Is This The End?

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The last remaining tents and other temporary constructions set up at Galle Face, otherwise known as ‘GotaGoGama’, were removed by the Police Special Task Force and the Urban Development Authority on Friday (12), marking an end to months-long occupation of the iconic land area by the Aragalaya protesters.

Sri Lanka has a long history of protests. Although divided along political party lines, the country’s vibrant trade union culture stems from Sri Lanka’s hesitant flirtation with Socialism and stands as the only allusion to part of the country’s name, Democratic ‘Socialist’ Republic of Sri Lanka.

Yet, there has never been a time in this country’s history when a protest campaign involved participants from across all social and economic strata, united under one slogan – enough is enough and the then President, whom they had identified as the person primarily responsible for the dire economic crisis the country has fallen into, must go!

Set up in early April this year, the Aragalaya passed through many phases and involved various groups, some apolitical and some with differing political agendas. The events of 9 May, which culminated in the resignation of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, are still being investigated. These events also changed the focus of Aragalaya.

What started off as an attack on those who were peacefully encamped at ‘GotaGoGama’ turned violent by nightfall with arson attacks on the private residences of a number of politicians, many of whom were Cabinet Ministers. This showed the involvement of a sinister hand, in the guise of protesters.

Nonetheless, with the former President refusing step down, the Galle Face occupation grew by numbers and evolved into a settlement with a medical camp, library, legal aid centre, media centre, solar powered phone charging station, a vibrant stage of art and culture, until a month later on 9 June former Finance Minister resigned first from his portfolio and then from his National List parliamentary seat.

While the Government and the Aragalaya have been deadlocked on who should go home first, the country’s economy has been going from bad to worse, with fuel queues growing longer, gas shortage becoming aggravated, and the prices of essential food items shooting through the roof to unprecedented highs.

In the meantime, the face of Aragalaya too took a different turn. While those who genuinely wished for a system change to bring in a corruption-free political and administrative culture continued the peaceful protest at Galle Face, some rogue elements with sinister motives started creeping into the midst of them, in an attempt to turn the focus of the Aragalaya into something else.

The events of 9 July are a combination of both these factors. The thousands of frustrated masses that seeped into Colombo on that day were fed up of the decades of empty talks of politicians and enraged by the rampant and unchecked corruption at all levels of Government. The levels of nepotism and cronyism that have ruined Sri Lanka’s reputation at international level and destroyed the country’s economy bringing it down to the pit of bankruptcy were reasons for the explosion of public anger on 9 July, which made the former President flee the country.

Yet, a few days later, the events of 13 July, near the Polduwa Bridge close to the Parliament Junction tell a different story. Although a number of peaceful protesters were gathered there that day, the violence that was unleashed there was orchestrated by a sinister element, which is yet to be fully identified. During the melee, a number of Police and security forces personnel were injured, a number of weapons and ammunitions including tear gas canisters were stolen from the security forces present there.

On the other hand, with the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a number of groups occupying the ‘GotaGoGama’ voluntarily withdrew, stating that they had already fulfilled the task they had gone there to do. Then, some other groups vowed to continue the occupation stating the task is not over yet.

However, with the clearing of last tent from Galle Face, the occupation officially comes to an end. But, the pertinent question is, is this the end of Aragalaya?