Was the Aragalaya a conspiracy or a spontaneous uprising?

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Was the Aragalaya a conspiracy or was it a spontaneous uprising of a people facing a multitude of problems as a result of incompetent governance and a long line of wrong decisions? The debate (if it can be called that) raged in and out of Parliament last week on various aspects of the Aragalaya but few contributions were objective but rather expressions based on different perspectives.

Unless one simply refuses to see, no one will doubt that the Aragalaya was a spontaneous reaction of a beleaguered people. It will be recalled that the spate of protests that culminated in the events in and around Galle Face originated in the farming communities which are probably the most informal grouping of workers in the country. The protests around the ill advised or ill thought out decision to switch overnight to organic fertiliser from chemical fertiliser caused considerable difficulties to the farmers. 

The increasing cost of living, the cooking gas and fuel shortages, the power cuts and a host of other factors pushed a helpless people against the wall resulting in the events that followed.

The absence of a Constitutional structure that provided the people with a mechanism to find a solution for their grievances compelled the public to exercise peoples’ power. In a Parliamentary democracy if the government lost the confidence of the people as a result of its incompetence as it did during the middle of last year the Parliamentarians would have voted out the government and ensured an orderly change in the government.

The present Constitution does not provide for a situation faced by the people last year as it does not have provisions for voting out and removing an incompetent Executive President thus leaving the people with no option but to take matters to hand. One can only shudder to think where the country would be today if the Aragalaya did not realise its objective of Gota Go Home.

At the time when the country gathered and protested at Galle Face in April, May, June, July last year the whole world marvelled at the peaceful and orderly nature of the protest despite the lack of a clearly defined leadership. Despite the absence of such a leadership the people were bound together by one single demand— that President Gotabaya Rajapakse and his incompetent Government that had brought untold misery to the people must step down.

To now bring up conspiracy theories and demonise the Aragalaya is an insult to the public, the majority of whom had no political agenda and only wanted to liberate themselves from the oppression of incompetence.

That is why the majority of the protestors have gone back to their own lives and not involved in demonstrations on the scale of the Aragalaya although their day-to-day problems have not yet been solved.

Aragalaya activists included in their ranks a wide and disparate group of people some of whom may have had political ambitions but none of them were able to control and drive the Aragalaya in the direction they wanted.

The conspiracy theories that are being trotted out are simply an attempt to deny that the public had legitimate grievances with regard to the manner and style of governance.

The manner in which the Aragalites have been insulted and ridiculed as drug addicts, prostitutes and all manner of insults is simply a manifestation of the hatred in the hearts of those who were dislodged from their positions of unbridled power by the Aragalaya.

Minister Prasanna Ranatunge in Parliament repeatedly used the word kalakanni to describe those who participated in the Aragalaya. Former Minister Rohitha Abeygoonewardene produced an unconfirmed list of a large number of Aragalaya activists who had been struck by misfortune which he attributed to their participation in the Aragalaya.

In a recent media contribution Professor Kalinga Tudor Silva has pointed out that Sri Lanka has always been a hotbed of conspiracy theories. He writes “Matters of national importance whether we are talking about collective uprisings against the state such as the JVP uprisings in 1971 and 1987-1989 and the LTTE uprising from 1980s until 2009, and public decisions such as signing of a peace accord between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, in 2002, were explained by certain observers in terms of conspiracy theories of one kind or another. A secretive nature and lack of transparency often added to public confusion about these events.”

Professor Tudor in his excellent piece of writing has pointed out that despite the fact that the Aragalaya was an open expression of dissent and protest the same argument of conspiracy has been trotted out to give Aragalaya a bad name. He goes on to state as follows: “More recently, the Aragalaya uprising has also triggered a variety of conspiracy theories, despite its openness to the public and explicit accommodation of diverse viewpoints. Conspiracy theories come forward to oversimplify matters, interpret a complex phenomenon in ways that conform with preconceptions and suspicions and deny an evidence-based analysis that is likely to challenge popular assumptions and preconceived ideas. Professor Tudor attributes the various conspiracy theories to the popular need to find a scapegoat who can be readily blamed for a public disaster that has unfolded. He also goes on to state that while key decision makers responsible for poor public decisions must be certainly identified and appropriate action taken against them, it should not end up with untenable conspiracy theories as valid explanations for macro social processes with a complex etiology.

The most recent fallout of this hate campaign against activists of the Aragalaya is the increasing reports of such persons being subject to various forms of physical harm and ridicule.

It is time that those who pour scorn on the Aragalaya accept that it was their failure of governance that paved the way for such a people’s movement to emerge.(javidyusuf@gmail.com)

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