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Aragalaya: Is it over?

5 August 2022 08:25 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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‘Aragalaya’ started over 100 days ago with a series of protests emerged in several places in the island. Initially, it came from economically weaker segments of society. 


Farmers were the first to come off their fields, protesting against the noble act of transforming the entire agriculture organic. The intention was to make Sri Lanka the first in that venture in the whole of universe. Advice came from non-agriculture robed and lay ‘Kevattayas’. They are missing with their whereabouts. 


Then, those who are making a living in the informal sector were seen on the road. Next came those whose waistline has disappeared and are branded as ‘below the poverty line’ by the well-fed. 


Trade unions of the middle class followed. Then the economically doing better businessmen, entrepreneurs, factory owners, professionals, academics, artists and everyone joined the Aragalaya. 


Gota Go Gama (GGG) was established; youth were in the forefront. It had a space for anyone irrespective of age, cast, race and religion or class difference. This was unprecedented in many ways. 

 


System change 
Aragalaya kept on adding to its demands, numbers, funding, items, actions and branches. Many branches of GGG were established in several locations of the country. 


Aragalaya was launched with the sole demand for a system change. It demanded Go Gota, Go Ranil, Go Cabinet, Go the entire lot of 225 people’s representatives. Aragalaya was greeted, blessed and strengthened by people rocking from all walks and all corners living within and outside the country. On May 9, Aragalaya was attacked by goons.


I wrote an article on May 12 on ‘Gota Go Gama, One Galle Face and the country’s youth’ (https://www.dailymirror.lk/features/Gota-Go-Gama-One-Galle-Face-and-the-countrys-Youth/185-236823). 
I wrote: “While the steam of GGG would rise, the patience of the government would run out. Likely outcome is a clash. It will not produce any benefit to either party. Accidents by design or by default can happen.” 


“GGG is not in vain. For the first time the president, who claims to be the man who did best, publicly acknowledged that he erred. He reshuffled and replaced the Cabinet of old rouges with younger ones. He sacrificed four Rajapaksas and his elder brother PM Mahinda Rajapakse.”


“We, as senior citizens, scholars, professionals and those who burned their fingers and fallen into the well both during day and at night, have to protect the vigour displayed by the youth; we have to ensure defending and protecting the victory gained by the youth so far. Youth have already achieved multiple gains with their peaceful struggle.” 


“When we look at the incidents taking place i.e., shooting an innocent resident to death in Rambukkana, attack on GGG by the goons, several deaths, violent behaviour of some unruly elements, creeping unwanted elements, atrocities, deaths and declaration of emergency, curfew and the authority given to military to shoot those who behave violently are not welcoming signs.” 


“My brother told me once – Ayye, there is a 20 percent rule. Once you have achieved 80 percent, you must be contained; by trying to achieve the balance 20 percent, you would lose everything.”


Haven’t I prophesied the scenario unfolding today? After writing the article, I telephoned a president of a leading reputed professional organisation, which has won the respect of the GGG youth as well as other professional organisations. My plea was for him and his association to take the lead for a discourse with the GGG youth and other organisations to draw out a plan of action. I volunteered to assist. 


As common to us Sri Lankans, he appreciated my concern and said yes and no and this and the other and that were all. Nothing did happen. Nothing was done. In brief, what I suggested was a pre-planning exercise; alas, now the same association is busy with post-mortems and post planning. But the horse has already bolted.


Gota’s mismanagement and ill-advice he received led to empty the Treasury and to evaporate foreign reserves. He got everyone from a Benz car rider to motor bike rider to stand in the queue for fuel and gas. Vehicles were stalled or parked in the garage or being pushed or pulled without fuel, cutting down the air and sound pollution and road accidents. 


The construction of high-rise buildings that added nothing to the economy but drained out foreign exchange in billions could not rise to sky, due to the high cost or non-availability of materials.


When the other Rajapaksas wasted colossal amounts of public funds to build up their image, Gota got the youth to establish a settlement at One Galle Face and name it after him as Gota Go Gama. The other ‘Gamas’ were named by youth as Mina Go Gama, Kaputu Kaak Gama, No Deal Gama but not after the names of respective gentlemen.

 


System remains 
In response to Aragalaya, Gotabhaya, who was the main target of it, kept a full stop to Rajapaksa dynasty descending from the roaring lion of Ruhuna. All loud mouthed, corrupt and hated senior ministers were sacked. A man who could not get a half a million votes was made the prime minister and exposed him. 


Aragalaya made Gota amicable, flexible and responsive. He stated that he does not want to leave as a failed president. He was ready for change. He declared his blessings for a change of the constitution. We have failed to bend the iron when it was hot.


Whatever happened to the system change, Aragalaya used its full steam and strength on July 9 and got half of the population to Colombo. They invaded the President’s House and chased out its occupant Gotabhaya Rajapakse. Some members of the security forces switched sides while others kept silent on youth. 


Finally, Gota, the man who had access to any place and multiple modes of mobility, could not find access or a mode to leave the palace and then the country; who entered politics as a hero, left the country with a zero; who came with fame has ended up in shame as a destitute. For the second time, he left the country as a refuge.


However, the system change did not happen. Several opinion makers, pressure groups, professionals got themselves busy to decide what next? The Aragalaya members and its ‘benefactors’ and supporters were raking the brains. The system remained and was at working in its full steam. 


Ranil was appointed as the Acting President. He started to work. He reminded that there is a constitution in the country, none can violate it. When others were making opinions on who should be Gota’s successor, Ranil was silent and smiling. None recognised the sarcasm behind his smile. 


The Aragalaya youth and those who were in support demanded the ouster of Ranil, who was defeated at the last General Election. They all vouched and vowed to intensify the Aragalaya and bring the country to a halt. The acting president kept on reminding of the constitution and the need for maintaining law and order while appreciating the nonviolent protest.


There were unions of likeminded, rivals, arch enemies and many assorted groups, think tanks, democracy lovers, professionals, academics and so on. One man was taken out; they wanted the other man out. Everyone has forgotten or forced us to forget the purpose for which Aragalaya was fought, ‘the system change’. System remains. 
Man was out. The one came in has ordered a full stop to Aragalaya. This reminds me what a famous writer and a philosopher Benjamin Franklin once said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This is a lesson for Aragalaya and a voluminous warning for the government. 


Aragalaya united a nation divided by the Rajapakse dynasty. Aragalaya was nourished and grew during the Rajapakse regime. Aragalaya was attacked during post-Rajapakse period. In 2019, people replaced Maithree-Ranil Yahapalanaya government with a Gotabhaya Rajapakse government. A few months later, very same people, who elected the Gota government, started praising Grama Sevaka. 


Parliament elected Ranil as the President. With or without Ranil’s knowledge, on the very first day of his regime, GGG was attacked. It has left a bitter taste. People have started from the day one to compare Ranil’s regime with the Gota regime. I heard some telling “Gota never attacked us.” 


People wonder whether Parliament filled very same wine or even bitter wine in a new bottle.


Ranil is a man with expanse knowledge of Sri Lankan culture and history. He made a rehearsal of ‘Suba Saha Yasa’ during the Yahapalanaya regime. This time he staged it for the public. 


(Chandrasena Maliyadde was a Ministry Secretary. He is currently a Vice President of the Sri Lanka Economic Association. He can be reached via chandra.maliyadde@gmail.com)


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