By Lacille de Silva –
Sri Lanka, the oldest democracy in Asia, is a typical case study to prove how politicians have with deceit and deception ruined a country that was seen as a thriving Island-nation, at the time of independence. It had all that potential that was needed to transform itself into an independent, prosperous and stable democracy, a perfect example, for the other developing countries, in the third world. If we had good leaders in Sri Lanka, today no doubt it is a ‘first world country’.
How did our politicos destroy it? Postcolonial Sri Lanka has been exposed to a 30-year protracted war and two southern insurgencies. All that had subsequently produced a battle- ready country with violence. Poor governance, deep ethnic divisions, lawlessness, a weak economy etc., are the outcomes. This culture needs to be changed, without further delay.
Sri Lanka was widely considered to have had the best educational standards in the country for a few decades until 70s. If any educational system could have protected the people from barbarism, Sri Lanka too could have been at the top. Furthermore, Sri Lankans were well known for our hospitality, love, affection and as a peace-loving nation with educational achievements etc., at the time.
It was unfortunate, since 70s, youth began showing opposition to the destruction that was taking place in the country. The frustrated youth of this country sacrificed their precious lives for the love of the country against the country’s elected government; unsustainable governance system. Successive governments have failed to address burning issues to-date. A large majority is frustrated owing to the existing political, social, economic woes, which had paved the way for numerous problems. Developments that the country has achieved over a period of time has been reversed by elected populist leaders.
After several decades, such populist leaders have delivered several serious blows to all the democratic institutions. All of them have repudiated liberal values, destroyed the institutions of pluralism and sought to use the economic power of the state for partisan political end. They totally disregarded economic prosperity of people and rendered them impoverished having extracted public money to fill their own pockets.
Currently, it is necessary to view the security developments in the country broadly, which concerns have adversely affected the citizens, within a global context. There appears to be two schools of thought on the rise in terrorism. The first, according to the US Department of State, there is a global network of terrorist organizations, with the ISIS at its centre. The State Department had also referred to an accelerated decentralisation of the movement with affiliates in the network becoming more autonomous at operational level from the core and increasingly focussed on local and regional objectives.
The other school of thought is that highly localised fanatics are deeply rooted in their own localities. It contends that violent Islamic groups emerge in and are shaped by distinct domestic contexts and issues, a feature that is masked by a narrative of global religious terrorism. It also speaks of streams of oil money that had been used for funding religious extremism globally. It is no doubt that all these threats to a democratic government is all due to weak, unconsolidated and unprincipled governance system that was promoted by corrupt political leaders for several decades.
We need to learn from empirical evidence the world over. Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had been the President for 11 years and had earned admiration both globally and locally. Nevertheless, the regime Chavez had built is no more. His Successor Nicolas Madurai facing economic and political collapse. Venezuela currently is facing the world’s highest inflation, although they have the largest oil wells in the world. They find it difficult to import even essential medicines etc., which had caused repeated riots due to shortages. This is all due to the fact that even the national oil company had been hallowed out by corruption, political projects and neglect under Chavez administration.
Sri Lankan politicos now weep that the 19th Amendment is flawed. Who enacted it? Have they enacted bad laws? They are a miserable lot after having passed it with 215 votes in a 225member Parliament to say that it is imperfect. Even professors, lawyers, accountants pretend like idiots to remain in power and achieve political success. Logically, we need the cream of the people, who are visionaries in Parliament to run the country. The country needs capable honest intellectuals with integrity and different skills in modern sciences such as computing, technological, financial, foreign affairs, including cultural, political etc.
How did we elect the wrong type of people to Parliament, which is the uppermost deliberative assembly of the whole nation? Having sent the wrong people, they are unable to perform their onerous duties in the interest to guide the country for the general good of the people, as trustees, agents, representatives and delegates representing the citizens. If so, being representatives elected by the people, they are necessarily duty-bound to conform to the mandate given at the time of elections, while safeguarding the constituents in pursuit of their welfare.
It is unfortunate our parliamentarians are more representative of their party and look after their self-interest. They have totally confused and complicated all these issues having been utterly dishonest and self-centred without being generous towards the national interest for the benefit of those whom they represent in the Parliament. The end of three decades of war in Sri Lanka in May, 2009 raised expectations of an end to ethnic and religious violence in the country. The government has so far not come out with necessary policies comprehensive enough to overcome the ethnic differences.
In Malaysia, after the May 1969 riots, the then government had come out with a few public policies favouring the Bumiputras. The Non-Bumiputras had complained that the policies had lacked diversity and all-inclusiveness. It had been stated that ethnic issues or tension could seriously affect the country’s image, economic development etc. Malaysian leaders had vowed that a safe country would always ensure the country’s economic growth. However, harmonious relationship thereafter among them had strengthened the unity, national sovereignty and development. All these had eventually attracted foreign investors to invest in Malaysia.
In Sri Lanka, ethnic conflict has become a difficult issue for several reasons. Successive governments and opportunist politicians had dragged this issue too long without resolving the problems. In my view, there are a few factors that lead to ethnic conflicts. It could be broadly outlined as ethnic struggling for political, cultural and short-term benefits. All Ceylon Tamil Congress was formed on the 29th August, 1944 by G.G. Ponnambalam, as the leader. Subsequently, the United National Party was formed on the 6th September, 1946 by D.S. Senanayake, who became the leader.
In an article written by Professor Rajan Hoole, I quote – “Communalism has wreaked havoc in Lanka. It is embedded in our prejudices and our backwardness. The Sri Lankan political establishment’s complicity in violence against a minority is a scandal that would impede us for years to come, particularly in view of the lack of will to do away with impunity and hold the armed forces to account. Equally, culpable are the Tamil leaders who have inflamed passions where a little sympathy and restraint could have cooled them and hindered communalism putting down institutional roots”.
He further says “The passage of the Donoughmore bill, which abolished communal representation in December, 1929, was received calmly by the Tamils. At the Legislature no Tamil opposed the abolition. With communal representation having been the norm for nearly a century under the British colonial rule, gradual change might have been a more prudent than to move fast and precipitate conflict. Nevertheless, Sir Waitingam Duraisamy’s response in the Legislative Council sums up the attitude of the Tamils: “Well, although the idea of communal representation originated in the mind of the government and was nurtured by the government in spite of representations from the people of the Island, this time the government spokesmen, the special Commissioners have dealt the death blow to the idea of communal representation. The one who created it has destroyed it, and you will have noticed that immediately after the publication of the report, how calmly and quietly the people of the Island accepted it and no protest was raised by the Tamil Community”.
Based on the foregoing, it is obvious how colonial masters have divided the people, who could have lived harmoniously. It is no longer necessary for us to fight with each other which causes undue stress, strain and even destruction to our beloved motherland, even decades after independence. We all love our country. But we hate the politicos who destroyed everything. They have pushed the cream of our professionals in the country to migrate to more developed countries with bigger opportunities. The wicked politicos did not have the ability to expand industries, better working conditions, better salaries etc.
It is a beautiful island that could be developed easily for people to live peacefully in prosperity. Our selfish rulers did not make a genuine effort to strengthen human predisposition towards a unique national identity with truly emotional commitments. Why did they fail from the view point of my beloved motherland, and even as citizens, the need to create the culture how we could generate enormous amount of passions – which could be termed ‘NATIONLISM OR PATRIOTISM?
Our only aim, therefore, should be to solidly build and consolidate our own Sri Lankan identity. We should demolish the existing social inequalities. We should ensure also the removal of disparities in the distribution of wealth, power, equality, justice, greater freedom, including the unwillingness to support those others who are in need of mutual assistance to rise up as independent citizens in every nook and corner of our motherland.
We should now find the key to achieve harmonious co- existence among all ethnic groups with different cultural traditions. How do we build up harmony in diversity? I strongly believe that every ethnic group whether it is Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay or any other has a firm identity, which needs to be honoured and respected. I also believe that we need to learn to treat their traits and identity with utmost respect and affection. Nevertheless, this should not mean that we should tolerate extremism. It would thereby pave the path for strengthening “harmony”, which eventually reinforces the feelings of tolerance different cultural traditions, different faith systems and peaceful co-existence in the same social space.
It must be understood that we have due to heavy indebtedness not been able to safeguard the country’s interest and assert our authority to resist attempts by external forces, in protecting our strategic assets and even in regard to day to day governing issues internally. We should always bear in mind that countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan had been attacked under various pretexts.
It is important that in order to avoid such situations, we should protect our culture that existed decades ago. Indian intervention in 1980’s is a case in point. Should not we re- assert that we should promote NATIONALISM, which should PROMOTE ONE COUNTRY AND ONE NATION, where no one would feel alienated. It must be placed on record that achieving such noble goals will not be that easy. I do however believe that it is nothing impossible if we are unaffectedly steadfast and interested in protecting our Nation.
It is necessary that all Sri Lankans have to lead happy, prosperous lives while intermingling with everyone as was prior to independence. It must be stated that if so, we as a Nation will be able to strengthen our precious identity collectively as one Nation. Confucius had opined, “A gentleman gets along with others, but does not necessarily agree with them”.
This proves that as people living in one country, it is necessary to make every effort to achieve harmony even in disagreement in order to imply that we should always accept the fact that there are differences. British Anthropologist in 1871 had articulated the following classic definition regarding culture – “Culture or civilization, taken in its wider ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. Lord Buddha had preached “In our interactions with others, gentleness, kindness, respect is the source of harmony”.