The dust has barely settled on the streets of Colombo that the over twenty five thousand supporters of former President and his Joint Opposition (JO) trod last Wednesday but despite the general view that the Janabala Colambata (people power to Colombo) protest was a somewhat damp squib, the Rajapaksa clan is at it again. They are now planning to hold a similar protest titled ‘Janabalaya’ (People’s Protest) in the hill capital Kandy and other districts. Kept in mind should be that the Rajapaksa’s claimed to bring over 200,000 people from all over Sri Lanka to Colombo but barely managed over 30,000 and that too amidst a chaos of bad planning that included people fainting in the deadly heat because there was a drastic shortage of water bottles distributed to those brought for the rally. If Namal Rajapaksa, son of former President Rajapaksa who organized Wednesday’s event would be assigned to be the organizer of the Kandy and other district events planned, no one yet knows, but it is assumed that the Rajapaksas would not want to have another calamity for a rally again. Namal taking the lead in organizing the event comes in the absence of the master strategist and brother of the former President, Basil Rajapaksa who is currently in the United States had reportedly attending a pre-planning session opposed the holding of the protest beyond midnight.
One of the key points is that the JO’s September 5rally which bussed people from Southern, Central, North Central, Eastern and Southern province, bringing much of day to day activity in districts and especially in Colombo to a standstill, was that the much-hyped event had no clear direction and if anything only created dissent amongst the JO leaders, including fretting ruffled feathers within the Rajapaksa family. There was also no clear explanation as to why the location that was chosen for the midnight vigil; the roundabout where the Lake House which is the State-owned publishing house is located, was chosen. If it was a deliberate move for a deliberate protest ideology linked to Lakehouse it was not clear.
One vociferous JO leader, Wimal Weerawansa declared that the crowds will remain stationed in Colombo indefinitely ‘according to the verdict of the people’, which was repeatedly claimed to be to topple the government. It however seemed that the verdict of the people was to clear up and go home well before the clock struck midnight. As the busses holding many inebriated protesters headed back, the general citizens of Colombo were sighing in relief that they could go about their work on 06 September without the streets being turned into a human carpet. But the question is, what exactly was the purpose of the protest, held at a large sum of money (total cost of which is still not estimated) but which generally was believed to have included the paying of Rs. 5000/= (about 40 USD) to each participant, plus lunch, refreshments and dinner and a bottle of liquor), not including the far more comfortable dining the Rajapaksas and the rest of his party members would have enjoyed. That there would have been protesters who did not accept liquor and would have participated irrespective of the cash, or did not take the cash, is taken into consideration because it remains as a fact that the current regime is unpopular. But much of its unpopularity comes from the 62 lakhs which voted them in 2015, with the naïve expectation that finally Sri Lanka would get the much craved for ‘good governance.’
So, back to an analysis of the purpose of this Janabala Colambata organized under the leadership of the MP Namal Rajapaksa (son of Mahinda Rajapaksa): 1. Was it, as repeated many times by the JO bigwigs, to topple overnight by 6th September the government (democratically elected and which has, as fact decrees, for better or worse, to be suffered by the people till the 2020 Presidential and Parliamentary elections). 2. Was it for the Rajapaksa family and its main political acolytes to seek refuge in the embrace of the masses to escape from the long arm of the law for their alleged corruption and human rights violation charges and hide behind a shield of propping up the corruption of the current regime? 3. Was it for a pre-coronation public sacrifice of sorts for Namal Rajapaksa, prince heir and successor to his demi-god king father Mahinda Rajapaksa? 4. Was it because the hearts of Mahinda Rajapaksa, his family and clan were bleeding for the ordinary people pressurized with tax hikes by the current regime (as much of the protest slogans indicated). 5. Was it to pressure the government to have the long overdue provincial council elections (this point was not overly emphasized at the protest but highlighted in the media by the Rajapaksa fellowship only after criticisms of the haphazardness of the project focus). 6. Or was it a protest that sought to take away the limelight Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has been projecting around him in the past one year, through mass scale events, the chief of which being the release of his economic vision and political mission in May this year. It is interesting to consider that soon after Gotabhaya released his economic vision, the new party of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) declared that they have not ‘confirmed’ their candidate and that the final deciding authority on the matter would be Mahinda Rajapaksa. In this context, for even a cursory observer of the Janabala Colambata event, it seemed to be that the chief purposes was to project Mahinda Rajapaksa as the king of all he surveys and to keep afloat the Mahinda mania amidst recent attempts to find loopholes in the quite clear 19th amendment that no President who has served two terms could contest another term. If there is some intriguing family tussle for power going on, where there are some intricate barriers being put to block the once all powerful former Defense Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, known for his ruthlessness, from ascending to the ultimate echelon of power in 2020, as president, one will not clearly know (despite State media writing reams asserting it to be so). Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his Wednesday’s rendition of the ‘reinforcement’ of Mahinda Rajapaksa as being the leader supreme and the only one who could give leadership to the country sounded forced and the repeated emphasis on Mahinda Rajapaksa artificial.
“Under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa this country will be set right. The leader people want is Mahinda Rakapaksa. What the people are calling for is for Mahinda Rajapaksa to set up a government once again with an effective economic framework and lead the country in the right direction.” These were the comments from the man who in May this year went to great lengths to hold a well-organized event to tell the country about his (not brother Mahinda’s) vision for the country and subsequently sending jitters up the spine of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP). (According to the political grapevine, the former Defense Secretary is notably at odds with the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa alongside speculated friction with Basil Rajapaksa).
Meanwhile, those trying to pin down specific scientific reasons for the protest may find themselves getting lost in the usual plethora of sensationalist slogans that included persecution of Buddhist monks (obvious reference to the imprisonment of BBS chief Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero due to contempt of court charges), selling Sri Lanka to foreigners and succumbing to western powers. The JO leaders meanwhile are refuting that they planned to topple the government with the rally and now claim that their sole objective was to pressure the government to hold the muchdelayed provincial council elections.
“The UNP is alleging that we wanted to topple the Government with this rally. No one can topple a government with a single protest. We targeted the Provincial Council elections. In Kandy we had our rallies and achieved our victory at the Local Government polls in February this year. Similarly, we will be holding several rallies aiming for the Provincial Council elections and the next Presidential election,” a JO source said.
Whatever the number of protests the Joint Opposition holds, the crux of the matter remains that if it does not move away from the Mahinda worshipping brain fog, the former President’s new party will be that which supports a monarchy, not a democracy. Probably the cover of the rice packets distributed to the protestors say the whole pathetic saga in Sinhalese and translated as: “To our Mahinda king, victory, victory, victory.” Probably the next protest will include greetings of victory to ‘prince Namal Rajapaksa” and the public will have to ‘stomach it’ (it does merit mention here that several of the protestors had to abandon the September 5 rally due to food poisoning because the food distributed were spoilt).