By Vishwamithra –
“I think that any time of great pain is a time of transformation, a fertile time to plant new seeds.” ~ Debbie Ford
Every crisis has its origin; that origin is not necessarily traced to one single source; nor does it transpire without a cause. That cause in turn may not be one single reason. It is always a combination of many causes and many reasons. Attempting to dash to the origin is as nearly impossible as is the modern day scientists’ quest in search of the first cause of the universe. However, for a discussion of the current crisis that we are faced with, I have deduced to place a milestone at the year 1915 and the event that occurred in that year, explicitly, the famous Sinhala-Muslim riots.
In addition to creating a sharp and direct inroad into a yet-unexplored national mindset, the aftermath of the riots threw up a group of individuals who hailed from the elite of society at the time. They all belonged to the low-country Sinhalese whose social upbringing was far too removed from the rural classes. Their education was either in premier schools in Colombo or Oxbridge variety abroad. That education made them stand aloof of the usual national stream of life. Yet, ironically, it was a leading Tamil legislator, namely Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who championed their cause in the British seats of powers in London.
Hundreds of Sinhalese Buddhists were arrested by the British colonial government during the Riots of 1915. Those imprisoned without charges included future leaders of the independence movement; F.R. Senanayake, D. S. Senanayake, Anagarika Dharmapala, Dr C A Hewavitarne, Arthur V Dias, H. M. Amarasuriya, Dr. W. A. de Silva, Baron Jayatilaka, Edwin Wijeyeratne, A. E. Goonesinghe, John Silva, Piyadasa Sirisena and others.
In 1919 the Ceylon National Congress (CNC) was founded to agitate for greater national autonomy, short of full independence. This same elite who graduated from the Sinhalese-Muslim riots to national politics via CNC, vigorously opposed the grant of universal suffrage by the Donoughmore Constitutional Commission.
It was this CNC that later evolved into the formation of the United National Party (UNP) under the leadership of D S Senanayake. The then leader of Sinhala Maha Sabha, S W R D Bandaranaike too joined D S and contested the first parliamentary elections under the UNP-ticket. With the formation of the first post-Independence government, D S became the first Prime Minister; The Leader of the House in the D.S. Senanayake Cabinet was S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who held the portfolios of Health and Local Government. The Agriculture Minister was Dudley Senanayake and Finance Minister was J.R. Jayewardene. The Minister of Transport and Works was John Kotalawela.
In D S’s Cabinet, except D S himself and J R Jayewardene, all others were educated abroad, Oxford, Cambridge or some other universities in London and Europe. D S Senanayake was educated at St Thomas’ College in Gal Borella, (predecessor to St. Thomas’ in Mt Lavinia of today) up to the 8th standard while J R Jayewardene was educated at Royal College, University College and Ceylon Law College Colombo. A Cabinet of well-educated professionals was led by an 8th Standard–educated D S Senanayake and never was his manner, steadfastness and honesty of leadership matched or surpassed by any of his successors in the last seventy four years.
But D S Senanayake was not perfect and his flaw dwelled in his nepotism- by nominating his son Dudley to be his successor to the post of Prime Minister and thereby facilitating S W R D’s departure from the UNP and formation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Furthermore, this departure also meant the birth of another national movement that gave rise to the unsound yet populist Swabhasha-policy that made provision for the Sinhala-only movement and driving Sinhalese Buddhists led by the Maha Sanga to an erroneous end. The era of the so-called ‘Common Man’ and its false premise of a majoritarian rule dawned on the country pushing a very vital and vibrant educated community of Northern and Eastern Tamils to the edge of desperation and despair.
What resulted in the sociopolitical and cultural arena since the 1956-transformation is yet being under sharp scrutiny and much open for debate and argument. Bandaranaike’s well or ill-intentioned policies have changed our society and the fundamental direction of its natural progression. Polarization of society along racial and religious lines, mutual intolerance of the other, led up to many racial riots in the fifties, sixties and seventies and finally climaxed in a brutal and unkind war between the government-led security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam led by Velupillai Prabhakaran. That division between the respective schools of thought of either of the ethnic groups also led to near-permanent distrust between the two communities of Sinhalese and Tamils and may have provided material sufficient for volumes of books and papers yet to be written and read.
While these parochial political dynamics was on the move, another novel system was taking root on the economic front, thanks to the calculated brainwashing of the then leftist movement engineered and led by Dr N M Perera, Dr Colvin R de Silva, Philip Gunawardena and Peter Keuneman. A sense of false economic security was provoked and the resultant ‘entitlement syndrome’ took deep root in our populace making them collective hostage to the vagaries of uncontrollable political changes that were taking shape in the global marketplace. At the time, the global political arena was dominated and defined by the cruel presence of the ‘cold war’ between the USA and USSR and its intentional polarization of the people at large along ‘haves and have-nots’.
For a country situated in the Indian Subcontinent, being subjected to the quirks of geopolitical moves of the big players such as America, the Soviet Union, China and India, Ceylon did not have many choices. Being identified as an insignificant player amongst a vastly developing arms-race, Ceylon’s mindset was being throttled by a divisive political thought of the global kind on the one hand and driven to the edges of ethnic warfare internally on the other. The country’s volatile and susceptible local population suffered at every election cycle from successive betrayals by incoming governments.
After the assassination of Bandaranaike by a Buddhist Monk who was part of a diabolical conspiracy headed by Mapitigama Buddharakkhitha, another Buddhist Monk who happened to be the leader of Buddhist clergy unleashed by Bandaranaike himself in the ’56 election campaign. The cruel irony of life has played its most unkind act on the man who ushered in the era of the ‘Common Man’. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, S W R D’s widow succeeded in the sixties (barring a month-old government led by Dudley Senanayake in 1960 March) and her role in the shaping of Ceylon’s economic journey is as significant in its negative results as her second term in the seventies.
Being a novice into politics in her first term, Sirimavo showed her total inadequacies as a sophisticated Prime Minister but her display of superior leadership skills did play a crucial part in preventing a coup d’état led by some retired army, navy and police personnel. Yet her period of governance did not make any attempt at resolving the issues that placed the two leading communities, Sinhalese and Tamils at each other’s throat. On the contrary, her policies on University admissions and discriminatory treatment of Tamils as a whole paved the way for the perpetuation of the wounds inflicted on Tamils. Horrendous economic principles and policies adopted during this unforgettable ’70 to ‘77 period and its adoption as ‘Bandaranaike-principles’, the country was placed on an economic precipice towards the end of her second term in 1977.
In 1977 occurred another landmark event: defeat of the Sirimavo-led socialist government and introduction of free market economic principles. Sri Lanka experienced an economic development never seen before; yet that development brought with itself the most dangerous and consequential effects of a capitalist economy. But what really eclipsed the economic recovery such as self-sufficiency in rice thanks mainly to the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme, is the introduction of the Presidential System of government and Parliamentary Elections on the Proportional Representation (PR) method. Corruption at political level which may have been marginal up to that point took an accelerated pace towards total venality of the system, especially by J R’s successors, R Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya.
Each and every holder of power at the helm, as Prime Minster or President, took the voter for a huge ride and especially the Bandaranaikes and Rajapaksas corrupted the system by enslaving the voting majority to such an extent, the ruled became part and parcel of the corrupt system whose rapid decline they helped to deteriorate further.
However, since the cessation of the war against the Tigers in 2009, that very act of winning the war was embraced as an open license to treat the country and her men and women as serfs of the rulers and the henchmen including the members of their respective Cabinet of Ministers, Mahinda’s and Gotabaya’s, were allowed to run amok despite the looming dangers of a collapsing body politic and its economy.
Greed and avarice overtook the usual attention to the needs of the people; their own comforts and luxuries were given preference over the welfare of the great majority of the citizenry; their own desires and crude and obscene ambitions took the pride of place. Little did they know that the results of such demeanor and actions by one single family and one single clan could consume a whole country. The edge of collapse is staring in their face and yet they have not abandoned their pursuit of wealth, power and pleasures.
Seventy five years of Independence has brought upon our country a sure way of self-destruction. In the third decade in the twenty first century, we are facing sure signals of a famine as never forecast before; a two-headed (corruption and incompetence) monster, is waiting on its wings ready to pounce upon an unsuspecting nation. A Cabinet of Ministers comprising of gem mudalalis, bus conductors and casino dealers cannot understand the problems and issues, leave alone finding solutions. Behold the difference between D S Senanayake’s first Cabinet and the current one. The disparity could not have been starker. The current lot is indeed accelerating the journey to a more rapid and sure collapse.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org