The rhetorical observations made by those for and against the “Jana Satana Paada Yathra” or the march by loyalists of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa from Peradeniya to Colombo over the weekend were interesting. Going by their remarks one would wonder whether this was what the situation some call a “win-win situation’’.
One of the former President’s closest lieutenants and former Minister Dullas Allahapperuma beat all in the Mahinda camp in this regard by claiming that the march from Peradeniya to Colombo was the most massive and most influential of its kind in the world. He especially referred to the “Long March” led by the iconic Chinese leaders Mao Zedong or Chairman Mao Tse-tung as he was called then, between October 1934 and October 1935 during the Great Chinese Revolution, as one outdone by the “Jana Satana”.
Dullas seems not to know much about the Chinese Long March. The “Joint Opposition” as the Mahinda Loyalists prefer to be called walked only about 70 miles, many leaders taking shifts, during their “Long March” from Peradeniya to Colombo protesting against the increased imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT), what they called political vendetta against their leaders, particularly against the Mahinda Rajapaksa family and price hikes of essential items, among others.
The Chinese Long March was a retreat by Chinese Communists to evade encirclement by Kuomintang or Guomindang forces of Chiang Kai-shek. During the 6000 mile (10,000 kilometres) trek from Southeastern Jiangxi Province to Northwestern Shaanxi Province in China, mostly through jungles and on foot,the Communist Red Army crossed 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges enduring starvation, aerial bombardment and daily skirmishes which ultimately depleted the Red Army from 86,000 troops to mere 10,000 fighters. However, when they finally reached Shaanxi Province, inspired by their courage and dedication thousands of young Chinese travelled to that province to be enlisted in Mao’s Red Army.
National Freedom Front leader Wimal Werawansa, another soul mate of former President had said that the fear in the leaders of the government about the Joint Opposition and the Paada Yatra was well manifested by their increased concern over the march. When the same point was put as a question at a press conference, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake retorted by saying that they talked much about the Paada Yathra not because of fear, but that was how people reacted to their number one enemy. Wimal would have to eat his words had Anura asked as to why the former lashes out at the JVP even at a drop of a hat. Dullas and former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage claimed that over two million people had participated in the march while the former further said that around a million gathered in the final rally alone. They know that nobody would contest this claim as nobody had taken pains to count the participants in the five-day march. However, even if five persons in the march had occupied one square meter in the final rally, a space of about one fifths of a square kilometer without any building would have been needed for a million people or one twentieths of the total population of the country to gather.
What was the outcome of the Joint Opposition’s “long march”? A cartoonist had attempted to answer this question by depicting the former President telling an ordinary voter that they had completed the march in response to which the voter asks “Have you toppled the government sir?”Hirunika Premachandra, the young MP of the United National Party (UNP) who had vanished from the limelight for months had told that Maithripala Sirisena would be the President, RanilWickremesinghe would be the Prime Minister and Mahinda Rajapaksa would be the Kurunegala District MP even after the march, as they were before.
Highways and Higher education Minister Laksman Kiriella said that the result of the Paada Yathra would be seen after the forthcoming local government elections.
But the Joint Opposition’s Paada Yathra was not totally futile as many suggest. The main achievement was that they consolidated their position as the main Opposition in the country and took that message to the people, despite Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, the leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) having been recognised as the official Opposition Leader by the Speaker of Parliament, on a legal basis.
TNA leader Sampanthan seems to have forgotten that he was the Opposition Leader, as he has not shown concern about the perks such as an official residence that came with the post as well as the problems faced by the large majority of the people. During many important issues, such as the Central Bank Bond transaction, controversial coal tender, floods and landslides that affected many people even belonging to the minority communities, his voice was not heard in the Parliament or outside it. However, the TNA took up the disastrous blast at the Salawa army camp since they could capitalise it in their demand for the removal of army camps from the north.
On the other hand, it was the Mahinda loyalists, apart from the JVP who had taken up many issues that have affected the lives of the people while grappling with the allegations of large-scale corruption, mismanagement, wastage and crimes such as high profile murders and white-van abductions, against them. It was they who first brought the now famous Central Bank bond issue to light. It was Wimal’s party that had persuaded the court to suspend the increased VAT that had been imposed recently.
They questioned the legality and the morality of the national government formed by the UNP and a section of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party while accusing President Maithripala Sirisena for weakening the Opposition through his political marriage with the UNP. The accusation had been heard translated into a vulgar slogan against the President at the PaadaYathra as well. In fact the present lining up of political parties in the Parliament is in the long run would be detrimental to the country as it has blurred the dividing line between the ruling party and the Opposition, weakening the latter.
The situation is being justified by the still fresh memory of the high-handed and disastrous administration carried out by the Rajapaksa regime a few months ago. Also it goes without saying that Rajapaksa loyalists have no moral right to accuse others for weakening the Opposition as the Rajapaksa regime itself had been a role model for breaking the Opposition parties and weakening them to the hilt. However, despite the questions over the moral right of the Mahinda group to raise it, one cannot deny that there were all signs for the need of a strong Opposition in the years to come.