Friday 11th August, 2023
Signs are that the dark forces which hijacked Aragalaya in a bid to compass their sinister ends and almost succeeded in capturing Parliament, last year, are working overtime to make a comeback. Regrettably, the government is helping advance their anarchical agenda, albeit unwittingly, by refusing to heed public opinion and address the people’s burning problems expeditiously. It should have taken prompt action to nip the Embilipitiya water issue in the bud when hundreds of irate farmers took to the streets, demanding water to prevent crop losses. Instead, it chose to let the grass grow under its feet with some members of the Cabinet being at loggerheads.
The government refused to meet the protesting farmers’ demand that water be released from Samanalawewa to the Udawalawe reservoir, which is almost empty, to save their paddy cultivations; what one gathered from some ministers’ statements was that the government was keener to generate hydroelectricity with the Samanalawewa water than to use it to save the withering rice plants in Embilipitiya. About two weeks later, it made an about-turn, and decided to provide water to the Embilipitiya farmers. By that time, the prevailing drought had cut a swathe through their paddy fields. If only the Samanalawewa water had been released at least about a week earlier.
What snowballed into a countrywide protest campaign, causing the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, last year, was a wave of farmers’ agitations triggered by an ill-advised blanket ban on agrochemicals in the name of promoting organic farming. Nobody would have paid much attention to the protesting farmers’ threat that they would march on Colombo unless fertilisers, etc., were made available to them fast, for President Rajapaksa was considered a ruthless leader, who would not hesitate to do everything in his power to neutralise dissent. Protests are contagious, so to speak, and generate seismic activity in public consciousness, driving the people to fight against injustices, and take up the cudgels for their rights. The situation took a turn for the worse owing to the deterioration of the economy and the resultant hardships with conditions being created for a mass uprising. The rest is history.
Thankfully, the farmers’ agitation has ended in Embilipitiya with the Samanalawewa water reaching their paddy fields, but the problem is far from over. The next phase of their protest campaign is bound to commence sooner than expected; they will demand compensation for the partial crop losses caused by the government’s failure to release water in time. The Finance Ministry had better have a solution ready without waiting until the problem spins out of control to act. The ultraradical elements that thrive on people’s resentment are already girding up their loins for another farmers’ protest, we are told.
As if the seemingly intractable issues on the economic front were not enough, the current dispensation, which is surviving like Miracle Mike, a Wyandotte chicken that lived for 18 months after being beheaded, in Colorado, in the 1940s, is attempting risky political stunts unnecessarily. What possessed it to undertake to implement the 13th Amendment fully, at this juncture? President Ranil Wickremesinghe has, in his wisdom, chosen to rush in where his predecessors, numbering seven, feared to tread—no pun intended. Instead of taking a huge political gamble, shouldn’t he concentrate on solving the national problem, which is the economic crisis affecting the members of all communities and threatens the very existence of the state? The 13th Amendment (13A) plunged the country into a bloodbath in the late 1980s. The JVP, which unleashed barbaric violence in a bid to prevent the implementation of 13A, and caused an even more violent reaction by the UNP regime, may be in the democratic mainstream at present, but certain developments during last year’s popular uprising, such as the abortive bid to storm Parliament, caused it to be accused of working according to a hidden agenda.
Political stability is a prerequisite for economic recovery and vice versa, and it will be a huge mistake for the government to embark on unnecessary missions fraught with the danger of triggering political upheavals, and shift its focus from the ongoing efforts to sort out the economy. It has to keep its ear to the ground, heed public opinion, refrain from performing harebrained stunts, and stop testing the people’s patience.