Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesman and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran says that his party has decided to boycott the independence day celebrations this year, as reported in The Island of JanuaryMore
I concluded a previous article published Sri Lanka Guardian on January 28, 2023 (Is recolonisation the final solution II) touching on the deplorable situation that innocent Sri Lankans have been plunged into not only by the current economic crisis but also by the so-called Tamil ethnic problem, both aggravated by unjust direct foreign intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, subversive NGO activities and various forms of imported religious fundamentalism, with the following words:
“The solution is not to try to return to the alleged Utopia that the British are believed by some to have bequeathed to us at independence (for such wasn’t the reality), or to overlook the 1972 change as insignificant, but to make way for the young of the country today to make a correct assessment of what has been achieved and what has not been achieved by the previous generations since independence (who were no less patriotic, no less proactive than them) and forge ahead with new insights, new visions, and appropriate course corrections as our ancestors did during crises to ensure our survival for so long as one people in spite of manifold differences among us.”
Now a large proportion of “the young of the country today”, unfortunately, are not aware of the unspoken truth behind the growing political instability and the artificial economic ruin that is engulfing the nation. The criticism often repeated these days that all post-independence governments mismanaged the economy, ruined everything through corruption and did nothing for nation building is not a valid one. It is deliberate disinformation chiefly peddled by anti-national political and religious extremists, that is, Tamil federalists/separatists, and Christian/Catholic and Islamist fundamentalist groups. Ordinary Tamils and Muslims have lived peacefully with the Sinhalese majority as equal citizens of one country for many centuries. Although extremists are only a handful among the relevant mainstream minority communities, they are a power to reckon with in Sri Lanka’s current besieged condition.
The aforementioned misrepresentations and corresponding misconceptions are accepted as indisputable facts, particularly by the sadly uninformed credulous section of the young population today. They are largely ignorant of the origin of the alleged Tamil ethnic problem and its exploitation by the former colonial powers and their allies to destabilize our little island that is located in a geostrategically and geopolitically sensitive region. The future that the genuinely concerned young people envisage for the country could end up as a mere pipedream unless they make a serious study of what truly happened within the past seventy-five years of independence and shape their strategies, learning from the formidable challenges the older generations had to meet, and the admirable successes as well as the dismal failures that they had experienced in the course of the past three quarters of a century.
Had these misguided young people including the yellow robed ones among them been properly instructed about the sharp political awareness and inspired activism that the brave youth of their parents’ generation involved in the second JVP insurrection of the 1986-1990 period displayed, they would be ashamed of themselves. Had they learned about the ideologically even more sophisticated fresh young men and women of their grandparents’ time who took to arms in the first JVP rebellion of 1971 against the popular, newly elected left-of-centre United Front government of Mrs Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike without any provocation except a self-denying revolutionary zeal to force a real system change in the country’s politics, the strange bedfellows of the so-called Galle Face Aragalaya would have died of self-loathing.
Of course, it must be remembered that the majority of the Aragalaya protestors were genuine. I would not include among them the handful of religious extremists who staged an ‘Aadaraye Aragalaya’ (Struggle of Love). The authentic agitators were similar to, if not identical with, the countless groups of spontaneously inspired young boys and girls from diverse communities who volunteered to adorn the city walls across the country with beautiful paintings (some with historical themes) to celebrate what they thought was the dawn of a new era with the eagerly awaited ‘system change’ made possible by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as president in 2019. The expectations of the youth of the country were dashed to the ground when president Gotabaya, earlier universally believed to be the iconic leader the country needed to salvage it from the mire of corrupt politics and the Yahapalanaya, Good Governance, misadventure (now conveniently forgotten), failed to deliver due to countervailing internal and external forces assisted, as suspected, by the treachery of his family as well as his own lack of pragmatic political skills, in spite of his undoubted moral uprightness. These genuine protestors should be distinguished from the few political and religious extremists who wanted to hog media attention by making the loudest noises.
Corruption among politicians is a fact. ‘Dealer politics’ is also a perennial issue. Mahinda Rajapaksa embodies a striking example of both. He, whose political leadership helped to rid the country of LTTE terrorism, has almost totally nullified the benign results of that success through his horse trading with extremists aimed at perpetuating his family’s ascendancy over Sri Lanka’s political landscape. Corruption charges against him remain yet to be substantiated. But the notoriety he has been already accorded in the media cannot be any worse if the allegations turn out to be true. These evils – corruption in high places and abuse of democracy for selfish gain – must be fixed by the enlightened youth of the country. But the present economic crisis and political instability cannot be totally attributed to these evils alone. Such simplistic generalization in itself is a grave error. It is a graver error, a crime against the nation in fact, to dismiss the history of the past seventy-five years since independence as one of unchecked thievery and erroneous policy making by unpatriotic politicians.
Within the first two decades after severing ties with the British monarchy, thousands of pure-hearted idealistic young men and women (over 5000 in 1971 and over 60,000 in 1986-90, almost totally from the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community) paid the ultimate price, laid down their lives, in the name of their Motherland. They fought for the country, not for a particular race or community. Their battle cry was: “mau bima naeththam maranaya” “Motherland or Death”. The 1971 JVP rebellion provided a major stimulus for the government to introduce many progressive measures to build a self-reliant national economy through new state enterprises (such as the tyre and steel corporations, paper mills, sugar mills, and chemical fertilizer plants) as well as through increasing domestic food production. Similarly, the second JVP uprising of 1986-90 became a watershed for a profound change of course in Sri Lankan politics. The deluded, impractical modern day Aragalakarayas who are merely adding to the hardships of the suffering masses by their exasperating antics must remember that they are by no means pioneers in the struggle for a system change in Lankan politics. (Of course, today’s JVP is not what it was then. Its new leaders do not seem to understand the meaning of simple concepts like nationalism, racism, secularism, religious fundamentalism, culture, and the rest.)
Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known to the outside world before 1972) was under Christian European domination for roughly four and a half centuries from the beginning of the sixteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. With the annexation (through conspiracy rather than conquest) of the Kandyan kingdom (or the Kingdom of Sinhale as it was called then) to the British empire in 1815, the whole of the country came under colonial rule. The British left in 1948 having granted Ceylon what was known as dominion status independence. That is, it became one of the “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. It is clear from the Wikipedia definition quoted in the previous sentence that the ‘independence’ given in 1948 was subject to lingering colonial restraints. Full independence was achieved in 1972 through the promulgation of the first republican constitution under the United Front government headed by prime minister Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike.
In talking about the eventful seventy-five years since 1948, we need to take a quick retrospective look at the immediate pre-independence years. The minority leaders, particularly, Tamil leaders, feared that the majority Sinhalese would dominate the government on the basis of their superior numerical strength to their disadvantage when the proposed Westminster type parliamentary system would come into operation with the departure of the colonial British. It was to avoid such potential Sinhalese dominance emerging that the Ceylon Tamil Congress leader and lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam demanded a 50-50 allocation of parliamentary seats for the Sihalese and all the minorities put together, which was grossly unfair by the former. The proposal was scornfully rejected by the Soulbury commissioners who drafted the independence constitution. Sinhalese leaders headed by D.S. Senanayake assured a government representative of all the communities without discrimination. The aim of his United National Party founded in 1946 was for the various communities in the country to evolve into one Ceylonese nation living in unity. But Tamil leaders always thought in communal terms. They wanted the privileged status that the Tamil elite of the time had enjoyed under the British to continue. But they knew this was going to change after 1948 when the native Sinhalese majority would try to restore their long lost rights. So, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam founded the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi or Lanka Tamil State Party in 1949. They popularized it as the Federal Party. The misleading English name was meant to conceal the ultimate goal of the party, a separate state for Tamils within the territory of Ceylon/Sinhalay (since this was not possible to achieve within the strong gigantic Union of India where Tamil Nadu, Tamils’ real homeland, lies).
At independence, the British colonialists left a country that was able to flaunt relatively high economic indices due to volatile external factors associated with the end of World War II in 1945 (such as the increase in the price of rubber exports from Ceylon). A 1948 UN report described the Sri Lankan economy as agricultural and industrially underdeveloped; low productivity and unavailability of resources relative to the country’s population hampered its economic development. The people were socially and communally divided as a result of the imperial policy of ‘divide and rule’. A minuscule minority of citizens that emerged as an English speaking, Westernized and generally Christian elite was privileged over the rest of the downtrodden population. (Today some members of the same class are looking forward to a return to the good old days.) The vast majority of the people lived in grinding poverty then. The reality was a far cry from what (probably the majority of) today’s young people have been brainwashed to believe through propaganda, a pre-independence Utopia of sorts.
The seventy-five year post-independence history of Sri Lanka is the record of one long national struggle conducted according to democratic norms from the very beginning for the historic goal of building a Sri Lankan nation that stands on its own feet as a single sovereign state that is second to none in the world. In my opinion, six iconic leaders gave leadership to this struggle, whose approaches were different, though the goal remained the same. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake (1947-52) regarded all citizens as ‘Ceylonese’, not as Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, etc who were at loggerheads with each other. He began his national service decades before independence. As minister for agriculture and lands in the State Council in the 1930s, he brought in legislation to bring bare lands into cultivation through irrigation schemes. Under his multipurpose Gal Oya Development project, 250,000 landless peasants were settled in uninhabited areas in the eastern province. Some communal-minded Tamil politicians objected to this to no avail. It was Senanayake who proposed the use of hydroelectricity, as Sri Lanka had no coal or gas for energy production. He was popular among ordinary people of all communities as well as among the British who were leaving. His unexpected death in 1952 removed his sound leadership. Like D.S. before him, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (1956-59) was elected at a parliamentary election to lead the nation as prime minister in 1956. He was a true nationalist like Senanayake. As such, he took steps to redress the harsh discrimination that the majority Sinhalese were subjected to under the colonial British. Communalist Tamil leaders vehemently opposed him. Tamil MPs opposed him even when he had the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act No. 21, 1957 passed. The particular act was meant as a check on caste discrimination, a social evil that was especially severe among their own community. (Some hooligans among the Aragalakarayas at Galle Face wanted to pull down the Bandaranaike statue there for obvious reasons.) It was his widowed wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1961-65, 1970-77, 1994-2000) who was able to turn the Dominion of Ceylon into the fully independent Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which was the most profound system change that any post-independence leader ever achieved in the name of the Sri Lankan people (nation). She pioneered certain economic policies, that harked back to the D.S. Senanayake era of agricultural development just as well as they looked forward to a future of local industrial advancement. The austerity measures her government introduced were too much for the people. The opposition made use of the spreading public disaffection with her administration and the emergence of a streak of authoritarianism on her part in undemocratically prolonging the government’s term of office by two years. J.R. Jayawardane (1977-89), who was himself a staunch nationalist like his predecessors, had the second republican constitution promulgated by which he instituted the all powerful executive presidency. The institution of the executive presidency has to date protected the unitary status of the Sri Lankan state. J.R. saw to it that it survived even the Indian imposed 13A, at least tenuously. He introduced the open market economy model for national development. He implemented the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme, the largest multipurpose development project ever undertaken in the history of the country. It was the fruition of an plan proposed by Sirima Bandaranaike as (the world’s first female) prime minister in 1961. Following J.R. Jayawardane, R. Premadasa (1989-93) made history as the first ‘commoner’ to become head of state of Sri Lanka. He got elected as president at a time when the country was literally being torn apart by civil strife by the JVP in the South and by the LTTE in the North. The JVP violently opposed the UNP government of JRJ for giving into Indian expansionist intervention in Sri Lanka). Premadasa himself, though prime minister under Jayawardane, had demonstrated his angry disapproval of the Indo-Lanka accord by absenting himself from the signing ceremony between JR and Rajiv Gandhi. Premadasa put an end to the JVP insurgency in1989 through ruthless violence. The LTTE was mounting terrorist attacks on civilian as well as military targets in pursuit of their dream of establishing a separate state on Sri Lankan territory. On becoming president, Premadasa flatly asked India at a public rally to withdraw the Indian Peace Keeping Force. He was determined to resolve the Tamil problem peacefully as an internal matter. He made peace overtures to the LTTE. He was said to have given arms to the LTTE to fight the IPKF. But finally, Premadasa was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber. Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to militarily defeat the LTTE terrorism through his political management skills. But he gravely mismanaged the aftermath through personal hybris as well as family bandyism. Even his nationalist credentials are in doubt now. But his past achievements cannot be forgotten.
The great nationalist achievements of the past seventy-five years, which belong to all the communities that make Sri Lanka their home, are a memorable part of the country’s history, whatever its future is going to be. This truth must be revealed to the global powers – the America-led West, India, and China – who have remained our friends throughout the last seventy-five years and helped us generously in their different ways in spite of their own conflicting national interests. Sri Lanka is indispensable for each of them because of its geostrategic location. The highly cultured peaceful Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities have been living in peace and harmony for centuries. Disinformation by the few separatists and the handful of religious extremists who are exploiting the misplaced generosity of charitable international donors should not be allowed to prolong the suffering of these innocent people, who pose no threat to any of those powers. All Sri Lankans want the geostrategic location of their island to be a blessing for them, not a curse.
As an AI language model, I understand the importance of developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT. Sinhala is the primary language spoken by the Sinhalese people, the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka. With over 16 million speakers worldwide, it is essential to have a Sinhala language model that can help combat the spread of fake news and misinformation while also aiding in research conducted by universities.
Developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT will undoubtedly take time, as it involves training a machine learning algorithm to understand and generate human-like language in Sinhala. The process requires large amounts of data and computational resources to create a robust and effective model.
However, the benefits of such an endeavour would be immense. With the spread of fake news and misinformation on social media and other digital platforms, it is crucial to have reliable sources of information in local languages to combat the spread of falsehoods. A Sinhala ChatGPT could help ensure that Sinhala speakers have access to trustworthy and accurate information online.
Moreover, a Sinhala language model could also be beneficial to universities and other research institutions. Language models like ChatGPT can be used to analyze large volumes of text, extract meaningful insights, and help researchers understand trends and patterns in various fields of study. For instance, a Sinhala ChatGPT could be trained on medical research papers to aid in the development of new treatments for diseases prevalent in Sri Lanka.
In addition, a Sinhala language model could also benefit businesses and organizations operating in Sri Lanka. As companies increasingly seek to engage with local communities, a Sinhala ChatGPT could help improve their communication with Sinhala speakers and expand their reach into new markets.
Developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT is an essential step towards combatting fake news and misinformation and facilitating research and innovation in Sri Lanka. While the process may take time and resources, the benefits of having a reliable and robust Sinhala language model would be far-reaching and impactful.
Certainly, developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT could also have far-reaching effects on the education sector in Sri Lanka. By providing students with access to high-quality, AI-powered language tools, it could revolutionize the way they learn and interact with information in their native language.
Currently, the Sri Lankan education system is struggling to keep pace with the rapid changes happening in the world. Public education is underfunded, and private tuition has become an unregulated, monopolistic industry. As a result, students from lower-income families often struggle to keep up with their peers and have limited access to quality education. This has led to a growing inequality in the education sector.
A Sinhala version of ChatGPT could help level the playing field by providing students from all backgrounds with access to high-quality language tools. This could help improve literacy rates, aid in the acquisition of new language skills, and provide students with a better understanding of complex concepts.
Moreover, a Sinhala ChatGPT could also provide teachers with new resources to enhance their teaching practices. Language models like ChatGPT can generate engaging learning materials, assist with the grading of assignments, and provide instant feedback to students. By leveraging the power of AI, educators could create more personalized learning experiences for their students, increasing their engagement and retention.
Developing a Sinhala language model using ChatGPT is a next-level project that requires expertise in natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning. Local universities in Sri Lanka have an abundance of talented individuals with expertise in these areas, who could contribute to the development of a Sinhala ChatGPT model. By harnessing the skills and knowledge of these experts, we can ensure that the model is developed to the highest standards and is well-suited to the needs of the Sri Lankan population.
To work on this project, universities and software experts can collaborate and form interdisciplinary teams to contribute to different aspects of the project. For example, one team can focus on collecting and preprocessing the Sinhala language text data, while another team can focus on training and optimizing the model. Working in teams can also help to identify and address any issues that may arise during the project and ensure that the final product is of high quality.
In addition, universities and software experts can also leverage their existing resources to support the development of a Sinhala ChatGPT model. This can include providing access to powerful computing resources, hosting workshops and training sessions to develop the necessary skills, and collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure that the model is widely adopted and used.
The development of a Sinhala language model using ChatGPT is a significant undertaking that requires the collaboration of experts in natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning. Local universities and software experts in Sri Lanka have the potential to contribute significantly to the project and help ensure its success. By working together and leveraging their existing resources, they can create a Sinhala ChatGPT model that is well-suited to the needs of the Sri Lankan population and can help unlock the potential of the country’s language data.
In conclusion, a Sinhala version of ChatGPT could help re-engineer the public education system in Sri Lanka and curtail the monopoly playing by unaccountable tuition mafia. By providing students and teachers with access to high-quality language tools, it could help level the playing field and improve the quality of education across the board. While the development of a Sinhala language model may take time and resources, the potential benefits are enormous, and could have a positive impact on generations to come.
by Our Political Affairs Editor
What became of President Wickremesinghe’s proposal to unveil a Diaspora office during the independence celebration that was meant to open to the public at the same time? Despite its significance, why did this initiative fail in Sri Lanka, a country that is unlike any other?
The diaspora experience can involve a complex negotiation of identities, as individuals seek to adapt to their new surroundings while preserving their cultural traditions and ties to their homeland. As such, the diaspora can be seen as a space of both dislocation and continuity, where individuals and communities are constantly negotiating their sense of belonging and identity.
The presence of an office for expatriates in the host country is an essential element for the successful integration of expatriates into their new home country. It provides a platform for expatriates to access necessary services, connect with their community, and participate in the country’s economic and social development. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has been unable to open its Diaspora office due to political disunity and personal agenda, despite the rallying together for the national interest. This failure highlights the need for political leaders to put aside their differences and prioritize the well-being of their citizens, both at home and abroad.
The Sri Lankan Diaspora is estimated to be around three million people, with a significant presence in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. These individuals have left their homeland for a variety of reasons, including education, employment, and to escape conflict. Despite being away from their home country, many Sri Lankan expatriates remain deeply connected to their culture and heritage, and continue to play an active role in Sri Lanka’s economic and social development.
Furthermore, the absence of a Diaspora office not only hinders the Sri Lankan government’s ability to engage with its citizens abroad, but it also perpetuates the sense of distance and disconnection felt by the expatriate community. The Sri Lankan diaspora remains an important part of the country’s social and cultural fabric, and they have a deep attachment to their homeland. Despite being physically away from Sri Lanka, many expatriates maintain close ties to their family, friends, and community in the country, and they often feel a strong desire to contribute to the development of their country of origin.
A Diaspora office would provide a platform for the Sri Lankan expatriate community to connect with their homeland, participate in social and economic development initiatives, and contribute their skills, knowledge, and resources to the country’s growth. It would create a sense of belonging and inclusion for expatriates, who often struggle with feelings of isolation and detachment from their roots. Additionally, it would allow the Sri Lankan government to gain a better understanding of the needs and priorities of the diaspora community and address any concerns they may have.
It is crucial for Sri Lanka to recognize the significance of its expatriate community and the important role they play in the country’s growth and development. A Diaspora office would be a concrete demonstration of this recognition, and it would help to foster a stronger sense of national identity and unity. While there may be disagreements among political leaders, the need to establish a Diaspora office should transcend political affiliations and personal interests. It is time for the government to take action and prioritize the establishment of a Diaspora office for the well-being of its citizens and the country’s future.
However, the lack of an official office for expatriates in Sri Lanka has made it difficult for the Sri Lankan government to engage with its diaspora effectively. This has resulted in missed opportunities for trade, investment, and knowledge transfer. Moreover, expatriates have faced difficulties in accessing government services, such as consular support, visa applications, and property ownership, which has left many feeling disconnected and frustrated.
The reasons for the inability to open a Diaspora office in Sri Lanka are multifaceted. Political disunity and personal agendas have been cited as significant factors. The lack of political will to address the issue, combined with bureaucratic red tape, has further compounded the problem. While various political parties have recognized the importance of opening a Diaspora office, they have been unable to find a consensus on how to proceed.
This failure is especially concerning because the opening of a Diaspora office would not only benefit Sri Lankan expatriates but also the country as a whole. It would enable the government to leverage the knowledge, expertise, and resources of the diaspora for the country’s economic and social development. It would also allow the Sri Lankan government to connect with its citizens abroad, fostering a sense of national unity and pride.
The failure to open a Diaspora office in Sri Lanka highlights the need for political leaders to prioritize the well-being of their citizens, both at home and abroad. The Sri Lankan diaspora has the potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s economic and social development. Political disunity and personal agendas must not be allowed to hinder progress towards achieving this important goal. Instead, the government must come together to address the issue and open an official office for expatriates, recognizing the significant benefits it would bring to the country as a whole.
Following article is based on the Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023 by the author as the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh in Colombo
I am profoundly honoured to have the opportunity to deliver this prestigious Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023. I thank the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Mr. Ali Sabry for this honour.
As an academician, it is my immense pleasure to share my thoughts with the esteemed audience of our close neighbour Sri Lanka. I am also happy to return to this beautiful island in less than a year after the BIMSTEC Summit held in Colombo.
At the outset, let me pay my homage to late Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, one of Sri Lanka’s finest sons. He was Foreign Minister during some of the most challenging times in your recent history. Still, he steadily moved towards achieving his dream to build a multi-religious and multi-ethnic united Sri Lanka where all communities could live in harmony. He was a legal scholar and a leader par excellence. He served to raise the level of the political discourse of Sri Lanka, both at home and abroad. His assassination was one of the most tragic losses for the country. However, we are confident that Lakshman Kadirgamar will be remembered by future generations of Sri Lankans for the values and principles he lived and died for which are even more relevant in present-day Sri Lanka.
I am aware of the regard Late Lakshman Kadirgamar held for Bangladesh. I am also aware that my Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina knew him well. Let me share an anecdote. During one of his visits to Bangladesh, after meeting my Prime Minister, on the way out she impromptu took him to the stage of her political, public meeting and introduced him to the audience. He even spoke there for a few minutes. Mrs. Kadirgamar who is present here today, was a witness to that episode. That was an indication of how highly Late Kadirgamar was regarded by my Prime Minister. Perhaps all these prompted Mrs Suganthie Kadirgamar to think of hearing from Bangladesh at this year’s Memorial Lecture. I am deeply touched by this gesture. Thank you, Madam.
We see this as an extension of collaboration between LKI and our think tank BIISS.
Today I would like to share my thoughts on the theme “Shared Prosperity: A Vision for South Asia” which we hold very dearly to our heart.
It cannot begin without recalling our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who provided our foreign policy dictum “Friendship to all, Malice to None” which he later focused more on promoting relations with neighbours first. His able daughter Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina aptly picked up the philosophy and extended it and went for its implementation.
Before I delve into the theme, it would be pertinent to put Bangladesh-Sri Lanka bilateral relations in perspective. The relationship is based on multitude of commonalities and close people-to-people contacts. Last year, we celebrated 50th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic ties. We regularly exchange high level visits, are engaged in bilateral discussions on sectoral cooperation including shipping, trade and commerce, education, agriculture, youth development, connectivity and so on. Our relationship is all about friendship, goodwill and good neighbourliness. Therefore, it is comfortable for me to speak before you in a broader perspective involving the entire region’s development aspect.
Now, why do we think of a holistic approach to prosperity? It is firstly due to the compulsion of the contemporary evolution of global order. We are now going through one of the most significant phases of human history having already experienced an unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Just as we showed our capacity to tame the pandemic, another challenge came in our way–armed conflict in Europe. This has not only slowed down our recovery from the havoc done by the pandemic but also caused a global economic recession due to increase in energy and food prices and more importantly, disruption of supply chain and financial transaction mechanism owing to sanctions. Besides, we are also victims of rivalry between big and emerging economies and their strategic power play. All these necessitate the developing countries to get together.
The vision of shared prosperity becomes more relevant when we compare the development trajectory of South Asian countries. Indeed, we have made substantial progress. Some South Asian countries have already graduated to middle income status while others are making their way. Yet, poverty is still high in region.
One predominant characteristic is that our economies display greater interest in integrating with the global economy than with each other. Regional cooperation within the existing frameworks has made only limited progress being hostage to political and security considerations. The problems have their roots in the historical baggage as well as the existing disparity in the regional structure. In addition, there are a number of outstanding issues and bilateral discords.
All these realities have left us a message that for survival, we need closer collaboration among neighbours setting aside our differences; we must have concerted efforts through sharing of experiences and learning from each other.
In this backdrop, Bangladesh has been following a policy of shared prosperity as a vision for the friendly neighbours of South Asia. Guided by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we are advocating for inclusive development in the region. Our development trajectory and ideological stance dovetail our vision of shared prosperity for South Asia. Let me tell how we are doing it.
In Bangladesh, human development is the pillar of sustainable development. Our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his maiden speech at the UNGA in 1974 said and I quote, “there is an international responsibility … to ensuring everyone the right to a standard living adequate for the health and the well-being of himself and his family”. Unquote.
This vision remains relevant even today. In that spirit, we are pursuing inclusive and people-centric development in association with regional and global efforts.
In the last decade, we have achieved rapid economic growth ensuring social justice for all. Today, Bangladesh is acknowledged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We have reduced poverty from 41.5% to 20% in the last 14 years. Our per capita income has tripled in just a decade. Bangladesh has fulfilled all criterions for graduating from LDC to a developing country. Bangladesh is ranked as world’s 5th best COVID resilient country, and South Asia’s best performer.
Last year, we inaugurated the self-funded ‘Padma Multi-purpose Bridge”. A few days ago, we started the first ever Metro Rail service in our capital. Soon, we shall complete the 3.2 kilometer Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the river Karnaphuli in Chattogram, the first in South Asia. Several other mega-projects are in the pipeline which will bring about significant economic upliftment.
Our aspiration is to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge-based ‘Smart Bangladesh” by 2041 and a prosperous and climate-resilient delta by 2100. We hope to attain these goals by way of ensuring women empowerment, sustainable economic growth and creating opportunities for all.
The priorities of Sheikh Hasina Government are the following:
First, provide food, Second, provide cloths, Third, shelter and accommodation to all and no one should be left behind, Fourth, Education and Fifth, Healthcare to all. To achieve these goals, she promoted vehicles like Digital Bangladesh, innovation, foreign entrepreneurs and private initiatives in an atmosphere of regional peace, stability and security, and through connectivity. Bangladesh has become a hub of connectivity and looking forward to become a ‘Smart Bangladesh’.
When it comes to foreign policy, we have been pursuing neighbourhood diplomacy for amiable political relations with the South Asian neighbours alongside conducting a balancing act on strategic issues based on the philosophy of “shared prosperity”. I can name a few initiatives which speak of our commitment to the fulfilment of the philosophy.
Bangladesh, within its limited resources, is always ready to stand by her neighbours in times of emergency-be it natural calamity, or pandemic or economic crisis. We despatched essential medicines, medical equipment and technical assistance to the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and India during the peak period of Covid-19 pandemic.
We had readily extended humanitarian assistance to Nepal when they faced the deadly earthquake back in 2015. Last year, we helped the earthquake victims of Afghanistan. Prior to that, we contributed to the fund raised by the United Nations for the people of Afghanistan.
Further, our assistance for the people of Sri Lanka with emergency medicines during the moment of crisis last year or the currency SWAP arrangement is the reflection of our commitment to our philosophy. These symbolic gestures were not about our capacity, pride or mere demonstration, rather it was purely about our sense of obligation to our neighbours. We strongly believe that shared prosperity comes with shared responsibility and development in a single country of a particular region may not sustain if others are not taken along.
In addition, we have resolved most of our critical issues with our neighbours peacefully through dialogue and discussion. For example, we have resolved our border demarcation problem with India, our maritime boundary with India and Myanmar, and also our water sharing with India peacefully through dialogue and discussion.
For an emerging region like South Asia, we need to devise certain policies and implement those in a sustainable manner. I would like to share some of my thoughts which could be explored in quest for our shared prosperity and inclusive development:
First of all, without regional peace and stability we would not be able to grow as aspired for. To that effect, our leaders in the region have to work closely on priority basis. We may have issues between neighbours but we have to transcend that to leave a legacy of harmony for our future generation so that a culture of peace and stability prevails in the region. We can vouch for it from our own experience. In Bangladesh, we are sheltering 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals. If remains unresolved, it has the potential to jeopardise the entire security architecture of South Asia. So, here the neighbourhood should support us for their own interests.
Second, we need to revitalize our regional platforms and properly implement our initiatives taken under BIMSTEC and IORA. We are happy that BIMSTEC is progressing better, but we should endeavour to make it move always like a rolling machine.
Third, we need to focus on regional trade and investment. Countries in South Asia had implemented trade liberalization within the framework of SAFTA but in a limited scale. Bangladesh is in the process of concluding Preferential Trade Agreement/Free Trade Agreement with several of its South Asian peers. We have already concluded PTA with Bhutan; are at an advanced stage of negotiations for PTA with Sri Lanka and discussions for PTA with Nepal are on. In the same spirit, Bangladesh is about to start negotiations on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India.
Fourth, a well-connected region brings immense economic benefits and leads to greater regional integration. To maximize our intra- and extra-regional trade potentials and enhance people-to-people contacts, Bangladesh is committed to regional and sub regional connectivity initiatives. Bangladesh’s geostrategic location is a big leverage which was rightly picked up by our Hon’ble Prime Minister. She benevolently offered connectivity in the form of transit and trans-shipment to our friendly neighbours for sustainable growth and collective prosperity of the region. As for Sri Lanka, if we can establish better shipping connectivity which our two countries are working on, the overall regional connectivity would be more robust.
Fifth, We live in a globalized world, highly interconnected and interdependent. Our region has gone through similar experience and history. Bangladesh believes and promotes religious harmony. We have been promoting “Culture of Peace” across nations. The basic element of “Culture of Peace” is to inculcate a mindset of tolerance, a mind set of respect towards others, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, colour, background or race. If we can develop such mindset by stopping venom of hatred towards others, we can hope to have sustainable peace and stability across nations, leading to end of violence, wars, and terrorism in nations and regions. There won’t be millions of refugees or persecuted Rohingyas. Bangladesh takes special pride in it as even before Renaissance was started in Europe in the 17th century, even before America was discovered in 1492, in Bengal a campaign was started by Chandi Das as early as 1408 that says “সবার উপরে মানুষ সত্য; তাহার উপরে নাই”- humanity is above all and we still try to promote it.
Sixth, we have to look beyond a traditional approach of development and challenges and revisit the non-traditional global crises of the recent time. We are experiencing food, fuel, fertilizer and energy shortages due to global politics and disruption of supply chain; as littoral and island countries we face similar challenges of natural disasters; we have vast maritime area which needs effective maritime governance; we need to curb marine pollution and ensure responsible use of marine resources. Our collective, sincere and bold efforts are required to minimize the impacts of climate change as well.
In this context, I would like to share Bangladesh’s understanding and position.
Blue Economy: Bangladesh is an avid proponent of Blue Economy and responsible use of marine resources for the benefit of the entire region. We are keen to utilize the full potential of our marine resources and have developed an integrated maritime policy drawing on the inter-linkages between the different domains and functions of our seas, oceans and coastal areas. Bangladesh also values the importance of sound science, innovative management, effective enforcement, meaningful partnerships, and robust public participation as essential elements of Blue Economy. At this stage, we need support, technical expertise and investment for sustainable exploration and exploitation of marine resources. As the past and present chairs of IORA, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka should find out ways of bilateral collaboration particularly in Blue Economy in the Bay of Bengal.
Controlling of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing:
IUU fishing in the maritime territory of Bangladesh needs to be monitored and controlled. Our present capability of marine law enforcement in this regard is limited. Here regional collaboration would be very useful.
Marine Pollution: Marine pollution is a major concern for all littoral countries. Micro-plastic contamination poses serious threat to marine eco system. Responsible tourism and appropriate legal framework underpinned by regional collaboration would greatly help.
Climate Change and Climate Security in the Bay of Bengal: We have taken a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to make the country climate-resilient. Our Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan was formulated in 2009. Bangladesh has pioneered in establishing a climate fund entirely from our own resources in 2009. Nearly $443 million has been allocated to this fund since then.
Moreover, we are going to implement the ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan’ to achieve low carbon economic growth for optimised prosperity and partnership. Green growth, resilient infrastructure and renewable energy are key pillars of this prosperity plan. This is a paradigm shift from vulnerability to resilience and now from resilience to prosperity.
As the immediate past Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, we had promoted the interests of the climate vulnerable countries including Sri Lanka in the international platforms. Bangladesh is globally acclaimed for its remarkable success in climate adaptation, in particular in locally-led adaptation efforts. The Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) South Asia regional office in Dhaka is disseminating local based innovative adaptation strategies to other climate vulnerable countries.
To rehabilitate the climate displaced people, we have undertaken one of the world’s largest housing projects which can shelter 4,500 climate displaced families. Under the “Ashrayan” project, a landmark initiative for the landless and homeless people, 450,000 families have been provided with houses. Keeping disaster resilience in mind, the project focuses on mitigation through afforestation, rainwater harvesting, solar home systems and improved cook stoves. In addition, the government has implemented river-bank protection, river excavation and dredging, building of embankment, excavation of irrigation canals and drainage canals in last 10 years at a massive scale. We feel, our national efforts need to be complemented by regional assistance.
As the chair of CVF and as a climate vulnerable country, our priority is to save this planet earth for our future generations. In order to save it, we need all countries, specially those that are major polluters, to come up with aggressive NDCs, so that global temperature remains below 1.5 degree Celsius, they should allocate more funds to climate change, they should share the burden of rehabilitation of ‘climate migrants’ that are uprooted from their sweet homes and traditional jobs due to erratic climatic changes, river erosion and additional salinity. We are happy that “loss and damage” has been introduced in COP-27.
Seventh, South Asia needs a collective voice in the international forum for optimizing their own interests.
Finally, and most importantly, South Asian leaders need similar political will for a better and prosperous region.
We hope that Bangladesh and its neighbours in South Asia would be able to tap the potentials of each other’s complementarities to further consolidate our relations to rise and shine as a region. May I conclude by reminding ourselves what a Bengali poet has said, and I quote,
“মেঘ দেখে কেউ করিসনে ভয়
আড়ালে তার সূর্য হাসে”
Don’t be afraid of the cloud, sunshine is sure to follow.
With this, I conclude. I thank you all for your graceful presence and patience.
Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu!
“Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine
Independence Day in Sri Lanka has now both a national and an international connotation.
It is indeed curious that the 4th of February each year marks the commemoration of Sri Lanka’s independence which Sri Lanka achieved from the ruling British Raj in 1948 and The International Day for Human Fraternity, which was the collective initiative of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2021. The United Nations Resolution which adopted The International Day for Human Fraternity – which was co sponsored by 34 Member States of the United Nations – expressed deep concern for acts that advocate religious hatred and undermine the spirit of tolerance and recognized “ the valuable contributions of people of all religions and beliefs to humanity and underlines the role of education in promoting tolerance and eliminating discrimination based on religion or belief. It commends all international, regional, national, and local initiatives and efforts by religious leaders to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue”.
In recent times many significant attempts have been made by the religious leaders of Sri Lanka to eliminate discrimination based on religion or belief. Tolerance, recognition and respect for the Christian faith has been nobly demonstrated by the members of the Buddhist clergy and this recognition has been reciprocated by the Christian church leaders, thus bringing together a collective rejection of religious and cultural bigotry. Both Buddhism and Christianity have commonalities, as was said by James Fredericks of Loyola Marymount University: “Practices that Buddhism and Catholicism have in common include monasticism and clerical celibacy, meditation and chanting (we call it the “rosary”). Catholics have lots of devotions. Buddhists also like devotional practices. We should teach each other about the Blessed Virgin and Kannon Bosatsu”. Pope Francis in 2020 called on Catholics to “reach out to those who follow other religious paths” encouraging Catholics to enter into what he calls a “dialogue of fraternity” that is calculated to work together in the wider community to promote the common good and human flourishing.
One instance that brought to bear this empathetic trend was seen in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday devastation on 21 April 2019 caused in three churches in Sri Lanka, as well as in three luxury hotels in the commercial capital, Colombo. More than 100 people were killed in the three churches as well as 39 tourists outside. In a rare gesture of fraternity Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders joined the commemoration of the destruction on Easter Sunday at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, where they offered prayers and observed a two-minute silence to remember the dead. Monsignor Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo said:”“ Catholics of Sri Lanka should play an active role, along with other religious communities, in creating a united country, giving space and respect to different ethnicities, faiths and political organizations”. Two years after the bombing, on Easter Sunday during Mass, Cardinal Ranjith is reported to have said: “ “Today Holy Father Pope Francis has visited Iraq and has had a discussion with the Shia leaders (in Iran). It shows religious leaders in the world think about unity and brotherhood, not about creating strife. Therefore, I request anyone inclined to create conflict on account of religion to give up that idea”.
Another significant milestone in the demonstration of fraternity was seen politically where, irrespective of religion or ethnic background, thousands of Sri Lankans demonstrated peacefully in what was called “ Aragalaya” in 2022 – an independent and collective effort of people power without visible single leadership – which forced the political leadership of Sri Lanka to vacate office. The Aragalaya was a signal combination of the independence of the citizen demonstrated with abiding fraternity. The thousands of youth and elders invoked what is now called “collective leadership” – a form of leadership that has become a trend where multiple individuals exercise their leadership roles within a group whereafter the entire group collectively provides group leadership to the entire populace involved in protesting. Collective leadership has been further explained by David Trafford, Co-author of Beyond Default and Managing Director of Formicio, a strategy and change management consultancy, and Peter Boggis, Co-author of Beyond Default “It’s a fluid and flexible approach to leadership, where roles and resultant accountabilities evolve in response to changing circumstances”.
Aragalaya brought to bear the true meaning of independence of the people and was pursued by all without racial, religious and ethnic barriers. The protesters gave a valuable lesson in the context of the words pertaining to the extinguishing of impressions created by the flaws of constitutional democracy. When they fought for removal of the existing leadership, the argument given by the rulers was that leadership could be changed only through a constitutional process which allowed the leadership to remain for a couple of years more. The implication was that the people had no independence to summarily throw out an unacceptable regime. The attempt to kill the principles of the protesters by the argument seemingly based on democracy was obviated by the protesters who showed collective strength of the principle “salus populi est suprema lex” (the welfare of the populace is the supreme law). The Aragalaya has also did something very significant and valuable for Sri Lanka and its present and future generations: it finally put to rest the perceived implacability of the so-called democracy and parliamentary process behind which mendacious leaders take solace. The protesters exposed this fallacy and demonstrated their true independence.
True independence of the nation (people) was eloquently elaborated by the Hon. D.S. Senanayake, then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka when the Union Jack was finally lowered to make way for the Lion flag on 4 February 1948: “Freedom carries with it grave responsibilities. Our acts and omissions henceforth are our own. No longer can we lay the blame for defects and errors in our administration on others. It is, therefore, the duty of every citizen of Lanka to grasp this opportunity and to strive and toil willingly for advancing the happiness and prosperity of the country. Our nation comprises many races, each with a culture and a history of its own. It is for us to blend all that is best in us, and to set ourselves with the resolute will to build up that high quality, and to join with the other nations of the world in establishing peace, security and justice for all peoples.”
If this isn’t a testimony to independence and fraternity and their symbiosis, nothing else is.
Sri Lanka will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day on February 4, 2023. As a republic the country has come a long way from the dominion it was at the time of independence. The shaky step with which President Ranil Wickremesinghe steps into the 75th year of independence, tells that his job to mend the fractured country left in disarray by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is far from over. His government has to survive at least one more year to ensure the economic recovery process is started as per IMF norms.
The former president Gotabaya’s flight to safety from the country to escape from the wrath of the people has a lesson for all political leaders. They cannot afford to take popular support for granted. That includes President Wickremesinghe, though he is not elected President by popular mandate. Embers of Aragalaya struggle are still smouldering; a small number of vested interests, nihilists and ultra-left wingers are trying hard to keep alive the protest movement. They have been indirectly helped by the government’s continued lack of accountability. People cannot afford the resurgence of another Aragalaya upsurge as it would shift the national focus from economic recovery. It is the government responsibility to get its act together to ensure the popular discontent is handled with sympathy, sensitivity and fair play.
Apparently, the government has shown signs of getting its act together. It has just released Wasantha Mudalige, Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation and one of the leaders of the Aragalaya protests, after holding him in custody under the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for nearly nine months. But much more needs to be done by the government to gain public confidence. It is in this backdrop that events in the month need to be understood.
The seamless connectivity between external relations and the economic recovery of the country came into full play during the month. Early in the month, President Wickremesinghe addressing businessmen in Colombo, briefed them on the state of economic recovery. He had said Japan and the Paris Club, two of Sri Lanka’s major creditors, had expressed their willingness to assist. Talks had begun with India and China. “We discussed with China’s EXIM Bank and are currently debating on how to restructure our debt. The Chinese side has agreed to move quickly” he added. Japan’s State Minister of the Cabinet office Satoshi Fujimaru, China’s Vice Minister of the International Department of the CCP’s Central Committee Chen Zhou and India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Colombo in that order. The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs is currently visiting Sri Lanka to “offer continued support for Sri Lanka’s efforts to stabilize the economy, protect human rights and promise reconciliation” according to the State Department.
The Paris Club is said to have proposed a 10-year debt moratorium and a 15-year debt restructuring programme. Japan’s minister Fujimaru came with a delegation of Japanese businessmen and his discussions with the President focused on investment opportunities available in Sri Lanka in hospitality and tourism, mining and training of Sri Lanka’s workforce. Chinese Vice Minister Chen led a delegation with the avowed aim to meet leaders of the government and political parties to brief them “on the CPC National Congress decisions and enhance cooperation with friendly developing countries under President Xi Jinping’s policies.” On debt restructuring, he assured PM Dinesh Gunawardena that “several ministries and financial institutes of China are working closely on this issue for quite a long period. I’m confident that Sri Lanka will have good news very soon.” But “the good news” that China’s EXIM Bank agreeing to a two-year moratorium on Sri Lanka’s debts may not satisfy the IMF programme.
In contrast to China, India – the third largest creditor – validated its “neighbourhood first policy” by writing to the IMF Chief of its support to restructuring of Sri Lanka’s debts on the eve of EAM Jaishankar’s visit to Colombo. In its letter to IMF, India has said it will support medium to long term treatment of debts through maturity extension and interest rate reduction or any other financial operations that would deliver similar relief. India also said that it expects Sri Lanka to seek equitable debt treatments from all commercial creditors and other official bilateral creditors.
After bilateral talks, EAM Jaishankar addressed a joint press conference at the Presidential Secretariat along with President Wickremesinghe and Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry. He said in Colombo that India will stand by Sri Lanka in its hour of need and expressed confidence in overcoming challenges. His words that India “felt strongly that Sri Lanka’s creditors must take proactive steps to facilitate its recovery” and extended financial assurances to the IMF to clear the way for Sri Lanka to move forward. Our expectation is that this will not only strengthen Sri Lanka’s position but ensure that all bilateral creditors are dealt with equally,” must be heart-warming to the beleaguered President.
He also said India will encourage greater investments in the Sri Lankan economy, especially in the core areas like energy, tourism and infrastructure. Apart from the use of rupee settlement for trade, he also suggested strengthening connectivity, encouraging Indian tourists to make RuPay payments and the use of UPI payment as helpful to Sri Lanka.
Implementing 13th Amendment
The Indian EAM’s talks with Sri Lankan leaders in Colombo seem to have nudged President Wickremesinghe to walk the talk on unfulfilled promises on ethnic reconciliation and implementing 13th Amendment (13A) to the Constitution in full.
The President informed an all-party leaders conference on reconciliation that the Cabinet was agreeable to fully implement 13A. In a statement issued by his secretariat, he said “The 13th Amendment has been in existence for over 30 years. I must implement it. If anyone is opposed, they can bring in a constitutional amendment to change it, or abolish it.” Explaining his stand, he said he was working according to a supreme court decision on 13A. “We are still in the bounds of a unitary state. I am against a Federal state but I support the devolution of power to provinces. The provincial councils don’t even have the powers enjoyed by the City of London. So, we can’t call this a federal state,” he said.
It is clear that the President has left the decision to implement or scrap the 13A on political leaders from all parties. it might be a political ploy to tide over a tricky political issue for a short time. But, his credibility as President is likely to be tested when he attempts to implement 13A. His statement has already received negative reaction from Tamil National Alliance as well as Sinhala right. And we can expect more political flak on this issue across parties.
This adds yet another rider to the political stability of the government, which does appear to be clear about conducting the local government elections(LG) in March. Already, the uneasy ruling coalition of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is divided over the conduct of LG elections in March. Lack of clarity on the issue is already causing scepticism about the government’s intentions among the public . In the face of a brewing political turbulence, it will be a tough call on the President to take decisive action even at the best of times. Now, when the country is trying to save itself, it is going to be tougher.
Tailpiece: Sri Lanka’s annual bilateral naval exercise ‘CARAT’ (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) was held on land and at sea in Colombo, Trincomalee and Mullikulam for a week from January 19. The exercise aims to promote regional cooperation, maritime partnerships, enhance maritime interoperability and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. These aims coincide with that of the four-nation Quadrilateral framework. The Japan Self Defence Force (SLDF) and the Maldives National Defence Force joined the Sri Lanka armed forces in the last leg of the exercise. These details reflect the changes taking place in the strategic narrative of Indo-Pacific theatre after the Quad. China is sure to take not of the strong strategic message CARAT is sending.
Whilst enveloped in deep socio-economic crises caused by the successive inept and divisive political leadership in power, since the island country gained its independence from the British colonial rule, in February 1948, the preparations are afoot to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the existence of the country, as a free nation.
At the time Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, was granted independence with the dominion status, it was a prosperous country with a comparatively strong economy. The country was regarded as one destined to be a model amongst the nations gaining their freedom from the colonial masters, after the second world war. The trend was to decolonize the nations from the yoke of centuries of colonial rule of the European powers, some benign and some not so benign.
The grant of independence to Sri Lanka was hurried and ill-thought through. The governance of the independent Ceylon as envisaged was nothing but a change from the colonial rule to the neo-colonial rule of the Sinhala nation with a hardened Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism.
The Soulbury constitution which was the framework for the governance of Ceylon was most inappropriate as it failed to recognize the existence of the two distinct nations – the Sinhala nation and Tamil nation. It created a situation where the nations were reduced to the majority and minority communities. The Tamil nation was left at the mercy of the Sinhala nation who were handed over the gift of a perpetual supremacy simply on the basis of numbers. Even basic safeguards to protect the interest of the Tamil nation were not written into the constitution except for a confused clause preventing “the majority community” enjoying privileges which were not extended to the “minority communities”.
The Soulbury constitution which was largely a replica of the unwritten Westminster styled constitution totally distorted the socio-political realities of Ceylon. Soon after the independence the Sinhala Buddhist government of the day took steps to ensure that a well pronounced section of the Tamil nation, who were the backbone of the then economy of Ceylon lost their citizenship. This was aimed to reduce the representation of the Tamil nation in the governance of the newly independent nation.
This was the first step in their long journey to deprive the Tamil nation of their rightful place in the economy education, employment and the political life of the country. The introduction of the constitutions in 1972 and 1978 further marginalized the Tamil nation from the body politic of the Sinhala led unitary state. These took away even the basic safeguards provided by the Soulbury constitution. The current socio political crises of the nation is a result of these deeply sectarian approach of the Sinhala Buddhist led governments.
The Tamil nation reacted to this initially by entering into political dialogue. On realizing that the democratic concepts hardly had an impact on the thought process of the Sinhala nation, by then, well intoxicated with the political power gained over the decades, took to arms as the last resort to prevent the decimation of the Tamil nation. The sixth amendment to the 1978 constitution took away even the breathing space for the Tamil nation to express its political will. The main justification for the armed struggle is the sixth amendment. If the parliament ceases to be forum where else the long oppressed Tamil nation can voice its political expression?
The international community is well aware of the brutal reaction of the Sinhala nation to the legitimate expression of the political will of the people of the Tamil nation for us to repeat those here. Suffice is it to say that every armed struggle is not an act of terrorism.
The post war oppression continues unabated. The state aided colonization continues to distort the demography of the traditional Tamil homeland and the heavy presence of the armed forces takes away even the semblance of the life without fear.
The planned lobsided economic development over the decades has left the peoples of the Tamil nation the “poor cousins” of the Sinhala nation.
The war reparation, restoration of the civil society, and the accountability from the war crimes are foreign concepts to the Sri Lankan government.
Even the attempt to implement the watered-down Indo Sri Lanka accord in the form of the “13th Amendment” is now being vociferously objected to by the Buddhist clergy. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon.
In nutshell, the democracy is practiced in Sri Lanka only in the breach and any hope of a internally evolved solution to the political crises in the island of Sri Lanka is fast disappearing, if not its has already disappeared.
The international community must not allow itself to be misled by the Sinhala nation any longer. The history of the island of Sri Lanka is too dire to be ignored by the civilized nations of the world.
The international community must realise that continuing to support Sri Lanka in its current form will not bring prosperity to the country. For the Sinhala nation the current crisis is socio economic but for the Tamil nation, it is an existential crisis.
Unwarranted Defence Expenditure – A Main cause to Sri Lanka’s Current Crisis
Among the several causes of Sri Lanka’s failure to secure its economic stability, the defence expenditure remains a major factor.
The cycles of violence culminated in anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983 and then the genocidal war of three decades, the effect of which will not be easily erased from Tamil peoples’ memory for several generation to come.
Continued and the concerted military occupation of traditional Tamil homeland in the North & East make the return to normalcy impossible.
While the international community gallops to save Sri Lanka from its current crisis, it must take note of the following and lay stern conditions.
The historical data produced by reputable organizations prove that Sri Lanka’s defence spending has been in the increase. Macro Trends report provides that, Sri Lanka’s Budget Expenditure on Defence since 1960 have been as follows:
|Period||Total US$ Billion||Average/ year US$ Billion|
|1960 to 1982||0.52||0.024|
|1983 to 2009||14.92||0.553|
|2010 to 2019 (Post war)||17.28||1.728|
The World bank reports provide that Sri Lanka has spent USD$ 34.3 billion on its defence up to 2020. This implies that Sri Lanka had spent USD$ 1.58 billion on defence in 2020 alone. The defence budget covering the post war period (US$ 17.28 Billion) is higher than that of civil war period (US$14.92 Billion).
It is also noteworthy to consider India’s former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon’s statement that Sri Lanka’s internal war which ended in May 2009 had cost the country around US$ 200 billion. This US$ 200 billion is enormous and appeared to have gone unaccounted from the Sri Lanka’s records.
From the foregoing details, it is unequivocally evident that Sri Lanka has been spending significant amount of its budget in increasing the military presence in the island even after the end of the war in 2009.
The military size increase by 94,000; from 223,000 to 317,000; after the war ended in 2009 signifies the increased deployment of military personnel in Tamil homeland of North and East of the island. We consider that the economic crisis of USD$ 50.7 billion foreign debts could have been mitigated to a large extent if only Sri Lanka had not wasted its resources on defence expenditure.
It should also be noted that Sri Lanka has more military personnel than the United Kingdom. Does Sri Lanka need that numbers of military personnel, while it has no external or internal threats when compared to the UK, which obviously has more security concerns.
In the interim, we would urge the international community to take preliminary actions to compel Sri Lanka to end the heavy militarization of North and East of the island and also to demobilize the military as a step towards mitigating the surging national expenditure.
Will the international community impose strict conditions before it takes ad-hoc measures to save Sri Lanka?
Resettlement of Tamil People
If the country were to prosper, the Tamil people ought to be allowed to live in their own land with their legitimate political rights acknowledged.
The state aided colonization, depriving equitable socio economic development, the war and the embargos have forced Tamil people to flee to other destinations. An estimate of over 200,000 such Tamil people, who should be living in their own homes in the North and East, are internally displaced.
Additionally, the civil war has caused over a million of Tamil people to seek shelter in foreign countries and about 100,000 who fled to India, are still living as stateless people.
It is imperative that all these people have the freedom of returning to their own homes to live in peace and dignity.
The Way Forward
Having mentioned the foregoing facts and figures, the British Tamils Forum urges the following as the way forward to not only make Sri Lanka a conflict free region and a prosperous country.
• Demilitarise the North East and demobilise the security forces in the island.
• As the united voice of the elected Tamil representatives in the North East calling for a political solution based on the federal principles and the right to self-determination, we request an international arbitration process led by India, USA and a core group of countries to find a long term political settlement.
• The “culture of impunity” must cease, and the perpetrators of atrocity crimes must be brought to justice under the international criminal prosecution mechanism.
• Apply all available leverages including further sanctions, travel ban, asset freeze, etc. on civilian and military perpetrators.
Statement issued by the Global Tamil Forum
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesman and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran says that his party has decided to boycott the independence day celebrations this year, as reported in The Island of January 31, 2023. Instead, they will declare it a Black Day and commence a movement towards achieving what they call true freedom. According to him, “Immediately after independence, it was transformed into a majority system under the guise of democracy. That’s why other people living in this country did not get freedom”. What he implies is that the ‘independence’ given was only for the majority Sinhalese, and not for the others (presumably, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, etc., the minority communities). Sumanthiran thinks that even though the majority Sinhala Buddhist people had been under the impression that they got freedom for many years, they also now feel that they didn’t get any freedom either. So, when the 75th independence day is celebrated, the TNA “will declare it a black day and start a campaign for the country to get its freedom properly”.
Meanwhile, the Indian news website The Federal reported that the 74th Indian Republic Day was celebrated at the Indian Consulate in Jaffna with a function attended by a large gathering of people including Indians, and some local Sri Lankans, mainly Tamils, on January 26, 2023. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police took part in the celebration. Consul General, Madurai-born Raakesh Nataraj, mingled with the guests and exchanged greetings. According to The Federal, both Indian Republic Day and Independence day had been regularly observed in Jaffna until the outbreak of the ethnic conflict.
I wondered why our leaders (apparently) never thought of declaring a Sri Lankan Republic Day after the 1972 republican constitution was enacted on May 22nd that year, and the island nation became a republic independent of any links with the British monarchy .
The truth is that Sumanthiran here, tongue in cheek,is only hinting at a fresh (a last, hopefully successful, as he probably fancies) attempt at eventually realizing the idea of establishing a separate sovereign state for Tamils (but strategically camouflaged asTamil speaking people to co-opt Muslims into the project) in the (soon to be re-merged?) north and east provinces where respectively Tamils and Muslims form the majority, and the Sinhalese are now in a thin minority due to ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. Late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi (1980-84) also talked about solving ‘the problem of the Tamil speaking people’ in these provinces in Sri Lanka, lumping Hindus and Muslims together as Tamil speaking people, in the interest of India’s own traditional expansionist ambitions against its smaller, weaker neighbours.
Sumanthiran is thinking exclusively about freedom for the Tamil minority, whereas the nationalists – the majority Sinhalese and the sensible majority of the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities – are concerned about freedom for all who make Sri Lanka their home, that is, the Sri Lankan people or nation; they don’t talk about nations based on ethno-cultural identities. Deliberate disinformation by Eelam lobbyists and parasitic NGOs has turned nationalists into racists, chauvinists, xenophobes, right-wing nationalists, and whatnot in the eyes of the global media.
Since 1948, all Sinhalese leaders have acted on the basis of the concept of one nation or one country, where the majority Sinhalese, who are the true autochthonous inhabitants of the island, along with the veddahs, were joined by other numerically small groups in the course of history in various contexts, such as trade, war, invasion, travel, and so on. The first prime minister of independent Ceylon D.S. Senanayake, when asked by the Soulbury Commissioners at the end of the 1947 parliamentary elections how many Tamils he wanted in his cabinet, said he didn’t mind even if all the cabinet members were Tamil provided they acted as Ceylonese. No Sinhalese parliamentarian has deviated from this line of thinking.
On the other hand, Tamil leaders like All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) leader and later founder of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam were different. They adopted an anti-Sinhala racist attitude. They focused on perpetuating the special privileges that the Tamil elite enjoyed under the British. They felt threatened by a system of parliamentary democracy, because they feared that the Sinhalese majority would put an end to their privileged status. It was Ponnambalam who, for years before independence, had been making the absurd 50-50 demand (clamouring for the allocation of 50% of the seats in the parliament yet to be introduced for the Sinhalese who were the overwhelming majority of the population, and 50% for all the minority groups). The Soulbury Commissioners rejected that demand with contempt. Another Tamil lawyer who came from Malaysia, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, founded the Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party/euphemistically in English the Federal Party) in 1949 and the rest is history. Sumanthiran seems to be basically among the latest in this tradition.
While preparations are being earnestly made by the government for marking an independence that was not granted (a long retired civil servant likens it to a birthday party for a baby that was never born), the 25th anniversary of the devastating LTTE suicide-truck-bomb attack on the Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic) in Kandy fell on January 25, without anyone remembering it. It looks as if the government let it pass without any commemorative observances unlike in previous years. Why? (My sincere apologies to everybody concerned, if I am mistaken in this assumption) Was it in the name of so-called ‘reconciliation’, which has been a not so seriously meant, hollow slogan right from the beginning? Or was it in order to avoid spoiling the national mood for ‘consecrating’ some ostensibly momentous event that is going to coincide with the 75th independence day ceremony? The epoch-making event that Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to celebrate thus, as everybody knows now, is the purported settlement of the alleged Tamil ethnic problem through the full implementation of the controversial 13A (forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka by India, without doubt, in the latter’s exclusive national interest, in 1987). Grown-up Sri Lankans remember how thousands of our patriotic youngsters died in opposing Indian intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, in the second JVP uprising, which occurred in the years 1986-89 during UNP rule. A thirty year civil conflict claimed the lives of thousands of Sri Lanka’s defence forces personnel, Tamil rebel cadres, and civilians caught in terrorist bomb blasts; the conflict left many more injured. All this was in trying to prevent the certain Balkanization of the country through the 13A. Seven executive presidents from JR Jayawardane to Gotabaya Rajapaksa back-burnered it for a legitimate reason. What are the benefits of a fully implemented 13A that justify such sacrifices of the country’s youth of the previous generation?
Be that as it may, does Ranil Wickremasinghe want to invest this servile surrender to foreign pressure with a sacred quality by having a special Sacred Tooth Relic exposition? It can’t be that he is mocking Sinhalese Buddhist sentiments. True, he was totally rejected by the mainly Buddhist Lankan electorate as a prospective candidate for executive presidency. It could also be a similar passive-aggressive attack on his part on the pohottuwa alliance (the Sri Lanka Podu Peramuna, the SLPP). He must have been waiting for a chance to take his revenge on the SLPP, which turned itself into his nemesis in the last parliamentary election. But the principal partners of the SLPP, the treacherous Rajapaksas, as it has now become so clear to the betrayed public, were able to do this otherwise commendable thing, by pretending to espouse the popular nationalist cause, merely to hoodwink the masses to win votes. Ranil and the Rajapaksas are partners now. They are not strange bedfellows; they are natural allies. Whatever they are making common cause in achieving, turning the country’s hallowed Sinhala Buddhist cultural heritage into a political football between rival factions of conflicting persuasions is something worse than the Maligawa bombing itself. It does not augur well for the future of our Motherland. It is the last thing that fair-minded patriotic citizens belonging to all communities are likely to take lying down.
The only thing that people expect Ranil Wicktremasinghe to do at this moment is to focus on rescuing the country from the economic crisis that it is engulfed in, and leave it to the present day youth of the country from all the diverse communities to lawfully, democratically and peacefully usher in the new corruption free Sri Lanka that they want to build.
When three LTTE suicide cadres drove an explosives laden truck to the Maligawa early on the morning of January 25, 1998, and set it off, it caused massive damage to the building, while killing seventeen innocent worshippers including two two-year old infants and the three suicide bombers. The attack was universally condemned across the civilized world in the sternest terms. It was reported that three times more money was donated by the ordinary people than was necessary for restoring the destroyed parts of the Maligawa, which was completed within two years of the heinous crime. Ranil Wickremasinghe was the leader of the opposition then. Condemning the bombing he said, “Not even in the darkest moments of Sri Lanka’s 2000 year history has such an act of destruction been perpetrated against the very symbol of our civilization and history.” He should know (I am sure he does, for he is a very well-read knowledgeable person) that the Tooth Relic has been a symbol of sovereignty over the island since the 4th century CE when it was brought to Anuradhapura from Dantapuri (modern Puri, Odisha) in India. If he insists on having the Mahanayakes agree to hold a Tooth Relic exposition to give some sort of legitimacy to his controversial move, and if his request is granted by them, then he will appear to mock the sanity of Sri Lankans and the sanctity of this national symbol.
To my shock, however, I hear that the relic exhibition that Ranil Wickremasinghe proposed, is scheduled to start on March 4, a month after the day of disputed independence. If this incredible piece of information is true, then it means that the two Mahanayakes, the guardians of the Maligawa, (no one is above them in this matter) have agreed to bless the ultimate victory of those who wanted to destroy ‘the symbol of our civilization and history’!
Of course, Ranil Wickremasinghe alone cannot be held responsible for what is now almost a certainty. All the leaders (or most of them) and their mostly inarticulate juniors in parliament reportedly support the president’s decision. They should share responsibility, too, for what is going to happen. Constitutionally, of course, there appears to be no barrier to the full implementation of 13A. But that is only a technical point, beyond morality. The three pillars of parliamentary democracy are said to be the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The country’s moral values reign over all three. The ethical conduct of the humans who embody the legislative, executive, and judicial powers is imperative for the proper functioning of the democratic system. That is my idea.
Civil social activist and Vinivida Foundation convener, lawyer Nagananda Kodituwakku argues in a recent video that president Wickremasinghe has no moral right to take that decision, but that it is in accordance with an agreement reached between the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the UNP, and the JVP (represented by Anura Dissanayake, now National People’s Power leader) on September 20, 2017. Recently, Anura Dissanayake even appeared on a TNA stage in the north, according to him.
The NPP leaders say that their goal is to bring in a good government that is free from corruption and theft, and that establishes the rule of law. But that is the main platform on which even UNP’s J.R. Jayawardane fought the 1977 general election, pledging to bring in a Righteous Society (that has to date failed to materialise). The Island newspaper reported (February 2, 2023) that NPP MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya, asked about her party’s stand on Ranil Wickremasinghe’s decision to implement the 13A fully, said she didn’t believe he would do that, because he didn’t do it when he could do it. The NPP also believes that it should be fully implemented, though there was still a debate about this within the party. She told The Island:
“It has been presented as a solution to the national problem. It is already there in the Constitution and we believe that it should be implemented, but we have a debate whether it could be a tenable solution for the national problem. Our standpoint is that a government with genuine intention of addressing the issues of Tamil people must bring about solutions to the national problem, and we have no faith in other parties, but only the NPP could do that.”
It is not clear how the NPP is going to deal with the 13A issue. But if it is hoping to wangle the support of the Sinhala Buddhist masses while horse-trading with the federalists, Anura’s chances of becoming president will evaporate soon. As he has already apparently indicated that his prime minister will be Sumanthiran (I am not sure of this piece of gossip) in case he becomes president, the voters in the south will be even more sceptical about voting for him. Sumanthiran is the exact opposite of Lakshman Kadirgamar, that the Sinhalese universally loved, and honoured above all other politicians.
To return to Nagananda, he blames former elections commissioner Mahinda Desapriya for conniving at the TNA’s treacherous intentions revealed in its constitution. Desapriya had been given only the Tamil version of the TNA’s constitutional proposals, which he apparently couldn’t read and understand. He hadn’t asked for or they hadn’t given him the English version of the document (which means, according to Nagananda, they didn’t want its contents to be accessible to the Sinhala majority). Nagananda claims that he had some significant parts rendered into English: According to him, the TNA constitution (includes) “…… the right to self determination, the policy of founding an autochthonous Tamil State, Tamil Aru, and an autochthonous Muslim State, Muslim Aru, and thereby seeing the liberation of the political and economic aspects of the Tamil speaking people…….
Note: An absolute guarantee will be given to the right of religion and language of the minority national races that live in the autochthonous Tamil State that will be set up in the Tamil Motherland……..”.
(Incidentally, I do not agree with Nagananda’s explanation of the concept of the independence of the judiciary in this context.)
Now these autochthonous claims for Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka are ludicrous inventions. Authoritative historians (including Professors Karthigesu Indrapala and Kingsley de Silva) have shown that before the 13th century invasion by Magha of Kalinga, there was no Tamil kingdom in the north of Sri Lanka nor a settled Tamil population there. Tamils are the autochthonous inhabitants of Tamil Nadu in the mainland India. As for Muslims in the eastern province, they were settled there by king Senerath of Kandy (1604-1635 CE) as fugitives from Portuguese persecution in the coastal areas that they were occupying. Muslims and Portuguese were rival traders. The Sinhalese king also settled some of these Muslims in the central highlands. Still later the occupying Dutch and British brought Javanese and Malaysian Muslims, thereby adding to the growing Muslim population in Sri Lanka in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Implications of Nagananda’s revelations for the country need not be elaborated. He emphatically says that the ordinary Tamil people he met in Jaffna do not ask for a separate state. They only want to live in one Sri Lanka peaceably with the other communities.
Nagananda believes that the local government elections that are going to be held will not be of any value and that the Anura Dissanayake-led NPP is unlikely to win such a significant victory at imminent local government election. I personally think that the NPP appears to be the front runner, judging by the size of the crowds that attend its rallies (as reported on online media). But do these people know what the party leaders are really committed to, I wonder? There is no stamp of conviction on most faces, though. Most look sceptical of the leaders
We need statesmen/women, not mere politicians. People are fed up with the latter. Anura is not likely to turn out to be a real statesman, even if he gets the chance to do so one day, if he pursues his proven hypocrisy. However, compared to the leading buffoons of the two traditional parties (the UNP and the SLFP/or their ghostly modern reincarnations), Anura Dissanayake would be someone that the people can look towards as an alternative leader, provided he does not forfeit the trust of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in his attempt to win the loyalty of the traditional minority leaders, who will never ever change their spots, though they may change their hunting grounds.
Ranil Wickremasinghe has got his last chance to prove his statesmanship and retrieve his lost popularity and honour. He should not, as default president, abuse his executive powers to implement the long disputed 13A for the time being, but do whatever he can do to address the economic woes of our suffering masses before the current presidency ends. It is hoped that he will use his constitutional powers to achieve that end. Then let him call presidential elections and fight it himself or get his nominee to fight it on the single issue of the all important 13th Amendment, perhaps against a principal rival like Anura Dissanayake. Whoever it is, the next president must have the support of the active, truly educated youth of the country, not the half-wits now in the limelight.
Our island was called Lanka in pre-King Vijaya times. Valmiki’s immortal Ramayanaya had King Ravana ruling the land from the city of Lankapura. That was almost four thousand years ago. The Arab traders termed it Jaziratul-Yaqut, island of rubies. Some called it Serendib, some Ceilan, from which the Portuguese picked Ceilao and the European mapmakers coined Ceylon. Many were the names from the many that came. Bar none, everyone agreed and noted in their chronicles that this Island was indeed the complete Paradise.
We never created it. Let’s be honest about that part. We simply inherited. The gods from their celestial dome, in their infinite kindness, gifted this Paradise to us, the beautiful island of Lanka, to the people of Sri Lanka.
The privilege of being born to such a serendipitous place can only be expressed if one could take away the corruption that has besieged us all since independence. We need to look through the veils of racial and religious disharmony that obscure the overwhelming beauty that lies beyond. The purity of the land still remains, vastly unspoiled. The occupants of Paradise, still smile, despite the battering they had received from the time they were reborn after the colonials left. Mother Lanka dawdles, whilst her sons and daughters drowse in ignorance, an ominous prelude to the torrential disasters that loom in the near horizon.
Times are sad and the question is paramount in any mind that carries an iota of sanity. “75 years, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?” The sum total of the misfortunes that the majority of the proletariat suffer is directly related to the bad governance of the country. It is not the vegetable seller that is responsible nor the fisherman or the cobbler. It is neither the schoolteacher nor the clerical battalion. None of these Lilliputian shareholders of Paradise are responsible for the doom that is staring at us in gloom. Who is directly responsible for this megalomaniacal catastrophe? It must be the gods, not the ones from Mount Olympus but the ones from Diyawanna Oya. Everyone who sits in those 225 thrones, whether they were proposers or opposers or the ones who raised their hands in agreement or those who sinned in silence abstaining from their sworn duty. They are all responsible for raping this land.
The ‘misplacing of Paradise’ is directly related to Diyawanna Oya. It is from there the fountains of corruption gush out from every orifice to drown the trampled denizens of Paradise.
And now they want to celebrate 75 years of independent ruination?
Galle Face gave birth to the Aragalaya. It was not born to racial or religious parents, not to political surrogate fathers or international stepmothers. Hired ‘andabera karayo’ (announcing tom tom beaters) and unethical scribes may attempt to blacken the purity of the protest that raised its head when living in Paradise became unbearable. But such camouflage will not eradicate the deep-felt anger that has soaked the ordinary man, woman and child who walked to Galle Face to give life to the Aragalaya.
Their participation in the protest had nothing to do with politics. There may have been a thief or two in the jury, but the majority came because they could not breathe any more. The suffocation of the common man and woman who were down to their knees is what made them gather at the Galle Face Green.
The mighty may assume the Aragalaya has fizzled out. Many were arrested and some were jailed. The political pack was re-shuffled and puppeteers looking for those willing to dance were gifted high pedestals. Nothing changed at Diyawanna Oya. It is still the same stage, only some actors are different. Mother Lanka weeps at the perpetual tragedy.The once bubbling Aragalaya breathes softly like a slow-burning fuse. It is the idea that remains, and ideas do not die, nor can they be eradicated.
When the sun goes down and the pavements become bedchambers for the super poor who pray for the rains to hold till morning.
Little children hear the music of the ‘Choon Paan’ tuk tuk and wonder when they can afford a ‘kimbula bunis’ again. Schools re-open, book lists are out but where is the money to buy? Hospitals have no drugs; power cuts are a daily torment, and they talk about extending the dark hours.
Tourists trickle in while Srilankans of all races and religions are queuing in hoards to jump ship and vanish to wherever they can.
These are no fairy tales of my redundant imagination. They are the stories of Paradise. The day-to-day events play sad and silent along with the cacophony of achievements and flash-pan plans to celebrate 75 years of independence. Don’t tell me the suffering is isolated, oh no, not by a long shot. They are the unheard, the ignored and the expendables of the displaced congregation of Paradise. The ‘boast of heraldry’ is loud and clear, so is the ‘pomp of power’ announcing to the world and beyond the inflated paths of progress. The air is filled with milk and honey stories and rainbow visions for the morrow. But isn’t there a big question mark? Isn’t there some serious filtering needed to seek and give room to the truth?
I am not talking of March provincial elections or who is joining hands with whom to ruin the country more. Politics do not interest me. I’m like the kids that run after the ‘Choon Paan’ tuk tuk with empty pockets. Hope is there but with hardly any reality. Just totally confused between right and wrong and where lies the light or is it only a long dark tunnel? I’m writing of the core expectation, the very basics that humans search for. We need peace and honest governance, the pursuit of happiness to which we are all entitled, like the simple ‘Kimbula Bunis’ the kids crave for. This is what Paradise should be made of, which unfortunately is missing. Yes, our Paradise is mired in a total political mess at present devoid of any reasonable and practical answers.
Everyone is trying to go abroad. Why do all these people leave Mother Lanka? Something must have gone wrong in the system. The exodus only began after we were reborn as an independent nation. Ludowyke and Van Sanden left in the sixties, Somasundaram and Gunesekara in the eighties the entire ‘jimband’ started migrating at the turn of the century. Hence, the blame is not with the colonials and their international shackles. It is ours and ours alone, lying firmly in the Pontius hands of the custodians who were chosen to charter our future. Isn’t it crystal clear today that the political leadership we voted for and sent to Diyawanna Oya has failed miserably in their delivery?
Let’s get back to the theme of the hour, the forthcoming independence celebration. I wonder what we are celebrating after 75 years of ruling by the sons and daughters of mother paradise. Is it the egg that is 75 rupees or the half kilo of dhal selling at 300 or the loaf of bread at 180? Maybe the 170 for the Sunlight soap has to be celebrated and the red onions at 720 a kilo. The coconut is over 100 rupees and a mere 400 gram packet of Rathi milk powder is 1,200 rupees.
No wonder the children are almost starving, and the parents roll onto a reed-mat after a hard day’s work on empty stomachs.
Yet we are celebrating independence to tell the world how great our Paradise is. Never mind the begging bowl we carry internationally; on 4th morning the marching multitudes and the rolling armour must be on display. The cost of the aerial circus will be astounding. There will be at least 4 sets of different aeroplanes flying in formation over the heads of gods and demigods sitting under VVIP shade at the Galle Face green which is the scene of celebration.
You have to practice flying these air-displays. From a week before the 4th you will hear their engines roar from Kalutara to Katunayake.The jets shrieking, training for the fly-pass, will shatter the clear blue skies and disturb every student writing the ‘A’ level exams in that area. The F-7 fighter-jets in this aero-ballet burn 40 liters of fuel a minute at low levels. And we the minions of Paradise loiter in snaking ques down below with our QR codes to get 20 liters of fuel for one week. If I call it a mockery, that will be gross flattery. Need to mint a new word to describe this folly.
Do I have to say any more? We the majority may be struggling for the crumbs that fall off the table, but the show must go on. After all it is independence, and it must be celebrated.
There are some solid silver lines too in our 75-year-old dark cloud. The free education is a wonderful achievement and so is the free health care scheme. Yes, at present the hospitals may struggle with the lack of drugs, but the system is there to help and heal any patient. The credit goes to the powers that were in a bygone era. There are other consolations too, one cannot be totally paranoid. Factory jobs are there for those without a trade. Stitching for Marks and Spencer and their likes help thousands to keep their home fires burning.
Some no-skills Paradisians pawn their souls to go abroad as domestics and for minor employment. They are the local Dick Whittingtons charging into the unknown, exploited at every toll gate. They slave in alien third-class status to send pitifully earned dollars to their loved ones to survive in Paradise. Wasn’t it their brothers and fathers who fought and died in the 30-year war to save their motherland?
Seventy-five years have gone by from the day of independence. The blameless blame, the nameless suffer and the shameless go on, rough-shodding their way to erode and annihilate Paradise. No need to further elaborate, the reasons are obvious. Some things are best left unsaid. Let me be the coward and let discretion become the better part of my limited attempts at journalism.
Call me a fool if it pleases you and I will accept it. But let me trickle some sanity to your thoughts. Just to kindle an interest. Totally non-political. I cannot and do not separate the villain from the venerated. The line is too thin, and the facts are wildly scattered. The truth certainly is in masquerade.
The Lankan Paradise is not lost, at least, not yet. It is certainly misplaced. That much can be clearly seen, lest one be blind. What happens in the end to things that are misplaced? They never get found and as time goes by, they will go permanently missing.
Ours is a Paradise misplaced. Let us all valiantly search for answers, it is not too late. Let us collectively find ourselves and our land, before it vanishes beyond the limits and becomes a Paradise Lost.