Amidst all the cheering of the crowds and fleeing Presidents and cronies, there is genuine concern that Sri Lanka is tottering towards "anarchy". The last thing the state forces would want is a situation no one controls. If the crowds prevail, talks with fresh donors and lenders will not happen. In that case how deep the morass may be is a guess work. At this point of time, the army looks like the only force that has some semblance of order and control. By positioning itself at the national TV and radio station, the army may have half moved in.

Crowds vs the establishment and order?

The sight of crowds gathering and overrunning the security cordon at the Presidential Palace, torching the PM's residence and generally taking over the streets have warmed many hearts as they are archetypal scenes of "people's power" movements anywhere. Even in Bangladesh, 1990, the VP's residence was attacked and trashed but before it went further, political parties backed by the army reined the crowd in. In Sri Lanka the situation is much more desperate and the crowd control of the political variety is missing. The people are far more desperate and the economic conditions -the main trigger- much worse than feared.

In Bangladesh which has a long history of military takeovers, the arch villain Gen. Ershad of 1990 was an army man who was arrested and taken in. The army was also not interested in taking over. The balance of power between the civil and military forces was positive and Bangladesh went into a new phase of electoral politics with the Neutral Caretaker Government phase that lasted from 1991 to 2007. The scenario is therefore different and the main factors are the presence of political party forces and political options. Do they exist in Sri Lanka?

The Rajapakse mess and the army connection

The Rajapakses have basically considered Sri Lanka their family affair. And it was not on governance that they based their claim but defeating the Tamil insurrection. It was a military victory that made them who they are and the pride they claim is shared by the SL army as well. At this point of time, the army has not deserted them. When the Prez Rajapakse couldn't fly out, it was an army plane that flew him to sanctuary in the Maldives.

But does the army want to move in? Going by current statements, it's not a yes. But are they slowly being sucked in?

Most of the military top brass are actually protégés of the Rajapakses. Take Kamal Guneratne.

"When there is a dangerous situation in the country, powers are given to the military to deal with it," Kamal Gunaratne, the secretary of Sri Lanka's defense ministry, told a press conference in response to the claims. "Don't ever think that we are trying to capture power, the military has no such intentions." (May 11, Times of India)

Gunaratne was a top field commander in the final battle that defeated the Tamil Tigers movement in 2009. His superior at the time was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now serving as the nation's President. So it's obvious that senior commanders owe much to each other. When the flight through the national airport failed, an army plane flew him to the Maldives. If the army was saying it didn't want to take over, it didn't include the fact that the options could be shut down.

On July 10, NDTV of India reported that the Sri Lankan Army chief General Shavendra Silva had sought people's support to maintain peace as the island nation grapples with an unprecedented economic crisis. This came right after crowds ransacked the presidential palace in Colombo. On July 13, the Sri Lanka army took over the state Television, radio stations and took up strategic positions.

Doctrine of necessity?

Nobody wants martial law but going by the situation, it's only the army that has any clout left. It's the only force that can restore some law and order. Given the current situation, household vulnerability may be affected soon as food supply and shops fail to open. When official homes are ransacked and torched, power may be seen as passed into non-official hands. But the question then is, who are they?

They are not an organized political force and hence will not be considered legitimate after a period of time. Their role in sending the Rajapakses is immense but such crowd power is always short-lived. Plus institutions are already beginning to protest as shown by the legal bodies. The arguments for a harder line are probably already becoming strong.

If the politicians fail to deliver within a week, the military may deliver however reluctantly. The core crisis is not political but economic and for that some order is needed. Situations beyond control may decide that.

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