The People of Sri Lanka Have Spoken
Revolution without violence
History is being made in Sri Lanka even as one writes. People's history. A lesson in 'revolutions' where not a gun was fired, and masses of people without a leader were able to topple a government within minutes of determined action.
It is fascinating. And all political observers are glued to every possible source of visuals coming out from Colombo. The first signs were of just swarms of people marching quietly to the Presidential palace. And passing by barricades and the security without even looking their way. Barriers fell, security men walked backwards, as the look on every face sent out the message: you can't stop us so move back. They did not stop until they were inside Gotbaya Rajapaksa's huge estate and then they relaxed.
Some jumped into the pool, others lay down on the beds, many others watched themselves and their protest on giant television screens, others sat on the dining table, or reclined on the sofas and plush chairs. There was tension in the air for a while but when it became clear that Gotbaya had fled, that there was going to be no reprisal from the state, the doors were opened to the families. Women and children arrived, posing for selfies with road side vendors rushing to the Presidential House to sell the local food. What was a tense take over became a people's carnival by last evening.
The protestors found important documents and cash worth millions. They quietly handed it over to a court. They did not loot or destroy, they were not violent, they were just clear about their goal and determined to get Sri Lanka back to better days. That they are angry is very evident. Angry with the entire Rajapaksa family, a sentiment expressed not through violence but targeted action.
Gotbaya Rajapaksa promised to quit and clear the way to a "peaceful transition of power" but despite making four attempts to fly to Dubai, as per media reports, was unable to do so because the airport staff refused to stamp his passport, insisting he go through the routine that is in place for ordinary travellers. Rajapaksa found that difficult to do, fearful that passengers would attack him. The president and his wife spent the night at a military base near the international airport. Their whereabouts at this point in time are unknown.
His youngest brother Basil who had resigned earlier this year as the finance minister also was unable to board his flight. When he tried to use the paid concierge service the staff said they would withdraw from the service. Passengers boarding the same flight are also said to have protested against him being on the same airplane. Quiet and dignified but all — from government servants to the richer Sri Lankan travellers —extending full support to the masses and the 'revolution'.
Interestingly the efforts by the Rajapaksa's to foment internal divisions have failed, although of course Sri Lanka has paid a major price for it all. Buddhist nationalism, anti-Tamil violence, anti-Muslim discrimination has all been swept away by hunger and scarcity. All classes and communities were seen by local observers at the protests, holding hands, and raising a united voice for rights.
Meanwhile the people continue the struggle. They remain in the Presidential palace. They have made it clear they will not budge until the transition to the new all party government is complete. And it is clear, of course, or should be to everyone in power that they will need to come up with a blueprint and a time frame to restore the economy. The island is without oil, in deep debt, and by the admission of the Rajapaksa regime 'bankrupt'.
The People of Sri Lanka have spoken.
Cover Photograph Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]