Photo courtesy of SCMP
“Country is facing one of the most difficult and challenging economic, political and socially decisive times in its history…Government has erred by banning use of chemical fertilizer and not going for a program with IMF earlier.” These are not my words; they are the sentiments echoing at GotaGoGama but spoken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when addressing the cabinet on April 18. GotaGoGama residents say that the president has failed and he should go. The president says he has failed but will not go.
The same president, exactly one year ago, boasted that Sri Lanka was the first nation in the world to convert our agriculture to organic. The peaceful farming community (parents of GotaGoGama youth) that never resorted to protests was drawn off their fields onto the highways. Their cries were not heard; their agony was not seen. They were ridiculed for being instigated by NGOs, extreme political parties or a bottle of arrack. The president with the backing of 6.9 million voters, a two-thirds parliamentary majority, 20th Amendment and being the Commander in Chief took one year to realize that his trial and error ruling was wrong. A medical doctor, a dentist and a robed MP were among those advised him on the merits of organic agriculture. They made sure that he would not hear the far cry made by farmers, agriculture experts and practitioners.
Now the farmers are tired and their children have taken the baton. They tried to communicate the message in different forms and finally colonized Galle Face and renamed it GotaGoGama. There is no visible single leader or political color. GotaGoGama is occupied by determined, creative, passionate, well- disciplined youth. The president and his government are deaf and dumb and the opposition is fighting among themselves rather than the common enemy. Not a single opposition party wants to oust the president as they are not sure who will pick the fruit fallen from the collective effort. GotaGoGama is open for anyone but politicians. They want the president to go home with Rajapaksa family and to retire the entire parliament.
The nation displays its gratitude to the youth for opening its eyes. Irrespective of color, creed, cast, race, rank and file they have become one family of GotaGoGama. Every successive government divided the nation for 74 years; GotaGoGama brought the nation under a single flag within less than a month. GotaGoGama does not have access to electricity, water, telecommunication or sanitary facilities but they generate renewable solar energy. They displayed their creativity with a Presidential Secretariat illuminated with sound and light; when it was blocked they lifted the banner high up with laser beams. GotaGoGamademonstrates dynamism, determination, creativity, resilience, discipline, patience and vigor. It is extended to MainaGoGama, HoraGoGama and several regional and international branches.
People from all walks of life and from all corners of the country visit GotaGoGama with their children. GotaGoGama created a nonpolitical, nonpartisan stage for anyone to climb up on and show solidarity with the youth. Many lawyers come forward to defend people accused in courts. Artists inject courage to the youth. Those who visit GotaGoGama get elated, excited, hopeful, enthusiastic and show gratitude to the younger generation. People who visit GotaGoGama will notice the presence of many types of visitors. Some are friends; some to show their solidarity; some to apologize for their failure; some for an outing; some to show the future to their children; some are observers; some are with their own agendas; some are spies; and some are doing for penance for going behind Rajapaksas. The untold message of GotaGoGama is that we have failed the country and its future generations during past 74 years. We, as senior citizens, have a great responsibility to ensure that the youth at GotaGoGama will not fail as we did and let them learn from our failures.
GotaGoGama residents are firmly settled in front of Presidential Secretariat while the president is firmly settled down to stay on. The youth will intensify their peaceful struggle with the backing of more students, trade unions, other protesters and professionals demanding their basic necessities. The armed forces do not join but their family members are at GotaGoGama.
GotaGoGama is not in vain. For the first time the president has publicly acknowledged that he erred. He reshuffled and replaced the cabinet of old rogues with younger ones. He sacrificed four Rajapaksas and then his elder brother but he has not made even a small hint that he will step down. According to the constitution he must either resign or impeached. Neither is likely to happen.
Various organizations, and individuals have made proposals for seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. In terms of the constitution, until someone can prove that the president is insane and not in a fit condition to govern the country, he can remain. With a divided opposition, impeachment is out of the question. The only option left is reconciliation, reaching consensus.
We, as senior citizens, scholars and professionals, have to be sensible, patient and mature enough to prevent the diversion of the peaceful mission of our youngsters whose silence is much louder than our noisy words. We have to protect the vigor displayed by the youth; we have to ensure defending and protecting the victory gained by the youth so far; and we have to nourish the unity and the bonds built by our youth among different races, communities and religions. They have shown a new path.
We must get the youth involved prominently as partners of nation building with a system change. If we do not take the advantage of what has been gained by the GotaGoGama, we will be the losers.