Pada Yathra: The coming of age of a new political force
Posted on August 2nd, 2016

by C. A. Chandraprema Courtesy The Island


The Joint Opposition’s pada yathra from Kandy to Colombo over five days from the 28th of July to the 1st August undoubtedly made political history. This country has not seen anything like it before. I observed the commencement of the pada yathra in Kandy on the 28th and its end in Mawanella that day and the commencement of its final leg from Kiribathgoda as well as the final janahamuwa at the Lipton Circus. Before the final leg began from Kiribathgoda, Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing the crowd that had assembled for the start, said he had organised pada yathras before but that was going to be the biggest such event the country had yet seen, and he was right. The sky was overcast from morning but the weather held till the pada yathra concluded at Lipton Circus and that was a major contributing factor to its success.

A pada yathra is by far the most gruelling and exhausting form of protest that one can think of. This is not for the old or the infirm or the overweight. As such the participation at events like this will be considerably lower than for any other political event. Despite this when the pada yathra commenced in Kandy on the 28th, the crowd that participated was larger than at most political meetings. I thought would compare very favourably with the attendance at the first ‘Mahinda Sulanga’ rally in Nugegoda in February last year. The commencement of the last leg from Kiribathgoda was also a sight to behold. The police cleared the three lanes of the road leading to Colombo and at around 10.30 am the pada yathra commenced with the pilot vehicles moving into position. As the procession began to move, large numbers of people came rushing out onto the other side of the road from of the Kiribathgoda bus stand where they had assembled, and moved on ahead of the pilot vehicles.

In Kandy as well as during the last leg from Kiribathgoda, the pada yathra was actually led by a disorganised crowd several thousand strong, with the more organised groups coming later. After having observed the start of the procession, I fell in behind the last group in the pada yathra which was led by D. V. Upul and walked with the procession for several kilometres. The three lanes of the road were a sea of heads as far as the eye could see. It was not a procession made up of people walking in groups of five or six or even ten or fifteen. People were walking 25 to 30 abreast, from the pavement to the centre fence and the entire road was densely packed.

Even with the road completely cleared of traffic, it took an hour for the procession to pass one spot. Aerial footage of the Kiribathgoda town would have been quite a sight. I dropped out of the procession after a few kilometres and after relaxing with a friend, went to the Lipton Circus to see the final janahamuwa. The pada yathra started moving from Kiribathgoda to Colombo without knowing where exactly in Colombo they were headed. Even after crossing the Kelaniya bridge and moving onto Baseline road, nobody knew where they were headed. A few people inquired from me whether I knew where they were going. After a while this writer received a call from a university academic who was in the procession saying that they had turned towards Maligawatte from Baseline road. That was the indication that the pada yathra would be moving towards Hyde Park which they had booked earlier for the final meeting.

Even though the grueling walk from Kiribathgoda to Colombo would have made several thousands including this writer drop out of the procession half way, some more would have joined en route so the final group that assembled at Lipton Circus would have been as large as the crowd that began the march. After all the marchers had reached the destination, the whole of Lipton Circus was one sea of heads – probably the largest crowd to assemble at that location yet. From the very beginning the government leaders made a mess of the way they handled this opposition protest. They made it obvious that they were in a blind panic about the opposition march. They tried to obtain magistrates’ orders banning the protest from every Magistrate’s court along the route from Kandy to Colombo and failed. They tried to convey the impression that UNP membership drives were to be held in Kandy and Mawanella on the same day as the pada yathra but failed to get the respective magistrates to issue restraining orders on the Joint Opposition protest.

Ultimately, no membership drives were held at all in Kandy and Mawanella making it look as if the pada yathra had caused the UNP membership drives to get washed out. The stated objective of the pada yathra was to protest against ETCA, the VAT increase, the persecution of armed forces personnel and other such issues. However, the obvious unstated objective was to solidify public support for the opposition coalition so as to be able to strike out on their own as a political party against both the UNP and the SLFP at future elections. The latter objective they have certainly achieved with the Hyde Park meeting in March, the May Day rally and now this pada yathra. The overwhelming success of the pada yathra has laid the groundwork for the Joint Opposition to form a new political party to contest the local government elections or the provincial elections whichever comes first.

In fact, the May day rallies this year was a desperate contest between the rival political forces in the country to see which side drew the biggest crowds. This writer went to observe the UNP rally in Campbell Park, the JVP rally in BRC grounds and the Joint Opposition rally in Kirullapone as the rallies peaked between 4.30 and 5.30 pm. The UNP rally had commenced by that time in Campbell Park but people were still marching to the venue from Panchikawatte through Maradana and Borella. Taking into account all the people at Campbell Park and those still on the road, and the JVP rally which was easier to observe since the entire procession had arrived at the BRC grounds by that time, this writer found that the Kirullapone rally was much larger than both the UNP and JVP rallies. So, the government lost the contest to draw the largest crowds on May day. As for the pada yathra, it can be stated with confidence that neither the UNP or even the UNP and SLFP Sirisena faction combined, will be able to even think of organising something like that.

If the UNP and the SLFP (Sirisena faction) was not able to outdo the Joint Opposition on May Day, it stands to reason to assume that they will not be able to compete in organising a pada yathra bigger than the Joint Opposition’s show because of the greater difficulties involved. The Hyde Park rally in March, the May day rally and now the pada yathra coming just six to eight weeks after one another shows an incredible capacity on the part of the Joint Opposition to mobilise huge crowds. They are now well prepared to enter the hustings as a separate political party. Mahinda Rajapaksa has an advantage that neither SWRD Bandaranaike nor the DUNF led by Lalith and Gamini had when they split from the UNP. When Bandaranaike split from the UNP, he went into an opposition which was then dominated by the LSSP and he had to elbow his way to the top. In the case of the DUNF the opposition was dominated by the SLFP.

However, the advantage that Rajapaksa has over both SWRD Bandaranaike and the DUNF is that he has a complete monopoly of the national opposition in a situation where even the JVP is seen for the large part as a yahapalana coalition partner. The contest between the government and the opposition is a straight fight between the MS and RW-led government and the MR-led opposition and that is what makes the shows of strength in Hyde Park, on May Day and the pada yathra so important. Many people feel that though the Joint Opposition put up grand shows of force with the ‘Mahinda Sulanga’ rallies starting from the historic Nugegoda rally of 18 February 2015, that still did not enable them to win power. However, the circumstances before and after August 2015 are very different. Before August 2015, the Joint Opposition and Rajapaksa were captives, so to speak, of Maithripala Sirisena, who could by giving speeches and writing letters, undermine the entire campaign led by MR. That situation has changed since August. What we saw with the pada yathra of the Joint Opposition is not only a political event of historic significance, but also the coming of age of a new opposition force.

13 Responses to “Pada Yathra: The coming of age of a new political force”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Jayawewa, Rata Rakina Mahinda Rajapaksa janadhipathi thumani!

    Deshapremi Ekabadda Vipakshayata, JAYAWEWA!

  2. Dilrook Says:

    I agree it marks the coming of age of the JO leadership that was very weak until now.

    However, the JVP cannot be discounted. By the time of the next election, the biggest issue will be abolishing ETCA (not just ETCA). Currently JVP is the only party that openly demands and vows to abolish it. Mahinda, Basil, Namal, Gotabhaya and Dinesh have been very careful not to say so.

    This difference will be amplified by the time of the next election. After ETCA is signed, people will not care about who weeps about ETCA. They will flock around a party that openly vows to abolish ETCA. If JO leaders cannot say so, the JO cannot win the next election.

    I think new political parties will emerge for the next national election with the sole purpose of abrogating ETCA. Their clear and focused policy will win crucial support that will divide the Opposition.

    Similarly, a new political party or two will emerge with retired soldiers and well known patriots (who have mostly kept out of politics) demanding the reduction of 13A powers, if not total abrogation and punishment to those who violate territorial integrity and sovereignty.

    Hopefully, Upcountry Sinhalese opposed to Indian colonization of Upcountry will also form into their own political party with the sole purpose of stopping it. JO cannot represent them as JO leaders are after the Indian vote.

    As Mahinda, Basil, Namal, Gotabhaya and Dinesh have been unable to take a tough stand on these 3 key issues, the “JO” will end up as the largest opposition group in next parliament within a fragmented opposition. I sincerely hope they will toughen their stand against these Indian agendas to wipe out other ancillary opposition groups and forge one united front.

    Measuring political strength by the size of rallies is misleading especially for the camp with less minority support. For instance, in 2001 PA held the largest May Day rally with UNP rally nowhere to be seen. By within months, UNP formed a government. In both 2015 presidential election and general election, UPFA commanded the largest crowds but UNP won both elections.

    25% of the population are minorities and it is almost entirely Sinhalese that go in these public rallies. Minorities mostly avoid these. For instance the 2 million people participated in Pada Yatra at various levels didn’t possibly have 200,000 Muslims or 300,000 Tamils. But when it comes to election, the 25% minority also votes.

  3. S.Gonsal Says:

    Regardless of being branded as “RED ELEPHANTS” , JVP continues to be the only force that expose the government’s major faults that can easily be proven. Their MPs have been rated high in MANTRI ranking. Despite these occasional crowd drawing events, substantial noise in the parliament is a MUST DO for JO. So far what they have been fighting ferociously is for FCID and police arrests.
    Also why is MR avoiding important votes is suspicious.

  4. charithsls Says:

    What Dilrook says is quite important, it is good JO is making progress but what is more important is MR to come out with definite agendas to satisfy the majority. JO should clearly state NOW that they will scrap ETCA if they win power, why though they do not want to go against India at this budding state of their campaign, the plus side is JO can in return point out to Indians they do so now to get popular votes somehow. So when JO wins they can say then to India they have obligation to implement it.BY not adopting a definite stand against ETCA now, if JO wins they will find it difficult to scrap it without hurting India because they have not come to power on that promise.The same applies to taking a tough stand on 13A & forwarding it as a their agenda NOW so that when Indian pressure comes JO has reasons to show. JO should be outspoken on these pretty important matters NOW as India cannot oppose when JO is fighting tooth & nail to come to power. What India can do is to keep Indian plantation votes out but that can be overcome by this mass popularity. NO point MR wining WITHOUT proper agendas & hope Silvas, Jayatillakas & other brains in the JO see this. We Sinhala Buddhist need to get the best out of this JO, BY FORCE because we know Rajapakshas FAILED to do the utmost to the majority when they had every opportunity. The word for that itself is BETRAYAL!

  5. S.Gonsal Says:

    White man invaded Americas, killed millions, committed genocide and now Trump wins candidacy even being an open racist.
    In Australia, racist Paluline Hason won her seat comfortably. Millions of Aborigines were killed and some are being killed even today.
    These are not white man’s lands.

    World has changed now calling terrorist a terrorist, murderer a murderer and invader is an invader.

    In our country, even with 70% majority, even the best politician is scared to declare majority race Sinhala have been marginalised by invading Indians and that majority right has to be resorted. They are just playing “Hengimutta ” tack tics to win votes.

    Looks like 13A has been accepted by all.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    After the conflict with the LTTE finished in May 2009, the UN issued a fine Resolution on Lanka, praising Lanka for removing terrorism. After that, the subsequent Resolutions sponsored by the USA over the years, were all accusations of the MR Lanka govt ‘War Crimes’ and failure to Reconcile with the Tamil community etc. Under such accusations, was it possible for the MR govt to function in a normal fashion and get rid of the 13-A etc. ? No, it was not possible.

    Let us ask ourselves whether the west helped Lanka in Development after the conflict finished with the LTTE. The answer is ‘no’. INDIA did not either. It was China that helped.
    Then there was the ‘Contain China’ program where Lanka Development programs suffered further set backs. Remember that MR wanted to run with the Yuan for a 3 yr period. That was a no no for the Powers that Be. We suspect that this was one of the main reasons why the MR govt was removed by the Powers that Be.

    So what’s in the recipe for Lanka by Yahap ?
    Appears to be forms of Capitalism with Fascism thrown in. Crash & Sell programs have been planned via the ETCA, 5,000 acre lots on 99 yr leases to foreigners, sea tunnel to Tamil Nadu, new Constitution etc.

    Sri Lanka will not be a Socialist Democratic country any more unless Ranil/CBK/MS see the damage they are doing to the People of Lanka, back off, and let those who care for the country come back with many millions of people, and govern giving Lankans a sense of Security once more.

    Also note that the IMF downed Greece, Ireland & Spain – curious. Wonder what big powers are wanting what …. It is a minor miracle that the MR group is still around ! Let it go on record that the MR govt removed the LTTE, and now MR has the very difficult task of yet again saving the country from the onslaught of various other attacks. This is a yukky job no one else accepts. Misplaced criticism here of the MR group will not help …

    Countries such as Lanka, Greece, Ireland, Spain have somehow been cornered via money matters. In Lanka, it was done quite purposely, starting with two scams in the Central Bank. Short memories will not help.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    To reduce populations, it is far kinder to give FREE birth control material to any adult who wants these.
    The NEEM TREE products are also Asia’s birth control material, and can be used by males & females. If interested, please read details on the internet.
    INDIA’s Dr Vandana Shiva has protected the Neem Tree (and Basmati Rice) from being patented by a powerful country. There are some positive things done by concerned and intelligent people in INDIA, and these acts should be acknowledged by Lankans.

  8. Dilrook Says:

    If JO leaders fear India to say they will scrap ETCA, they will be a hundred times more scared to do it. In that case, there is little sense in replacing UNP with the JO as far as Indian demands (ETCA, Tamil Eelam, 13A, 13P, Malaya Nadu, war crimes hybrid courts, etc.) are concerned.

    Despite ridiculous blunders of this buffalo-cattle government, they have increased the land leased to China from 20 hectares (outright sale) to China to 162 hectares leased for 99 years. There is no real difference in selling and leasing for such a long time. The occupier has the same right. For instance, Diego Garcia is leased to USA, not sold. But no one can fly over it without US approval. UNP regime has gone against India to increase Chinese occupation (a good thing) from 20 to 162 hectares. Indians will surely not buy terminology changes and see a massive increase in Chinese presence in Colombo than before. It is a bold move that will anger India. But it saved the country $143 million. (Of course had they not blundered it, none of this would have happened.) The point is it is still a bold move in July 2016 as regards India. If such cowards in this government can do it, I see no excuse for JO leaders to shy away from promising to scrap ETCA which will be signed.

  9. S.Gonsal Says:

    Wrong to say JO is not adopting a definite stand against ETCA. They are against it. But the opposition question they were the people who started this in the form of CEPA in a different label.
    Nevertheless their is nothing as dangerous as 13A and ALL have accepted and embraced it. JO is saying new constitution MARA UGULA whilst they too are in committees, meeting regularly with government members and helping to build the MARA UGULA. What is the meaning of all these with Federal already given on the day of appointment of Vigneshwaran ?
    13A is the main MARA UGULA.

  10. Fran Diaz Says:

    The 13-A can be removed if the present day UNP under RW is sincere about removing it. The present day UNP under RW is NOT sincere in their intent toward the masses of Lanka – that is why they will never remove it.

    The 13-A is the ‘divide & rule’ principle of Lanka imposed under DURESS on Lanka by INDIA when JRJ govt (UNP) was in power. Therefore, the UNP should remove it now that the Cold War is over. But it is not happening because the present day UNP under RW is not sincere in intent toward the masses of Lanka. The present day UNP came into power due to troubles caused by the 13-A mainly and they are staying on mainly because of loss of Sovereignty due to the 13-A mainly.

    Let us remember that RW was made Exec PM by Pres MS ‘because the west wanted it so’.

    Therefore, it is obvious that the 13-A is kept in place to suit many foreign interests, even if it does not suit Lanka. It is the way to ‘divide & rule’ Lanka.

    We do NOT accept the 13-A. It is the great divider of Lanka, and inimical to true Reconciliation between communities.

  11. Ananda-USA Says:

    Fran,

    How can UNP Ranil be SINCERE about removing the 13A when he has NEVER said he would remove it?

    ON THE CONTRARY, all of his statements and actions indicate he is EAGER not only to IMPLEMENT IT but also to FURTHER STRENGTHEN IT!

  12. S.Gonsal Says:

    Ranil has given ” (sulu)JANA VARAMA” to replace 13A with FEDERALISM. He is already busy trying to remove it, just to replace with another MARA UGULA.
    Don’t you understand ?

  13. Fran Diaz Says:

    Ananda,

    Then RW has to be labelled a ‘Deshadrohi’ person. The ‘Deshadrohi’ Award can go to him. Others of his ilk will get the same ‘Award’ – the Patriots can give out this ‘Award’ in the form of a piece of appropriately printed paper ….

    A Hall of Shame has to be created and the List put in the media.

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