IN Sri Lanka, the electric storms are biblical. They rumble away in the distance for half-an-hour and then gather a ferocious, old-testament anger, which explodes into thunderous noise and sharp whips of lightning that fracture the dark skies.

Rain pours down in waterfalls and then the silence, a long period of calm where ­everything settles except the social unrest.

Many have compared the nation’s ­embattled economy to the monsoon rains but that is massive understatement; the healing aftermath has yet come and Sri Lanka is only beginning to face up to the massive challenges of economic default ­before they can imagine the calm.

The last time I visited in 2022, Sri ­Lanka was in the grip of Aragalaya, the ­Sinhalese word for “struggle” which brought crowds of protesters to the capital Colombo with the intention of chasing the former ­president Gotabaya Rajapaksa from power and overthrowing a corrupt family dynasty that had held an iron grip over Sri Lanka for more than a decade.

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The scale and ferocity of Aragalaya took the world by surprise. A ­deepening ­economic crisis brought crowds from all over the island to storm the ­president’s ­official residence, ­dismantling ­every ­barrier that stood in their way. S­ignificantly, the official political parties and even the trade unions, who would normally have led demonstrations, had no substantial sway over events, it was a a spontaneous and autonomous uprising, the kind the ruling class most fear.

A fiery and uncontrollable day on July 9, 2022, became Sri Lanka’s Bastille Day. The slogan “Gota-Go-Home” became the rallying cry of Aragalaya as persistent and sometimes violent pressure forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country, with the veteran Prime ­Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe elected as interim president.

The Aragalaya was not without cost to human life. Ten protesters were killed, an estimated 250 were injured, and ­further south near the town of Galle, the ­chairman of a local political party AV ­Sarath Kumara died of a heart attack, after his home was attacked.

Last week, after months of uncertainty, Sri Lanka finally secured a long-awaited $3billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), structured over a four-year lending programme. Whilst the deal delivers much needed foreign exchange even the stray dogs on the streets of ­Colombo know that an IMF deal comes with ­injurious conditions and colonises Sri Lanka to the cause of international ­capitalism. Ominously, the IMF described the deal as the country’s “last chance”.

The crisis goes deeper still – Sri Lanka also has to restructure outstanding debt owed to China, India and Japan, ­making it a vulnerable pawn in the battle of the new global super-powers. ­Geographically positioned on a trade route between ­China and India, the small island will ­almost certainly get squeezed in the middle. According to a special report in the ­Financial Times: “Sri Lanka has ­become an extreme example of what excess ­borrowing can do to vulnerable countries.

“It defaulted last year. Living ­standards on the island of 32 million collapsed as food, fuel and medicine ran low and ­protestors on Galle Face ultimately forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country.”

Wickremesinghe has next to no ­wriggle room. His appointment was deeply ­unpopular, his house was burnt to the ground by protestors and his decision to delay local elections as a cash-saving ­obligation, raised suspicions that Sri Lankan democracy will be the victim yet again.

For men of Wickremesinghe’s generation, a comforting nostalgia has ­allowed them to imagine that the ­economic past can be magically restored.

“When I was small, we were considered to be second to Japan,” the new president reminisced. What the nostalgia does not account for is the deep underlying problems that have happened since, not least unresolved ­ethnic tensions, and the legacy of a brutal civil war.

In the London of old, the commentariat used to talk of the Man on the Clapham Omnibus, a fictional character who was a bellwether for the views of the ­commuting middle-classes. In Sri Lanka, his ­equivalent is the tuk-tuk driver at Pettah Market, a more economically distressed working-class character trapped by circumstances in a rusting three-wheeler.

TUK-TUK drivers have been battered by the forces of change, firstly ­coming under pressure to abandon his old two-stroke engine and pay to upgrade to an ­eco-friendlier chariot.

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Then a major exit study of foreign ­visitors confirmed that most were ­suspicious of the tuk-tuk driver and their imaginative pricing and proposed that meters should be installed in the style of western taxis. It was another expensive blow to the already struggling drivers, they demonstrated, went on strike but the winds of change were against them, and many took the hit paying for the meter devices and denying their long-standing constitutional right to fiddle rich visitors.

The brutal final months of the civil war scared many visitors away as Sri Lanka’s tourist status was downgraded by most major western countries.

Just when it seemed safe to return the pandemic grounded flights and the ­tourist dollar slumped still ­further.

Sri Lanka first went into lockdown ­including the airport closure in March 2020 to control the spread of the virus, visitor arrivals globally fell abruptly for the first time in the history of tourism and came to a complete halt for a period of 10 months until January 2021.

The crisis in the tourist economy meant that Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange slumped drastically, and the economy was left with pitiful supplies of ­international capital, especially US dollars. Many vital imports lay in cargo ships off the coast of ­Colombo with no internationally ­acceptable ­currency to pay for them to be unloaded.

The crisis was most marked by a ­catastrophic shortage of diesel and fuel exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, which stopped the flow of fuel.

By then Sri Lanka was engulfed in a perfect storm unable to provide for its citizens and their most basic needs. One of the first attempts to bring order to the chaos was a rationing system to limit the fuel available to drivers which led to lengthy and at times angry queues at filling stations.

One seemingly obvious solutions was to bring technology to the rescue. Tuk-tuk drivers were issued with QR codes sent to their mobiles to regulate the amount of fuel they could buy in a week. It was an idea brilliant in theory but deeply flawed in practice. Filling stations had untrained staff baffled by the codes, others had machinery that could not read them and often there was tension around the seemingly arbitrary limits placed by the codes.

Some tuk-tuk drivers argued that they were burning more fuel to get to the ­garages permitted to accept the codes, than they were receiving as part of their meagre deal.

One tuk-tuk driver told me of a truly dystopian day he had spent at the height of Aragalaya. Queues for fuel had ­become so intolerable that he drove south from home towards the tourist beach resort of Hikkaduwa in the hope that a ­filling ­station may have had a delivery. As he navigated the street of the surf town a fight broke had broken out and he was forced to swerve though gangs of fighting youths.

It was not a typical late-night dispute. By a remarkable paradox, the fighting gangs were tourists from Russia and Ukraine who had goaded each other all day until the drink kicked in. By ­midnight they were re-enacting the Siege of ­Mariupol in T-shirts and cut-off jeans.

Sri Lanka still awaits the calm after the storm and it still seems a long way off.