By Malinda Seneviratne –
The term ‘Bhutanization’ was first used in relation to Sri Lanka by the late Rajiv Gandhi. This was when he was India’s Prime Minister and in that capacity arm-twisted a beleaguered J.R. Jayewardene into signing an agreement that did nothing for Sri Lanka and indeed was crafted in a way that it could not do anything for Sri Lanka. The gloating is evident in the term used, especially considering the nature of Indo-Bhutan relations. The political term relevant was ‘protectorate’.
Twenty six years later and after India basically tore the agreement to pieces (while insisting that it is still in force in the manner that a man with 20-20 vision calls black ‘white’) big-brother next door has not given up on Bhutanization. We are not crystal gazers, but suffice to say that given the hiding that the IPKF received at the hands of the LTTE when that outfit was far weaker than it was bested by the Sri Lankan security forces, Bhutanization a la Rajiv Gandhi would cost India.
Be that as it may, the term has its uses. Bhutan is not Paradise and being No 1 in terms of ‘Gross National Happiness’ doesn’t mean sorrow is non-existent. On the other hand, Bhutan took a firm decision to turn its agriculture 100% organic, banning the sales of pesticides, herbicides and other chemical inputs, relying totally on animal and farm waste for fertilizer.
What’s Sri Lanka’s ‘happiness’ situation? We are less happy than Bhutan but happier than the LTTE-harangued Sri Lanka. A lot of this can be attributed to the 1978 Constitution and Amendments thereto, as well as the abuse of power, corruption, thuggery, the periodic unleashing of violence by state actors operating with the knowledge that there are loopholes galore to escape through. But even if Sri Lanka was not handicapped by any of this and did not have to deal with the inevitable difficulties of post-conflict recovery, would this be heaven on earth?
Well, in terms of happiness, if it has anything to do with resilience and coping, Sri Lanka wouldn’t be a whiny nation. And yet, we are a poisoned land, a country whose soils are drenched with deadly chemicals in the name of greater productivity. We have weak laws and weaker implementation and this allows industries to pollute. Sri Lanka is saddled by an institutional arrangements plagued by flaws exploited by sections of a scientific and medical community that have happily divested themselves of ethics, giving unscrupulous peddlers in unnecessary and/or inferior drugs a free hand. Sri Lanka is one of many dumping grounds for food products (like milk powder) that people in the producing countries would not touch, given contamination fears for example. Sponsorships, freebies, outright purchase of ‘friendly opinion’ and sneaking representatives into decision-making bodies are only some of the devices available for the unscrupulous.
The bottom line is we are a poisoned nation. If there’s one place to start, then it’s food production. We don’t need high yielding seeds doctored with terminator genes if we went back to the lower yielding but more nourishing local rice cultivars, which are far more environment-friendly and do not require poison-drenching to flourish. We don’t need nutria-boosts a la ‘scaled up nutrition’ if we went organic with our traditional varieties which are far more wholesome. In both the above scenarios, lower yields are compensated by the greater density of nutrition. The economics that object are not innocent, one must note.
Such a shift would require support by way of revamping laws surreptitiously scripted to favor multinational poisoners to the detriment of local farmers invested in organic practices and traditional varieties. It would require a paradigm shift in development-thinking. The war on terrorism was won because a nation realized the worth of the saying attahi attano nato (one’s palm alone ensures shelter).
For too long we have placed faith in models whose success is suspect. Bhutan is going to a place we’ve come from. The road back would be hard, but not unfamiliar. Yet. What is required is a Bhutanization of thinking where it is acknowledged that a) we need home-grown models (and of course food), and b) we don’t have any too many options.
We either allow ourselves to be poisoned fooling ourselves that it is a by-Sri Lankans, with-Sri Lankans and for-Sri Lankans strategy we have adopted, or we let ourselves be Bhutanized to freedom, health and happiness.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com