EX-PRESIDENT IN RETROSPECT: A NOTE TO GALLE FACE PROTESTERS AND THEIR NEW MESSIAHS
Posted on September 22nd, 2022

By Sena Thoradeniya

1. DIDN’T GR HEAR THE GALLE FACE PROTESTERS SING”?

When the protesters were occupying the Galle Face Green and protesting at some other sites what were our intelligence personnel and Defense Ministry panjandrums doing was anyone’s guess. Did not the deposed President hear the slogans chanted by the protesters, see placards, banners and other visuals exhibited by the protesters? As a decorated old soldier turned into an IT expert, was he not exposed to what were posted in social media platforms?  Did not his advisors and intelligence officers brief him about the imminent events? We have no answers to these straightforward questions.

In our essay Culture of Galle Face Protesters” (LankaWeb: August 23.2022), we had stated providing many examples how the Galle Face Protesters in their songs, slogans, placards etc. etc. insulted, humiliated, vilified, disgraced and shamed the ex-President. To me and I think to the majority of people in Sri Lanka, whether voted for him or not, he was not a person to be treated in that vulgar manner.

The Protesters challenged the State, in other words called for the destruction of the State. Artists of the Fearless Community”, We are From Here Project” and Sisterhood Initiative” painted the Presidential Secretariat in flames. Their laser projections projected on to the façade of Presidential Secretariat challenged the unitary state of Sri Lanka.

He was apathetic when the protesters besieged his private residence at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana.  Many more incidents followed. The protest gathered momentum because the law was not enforced.

2. WAS HE PRESSURISED?

Can we believe that the ex-President was pressurised by Julie Chung day in and day out as claimed by MP Wimal Weerawansa; that the ex-Prsesident was keeping his options open to go back to America to be with his family without antagonising the Americans?  Former Professor Nalin de Silva also had said a similar thing, quoting a verse line from Sinhabahu”, that he acted like this because of his children – Daruwan Sanda”-thathe wanted to be with his children! A happy family re-union in America! If it is so, did he think that politics was something which has a smooth take-off, a flight with least air turbulences and a safe landing? I don’t think so.

I think that he was trapped by the US. We had some doubts why the US authorities allowed him to renounce his Us citizenship when there was a court case pending against him. It was the beginning of the grand conspiracy. They knew from which direction the prevailing winds blow. To hoodwink the general public, in connivance with the grand conspirators, three NGO chiefs utilising funds provided by the very same US Agencies filed FR applications in the Supreme Courts to debar him from entering the Presidential fray. Very soon the US understood that the newly elected President was not the man they wanted.  He was vacillating between India, China and US. By the time the New Fortress” deal was completed the narrative has been already scripted.

3. WAS HE A DICTATOR?

Many Columbians called GR a dictator”, an autocrat” a tyrant”, a despot”, all having more or less the same meaning. A pseudo-theorist who occupied VIyatha Maga” and Eliya” rostrums later called him an armed Dharmapala” (armed Dharmapalism”). This demonstrates that how the ex-President had failed to assess the careerists who surrounded him. To take somebody as your confidante you should study that person’s history, past deeds and the ideology he represented and advocated.

Foreign-funded think tank”, Pathfinder” has not done anything good for him. To appoint its key persons to strategic positions in the State and foreign service was calamitous. Whether foreign-funded Verite Research” and Advocata Group” had advised him, we are in the dark. His own creation Viyathmaga, in his own words founded to act like a think tank, had a sizable amount represented in the Parliament and five of them took oaths as State Ministers. In 2020, I wrote five articles about Viyathmaga” politics and I do not know whether to laugh or cry that many of my predictions have come true. Viyathmaga” grandees appointed to key positions in state institutions brought disaster not only to GR, but to the whole country, like the lizard who ruined his own mother’s funeral” as the Ibos say. What their MPs and State Ministers did in respect of course correction?  Now, after de-camping they say that GR did not listen to them!!  

Although many of GR’s adversaries tried to tarnish his image recalling Be a Hitler” call by an unsuspecting Anunayaka Thero of Asgiriya Chapter and Rathupaswela and Negombo shooting incidents.He was criticised for appointing ex-army officers to key administrative positions. This was painted as militarisation even by some prominent members of the clergy. But we saw some of these ex-military officers acting with kid gloves when crucial decisions had to be taken. Raiding hoarded sugar and rice stocks and handing over the same stuff to the hoarders itself was a case in point. Malady was the corrupt system, bribery, corruption, waste, indiscipline and extravagancy. That is why some people wanted a benevolent dictator”. They, including the protesters got only benevolence” and compassion!  

Recruiting a person who had worked in a media institution (this particular media group was actively involved in the Galle Face Protest from its inception) that opposed Rajapaksas tooth and nail as his Media Secretary and another from another private media institution owned by Lyca Group, (owned by a British-Sri Lankan Tamil entrepreneur, once alleged to have links to LTTE) as Media Director were disastrous. Following the MIrihana outrage Presidential Media Unit issued a Statement that those who resorted to violence wanted to enact an Arabi Wanantharaya (Arab jungle” instead of Arabi Wasanthaya” or Arab Spring”). Before the final onslaught one fellow left the country seeking greener pastures.  The other one decamped joining his former organization.

Ex-President’s critics said that he did not like others criticising his appointees or appointments given to certain people. This was clearly visible with the appointment of High Commissioner to India with ministerial powers.

Is this autocracy? Or liberalism? Considering what was being done was right is also a manifestation of liberalism. I am right”; I cannot go wrong”; I did the right thing”. What is needed is Doing Right Things Right, Always”. It is the Right Way; Not My Way. Only Frank Sinatra can sing I did it My Way”. 

Reprimanding public officers in public and in front of TV cameras (to be telecast in evening news bulletins) were GR’s biggest blunders that displayed his dictatorial tendencies. Why open in-house meetings to media? This is an undesirable habit introduced by the politicians and their media secretaries with the advent of TV and proliferation of TV channels to gain cheap publicity. Still this public spectacle continues.

Still NGOs, some sprang up with the Protest, (many new NGOs mushroomed with the Galle Face Protest; some are of bourgeois intellectuals and professionals) yell that he was vested with immense power, who directly or indirectly controlled most of the institutions in the country. If he had exercised the power bestowed upon him by the Constitution things would have ended completely different. Having power and not using that power are two different things. The ex-President although he had immense power due to 22 nd Amendment did not use that power. It was Ranil Wickremasinghe who executed that power, two days after becoming the President ordering the military to evict Galle Face Protesters.  

4. A LAISSEZ-FAIRE LEADER

To me GR was a laissez-faire leader, an abdicator, who practiced abdicracy, a leadership style as opposed to autocratic (authoritarian) style or democratic style.  He earmarked a space in front of his Secretariat for protesters to protest, which boomeranged.

Instead of occupying the official Presidential House, he lived in his modest house at Pangiriwatta.  He travelled with a minimum of security personnel minus an ambulance, a fire engine as his predecessors did; not only the President, Yahapalana Prime Ministers too had these in his security convoy. GR was criticised by a person none other than Sarath Fonseka for attending Parliament, to deliver the” Throne Speech” without pomp and pageantry, without mounted troops and gun salutes. When there were traffic jams, he took a detour to reach his destination. Once it was reported that he had rebuked security forces for closing roads for one of his visits against his instructions, later to find out that it was done for a Ministerial entourage.  We still remember how our motorists catcalling him when the approach road to Katunayake was blocked for a brief period to allow unhindered passage to a foreign dignitary. (Nobody thought at that time that something was brewing).  He did not use tear gas and water cannons or baton charged to disperse strikers and demonstrators.

After the victorious conclusion of the War he had every opportunity to be promoted as a General or even a Field Marshall.  He had precedents to follow: Ranjan Wijeratne, UNP’s Foreign Minister and Defense State Minister, a Lt. Col. of Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force,{later Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion of the  recreated Sri Lanka Rifle Corps (SLRC), modelled on the Ceylon Planters’ Rifle Corps, a voluntary regiment made up of European planters in the Central Highlands in the colonial era; SLRC was formed with the upcountry planters to safeguard plantation interests from terrorist attacks : by virtue of being the Chairman of the State Plantations Corporation (SLSPC) Ranjan W. was appointed as the Commanding Officer of the second battalion; its first battalion consisted of planters of Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) commanded by JEDB’s then Chairman, Pemsith Seneviratne}, was posthumously promoted as a General by Premadasa. Anuruddha Ratwatte was made a General by CBK.

Sarath Fonseka was elevated to the position of Field Marshall by Sirisena. No one opposed; except Wijedasa Rajapaksa who called him Vel Vidane”.

I vividly remember how officers who were responsible for military debacles in the Wanni theatre got promotions under Yahapalana regime citing they were politically victimised under CBK. A Colonel (not in a fighting unit) who retired from active service and found employment in a foreign country later returned when CBK became the President, was promoted to the rank of Major General.  

5. SYSTEM CHANGE

At the time of campaigning and after his ascendance to Presidency GR called for a Systems Change”. As a person who taught Systems Theory” to hundreds of participants the writer thought that GR had a good knowledge of the said theory and was very happy and expected that GR would put into practice what he had learnt. But sad to state that before long we understood that by System Change” he had thought of making improvements. At Gama Samaga Pilisandarak” meetings with village folk and in his occasional flying squad” type visits to strategic institutions and televised sermons to top level officials although he repeated the call for a Systems Change”, it was nothing more than calling for improvements in the existing conditions.

To make improvements the Japanese had introduced the concept, Kaizen” or Continuous Improvement, a people-oriented and process-oriented approach which involves all ranks of employees from top management to workers, in every organisation, every function and in every activity of an employee’s work. It’s simply doing things today better than yesterday and doing things tomorrow better than today”.

Later System Change” entered our common parlance, described as a panacea for all problems. Even the protesters called for a system change”. We do not know what they meant and understood by SYSTEM” and CHANGE”.  Come July, it reached pandemic proportions. Had the protesters achieved their System Change”, ousting GR?

The System” continues.

GR had a penchant to use the term looking out of the box” coupled with his notion of System Change”. It is true that being in a box limits growth and movement”. But his Team kept people in boxes”!

6. HIRUNIKA – MODERN DAY ERIS IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY AND CALL FOR THE NEXT UPRISING”

GR allowed Hirunika, the defeated SJB candidate (modern day Eris, woman of strife, chaos, discord and contention in Greek Mythology) to protest in front of his private residence a week before 31 March. She became the warning sign of all destructive activities that followed beginning with: (i) Mirihana outrage (ii) Besieging Gnanakka’s Devalaya at Anuradhapura before Anuradhapura attacks that preceded May 09 (iii) Protesting in front of   RW’s private residence and (iv) In front of Presidential House, having an unrestricted passage. Inaction of security forces gave wrong signals to other protesters weeks before July 09. 

Did not the security establishment consider these acts as violent rehearsals before the final onslaught? 

The print and electronic media who portray Hirunika as a paragon of virtue should be reminded that her Defender Case” is not yet over and Ramanayaka Tapes” are still lingering in peoples’ minds. Her confrontation with Rajapaksas are purely personal in nature rather than political. A person who frequented Temple Trees when her father was MR’s Trade Union Director, later her mother an Advisor” to MR, once admitted that she was like a member of the Rajapaksa family”. GR pardoning Duminda Silva had intensified her wrath.

She recently predicted that: RW would face the same fate as his predecessor in the coming weeks” and that this government would not be able to stop the next wave of the uprising that will come sooner than thought.” The next uprising will be worse than the previous ones. Next time people will come to the streets armed at least with kitchen knives. None in this government will be able to stop it. Last time the leaders could save their lives. Next time the rioters will set houses of rich and wealthy businessmen too on fire”.

BEWARE: Those who have funded, provided material support, theorised and supported the Galle Face Protest!  This isnone other than calling for open revolt.

Let us take only a few incidents that took place in England soon after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Andrew was heckled by a person as he walked behind Queen’s coffin: You Are a Sick Man”. The man was arrested. An anti-Monarchy demonstrator was arrested after shouting: Who Elected Him” at an accession Proclamation for the new King. A woman was arrested for holding an anti-Monarchy placard Abolish Monarchy”. A man was arrested for holding a Not My King” placard. A 74-year man was charged with breaching the peace”. Mourners who join a 10-mile queue were warned that they could wait up to 30 hours to see the coffin; food, water, banners, placards, flowers, teddy bears (may be Paddington Bears!), were not allowed; mourners who brought tents were not allowed to camp (Galle Face Tents!). Airport style security was maintained and mourners were not allowed to wait at the coffin. When Queen’s coffin was transported from Balmoral to Edinburgh, a six-hour journey by road, of approximately 175 miles, all vehicular traffic was stopped. Hundreds of household staff at Clarence House were given marching orders before even Queen’s corpse was brought to London. Birds of prey were brought to keep pigeons away at Westminster Abbey (animal rights!). Many services including health and operations were either disrupted or cancelled.

If these things happened in Sri Lanka, all our foreign-funded NGOs including BASL would turn the country upside down stirring a tornado.

Now many of Sri Lankan politicians are warning about an imminent uprising” along with Hirunika: Fonseka, JVP, FSP, IUSF, Rajitha, Champika, Dayasiri, dissidents of Pohottuwa, newly formed Nidahasa Group” and all those who have addressed the recently held rally at Hyde Park. Fonseka, true to his belligerent nature, again and again calls people to come to the streets.

How do we explain this phenomenon?  Have they formed a grand alliance? A revolutionary” united front? Have all of these politicians become rebels”, revolutionaries” or, Bolsheviks” overnight? Look at the individual characteristics of these people, what type of classes they represent and type of political lines they follow. 

It is none other than FEAR PSYCHOSIS.

7. FEAR PSYCHOSIS OF PARLIAMENTARIANS

 The term Fear Psychosis” entered our common parlance during 1988-1989 reign of terror. People did not tell anything ill about atrocities committed by JVP and its armed wing DJV. All including the upper-class people followed meekly the instructions given by the chit”. Recalling the orders given how to bury the killed is chilling.

Now after the destruction that took place on May 09, a new phobia had entered the minds of all parliamentarians. All have become supporters of protesters and they weep buckets of tears on behalf of them. Some who were manhandled and severely beaten, who saved their lives merely on luck, whose houses have been gutted, praise the protesters without naming who were responsible for these brazen crimes.

An SJB parliamentarian representing Southern Province had said that SJB did not have any reason to oppose the protesters and around 1200 lawyers affiliated to his party island wide were representing the interests of the protesters and they were continuously maintaining a dialogue with the protesters and do whatever possible for them.

On July 27, former army commander turned politician became the unofficial spokesperson of the protesters and he set August 09 as the date for the final battle” of the struggle. He called the people to come to Colombo on August 09 even to stay a month until toppling the government and asked the police and military not to interfere. He estimated that the number who would sacrifice their lives in the confrontations would be less than 100. Nobody took him seriously and on August 09 he was not seen on the streets. Two days later Sarvapakshika Aragalakaruwo” issued a statement not to be misled by him.

Opposition politicians went to see remanded protesters making them heroes and heroines issuing them certificates that they were not involved in any violence or taken part in any illegal act6ivity. Storming public institutions and occupying and damaging them also come under their fundamental rights”.

8. GR: POLITICIAN OR NOT?

For GR’s many shortcomings some attributed inexperience as the key reason, saying that he was not a politician”. I do not agree with this notion. Once a person enters the political arena, he or she becomes a politician. By the same token all experienced” politicians should be extremely successful persons.

A countless number of military leaders had become Heads of State in hundreds of countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, The Caribbean, Europe and of course USA, Africa and Latin America leading the list. Two unique examples can be cited from Nigeria, army officers who captured power ousting democratically elected leaders later becoming Heads of State by a popular mandate. After the military Head of State Murtala Muhammad’s assassination Olusegun Obasanjo functioned as the Head of State from 1976-1979, conducted elections and established a civilian rule under Shehu Shagari paving the way for the Second Republic of Nigeria. Later in 1999 he was elected as the President by a popular mandate. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari a Major General, captured power deposing Shehu Shagari in 1983 and in 2015 was elected as the President. Did they become politicians only after getting a mandate from the people? I do not agree. (The writer was working in Nigeria when Buhari captured power; Buhari was rather lenient and the press cried, we need a military dose” as bribery, corruption, daylight robberies continued as in the days of civilian rule. In 1985 Buhari was ousted by his own military junta and a ruthless military rule continued until 1999. My novel Harmattan written in Sinhala (1998) deals with Nigerian politics during this turbulent period, combining with the lives of Sri Lankan expatriates in Nigeria and politics under JRJ in Sri Lanka.

MP Wimal Weerawansa once called GR to accept the leadership of Pohottuwa Party. For this he was castigated by the Pohottuwa General Secretary and some other minions. Had GR accepted the leadership of Pohottuwa Party he would have eliminated many barriers he had to encounter from within conducting a massive purification campaign” to purge all undesirable elements. Take for example, how one of the two leading rice millers in the country enjoying benefits as a State Minister had arbitrarily jacked up prices of rice and manipulated the paddy market along with his Polonnaruwa Cousin”.

Beginning with the sugar scam and garlic scam we can list down hundreds of examples to show how politicians and officials took advantage of President’s inaction and laissez-faire type management. These were repetitively discussed by friends and foes.

9. ULTRA-DEMOCRACY”

To me his downfall was due to him becoming an ultra-democrat”. Sword of Damocles”, sharpened by the Geneva neo-colonialists was hanging over his head which may have haunted him.

Mao had stated that ultra-democracy and laissez-faire destroy discipline. Ultra-democracy is a danger; it damages or even completely wrecks, weakens or completely undermines an organisation. This does not negate ensuring democracy under centralised guidance.”

It is also a manifestation of liberalism; to let things slide; to let things drift; to hear incorrect views; overlooking others harming”.

10. DECISION MAKING

Two important aspects of management and leadership are Decision Making and Problem Solving. There are two types of decisions: personal and organisational. All decisions related to governance and state craft are organisational decisions; but individual traits of the decision maker, such as his or her background, past experience, personality, attitudes, values, learning, motivational level and need for self-actualisation, perceptions and ideals (in GR’s case: organic agriculture), affect organisational decisions.

To what type of decisions, a leader should pay attention most? To decisions involving long range commitments, strategic decisions, not routine decisions, which can be delegated to subordinates easily. Decision making is closely interlinked with problem identification and propensity for risk; high aversion to risk or low aversion to risk. In a decision like changing to organic agriculture overnight, the risk is extremely high. This is associated with post-decision anxiety, or in other words potential for dissonance. Military decisions have a high aversion to risk. And there cannot be post-decision anxiety unless a major catastrophe occurs.

Many had misgivings looking at GR’s style of governance: was this the man who gave leadership to end the War? Military men cannot run civil organisations was a canard invented by his detractors. Problem is the individual and the environment and the people he has to work with. Armchair critics should understand that many management theories, decision making tools and quantitative techniques were developed to solve war-time problems. Even some training and human resource management techniques now in vogue were developed for the same purpose.

People make bad decisions. Those who quickly identify that they have made a mistake, quickly admit it and attempt to repair the damage are good decision makers. 

A leader should know that DECISION REVERSAL is not a weakness, but shows how one reacts positively to the changes that take place in political, economic, socio-cultural, international and technological environments. Decision reversals are common. It is our opposition who made a hue and cry when some decisions were reversed as they are excellent decision makers. Decision reversals have less impact upon the leader’s image. When a leader reverses a bad decision, it is not a crime to lose respect. If a bad decision is made the decision maker should acknowledge his part in it. A reversal is far more acceptable than a bad decision allowed to remain in force. When GR acknowledged that he had made mistakes (organic fertiliser issue) he was booed and jeered. This was done by them for political expediency not for the sake of the country or understanding the decision-making process. 

The problem is at what point you reverse the decision? Whether it is done to please one or more interest groups? A decision reversal does not help anybody after a severe damage has been done. GR was late in admitting the mistake. Issuing gazettes and revoking the same gazette was a mockery made by his dull-witted Ministers. These are not decision reversals. There was a State Minister whose duty was to rescind gazette notifications.

His decision to leave the country was a bad decision. By doing so he was treated in ignominy by the capitalist press, that he had fled the country.  Various columnists began to ask who foots his hotel bills.

One danger in Decision Making under a Cabinet System is the members of the Cabinet succumbing to the decisions of the Head of the Cabinet or the Group Decision Making. To avoid conflicts and disagreements and to safeguard their interests many keep quiet. The so-called Collective Responsibility” is used as a whip to maintain cohesiveness and to repress opposing views. This does not recognise minority opinions or unpopular views, which can be positive in the long-run. If no one speaks out against apparent consensus of poor group decisions disaster follows.  It is more pleasant to sit and agree with the leader and the group than to be a dissident, an unpopular critic and being ostracised. Heads of governments become dictators because of this apathy. Recent political crisis that preceded the economic crisis was an outcome of these happenings.

Now the Parliament has passed a bill to establish a Jathika Sabhawa”.  Can a Jathika Sabhawa” achieve what a Cabinet could not achieve is anybody’s guess.

WHEN THE PROTESTERS FLOCKED TO THE GALLE FACE GREEN, WE DO NOT THINK THAT THEY HAD ANY UNDERSTANDING ABOUT WHAT WE HAVE DISCUSSED ABOVE. THEIR ONLY CRY WAS GOGOTAHOME”.  THE PROTEST WAS THEORISED BY OUTSIDE PARTIES TO LOCATE IT AT AN INTERNATIONAL” LEVEL, AS A PART OF THE SO-CALLED PROTEST DEMOCRACY” CAMPAIGNS, AS A NEW VARIATION OF AGITATION EARMARKED TO THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES BY THE WEST.

11. SECURITY FORCES

How our security establishment was blind to what had happened for well over 100 days, we cannot comprehend. Why it was not possible for them to evict the protesters obstructing access to the Presidential Secretariat and Temple Trees? Why could not they ensure measures to prevent storming and occupying strategic institutions of the State?   They have not read the message conveyed to the State by laser projections projected on to the facade of the Presidential Secretariat and art works created showing the Presidential Secretariat enveloped with flames. Are security forces not responsible for not taking preventive action? Ensuring safety of public property?

Did not they expect such a vast crowd converging to Colombo? Did not they see trainloads of protesters coming from Kandy and Matara and how others walked from the five principal roads leading to Colombo? There was prior information that the people were coming to Colombo in thousands on July 09.

For Easter Sunday massacre intelligence services were blamed and still the Cardinal and the Catholic Church go after them. Recently the Fort Magistrate deciding to name Sirisena a suspect, issued notice directing him to appear before Courts over a private plaint regarding to Easter Sunday attacks.

Are the Cardinal and the Catholic Church now content with security forces for not taking prompt action on July 09?

The talk of the town was that the President did not want to take any action against the protesters even when the Presidential House was stormed. Can the Security Forces pay heed to such orders when the very existence of the State was in jeopardy and the life of the President was in danger? Only future Memoires will tell us the truth.

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