to allegedly protect ‘public order’ but which has the chilling effect of suspending the people’s sovereignty and violating the fundamental rights, and instead provides the cloak of legal impunity for the stifling of legitimate dissent and arbitrary arrests and detentions, declared a state of public emergency and imposed island-wide curfew on Saturday (02) evening until today dawn.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Government’s chickens have most certainly come home to roost.
The public’s exercise of civil disobedience and the constitutionally guaranteed right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and the exercise of the freedom of speech and expression including publication is of vital essence at this particular juncture as it serves two purposes. It provides a palpable motif of the people’s pulsating pain which the so called leaders, whom an estranged Government MP recently described as lacking the faculties of the empirical senses, must be pressured to feel owing to the rulers’ complacency and insouciance as regards their efforts to overcome the crises that have beset the nation, and for the administrators to be roused up from their repose within echo chambers. The prospect of losing power may, and who knows, put the fear of god into them, and in turn stir them into action, to embark upon important course correction.
These protests are therefore a necessary first step. But to what?
It is easy for anyone, not just life ‘style’ anarchists, to be swept up in the adrenaline rush, thrill seeking hysterics and happy go lucky bacchanals of the madness of crowds and protests for the sake of protesting, when after all, the strength is in the numbers and history may be in the making. Similar fervour has accompanied previous regime changes. But the work of democracy is not the theatrics of the corrida; it is the work of episteme, craft and logos. It is apt therefore to remind the zealous amongst us, of the dangers of collective zealotry, and also of the instability and oppression that become realities in the aftermath of a coup d’etat (not that the present bunch of Lankans are capable of pulling off the latter). As Scottish journalist Charles Mackay observes: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one”. Where then is the method to be found in this madness?
Can this fervour of resistance become a revolution of change? This is the national question. And can the revolution of change become a reform of hope?
The options in this regard on the political front are utterly desultory.
Since the democratically elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa is unlikely to step down, a motion of no confidence against the Government coupled with a resolution for the impeachment of the President on the basis of the Constitutional Article 38(2)’s ground of him being “incapable of discharging the functions of his office by reason of mental infirmity” should seriously be considered. This is where the plan runs its course. Who is to succeed this Rajapaksa and take over if this Government is toppled? While the country seems united on the matter of the removal of its bête-noire – the Rajapaksas, the country is equally divided on the matter of the replacement leader. What, pray, is the people’s wish? Surely, it can’t be the demagogic Leaders of the various Opposition Parties and factions including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna led National People’s Power’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB)’s Sajith Premadasa (not to mention the SJB’s and the 43rd Brigade’s Patali Champika Ranawaka), and the minority parties that have demands of their own. Would a vacuum in the seat of power lead to nothing but descent into anarchy? If it would be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, it should be ensured that such a situation does not arise. Moreover, and not to put too fine and nihilistic a point on it, but the cyclical and rotational chena cultivation (slash and burn) type of political guillotining and the chameleonic changing of the primary hues have not resulted in the reforms required within the Executive and Legislative arms of governance.
Be that as it may, the options in this regard on the citizens’ front, are manifold, hemmed in only by political imagination and Governmental literacy.
Vive la résistance!