Kishali Pinto – Jayawardene
When there is muttering in some quarters as to, ‘what has the Aragalaya achieved?’, an easy answer comes to mind.
The gains of the “Aragalaya’
Notwithstanding the predictable corruption of that struggle by the political establishment which is a point that I will return to later, this spontaneous eruption of massive public fury for the first time since Sri Lanka’s independence from British colonial rule, made the country’s politicians cower in fear. That fact, in and of itself, must be distinguished from the political factions which captured the struggle, polluted the core and led to the nearextinction of the ‘Aragalaya.’
To be clear, that extinction process was hastened by lawyers who stood on ‘Aragalaya’ platforms loudly proclaiming that the Constitution and the law should be tossed into the dustbin and by tousled youth intoxicated with power who declared that, the nation’s leader must be a person ‘approved’ by them.’ Neither was it edifying to see their comrades storming into the state television studios, demanding that all programmes must be stopped and, only ‘Aragalaya’ news telecast.
Indeed, that thread of immature arrogance reflected, uncannily, the arrogance of the very political rulers who were the target of their anger.
Politicisation of the ‘occupation of Galle Face Green’ came from many quarters, all with political aims and ambitions in mind. Captains of industry linked to the (then) opposition United National Party (UNP) wanted the Rajapaksas out and ‘their man’ put in, thus, ‘funding the struggle in several ways, to fade away when that shift of power took place.
Corrupting influences by political parties
On their own part, opposition politicians of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) skilfully capitalized on the ‘Aragalaya,’ embedding their agents and finally taking over much of the struggle along with comrades of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) under the disingenuous slogan that, ‘the struggle is leaderless, we will give it leadership.’
But the very fact that the struggle was leaderless was its greatest strength. If it had remained so, it would have exerted a powerful influence on State policy and practice resulting in the ‘system change’ so desperately needed.
That influence would have been uncorrupted by the cancer that Sri Lanka’s political parties inflict on all they touch. That the contrary happened, that the ‘Aragalaya’ turned the JVP/FSP way enabled its own destruction.That, in turn, allowed state agents to infiltrate its ranks and play a part in the senseless burning and sacking of politicians’ residences, which infiltration remains to be properly dissected in retrospect. Months later, taxpayers are paying compensation for those damages through public funds, our funds no less.
Inevitably, these exhibitions of violence enabled the Wickremesinghe Presidency and the Rajapaksa factions of the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) to threateningly hold forth on fascism and turn public sentiment in their favour.
That was not helped by the ineffectual muttering of the main opposition, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya.This is a cycle that has often played out in this nation’s political process, always subverting attempts to effect democratic ‘system change,’ always two sides of the same coin playing out their games in the name of capturing power.
‘Millions found n President’s House…’
This week, we learn to our considerable amusement that, the police has been directed by the courts to record a statement from former President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as to the origins of close to rupees eighteen million found in his bedroom by the ‘Aragalaya’ crowds after he and his family fled the President’s House in Fort in July this year. That news occupied global attention at the time, with such tantalizing headlines such as what NDTV (India ) preferred, ‘Millions Found at President’s House…’
If there was a legitimate explanation for the retention of such a sum of money in cash, profering the same on the part of the former President is in order. The point is however that the need to ascertain the same had, apparently, not occurred to the diligent sleuths of the Department of the Police busy chasing all the protestors and locking them up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
A counter question is as to what, would possibly be the fate of an ‘Aragalaya’ leader, if the same amount of cash had been found in his residence upon raids conducted by the police?
The very first question would have been as to how the money is accounted for. In fact, even this belated questioning of the former President is on the direction of the magistrate, following lawyers appearing for the protestors questioning whether the money amounted to a bribe. Yet that had not occurred to the police where the former President is concerned?
At the time, we must not forget that the cash, handed over by the protestors to the Fort police after excitedly counting the stacks and marvelling over its amount, ‘disappeared’ thereafter.
Cutting out rotting political growths from the polity
It had to be traced through considerable effort. Reportedly, a high ranking police officer had directed that the money be handed over to the Minister of Public Security, phone conversations in that regard are also part of an investigation directed to be conducted. Was there any need for all this sensationalism if a perfectly innocent explanation could have been given in the first instance? These are the incidents that give the lie to President Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Minister of Justice’s reassurances, reiterated a few days ago, regarding a raft of new laws, including on Anti-Corruption and Counter Terrorism.
These laws will be presented to the Sri Lankan people early next year, we are told. But what is the point of laws when politicians and the police are the biggest culprits?
What is the point of establishing another set of ineffectual bodies on which even more public funds will be expended when they simply cannot net the ‘sharks’ and only go after the sprats?
The fact is that, the ‘sharks’ cannot be netted as these ‘sharks’ are themselves heading the political and law enforcement machinery.
Unless and until those rotting growths that have infected the nation’s polity are ruthlessly cut and removed, no law or regulation will make any difference to our endemically corrupt political culture.
This nation was brought to bankruptcy as a result of that, together with their acolytes in the legal, accounting and other professions who turned the ‘Nelsonian’ eye when gross financial crimes occurred and when proper fiscal and monetary policy were tossed to the four winds. None of those culpable officials have yet been called to answer.
The lessons that ‘Oxymandias’ teaches us
That is an indisputable fact. This Friday, the Auditor General disclosed that a sum of rupees 20.8 million had been spent on ‘drafting a new Constitution’ from 9th October 2020 to 12th December 2021.
This was inclusive of holding thirty eight meetings of the drafting committees, nine consultations with ‘external parties,’ for office spaces that stayed empty along with furnishings for the same and for payments to the ‘experts’ who formed those committees.
Reportedly, the Auditor General had also revealed that though fifteen months had been taken for the task of ‘constitutional drafting’, that has still not been completed. This is a constitutional joke of the highest order.
That massive expenditure was at the same time that Sri Lanka was heading for financial collapse, its populace soon destined to scrabble for scraps and its children doomed to hopeless futures.
Once Percy Bysshe Shelley ruminated on ‘Ozymandias’and the futility of a great king saying, ‘look on my works ye mighty and despair.’ But nothing was left of those works except ‘lone and level sands.’
That is the point of that legendary and timeless piece of writing. It is a reminder that well suits Sri Lanka’s political rulers. Finally, nothing has been left of all that grand pomposity of the Rajapaksa era but the emptiness of bankruptcy.
Perhaps the paterfamilias of the Rajapaksa dynasty, Mahinda Rajapaksa, may well reflect on that as he scrambles to preserve a political future for his son.