The Ides of March and the ideas on the march

Thursday, 17 March 2022 02:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

CRY, ‘HAVOC!’ – there is a tide in the affairs of the nation, which, if taken at the flood, lead on to fame... and fortune – and a fate still to be decided as far as the food-less, forex-less, fertiliser-less masses go - Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

I, like you maybe, had mixed feelings about the rally that was this week. 


On the one hand, it was exciting that something was happening at last. It looked like the people had finally had just about enough of all their hardships. Now they were on the verge of responding as citizens. And a representative sampling of them were getting ready two days ago to send the villains and other accomplices packing!

That it was held on the Ides of March (15th) – this emblematic day when the senators of Rome literally took a Caesarean solution into their blood-stained hands – gave it an extra edge. The kind that makes your spine tingle and eyes dart about in apprehension... lest one be caught up in the mayhem, or mistaken for an assassin of the incumbent regime and arrested, or worse.

Also encouraging was the political opposition’s claim that this was no partisan rally or organised spectacle, but a genuine people’s protest or sui generis populist movement. It would have been better, though, if those verbose politicos (‘the usual suspects’) had not transmuted the gargantuan parade from the pure gold of a people’s movement into the base metal of a political outing in the end.

Of course, those politicians would claim/feel/say that... it’s all part of the long game – weaponizing citizens’ suppressed emotions and egregious suffering – on behalf of a vested interest. Not that the goal is not a salutary one: to ease the Sisyphean burdens of the long-suffering masses. But elected representatives on both sides need to demonstrate that they are the first in line to tighten belts and take the cuts. And there was no sign of that... on any side...

At least there was no hidden agenda. #GotaGoHome is about as plain as pikestaff as a paternalistic regime or a narcissistic despot would wish a public message scrawled across municipal spaces – as much as social media – to be.

Be that as it may, the riposte – #WeAreWithGota – suggests that there was a contrapuntal movement at best... or a canny propaganda reply at worst. 


On the other hand, however, the rally raised more questions than the solutions to our present predicament that it purported to supply. Or the relief it aspired to provide – perhaps through regime change?

For one, what was the rally’s vision, bigger picture, raison d’etre beyond a show of strength? Did it envisage a regime change to take place purely on the basis of a public outcry? Or did they have the fine print and logistical apparatus of a legitimate takeover of government in their other hand?

For another, by what legal and constitutional means could they finesse a resignation of the head of the state and his cabinet en bloc and/or the government en masse? And legitimately assume the reins of office – while pre-empting the disapproval of posterity, such as that which the unconstitutional coup of 2018 is still tarred, as far as the incumbent regime goes? 

And then again, in the face of not silence – but vocal support of a remnant of the putative 6.9 million fans of ‘Gotanomics’ and the stonewalling of his generals in the face of public displeasure – what would protest alone amount to? Except the usurpation of a still-standing people’s mandate; weak, foolish and short-sighted as it seems now?

Last but not least, would a resignation automatically mean that a snap poll or two (presidential and general) be called? And the people’s mandate sought again, so soon, after two landslide election victories? Purely on the strength of 100,000 or so feet on the march? Must not ambition – more so a ‘Sri Lankan spring’ – be made of sterner stuff?

Middle path

By the way, the larger/looming/overarching question is what the opposition would/should/could do... in the – unlikely – event of the out-of-room-to-think government throwing in the towel? 

Would the regime see this throwing down of the gauntlet as the writing being incontrovertibly on the wall? Assuming they saw it in this light; being tone-deaf and arrogant to boot, as they have been of late: riding on the high-horse of a now-useless parliamentary majority?

What was the grand objective of the rally – to make the point that they can draw a crowd? to stem the tide of corruption? to reverse the rot of cronyism and nepotism? to boldly go where no government had gone before in terms of being truly technocratic and visionary? to rescue the beloved nation from its present doldrums of penury and being on the verge of an evidently altogether avoidable bankruptcy? and to restore it to the status of blessed isle once again – free of all political one-upmanship?

Or will putative regime change mean exchanging one set of crooks and charlatans for another power-hungry cabal?

And what – apart from the burning (often quite literal at that...) passion of the protestors at the barricades and the rhetoric of the speakers behind the megaphones – was riding on the political opposition’s bandwagon? Where is the beef – meaning, show us the money!

Is this caravan any different from the sundry shows of populism at Nugegoda or other ‘Galle Faces’? Or even the hoary ‘paada yaathras’ of old?

Would there be a meaningful day after tomorrow once the municipal workers had swept away the buth-packet wrappers and thrown the half-bottles into the bin marked ‘glass’?

Or is this an unfair characterisation of a galvanised proto-movement that was simply happy to capitalise on the food-less, forex-less, fertiliser-less fury of the masses grown fearless at the prospect of a bleaker tomorrow than all our yesterdays? 

Other issues

What of the other rallies, today/tomorrow/whenever? Which issues would they major on? Perhaps a single mass outing would have been more persuasive in the long run? 

If only the principally divergent main political opposition parties had been able to unite! So that government got a singularly clear strong message that its time was well and truly up as far as the town and country went!

And what of the largely Colombo-based urban elites (such as E1 and E2 in the chat below) who base their barricades around the walls of Facebook in the main and Twitter as a sideshow?

Maybe a synopsis of an exchange there would illustrate the idealism that was ‘on the march’ in the avenues of quiet reflection on social media. While the hoi polloi grubbed it out among the cops in mufti and other thugs on the commercial capital’s mean streets two days ago...

Ideas on a march

Elite #1: ‘Rally’ against the nation’s biggest problem by taking the ‘u’ out of the rot: corruption. Stop giving, now! (original post)

Elite #2: Take out that ‘i’ too?

E#1: Fair game.

E#2: U and I – so to say – can make it a fair game if we exit the cycle/circus.

E#1: I exited the cycle/circus a long time ago, as you know... hope you have, too.

E#2: Me too, as I think/trust U know...

E#1: The way forward, except that it could be a case of ‘u’ and ‘i’ at this rally. The others are converging on a dark city, half a ‘pol’ and ‘buth’ packet in hand, I presume, to listen to more rubbish from the very people on all sides who have ransacked our coffers, which is why we are nearly bankrupt!

E#2: Agree that regime change alone will not cleanse the Augean stables of cronyism, corruption, charlatanry, chauvinism and crooked patronage politics tinged with paternalism and authoritarianism, which have dogged the heels of decent citizens for generations – and dug us deeper, further into a hole...

Yet even if protest rallies are weaponised by the political opposition, the rising tide of fear, anger, hopelessness and frustration at incompetence and insensitivity must be allowed – in the larger interest of democratic dissent – to have its say and its day in the field... that is its right.

With that said, the black hole we’ve dug ourselves into over the years is going to take a whole lot more than a protest movement (populist, politically motivated, whatever) to right a sinking ship of state.

Whatever mechanism is employed by whoever holds the reins of political office, incumbent government-by-gazette or regime change, we’re in for a long, bumpy ride... and IMF bailout and/or debt restructuring or not, it’s slated to get a whole lot worse (food, forex, pharmaceutical shortages, etc.) before it gets better.

E#1: I guess we differ somewhat on what ‘democracy’ means or should mean. But for me, it isn’t a case of ‘Gota go home’ or ‘Gota we are with you’, but a case of ‘226 go home’. But somehow, not 6.9m people but more than 13m ‘adults’ continue to play politics by backing one corrupt side or the other.

In fact, no opposition in their right mind would want to inherit the mess we are in. Because in the end, they will be blamed for the suffering that’s ahead, as you rightly say... 

We humans – and Sri Lankans, in particular – forget very easily. Else, how come these same useless politicians are allowed to play musical chairs every five years?

I honestly don’t know where the solutions lie; but I know for sure that the present modus operandi of the people will only delay the inevitable... and by that time, the ‘brain drain’ would see to it that the cupboard is empty. At least now, it is full of rogues and hooligans!

E#2: Differing – and yet, agreeing to disagree; and also, still working together for the common good – is what democracy (and civilisation) mean to me.

But yes, I’m no politico – so I don’t (claim to) have ‘easy answers’ either!

Like it or not, the franchise must prevail – because the dreaded alternatives to democracy (militarisation, dictatorship, being a client state to a foreign power) are a nightmare to envisage... or encourage. It is, after all, the worst of all forms of governance (except for all the others, of course!).

With that said: to my mind at least, part of the solution is civil society (and I mean the average voter-citizen, not the professional or academic outfits with their respective agendas) learning what it takes legally, constitutionally, and activism-wise, to bring and bear pressure on political parties across the spectrum. 

This is vital in order to nominate only clean candidates, have stricter fiscal controls and disclosure of elected representatives’ finances and campaign expenses, and legislatively raise the bar for those aspiring to run for political office – among other reforms. 

And people’s protests are a small part of course-correction to right a rotten ship of state. Surely the human instinct in a compassionate society permits the marginalised this safety valve of blowing off steam under severe pressure? 

Of course, in the limit we are lost... until and unless we educate ourselves and the generations who will succeed ‘U’ and ‘I’ as commentators and fellow sufferers, on the true costs of not only corruption but also the whole kit and caboodle of what ails our blessed isle... 

It is a beloved nation that owes itself better than the cronyism and chauvinism and chicanery we have allowed to go on far too much, with only the occasional protest under duress, for too long... 

E#1: I too wish the people – educated or not – will educate themselves along these lines. In fact, I feel the educated need to go first! The issue is that the educated and rich among us prefer to turn a blind eye to what has been going for decades because they are part of the corrupt system and stand to gain from it, the blackest of economies. 

They have and will send their children to saner pastures, which leaves ‘U’ and ‘I’ at that rally for two, wondering whether there will be a Gen Z worth its salt left to turn things around after our lifetime. 

Let’s just call it ‘WTF-land’ – and suffer in silence... at that rally.

E#2: But that is no Way To Feel #WTF – and so, let’s Find The Way #FTW?

E#1: (replies with ‘champagne flutes clicking’ icon) here’s how the opposition instigates Deltacron!

E#2: I’ve said it before: that mass rallies with minimal regard for public health protocols are a mighty irresponsible way to protest. 

But this sheer mass of people who are literally taking their lives in their hands – amidst COVID variants and thugs in mufti on top of constabulary and military muscle in the wings – to express the extent of their dissatisfaction with the sorry state of affairs and the sordid affairs of state speaks volumes for not only the depth of despair faced by average citizens but the desperation of the masses at home whom they represent (as well as others like me who pontificate from behind the safety of our social media walls!)... 

Shall stop now! However on the nose our ideas here may be, the real action is elsewhere. Therefore I go – in peace... for the nonce at least?

 (Ex-Journalist | #E2 | Editor-at-Large of LMD | Exiting the walls of social media )


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