The Multitude of Humanity Engaged in the “Aragalaya” (Protest)at Galle Face wants Gota to Go Home with his Entire Cabinet.They are not Demanding a Change of Cabinet or Abolition of the Executive Presidency


Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

With the law enforcement authorities under the new Cabinet having resorted to lethal violence against unarmed civilian protestors for the first time in this protest, the very day after its appointment, every word uttered in Parliament which delays or distracts from the process of relieving the President and his regime of their present duties, will find those responsible with blood on their hands.

They would do well to support the immediately possible, wherever the amendments come from, before attempting the rather more difficult, and at least prevent further bloodletting of the already suffering people of this country.

As new Ministers appear one after the other to announce increase in prices of fuel, flour, transport, etc., added to the increasing lack of life-saving medicines, the already heavily burdened people of this country who had no part in bringing the economy to this sorry pass, feel progressively more desperate and flood the streets in protest with every likelihood now of being shot in cold blood by the authorities. One cannot really dismiss any further, the possibility of great misfortune being imminent.

In this urgent situation, the people expect the Government, and the Opposition, to put their heads together to formulate a dignified, expeditious exit for the President and for the regime, and to begin urgently the process of transition to an interim government acceptable to the people in order to arrest this disaster from escalating into a calamitous tragedy that they as legislators could have avoided. All their other petty agendas must take second place to this most urgent of tasks.

Go home, take the Cabinet with you
I urge this regime including the President to wear a wig and a false moustache and step into GotaGoGama to see for themselves what the people, especially young people are saying about them. Don’t just rely on the sycophants’ version, see and hear for yourselves. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but the people detest you. With a vengeance.

The version that the collection of loyalist lawyers gave the PM recently, attributing the protests to some organised conspiracy, shows an undeserved lack of faith in the PM’s ability to take bad news. He wouldn’t have swooned in distress. It would have served him well to know the truth. The people want him and anyone with his surname, gone. This lot of lawyers should follow suit. They don’t seem to feel the pulse of the people enough to offer advice to a PM. Just as well that not all lawyers are as isolated from the people and many are now heroes of the struggle.

How can “Gota Go Home” be heard as “Gota Change the Cabinet”? From all that’s happened over the last few days, even after all the shouting of the crowds, it is clear that this regime hasn’t quite got it. A visit to GotaGoGama is sure to clarify any last hopes, starting with the name of the destination. The place is filled mostly with young people but there are people of all ages, with no less verve in their chants. Followed by the ubiquitous chorus about an equally ubiquitous bird sound, the one that is most chanted is “Gota Go Home”, in all three languages.

How is it possible to hear it as a demand or an appeal to shuffle Cabinet portfolios? It’s a day late and a dollar short for that! Especially the dollar.

It is the strangest thing that the Opposition too seems to hear something completely different to what is being said by the people. Not once did I hear anywhere on Galle Face or around the Presidential Secretariat, or on TV when they showed protests elsewhere, anyone chanting “Abolish the Presidency!” Not even a whisper of it. Instead, the demands of the protesters clearly typed on a large canvas plainly wanted the 20th Amendment abolished, and the 19th amended and restored. However, in Parliament on 19 April when precisely this change was floated, the Opposition seemed dissatisfied with this as not going far enough.

Please. First things first. Why can’t they see that the people are being crushed under severe economic hardship and don’t plan to hang around for a referendum to change the nature of the state? The people’s urgent concern is their very survival and that of their children. They want the person they see most responsible for their sudden plunge in to extreme poverty, gone, along with the excess powers that enable him to make those unilateral decisions. It has led to this most unusual moment in history where, having lost faith in Parliament, people themselves have taken to the streets to protect themselves from their government.

United in struggle
In the event that a visit to the site of the protests is out of the question, here’s a little word picture, which does only little justice to the sheer power and determination of a united people that can be felt there.

Galle Face Green has always had multitudes visit to enjoy the sea air and the open space. But never before has its environs played host to such a diverse population in such large numbers to achieve a common goal.

It is energising to see the motivation of the young as they chant slogans in unison, in different groups who seem to have no connection to each other, but joining-in together to reinforce each other in their innovative chanting.

The creative placards, occasionally risqué, but mostly serious with some satire, come from the heart. The open mike hears poignant stories told with passion, by ordinary people ranging from girls as young as 17, pre-A-Levels who bemoan not being able to study or attend classes, to an old man of 92 urging that the struggle should never be abandoned as he himself had brought his clothes in a bag weighing 5 kilos to support it.

The water, buns, biscuits as well as other types of food keep flowing to the protestors. Celebrities give voice to the suffering of the people, some with tears in their eyes. The most recent celebrity, the Laurence Olivier award winner, could not but jump on a plane just days after receiving it, to be here in his island home to give strength to this struggle of the people, by the people, for the people.

Every possible method is being attempted there to send the President home, including black magic rituals performed at the protest village. Songs are being sung, guitars are played and professional choirs sing songs of courage in the setting sun over the Indian Ocean. People in their thousands cheer. Many Sri Lankans have returned from overseas to add their strength. The disabled, the old and infirm have not let their difficulties stop them from strengthening this common cause.

No one had seen anything like this before. A well-turned-out young girl passing behind me with a national flag shouted “Aragalayata Jayawewa” in an unusually strong voice. I realised that there were many young girls who seemed to have developed a strong sense of purpose together with strong voices as they led the chanting as the evening wore on. Old people too joined in with the expected response. As it turned to a regular roar of a thousand voices like rolling waves in thunder, it surely couldn’t have missed reaching those ears up in the hotel towers, trying not to hear.

It isn’t without reason that this great multitude of humanity has come together, defying at this moment, the common understanding of Sri Lankan disunity, jealousy, envy and the like. Their shared misery has brought them together in a supportive embrace of each other, as they find themselves abandoned by those elected to govern the country. This is unusual enough for the Government to take note that given our history, no conspiracy could have achieved this unity.

And now, with the guns turned on the people, this struggle has entered a different phase and the unity forged organically, even more important. With a week-long Hartal of over 300 trade unions planned in addition to most professions taking to the streets, and a heartless regime in Terminator mode, the future looks dire.

Courrtesy:Daily FT