I and my ‘village’ of islanders of all ilks did not go to Mirihana (‘Gotaland’).
But we did conduct a peaceful protest at the top of our road in the environs of Nugegoda (Mahinda’s erstwhile stamping grounds for politically charged rallies) on Sunday 3 April.
Sorry if it was a tad too noisy for our more ‘respectable’ fellow citizens in these politically emblematic neighbourhoods. Or ‘sorry.lk’ – since there is a tide in the affairs of an oppressed people; which, taken at the flood, leads to the top of the road or nearest junction these days...
However annoyed sophisticates may be at the disruption to law and order and business as usual, there was too much aggravation in the hearts of a populace grown agitated at hungry stomachs and empty larders to contain with a cowardly and clearly politically driven stay-at-home gag order.
Therefore the seven reasons we took to the streets on the day appointed for the citizen movement to make its points heard is a warning to not only the fatuous leadership of a failed state but the fat cats who supported them in the times of coming to and staying in power amidst the misery of the common child, woman and man.
1. It felt good
For long – for too long – for far too long – a majority of islanders had felt bad: really and truly bad. No this, no that. No point elaborating: you know what shortages you faced and what sacrifices you made for the sake of your sick, small and suffering. All while the powers that be and their cronies not only lived in the lap of luxury but suckled at the state’s bosom like vulpine parasites and their cohorts siphoned off national assets.
There is nothing as therapeutic perhaps as an hour – or in many cases, much more time than that – of making a noise. Of making a point, of making the people’s presence and power felt.
2. It was right
This was an opportunity to say your piece. It was organic, it was not opportunistic. And the political opposition was constrained or felt compelled to follow the people to the barricades.
As one politician told a policeman at the roadblock to Independence Square, “it is the sovereign right of the people to protest or express dissent.”
There is merit in law enforcement and future governments alike letting that much expressed but little allowed liberty to sink into their majority-mandate thickened skulls.
A constitution – whether paper to print it has been squandered on outputting currency or not – must breathe like a soft shiny flame in the hearts and mindscapes of all citizens.
On all sides of a political divide that is still sharply drawn but is gradually being redrawn.
And officials of the law and citizens of the land alike must know its permissions as much as its prohibitions.
3. The time was ripe
First, there was the sorry spectacle of a state taking refuge behind its customary tactic of branding all dissenters as ‘traitors’.
This time, some nasty politicians and their PR henchmen in state and society took it a step further when their propaganda machine labelled innocent women and children et al as ‘extremists’.
Last not least, a simultaneously brazen yet craven emergency being declared when not even a pandemic over the past two years or a serious macroeconomic crisis in the last six months or so could prompt or persuade the president to grow a pair and do so.
Add insult to injury – a sly reduction in the quantum of power-cut hours while the police were expected to enforce a blatantly untenable curfew that tried to keep a legitimate people’s movement from evicting an elected government with no longer a mandate to remain in office.
All of this illegally underpinned: a spurious clause of public security pressed into state service to protect not the people for whom it was designed but deployed to safeguard the wellbeing of an under-pressure political leadership.
There was a sharp retort by feet on the street. There was a sense of this being a ‘kairos moment’. There was the sound of a united polity saying like never before ‘enough is enough’.
4. Home or jail?
A rallying cry of the grassroots-up citizen movement has been #GoHomeGota.
But as the realisation dawned that this did not go anywhere near far enough at ridding the country of a corrupt lot, the clarion call expanded to #RajapaksasGoHome.
This has resulted in a cabinet resignation en bloc that saw all but the two chief protagonists throw in the towel.
In reality, under Article 49 of the Constitution, a Cabinet remains viable as long as its Prime Minister still holds office.
In fact, for a Cabinet reshuffle en masse to become legal tender – so to speak – ahead of any caretaker government being mooted or mustered, all Cabinet Ministers including the Premier must hand in the pail to the President.
In truth, such a political development deserves to be interpreted with cynicism as a ploy to circumvent a natural push to drive out Cabinet ranks and be dismissed together with all other internal conspiracies to retain power by hook or by crook.
5. Guard the guards!
In this context, the recent resignation of a brace of Cabinet Ministers now stands exposed as a Machiavellian if not very subtle stratagem.
The script – had the narrative been allowed to run – would be that under duress they resigned; at the behest of a grateful people, they agreed to be reintegrated into a caretaker government; now let’s continue to work together in an all-party grouping that graciously incorporates not only the President and the Prime Minister but their erstwhile opponents such as the Opposition Leader and political frenemies like the former Prime Minister?
Sorry.lk – no dice... we will not be gulled again, say the villagers and I, as well as the rest of what is emerging as the true civil society of our once again united island nation.
6. People are sovereign, even if politicians say so or feel otherwise
People’s protests un-propped by political agitators have brought out the best in the polity. Cricket was once the failsafe to unite faces from all parts of the country against a common enemy. Civil society movements across the spectrum – though far from foolproof – have replaced this facet of island life...
If only the apolitical, non-violent, aspects can be safeguarded? And the citadel of public displeasure not be overrun by causal hooligans, compromised by sinister agents provocateurs of a desperate regime or canny political opposition. Or taken in by its own fervour to mistake silent protests as an end in itself and not a means to the same!
It doesn’t matter that model citizens such as cricketing icons of yesteryear are late to the rally. Or that some much admired sporting heroes have made statements that are bland, inoffensive to the incumbents or anodyne to the point of revulsion.
Can it be that no matter how soft, sweet, sour, salty or sharp the statements, their physical as well as virtual presence is a welcome component among a citizenry notorious for seeking political favours and patronage, or sucking up to even the evidently corrupt powers that are for personal gain?
Could it be that this rotten political culture in a shame-honoured civilisation such as ours (‘it isn’t a sin until someone finds it out; it isn’t a shame unless sufficient numbers of people think and feel or say so’) is on the cusp of change?
Caution, though – that in our haste to hurry the discredited political animals out of power and office and their despicable cronies out of their spheres of influence, we don’t transmute into the baser metal of a vigilante society at large.
Consider what the herd instinct has done before and steer clear of anarchy, insurrection and witch-hunts.
7. Country before cabal
Of course, there is the medium term to think about.
What criteria will my country-folk who have a say settle for in terms of credible characteristics of caretaker governments, the political instrument of the hour?
How will we translate the agency of apolitical citizen movements into long-term constitutional wins for the future generations for whom we claim to be protesting?
Where will the nation state be in the very short term... cabinets, caretaker governments, cabals fighting rearguard actions against oblivion or criminal persecution or both... if and when our external debt is not restructured or national revenue streams refreshed to replenish state coffers?
Is a truly equitable society on the cards at last? Or will this current trend end in a whimper, not a bang... like too many revolutions or so-called ‘springs’ before it?
But at present, there is a tide in the affairs of humanity which will take the thronging masses of humanity beyond Thummulla, Nelum Pokuna, Independence Square and sundry epicentres of united dissidence; to life, liberty, and the potential pursuit of solutions to complex problems simplified for the nonce by pressing concerns such as shortages faced and sacrifices made.
In sum, we – and literally thousands of others – went because there was a strong sense all of us had to ‘do something’ that would make the cowardly powers that be sit up and take notice. They had tried to rob us of our sovereignty with a social media embargo, baton wielding riot police, tear-gas canisters that were cannily lobbed back into the law camp’s midst, a spurious curfew and a sinister emergency. Now, the boot is on the other foot.
| Editor-at-large of LMD | Non-violent apolitical citizen protestor |