JR’s legacy, a panacea for all ills | Sunday Observer

JR’s legacy, a panacea for all ills

19 March, 2023
President J.R. Jayewardene-President Ranil Wickremesinghe
President J.R. Jayewardene-President Ranil Wickremesinghe

Sri Lanka experienced the worst-ever debacle economically, socially and politically from early 2022 due to a number of reasons, namely wrong economic policies, mismanagement of vital institutions, arrogant behaviour of the top brass and the unprecedented degree of corruption which had been deep-rooted in almost all State institutions. Moreover, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was surrounded by a set of advisers who convinced him with totally inaccurate steps on very crucial matters on which they knew next to nothing.

Under these circumstances the country was led to an economically precarious situation with scarcities of almost all essential food items, LP Gas, fuel and long hours of power cuts. Public transport also almost came to a standstill.

Following this dire economic situation the Aragalaya activists who occupied the Galle Face Green for a long time demanding the resignation of the Government intensified their protests and the momentum it gathered prompted radical extreme political opportunists to infiltrate the Aragalaya crowds in order to gain a political advantage from the situation.

The SJB also tried to mix with the Aragalaya on the pretext of supporting their cause but its leader Sajith Premadasa had to flee from the crowd as he was virtually manhandled by some Aragalaya protesters.

However, the Aragalaya which began as a peaceful protest turned out to be a violent and ugly movement with the infiltration of power hungry extremist political ruffians. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to step down from his post amid a severe chaotic political situation in the country. Then they wanted to oust the President too and intensified the protest campaign and finally stormed the Presidential Secretariat, President’s House and some other State buildings to take the President to their custody and drive the country to an anarchic State with the destruction and vandalism of public and private property.

President Rajapaksa left the country and tendered his resignation to the Speaker and after a lengthy constitutionally mandated process UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected the 8th Executive President of Sri Lanka by a majority of Parliamentarians.

President Wickremesinghe soon after assuming duties took immediate steps to disperse the Aragalaya activists who occupied the Galle Face Green for a number of months. He invited Aragalaya activists to come to the negotiating table and discuss matters to find solutions to their problems. President’s Senior Adviser Ruwan Wijewardene was nominated by the President to attend to the discussions with these youth. But it is not known if they took any serious interest in this proposal.

It is only eight months since the formation of President Wickremesinghe’s new Government and people have already heaved a sigh of relief as he has managed to revive the economy to a great extent. However, President Wickremesinghe very clearly said that people will have to sustain hardships for some more time until the economy becomes stabilised and then expect relief measures.

He was of the strong belief that International Monetary Funds’ (IMF) assistance was the only way to get out of this drastic economic mess and from day one of his ascension to the presidency he worked relentlessly with the fervent hope of achieving it.

However, the Government had to fulfill some tough conditions such as an increase of taxes, curtailing subsidies, imposing restrictions on some imports and restructuring loss making State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). No Government would dare to take these steps if there was any possibility of circumventing this situation as the rulers are well aware that it would affect them politically in the future.

The Aragalaya movement is defined by independent observers as a collection of youngsters of a different strata of society who hold different political views riding a rudderless boat to the deep seas without a captain. When the Aragalaya was in full swing, before the infiltration of radical political ruffians, it had a carnival atmosphere at the Galle Face Green almost every evening.

Aragalaya’s end

Youngsters from the elite society also assembled there regularly to enjoy themselves. Public and private sector employees also joined them after office hours to spend a few hours reciting the slogan “Gota Go Home”. None of these participants had a particular leader or a scheduled program of work or an alternative vision against the Government.

With the advent of the Wickremesinghe Government followed by the slight improvement of the economy with no more queues for essential goods, fuel, LP gas, electricity being available 24/7 and the reduction of prices of essential goods, the Aragalaya has disintegrated. Some prominent Aragalaya speakers have formed their own political organisations, some have joined the main political parties, some remain neutral while some others regret wasting their valuable time.

However, the JVP has got a new lease of life with the debacle of Aragalaya as some Aragalaya members have blindly joined the JVP.

The Government was reluctantly compelled to increase the taxes and bank interest rates in order to obtain IMF financial assistance. The President had said it would be a temporary measure and once the economy is stabilised the Government would reconsider reducing the taxes.

JVP trade unions in vital institutions such as health, education, electricity, ports, water and transport are hell-bent on a general strike immediately as they are well aware that they will not have any political salvation when the country becomes normal and if President Wickremesinghe is allowed to carry out his future development program in the country.

In 2003, under Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Presidency when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe negotiated a huge financial facility from Japan for development activities, JVP Parliamentarians influenced President Kumaratunga to dissolve Parliament, resulting in the loss of that aid to the country. History has proved that radical extremist politicians never like to see the country prosper as they lose their political base. Public support for a general strike is dwindling day by day as the public has now realised that the country is slowly recovering from the deep economic crisis. Anyway the manner in which some unionists of the education sector, ports, agriculture and the health sector challenge the Government is rather repulsive and abhorrent. Some of them are not thorough trade unionists but nominated MPs from their National Lists.

Through their trade union actions, they are planning to create a chaotic situation which may lead to another social upheaval so that they could achieve their political goals.

1980 July general strike

If they think so, they are sadly mistaken. The day is not too far that the public will revolt against the unscrupulous strikers of education and health sectors. The parents are seething with anger over this strike as their children’s education is disrupted every now and then.

Poor people who depend on regular medical supplies from the hospitals also curse these strikers vehemently and may revolt against them very soon. Spontaneous actions of the violent public may lead to a disastrous situation. President J.R. Jayewardene’s Government was threatened by a general strike launched by professional trade unionists such as the Leader of the Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU) Bala Tampoe, Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU) Leader I.J. Wickrama, Harbour and Ports Union leader D.G. William, directly supported by two respected trade unionists Batti Weerakoon and Alawi Moulana, demanded substantial salary increments for all public servants as the Cost of Living (COL) had gone up sharply. President Jayewardene had summoned all union leaders and explained to them the financial situation and the inability to give such an increase due to financial constraints.

Union leaders continued their strike and abstained from work. President Jayewardene issued an ultimatum to return to work failing which the workers would be deemed to have vacated their positions. President JRJ stood by his decision and never entertained any appeal(s). Thousands of Government servants lost their jobs. Some ended up destitute, a few committed suicide, families broke up and children went astray. These are the net results of failed trade union actions. Once a July 80 striker who lost his job approached a union leader with his grievances. The leader’s prompt reply was “we have to make some sacrifices when engaged in strikes”. Union leaders drag the workers to strikes, protests, agitations and various other activities against the Government but when things go wrong and the workers are in trouble, there is hardly anyone to see to their needs.

Despite the Government’s humble request and clear elucidation of the financial position by the relevant authorities, if these radical trade union leaders venture into a general strike, the Government will be reluctantly compelled to take tough measures for the larger interests of the public.