Call it a people’s revolution on the lines of the ‘Arab Spring’ or the ‘Orange Revolution’ or whatever, the way a section of the protesters has occupied the President’s Secretariat, official residence,‘Temple Trees,’and now the Prime Minister’s office, all symbols of the Sri Lankan State for days now, is not only not condonable, but also has to be squarely condemned. If the corrupt politicians have to be punished, the inefficient among them voted out, those that destroyed the edifice of Sri Lankan democracy should not be allowed to go scot-free lest a future generation would think of worse things and act on them.
Thus far, Sri Lanka has prided itself as Asia’s first, true electoral democracy, commencing its journey as far back as 1931, under the Donoughmore Constitution. That the Nation has had the habit of changing into new Constitutions post-Independence, 1948, has become an object of ridicule. But to some academics of global constitutions, it is all a part of the transitional process.
According to them, Sri Lanka had inherited the British colonial model wholesale, the Nation not having fought for its Independence, whether violent or non-violent. In neighbouring India (which then included present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh), Gandhiji’s non-violent freedom movement included the ‘Swadeshi’ element, a loose-translation being ‘self-reliance,’ with a lot more of national pride and spiritual intent intertwined.
This meant that India could think and act independent of foreign influence – at times, against it – to chart out a new course at Independence in 1947, only months before Sri Lanka’s. Still, exposed to Western education and governance methods as their Sri Lankan elite of the time, India’s freedom leaders merged the best of both worlds to give themselves a constitutional scheme that was/is as much functional as in the more experienced West, yet rooted in the Nation’s immediate circumstance.
Thus, India, for instance, ushered in the otherwise impossible Nehruvian combo of democracy and socialism going together as ‘Democratic Socialism’ as the Nation’s creed at Independence. India too has since embraced market capitalism, yes, but only after addressing the core interests of the Nation’s vast rural population, which was poor and illiterate at the same time.
In Sri Lanka, by contrast, the elitist inheritors of the British scheme continued to pull out their woollens when it was winter in London. In recent decades, they do so when it is winter in Washington, instead. It was thus that the first post-Independence UNP government with its liberal, market capitalist politico-economic policies had to be quickly replaced by a socialist model reflecting the mind and mindset of the masses, as early as 1956. But this scheme too has produced neo-elites and it is a sad, new inheritance, whose effects the Nation is still suffering from.
Where did Sri Lanka falter through the past seven decades since Independence is debatable. The Rajapaksas, having ruled the Nation for a total stretch of 13 years, with an iron hand and adventurous development programmes attaching to Chinese funding, cannot escape the blame for the politico-economic downhill trip that the Nation has still been taking. Especially, Gota’s quixotic ideas of ‘organic farming’ and tax cuts at the wrong time and in the wrong way, took urban economic distress of the pandemic kind to every rural home, the Rajapaksas’ very own constituency.
But the Rajapaksa rule did not create the two ‘JVP insurgencies’ in the past, nor did it contribute to the commencement of ‘Tamil terrorism’ of the LTTE kind. They did not have to contribute to ending JVP insurgencies I and II, but to them goes the credit of ending LTTE terrorism, which was among the most dreaded all across the world.
Also, they did not realise that ending terrorism and ushering in post-war peace and economic progress were not two sides of the same coin. They were full of themselves, numerically and otherwise, that there was no room for sane, new advice. Not that the intervening alternative in the Maithri-Ranil duo do any better, be it on the economic, political or security front. It proved that something was really rotten in the State of Sri Lanka.
‘Aragalaya’ and after
Today, protesters, or the ideological sections thereof, having conquered other symbols of the Sri Lankan State and democracy, have stormed into Parliament House, the premier vestige of democracy, the last vanguard, too, in this case.The ‘umbrella organisation’ that the ‘Aragalaya’ struggle in Colombo’s Galle Face Green beachfront is showing up the inherent and inevitable divisions, based on urban, liberal ideology and mainly rural, leftist methodology from a forgotten past.
It signals victory for the cause on the one hand and parting of ways between ideological/methodological groups, some of whom have been onto this occupying official buildings and State symbols. National broadcaster, Rupavahini, is one such that they tried to storm but could not or did not – until reports last came in. There is no guarantee that it would not happen.
Symbols of the State across the country could similarly fall into the hands of anarchists, out to revive the cause of forgotten insurgency from the seventies and the eighties, whatever the reason and justification. They just wanted it, and the Rajapaksas, especially Gota, conspired with global pandemic, to give them what they wanted.
Independent of the constitutional hiatus caused by President Gota leaving the country without quitting, as reportedly promised, and his nominating Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, to stand in for him, has thrown up a dicey situation, as the Constitution does not fix any limit to the length of the latter’s continuance. Having said that, the Security Forces are saddled with the added accountability imposed by the UNHRC and the US-led West on the one hand, and anticipation of getting good marks from the IMF to obtain the required forex assistance.
It’s where the ‘Occupy Colombo’ group leaders have tactically upstaged the Government and the Security Forces. During JVP insurgencies I and II, the other left-leaning militancy from the past, the protesters took arms, targeted fellow citizens, and worse. Today, the protesters are tactically non-violent, provoking the Security Forces enough and before global watch and TV and social media cameras, leaving the latter with little option but to yield!
About the writer:
The writer is a Policy Analyst and Commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email: [email protected]
By N. Sathiya Moorthy