Calm Before The Storm! Aragalaya -’22 Has Rested Enough!!!

By Vishwamithra –

“To dream the impossible dream, that is my quest.” ~ Don Quixote 

Political struggles don’t die. They don’t have a history of repeated failures without ultimate success. They are not isolated incidents. They are part and parcel of the main flow of mankind’s advance and evolution towards perfection. Man’s struggle towards perfection has never stopped and as Pearl S Buck penned, ‘when man demands no more the earth too shall die’. If that journey did stop, then you and I would not have been here today communicating with other. 

The Aragalaya-’22 too may have suffered the same fate; not that it has expired; but as at present, it is certainly not visible to the naked eye; it’s conspicuously absent from the national conversation; it’s neither stirring a soul nor is it making any noise. One cannot expect anything worthwhile from those Colombo-Seven kind Aragalakaruwos, but the die-hard middle-class and lower middle-class youth could not have given up, for the death of their struggle is death of their spirit, their purpose and their very future.

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Whatever originated from the rural hamlets, from those men and women whose world seemed to have promised nothing but society-imposed slavery, resignation to what is commonly called status quo, their submission to modern-day addictions, their compromising attitudes and looking for crumbs instead of the meat, the struggle cannot end in a limbo of nothingness. I have written about this particular aspect of the Aragalaya before, without proper, stoic and enlightened leadership, no human movement has succeeded before and nor will it in the future. 

A national thrust, a countrywide propulsion with raw youth in front, middle and rear could cause another uprising; but its overall purpose, it’s well-crafted plan with men and women to execute that plan with singular vision, singular purpose and singular goal, could be achieved despite the presence of an angry leader at the helm of the nation at present.

Ranil Wickremesinghe as man at the helm may have brought a semblance of stability to the country’s uncertainty; his handling of the then uncertain economy and the associated relief by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has silenced and scared the corrupt set of Pohottuwa Ministers; what they felt at the forced exit of Gotabaya Rajapaksa from Presidency must have had an everlasting effect. The unforeseen consequences of the inept and corruption-laden management of the nation’s coffers by Basil Rajapaksa, the so-called seven-brain wizard of the Pohottuwa Administration have bared open the sheer inadequacy of an Administration whose curriculum vitae (CV) was pre-sold both abroad and domestically by the pundits of so-called Viyathmaga (learned path). When the voters arrived at the polling booth on morning of 16 November 2019, a majority of them did not know that they were committing a monumental blunder. 

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What transpired in April 2022 is not only a mere response to the economic hardships imposed by  dearth of dollars. It did not consist in random riots which are usually reactions to such economic burdens on the masses. Nor was it a centrally coordinated revolution aimed to overthrow the prevailing government and replace it with a revolutionary council of sorts. When the numbers began increasing, the Aragalaya-22 assumed a different character; it looked very authentic on the one hand and self-expressed on the other. When the numbers got impregnated with the Colombo-based fashionistas, the Aragalaya-22 not only acquired a novel dimension, it became an essential duty of everyday youth whose ambitions are yet in the cradle of maturity before being born as full-throated purpose of life.  The novel dimension that the Aragalaya-22 added to Sri Lankan body-politic is the surprising participation of one segment of our population which always thought that those who rebel against the status quo are terrorists of sorts- they equate all those who take part in protest movements as either Marxists or social rejects.

Cohabiting with the usual protesters is a totally alien activity for these Colombo-based newcomers, and while adding a veneer of sophistication to the movement, they also learnt somewhat an indispensable lesson in that economic hardships, suffered by whatever the caliber of men and women could be an indisputable equalizer. 

Nevertheless, the Frontline Socialist Party (Peratugaami), a breakaway group from the old Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)  made a not-so-subtle attempt to assume the unofficial leadership of the  overall Aragalaya-22. Furthermore, expressing all struggle of man against injustice has to assume a violent character, the ‘Fronliners’ were presumed to be responsible for the sporadic incidents that occurred on the night of May 9th when a few of the houses of parliamentarians were set fire to and  the attack on Ranil Wickremasinghe’s private residence on 5th Lane, Kollupitiya. 

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The false narrative that Aragalaya-22 was a totally a non-violent movement was a delusional outcome of political pundits who made a valiant effort to identify themselves with aims and efforts of the Aragalaya-22. No mass movement in history has managed to discipline and control its soldiers. Keeping such a movement devoid of violent expressions is an impossibility. Mahatma Gandhi  with all his Ahimsa (non-violence) principles could not conduct the affairs of the Swaraj struggle in India within the confines of non-violence and ‘live and let live’ policy. Yet one could accept the strategic moves and tactical maneuverings of a mass movement so long as the main thrust and resultant skirmishes  of the movement are kept within manageable parameters. 

Most of the local pundits and many a member of the Sinhalese diaspora who followed the daily progression of the Aragalaya-22 fooled themselves into an utterly amateurish thinking that Aragalaya-22 was a brand new part of the average Sri Lankan national political conversation. It’s time one arrived at a different conclusion. In order to learn lessons and carve out a novel path for Sri Lanka’s politics, it is obligatory on the part of the current political leadership to open out a totally new program of educating the masses; if such a program is not possible at least a program in which lessons learnt are imparted to indigenous leadership levels who will in turn educated the next level of soldiers. Holding mass meetings could be costly; the expenditure involved in such an approach might be exorbitant in addition to the fact that it may deliver the wrong message of exhibitionism. 

Do we have in our midst today a leader or a group of leaders who could think on these lines? Leave alone the substance of the program for a little while (albeit the substance matters a whole lot); can we build a process that is worthy of serious discussion and pursuit thereafter? Or are we experiencing the caressing winds of an unkind calm before the proverbial storm? One would not know until the repressive measures of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime begin to be felt beyond tear gas and water cannons. 

The accelerated pace at which the National People’s Power (NPP) led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) has come to a virtual halt. Today his thunderings are being heard only within the halls of Parliamentary Chambers. Ranil Wickremesinghe has proven to be a cleverer operator than one would give him credit for. He has spent more than forty years in the shadows of shrewd leaders like JRJ, Premadasa Sr., Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. One does not have to concede to these greats in the sphere of substance of their respective contributions to the national life of Sri Lanka, but one simply cannot disregard their collective stature as focused, singular-minded and bold individuals. The only thing that Ranil has not learnt seems to be the crafty backstabbing which he is quite capable of.

However, when state oppression is on the rise, despite the fact that the country is in  the grips of  an economic stranglehold of debt, both external and domestic, Ranil might be of the view that if the slightest of compassion is shown in recognition of the severity of hardships the masses have been subjected to, the flow of opposition political thought would overwhelm him. That is a serious flaw in the character of such men like Ranil. Empathy is not in their being.

Yet any prudent leader would have to strike an equilibrium between economic well-being and political stability. In the act of that striking, he or she has to justify to himself, if not to anyone else, that what he is sacrificing, one for the other, is worthy of sacrifice in terms of the long term goals set at the beginning of the process. There is no time nor any space for second-guessing because  the masses themselves do not see the full picture the leader is expected to see.  

Aragalaya-22 is not dead. What is prevailing now is not the calm after the storm. For Aragalaya-22 was no storm. It was just a strong wind. But the uneasy peace and calm that is prevailing now could certainly be the calm before a rolling blistering storm. Whom it will take in its wake is not easy to forecast.  Politics has always been the art of the possible. With cruel circumstances confronting a nation in lament, those very circumstances could engender much harder and more gruesome after-effects.

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