Denying the success of the Janabalaya Demonstration is a totalitarian attack on the people’s freedom of expression
Posted on September 22nd, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

Kumar David (KD) in his column titled  Deciphering the Jana Bala Demo (JBD)- Not a flop (about 75,000), but it was fun and frolic not a political avowal” (Sunday Island/ September 16, 2018) tries to pretend that the JBD challenge fell flat; it was game and set (only) to Yahapalana”. To any fair-minded Sri Lankan whose vision is not clouded by racist hatred, personal prejudice and vain arrogance, the Janabalaya protest was the loudest outcry to date against a sitting government in post-independence Sri Lanka. What the ‘Janabalaya’ (People’s Power Demonstration) achieved was that through it the common people gave the government  a resounding warning that they were fed up with it. They did this in the hearing of the whole world and expressed their earnest desire and their urgent demand for a democratic change. This is a cry that NO government that abides by or is morally and legally bound to abide by democratic norms could turn a deaf ear to.

KD deliberately misinterprets the message of the People Power March of September 5.  But the reality that the demonstrators experienced at firsthand in Colombo and that we watched on TV and CP screens around the world is in stark contrast to KD’s devaluing assessment. His labored misrepresentation of the reality is not of any significance, though, because he is himself a cipher even among  the whole kit and caboodle who are now being roundly blamed for the change of 2015, and who themselves apparently suffer from bouts of self-blame. On the other hand, there is enough unmistakable evidence that the impact of the Janabalaya March and Rally has already been felt both within and outside Sri Lanka. A couple of days ago, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited  by India and given a reception equivalent to that, the media said, is normally reserved for a visiting head of state (whether the Indian gesture indicates a positive attitudinal change in respect of Sri Lanka is yet to be seen, though); at the Atakalanpanna Multipurpose Cooperative Society elections, all of the 210 seats have been won by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), with the UNP and the SLFP having won no seats at all. KD’s calling the Janabalaya protest ‘Jana Bala Demo’ is interesting. An independent Sinhala language website had a headline which read something like Jala Bala Virodhaya vyartha wei” (Water Force Opposition Fails). This was a sarcastic reference to the government’s failed attempt, as the organizers were quick to point out, to demoralize the Janabalaya demonstrators and to create public misgivings about the bona fides of their declared peaceful intentions, through a massive display of police presence equipped with a fleet of water cannons, and batons and riot shields that  the public security functionaries apparently deemed necessary .

The Janabalaya held in Colombo by the Joint Opposition on September 05, 2018 was a roaring success. It was, of course, a foregone conclusion. That it was going to draw huge crowds was clear to all including the government. Through their well attended and meticulously organized demonstration the JO made a direct hit on the government. By trying to forestall it, then to obstruct its progress, and finally to belittle the astounding success that the Janabalaya achieved as a daringly defiant show of people power  against all odds, the Yahapalanaya worthies and their cronies have only embellished the JO’s victory. They have thus scored an own goal for the latter, an instance of poetic justice indeed, in the circumstances!

The JO’s original date for the protest march and rally was August 17, 2018, which was the third anniversary of the present government. However, considering the fact that it could potentially disrupt the movement of students sitting for the GCE  (AL) examination due to be ongoing around that date, the organizers changed it to September 5. In overall charge of the Janabalaya organization was the leader of the youth wing of the SLPP, MP Namal Rajapaksa, former president’s son. Apparently the JO was not worried about this fact being a potential target for attack by opponents as further proof of the so-called ‘Rajapaksa family bandyism’.  Family bandyism means, as it is usually intended to mean, banding together of two or more members of the same family that happens to be in a political power wielding position for the advancement of its own selfish interests. However, an honest political leader who has proven their honesty and ability must have the freedom to lawfully choose suitable persons from their own family, if dictated by unalterable circumstances such as continuing public favour (in preference to others, strictly on grounds of merit and loyalty)  to work with them in order to enhance their performance in the powerful post to which the person has been elected by the people. Such a situation should not be criticized as family bandyism, because there the purpose is not personal  benefit, but public good. No illustration of the point is necessary as it is something we Sri Lankans have experienced.

KD’s despicably false assumption is that the ultimate purpose of the JO’s agitation against a host of very real issues including the government’s push for a separatist constitution to which there was no acceptable contribution from the 75% majority community (whom they want conciliate with ‘verbal concessions’! Ask Rathnajeewan Hoole), attacks on the monks, ill treatment of war heroes, selling off of national assets, and other unacceptable acts  is to incite racial tension, fall back on wells of deep chauvinism and provoke anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim sentiments in the bleaker psyche of susceptible citizens”. All these malicious lies are incubated in the bleaker psyches of KD himself and the handful of likeminded Tamil extremists. Among these issues, he sees ‘merit’ only in the Central Bank Bond issue, and utters the following rigmarole: ”… the government is dragging its feet over the bond scam. The reason is that the actual beneficiary (via the said ‘accused’) is the current incumbent and then candidate in the 2008 presidential tussle”. Who is this ‘current incumbent’? The ‘current incumbent of the Central Bank, or president or prime minister, or which other person? It is obvious that KD is so dishonestly trying to deflect public attention from the actual rogues who  masterminded and carried out the biggest financial fraud in Sri Lanka’s criminal history, and direct suspicion onto totally unconnected persons towards whom he harbours a visceral hatred (political and military leaders of the Rajapaksa government that defeated separatist terrorism.

What he calls the Namal factor” is something that upsets KD. He makes this an excuse for insinuating a rift between Mahinda and Gotabhaya over the former’s alleged presidential ambitions for his son. A man of evil mind cannot even imagine the love and trust that bind this family together. Through the undeniable success of the Janabalaya march and rally, Namal has proven beyond doubt that he is worthy of public trust in his own right. The writer knows that this claim is not what all of Namal’s opponents of opposite political persuasions and some of his rivals on his own side would like to read or hear. But that is the truth, and it must be stated. The writer’s purpose is not doing some propaganda work for Namal; but, if stating the truth stands him in good stead later or subjects him to increased envy and intensified competition among friends and enemies alike, he just can’t do anything about it, except appeal to the good sense of all democracy loving Sri Lankans. The JO is led by Dinesh Gunawardane . Dullas Alahapperuma is its national organizer. Both are veteran politicians. So, Namal didn’t achieve this success single handed. There are other very capable young leaders like Dilum Amunugama, Romesh Pathirana  and many others  with matching abilities. He only did the organizing work related to the public protest  with the uninstinted support of his older and more prominent colleagues. Many others including the most senior leaders of the JO and hundreds of young activists across the country contributed to it, and in fact in less discernible, but equally effective ways. It was team work. The organizing leadership that Namal provided was inspiring, not coercive.

The protest marchers came from every corner of the island: from Jaffna in the north, from Devundara (Devinuwara), Matara, in the south, from Trincomalee  and Baticaloa in the east, and converged in Colombo with others from the western province. People from every community, needless to say, thoroughly disgruntled with the government, participated. A large crowd of Sri Lankan expatriates working abroad, intellectuals, professionals and entrepreneurs from Viyathmaga, retired army generals and other veterans of the military (people who normally do not take part in such public demonstrations) were seen taking part in the Janabalaya. So the marchers were not kasippu guzzling tramps as KD would like to believe. It must be appreciated that the government did everything in its power to make the task extremely challenging for the organizers, and for the two hundred thousand who took part in the demonstration. The participants in the events showed the highest level of discipline and restraint in the face of their absence on the part of those who opposed them and desperately wanted to create pandemonium. (Some detractors in the media falsely and insultingly claimed that the demonstrators’ good behavior was due to the massive presence of riot police!)

As a precaution against possible legal obstructions that could be imposed on the peaceful nonviolent demonstrators, the organizers kept the routes of the march and the venue of the rally and sit-in protest under wraps until the morning of September 5. They were just asked to descend on Colombo from all quarters. Eventually, the protesters marched along five routes in the city (Kandy, Baseline, Negambo , Maligawatte, and Town Hall roads) and congregated at the Lake House Roundabout where they held a satyagraha (a non-violent protest based on ‘truth’,  demanding justice) .

Some incredibly anti-people, anti-social  strategies were employed in turn to stop it beforehand, to obstruct it while it was in progress, and to declare the mass protest a failure after it ended. The police were used in several places to try to move court to take out bans on the protests on spurious grounds, but the strategy failed, showing that the judges are not for ‘bending the law’ for serving the political whims of those in power. To harass protesters, the Road Passenger Transport Authority in various provinces ordered private bus services not to accept private tours during the days that they were expected to travel to and from Colombo (September 3 to 7). Several participants were physically attacked while on the peaceful march. At Nittambuwa a trench was dug under some false pretext using  Road Development Authority (RDA) workers, which inconvenienced thousands of normal commuters as well as the marchers, MP Udaya Gammanpila said at a post event news briefing. He also claimed that several young men who were decorating  a stage in the city on the September 4th night were assaulted by an unidentified gang and were hospitalized; a bus carrying demonstrators to Colombo was intercepted at Hali-Ela in the Badulla area  and was attacked by hooligans, inflicting grievous injuries on the commuters, and smashing up the bus beyond repair, Gammanpila said. There was also the case of alleged distribution of poisoned or contaminated milk sachets among the protestors on the march. Media reported that action was instituted by an individual who was affected by this wicked deed, at a court in Matara. On September 20th  The Island’s lead headline was Alleged bid to ‘poison’ JO supporters – Milco admits its milk was spiked”. The news report said: Milco Chairman A.C.M. Zuflikar Cader, yesterday, told a group of Joint Opposition members that a needle had been used to introduce something into the packets of milk, distributed among those participating at Jana Balaya Colombata protest, on Sept 5”.

KD’s vain attempt to disparage the Janabalaya demonstration is a contribution to the third or the postmortem phase of the harassment of the public of the country by the Yahapalanists for trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression, the most important form of freedom in a democracy. This writer deems it a national responsibility he owes to his Motherland as a journalist not to stand by while persons like KD, by means of their falsehoods and false claims, continue to feed and perpetuate the many misconceptions about her that Tamil racists and separatists have spread abroad including the powerful West, which are so injurious to the Sri Lankan people as a whole.

The 200,000 Sri Lankans who came down to Colombo, in brotherhood and humanity, from every part of the island, representing all the ethnic  communities that compose the Sri Lankan population, amidst numerous difficulties, in the name of democracy, justice and freedom, demonstrated how peaceful, disciplined, non-violent, but courageous in the face of adversity they are for all the world to see. They did not come to Colombo to indulge in any fun and frolic as KD implies. When an internationally recognized young medical professor by the name of Channa Jayasumana declared, in a short emotional appeal on behalf of all the citizens of his beleaguered country at the UNHRC Assembly in Geneva recently: There is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka”, he was hitting the nail on the head. Let the international community investigate this claim.  Sri Lankans deserve better in their own country and in the UN.

(The opinions that the writer articulates are presented for what they are worth. They are not expected to be bought without examination.  The information used in this article is entirely thanks to internet sources.)

One Response to “Denying the success of the Janabalaya Demonstration is a totalitarian attack on the people’s freedom of expression”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Genuine people’s demonstrations are OK but not politically motivated one where people are paid to attend. We mustn’t allow corrupt politicians to get into power using back door methods using resources derived from monies they have unjustly earned. They disrupt the normal lives of the people. I had to travel 3 hours earlier on the 5th to catch my flight fearing traffic jams and disruptions on the road.
    Third world politicians are there only to rob the country and not to serve the people. This must stop. I read a railway manufacturing job by Italians are deliberately held back by couple of years until the commissions are paid to the politicans.They are all at it at our expense, we the country’s taxpayers. They too will buy their votes, gathering cheer leaders with the unjustly earned money. Truly shameful. No more disrupting demonstrations that disturb our lives.

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