‘Sovereignty’ is a term tossed about today in the torrents of eloquence and abuse sweeping this island in all three official languages. Sovereignty is a subject on which enough volumes have been written and they pack vast shelves in libraries around the world. For our purposes we will consider it to mean what Sri Lankans [...]

Sunday Times 2

Galle Face activists can turn a new chapter in our history


‘Sovereignty’ is a term tossed about today in the torrents of eloquence and abuse sweeping this island in all three official languages.

Sovereignty is a subject on which enough volumes have been written and they pack vast shelves in libraries around the world. For our purposes we will consider it to mean what Sri Lankans believed it to be since Independence in 1948.

It is the belief that the ultimate authority of governance is vested in the people who periodically elect governments to power, for a limited period, on a given set of promises to rule for the good of the people and the country.

The apolitical Galle Face Force also know as Gogotagama activists

But the promises made and the visions of splendour and prosperity painted in their election manifestos have failed to materialise and the people — like the Lotus Eaters in the island which Homer three millennia ago described in his Odessey — couldn’t care less. They either re-elected the scoundrels, despite all their villainy and broken promises at the next elections or threw them out but the wily political scoundrels kept switching sides and continue to be ‘honourable’ MPs today.

The lotus eating Sri Lankans in the year circa 2022 reacted differently, perhaps having eaten all the lotuses available, having built Lotus Towers and Lotus Ponds and being left with no money to eat, feed their children, fuel to cook their meals or oil to light their lamps.

The people have one clear and common demand: the entire ruling clan that has been entrenched for years be uprooted — root and branch and thrown into the garbage can of history. The nation’s funds lost or robbed will be claimed from those responsible.

The people right now don’t want another election. They want President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, all other brothers, sons and nephews of the ruling clan to ‘Go Home’. They want a new system of governance run by untainted individuals and professionals as an open democracy.

But Gota is not going home despite the vociferous, rhythmic chant that is reverberating in all corners of the country.

Various constitutional provisions are cited that prevent Gota going home. Is the president and his brother Mahinda’s desire and commitment to go through the constitutional procedure in abdicating his powers that prevent them from resigning or is it the natural desire to hold on to absolute power they possess and reluctance to sacrifice two decades effort to perpetuate a Rajapaksa dynasty ?

How could they disappoint their hard-core supporters who swore that the Rajapaksa dynasty will last as long as ‘Ira-Handa pavathina thuu’ — as long as the sun and moon last? The Rajapaksa fans may take consolation in that SLFP supporters too made similar proclamations of lasting as long as the sun and moon after Sirima Bandarnaike’s victories and the UNPers also did so when JRJ swept the polls.

Students even of elementary history know that political power is not eternal as much as the rulers may wish it to be and is an evanescent phenomenon.

The Rajapaksas have gone through the usual motions of strongmen when they see the writing on the wall.

As the captain of the sinking ‘Rajapaksa yatra’, elder brother Mahinda has gone through the usual SOS exercise: Evacuate first women and children of their brood into unidentified places of safety.

They have even uttered their mea culpas.  Gota has taken responsibility for disastrous moves of financial mismanagement and the colossal blunder of shifting from application of chemical fertilisers that were used earlier to organic fertiliser only.

But is mere acceptance of responsibility for decisions that caused the economy to collapse and bring untold misery to the great majority of the people enough?

There are many examples of presidents and prime ministers resigning when mistakes made in crippling the national economy or ruining the country’s agriculture have been realised much before public pressure was applied.

But Gotabaya Rajapaksa keeps on hinting about being willing to give up near absolute power he bestowed on himself under the 20th Amendment enacted by his own initiative.

His move of sacking his entire cabinet of ministers with the exception of brother Mahinda and appointment of deputy ministers to ministerial posts is nonsensical in the context of the national crisis although he may be naive enough to think that the public may be convinced of his desire to clean up his administration. Replacing a corrupt tainted ‘A team’ with a ‘B team’ of unknown deputies devoid of any qualifications or known abilities is yet a Gotabaya folly that makes no sense.

Are the Rajapaksa’s buying time hoping that with IMF assistance, Chinese and Indian loans ‘normalcy’ could be restored and they can carry on for another two to three years when elections are due?

All opposition political parties have refused to join the ‘B Team’ government. The major opposition political parties want ‘Gota and the Rajapaksas’ clean out of the scene although their strategies of forming a government have not been revealed.

The most intriguing question is what the Galle Face Force or Gogotagama activists are going to do. They have been shaking the once mighty government of the Rajapaksas from a little bit of land in the vicinity of the Presidential Secretariat for days. At the time of writing these comments they have been protesting with much vigour, come rain or sun, non-stop for more than 12 days. The young men and women who form the core of this movement are positively apolitical. They have asked political parties to keep off the grass while they continue to harangue the president and the Rajapaksas non-stop. Their demand is simply: Gota go home.

The young men and women have attracted the middle aged and even those long in the tooth to their venue. Organisations from as far as Polonnaruwa and other regions in the heart of the green rice lands have called on them and paid tribute to their endeavours. In Colombo, its suburbs, other provincial towns, inspired by the Galle Face activists, ordinary citizens, irrespective of race, religion or class, are coming on to the streets even at night to stage candlelight protests.

But can this mighty movement with no identified leader continue in this fashion? It is a movement with immense potential that could lead Sri Lanka out of this political and economic morass. It should be nurtured, guided not as a political party but as a reforming force perhaps in influencing the production of a blueprint for a new constitution that should be ratified at a referendum. Not one that is being drawn up by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyers.

The Galle Face activists, too, have a responsibility to the nation, having created political history as never before by inspiring placid citizens who have never staged public protests come out and call for justice to be meted out to those responsible for their sufferings.

The Galle Face activists hold the key to open a new chapter in the political history of this country with millions backing them. If they don’t want to be mired in politics, so be it. But they can act to move society as they are doing now. But under no circumstance should they wither away.

We do hope that those independent young women have worked out their future strategy/strategies. We made the above comments as an aged political commentator who had not witnessed such a young and vigorous movement sprout out on Galle Face Green.

(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader.)


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