Who can save Sri Lanka?


By T. M. Premawardana

(Translation by Fr J. C. Pieris)

The people of this country did not accept the overturning of power, enacted on the 26th of October 2018 as a political victory. Only the people, paid and instigated by the politicians to light crackers, did so. Nobody spontaneously came forward to celebrate it. After the news of the dissolution of the Parliament they became still more silent. Considering the results of the last provincial council elections, the overturning of political power on the 26th October should have produced a veritable storm of fireworks all over the country. But nothing of the sort happened. Why didn’t that happen?

We have to live in a society, which is highly degenerated. But, our society has always managed to safeguard one eminent quality, the great quality of never tolerating uncouth politics. For example, let us look at the political scene starting from the time of JR, in 1977. JR had the power of a five-sixths majority. In his own words, he had a constitution which cannot do only one thing; make a man a woman and a woman a man. JR had a new attractive economy, strengthened by pure profit and competition. Yet, from the beginning, he made use of uncouth politics in his governance.

The birth of uncivilized governance

JR had told that he would give the police a one week holiday for the UNP supporters to enjoy their victory. On the day election results were out, six political killings took place. On the same day, 37 houses were set ablaze. By next day, the number of attacks and robberies reached 415. During the first victorious week, 1400 such incidents were reported. In public places government servants were forced to worship the picture of JR. Government officers were forcibly chased away and their positions were occupied by others. The number of politically motivated dismissals from work reached 18,462. The husband was transferred to Jaffna and the wife was transferred to Hambantota. Such politically motivated transfers numbered 72,881. That is how JR started his period of governance.

University students were the first to oppose the JR governance and went on protest rallies. Thugs were used to stamp out such opposition. A thug who went in to attack the students, inside the Kelaniya University, got killed. JR attended the funeral of that thug who was called Christopher. Gonawala Sunil, a rapist and a thug who was in prison, was given a presidential pardon. JR governance was allergic to, among other things, literature, fine arts, culture and ethics. There was to be a public lecture on the deterioration of culture in Sri Lanka, in the auditorium of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Thugs were sent to attack, disrupt the meeting and throw out Professor Sarathchandra and other academics on to the road.

Even before independence, there were trade union movements that stood up for the welfare of the people. When trade union leaders ordered, like generals, infantry, like the trade union movement, went in to battle. JR governance sent thugs to attack trade union rallies. They attacked with bicycle chains and iron rods. Even hand bombs were thrown. D. Sompala, a worker of the supplies department, was killed. During the general strike, of 1980, over 40,000 workers were sacked from their employment. Then they sealed the trade union offices and froze their bank accounts. Offices of alternative newspapers were sealed. News was censored. The trade union movement, till then so powerful, was smashed to pieces.

In 1982, alleging a Naxalite conspiracy of the SLFP, and imposing martial law, Wijaya Kumaratunga and 20 other district leaders were taken into custody and remanded. SLFP headquarters was sealed. "Atta" and "Sudandiran" alternative newspapers were sealed. Under such an oppressive atmosphere a fraudulent referendum was held and the life of the parliament was extended for another six years.

Opposing the state of affairs, "Pavidi Handa", led by Daramitipola Rathanasara Thero printed handbills for distribution. DIG P. Udugampola took the Thero and 20,000 handbills into custody. After the hearing of the fundamental rights case against that action, the court ordered P. Udugampola to pay Rs 10,000 as compensation to the Thero and Rs 2,100 as court charges. Not only did the government pay the fines of the DIG, he was given a promotion.

Inhuman, cantankerous, uncouth governance.

JR’s foolish hubris, as the leader of the government, was such that he sent his close relative Brigadier ‘Bull’ Weeratunga to Jaffna to quell, in six months, the beginnings of small anti-government armed uprisings. The next day, morning two bodies of Tamil youth, shot and killed were exhibited on the roads. In June, of 1981, the District Development Council elections, held in Jaffna, became the most corrupt election robbery in the history of Sri Lanka. On that occasion, a group of government servants doing election duty were sent off and thugs from the South were used instead. They burned down the Jaffna Public Library, which was the heart of the Tamil people.

A close comrade of JR, Cyril Matthew, and other leaders of the government, launched the Black July of 1983. Hundreds of innocent Tamils were burned to death. Their property was robbed. What could not be taken away was set on fire. 52 Tamils held in the high security section of the Welikada prison were set upon with hatchets, knives, iron rods and massacred within two days. Who will do justice to them? How? When? And where?

Watching this great crime happening before his eyes; he allowed it to go on for 24 hours before imposing a curfew. For five entire days he remained silent without uttering a word. Finally, he blamed the leftist parties for it and proscribed them. Consequently, both North and South were painted red with blood. On one occasion, he extracted undated and signed resignation letters from his MPs.

These were some of the results of the uncouth politics of JR during his governing period. However strong a political leader he may have been his type of governance could not survive even in his own life time. The reason for that is nothing else but the great quality of our people’s non-tolerance of uncouth politics.

The firm quality of non-tolerance

As another example of this great quality, let us take a good look at the time of Mahinda Rajapaksa governance after the end of the war, in the North. When the war came to an end, Rajapaksa’s popularity had reached the zenith. During his governance, the attractive physical plan of Highways got under way. Yet, he tied up like a common criminal and dragged in to the prison his own General who won the war for him.

The culture of white vans began during MR’s period of governance. They attacked journalists and assassinated them. Unarmed civilians, demanding potable water at Rathupaswela, were shot at, killed and chased away. They incited the Sinhala rabble to attack Muslims and their mosques and looked the other way. Disdaining Supreme Court orders, the parliament lynched Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and ousted her.

Many thought that MR could not be defeated. He got the Constitution amended to stay in power for as long as he wanted. But, in just four years, he was defeated by the people. It is nothing else but the fact that whatever our people may tolerate they do not tolerate, uncouth politics.

Our people may belong to a political party or no party; they may be from the South or the North but they do not tolerate uncouth politics. Those who do not tolerate such politics are found in every community, in every caste group, in every religious group, in every organization and institution. They are found in the towns and in the villages, in all the nine provinces and even abroad. Our short-sighted politicians never discovered this excellent quality of our people, even today they do not see it.

The influence of a true people’s power

How many in our country could be having this great quality? To find an answer to that let us study the reaction, the yellow-ribbon movement, to the 1999 notorious North Western provincial council elections. Voicing the protest against the corruption and violence of the JR regime, Chandrika Bandaranayake won the elections. During her regime, the North Western provincial council election was replete with violence and corruption. It was organized by her close comrade SB Dissanayake and his team.

Later non political and independent civil organisations came together to discuss the uncouth governance that created what happened in the North Western elections. They discussed at length the danger it posed to the country. At the end, all of them agreed to call "what is wrong, wrong" and as a protest wear yellow ribbons at the next election. Victor Ivan, the journalist, suggested that at least one million yellow ribbons must be worn to get the message across to the politicians to make them stop such uncouth behaviour. It must be mentioned to the credit of Victor Ivan that many thought then it was not practical.

But, at the next election day, not one million but even two million yellow ribbons were not enough and yellow sarees in homes were cut up for use. After that yellow ribbon movement so far we never had such ugly elections. Elections truly free and fair at a high level were held afterwards. This experience shows that there are over two million people in the country who do not tolerate uncouth political methods. But they were not organized. The yellow ribbon movement helped them to participate in an organized manner.

Compared to those days when social media was not available, today the people must be better informed with the internet and the smart phone. Therefore, the number of people who do not tolerate uncouth political governance must be more. They certainly do not tolerate the present uncouth, cantankerous political behaviour. Whole society is influenced by the way they think. If not for such an influence will there be MPs who cannot be bought even for 500 million rupees? Aren’t even the judges in the courts influenced by people’s intolerance of uncivilized governance?

This ugly failure of governance can be turned in to a success story

If the millions of people who took part in the yellow ribbon movement can be reorganized what an influence will it have on the country! Political parties can never do that for the simple reason that people who do not tolerate uncouth governance have lost all respect and trust in all the political parties extant today. We do not have a single political party that sincerely repudiates such behaviour. As in the yellow ribbon movement also today the duty falls on peoples’ organizations or civil societies independent of all political parties.

With some activism organised to unite all the people with the thrust towards good governance we might be able to create a powerful people’s movement over and above political parties. Even new political leaders might emerge. Political parties and media will not be able to ignore such a movement with new leadership. The present politicians who are moving towards the acme of ugly, uncouth, cantankerous political behaviour will be forced to slow down and step back.

Such a people’s movement need not stop there but can go still further and find a stable solution to the political crisis that has spread in to every nook and corner of the state. Whoever may govern the country such a movement will not tolerate or allow any longer racism, cantankerous politics or corruption. It will even bring in a new constitution drafted with the participation of the people that will further communal harmony, democracy and the rule of law. It will be a new constitution of the people by the people for the people. This can only be done by the millions who do not tolerate uncouth, uncivilized, cantankerous governance. Therefore I conclude that Sri Lanka can be saved only by a collective of civil organizations that place their trust in such?

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