By Latheef Farook –
People in general are fed up and disgusted at government’s refusal to fulfil its pledge to bring those involved in crime, corruption, amassed wealth illegally, plundered the country, waste and other such activities during the previous regime to book.
On 8 January 2015 they voted with great enthusiasm in the hope that both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would be sincere in their election slogans to punish all who plundered country’s wealth.
However, dashing all hopes the government, instead of fulfilling its promises, is being accused of same evils such as widespread corruption and waste while crooks, criminals and others accused of various crimes remain free and even travel abroad.
Mood in the country is “Gloom”. Civil society organisations even discuss the possibility of a third political force as both United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, ruled alternatively since independence, had turned the country into one of the most mismanaged in the world. They realise that the short sighted racist politics of these two parties had brought nothing but disaster.
For example Sri Lanka, during the time of independence, was one of most stable countries, often described as role model, in the entire Third world. There was political and economic stability, sufficient foreign reserve, health care and education system, communal harmony and peace.
Those were the days one could walk from Matara to Jaffna without the fear of being waylaid. Instead one may have been treated for a free cup of tea or a meal as human values were cherished
Rights and privileges of all were enshrined in the constitution. People respected one another’s religious and cultural values. Politicians, professionals, intellectuals and all others were respected by the society. Corruption and crime were relatively unknown.
There was an independent judiciary and police. Thus the country was blessed with everything required to move ahead to ensure a better future for all. However it failed to produce a visionary leader from the majority community who could think above communal politics and guide the country.
As a result, almost seven decades after independence today, Sri Lanka remains as one of the most mismanaged countries in the world.
Who is responsible? Isn’t it the destructive racist politics of UNP and SLFP which turned the island into Asia’s worst killing field? Racist politics began as early as 1930s when some politicians began to promote the interest of the Sinhalese for their own selfish political interest.
For example during the State Council days in the 1930s it was D.S. Senanayake as Minister of Lands and Lands Settlement initiated the colonisation of Sinhalese in Polonnaruwa, Padaviya and Inginiyagala in the East which were claimed by Tamils and Muslims as their traditional home .Thus began the conflict between communities which is raging to date and torn asunder peace and harmony in the country.
Adding fuel to fire politicians also started claiming that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country and dismissed minorities. Minorities who do not want to be second class citizens demanded equal rights and equal role in the affairs of the country and in deciding their own destinies.
Thus they sowed seeds of communal disharmony. Here lies the crux of the ethnic crisis.
Realising the racist mind-set of politicians, the British colonial government, enshrined in the Soulbury constitution a special provision, section 29A ,as a security valve in the hope of protecting minority rights. However after independence successive governments promoted and protected the interest of the majority community, dismissing the rights of minorities.
Some of the Sinhalese leaders, before and after the independence, were quite open in continuing to whip up communalism .They openly equated and, continued to equate Sinhalese nationalism with Sri Lankan nationalism and Buddhism, and began implementing their communal agendas ruthlessly, not realizing that they were plunging the country into a bloodbath.
Exploiting the mood of the Sinhalese the Legislative Council Member S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike formed the “Sinhala Maha Sabha” which segregated the Sinhalese from the mainstream political scene.
J.R.Jayewardene moved in the United National Party annual convention the Sinhala only resolution. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike called for “Sinhala Only within 24 Hours” and faced elections on communal slogans to gain power. Politicians also encouraged the rise of Sinhala chauvinism with frequent violent attacks on Tamils causing death and destruction.
However Mr Bandaranaike was quick to realise the consequences of his communal politics and took damage control measures such as Bandaranaike Chelvanayagm Pact, BC Pact. Even at that stage, did the politicians do some stock taking of the consequences of their racist politics? They were not bothered.
Instead almost all governments with their eyes firmly fixed on elections, either to win or to retain power, aggressively continued to woo the majority community as the most effective vote caching strategy.
This unfortunate trend continued not realising the consequences. In 1970 Prime Minister Mrs Srimavo Bandaranaike removed Section No 29A of the soulbury constitution in her Republican Constitution and made Buddhism the state religion. This led to all Tamil political parties uniting under the umbrella of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) which demanded equal rights.
Added to this President Jayewardene’s draconian 1978 constitution which created a democratically elected all powerful dictator virtually turned minorities voiceless and helpless. In July 1983 his party thugs attacked and killed Tamils besides burning their properties under a very well organised anti Tamil pogrom.
The result was the emergence of the Tamil militancy, later trained, armed and financed by India, which produced some of the deadliest terrorists who virtually paralysed the island besides paving the way for a powerful Tamil Diaspora of Sri Lankan Tamils.
There were death and destruction all over, economy was crippled and people lived in fear. The situation was such that womenfolk at home were not sure whether their husbands who went to work or the children who went to school would return alive. Those were the days when people went about only for essential work as they did not know when and where a bomb would explode.
While people suffered, politicians and their cronies flourished in the form of commissions in weapons purchasing. This dire catastrophe spelt adversity to the helpless people and prosperity to politicians of the two main parties.
The ethnic war also brought in all sorts of players to the island. For example India entered the island’s politics when the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi forced down the throat of President J.R.Jayewardene the 13th Amendments to the constitution. In the subsequent years India’s interference and dominance in the local politics came to such a ridiculous stage that Sri Lankan politicians visited New Delhi frequently to brief and, perhaps, to get their blessings on local issues.
Most disillusioned people from all communities left the island in search of peaceful life to countries all over the world. Squeezed between Sinhala chauvinists and the Tamil racism and militancy, the Muslim community had its own share of sufferings. Their grievances fell on the deaf ears of almost every government after the independence.
A section of Muslims from the east, launched a separate Muslim party which isolated the Muslim community from both Sinhalese and Tamils. Their sufferings continued even after the war ended due to Rajapaksa government’s hostility towards Muslims.
The military defeat of LTTE provided a golden opportunity for the country to learn lesson from racist politics, take measures for healing wounds, bring communities together and jointly move ahead for a better future for all.
That historic opportunity was squandered once again due to racist politics, unprecedented crime, corruption waste and the virtual collapse of the administration under Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. The regime unleashed violence against Muslims. There were more than 350 attacks on mosques, religious schools, business establishments and the organised pogrom at Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga town.
It was under such circumstance that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came out with the slogan they would eliminate crime, corruption and pave the way for good governance and communal harmony.
Almost two years after assuming office where do we stand today? Once again allegation of racist politics, widespread corruption, lawlessness, rapid erosion of democracy, wasteful expenditure, extravagance and luxury.
The question is whether the people are once again going to vote for these parties or think of a new political force?