It started with farmers. They were the first to protest after a decree in April 2021 by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the then President of Sri Lanka, that they should switch to organic farming. The sudden change came when the country’s foreign exchange crisis began to unfold, and by stopping the use of chemical fertilizers, Rajapaksa was trying to lower the import bill. Rice farmers are beginning to express their concerns as the Yala season, the first in the planting calendar, arrives in May. By the second season, or oryx, in September, farmers are beginning to come out of the hinterland, trying to make their voices heard.
Aragalaya, the Sinhalese word meaning “struggle”, is widely used to describe the daily gathering of people in Colombo’s Galle Face Green that began with a demand for Gotabaya to resign as president and make way for a new, even “new order”. This gathering marked 100 days on July 17, after Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to step down on May 9, and two months later, he sent his brother Gotabaya on the run.
But it started months ago in remote areas, forcing the government to change the ban on chemical fertilizers, and allow the import of ammonia-based fertilizers. In its most basic sense, Aragalaya also embodies the struggle of the people of Sri Lanka to find food, fuel and medicine on a daily basis, bringing them all together in the “Janatha Aragalaya” – the struggle of the people. He was mostly leaderless, although some individuals spoke on behalf of the group on occasion. She also used social media to convey her messages.
Sri Lanka Parliament Vote for a new president on WednesdaySome aragalaya sections – which have attracted participation from a wide range of people from students to professionals, from trade unions to Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna – have sent a signal that they will not accept a leader who strikes for the status quo. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the acting president, and the front-runner in the election, is not acceptable to the Arajalaya.
In the eyes of these departments, it represents the old system. An appointed member of Parliament, without a single elected MP from his party, Wickremesinghe not only counts on the votes of Sri Lanka’s parliamentarians Podujana Peramuna – Rajapaksa’s party – but is also seen by protesters as someone who will protect discredited and impeached former leaders, and may even manage to Gotabaya returns to Sri Lanka.
In May, after Gotabaya appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, Aragalaya lost some momentum. But as the shortage worsened, and anger spread, a second wind blew, culminating in the July 9 protests that led to Gotabaya’s resignation. By that time, Wickremesinghe was being tagged as “Ranil Rajapaksa”.
The occupation of Temple Trees, the prime minister’s official home, and the arson of his private residence were signs that there would be no easy transition. Expectations of people returning home after Gotabaya’s resignation were not fulfilled. If Wickremesinghe is elected, the aragalaya may continue, perhaps in new and different ways, and with greater participation from the political parties opposing him.