The wee hours of Friday saw a massive shock and awe operation carried out by heavily armed troops and police commandos in Colombo. They descended on the unarmed Galle Face protesters, destroying as they did a large number of tents and other makeshift structures that had been there for more than 100 days. The ‘special operation’ was launched close on the heels of the swearing-in of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. This dastardly act of politico-military muscle flexing must be condemned unreservedly. It is just a foretaste of what is to come. The khaki-clad behemoth is now doing political work unflinchingly.
Ironically, on 09 May, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to have the Galle Face protest crushed by unleashing a bunch of goons in the garb of SLPP local councillors only to be hoist with his own petard; the political blowback from the savage attack caused him to resign. But a few weeks on, at the behest of President Wickremesinghe, the armed forces and the police have accomplished the task the SLPP thugs made a botch of. Not even Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former frontline combat officer, resorted to such repressive measures, when he was the President although his political opponents dubbed him Sri Lanka’s Hitler.
President Wickremesinghe seems determined to bulldoze his way through with the help of the police and the military. If only he had done so in the early noughties, when his government gave the LTTE kid-glove treatment despite the latter’s heinous crimes; the military was ordered to stomach indignities at the hands of the LTTE cadres in the name of a fragile truce.
Ironically, following the 09 May goon attack, the UNP tweeted, “Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has condemned the attack on the Galle Face demonstrators, saying that not only the Prime Minister but also the entire government must resign.” A few days later, Wickremesinghe joined the Rajapaksa government as its Prime Minister! He urged the Galle Face protesters to continue with their agitations and even undertook to provide them with necessary facilities. But after becoming the Acting President, he sought to demonise some of the protesters, calling them fascists, and it became obvious that the ground was being prepared for a crackdown. It may be said that not by self-promotion does one become a democrat, or a fascist, but by one’s deeds.
The Colombo-based western diplomats who are the self-proclaimed defenders of Sri Lanka’s democracy have resorted to gobbledygook anent the Galle Face attack. They would have called for a special session of the UNHRC in Geneva and threatened to halt IMF assistance if such an incident had taken place during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency. Today, they are floating like bees and stinging like butterflies, as it were; they have only expressed concern about yesterday’s dastardly attack. Is it that they couldn’t care less because their intention is to manipulate the current regime to further their geo-political interests?
There is no gainsaying that some troublemakers have infiltrated the current protest movement and are responsible for the recent arson attacks including the one on President Wickremesinghe’s private residence. These criminal elements masquerading as anti-government protesters are a danger to society and must be identified and severely dealt with according to the law. But under no circumstances could brutal force against all protesters be justified. There is no way the Rajapaksas could escape the responsibility for what Wickremesinghe is doing as the President, for it is they who enabled him to secure the presidency and are propping him up.
Instances of unskilled workers getting buried under the walls they demolish are not rare. The Galle Face protesters are in a somewhat similar predicament. They were in a mighty hurry to engineer a regime change, overestimated their strength and bit off more than they could chew. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government should have been pulled down brick by brick, and an all-party interim administration appointed to effect a change of government, surgically. Instead, the so-called Aragalaya activists acted rashly. Gotabaya is gone, but all members of the blundering regime are there while queues are becoming longer, and the people’s suffering is worsening. This does not mean the path is clear for the government to go on doing as it pleases. Public anger is rising and will spill out onto the streets sooner than expected.
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