JO Operation, A flop | Page 2 | Daily News

JO Operation, A flop

Picture by Saliya Rupasinghe
Picture by Saliya Rupasinghe

The much bragged about Janabala Meheyuma or Operation People’s Power (OPP) is over. Was it a success of failure? Naturally opinions differ according to which side of the political divide you are. Its organizers have claimed success. “Biggest ever”, say some of them. It is the First Salvo in the fight for the overthrow of the Government that would certainly occur in the immediate future, much before the next Presidential or General elections, they declare.

Incidentally we have witnessed many such First Salvo’s from the time of the initial Nugegoda Public Rally in 2015 of the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists as the JO label was affixed later. It was followed by the once again announced First Salvo in the March from Kandy to Colombo. Well, many full moons have passed since then though Mahinda Rajapaksa would return to power before the following full moon. However, nature has been unsympathetic to the strong man.

“Mahindage Aanduwak”

Those in the Government say that the OPP was a flop. The truth seems to lie in between. However, its quality differs when seen from different perspectives. It is our belief that it should be assessed from multiple perspectives.

First let us assess it from the perspective of its mostly widespread prediction. The JO made valiant effort to convince the gullible followers that the Government would fall like a pack of cards under the tsunami of the OPP. It was said that there were also aspirants to the high office of the President of the Republic ready to assume power that night itself. Speculation was that Namal Rajapaksa or “Namal Baby”, as he is affectionately known in JO circles, would take reins as President! Didn’t some brag that the protesters who flocked to Colombo would return to their villages under a new Government? In this respect the OPP turned out to be an utter flop, a figment of the imagination of a deranged mind.

Second, consider it with respect to its numerical strength of participants. It was no doubt a significant show of strength against the Government. The numbers, however, have not reached five figures, contrary to the claims of the JO. It had a bigger visual impact due to the relatively small area covered by it for the sit-in. The city supposed to be under siege, was nevertheless more open than usual everywhere else. Have you ever heard of a siege of a city with few thousands sitting in not so strategic location leaving open all vital installations of public utilities, radio and TV stations, Centres of Governmental power, banks and vital communications and allowing free movement of goods and persons and a relaxed atmosphere? It only caused a traffic diversion with no congestion at all. Even compared to a sit-in or a much smaller student demonstration at the Lipton Circus the traffic congestion was almost insignificant showing a strategic blunder in the choice of the location.

Third, from the perspective of political content it was quite poor being confined to single focus of bringing back the former regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa into power. “Mahindage Aanduwak” (A Mahinda Government) is all that the demonstrators clamored for. Even some JO leaders themselves have commented on the absence of any slogans on vital issues affecting the masses such as the cost of living, education, environmental concerns, poverty, malnutrition etc. In these circumstances one cannot also dismiss off-hand the allegation that it is an attempt to galvanize popular support and pressurize the Government to abandon the investigative and legal proceedings against the wrong-doers of the former regime, especially members of the Rajapaksa family.

Fourth, with respect to discipline and organisation the weakness of the OPP was deplorable. Substantial number of participants were drunk and were in a state of unconsciousness. Needless to say it was devoid of militant discipline needed for such events. The contrast could be seen when compared to the well-disciplined, highly motivated and more politically enlightened popular participation in the 1952 Hartal, which compared to its relatively fewer numbers had a more dramatic and lasting impact both momentarily and historically. At that moment it was strong enough to eject the Prime Minister from his residence to a ship in the harbour and mark the first salvo in the struggle that defeated the Government in 1956 ushering in a new era in politics.

Fifth, assessing the OPP from the perspective of its composition and potential electoral prospects a glaring deficiencies its pan-Sinhala participation. Both Sri Lankan and Up Country Tamils participants as well as Muslims were conspicuous in their absence or scant presence in numbers. The possibility of such a support being adequate to overcome the 50 percent threshold at a Presidential election is remote.

Political manifestations

Next, many people were not bothered by the OPP. He has been inflicted with political fatigue or weariness due to the deceptions forced upon him by the politicians for the last 70 years. He has actually lost faith in the political set up and is not more interested in these political manifestations.

Finally, a word should be said about the reaction of the Government. Though there were voices among the Cabinet Ministers that the Government should take a tough attitude. Unwanted attempts were made to get the Courts prohibit the protest. Fortunately, it proved futile. Freedoms of association and expression were guaranteed which saved the Government from another bad name.

However, the Government cannot be complacent. Instead of false declarations of victory, it must amend its ways and fulfill popular expectations. It must acknowledge the potential threat emanating from the OPP even with its all the above shortcomings. To be blind to see the direction in which the wind flows exposes it to the danger of being blown away when the storm arrives. Amen! 

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