The Sunday Leader

Long Marches: Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics

by Gamini Weerakoon

The size of crowds at Long Marches and public rallies are usually determined by two sets of factors: (A) Frenzied political loyalties, capacity to make mountains out of mole hills, desire for boot licking and possibly a combinations of all. (B) Intense political rivalry and hatred, capacity to reduce mountains to mole hills and inveterate cynicism.

In our happy Isle, rarely do we assess sizable crowds and perhaps never by scientific methodology. Our assessments are said to be educated and uneducated guesstimates..

 

Historic and Unique?

The Paada Yathra is over and now the debate rages among so called pundits among us and confirmed idiots on the numbers that participated in the ’historic’ event. Some of them quite nonchalantly declare that the numbers that turned up to politically resurrect the defeated president to be between one to two million demonstrators and citing these numbers say that the event was not only ‘historic but unique’ in that nowhere in the world had such numbers turned up to rally a defeated politician for whatever cause.

Stretched out in our hansiputuwa we wondered from where such numbers of supporters could have been found. A quick reference to Sri Lanka’s demographic statistics indicated that the population of the entire  Colombo Municipality numbered around 600,000 at a census taken in 2001. The population of the Colombo District – the most populous of district – was 2,300,000 at a Census in 2012.

If statistics of the Rajapaksa faithful are correct then almost the entire population of the Colombo District has turned up to cheer ‘Appe Mahinda’ and all houses of the Colombo Municipality would have been deserted and Colombo a ghost town on that ‘historic and unique’ day.

Paada Yathra left the people wondering whether it was an attempt to throw out a government or a picnic of the JO-kers

However some ‘educated’ leftists of the Joint Opposition (JO-kers) were more on the conservative side. We heard one such comrade at a talk show say that Daha das gananak (Tens of thousands)  turned up.We have covered mass political rallies and demonstrations for a near three decades but we confess our inability to assess such numbers in a scientific and methodical way. Some newspaper men, we are aware, get crowd estimates from the police. A senior policeman once told us that they get a rough estimate from the buses that bring in crowds from near and far. Considering a jam packed bus would bring in about150 persons, the count of buses could give a rough estimate of the cheer squads with the addition of an estimated number of those who come on their own.

In the recent Paada Yathra, buses simply could not be used because their opponents would have called it a Busayen Yatra or some such name. At times, when cops fail to get a realistic estimate, they provide a figure that would make the political boss in power happy, another cop told us.

 

Reason for complaints

The Paada Yathra could have got to a rousing kick-off in Kandy town itself where UNPers were scheduled to commence a membership recruitment campaign on the same day, same time. There could have been a historic adi-pudi pight but a magisterial order for the Long March not to kick-off from the town itself prevented it making a ‘historic’ start.

The Long Marchers were naturally peeved with the police for requesting restraining orders from Magistrates of courts by the Colombo-Kandy route to ban the march, which were refused.

These belligerent demonstrators would have wanted running battles with the police rather than walking in file along the Kandy-Colombo road like monks on Pindapatha.Had the police obstructed the Long March with water cannon, tear gas and baton charges what glorious pictures they could have made – pictures that would have even made into the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera proving the resistance of ‘the people’ towards Yahapalanaya  and the burning desire to re-enthrone their maha-raja. But things did not turn out that way and it turned out to be rather tame affair and those perverted UNPers leaving bundles of straw at intersections. ‘Namal baby’ and his comrades were twisting and turning on the road to Kavadi and Baila bands leaving the people wondering whether this was an attempt to throw out a government or a picnic of the JO-kers.

The police by using ‘passive resistance’ against this force of ‘around two million’ demonstrators avoided the usual charge of police brutality and prevented the government of being accused of the other usual charge of ‘Demo-No-Crazy’.

 

Smell of Blood

The Rajapaksa Praetorian Guard imagining that they are smelling blood, are threatening more Paada Yathras throughout the country.

Next they are threatening the closure of all shops and boutiques in protest against VAT. They have imitators too: Medical Students on the streets in dirty overcoats like lab assistants and crying themselves hoarse over SAITM. They don’t want more doctors. Question of demand and supply or maintaining standards? The non academic staff of campuses too is on the march on the roads imitating the academic staff and students. The University calendar is now made up of three seasons: Strikes by academics, strikes of students and now strikes of non academic staff.

How many billions of rupees of public funds are being wasted on high jinks in academia while there are thousands of poor people who can’t get a square meal a day?

Is Sri Lanka a democracy where an elected government has the right to rule the country – or a country to be ruled by mobs, educated and uneducated? Do they have a divine right to rule the country because they can organize themselves into mobs – qualified or unqualified – shouting obscenities at people whom they don’t like? Is this a democracy or a demon-stro-crazy?

 

Pledge in verse

An observer of demos down the years regrets that there is no humour at all in today’s demos where slogans are parroted out from written sheets unlike the spontaneous slogans of yesteryear.

He has provided a stanza on pledges of the next Long March against VAT…

 

VAT nethuwa gullo haal

VAT nethuwa parana paan

VAT nethuwa kunu parrippoo

VAT nethuwa honda arrackoo!

 

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