If you happen to stumble upon Article 12 of the Constitution, which states all people are equal before the law, please, do not get too excited about it. As experience shows, it means virtually nothing to any serious minded person. Even a Fifth Grader knows that. Besides, there is no impediment to find amusement anywhere anytime, the document called the Constitution itself not being an exception.
Amusement aside, the Constitution is silent as to who the ‘people’ are, either. No, ’people’ are not a monolith. For example, it could embrace as wide and varied creatures, as the term ‘animal’ refers to a mouse as well as a whale; it could mean those who go to prison for stealing a few coconuts as well as those who remain at large, though implicated in multi-billion dollar scams.
It also includes the Tamil youth languishing in detention without charges as well as a top-brass officer of the Armed Forces enjoying all luxuries of liberty despite accusations of abduction and murder.
What prompted such musings at this juncture was the recently staged Jana Balaya campaign organized by the Joint Opposition.
Opinion is varied on the success of this much-hyped campaign on September 5. Literally translated, Jana Balaya means ‘Power of the people’ (‘People’, again!). What the organizers wanted was a substantial show of strength to the Government, riding on the wave of the February clean sweep at LG elections and to wrest the initiative again from the Government, which has suddenly sprung into action, launching programmes such as Gam Peraliya and Enterprise Sri Lanka.
Watching footages of the protest, I could not help but wonder as to what motley a crowd, the people gathered, whose power was supposed to be demonstrated as the name suggests-were.
There were those people who had to wake up pre-dawn and board buses, spending a gruelling and long journey to reach Colombo, from Moneragala or Mahiyangana; and then there were the ‘People’ who came in thirty forty million rupee price tagged SUVs or Land Rover Defenders or what not, and descended on the scene like demigods.
There were People who, for the want of a place to relieve themselves, had to look for nooks and corners in the city of Colombo as well as those, who had to lie on the pavement for a moment’s respite as the TV footage showed.
Then, you saw the ‘People’ who had VIP suits in five or seven star hotels, enjoying the luxuries such places of indulgence are wont to offer, to make an appearance and growl that they are there for the People!
Again, there were the ‘People’ who could not find a bus to go home, having come ready to lay siege to Colombo for days, at the behest of the organizers and left stranded till next morning (The milk packets not helping their cause, either). And then ‘those people’ who at a snap of a finger could decide that it was curtain time and reach their mansions in Colombo in a matter of minutes.
The Constitution does not make any difference between these different types of people at all and the Jana Balaya promoters did not clarify as to the category to which people, who were supposed to show their strength, belonged.
If at all, it showed that we were so far away from being a modern or civilized people, despite all bravado that the entire universe revolves around Sri Lanka.
Opponents of the Joint Opposition, used to employ the term ‘baiyo’ to describe supporters of the former strongman and his clan, an allusion to the unqualified , blind and servitude like allegiance, nay adoration they have for the former.
After the Jana Balaya, now the detractors use the term, slanderously of course, wahallu or slaves to describe them.
Despite being generally averse to name calling, I feel, seeing those footages of the day, that such claims are not unfounded at all.
The Government is over the moon that the protest did not accomplish anything, other than perhaps inconveniencing the public, who flock to Colombo daily for their livelihood, education, business or pleasure.
The organizational shortcomings, which made it a flop has emboldened those Government chatterboxes to claim it a victory for them; well they can engage in that folly for another 1 ½ years the most, if the status quo, with regard to political momentum, remained.
They cherish the scenes of drunken protesters climbing up lamp posts, doing devil dances and some flat on the pavements after getting high as kites.
They forget that those scenes seem a repeat telecast of scenes in such huge gatherings they organize themselves, i.e. May Day rallies.
The UNP has a proven track record of drawing people by enticing them with alcohol, rice packets and santhosam, which they prefer to forget conveniently.
The crux of the matter lies elsewhere. When we talk of the people, whether it is the power of the people or the Government of the people, we need to make sure we are precise as to what type of people we are referring to.
If you do not make a distinction between those different types of people you end up misconceived in your perspective of many issues related to governance, rights and justice.
For example, who thought that when this Government came to office, claiming to serve the people and deliver them from the clutches of the former regime, that they were referring to ‘those’ people, who dealt in billions and were used to the silver spoon?
And again when the Rajapaksas say they want to come back to office back for the people , what they mean is ‘those ‘ people operating from VIP suits in seven star hotels and are adamant to stay away from the Special High Court or the State run hotel at Welikada?
The constitution, folks, does not make any distinction; it is the brainchild of a brilliant, yet Neoliberal mind which was obsessed that the raw and unbridled power of market forces should dictate everything including who governs.
Woe unto those, who await any allowance from those quarters! More disturbing, however is that despite repeatedly being duped in 15 General Elections since Independence and seven Presidential Elections, WE, the People, have not realized the distinction.
The Jana Balaya, for me is not a pointer to the power of the Opposition or the future of the Government; rather it is yet another, repeatedly startling reminder that despite being handed down a representative democratic mode of governance by the Brits in 1948, we have never waded that phase of socioeconomic and political development, which classical political theory terms, the Serf System.
We need to realize that Jana Balaya, or the power of the people, could mean very different things, to different people who live worlds apart!
Until then, do not feel shy to enjoy the amusement the Constitution very freely offers us!
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