Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his first interview as the new prime minister, said he would protect the GotaGoGama site while Army Commander Shavendra Silva said that if the protesters were not violent they could stay. The Rajapaksa government had tried its level best to dismantle GotaGoGama. They used various strategies; their last one backfired to the extent that they had to go into hiding to a place where many of their opponents and Tamil youth were allegedly tortured and made to disappear. One victim’s wife said, “I hope they choke and die the way my husband was suffocated and killed on their orders”.
Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa went into the bunkers the same week that, 13 years ago, many who were taking shelter in bunkers in the Vanni, especially the severely injured people, were killed and the bunkers bulldozed to erase war crime evidence. Maybe this is what is called natural justice or karma, brought about by the aragalaya that made the Rajapaksas the most unwanted family and caused some of their associates to be on the run, seeking asylum in countries that they claimed not so long ago were conspiring and supporting to divide Sri Lanka.
On the night Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as the premier, the GotaGoGama youth continued with the same passion to chant “Gota go home” and “no deal politics”, which has been their consistent and primary demand. That and the recent violence against government politicians made Sajith Premadasa, Anura Dissanayake and Sarath Fonseka refuse to accept the offer given by the country’s most undesirable person unless he met the conditions and principles that resonated with the demands of the protesters. But when negotiations were going on why did Ranil accept it instantly? Is he the only politician capable of fixing the economic crisis and bringing in IMF intervention quickly or is he the most desired by the international community? Or does he believe he can break the resilience of aragalaya not by force or violence but by dismantling it silently? The Rajapaksas know Ranil’s skill of dividing and striking. He did this with the most feared and strongly united LTTE that pursued its objectives with single mindedness under one leadership. Ranil used the grievances of the eastern section of the LTTE and proactively pitched it to break the unity. That resulted in the fall of LTTE. Ranil later became the one and only messiah even to some Tamil representatives to deliver accountability and justice after Rajapaksas finished off the war so brutally and became maligned internationally. Even the Muslims believed that he would protect them from the Rajapaksas’ Islamophobic rhetoric only to be meted out the worst possible attacks during the claimed Yahapalanaya government.
The youth involved in the aragalaya withstood Rajapaksa machinations due to their steadfast belief and committed to the pursuit of a better Sri Lanka. The aragalaya gained ground in different parts of the country where the struggles varied. The aragalaya made it possible, without any violence whatsoever, to take the Rajapaksas from the strength of a two-thirds in parliament to less than a simple majority and then to the brink of collapse. Aragalaya, which united different struggles and instilled hope for the country, is under scrutiny by the people who support it after the May 9 chaos. It is in this backdrop that Ranil is the preferred choice and a willing accomplice who is assigned the vital task of sending the youth into a deep dark hole, which the Rajapaksas could not. The rush to appoint the prime minister, and that too a man who is completely rejected by his own constituency, demonstrates how President Rajapaksa and the rest of the Rajapaksa clan have moved to weaken the youth movement to preserve their hold on power. Ranil, by taking the premiership has, in a single stroke, defied the aragalaya’s principal demand of sending President Rajapaksa home and dented the opposition’s united stance in support of it.
When the protestors at Mirihana were attacked by the government, it claimed that the protestors were extremists (Islamic). Some who stood in solidarity with the aragalaya and visited on and off are currently debating whether those at the aragalaya too are extremists (Sinhalese, this time). This is a superficial and escapist claim.
There are mixed messages given by different groups who were part of the peaceful struggle on social media as well. As it stands today, the dedicated efforts by many to place on the table issues that the people in the outlying regions so poignantly face are not being acknowledged. The eight point proposal I saw and the manner in which it was delivered does not resonate with what theprotesters have tried hard to highlight in the month long struggle, some even pleading for Tamil voices and issues of the Northernand the Eastern people to be raised as part of the aragalaya. It gives the impression that you are now appealing to the newly appointed prime minister. For sure he will love this dilution and retraction. Those in the aragalaya, please do not give into it. You all are icons of society and the catalyst and the instrument of the systemic political change that we have been yearning for, for a long time. Galle Face symbolises the hope of that and the vibe it generated spread far and wide irrespective of different struggles.
Any seeming deviation from your original principles and goals that we shared and have held fast to would only convey a perverse message, that is, when things we fight against become fait accompli, we just endorse them and thereby compromise our principles and goals. If this approach is adopted, as things move on we would even come to disappointingly recognise that the status quo is acceptable. We are not for the status quo, and we are not for the same set of people who have brought untold misery upon our people and our country.
Regions matter. Outlying regions have long neglected issues, some of which remain at the heart of the national calamity we are caught in as a whole. It is not only Colombo that elects people’s representatives. What we insist on is an election and a new system to be installed there. The 225+1 need to be held accountable for what has happened to this country. For that, you will have to make our voters responsible citizens. You too need to be in the race to be elected representatives. Your nonviolent and anti-racial stands are the need of the hour in this country and its politics. You need a long term strategy and how you want to continue the protest until you achieve systemic change and the new Sri Lankan culture of being united with our differences that you so desired and gave your blood for. This is not only at Galle Face but must continue it in the regions and stand with the poor, marginalised and discriminated. Show them how the leaders of the country messed with the wrong generation by coming out of this checkmate ingeniously.