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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Sri Lanka at 60……

By Palitha Senanayake

Sri Lanka became independent from Britain 60 years ago through a transition of power from British colonials to elected locals. ‘We Ceylonese were lucky’ said the Sri Lankan leaders of the time, ‘that we could attain independence in a bloodless transformation when India had to wage a bloody struggle, for years, to win independence’.

But soon such thinking proved to be sanguine devoid of ground realities in the wake of blood letting that commenced just 23rd years (1971) after that ceremony. Enough blood has flown and still continue to flow since then, making a mockery of that ‘independence’ making it more a mere exercise in preserving the colonial status quo rather than delivering independence in the true sense of the word to a nation battered by a 400 year western intransigence.

At 60 years of self-rule, Sri Lanka has made strident progress in a number of spheres. The country’s economy has matured from being the ‘tea garden’ (banana republic) it was when the British left the Island. It has recorded the highest PQL Physical Quality of Life for a South Asian nation. The literacy rate has been well in excess of 90% of the population. The ‘gender equality’ factor in Sri Lanka today could even be the envy of some advanced western states. In the year 2004 the country also graduates to the status of a ‘semi developed state’ from the ‘Developing’. All these gains were recorded, while being embroiled in combating two revolutionary uprising by the youth in 1971 and in 1989 and an unceasing campaign of ruthless racial violence since 1975.

Sri Lanka’s independence was essentially a result of the acceptance by the leaders of the world community, in the aftermath of the 2nd world war, that their own colonialism and unbridled avarice is the cause of world wars (1 & 11) bringing untold misery and destruction to mankind threatening world peace. The age old independence struggle of India also contributed in no small measure to bring the obstinate colonial powers to acknowledge colonialism as a part of the brutal and exploitative world history. However, Winston Churchill, in his colonial mindset expressed grave reservations on de- Colonization, “handing over power to men of straw”, he said, “could be dangerous”.

He was right, in a way, because all what were left in countries like Sri Lanka were ‘men of straw’ pontificating as local leaders, because the ‘men of steel’ were obviously done to death by the colonials during their exterminations of local rebellions. Two major rebellions were staged in Sri Lanka, in 1815 and in 1848, making the British rulers ‘pack their bags’. As a result the colonial rulers eliminated all Sinhala males between the ages of 15 and 45 and followed a ‘scorched earth’ policy where all the life giving habitation, such as Coconut and Jack trees were destroyed in rebelling areas. As a testimony to this practice the most fertile area of the ancient Lanka the ‘Wellassa’ (100 thousand paddy fields), lay barren even to this day.

“This half naked fakir coming to parley on equal terms with the officers of Her Majesty’s Government!” was how Churchill describes Gandhi coming to negotiate Indian independence with the British. Gandhi was half clad not because he could not afford to buy ties and tail coats but because in his own estimation, the local Indian weaving industry at the time could only afford so much clothing for an average Indian. On the other hand the local leaders in Sri Lanka were fully dressed in their top hats and tail coats at our ceremony, enacting a ‘pompous and a sufficient’ façade to the rest of the world bellying the realities that were to unfold in a couple of decades.

India, they say, is successful even as a democracy because they followed a strong national policy on everything. If that could be the case you don’t need a ‘Rocket scientist’ to figure out why Sri Lankan has not been equally successful. Sri Lanka has no National policy on anything: not even in fighting terrorism; an internal threat to the country’s peace and sovereignty. India had ‘Jawaharlal’s and ‘Mahatma’s who could readily identify themselves with local aspirations but we in Sri Lanka had Don Stephens, Solomon Wests and Samuel Jameses who were by their very names were adopted colonial version of the locals. The aspirations of Wijeyratne in the South and Wijeratnam in the North were all the same upon independence after years of colonialism. They were both equally marginalized. But the Tamil elite who were bitter after their abortive attempts to secure first the ‘total control’ and then ‘at least 50 %’ of the country’s political power by a constitutional fraud, were successful in directing the venom of the average Tamil towards the Sinhalese in power.

Sri Lanka’s pre colonial policy towards immigrants was a one that facilitated gradual assimilation of immigrants to the mainstream. But the Colonial policy was one based on segregation that served their administrative needs of divide and rule. The colonial remnants left over by the British were so powerful, not only that they controlled the economy, bureaucracy, trade and education but also the elected representatives to the Parliament. They acted as shackles to successive post independent regimes with a coveted eye on ‘Sinhala Buddhist takeover’

They started to blame all the ills of the young state on ‘Sinhala Budddhist’ as a precursor to prevent any steps being taken in that direction. The country however, continued to be governed by the Roman Dutch law. Major part of the post independent Ceylon was managed either by those handpicked by the parting colonials or those who were educated at the Anglicized schools. Except for two Presidents Premadasa and the current President, the rest of the Country’s Presidents represented the western ethos. The vested interests reacted sharply with allegations of ‘human rights’ violations against Premadasa then, and Rajapakse now, debilitating their governance.

On the Golden jubilee of independence President Chandrika Kumaranatunge invited Prince Charles and addressed the nation in English signifying her servility to whatever is colonial. Her home was in London and she was in Sri Lanka only when her job required her to do so, reminding us of the British viceroys during times of yore. The parody of popular ‘baila’ singer Sunil Perera, exemplifying the westernized ethos is directed at the indigenous ethos on the mistaken belief that the country since independence has been managed by the indigenous values.

The Christian Churches and the English speaking elite saw to it with their propaganda and influence that the country remained servile to the west, while the blame for all the ills were attributed to the emerging indigenous forces. When the JVP attacked, they blamed it on ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ and when the Tamils attacked, they blamed that too on the ‘Sinhala Buddhist’.
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The first of the series of legislation in the independent Sri Lanka favoring the indigenous majority, the Swabasha Act., was opposed tooth and nail by the vested interests under the guise of ‘non equality to minorities’. Tamil elite never requested Tamil to be made an official language as they were just as happy with English. But when Sinhala was made the official language they were instigated by the vested interests, namely the Church and the Anglophile elite who knew that their position in the society was threatened by the Sinhala juggernaut.

The Tamil elite whose grievances by way of ‘lost privileges’ were similar to those of the Church and the Sinhala elite adopted this as a ruse to wage a propaganda war against the post colonial state that eventually culminated in a terrorist war. This is the only country in the world where the language rights of the majority is being construed as impinging on the rights of the minority. The ‘reasonable use of Tamil’ provisions in the Swabasha Act. were deliberately made ineffective by the non cooperation of Tamil elite as they preferred to have the ‘grievances’ rather than to remedy the same. Samuel James Chelvanayagam who was more anti Buddhist than anti Sinhala with his avowed policy of Tamilizing Ceylon with his ‘little now and more later’ policy then enacted the Banda- Chelva pact where he specifically included land rights when the grievance, if at all up to then, was only on language. The idea of equality in the eyes of Tamil elite was not an equality of a Tamil to a Sinhalese but it is rather an equality of a 72 % Sinhalese to a 12 % Tamils.

Prabhakaran at best, is a boy obsessed with Clint Eastwood style cowboy expeditions and the criminal activities of his backyard Velvetithurai. At worst he was a sadist who enjoyed decimating live insects to death. He found the ‘Tamil struggle’ to retain their colonial privileges a propitious platform to launch his ruthless escapades. He only had to kill the popular Mayor Alfred Duraiappah to be catapulted as the messiah of ‘Tamil liberation’.

No civilized society worthy of its ethos and no religion worthy of its sanctimony would justify the killing of innocent children and emaciated civilians as a justification for ‘perceived grievances'. But the separatists propaganda ensconced with the blessings of the vested interests were so powerful that the more killings Prabhakaran made the more apologetic the state of Sri Lanka became. Hence the killing machine in the name of ‘Historical grievances to Tamils’ was let loose at full throttle killing Sinhalese and Tamils alike. Today the vested interests sits back and blame the Buddhist and the Hindu ethos for the macabre tantrums of Prabhakaran who derives his economic clout from the Diaspora in the west and moral clout from the Western colonialist ethos. They advocate bifurcation as a solution knowing very well that such a ‘solution’ would spawn a permanent and a protracted war in this country lasting for generations.

Prabhakaran would have been the naked criminal he always has been if the converging anti national forces do not cloth him as a ‘freedom fighter’, ‘Tamil liberator’, etc. He has ceased to represent any grievance or any community long time ago. He has a contract with the Diaspora to create a situation in Sri Lanka conducive for them to seek asylum in the west. His hate for Sinhala Buddhist far outweigh his love for Tamils, because that way he knows that he is protected by the powerful anti national forces in the country who share his hatred. He needs no solution because he has no problem. Why should he become a Regional leader when he is treated like God by those who live off him and protected like an icon by the vested interests who continue to call the shots in Sri Lanka. He is the most potent weapon of Sri Lanka’s colonial legacy.

Insignia of the LTTE is the tiger. Tiger is the insignia of the Chola invaders who invaded Sri Lanka in the 12 th century. ‘Mumuda Chola Mandalm’ dynasty invaded Sri lanka and occupied the Sinhala Kingdom up to Gampola. Hence Prabhakaran does not represent Tamil grievance as many apologia would wish to believe; rather he represents the Tamil invasion, if at all, of Sri Lanka.

The anti national forces keep making the Sri Lankan Government apologetic in the face of Prabhakaran’s brutal aggression and they use the western ‘international community’ as a ‘Goni billa’ for this. For them, negotiation, not peace, is an end in itself. No Government of a Country in the world has negotiated with its separatist terrorists without the condition that the terrorist lay down their arms first. Sri Lankan Government has overlooked even these pre requisites in their enthusiasm for negotiations. Yet the anti national forces with their international backing always place the blame squarely on the Government every time the negotiations fail. Recently the present Government earned a lot of flack from the so called ‘international community’ for abrogating the CFA that was violated with impunity by the tigers. The so called western led ‘international community’ never considers the elected Sri Lankan government worthy of its governance. They always trust the despotic LTTE more. Countries like Sri Lanka will never find friends in the west: they could only find masters

The west accuses Sri Lanka of curtailing ‘media freedom’ in Sri Lanka quite oblivious to the fact that this is the only country in the world where those who question the sovereignty of our very nation and those who justify the ‘most ruthless and dangerous terrorist outfit in the world’ are free to have registered media institutions with no restrictions.

English is an international language. But it is only an international language and not a barometer of measuring a person’s literacy or refinement. Sri Lanka is the only country in the world where OL qualifiers’ from Anglicized schools become Superintendents of estates and Managers of companies while graduates from universities languish without jobs. Two of Sri Lanka’s noteworthy achievements in the post independent era at international level include winning the Cricket World Cup and winning a solitary medal at the 2004 Olympics. Those who achieved these honors for the country did not come from Anglicized ‘suave’ schools. On the contrary they were the products of schools that were set up to counter the Anglicize influence: Ananda and (Niyadurupola) Maha Vidyalayas. Gotabhaya and Sarath Fonseka have got the Tigers on the run. Wasantha is about the best Navy Commander we ever had. There is one thing common that stands out in all of them: They were not servile to the west in their thinking; they all studied at that ‘godaya’s school’ Ananda!

The post independent story of Sri Lanka would not be complete without a mention of how the universal franchise which was meant to be the strength of the majority (men of straw) turning out to be its biggest weakness. While the ‘men of steel’ had been gone with the rebellion, the remaining ‘men of straw’ in their naivety were looking for some force to rule over them. Hence they adopted the Party System that we inherited, not as a means of governance but as a source of unwavering and blind loyalty. It would be opportune to recall here the wise comments of Sir George Bernard Shaw on the Party system of governance: ‘The party system is partisan in the principle in empowering one section of the legislature to govern the country while authorizing another section to prevent the first from doing so”. Hence when one party is in power the other party opposes everything it does. It does not matter if what is at stake is the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity or the good image: they oppose everything. With the two parties coming to power alternatively, the discerning majority have their franchise being reduced to a choice between two equally bad governance.

In the final analysis Sri Lanka at 60 has serious problems with the powerful anti national forces that is hell bent on preserving the pre independent status quo. Yet the biggest issue facing Sri Lanka could be, the country not having a leader of the caliber of Mahathir Mohammed or Lee Kwan Yu, who would keep everybody in their place and run the country as it should.. Whether Mahinda Rajapakse could fit in to that stature: only time will tell!

A man at 60 could be old, but a nation at 60 is still young!

- Asian Tribune -

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