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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

Lalin's Column : Independence turned National day parade, an utter farce

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

The 71st Independence Commemoration day in 2019 was an utter farce. The ‘ordinary’ people were excluded from the major event, the parade on the Galle Face Green. It may have confirmed the government’s attitude to them. Way back, especially when it was held in Kandy, Galle, Kurunegalla, Badulla, Trincomalie and Matara, the parade drew tremendous and excited crowds as it did in Colombo before 2015.

Eksith Fernando (Dehiwala) in the Island of 8 February says it appears the parade is now for the elite only. The signs had been ominous. A minister said that it was to be called National not Independence Day. The play on words always has a double edged meaning. The government appears to be obsessed with anything ‘national’ even when it has ceased to be or is flagrantly anti national as at Geneva. Is it also trying to undermine ‘Remembrance/Victory Day’ (19 May) to please its Gods in the West?

The British, 150 years ago, made a show of force with a review and march past of troops on the Galle Face Green annually to impress and frighten the native population. A newly independent Ceylon continued with the parade at the same place but it was to celebrate freedom. The capital’s people flocked to see the show lining the route towards the old parliament. There was a festive air all round. The tiny defence forces (less than 0.5% of the budget) were inspected by the C in C. They then marched past very smartly in threes to stretch the line following the vintage armoured cars and obsolete artillery that rumbled past. The C in C inspected the troops and then stood ram rod straight to take the salute.

In 2019 there were 6,500 troops on parade. There was no review of the troops by the C in C, a recent aberration. He was not able to see his troops close up. They, as in Mali (9,187kms from SL) recently, are ready to die performing their duty while obeying his orders. Few people in SL know where Mali is or why SL sent troops there and why no Western troops serve there.

As before marching troops, tanks, towed guns, ships at sea and many aircraft, with the police in addition to the school children, cultural troops and added bits and pieces wound past the C in C.

There were far more participants than spectators. The only spectators were VIPs, local and foreign, pot big bellied politicians, senior government servants and senior military officers.

What used to be Sri Lanka’s greatest day is now an exercise in practical apartheid. Is it to titillate foreigners and local VIPs while debarring the people? Certainly there is no longer any joy on Fourth February.

Ministers and MPs settled down comfortably and were soon seen fast asleep on social media even as the President spoke and TV hid. He stood as the 5 infantry regiments lowered their colours to him. Each of them had over 2,500 killed in the 26 year old conflict. He then sat down. The rest of the parade that had no colours marched on, saluting smartly as they went past. Their C in C remained nonchalantly seated, peering at them. Sadly his Tri Service Commanders followed suit!

One very significant and redeeming feature at the conclusion was the singing of the National anthem in Tamil by the school children’s choir. A small step that could portend a mighty leap into a far better future for SL.

Galle Face is never green when 4th February comes along. After the troops rehearse it looks like a bit of Manalkadu, the strip of local ‘desert’ at the north east tip of the Jaffna peninsula. The ‘Green’ is one of just 2 recreational grounds available in the capital to the ‘ordinary’ people especially the children. It is out of bounds in the mornings during the many days of rehearsals. Months after the parade is over the ‘Green’ will still be close to a dust bowl. But for the government the show must go on. Pity Colombo’s non elitist, happy but unlucky ‘ordinary’ children.

Are those responsible for deciding on the venue and format of the parade oblivious to the importance of the event, its growing size and variety and the need for the people to see it live? Is changing any part of it beyond the competence of the bureaucrats and brass hats? Does the tremendous effort put in by the troops and the police, the excitement of the school children taking part, the skills of the cultural display teams dancing and walking bare footed on sizzling hot roads leave them cold, bored and indifferent. Their perfunctory interest in the parade has downgraded the meaning of Independence Day. The expectations of the ‘ordinary’ people appear to be of little or any consequence.

The troops and their marching were excellent. They had however to sweat it out for hours watching and coming to attention from time to time as grandees for the day arrived. The roll on of politicians riding in some of world’s most expensive cars continues to depress. Some senior public servants even had motor cycle escorts. What were they or the others afraid of? All this in a struggling 3rd world country that has been robbed almost clean by its politicians for 71 years, nearly half of it fighting terrorists created and made bold by the sins of omission and commission of the state.

One ‘Governor’ smuggled in his uninvited son. Some came without their invited wives. One past president skipped the show-even though it was called ‘National’. The look on the PM’s face even before the President’s speech was eerie, all screwed up, glum and scowling almost as though he had been smitten by a stroke.

The President’s speech took the cake. It may be his last. The PM took it all lying down. He could have bugged out. This is the man who was ready to ‘negotiate’ with the LTTE leader for whatever. He also believes ‘SL and India are 2 sides of the same coin’. Has he now got ‘coins’ on his eye lashes after Arujuna M and an unidentified Jamis Banda were linked by him? On his part the Indian High Commissioner vacuously thinks India ‘gave’ Buddhism to SL. Shades of IPKFs Maj Gen Hakirat Singh.

The ‘white eyes’ diplomats, post plundering SL, never tire of repeating their mantra that they are our ‘friends’. They appeared to have given the parade a miss. Being reduced to star gazing by unmatchable Chinese generosity, they are now looking at the setting sun. They are going to miss SL soon except for ‘logistics’ at harbours and airports. That’s an SOS call for SL, if it remembers Okinawa’s ongoing forced tragedy.

Is there an alternative to this farce on the ‘Green’? Can it be shifted to the vicinity of the Parliament as for the 19 May Remembrance Parade? Or can the format be changed to a parade down Bauddaloka Mawatha? It will prevent endless disruption to the capital during the rehearsals and importantly allow the masses to view it on the day. The local VIPs at the latter venue could come sans fanfare through the rear gate of the BMICH. It has air conditioned rest rooms. The C in C can come on horseback if he insists on resting his legs while the parade (13,000 tireless legs) marches by.

Something needs to be done by the next parade. If the present form continues there could be a riot. A novel format in extremis is wanting. Instead of the troops and others parading, SL politicians could be paraded in a mobile column using open buses, trucks or the like, even carts and gharries. Maybe the Speaker could command it.

The troops should be comfortably seated for a change as spectators. They can watch the boastful ‘heroes’ scooting by. The marching song could be ‘Here the Robbers passing by’. There can be rollicking ‘baila’ variations too.

Citizens Appuhamy, Banda, Ponnaswamy, Mohamed, Tuan, Anderson and Wanni Tissahamy could all take the salute. They should make speeches. They are sure to wake up the dead. Others may die of shame if they care to listen.

Those who say they are ready to die for the country can give it a try at the saluting dais. There will be wild applause and no lack of helpful gestures.

The parade can end at Kanatta giving it a symbolic meaning. SL’s independence was traduced during most of the past 71 years of political adventures. She must hope and pray it will not now be buried.

There would be no anger of the people then. There will be no rehearsals – for ‘security’ or is it safety reasons. Instead of lowering party colours or saluting, the politicians can wave bonds, contracts and commissions. The crowds are guaranteed to be enormous, appreciative if not physically over enthusiastic. They may need to be restrained. People will talk about this type of parade for days and months on end. They might want it monthly.

Politicians will not need to get stuck in lifts to entertain the nation. This will be a great way to celebrate independence, national day even bondman years (2015-18) hereafter.

If there is a hint of revolutionary tumbrels in this format, it’s purely imaginary. Unless the JVP tries its wretched tricks for the 3rd time. SL’s independence was traduced during most of the past 71 years. SL must hope and pray she will not now be buried.

There has to be a limit to tolerance after 71 years of being betrayed, hood winked, cheated, ignored, divided, taken for simpletons, reduced to near penury and having nearly 160,000 killed in 2 insurrections. Not all of SL’s sense of humour, cricket (as in 1996) and music can contain its patience for much longer. Even if its politicians have to run the gauntlet to entertain the people.

- Asian Tribune –

Speech delivered by President Maithripala Sirisena at the 71st   National Day/ Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 2019
Lalin's Column : Independence turned National day parade, an utter farce
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