By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“SLFP has never done any major development projects of catalytic national impact. It is the party that simply shares poverty; turning our nation into a miserable population waiting for government benefits.”
A Political Class Siphoned off the People
Sri Lanka, paradise, is never short of drama. Unfortunately, the ordinary people and their urgent needs for a better life are being ignored by these moves and counter moves, conspiracies, rackets, deals and whatnot of the rotten political class that saw its rise to peak under the hopeless regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, his family, cabal and cohorts. Never before has the island witnessed this phenomenon of a political class so cut off from the people. Would JR Jayewardene have ever known that his constitution was pregnant with this unfolding dreadful reality?
Today, the political class decides and the people, reduced to desperate levels of expectation, have no option but to follow. The political class are never drawn from the grassroots as during general elections prior to the JR Constitution. Those days, intending members of parliament have had to first get clearance from the electorates they wish to represent. If fortunate to be elected, they have to keep being accountable to that source electorate. We did have some electorates like Colombo Central with multiple MPs but they were few. Each electorate had an MP who is beholden to his source of power.
It is a question of party officials picking candidates today. Here comes the creepy fellows and those of undesirable quality. We had an MP who once stole necklaces from helpless females who passed by. We had criminals, rapists and public cheats. Presidential pardon had been given for the wife of one MP who was convicted of double murder. We had bottle shop kings. Over 80 per cent had not passed O level. In India, 60 per cent are graduates.
This is the pass we have come today.
The current officially announced intentions of some MPs of the pro-Rajapaksa clan whom President Sirisena unfortunately invited to government have ever since, been playing honkey dory. They are officially in the Unity government but keep criticising at will cabinet colleagues from the other side. Susil Premjayanth – that guy who bears the name of a former film star; John Seneviratne, the Minister of Labour, and the Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera have all recently expressed their “disappointment” of having tried but failed to “bring the SLFP together,” implying the co-opting of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on board.
One would wonder what these trio had been doing since they took over portfolio from the President. Like to know their records as Ministers under the Unity Government. Nothing that we can think of. Dayasiri has been well and truly messing up Sri Lanka Cricket. Susil has still to answer how he let the Petroleum Corporation create the huge fraud around the hedging experiment during his days spent under Rajapaksa. John Seneviratne appears a simple nitwit unable to make any notable headway in our labour legislation.
Sirisena in Suicide Mission
President Sirisena can easily ask them to get off the back of the government as he would loose nothing by that except the respect of the public for manifesting leadership qualities. Our daily experience is that Maitripala Sirisena has become a national disappointment and that he is showing up badly, having lost all clarity in thinking about his own future. He seems to be in a suicide mission attempting to get the SLFP together and be back cosily with the former dictator who on his once-stated assessment would have sent him six feet underground had he lost the Presidential Elections!
This is the state of the isolated political class. Nothing of the development has any bearing on the lives of ordinary people. The political class decides and the people must follow.
Birth of the SLFP-Not Ideological
Let’s take a look at this so-called attempts to put the SLFP together. My honest concern is, even given an honest intention on the part of its protagonists, is it worth the exercise?
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party was born when SWRD was unfairly denied succession to leadership in the UNP in which he was Minister. DS Senanayake wanted to put his son, Dudley, in the play and manoeuvred his way toward that. SWRD smelt it and resigned to form the new party.
It was not an ideological rift. The ideology SWRD developed was an afterthought and it was designed to access power by playing to the base primary emotions and irrationality of the people- their race and language. The strategy worked to full measure and the UNP was vanquished.
The Three National Damages of the SLFP
On three major counts the SLFP of SWRD Bandaranaike and post- SWRD can, with absolute justification, be shown to have been a catalytic bane and not a boom for Sri Lanka.
The arousal of communal feelings between Sinhala and Tamil communities is the first count. I remember SWRD’s election campaign as a young man those days. I even worked for the postal peon, Themis, who SWRD chose for Colombo Central electorate. I had, just then, entered the University. The slogans of SWRD’s collaborative outfit-the MEP- were racist and were divisive of any move to build a Sri Lankan nation. Communal riots followed.
The disease was carried over to the next UNP government under JR who was also responsible for communal riots ably aided by his mad Minister, Cyril Mathew. To be sure, that was unusual for a party like the UNP. However, the unfortunate trend that SWRD gave rise to had the potential to infect even the grand Old Party of National Unity. The ground was set.
This leads us to the second count and that was the devaluation of the English language from its pedestal of being the growing medium of national unity among all races and ethnic groups. India still gives prime place to English and it is English that binds that nation together and not Hindi. I met the Punjab community in Melbourne recently at a function. They told me most of Punjabis do not underseand Hindi and that it is English that is the real common communicating medium. To SWRD it was a fight for ‘Sinhala Only.’ ColvinR de Silva’s famed prophetic utterance: “One language, two nations; two languages one nation,” had been ignored. If English had been allowed to build up, Colvin’s “two languages,” would not have been much of an issue.
I quote from today’s issue of The Island an article written by Professor HL Seneviratne: “Had we retained English as the medium of instruction, we would today be exporting not unskilled labour to the Middle East, but doctors, engineers, lawyers and other professionals to wherever they are needed….It is hardly necessary to get into the questions of the brutal ethnic war, the politicization of every institution, the rise of a barbaric political culture replete with corruption, nepotism, abduction and murder, and the overall hospitalization of the body politic, which are all direct outcomes of the shortsighted policies of 1956.”
Sri Lanka, then, had an efficient system of Central Colleges that attracted bright students from village level and gave them a good education in the English language, while at the same time teaching them about our proud inheritance in the Sinhala and Tamil ethos. Our best contemporary Sinhala and Tamil scholars came from these Central Colleges and they were also thoroughly bilingual! They were able to take Buddhist philosophy to the Western Universities and teach there.
To be sure, the Central Colleges did have their imperfections. The main issue was the paucity of teachers in the English medium. However, that could have been addressed and the teaching of that language could have spread to other schools under the wings of Central Colleges. Today, even our good scholars are struggling with trying to be bilingual. Even Central Colleges are losing English.
I do some interpreting work for the growing numbers of the Sinhala community here in Melbourne and it is sad to see that young men and women are increasingly without any bilingual ability.
The third damage by the SLFP was the introduction of populist socialism. Particularly after the party attracted the Old and declining Left elements, the influence of socialism engulfed the psyche of the people so much so that the slogan “Danapathiya Bangawewa,” is still catchy in the villages. The erroneous and dangerous value of denouncing the investors with capital, who alone can take the economy forward, had been firmly been implanted in our society as an unquestionable premise.
As in the case of racism, this damaging social value had the potential to infect even the Grand Old Party so much that JR’s constitution officially launched Sri Lanka as a “Democratic Socialist Republic.”
Under the SLFP leadership of the Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the Left the country simply went to war with the capitalists. It was all a strategy of invading our society and economy with a populist version of socialism. Estates were broken up from being viably -sized ones into smaller uneconomic lots and distributed to the people who were bereft of any capital and skill to handle them. Our proud planters left the country to do their planting under the invitation of Kenya. Kenya is today the number one tea exporter while Sri Lanka has slipped back to number four!
All our usefully and efficiently run private service businesses like the Bus service was taken over and we replaced that with a government -run bankrupted CTB. People now suffer, clinging as they do into smelly vans jam-packed with passengers, pickpockets and sexual perverts. Government invaded trade and got the CWE and Marketing Department (I was once Commissioner of that) to do trading under the guise of helping bring down prices. These institutions attracted the growing army of disguised unemployed put in by MPs. They ignored the basic concept of supply and demand economics and paid the penalty. Governments should never trade.
In this fashion, everything was taken over and the state ran the economy under Mrs B. That kind of popular socialism was basically the distribution of poverty and it rendered helpless any attempt by men with capital to play the lead role as we have since seen all over the world including China and Russia.
Sri Lanka was, surely, well on the road to economic ruin until the UNP came in 1977 and rescued it with the revolution of the liberalised, open economy.
The plain fact is that the SLFP has never done any major development project of catalytic national impact. It is the party that shares poverty, turning our nation into a miserable population waiting for government benefits.
A lot more could be said, but this is adequate to take the conviction base off the party known as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. It is a backward step to try and revive that moribund entity. One observes President Sirisena making a pathetic effort to rebuild it. Images of undignified ceremonies (unbecoming of a Head of State) to welcome recalcitrant elements from “the other sides, ” are seen in the daily media. It is a nauseating performance carried out in true Mahinda Rajapaksa style, which represents a celebration of opportunism, incompetence and an implied element of promised corruption.
According to the famous Peter Principle in Management, Maitripala Sirisena has reached his level of incompetence. He should go at the end of his term, as he promised at the beginning, having presided gracefully.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org