In the Denzel Washington movie ‘The Equalizer’, a character explains his behaviour after an especially dramatic scene, saying “It sends a message: I am here”. That is the single most important effect of the significant Paada Yatra, the long march from Kandy to Colombo. Mahinda Rajapaksa has sent that same message to the political establishment and its external backers: “I AM HERE”. The Joint Opposition has done so collectively, saying “You may perpetrate the fraud that the TNA which has one thirds the seats that we have, is the official parliamentary Opposition, but as the national opposition, the real opposition, “WE ARE HERE!”.
To continue in the movie mode, the book by Elmore Leonard made into the film ‘Valdez is Coming’ has a scene in which the grizzled old mustachioed Mexican played by Burt Lancaster sends a laconic message through a survivor of his ambush,to his tormentors, the rich rancher and his gang,after he has begun to turn the tables on them with his sawed-off shotgun and Sharps buffalo gun: “Tell them, Valdez
Mahinda has signalled that he is on the move, and that he headed a gathering force and can field a credible formation at any and every election. If Ranil, CBK, and their foreign patrons thought that they had abolished the two party system in Sri Lanka and created a ‘bipartisan consensus’ which can grant the Tamil Diaspora’s punitive accountability and the TNA’s federalization demands, Mahinda, Dinesh and the JO have just signalled that the competitive two party system is returning in the transitional form of a tri-polar game.
The ‘paada yatra’ also proves that the solid parliamentary caucus that is the JO has now developed a second, social movement dimension. While it always had a capacity for mass mobilization (from Nugegoda, February 2015 to Hyde Park, March 2016), the JO has emerged as the most determined, dynamic,‘People’s Power’ Movement this country has seen in decades. This movement will only feed on the economic discontents that are the inevitable result of the IMF program and controversially lopsided agreements such as ETCA. It will grow further and hone its cutting edge as the Special Court with Special Counsel and foreign participation rears its head.
The artificially assembled parliamentary dominance from above--by means of the parliamentary coup ousting the legitimate Southern opposition and installing the TNA--now faces the counterbalance of a rising social movement from below.
The JO mass movement also functions as a Solidarity Movement for, or Movement for the Defense of, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces against Special Courts with foreign investigators and Special counsel, and the dangerous agenda of “demilitarization of the North and East as well as the entire island by 2018” (pompously proclaimed by Mangala Samaraweera). When the eggs of the Geneva Resolution embedded by Mangala and CBK within the entrails of the government and state,hatch a hydra-headed Accountability-Demilitarization-Federalization monster, the ‘paada yatra’ ‘popular bloc’ is the nucleus of a resistance movement of National Liberation capable of fighting the Power and breaking the Machine in political guerrilla war and close quarter, hand-to-hand combat, culminating in a victorious electoral insurrection (a la ’56 and ’70).
Above all, the JO in and out of parliament has demonstrated that it possess the social kinetic energy needed, even if its leaders are incarcerated on false charges, to fight against and defeat at a Referendum next year, the North-East re-merger and quasi/proto federal Constitution which will turn the island’s North and East into a second Tamil Nadu.
The ‘paada yatra’ has also showcased Namal Rajapaksa, whose ‘Stayin’ Alive’ Travolta walk and street dance moves, superb percussionist drummer buddy, gravel-voiced Sinhala political rap sloganeers and real time social media coverage constituted the most popular contingent and clearly marked him as a rising star destined for eventual national leadership.
Finally, the new mass movement is a perfect launch pad for a Presidential candidacy in 2020, while Mahinda returns as PM.
It wasn’t smart at all for the Government to think that waging ‘lawfare’ i.e. legal warfare, the legal targeting of the Rajapaksas, can stop, deter or even slow down Mahinda. Mahinda is taking the political battle to those who are hounding, harassing andhumiliating him and his family, and he is taking it to the streets. He is out of governmental office and manipulatively outnumbered in the apex bodiesof his party, the party his father co-founded and of which he,as the historic war-winning leader, is the superstar.When Mao Zedong found himself in a roughly similar situation he made a comeback with the Cultural Revolution, urging the youth to “bombard the headquarters” of the party hierarchy, declaring “I am alone, with the people”. Mahinda is the master of asymmetric political warfare.
Chandrika has destroyed the core identity of the SLFP founded by her father precisely as an alternative to the UNP. She has (1) abolished the stable two party system that SWRD initiated in 1951 by throwing the ‘official’ SLFP into coalition with the UNP as a subordinate (2) deprived the SLFP of both the mainstream, moderate populist Sinhala nationalism that SWRD espoused from the founding of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, as well as the strong, state-centric nationalism of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, thereby signing both variants over to the Rajapaksas (3) relinquished her parents’ defense of national and state sovereignty and their identification with the Global South and China, reposing that banner in the Rajapaksas (4) ensured with her hysterical Horagolla theatrics, that the Bandaranaike legacy on the one hand and the anti-UNP cause, struggle, movement and tradition on the other, have gone on divergent rails, while the Rajapaksas monopolize the latter and (5)deprived the official SLFP of much of its organic anti-UNP nationalist vote base, throwing it on the mercy of the UNP for nominations and votes at forthcoming elections.
The present government will almost certainly be a one-term administration,with the Government’s delirious doctrine of unbridled liberalization among the many reasons.The latest essay in the Financial Times (London) by Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary of the US andcurrently a professor at Harvard, blows a hole below the waterline of the UNP’s philosophy of promiscuous economic prostitution.The title says it all: ‘Voters Deserve Responsible Nationalism, not Reflex Globalism’. Summers writes:
“It is clear after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican presidential primaries that voters are revolting against the relatively open economic policies that have been the norm in the US and Britain since the second world war. Bottom of Form
Populist opposition to international integration is on the rise in much of continental Europe and has always been the norm in Latin America….The willingness of people to be intimidated by experts into supporting cosmopolitan outcomes appears for the moment to have been exhausted.
…it adds insult to injury when governments reach agreements that further cede control to international tribunals….The issue in all these cases is not the merits. It is the principle that intrusions into sovereignty exact a high cost.
What is needed is a responsible nationalism…International agreements would be judged not by how much is harmonized or by how many barriers are torn down but whether citizens
…Reflex internationalism needs to give way to responsible nationalism or else we will only see more distressing referendums and populist demagogues contending for high office.”
The UNP is ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘reflex globalist’. The nationalist-populist opposition is on the march, on the rise and on the offensive. Will it arrive at a “responsible nationalism”?