Aragalaya After Ranil: Re-Booting The Revolution


By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

When history is written it must not be said that the greatest achievement of the Aragalaya was to make Ranil Wickremesinghe, an unelected MP and leader of the UNP which was rejected utterly by the people, the Prime Minister for the 6th time. 

Of course, the Aragalaya got rid of Mahinda Rajapaksa, but he was succeeded by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

That cannot be the final outcome, the last word, on the Aragalaya. There must be some victory which is in accordance with the values, demands and ideals of the Aragalaya.  

The Aragalaya is the best thing that happened to us, the best thing we did as a country certainly since the war ended in victory. If the war was won thanks to the Rajapaksas and Sarath Fonseka, the peace was lost also thanks to the Rajapaksas. We had hit rock bottom when the Aragalaya resurrected us as a country; a people a society. 

If the Aragalaya loses its way or worse still dissipates, we would have lost the best of ourselves as a society. 

Therefore, with the Aragalaya now at a crossroads, a course correction is needed.   

Every course correction starts with an honest audit or a self-criticism as the left calls it, though the Lankan left hardly ever engages in a sincere one. 

The Trap the Aragalaya Fell Into

In the struggle to save the Gotabaya Presidency, a tactic was obviously devised by the deep State to divert the campaign to another target. The first was Basil Rajapaksa, the second was the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Elements of the 11-party bloc fell for that and presented solutions which shifted the focus to the PM. 

From Gota’s Gotta Go, the struggle either was diverted to Mahinda or enlarged and therefore diluted to include the PM. When you enlarge a target to include a new element, you lose focus. Ask any sniper or simply any marksman. 

The Aragalaya fell into the trap and it was NOT on May 9th when MR’s thugs went on a rampage. It was earlier. Ironically the mistake was made by the most dedicated, heroic, indispensable detachment of the Aragalaya, the Inter-University Student’s Federation (IUSF) and its sincere leader Wasantha Mudalige. 

The IUSF staged a massive, impressive march to Galle Face Green. The Police placed roadblocks including ones with spikes. As we saw at the conclusion of the march though, the Galle Road was open as the point of access. Having made some smart tactical moves and built-up considerable momentum and velocity, the IUSF march made a detour to Temple Trees and at one point tried to get past the barricades and shake the gates. Promising to return, the march triumphantly made it to Galle face green, which it could have done without that detour.

That night MynahGoGama came up, which was cool. Mahinda Rajapaksa responded crudely with Pirith blaring and the rest of it. May 9th came afterwards. 

By the detour, the struggle with the PM became the most dramatic. In terms of tactics and strategy, that detour was a deviation. It was to prove expensive. On May 9th the Aragalaya won that battle but damaged the war against the Gotabaya autocracy and the Rajapaksa oligarchy.     

The thing is, Gota and Mahinda together gave the picture of a Rajapaksa oligarchy, which was the reality. Re-targeting the struggle to Mahinda was exactly what the Gota camp wanted. Mahinda’s stupidity enabled Gota to dump him and activate the Rajapaksas’ Plan B: Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

It would be a naïve person to believe that Ranil’s return to parliament was not as part of an agreement with Mahinda and with the blessings of Gota. Ranil was kept as UNP leader even by CBK as a safe reserve option.       

On May 9th-May 10th, the Rajapaksas activated Plan B and installed their ally Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. That outcome is hardly an outstanding revolutionary victory. It is in fact a retro-move; in other words, it is historically a step backward.

So, what about Sajith Premadasa and the SJB? I think that two mistakes were made, by both the Aragalaya and the SJB. 

Once Mahinda was pushed out, the Aragalaya should have insisted that the Opposition Leader take the Prime Ministership, because it would have been much better to have a quasi-ally of the Aragalaya as PM and dominating the Cabinet than having Ranil do so, and transitioning Gotabaya out by reformist ‘salami tactics’ such as the 19th amendment, while protecting the people’s living standards in negotiations with the INF and creditors.  

Instead, some elements in the Aragalaya (and I believe they have been identified as NOT being MR thugs, Police/military spies or Peratugamee/IUSF activists) initiated a mob attack on Sajith Premadasa.

On the night of May 9th, the Aragalaya leaders made a second strategic mistake, that of silence. While it may be said that regime provocateurs were responsible for violence in the provinces, what was going on at Temple Trees was utterly transparent and could have been parametrically restrained. That what leadership is about. As Lenin said, ‘any real communist must know how to start a strike as well as how to stop it’.

SJB’s Delay

As for the SJB itself, it has to make an existential choice. It has to decide “Api Kavuruda”: whether it is a tough-minded, hard-charging Premadasist populist/social democratic party or a party dominated or influenced by liberals ( mainly liberal constitutional lawyers), most of whom were Ranil followers, bond scam foot-noters, Berghof Foundation products who supported Ranil’s CFA with Prabhakaran, assorted federalists, lawyers for Ranil in the Bond scam case and drafters of new Constitutions for Ranil going against the 1978 Presidential Constitution that their own fathers drafted. 

The SJB delayed by wasting time for weeks with a slogan of ‘abolition of the executive presidency’ which could not secure the SLFP’s support and was more of a load than the moment could bear. 

The SJB’s bad timing and slow intervention reminded me of the line of Carl Schmitt (whose formative background was Catholic, not evangelical) that “when faced with the choice ‘Jesus or Barabbas’, liberals appoint a committee!” His famous point was that liberalism, and especially liberal parliamentarism (devoid of a strong executive), was incapable of making a decision in crisis. The ‘decisionist’ critique of liberalism was proved by the SJB which delayed and miscalculated the actual balance of forces at a decisive moment.

Aragalaya Agenda, post-Ranil

So, what next for the Aragalaya? Slavoj Zizek wrote that “The Revolution Always Rings Twice”. It was a riff on the movie the Postman Always Rings Twice, and referred in this case to the Russian revolution of 1917 which actually witnessed TWO revolutions, in February and in October. Zizek’s point was that Lenin went against the tide and pushed through the second most decisive revolution within the year. 

Now the Aragalaya has not even won the February 1917 revolution i.e., the democratic revolution that ousted the Tsar of Russia. Instead, Tsar Gotabaya is still there, while he has a new PM. Therefore, there is no question of a second (this time, socialist) ‘October’ revolution. The democratic revolution must be brought to completion and crowned by the departure of Gotabaya. However, the Zizekian point about Lenin is valid in that there can and must be a Second Wave of the (democratic) Revolution to carry it through to completion and do so within this year.

Here too, Zizek’s determined, resolute, hard-driving Lenin must be ‘read’ together with Georg Lukacs’ Lenin. Lukacs writes in 1924 of “Lenin’s realism, his Realpolitik…”     

The Aragalaya must now have a three point agenda UNDER, NOT INSTEAD OF the Gota Go Home thematic slogan and intended as the concrete way to operationalize that slogan in the new conditions of Ranil’s PM-ship.:

1. Articulate a minimum economic program to defend and restore the living standards of the people in the face of any attempt to impose the burden of economic crisis management and recovery on those who had nothing to do with starting the crisis. This program must commence with the immediate restoration of the fertilizer subsidy.

2. Convene a roundtable conversation of all Aragalaya and Opposition forces and draft an Aragalaya+ Opposition Consensus platform. It requires a broad Church or Big Tent inclusionary approach such as the conventions that Sub-Comandante Marcos and the Zapatistas had in liberated Chiapas and the Sau Paulo Forum initiated by Lula as Mayor. My strong suggestion is do not go for the abolition of the executive presidency. It can easily be defeated at a referendum by showing that the executive presidency is indispensable in economic crisis, and anyway, the military may react against it.

3. Focus on an irresistible campaign for Parliamentary, Presidential elections within this year.   

The post Aragalaya After Ranil: Re-Booting The Revolution appeared first on Colombo Telegraph.

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