1 December, 2020

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Have We Lost Our Way?

By Vishwamithra1984

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” ~ Oscar WildeJR Jayewardene

The core mission of the government established by J R Jayewardene in 1977, after a disastrous spell of economic stagnation generated and sustained by the preceding regime of Mrs. Bandaranaike, was to make Sri Lanka an economically independent nation. The ‘dependency syndrome’ that Sri Lankan mindset had been infested with and the manner in which it had eaten into the very inner dynamic of our society, especially since the 1956-political transformation (’56 Change’), was observable everywhere. It is visibly manifest in the rural hamlets as well as the urban apartments and hallways where those who reside in the supra echelons of the upper middleclass frequent. Invasion into government departments, Ministries and other semi-government institutions by politicians and their cronies had a telling effect at the very outset and later it became quite the norm which it is today. Politicization of regular Sri Lankan life had an easy ride towards its acceptance as part and parcel of daily life of Sri Lankans, whether they belong to the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich. It is not a story of a proud nation; nor does it represent a character or trait of a responsible and self-confident people. Close proximity to politicians and their cronies has indeed become a passport to convenience and expediency and a warrant that could open many a sealed door. Powers that be embraced these politicians and safeguarded them as they were the harbingers of ‘good news’ that strengthened their ranks, come election day.

Democracy, instead of becoming an archetypal vehicle for conveyance of the dreams, hopes and aspirations of the masses, was converted into a mechanism by which the wastes of society could get into representative and elected office. This tortuous process contributed to the worst potentials of democracy the resultant flow of which was a cascade of semi or uneducated men and women, and in some election cycles, petty ruffians entering politics. This fresh wave of politicians, whose credentials do not auger well for being distinguished representatives of the people, has left a pulsating stench in its path to political stardom. There is no doubt whatsoever that among that group could be found some gems of personalities who have contributed immensely to the system of governance as well as to the welfare of the masses. But exploiting the weakest link in democracy and prowling as saviors of the masses too has played its customary role in that cunning and diabolical elements have found easy passage via an extremely gullible electorate. The essential element of the process and procedure adopted by these not-so-credible politicians is buttressing the entity of government with heavier and denser power and force.

From a role of a guardian of the Constitution and facilitator of fundamental services, the government has become a direct provider and architect of jobs and transfers, promotions and firings or termination in the government sector. The more powerful the government becomes, the more critical and decisive those who man the government. In this context of a more powerful government, the private sector receded into a vague, brutally-defined as exploiting and wealth-accumulating entity. And those who are successful at accumulating wealth, even by fair means, become adjudicated as unscrupulous exploiters of the poor. Thanks mainly to the relentless and unmerciful campaigns flung by the left-wing political parties in the Fifties and Sixties, the capitalist class in Sri Lanka faced vindictive and reprehensible attacks by supporters of successive governments that were led by the non-UNP political parties. A notion of haves and have-nots was created and the gulf between these two protagonists was allowed to fester for hypocritical politicians to exploit.

The writer is not holding any brief for the capitalist class in Sri Lanka but would venture out to say that, in the context of a political-economic system and in the interest of rapid growth of the economy, capitalism with a judicious and practical sense of social justice would always offer itself as a reasonable alternative to any other form of political-economic system. The dismal failure of socialism worldwide and the disastrous results that the policies based on ‘mixed-economy’-principles of the SLFP-led governments, should teach us a lesson. If one discounts those lessons and continues to repose faith in those failed economic theories, employment and growth of the economy would suffer irrevocably. After being exposed to two failed insurrections by the youth in the South and terrorized by an almost nation-destroying ethno-terrorist war in the North, it is crucial that the current regime shed its facades and confront the immediate needs of the masses upfront. A rigorous and focused push to elevate the living standards of the broad masses- not those of the cronies who hover around corrupt politicians- must be a declared policy.

Elimination of ‘dependency syndrome’, which is a direct result of ‘entitlement disorder’, set in the average mindset of our people should be a priority. No country can brag about being totally free of poverty, except perhaps some lands in Northern Europe, such as Finland, Austria and Sweden- even though the statistics presented could be questionable. Yet a focused attempt by the government in power with the active participation of the private sector could reduce the destitution of a sizeable segment of our people. Without offering Band-Aid solutions to our problems within the confines of a ‘crisis-management’-frame on a daily basis, it’s unmistakably clear that a macro political-economic strategy, with flesh and bones of micro efforts at grassroots level, is indeed the basic requisite of the times. ‘Entitlement disorder’ which has made our people captives of an archaic socio-economic system that there is a ‘free lunch’ has also been responsible for making them indolent and apathetic on the one hand and void of any pride and self-confidence as a nation on the other. If the current government continues to feed the fears and deprivation of our people, by offering ‘free’ this and ‘free’ that, would only lead to a state of total denial and that is not the character of a proud nation.

A hopeful journey that commenced in 1977 should not have been aborted for fear of criticism by outdated socialism-oriented arguments of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna parliamentarians. With all its aberrational negative effects, the system that unleashed the economic factors by opening of a free-market economy and a reasonably regulated (not over-regulated) market is the only answer to a rapid growth in the economy. Over-dependence on government handouts has already enslaved our people to such a degree, any deviation from those handout-based policies and principles are perceived as ‘capitalist’ in the most damaging sense.

Winds of change are sweeping across the globe. The Smart Phone has replaced regular television coverage of contemporary events. Facebook is increasingly becoming popular among the youth generation and hoodwinking them is no easy endeavor. As illustrated in my last column, Pathirajas and Pathmasiris may not stomach their woes any longer. Their sorrows and agony may have penetrated into their bones, intestines and marrow, inflicting pain beyond any reasonable threshold of tolerance. One cannot understate the extent of significance of economic empowerment of the people; its short, medium and long-term effects are enormous and humankind has unleashed its wrath on those rulers who undermined the principle of ‘greater good for greater numbers’.

History is the ultimate arbiter of man’s journey towards self-fulfillment; it’s the guide and chronicler of his destiny. No country can be totally independent of her environment. Herodotus, the ‘Father of History’, said that “It’s impossible for someone who is human to have all good things together, just as there is no single country able to provide all good things for itself”. Arnold Toynbee wrote: “History not used is nothing, for all intellectual life is action, like practical life, and if you don’t use the stuff well, it might as well be dead”. Let us not condemn ourselves to the dustbin of history. A nation that built awesome stupas like Ruwanwelisaya and granite statues such as Avukana Buddha statue that penetrates the azure skies reflects a sublime mind at peace; its immeasurable scope and colossal capacity to create and construct images of sages and religious leaders signify boundless knowledge and infinite discipline of the mind. To shackle that mind and keep captive its capacities is a mortal sin. Yet to let go of the chains that bind them and allow the mind to soar free to yet-undiscovered horizons is not an easy undertaking.

Tagore, in his illustrious works of ‘Gitanjali‘, wrote one of the most enchantingly inspiring and profoundly edifying stanzas of all literary history:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls…
…Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”.

Let us be worthy of Tagore’s words.

*The writer can be contacted on vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    … where Lanka has not been broken into fragments by narrow ethno religious walls…

    Soma

    • 1
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      A Good Time to remember what Rabindranath Tagore said so well a long time ago!:-

      “Where the Mind is without Fear, and the Head is held high;
      Where Knowledge is Free!
      Where the World has not been broken up into fragments, by narrow Domestic walls;
      Where Words come out from the depths of Truth;
      Where tireless striving, stretches its arms towards Perfection;
      Where the Clear Stream of Reason
      Has not lost its way into the dreary Desert Sand of dead Habit;
      Where the Mind is led forward by thee
      Into ever-widening Thought and Action;
      Into that Heaven of Freedom, My Father, let my Country Awake!”

      Rabindranath Tagore

    • 3
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      Dear BBS Rep.,
      Please correct me if I am wrong. I thought those ‘Stupas’ such as Ruwanveli, Thissa are by products of the tanks built by then emperors to put the clay from the digging in to meaningful use. This is the reason that people find a ‘Stupa’ where there is a tank built in ancient times.
      There were no slave in ‘Serendib’ in those periods.

  • 2
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    Targeted attacks on Ethnic tamils since 1977. Black July 1983 by State goons attacking and murdering and burning innocent Tamils. Capitalism. Pro US. Pissed India off by veering into US orbit and foolishly thinking of joining ASEAN. The worst mistake and the crime was allowing their UNP goons to massacre innocent Tamils in 1983; to this date not a single responsible UNP leader including Hon JR’s nephew who was a powerful minister has apologized to the Tamil people. LTTE became a liberation movement to Tamil people because of that incident. Almost all (except 1958) attacks on Tamils happened under UNP regimes. Pros and Cons have to be openly discussed. I say pay compensation to those victims. Have a committee to investigate it. At least India had a commission to investigate the Hindu Cong I pogrom against innocent Sikhs that started on the night of Oct 31, 1984. 1983 Black July was the most shameful incident in post World War II history of Sri Lanka until of course the war ended.

  • 2
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    Good thoughts. But with the religious and ethnic discrimination prevalent in this country, economy will never take off. Further, our defense budget is rising year after year. We have the burden of supporting a huge army which is almost controlling the government. A good example of this is the episode of the Eastern Province chief minister and the navy officer.

  • 0
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    Dinuk,
    you said,

    “Unfortunately in the Sinhala Language the notion of merit is tied up with self and rebirth – Karma – rather than qualifications for a job.”

    Can you provide supporting evidence for this opinion please ?

    Sinhala is a language. “karma” and “rebirth” can be Hindu or Buddhist concepts or principles.
    “Merit” is not a Sinhala word. What is the equivalent in Sinhala ?

    Please show your honesty now.

    • 0
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      The supporting evidence is there all around you if you want to see and have the capacity to acknowledge the realities that the people in the country are trying to grapple with on a daily basis in striving to cope with their dwindling living standards, rising costs of living, finding better schools for their children, in queuing up for medicines at hospital opd’s and clinging on to foot boards of trains and buses to go to work and back.
      First of all come down from your ivory tower dreamland to honestly understand what is meant by “merit”.if you think there is no such word in Sinhala.

  • 2
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    “Have we lost our way”
    No. We never went on the correct path. After independence in 1948, politicians started exploiting the language divide ending up in a corrupt jungle. JR could have steered the country to prosperity but he wore a thick anti-minority lens. The Oscar Wilde quote fits him alright.

    Vishwamithra says: ”After being exposed to two failed insurrections by the youth in the South and terrorized by an almost nation-destroying ethno-terrorist war in the North, it is crucial that the current regime shed its facades and confront the immediate needs of the masses upfront”.
    This excuse is well past use-by-date. On 08 January 2015 Lankans mandated a government to address corruption. The “failed insurrections” and the “ethno-terrorist war” were not considered at all. The government must act on the corrupt irrespective of which side the corrupt is. This is not being done.

    Till and until this is done, we will never achieve the Gitanjali portraiture.

  • 0
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    Thank you for your thoughts Vishwamitra and I agree totally! Just see the ‘dependency syndrome’ at work in our education system. Free education was a great concept but our university students really take the cake, insisting that the government find them jobs and refusing to start working at a junior level. This whole dependency has set in years ago and coupled with our national traits of being petty minded and jealous, it will take years to undo. Then there is the whole SAITM issue…just listning to our future medical graduates who have now taken to getting onto buses and condemning any degree thats not free, is just sickening. The other day two such medical studnts got into the bus i was in, at nugegoda and promptly lauched into an all out attack on the ‘capitalist’ degrees! Thy went around collecting money from the passengers to fight this!
    So with this mindset, we are indeed down a very deep abyss…with hardly a way out.

  • 3
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    Also the civil service is made up of cowards.
    I spoke to a senior engineer at the Ports authority, who said Hambanthota was MR idea and all the engineers in the authority opposed it. I asked him what did you do about it, he said he kept his mouth shut like all cowards.
    Every spear in SL society the people who have authority, give there authority to the politians who are not qualified to take the decision. be it soilders,civil servants,businessman. Politicians are there to serve the people, not to be millioneir door keepers.

  • 1
    3

    How can you say disastrous spell of economic stagnation generated and sustained by Mrs.B govt? Had we continued her economic policies this country would have self sufficient in everything all though there were ques for for basic food stuffs but nobody died of starvation we need to sacrify for everything to achieve goals during her period we were producing everything from textiles to tyres people were living within their means not beyond their means as happening now recently Industries minister asked prime minister how to run his ministry what prime minister told him was follow the example of Mrs.B ndustries minister late T.B. Subasinghe he established several corporations and appointed top tecnocrats and civil servants to head these institutions run smoothly and she brought in top tecnocrats men with high integrity as her permenant secretaries and when they left their respective ministries not a pebble of corruption left behind.what JR open economy brough,t to this country only 10% got rich and full of corruption

    • 3
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      Mahindpala

      “Had we continued her economic policies this country would have self sufficient in everything all though there were ques for for basic food stuffs but nobody died of starvation “

      Had we continued with the Weeping Widow’s economic policies we would have ended up like Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore, Brunei, Kuwait, Norway, ………. in the first 25 richest nation league.

      We will still be drinking Kahatta with hakkuru, no television, no computer, no internet, no mobile phones, …………… food shortage, …. of course, it was an economy good for the black marketeers.

      Still, be living in stone ages.

      • 1
        1

        We could have produced all the items you have referred as that time we have produced radios and motor cars it is much better to drink kahata & hakuru rather than drinking imported contaminated milk powder what rich countries? they have plundered all third world countries and became rich and also safe guarding assets of third world super rich

        • 3
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          Mahindapala

          “we have produced radios and motor cars”

          The country didn’t manufacture anything.They were assembled from imported parts.

          Did people under Siri Mao produce/invent all the necessary components?

          Where did they manufacture transistors, condenser, tuner, capacitors, speakers, aerials, ……….. ?

          I am told there was a severe restriction on foreign exchange hence even those engineering enthusiast were unable to import electronic gadgets to experiment with their scientific/technical ideas.

          “it is much better to drink kahata & hakuru rather than drinking imported contaminated milk powder what rich countries?”

          I take your advice, however do you still drink kahata with hakuru?

    • 0
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      The political process of Sri Lanka failed miserably because the politicians listening to the clergy and not to the Industrialists. What factor determines a suitable site for a particular Industry? What factor determines the viability of operation and maintenance of the Industry? What factor determines what kind of training will be required for the different operations for a successful production? Several factories were donations from Russia and built by Technicians from Russia. But the appointments were made by Sri Lankan politicians. The appointments made their supporters and religious clergy happy because several of them were sent to Russia for training. The clergy in Sri Lanka are non productive and worshipped by politicians and locals. The religious clergy got conveniently politicized for the politicians to return to power again and again. The mentality of politicians changed from productivity to free alms because of their believe in the clergy. Now the Country’s ability to be self sufficient is given a “U” turn and made into a free arms getting Country with a competitive offering of the Country to the big rival Countries such as between China and India, or Russia and USA!

  • 0
    0

    J.R was the architect of 1983 communal violence and the destruction of US$700,million damages to the economy.
    Free Trade Zone was restricted to South only.
    The rest of the outcome; all Sri Lankans are harvesting.
    If the economical distribution is spread all over the Island Sri Lanka would have been one of the economical miracle in Asia. What we have now full of Rhetorical politicians and their gangs.

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