By S. Gnanarajan –
According to Spanish philosopher George Santayana “History shows that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Sri Lanka seems to be on its path towards repeating its history. After a tumultuous period of about 40 years, in 2015, a government formed with the support of all the communities. The last time this had happened was in 1965; Dudley Senanayake formed a government with the support of the Federal party led by SJV Chelvanayakam.
The author of the article was a small boy. Regardless, he remembers the time as the normal period, or in the current language, the old-normal period in the country. At the end of the old-normal period, a left coalition government was elected in 1970 with a two-thirds majority for the first time in the country’s independent history. This government brought the republican constitution, which did not address the grievances of all the communities in the country leading to the civil strife. The period 1972 to 1975 was economically the most difficult period faced by the ordinary Sri Lankan people due to the shortage of necessary goods. This was partly due to the 1973 Middle East war which resulted in a sharp increase in the oil price. However, the troubling relationship with the west was another factor in the government’s inability to obtain the foreign credit needed to purchase the necessary items for the people of the country. The author vividly remembers the days that he had to set an alarm to stand on the queue for bread.
Is history repeating itself? The current government was elected with the two third majority after a new-normal period of 5 years, as in 1970. The government elected in 2015 had the support of political parties from all communities. However, the current government is facing serious foreign credit problems. Like in 1970s, a black market is developing for the foreign currencies for the supposedly called floating rupee. In the 1970s, there was no floating rupee and there were hardly any foreign remittances from workers and expatriates from overseas. How have we arrived at a similar situation after 50 years? Instead of the oil crisis, now we have the COVID-19 crisis.
The Indian astrological calendar has a cycle of 60 years, which is the lowest common multiple of 12 and 30 years, the orbital periods of the large planets Jupiter and Saturn. The author does not believe in astrology. The simple fact that history is repeating itself in Sri Lanka because the country has not learned from its own history. If a large defence force can protect the country, the Soviet Union would not have crumbled. The government needs the support of all the communities, and for that, the government must address all its key issues. This will allow them to reduce its unnecessary overhead costs, as well as fix its relationship with other countries.
*Dr Gnanarajan was a lecturer in Physics at University of Jaffna during one of the difficult periods of 1989 to 1994. He was one of the first batch of physical science students who entered U of Jaffna in 1975, completed his BSc special degree, completed his postgraduate studies in North America and returned to Sri Lanka in 1989. He migrated to Australia in 1994 and became a scientist at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). He left CSIRO a few years ago and has been working as a consultant. He has been a keen observer and activist of the Sri Lankan political situation.