Today, Sri Lanka celebrates her 60th anniversary of Independence. The past few weeks have seen elaborate arrangements being made for today s event. Predictably there will be ululations of the traditional conch shell, beating of magul bera, blowing of trumpets and colourful parades. In the run up to the grand event, we were treated ad nauseam to fustian oratory of highfalutin potentates on Independence.
But, doesn t all this boil down to much ado about nothing? How can there be independence without freedom?
Sri Lanka still cannot decide what is good for her. The western powers masquerading as the International Community is running a parallel government of sorts with the help of the constricting conditions attached to their aid, which has become more of an instrument of economic oppression than a contribution to development. Over the past 60 years of independence , the country has come to such a pass that she cannot even defend herself against terrorism without the concurrence of her aid donors and big neighbour. It looks as if an ambassadorial oligarchy were tying to take over the reins of government. It has put the country on the Procrustean bed of the international community s agenda. Their haughty, supercilious attitude, reflected in their interference in purely internal affairs of this country, smacks of a mindset that Sri Lanka is the so-called White Man s burden.
The blame for this sorry state of affairs ought to be apportioned to the Sri Lankan leaders, both past and present, except perhaps one or two. It is they who have created the conditions for neo-colonialism to flourish by letting their partisan political interests take ascendancy over economic development and good governance. Never have they made a serious attempt at national integration. They always pandered to the whims and fancies of their support bases much to the detriment of ethnic harmony. The economy has also been a casualty of party politics. One party driven by discarded shibboleths strangulated it by closing it and another blundered by opening an economic Pandora s Box. The economy is racing towards, so to speak, stagflation and waste and corruption have become the order of the day. Since Independence, there have been two bloody insurgencies in the South and a war is on.
Democracy to successive rulers has meant a government of politicians by politicians for politicians. The public interest has rarely figured on their agenda. Many local industries have gone six feet underground and the existing ones are on the verge of collapse. The state is virtually left without any more assets to be disposed of (for a song). The economic liberalisation has come to mean mere buying and selling. Women keep the economy ticking through slavery in garment factories, on tea and rubber estates and in foreign countries. Ironically, the expatriate workers are still without the means of exercising their franchise at national elections. While those real heroines are suffering in silence, the so-called leaders are living in clover with no compunction, bellowing rhetoric and helping themselves to public funds.
In the former Granary of the East, ironically rice is out of the common man s reach. Agriculture has received step motherly treatment for decades. Many are the leaders who boast of a glorious past and try to live in it but they have neglected the building block of the civilisation they adore the grain of rice. Today, heavy emphasis is being laid on national security quite rightly so given the grave danger the country is faced with. But, what the leaders have failed to realise is that food security is an integral part of national security. No war is possible without food! A powerful cartel of rice mill owners and an importers Mafia have made the government eat humble pie by keeping prices of essential commodities high so as to make the economy scream. Had Sri Lanka been able to produce enough food locally and put in place a system to ensure its distribution, the State could easily have put paid to their sinister plans to hold the country to ransom. The government has had to fight separatist terror in the North and economic terrorism in the South simultaneously.
It is high time we realised that we have got nowhere near freedom after sixty years of annual celebrations of independence . We have lost the way. The time has come for us to stop and reflect. True independence of a nation consists in economic development, democratic governance and national integration to be achieved under a truly national leadership.
As for leadership, we have come across something interesting. The Sunday Times (of Feb. 03) has published the results of a recent opinion poll where the subjects were given a list of leaders and asked, inter alia, this question: `Who do you think has been or is the best leader in leading the country towards economic development and prosperity?` President Mahinda Rajapaksa has come third! The first and the second places have gone to Prime Minister D. S. Senanayaka and President Ranasinghe Premadasa posthumously. Interestingly, both the second and the third slots are occupied by two leaders not belonging to the so-called ruling elite consisting of two or three families.
The biggest challenge before the country at present is battling terrorism. Several people died in two bomb explosions yesterday as the country was preparing for today s celebrations. A sine qua non for the country s success is its ability to defeat terrorism and eliminate the factors that led to its emergence and growth, through political means.
Is the man who ranks third among the leaders in the aforesaid survey equal to the task? And when will Sri Lanka cease to be an independent colony ?