Yahapalanaya & “Go home Gota” as master signifiers

A couple of introductory notes:

  • This section of the Wikipedia article on the 2015 Sri Lankan Presidential election gives some idea of the complex dynamics of Yahapalanya. For an understanding of current events in Sri Lanka, and the “Go home Gota” movement, I recommend this.
  • A summary of what is meant by a master signifier can be found in the introduction to this blog post.

Both Yahapalanaya & “Go home Gota” (GhG) act as master signifiers by providing a centring point for anti-Rajapaksa sentiment, and mediating between different interests (anti-corruption, economic reform, ethnic reconciliation, structural political reform, etc).

In its role in forming the symbolic order, GhG can also be viewed as a “big Other”. As I’ve written, a shared big Other is vital in maintaining a functional discourse between individuals and groups. Ultimately, for Yahapalanaya, the mediation between different interests was fragile and temporary. The symbolic order it sustained came fell apart. This was very much a case of the “Return of real”; the return of the phenomena (including the Rajapaksas) that had been suppressed by the formation of the master signifier.

Functioning as a anti-Rajapaksa master signifier, GhG knits together similar demands as Yahapalanaya. However, one of the signifiers that coalesces under it, was absent in Yahapalanaya and may provide a vital point of differentiation. That is, a rejection of existing political norms and parties. In 2015, it was believed that the current political structure could provide a way out of the morass; in 2022, there is no party or politician those under the master signifier are looking towards.

This means that a primary contradiction within Yahapalanaya is not present in “Go home Gota”: the expectation that radical change was possible while carrying as much baggage as established political parties, and system politicians. An implication of this, in terms of the continuity of the GhG movement, is that it may be more resistant to disintegration than Yahapalanaya.

However, this does pose a challenge in terms of achieving the goals of the movement, assuming that electoral politics and structures such as Parliament are the mechanisms through which these have to be achieved.

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