The events that unfolded on Monday, lasting through yesterday, were quite unprecedented in the history of this country – even during the 30 years of war, 1958 pogrom, 1983 Black July or even the 87-89 insurgency.
A group of SLPP-sponsored goons, following a meeting at Temple Trees with the now-disgraced former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, walked towards Galle Face openly threatening to attack the peaceful civilian protesters camped at GotaGoGama, while the law enforcement agencies chose to look the other way.
What followed was complete mayhem. At the end of the melee, several people were reported dead, over 200 injured, dozens of vehicles either damaged or burnt, and private residences and businesses of several prominent SLPP politicians burnt to the ground.
The scenes of the incensed crowds pushing buses and other vehicles that transported goons to Colombo into the Beira Lake, followed by throwing SLPP supporters themselves into the murky waters of the Lake, were splashed across social media. Yesterday morning, several roads in Colombo were strewn with burnt shells of buses that transported SLPP supporters to Colombo. A number of those vehicles belonged to local government bodies.
Many parties lay the blame for this chaos at the foot of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, as he did nothing to defuse the tension when he addressed his supporters gathered at Temple Trees on Monday morning. In fact, his resignation came far too late.
A man, who not so long ago was fondly called ‘King’ or affectionately known as ‘Appachchi’ has now been reduced to a ‘senile myna.’ Throughout his long political career, he was known to be ‘one of the people,’ ‘a friend of the Media,’ ‘a street fighter,’ ‘a human rights crusader.’
Yet, his greed for power, which even prompted him to remove the presidential term limit at one point, and rampant corruption by his immediate family members and close associates, tainted his image beyond repair, particularly during his two presidential terms from 2005 to 2015.
However, until a few months ago, a large percentage of the country’s population still had some degree of respect for Mahinda Rajapaksa – particularly due to the bold steps taken to end the three-decade-long war. Amid rising calls to his President brother to resign, people still did not think too badly of Mahinda.
Yet, all of that changed within a few months. With the cost of living spiralling out of control and with the massive shortage of essentials such as milk powder, fertiliser, gas and petroleum, his supporters have realised, perhaps for the first time that Mahinda Rajapaksa was no friend of the people. They understood that his intention had been all along to build up his Rajapaksa dynasty and family rule.
While children were crying for milk, parents were losing jobs, small businesses were going bankrupt due to extended power cuts and fuel shortages, construction industry was collapsing due to skyrocketing material costs and farmers were suffering due to ad hoc fertiliser policies, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s progeny was living a life of luxury, untouched by the troubles of the masses.
Mistake not, the ones who stepped into the streets in the last month, protesting and shouting slogans, demanding solutions for the economic crisis, were the middle class white-collar workers. They were not the usual political protesters or trade unionists. These are the digitally-empowered younger generation, seeking a change.
For the first time in this country, the people have understood who the enemy was – not each other, but the blood-sucking politicians who act with impunity with no regard for the suffering of the ordinary citizens of the country.
And, this marked the downfall of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Following his resignation, crowds surrounded Temple Trees waiting until the former PM stepped out. And, by the time this edition went to print, the angry crowds have surrounded the Trincomalee Naval Base, where they suspected the former PM and his family are hiding.